Synapse Software

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Synapse Software
Corporation / Subsidiary
Fate Defunct (purchased by Brøderbund)
Successor The Learning Company
Defunct 1984
Products Computer Games

Synapse Software Corporation (marketed as SynSoft in the UK) was an American computer game development and publishing company active during the early-1980s. They developed primarily for the Atari 400 and 800 computers, and (later on) the Commodore 64 and IBM PCjr. They released many highly regarded shoot 'em up video games including Fort Apocalypse, Blue Max, Alley Cat and Shamus. The company was purchased by Brøderbund Software in late 1984.

Early games[edit]

Synapse's first releases were for the Atari 8-bit computers, starting in 1981, shortly after the Atari computers became widely available. Some of their early games were based on elements of current arcade games. For example, Chicken had the same basic concept as Kaboom! for the Atari 2600 (which itself was similar to the arcade game Avalanche), while Protector used elements of Defender.

A notable early release was Nautilus, which featured a "split-screen" to allow two players to play at once. In one-player mode the user controlled a submarine, the Nautilus, in the lower screen while the computer took control of a destroyer, the Colossus, in the upper screen. Similar to Atari's Combat, in two-player mode another player took control of the destroyer. The same basic system was later re-used in other games, including Shadow World.

Survivor was the first home computer game to support up to four players[citation needed], a side-effect of the first generation Atari machines including four joystick ports. In this case all of the players took command of different parts of a single spaceship; in single-player mode it operated like the ship in Asteroids, while in two player mode one drove and the other fired in any direction.

A second wave of games followed from an expanded group of developers. Popular releases included Shamus, Necromancer, Rainbow Walker, Blue Max, Fort Apocalypse and an official port of the arcade game Zaxxon (for the Commodore 64 only; the Atari port was from DataSoft). It was during this period that the company branched out and started supporting other platforms en masse, especially the Commodore 64, which became a major platform. Many of Synapse's games made their way to the UK as part of the initial wave of U.S. Gold-distributed imports (under the "Synsoft" imprint). Some were also converted to run on the more popular UK home computers, such as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

Text adventures and other programs[edit]

Although it is for their success with arcade-style games that they will be primarily remembered, Synapse branched out into other areas of software.

Some time before their demise, Synapse had started work on text adventures (or as they called them, "Electronic Novels"). The games were all based on a parser called "BTZ" (Better Than Zork), written by William Mataga and Steve Hales. Seven games were written using the system but only four released,[1] the best-known being the critically acclaimed Mindwheel.[1]

They were also developing a series of applications including SynFile+ (written in Forth by Steve Ahlstrom and Dan Moore of The 4th Works), SynTrend, SynCalc and SynStock.


By early 1984 Synapse was the largest third-party provider of Atari 8-bit software, but 65% of its sales came from the Commodore market.[2] The company ran into financial difficulty. According to Steve Hales they had taken a calculated risk in developing the aforementioned series of applications, and had entered into a collaboration with Atari, Inc. When Jack Tramiel purchased Atari's consumer division from Warner Communications, he refused to pay for the 40,000 units of software that had been shipped. This in turn hurt Synapse financially.[3]

Having been thrown into a cash crisis, Synapse was purchased by Brøderbund Software in late 1984. Although the intention had been to keep Synapse going, the market had changed, and they were unable to make money from the electronic novels. Approximately one year after the takeover, Brøderbund closed Synapse down.[3]


  1. ^ a b "Synapse Software", Adventureland
  2. ^ Mace, Scott (1984-02-27). "Can Atari Bounce Back?". InfoWorld. p. 100. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Hague, James, ed. (1997). "Steve Hales". Halcyon Days. Dadgum. Retrieved 2014-06-13. Synapse took a risk and started developing business software for the Atari [and] we entered in a collaboration with Atari, which was still owned by Warner. [Jack Tramiel] bought Atari [and] we delivered on our promises and shipped about 40,000 copies [but] the new Atari failed to pay us so we were thrown into a cash crisis [..] the only solution at the time was to sell [our remaining unshipped products] to Broderbund. Synapse was owned by Broderbund for another year [..] but the market had already changed too much to make any money, so Broderbund shut Synapse down. 

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