Epyx

 

 

 

 

 

 

The instruction manual for the first version of the first game Epyx (Automated Simulations at the time) ever created.

History

Jim Connelley and Jon Freeman met at a game of Dungeons and Dragons in 1977.  Jim served as one of the regular Dungeon Masters, and he had purchased a Commodore PET computer to help him with the task.  He was also a computer hobbyist/programmer, which was a necessity since computers at that time were not designed to function as Dungeon Master Assistants.  Jim, hoping to write off his expensive gaming aid, eventually decided to make a computer game.  Enter Jon Freeman.

Jon didn't  know much about computers, but he was an experienced game player and author.  He wrote a book on the topic, "A Player's Guide to Board Games," and he was a regular contributor to GAMES magazine. (Later, in 1980, he also wrote a large portion of "The Complete Book of Wargames.").  Jim recruited Jon to help him with the game's development in mid-1978.  At this point, there was no company -- just two guys working on a science-fiction strategy game in PET basic.  Jim did the programming and Jon designed the game and wrote the manual.  Before the end of 1978, the design and programming were complete, and Starfleet Orion was born.  Jon and Jim formed a company they called "Automated Simulations" for the purpose of selling the game.  They derived the name from Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI), which was an up-and-coming competitor to Avalon Hill in the wargame arena, since the duo's original thought was to concentrate on science fiction wargames.

Jim and Jon had no background in computer game publishing, but in 1978, few people did.  They hired a local printer and typesetter to print a quantity of manuals, bought a bunch of sealable baggies, and duplicated the cassettes by hand on Jim's PET.  For the first six months, the whole production and  distribution process was run out of the spare bedroom in Jim's apartment.  Certainly the cost and simplicity of this system would make modern publishers quite envious.  However, the primitive computer gaming industry also had some major drawbacks (aside from executive-level manual labor).  One of the biggest drawbacks for a budding publisher in 1978 was the lack of magazines and other marketing vehicles dedicated to computer games.  For this reason, you can find early advertisements for Automated Simulation games in various hobbyist magazines with similar readerships (such as wargame magazines, Dragon Magazine, etc.).  Starfleet Orion was on the market in time for Christmas of 1978. 

   

These are typical early  (1980-81) Epyx ads from Dragon Magazine.  The two small ads on the left were replaced by full page ads (right) as the company grew.

Automated Simulation's next game was a sequel to Starfleet Orion called Invasion Orion.  Unlike Starfleet Orion, Invasion Orion featured a computer opponent for solo games.  Also unlike its predecessor, Invasion Orion was written from the onset for both the PET and TRS-80. (Starfleet Orion was initially a PET only game, but was later ported to the TRS-80 and Apple II).  The TRS-80 was a more home-oriented computer, which appealed more to game players than the PET.

At this point, Automated Simulations was going through a metamorphosis.  Its next game wasn't a wargame at all.  It was a Role-Playing Game similar to the Dungeons and Dragons session that brought the founders together.  The game was called Temple of Apshai and was written initially for the TRS-80, then the PET and finally converted to the Apple II by a third party.  Since Apshai was an RPG, the Automated Simulations name didn't quite fit anymore. Jim and Jon came up with "Epyx," a trademarkable homophone for "Epics," which was more suitable for the new game.  It was meant to be a brand name, like EA Sports is for Electronic Arts. However, the new name was shorter, catchier, less clunky/geeky-sounding, and easier to remember so it naturally evolved into the company name.  From about 1980 - 1983 both names appeared on game boxes.  By 1984, "Epyx" stood on its own.  Temple of Apshai went on to become a huge success and was ported to practically every computer platform made.  Several sequels and similar titles in the "Dunjonquest" line were published.  These include: Hellfire Warrior, Curse of Ra, Upper Reaches of Apshai, Morloc's Tower, Sword of Fargoal, Danger in Drindisti, The Datestones of Ryn, Gateway to Apshai, and the Temple of Apshai Trilogy.

The original PET Apshai manual.  Note the Automated Simulations logo in the lower right corner.

