1983 splash screen logo on the C64, for EA, a video game company

EA splash screen logo on the C64, 1983

Electronic Arts - Seeing Farther

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Electronic Arts - 1982 to Present

Golden

After M.U.L.E. Bunten wants to do a computer port of Avalon Hill’s classic board game Civilization, but he is unable to drum up enough enthusiasm with his Ozark colleagues, and they eventually decide on a new-world exploration concept titled Seven Cities of Gold, with the thrust of the game being three-pronged: the bravery of explorers who set off into uncharted waters to discover a huge new world, the dangers of dealing with a native culture and overcoming the language barrier, and the morality of conquering a populace through force. Seven Cities also borrows from Bunten’s alarm at getting lost in the woods while backpacking one day. Taking the role of an intrepid explorer out to write his name in the history books, the player can take many paths to glory…they can peacefully explore the new world and trade their way to success, or take a cue from the real conquistadors and subdue the native population and seize their treasure by the sword. Seven Cities is another astounding achievement for Ozark in graphics, play-value, historical context, and countless other areas. Released in 1984, the game goes on to sell 150,000 copies, becoming Bunten’s best-selling game, as well as his first solo-player program. During a press conference, Hawkins coins the term “edutainment” to describe it to the media. Almost a decade later, in 1993, EA would release a complete remake of the game featuring high-res graphics, titled Seven Cities of Gold: The Commemorative Edition. A sequel to the original, with the astoundingly original name Seven Cities of Gold II by Michael Kosaka, is also released by EA that year.

Heart and Soul

The original Seven Cities is followed by Heart of Africa in 1985. This is Bunten’s first adventure game and last solo player effort. And with its GUI system, it could also be called the first graphic adventure game with point-and-click control, coming two years before Lucasfilm’s Maniac Mansion. It sees release only on the C64 platform but ultimately sells almost as many units as Seven Cities. Bunten leaves EA after doing two more games for them: Robot Rascals (1986) is a hybrid computer/card game that requires four humans around the computer to play. They issue commands to their choice of one of 10 on-screen robots with a joystick, in a scavenger hunt to find the items on the cards they draw from an “Item” deck. An additional “Luck” deck deals out bonuses or penalties. The other game for EA is Modem Wars (1988), the first fully online game produced by a major manufacturer. Bunten’s ultimate departure from EA is partly due to a rift over the fact that Hawkins refuses to port MULE for Nintendo under the guise that his company doesn’t make cartridge games. Mindscape ends up porting a version for Nintendo in 1990.  Bunten signs a deal with Microprose and is uncertain what his next game will be. He is torn between adapting two board games, one the port of Civilization, the other Milton Bradley’s Axis and Allies. Fellow Microprosian Sid Meier convinces Bunten to do a WWII game, which becomes Command HQ, Bunten’s second-best selling game, while Meier tackles Civ. CHQ is followed by Global Conquest, the first four-player online game, in 1992.

Title screen for Heart of Africa, a computer game by Ozark Softscape/EA 1995

Heart of Africa title screen

 

That same year Bunten gets a sex-change operation, or as she puts it, a “pronoun” change, becoming Danielle Bunten Berry. She is then involved in an attempt by Sega to move M.U.L.E. to their Genesis game console, but the project is aborted after Berry refuses to add weapons to the MULEs as per Sega’s request. This is followed by a year in Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s think tank Interval, in a project to develop games designed especially for girls. Her last gig is designing Internet games for Mpath Interactive, where her work there culminates in WarSport in 1997, a totally free, downloadable action strategy game.

Online Champion

If you could pick out one driving obsession in Berry’s career, it would be using multiplayer games as a device to bring people closer together through a computer conduit. Berry designs more multiplayer games than anyone else in the industry. By the mid-90’s the gaming industry as a whole has finally caught up with Berry’s multiplayer vision, with the option to play online becoming a standard feature in games. Online gaming loses its greatest champion on July 3, 1998, when Danielle Bunten Berry dies of lung cancer. 26 years after it is originally released, an Internet multiplayer version of M.U.L.E. sanctioned by the remaining Bunten family is released. Called Planet M.U.L.E., it is produced by Blue Systems and developed by Turborilla.

