|Automated Simulations / Epyx|
|Key People (choice)||John Freeman, John Connelly, Randy Glover, Jon Leupp|
|Sector||Video- and computer games|
Epyx was one of the most popular game forge for 8bit and 16bit computers in the 1980s. One of the most famous games series were the Epyx sports games such as Summer Games or California Games. Epyx also counts to the companies, that suffered most from the illegal copies and probably collapsed by this.
The Automated Simulations Era
John Freeman is an enthusiastic player of Dungeons & Dragons games by the company TSR. He already wrote two books and board games and works as a freelancer at the hobby magazine GAMES. He has not much experience with computers, but in development of games. After buying a Commodore PET, he tries to get back his stakes. He can get Connellys help with the game Starfleet Orion, which is programmed in BASIC. This way the two had programmed the first space-related tactical fighting game for micro computers. To market it, they found the company "Automated Simulations" in 1978.
For this game there is - also for PET computers - a sequel named Invasion Orion. Both games are successful enough to rectify a porting onto other systems. So they are released on systems as the Apple II and the TRS-80. With the game Temple of Apshai, the first part of the "Dungeon-Quest" series, they had their breakthrough in 1979. This game is strongly geared to D&D and also takes over the Western game techniques. Similar to the Pen & Paper role play the player can equip his character in the tavern. You can also bargain with the barkeeper. Equipped with weapons the player can now search the temple for treasures. The graphics are very limited. There is only one chest in the room, the walls are naked and pixelated monster await the player. The game wins the prize of the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design's Origin for the best computer game in 1980 and two sequels follow: Upper Reaches of Apshai and Temple of Ra. These are ported to almost every successful platform and was even reissued with better graphics as trilogy in 1985. Other titles that were released by Automated Simulations are amongst others Crush Crumble and Chomp, Star Warrior, Keys of Acheron, Datestones of Ryn and Rescue at Rigel.
The name Automated Simulations did not fit the new RPG games, and so the founders of the company thought of a new name for the distribution of the RPG games. "Epyx" was supposed to be the new brand name for the RPG's a homophone for "Epics". From 1980 to 1983 both names were printed on the packing. "Automated Simulations" as manufacturer and "Epyx as brand name for RPG's.
The Epyx era
When Automated Systems takes part in a computer fair at the West coast of the USA in 1980, Freeman meets his later wife, Anne Westfall, who presents a programme for the TRS-80 at the booth of another company. Freeman leaves "Automated Simulations" in 1981 due to the - as he calls it - "office politics". With Paul Reiche and Anne Westfall he founds the known games company Free Fall Associates. With this step they want to concentrate more on the development of games and they especially want to do less on the business side. Jim Conelly stays at first with Epyx, but in 1983 he also leaves due to differences with the new management. When he leaves, he takes with him a great number of programmers.
With financially strong investors up its sleeve Epyx merges with the company Starpath, to take over their programmers. Starpath had been known under the name Arcadia before, but the name had to be changed due to the game console Arcadia by Emerson. Starpath is the inventor of the supercharger for the Atari VCS / Atari 2600, which allows saving games on datasettes and is introduced in 1982. The most well-known game for the supercharger is probably the 3D game Escape from the Mindmaster. The new management now changes the name to a final Eypx. Furthermore, the company gets oriented more on action games. One of the first titles is Jumpman by Randy Glover, which is released in 1983 and is an impressive game. The title can be sold over 40.000 times, which is an outstanding success for a young company. Alongside, further titles from hobby programmers are sold and marketed.
In November 1983 Epyx employes 35 staff members. About 10 of them are programmers. The head office is in Sunnyvale, California. Epyx also takes special care of the quality management. Two employees work as game testers.
The golden years
With the games Pitstop (1983) and Pitstop 2 (1984) Epyx can secure a mass appeal. But the fast rise starts with the game Summer Games, which is developed in 1984 due to the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The game is based on the title Sweat!, a decathlon game by Scott Nelson, for the Supercharger by Starpath. With the fusion with Starpath, the project is at first put on hold. The Summer Games offer a welcome opportunity to pick up the project again. It is completely written in Assembler. Summer Games has very little in common with the game from which it emerges, Epyx uses a graphic artist, which was not done very often at that time. The crew consists of Stephen Landrum and his crew Randy Glover, Jon Leupp, Brian McGhie, Stephen Murdry and Scott Nelson. The game is developed in less than 6 months and - due to the euphoria of the Olympic Games 1984, with a sold run of over 100.000 pieces - laid the foundation for Epyx's fame as a company for sports games. The total number of sold games for all systems is over 1 mio. units! Due to the success of Summer Games the series is continued with Winter Games, as well as California Games and World Games. California Games becomes one of the most successful titles of the company, which even gets a sequel on other systems. In 1988 a worthy ending of the Games series on the C64 is released, with the series The Games, The Games - Winter Edition and then The Games - Summer Edition.
In 1984 Epyx releases the title Impossible Mission. It gets a big success and one of the most famous and successful platformer in the 80s. The name lives up to the game, as most of the players merely despair of the difficulty grade. It is one of the most difficult games that had been issued until then. The game can be sold 40.000 times after all and gets several sequels. Impossible Mission is one of the first games with speech output, which uses the novel speech synthesis by the company Electronic Speech Systems. The crazy professor Dr. Elvin e.g. comes forward with the sentence I have another visitor. Stay a while.....staaaaay forever!
