"miraculous and marvelous" - Creative Computing, January 1983
"makes a graphics magician out of each and every Apple user" - Softline, May 1982
"recommended to anyone wanting to work with Apple's high resolution graphics for whatever purpose... definitely a program Apple users should have in their software library" - Byte magazine, November 1982
As Graphics Magician became one of the standards of the software industry, more and more games appeared at our doorstep. Dozens of new programs arrived each week, with authors either asking us to consider publishing their work, or asking for a license to use Graphics Magician. The license was free. All we asked was an acknowledgement that our software routines were used in the end product. By 1983, it seemed that half of the games and educational programs on the market (anything that used graphics) booted up with a "Graphics created with The Graphics Magician" screen. Virtually every other publisher of the time licensed our software for their graphics.
Tom Becklund, of Fargo, North Dakota visited us at the Minneapolis Applefest and wowed us with some of his animation. We wound up publishing two of his programs, Thunderbombs and Bouncing Kamungas. The latter was indescribably wacky and must have been the product of environmental factors including long winters and lots of flat, open land. It had something to do with being a melon farmer and these bouncing guys squishing the melons you're growing, but you could protect them with your pitchfork, but then watch out for thunderstorms... You had to be there.
From the south, the hotbed of Shreveport, Louisiana brought us Greg Malone and Dallas Snell, who were both searching for publishers for their excellent programs.
Greg had a helicopter action game that became Minit Man. It was somewhat unique in that the action was spread horizontally across three screens, and there was an arcade game within the arcade game. To be successful you had to split your time appropriately between the two. We later worked with Greg on Moebius, which he eventually finished and published through Origin Systems, and Greg went on to work with Origin and with SoftDisk.
Dallas came to us with a completed adventure game called The Quest. It had some great graphics a new approach in that you had a sidekick named Gorn. He was rather dumb, but was useful in solving some puzzles. Dallas wrote the game with Joe Toler and Joel Ellis Rea. We hedged and toned down some of the more "mature" themes so as not to be objectionable to the parents of the ten- to twelve-year-old crowd, but it was still the only one of our programs reviewed in Playboy. Ron Goebel joined the development group for the sequel, Ring Quest. Dallas Snell went on to be a software producer at Origin Systems, and you'll find his name in the credits on the back of some of their better products.
A small company in Oregon calling themselves Software Entertainment Corporation had some neat educational programs and some interesting animation work going on. Jeff Tunnell started the group, and they were more interested in writing than publishing, so we published two excellent games from them: Stellar 7 by Damon Slye and The Sword of Kadashby Chris Cole. The sales of both of these were disappointing, because they were neat, neat games. Sword of Kadash was well ahead of its time. An action-arcade style game, it had hundreds of screens to negotiate, most of which had unique and interesting problems to solve. It was almost an early version of a Sonic-the-Hedgehog type of game (moving around a large map, solving puzzling situations to avoid traps). Stellar 7was a copy of a popular tank arcade game of the day, and after we released it back to Jeff (whose company had adopted a now-familiar name, dynamix), Sierra On-Line picked it up and marketed a newly-revised version for many more years.
Sword of Kadash, DSK format (62Kb)
We never had much luck marketing action games, although we published some very good ones (most notably Stellar 7 and Sword of Kadash). Part of it, perhaps, was company identity. People identified us with graphics and with graphics-adventure games, and that's what we sold best. It was probably also true that we published a few games that probably shouldn't have been published. They were good when we originally accepted them, but after working with authors for six months to a year to get them to market, new games had already been released that were a step or two better. Having invested the time and given someone hope that their work will be published, you don't want to be the bad guy and pull the plug at the last minute... but from a business standpoint that's probably what should have been done in a few cases.
Expedition Amazon, DSK format (119Kb)
We also published a couple games that fit into the "fantasy role-playing" genre, which was already dominated at the time by the Ultimaseries written by Richard Garriott of Origin Systems, and the Wizardry series by Bob Woodhead of Sir-Tech Software. Remarkably, Ultima is still today at the top of this genre! Kudos to Richard for maintaining quality and staying up-to-date with our rapidly-changing technology! Penguin's offerings in this category were Expedition Amazon, by Texan Willard Phillips, and Xyphus, written by Skip Waller and designed by Skip with Dave Albert. Bob Hardy also worked his magic with a neat Macintosh version of Xyphus. Both sold modestly, but few have ever had much success breaking the Ultima/Wizardry lock on this market niche.
We published two of John "BEZ" Besnard's programs, Pensate and Arcade Boot Camp. John self-marketed dozens of clever and very well-written programs, mostly of the strategy variety, as "BEZware". He sent us many others, but we couldn't keep up with him! We thought it would be really neat to eventually put together a compilation of his work, but unfortunately that never happened. Pensate is an original strategy game, kind of in the checkers/othello mold... or maybe a little like chess. It definitely wasn't the typical flashy action game of the time, but we took a chance on publishing it and it sold modestly well. Later we published Arcade Boot Camp, which was John's send-up of the typical arcade game of the day. It consisted of a whole series of games that mimicked the arcade games of the period, so you could polish your running, jumping, dodging, driving, flying, and shooting skills! It was all done with you as "Private PeeVee" under the supervision of a boot camp instructor. Rather silly, and we liked it.
Eagle Berns (our Pie Man author) and his friend Holly Thomason created a really neat adventure game, The Coveted Mirror. It was one of our favorite programs because it was well-written in a non-linear manner (as all good adventure games should be!), it had clever but not ridiculous puzzles, and they also achieved their goal of making a good, non-violent game. We later released a Comprehend version, too, for computers other than the Apple.
The Spy Strikes Back was the only "home-grown" arcade game we ever published (the others were developed by outside authors). Bob Hardy and I designed it, and Bob did the programming. The name and overall strategy of the game derived from the moderately-successful Spy's Demise: there was no shooting, just a lot of "sneaking around" (the subtitle was "How to Not Be Seen", shamelessly stolen from Monty Python, the source of our original forbidden name...). The game contained a nasty, wicked, code-breaking puzzle that involved working all the way through the multi-floor building maze and gathering clues. The clues were coded color/music tone pairs, and if properly solved they instructed you to call a specific phone number and identify yourself with a code name. This was one or two years after a book in England called Masquerade caused a huge stir because it too contained clues... and solving those clues would allow some person to find a very real hidden million-dollar treasure. The book got all kinds of publicity and sold in huge numbers. For a while we entertained the idea of doing something very similar with The Spy Strikes Back. But ultimately we had visions of some 11-year-old hotshot gamer solving the whole thing the first day and we chickened out. Shouldn't have. Too bad.