Bill Budge, a computer video game programmer

Bill Budge at California Pacific, 1981

 

Pinball Wizard

In 1970 a curious Bill Budge attends a newly created computer math class at his high school. Using time on an archaic IBM 1401 provided by a local business, Budge writes out his assembler code on sheets which are transferred to punch cards and receives the printed output. Starting with mathematical functions, he moves into Fortran programming and his first finished game is a version of tic-tac-toe. He has discovered his calling. Attending the PhD program at UC Berkeley, he buys an Apple II late in 1978 and starts programming game on it. Many of which are proficient translations of current vector graphics arcade hits like Lunar Lander, Asteroids and Space Wars. Inspired by PONG, he writes a version of the game called Penny Arcade. Watching the phosphor ball move back and forth in his darkened apartment, on an 80 dollar b&w TV set, it’s a kind of epiphany to the young Budge. He trades the game to Apple for a printer, and in 1981 lands a part-time position at the company as a graphics engineer. He sells his first commercial game, Lunar Lander knock-off Tranquility Base through Stoneware Microcomputer Products, AND he is also a programmer at California Pacific Computer Company, one of a star stable of up-and-coming game creators, which also includes Ultima author Lord British/Richard Garriott. There, Budge creates game compilations such as Trilogy of Games and Space Album; both collections of his arcade-inspired works. An aficionado of the stop-motion FX creations of Ray Harryhausen (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts) , as well as Disney films, Budge uses the Apple II to create his own animated style. Even while treading the well-worn ground of video arcade game knock-offs, Budge’s output startles with its touches of fluid animation, especially in the confines of the Apple II.

1980 ad for Tranquility Base, a computer game by Bill Budge

Ad for Tranquility Base, Bill Budge’s first commercial product, 1980

 

Although Budge was not previously a pinball fan, Wozniak and the other engineers at Apple are, and their enthusiasm rubs off. During his spare time at Apple he codes Raster Blaster for the Apple II in 1981. It is the first home computer pinball simulation, derived from Budge’s experience with an earlier arcade version. He founds BudgeCo. to market the game, which becomes a huge success. He is tired of simply aping the types of games to be found in the arcades, so taking the bitmap graphics editing tools he has created to make Raster Blaster, Budge incorporates them into Pinball Construction Set, and the GUI (graphical user interface) used to place the pieces becomes the first ever incorporated into a computer game. The GUI is inspired by the XeroxPARC Alto, the first computer to use one as its operating system. Budge strives for accuracy in the pieces the users of the game can move around with the pointing hand icon; during the early stages of development he purchases an old Target Alpha pinball game by Gottlieb and takes it apart, analyzing each component so that their analogs in the game look like reasonably accurate representations.

Recommended to Trip Hawkins through his friend Steve Wozniak, Budge joins EA and Pinball Construction Set becomes a big hit as one of the initial offerings by the young games company in 1983, and Budge is sent out on a press tour and signs copies of the game for fans. He re-writes the program for the Sega Genesis in 1993, under the moniker Virtual Pinball. He later joins Hawkins at 3D0 in 1993, as a distinguished engineer.

Electronic Arts ad featuring the Amiga, a home computer by Commodore 1985

Damn you, Commodore!

 

Juggernaut

Such are just a few of the many talented designers and programmers in the early years of Electronic Arts. A list of the other games produced during this period reads like a top 100 made for the early computer platforms, including titles like ArcticFox, The Bard’s Tale series, Earth Orbit Station, John Madden Football, Marble Madness, PHM Pegasus, Racing Destruction Set, Realm of Impossibility, SkyFox, Strike Fleet, and Wasteland…to name a few. Hawkins begins developing the 3D0 gaming hardware project inside EA at the beginning of the ’90s, and he leaves the company he founded to guide this new hardware licensing venture. Mail Order Monsters co-creator Paul Reiche III, co-founding development house Toys for Bob with Fred Ford in 1989, scores with the first two Star Control games for Accolade: Star Control in 1990 and Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters in 1992.  The company is uninvolved with the disastrous 3rd entry, Star Control 3, developed by Legend Entertainment and released in 1996. Toys for Bob also rides the wave of CD-ROM technology in 1994 with FMV extravaganza The Horde, and lands a critical success with Pandemonium!, for most major systems of the era, in 1996.  2005 sees the development house purchased by Activision, and in 2011 Reiche III and Ford meld their love of real toys and video games with stunning success with the first of the Skylanders games. Fellow programmer Robert Leyland is along for the ride, working on both Star Control and Skylanders. Electronic Arts makes a series of acquisitions of prominent development houses over the intervening years; here is a brief list of some of them and highlights of their releases:

Origin Systems in 1992, disbanded in 2004 (Ultima series: 1981-1999, Wing Commander series: 1990-1997)

Westwood Studios in 1998, disbanded in 2003 (BattleTech series: 1988-1990, Dune series: 1992-2001, Eye of the Beholder I & II: 1990-1991, The Legend of Kyrandia series: 1992-1994, Command & Conquer series: 1995-2002)

Maxis in 1997 (SimCity series: 1989-2013, The Sims series: 2000-2012, Spore: 2008)

Jane’s Combat Simulations brand in 1995, disbanded in 2000 (Advanced Tactical Fighters: 1995, AH-64D Longbow: 1996, 688i Hunter/Killer: 1997, F-15: 1988, Fleet Command: 1999)

Bullfrog Productions, Ltd. in 1995, disbanded in 2004 (Populous series: 1989-1998, Powermonger: 1990, Syndicate series: 1993-1996, Magic Carpet and Magic Carpet 2: 1994-1995, Theme Park: 1994, Dungeon Keeper and Dungeon Keeper 2: 1997-1999, Theme Hospital: 1997, SimTheme Park: 1999, SimCoaster: 2001)

Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment aka DICE in 2006 (Pinball Dreams and Pinball Fantasies: 1992, Pinball Illusions: 1995, Battlefield series: 2002-2014, Mirror’s Edge: 2008)

Mythic Entertainment in 2009, disbanded 2014 (Dark Age of Camelot: 2001, WarHammer Online series: 2008-2013)

And so it goes. We remove our baseball caps and salute those development teams that created some great computer games, and were thusly digested in the belly of the beast. Via these myriad acquisitions, Electronic Arts has ended up as one of the largest game companies around; it’s come a long way from Trip Hawkins’ noble dream of being an incubator for “Software Artists”.  logo_stop

 


Sources (Click to view; inert links are kept for historical purposes)