In November of 1981, Jon Freeman left Epyx to form a new gaming company with his soon-to-be wife, Anne Westfall.  The new venture was called Free Fall Associates. Their most notable early title was 1983's Archon  -- another GOTCHA winner.  Jon and Anne left Epyx so they could spend more time developing games and less time dealing with the business.  They particularly disliked the time spent arguing with Jim about differences in direction for Epyx.  Jim Connelley left Epyx in 1983 when the company was taken over by new ownership.

Although both founders had left the company by 1983, Epyx continued to flourish.  The direction of the games was decidedly different from the strategy and RPG-oriented offerings of Automated Simulations, but some of Epyx's best-loved games came from this period.  The string of hits included Jumpman, Pitstop, Summer Games,  and Impossible Mission,  which were all released in 1983 and later.  1984's Summer Games in particular was a cross-platform smash, selling large numbers on both computer and console platforms.  It also rivaled Apshai in the number of sequels it spawned: Summer Games II, Winter Games, The Games, World Games, California Games, California Games II, etc.

  

By 1985, Epyx had transformed into a major third-party publisher and started distributing games produced by up-and-coming developers such as Lucasfilm games (Ballblazer, Koronis Rift, and Rescue on Fractalus).  They also had several hits imported from Europe such as Death Sword (known as Barbarian in Europe) and Tower Toppler (known as Nebulous in Europe.)  They even served a short stint as Microsoft's publisher for its Multiplan spreadsheet software. 

By 1987, however, Epyx's fortunes had begun to turn as they started to expand their product lines beyond computer and video games.  Epyx had dabbled successfully in hardware and utilities in the past, but its new direction was pointing the company in too many directions at once.  Although they had produced 9 to 5 Typing, the revolutionary 500XJ joystick (manufactured by Konix), and the highly successful Fast Load utility cartridge for the C-64 in 1984, 1988 brought even more diversity to the Epyx product line. While Art and Film director was a good graphics and animation package, it didn't fit into any particular market segment. Epyx even ventured beyond the safe confines of computers altogether and published several board games and VCR games.  Again, even though Epyx had some experience in this arena with the 1983 hybrid computer/board game, Oil Barons, the new board games (i.e. Head On Football and Head on Baseball) and VCR games (i.e. VCR California Games and Play Action VCR Football) had no real target market and flopped.  The final stone in Epyx's crypt was their development of a color handheld video game, code-named "Handy," which Atari would eventually market as the Lynx.  The technology designed by Dave Needle and R.J. Mical was ahead of its time, but the cost to develop it was exorbitant.  Atari's Jack Tramiel delivered the coup de grace by forcing Epyx into bankruptcy.  Atari was both a creditor and a debtor of Epyx; when Atari failed to pay for their contracted titles, Epyx went broke, which gave Atari the titles for free.

 

Epyx was dissolved and sold to the Bridgestone Group in the early 1990s.  Their final PC games were relatively obscure including 1990'sCalifornia Games II and 1994's Battle Bugs, which was published by Sierra. 

This article was based on an e-mail interview with Jon Freeman.  GOTCHA would like to thank Mr. Freeman for the time, patience, manuals and editing skills he has generously donated to the cause.

GOTCHA Nominees

Crush Crumble and Chomp -- Epyx 1981

Jumpman -- Epyx, 1983

G.I. Joe -- Epyx, 1984

Rogue -- Epyx, 1985

Rescue on Fractalus! -- Epyx, 1985 (Lucasfilm)

Death Sword (Barbarian) -- Epyx, 1987 (licensed from Palace Software, Ltd.)

GOTCHA Winners

Temple of Apshai -- Epyx, 1979

Pitstop -- Epyx, 1983

Impossible Mission -- Epyx, 1984

Summer Games -- Epyx, 1984

Pistop II -- Epyx, 1984

Ballblazer -- Epyx, 1985 (Lucasfilm)

