Epyx

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Epyx, Inc.
Former type Corporation
Industry Computer and video games
Founded 1978 (as Automated Simulations)
Defunct 1993
Headquarters San Francisco, California
Key people Jim Connelley
Jon Freeman
David Shannon Morse (software manager)
Products Temple of Apshai
Summer Games
Winter Games
California Games

Epyx, Inc. was a video game developer and publisher in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. The company was founded as Automated Simulations by Jim Connelley and Jon Freeman, originally using Epyx as a brand name for action-oriented games before renaming the company to match in 1983. Epyx published a long series of "hits" through the 1980s, but nevertheless went bankrupt in 1989 before finally disappearing in 1993.

History[edit]

Formation[edit]

In 1977, Susan Lee-Murrow invited Jon Freeman to join a Dungeons & Dragons game hosted by Jim Connelley and Jeff Johnson. Connelley later purchased a Commodore PET computer to help with the bookkeeping involved in being a dungeon master, and came up with the idea of writing a computer game for the machine before the end of the year so he could write it off on his taxes. Freeman had written on gaming for several publications, and joined Connelley in the design of a new space-themed wargame. Starting work around August 1978, Freeman wrote the basic rules, mission sets, background stories and the manual, while Connelley coded up the system in PET BASIC.[1]

The BASIC era[edit]

The two formed Automated Simulations around Thanksgiving 1978 to market the game, and released it in December as Starfleet Orion.[1] Examining contemporary magazines (Byte and Creative Computing) suggests this is the first space-themed wargame for a personal computer (however, see Star Trek). As the game was written in BASIC, it was easy to port to other home computers of the era, starting with the TRS-80 and then the Apple II, the latter featuring rudimentary graphics. They followed this game with 1979's Invasion Orion, which included a computer opponent so as not to require two human players.[1]

The company's next release, 1979's Temple of Apshai, was a major success, selling over 20,000 copies in an era of few computers.[2] As the game was not a "simulation" of anything, the company introduced the Epyx brand name for these more action-oriented titles. Rated as the best computer game by practically every magazine of the era, Apshai was soon ported from the TRS-80 to additional systems, such as the Atari 400/800 and the Commodore 64. Apshai spawned a number of similar adventure games based on the same game engine, including two direct sequels, branded under the Dunjonquest label. The games were so successful that they were later re-released in 1985 as the Temple of Apshai Trilogy.

Using the same BASIC game engine, a series of "semi-action" games followed under the Epyx brand, including Crush, Crumble and Chomp!, Rescue at Rigel, and Star Warrior, each of which added twists to the Apshai engine.[1]

Growth, action focus[edit]

Freeman left the company to start Free Fall Associates in 1981, leaving Connelley to lead what was now a large company. In 1983 the company assumed its brand name, becoming known simply as Epyx. Connelley reorganized his own development team as The Connelley Group, but continued to work under the Epyx umbrella, releasing Dragonriders of Pern. However 1983 was the year that Jumpman was released and became a big hit. Management decided the future was in action games, and Connelley eventually left the company, releasing games with other labels such as Brøderbund.

A string of successful action games followed, including the hits Impossible Mission and Summer Games. The latter created a long run of successful sequels, including Winter Games, California Games, and World Games. The company also branched out into "Computer Activity Toys", licenses of Hot Wheels, G.I. Joe, and Barbie. In Europe, the British home computer game company U.S. Gold published Epyx games for the Commodore 64, and also ported many of the games to other major European platforms such as the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC.

The Epyx 500XJ joystick for home computer-era consoles and computers that used Atari compatible joysticks, such as the Commodore 64, Atari ST and Amiga

For the bestselling Commodore 64, Epyx made the Fast Load cartridge which enabled a fivefold speedup of floppy disk drive accesses through Commodore's very slow serial IEEE-488 interface. Additionally, the FastLoad featured convenient disk access commands (for directory listings and program loads/saves, etc.), and a disk editor—a hacking tool allowing for direct low-level access to floppy disks. Another hardware product was the popular Epyx 500XJ Joystick, which used high-quality microswitches and a more ergonomic form factor than the Atari 2600 joystick style then prevalent.

Starting in 1986, Epyx also developed a handheld game system called the Handy. Unable to continue due to high costs, it was sold to Atari, renamed, and sold as the Atari Lynx.[3]

Litigation[edit]

In 1987, Epyx faced an important copyright infringement lawsuit from Data East USA regarding Epyx's Commodore 64 video game World Karate Championship. Data East thought the whole game, and particularly the depiction of the referee, looked too much like its 1984 arcade game Karate Champ. Data East won at the US District Court level and Judge William Ingram ordered Epyx to recall all copies of World Karate Championship. Epyx appealed the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, who reversed the judgment and ruled in favor of Epyx, stating that copyright protection did not extend to the idea of a tournament karate game, but specific artistic choices not dictated by that idea.[4] The Court noted that a "17.5 year-old boy" could see clear differences between the elements of each game actually subject to copyright.[4]

Bankruptcy and asset sales[edit]

In 1989, Epyx discontinued developing computer games, began making only console games,[5] and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.[6] According to Stephen Landrum, a long-time game programmer at Epyx, the company went bankrupt "because it never really understood why it had been successful in the past, and then decided to branch out in a lot of directions, all of which turned out to be failures."[7]

At this time, Epyx moved to a smaller office in downtown Redwood City and laid off nearly everyone. Epyx still developed games, but gave up their publishing rights and all the rights to the handheld game console they were developing to Atari (the company they owed most of the money to), eventually becoming the Atari Lynx. Epyx eventually came out of bankruptcy, but in 1993, with eight employees left, they decided just to sell off the rest of the company. Bridgestone Media Group eventually acquired the rights the rest of Epyx's assets. Job offers were extended to the eight remaining employees, but only Peter Engelbrite accepted.

In 2006, British publisher System 3 announced it had acquired Epyx's assets to release games such as California Games and Impossible Mission for Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, and Wii in 2007.[8]

Products[edit]

Epyx began work on a handheld gaming console, which it later sold to Atari. It became the 1989 Atari Lynx.

Games[edit]

Other software[edit]

Hardware[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Rusel DeMaria and Johnny Wilson, "High Score! The Illustrated History of Video Games", McGraw-Hill, 2003, pg. 54-55
  2. ^ Paul Freiberger, "This Company Is Serious about Games", InfoWorld, 11 May 1981, pg. 10-11
  3. ^ Peter Latimer, "Atari Lynx", Retro Gamer, Volume 2 Issue 6 (July 2005), pg. 24–31
  4. ^ a b Data East USA, Inc. v. Epyx, Inc., 862 F. 2d 204, 9 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1322 (9th Cir. 1988).
  5. ^ Ferrell, Keith (December 1989). "Epyx Goes Diskless". Compute!. p. 6. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  6. ^ Wilson, Johnny L. (November 1991). "A History of Computer Games". Computer Gaming World. p. 10. Retrieved 18 November 2013. 
  7. ^ Interview with Stephn Landrum from The Unofficial Epyx & SummerGames Homepage, with a timeline of Epyx's history
  8. ^ Brendan Sinclair, "Epyx returns on Wii, PSP, DS", gamespot, 17 August 2006

External links[edit]