“Moments of Truth.” Next Generation, Nov. 1998, p. 116. So Hawkins asks Irving’s [sic] agent if his client would be willing to let EA use his name and likeness in a computer basketball game. Electronic Arts paid Irving a $25,000 fee for his name and image.”Anyway, he agreed to do it, making it possible for us to have Dr. J’s agent ask Larry Bird’s agent. “Why don’t you do it, and on the same terms [as Dr. J]?” says Hawkins.
“Future Computing.” Personal Computing Jan. & feb. 1977: 75-76. Print. When he (Dick Heiser) and his wife, Lois, opened the Computer Store in Santa Monica, Calif. in October 1975, they were pioneers who were venturing into the unknown.
“Hawkins Appointed Manager of Market Planning for Apple.” Intelligent Machines Journal 17 Jan. 1979: 5. Print. Hawkins is a graduate magna cum laude from Harvard, and holds an MBA from Stanford’s Business School, where his emphasis was on finance, marketing, and organizational control
“Silicon Alley.” Editorial. K-Power Mar. 1984: 12. K-Power Magazine Issue 2. Internet Archive. Web. 04 Feb. 2016. He [Bill Budge] signed up for a computer math course in high school in 1970.“Compuzine.” K-Power Feb. 1984: 14. Internet Archive. Web. 4 Feb. 2016. Rich Merman, Electronic Arts’ VP in charge of marketing, explained the company’s record “focus”: “Certain types of software are heavily bought by teenage boys. They’re also the ones who spend money on record albums.”Softline, “Things to Come: The Pinball Construction Set”, pgs. 8-9, Nov 1982. “‘Broken down to their basics, all the current (arcade) games are either maze games or Pong: I didn’t want any part of that.'” “In the nascent stages of the Pinball Constuction Set’s development, Budge visited a local thrift shop, purchased an obsolete Gottlieb Target Alpha  pinball machine (circa 1977), and took it apart to see what each component looked like in its simplest form. ‘The reason for that was so that when you look at the construction set on the screen, it will look like you actually have the parts sitting in a box for you to pick up and work with.'” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Softline collection, Oct 30 2015.
Electronic Fun With Computers and Games, “Gamemakers: The Freewill Factor”, interview by Phil Wiswell, pgs. 55-57, 102-103, Nov 1983. “JF [Jon Freeman]: Among other things, Paul actually worked at TSR for a year.”. “JF: Joe Ybarra is a producer at Electronic Arts and a hard-core gamer of all sorts of persuasions. He is certainly a top Archon player.”. “EF: Jon, you once played the part of King’s Pawn in a giant game of human chess…” “JF: That’s just one of those things that got stuck in a file in the back of my mind and sat there waiting to be used. After 15 years, it came out as Archon.”. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, EFWCG collection, Sep 9, 2015.
Image of Bing Gordon, Greg Riker and Joe Ybarra together from MicroTimes, “Electronic Arts, a Different Approach to Software” by Matthew Leeds, pgs. 68-74, April 1986. Photo by Pat Johnson Studios. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, MicroTimes newsletter collection
Halcyon Days | Danielle Berry – www.dadgum.com/halcyon/BOOK/BERRY.HTM
Wikipedia | Civilization (board game) – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilization_(board_game)
JoyStik, “Electronic Arts: A New Software Breed”, by Danny Goodman, pgs. 40 – 43, Vol. 2 Num. 3, Dec. 1983. Retrieved from bombjack.org, JoyStik magazine archive
Computer Gaming World, “Cytron Masters for the Atari – Conversion versus Upgrade” by Dan Bunten, pg. 31, Nov/Dec 1982. Retrieved from the Computer Gaming World Museum, magazine archive
Wikipedia, “List of acquisitions by Electronic Arts”, Jun 25 2014
Softline Free Fall profile image, as well as other information from Softline, “New Players: Free Fall”, pgs. 28-29, Jan 1981. “Free Fall, nestled in the town of Morgan Hill, California…” “Free Fall is still in its formative stages (founded in December 1981…” “Relations with Jim Connelley became increasingly strained over the questions of what direction the company should take and how marketing should be handled.” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Softline collection, Oct 30 2015.
Speakeasy Software ad for Wheeler Dealers from Byte, pg. 131, June 1979. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Byte magazine collection
Archon, liner notes, Electronic Arts 1983
Computer Gaming World, “Dispatches – M.U.L.E. Designer Notes”, by Dan Bunten, pgs. 17, 42, Apr 1984. Retrieved from the Computer Gaming World Museum, magazine collection
1983 image of Trip Hawkins looking to the right, as well as other information from Softline, “New Players: Electronic Arts”, pgs. 52-53, Jul/Aug 1983. “…Don Valentine and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak joined the Electronic Arts board of directors.” “‘Sometimes,’ says Hawkins,’ a programmer approaches us with a really good idea. Then there are people we know of like Budge; we approach them to let them know we’d like to work for them and help sell their productions.'” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Softline collection, Nov 1 2015.
Image of Dan Bunten and Alan Watson with robot from Ahoy!, “Scuttlebutt: Game Releases”, pg.8, Jan 1987.  Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Ahoy! magazine collection
Blakespot‘s Flickr Photostream | We See Farther – www.flickr.com/photos/blakespot/3860428163/in/set-72157604317583021/
Star Control Manual, Author Biographies, Accolade 1990
Image of Trip Hawkins and Joel Billings together from Ahoy!, “Scuttlebutt”, pg. 12, Aug 1988, retrieved from the Internet Archive, Ahoy! magazine collection
Image of Paul Reiche III circa 2008 from Wikimedia Commons, File:Paulreiche.jpg, by Stumpsmash
Hunter, D. (1982, March 1). Exec Stoneware: They Try Harder. Softalk. “…Stone also obtained the right to Bill Budge’s first game, Tranquility Base.” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Softalk collection, Nov 3 2015.
Reiche, Paul. “The Temple of Poseidon.” Dragon, Feb. 1981, pp. 33–46. Image of Temple of Poseidon map
Videogaming Illustrated, “Eye On: The Digital Dr. J”, pg. 79, Sep 1983. “Thus, he [Trip Hawkins] is investing in software tool technologies such as the compiler…” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Videogaming Illustrated collection, Sep 17 2015.