Tower Toppler (Nebulous) -- Epyx (U.S. Gold), 1987

Games in the GOTCHA Museum 

Game Name: Publisher: OS: Media: Category: Condition: Year:
9 to 5 Typing Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Edutainment F/F 1984
Alien Garden Epyx Atari Cart Action/Strategy IM/IM 1982
Arctic Antics: Spy vs Spy III Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Action MS 1986-87
Armor Assault Epyx Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy MS 1982
Axe of Rage Epyx Atari ST 3.5" Disk Fighting MS 1988-89
Ballblazer Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Fantasy Sports IM 1985
Boulder Dash Construction Kit Epyx Atari ST 3.5" Disk Action MS 1984-87
California Games Epyx DOS 5.25" Disk Sports G/F 1987
California Games Epyx Atari ST 3.5" Disk Sports MS 1987
California Games II Epyx DOS 3.5" Disk Sports F 1990
Championship Wrestling Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Fighting VG 1986
Championship Wrestling Epyx Atari ST 3.5" Disk Fighting MS 1986
Crush, Crumble and Chomp Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1981-83
Crush, Crumble and Chomp Epyx Atari 5.25" Disk Strategy F 1981
Crypt of the Undead Epyx Atari 5.25" Disk RPG F/F 1982
Curse of Ra Epyx C64 Cass RPG IM 1983
Curse of Ra Epyx DOS 5.25" Disk RPG VG 1982
Curse of Ra Epyx Apple II/Tandy 5.25" Disk RPG NM (S) (T) 1982
Danger in Drindisti Epyx Tandy Cass RPG F 1982
Danger in Drindisti Epyx Apple II 5.25" Disk RPG F/F (MMC) 1982
Datestones of Ryn Epyx Apple II Cass RPG IM 1979-81
Datestones of Ryn Epyx Atari/Tandy Cass RPG NM (S) (T) 1979-81
Death Sword Epyx Atari ST 3.5" Disk Fighting NM (S) (C) 1987
Destroyer Epyx Apple II 5.25" Disk Action/Strategy F 1986
Devon Aire Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Strategy MS 1988
Dragon's Eye Epyx Atari 5.25" Disk RPG F/F 1981
Dragonriders of Pern Epyx Atari 5.25" Disk Action/Strategy F 1983
Dragonriders of Pern Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Action/Strategy F 1983
Fast Load Epyx C64 Cart Misc. VG 1984
FAX Epyx Apple II 5.25" Disk Edutainment VG/F 1983
Final Assault Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Action MS 1988
Fore! Epyx Apple II 5.25" Disk Sports F/MS (S) (T) 1982
G.I. Joe Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Action IM 1984
G.I. Joe Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Action F 1984
Gateway to Apshai Epyx Atari Cart RPG IM 1983
Gateway to Apshai Epyx C64/Atari 5.25" Disk RPG MS 1983
Hellfire Warrior Epyx Apple II/Tandy 5.25" Disk RPG VG/F 1980
Hellfire Warrior Epyx Atari Cass RPG MS 1980
Hot Wheels Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Action IM 1985
Impossible Mission Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Action/Strategy VG 1984
Impossible Mission II Epyx Atari ST 3.5" Disk Action MS 1987
Impossible Mission II Epyx DOS 3.5" Disk Action F/F 1987-88
Invasion Orion Epyx Atari/Tandy Cass Strategy VG 1981
Invasion Orion Epyx Tandy/PET Cass Strategy VG/IM 1981
Jumpman Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Action IM 1983
Jumpman Epyx Apple II 5.25" Disk Action MS 1983
Jumpman Epyx Atari 5.25" Disk Action F 1983
Jumpman Junior Epyx C64 Cart Action MS 1983
Jumpman Junior Epyx Atari Cart Action VG/F 1983
King Arthur's Heir Epyx Atari 5.25" Disk RPG VG/F 1982
Koronis Rift Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Action IM 1985
Koronis Rift Epyx C64/Atari 5.25" Disk Action VG 1985
Lunar Outpost Epyx C64 Cass Action MS 1983
Monster Maze Epyx Atari Cart Action MS 1982
Morloc's Tower Epyx Apple II Cass RPG IM/IM 1979-81
Morloc's Tower Epyx Atari 5.25" Disk RPG F 1979-81
New World Epyx Tandy Cass Strategy NM/NM 1982
Oil Barons Epyx Apple II 5.25" Disk Board VG 1983
Oil Barons Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Board G/F 1983
Pit Stop Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Simulation MS
Pit Stop Epyx C64 Cart Simulation VG 1983-84
Pit Stop Epyx Atari Cart Simulation IM/IM 1983
Pit Stop II Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Simulation VG 1984
Pit Stop II Epyx C64/Atari 5.25" Disk Simulation MS 1984
PlatterMania Epyx Atari Cart Action MS 1982
Project Neptune Epyx Atari ST 3.5" Disk Action/Strategy F (S) 1989
Purple Saturn Day Epyx Amiga 3.5" Disk Action MS 1989
Puzzle Panic Epyx Atari 5.25" Disk Puzzle NM (S) (C) 1984
Rescue At Rigel Epyx Atari/Tandy/Apple/PET Cass RPG F 1980
Rescue At Rigel Epyx Atari/Tandy Cass RPG MS 1980
Rescue on Fractalus! Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Action IM 1985
Rescue on Fractalus! Epyx C64/Atari 5.25" Disk Action VG/F (MMC) 1985
Revenge of Defender Epyx Amiga 3.5" Disk Action MS 1989
Ricochet Epyx Atari/Tandy Cass Strategy F/NM 1981
Robots of Dawn Epyx Apple II 5.25" Disk Adventure IM 1984
Robots of Dawn Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Adventure G/F 1984
Rogue Epyx Atari ST 3.5" Disk RPG NM (S) (T) 1985
Rogue Epyx Tandy 5.25" Disk RPG MS 1985
Silicon Warrior Epyx Atari Cart Action NM 1983
Space Station Oblivion Epyx Atari ST 3.5" Disk Action/Adventure MS 1987
Space Station Oblivion Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Action/Adventure F 1987
Spiderbot Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Action F (S) (C) 1986-87
Star Warrior Epyx Atari/Tandy Cass RPG F 1980
Starfire and Fire One Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Action F/F 1983
Street Sports Soccer Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Fantasy Sports MS 1988
Sub Battle Simulator Epyx DOS 5.25" Disk Simulation IM/VG 1987
Summer Games Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Sports VG/VG (MMC) 1984
Summer Games Epyx Atari 5.25" Disk Sports NM (S) (T) 1984-85
Summer Games Epyx Atari 5.25" Disk Sports F 1984
Summer Games II Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Sports VG/F 1985
Super Cycle Epyx Atari ST 3.5" Disk Action MS 1986
Sword of Fargoal Epyx C64 Cass RPG MS 1982
Temple of Apshai Epyx Atari Cass RPG NM 1980
Temple of Apshai Epyx Atari 5.25" Disk RPG MS 1980
Temple of Apshai Epyx C64 Cass RPG VG 1980-83
Temple of Apshai Epyx DOS 5.25" Disk RPG G 1981-83
Temple of Apshai Epyx Apple II 5.25" Disk RPG F/F (MMC) 1979-80
Temple of Apshai Trilogy Epyx Atari ST 3.5" Disk RPG