Expansion to further sectors
Starting from the middle of the 80s, Epyx becomes also publisher for other game manufacturers. Under the label Maxx Out! some games are published, which have mainly been bought in Europe. Most of the time Epyx ports them to platforms which are common in the USA. The titles Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior and Barbarian II: The Dungeon of Drax are very well-known in Europe. Barbarian: The Dungeon of Drax is published under the title Death Sword and Barbarian II: The Dungeon of Drax is released under the title Axe of Rage. International Karate is sold with the title World Karate Championship. The Maxx Out! label is even used in California Games as sponsor. For a short time Epyx does the sale of a spreadsheet for Microsoft. They purchase licenses and develop, basing on them, games as G.I. Joe and Barbie.
Epyx also successfully expands to the hardware sector. The most successful product by Epyx is the FastLoad cartridge, which after all sells 650.000! times. The Fast Load cartridge lowers the loading time of the 1541 floppy to about 1/5th of the actual loading time.
Epyx reached the summit in 1986 and earns 9 to 10 million dollars a year. The head office is now in Redwood City, California. The number of employees reaches 200. Value-U-Line Software Co. is a subsidiary of Epyx, which reissues older Epyx titles as budget versions. U.S. Gold publishes the Epyx titles in Europe and ports them by his own hands onto the platforms - common mainly in Europe - Sinclair Spectrum and Amstrad CPC.
Almost everyone who had a C64 had at least one copy of an Epyx title even though few paid for them. As the C64 began to lose market share, many games by Epyx were dropped before being fully designed. The company had a wide range of products including board games.
In 1987, Epyx was sued by Data East for selling International Karate in the USA. Because Epyx lost the lawsuit, the company was forced to recall all copies of the game; Epyx later appealed the judgement successfully. However, sales volume dropped rapidly at the beginning of 1989 and the company fell into serious financial problems.
Already in 1987 Epyx starts the cost-intensive development of the first portable game console with colour display: The 8Bit Handheld Handy. Due to financial problems Epyx is forced to sell this project to Atari and with it all game titles. Atari issues this handheld under the name Lynx. Shortly after the deal with Atari, Epyx is carried away by the financial problems of Atari. The distribution of software is stopped. Epyx concentrates only on the development of games and let them get marketed by other publishers. One concentrates now on video games for consoles that work with cartridges.
As Epyx cannot reach their earlier successes, the company gets deeper into financial difficulties. The staff was reduced from 200 to 20 employees within a short time. Epyx files for insolvency and sues Atari, as they refuse to pay. The lawsuit ends well for Epyx. By this Epyx is in the black again and can avert the insolvency. Some insignificant titles for IBM PCs follow. The number of employees sinks from 20 to 7. The rest of Epyx is sold to the Bridgestone Multimedia Group, a provider of Christian instructional materials. Ironstone Partners currently owns a license of the Bridgestone Multimedia Group and tries to utilize some Epyx titles for handhelds and mobile phones. The rights for the Epyx games library go mainly to Atari, by this to Hasbro and later to Infogrames. Meanwhile System 3 has the rights for the Epyx titles. In Germany the rights belong to Magnussoft. Some games under the name Epyx are now available for the Nintendo Wii, Pocket PC and PC.
The "Epyx-Games" series
The games of the Games Series were amongst others the most well-known sports games for the C64. It comprises on the C64 altogether 7 titles. For The Games Epyx owned the license of the USOC (Olympic Comittee of the United States). After the bancruptcy of Epyx this series was continued by U.S. Gold.
- 1984 Summer Games
- 1985 Summer Games II
- 1985 Winter Games
- 1986 World Games
- 1987 California Games
- 1988 The Games - Winter Edition
- 1988 The Games - Summer Edition
The "Street Sports"series
Next to the successful Games Series, Epyx tried to establish another sports series. However, there were no more than 4 titles in this series. Competitors as Electronic Arts were more successful with similar concepts.
- 1987 Street Sports Baseball
- 1987 Street Sports Basketball
- 1988 Street Sports Football
- 1988 Street Sports Soccer
The Epyx games library (excerpt)
- 1983 Pitstop
- 1983 Temple of Apshai
- 1983 Gateway to Apshai
- 1983 Sword of Fargoal
- 1983 Dragonriders of Pern
- 1983 Jumpman
- 1983 Jumpman Junior
- 1983 Crush, Crumble and Chomp!
- 1984 Pitstop 2
- 1984 Impossible Mission
- 1984 Lunar Outpost
- 1984 Puzzle Panic
- 1984 Break Dance
- 1984 Oil Barons
- 1984 Robots of Dawn
- 1984 Silicon Warrior
- 1984 World's Greatest Baseball Game
- 1985 Barbie
- 1985 G.I. Joe
- 1985 Hot Wheels
- 1986 Super Cycle
- 1986 Destroyer
- 1986 Championship Wrestling
- 1986 Movie Monsters Game
- 1987 Sub Battle Simulator
- 1988 Impossible Mission II
- 1988 4x4 Off-Road Racing
- 1988 L.A. Crackdown
- 1988 Legend of Blacksilver
- 1990 Chip's Challenge
- 1990 Snow Strike