Fields, Gary V. “Real Life in a Box.” Commodore July 1987: 70+. Print. Electronic Arts was founded in 1982. In Hawkins’ words, “I got some people together in August of 1982 and we brought our first product to market on May 18, 1983. It was a sort of unusual thing to do at Harvard at the time, but I created a special field of concentration called ‘strategy in applied game theory.’ …consider our all-time bestseller program, One-On-One Basketball. We probably sold 300,000 copies of that program…
Image of Bing Gordon from Compute!, “The Future of Computer Games: Ten Industry Leaders Speak Out” by Keith Ferrell, pg. 22, Nov 1987. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Compute! magazine collectionCompute!, “Birth of a Computer Game” by Sharon Daring, pgs. 48-54, Feb 1985. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Compute! magazine collection
Yuen, Matt. “Exec Electronic Arts.” Softtalk Aug. 1984: 36-40. Creative Computing Magazine (March 1984) Volume 10 Number 03. Internet Archive. Web. 02 Mar. 2016. Electronic Arts flew all of its artists (eight at the time) to San Francisco and hired a photographer from the Los Angeles music scene to photograph then for a two-page magazine ad.; On May 20, 1983,…Hawkins took the entire thirty-person company to its South San Francisco warehouse, where the group spend a good part of the day packing and shipping boxes… Later, to celebrate the occasion of getting its products out the door, Hawkins rented an entire theatre for a private screening of Return of the Jedi…; Walking through Electronic Art’s office, it’s hard not to notice the Nerf balls that lie casually in the conference room and on desk tops…they were given to employees as part of a stress-reduction program.; Erving’s philosophies impressed Hawkins so much that he adapted them to his management style.; …Electronic Arts does have a research and development department that devotes its time to working on graphics tools, sound routines, game kernels, user-interface designs, and other resources for artists to use.Image of Bill Budge in loud shirt, as well as other information from Softalk, “A Portrait of Bill Budge”, by Robert Koehler, photograph by Kurt A. Wahlner, pgs. 40-42, Feb 1981. “The reason I first bought my Apple was to do Disney-style animation.” “The idea of fantasy with animation was especially spurred by my admiration for Ray Harryhausen.” “The early games were inspired by the vector games I saw in the arcades… I wanted to duplicate that on the Apple, but, frankly, I don’t feel I achieved that.” “The Apple and Budge have more than a one-on-one relationship, however. A couple of days every week, he can be found in Cupertino working on software development for Apple Computer Inc.” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Softalk collection, Oct 27 2015.
1980 SSi ad for Computer Napoleonics and Computer Quarterback from Byte, pg. 223, Oct 1980. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Byte magazine collection
Image of the M.U.L.E. liner notes, and other information from The Digital Antiquarian, “Dan Bunten and M.U.L.E.” by Jimmy Maher, Feb 12, 2013
MicroTimes, “Free Fall: The Thinker’s Computer Games” by Mary Eisenhart and Bennett Falk, pgs. 12-13, May 1984. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, MicroTimes newsletter collection
Delson, James. “Will Harvey and His Music Construction Set.” Editorial. K-Power Mar. 1984: 35. K-Power Magazine Issue 2. Internet Archive. Web. 04 Feb. 2016. Image of Will Harvey and his Atari 800. Photo by Rick BrowneImage of Eric Hammond on the basketball court, along with other information from Yuen, M. (1984, March/April 1). Profiles in Programming: Eric Hammond. Softline , pp. 54-56. “Hammond was introduced to Electronic Arts through fellow programmer Jim Nitchals.” “Electronic Arts asked Hammond in late 1982 if he’d like to do a game for them…” “‘At first, they wanted me to do a football game, but i didn’t think that was too cool, I told them I was more interested in basketball.’ says Hammond. ‘When he mentioned that, our eyes lit up and everything clicked’ says Ybarra, an avid basketball fan. ‘Later (Electronic Arts’s president), Trip Hawkins came up with the idea of getting Julius ”Dr. J” Erving and Larry Bird to spice it up and endorse the game.'” “He (Erving) had some ideas about turning and spinning to face the basket, and a lot of ideas about how the defensive player should be able to block and steal the ball.'” “A different kind of thrill happened in Springfield, Massachusetts, when Electronic Arts’s ad agency went to shoot pictures of Erving and Bird in action for the game’s package.” “…Electronic Arts chose a public school playground as the set for photos.” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Softline collection, Nov 3 2015
Image of Archon cover and author photo from PegaSoft, “History .Archon” -http://www.pegasoft.ca/history/archon.htmlElectronic Games, “Inside Gaming: Software King of the Ozarks” by Tracie Forman, pgs. 68-69, Nov 1984. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
Special thanks go to Trip Hawkins and Bill Budge for providing additional information for this article

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