Temple of Apshai Trilogy Epyx C64/Atari 5.25" Disk RPG VG/F 1985
The Eidolon Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Action/Adventure IM 1985
The Eidolon Epyx C64/Atari 5.25" Disk Action/Adventure F 1985
The Games: Summer Edition Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Sports F (S) (T) 1988
The Games: Winter Edition Epyx Atari ST 3.5" Disk Sports MS 1988
The Keys of Acheron Epyx Apple II/Tandy 5.25" Disk RPG F/F 1981-82
The Legend of Blacksilver Epyx Apple II 5.25" Disk RPG F (S) (C) 1988
The Sporting News Baseball Epyx Apple II 5.25" Disk Sports VG (MMC) 1988
The World's Greatest Baseball Game (Enhanced Version) Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Sports F 1986
The World's Greatest Football Game Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Sports NM (S) (T) 1985
Thing on a Spring Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Action F (S) (C) (T) 1987
Upper Reaches of Apshai Epyx Atari 5.25" Disk RPG G 1981
Upper Reaches of Apshai Epyx DOS 5.25" Disk RPG NM 1981
Upper Reaches of Apshai Epyx C64 5.25" Disk RPG MS 1981
Winter Games Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Sports MS 1985
Winter Games Epyx Sinclair Cass Sports VG 1984
World Games Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Sports IM 1986
World Karate Championship Epyx Atari ST 3.5" Disk Fighting
1986
World Karate Championship Epyx Atari 5.25" Disk Fighting IM/IM 1986
World Karate Championship Epyx C64 5.25" Disk Fighting MS 1986
 

 

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