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

Tripping

Trip Hawkins, founder of computer video maker Electronic Arts

EA founder Trip Hawkins, 1983

 

Obsessed with board games as a youth, the interaction of people in competition is a compelling one for William “Trip” Hawkins. Predictions, for better or worse, are a recurring theme in Hawkins’ life, and he has two early direct hits that would outline the path of his later career. Graduating with honours from Harvard University with a major in Applied Game Theory, he creates a computer simulation of the 1974 Super Bowl, with the program predicting a Miami win of 23-6. By the time the game was played out in Houston, the end result had Miami winning 24-7.

In 1975, using information such as Intel’s invention of the first microprocessor, and the action forming around Dick Heiser’s The Computer Store, founded that year in Burlington, Mass. as the first computer retail store in the US, Hawkings creates another computer model. It informs him that he could feasibly start a company making home computer games by 1982.

Changing the Game

In the meantime, Hawkins gets an MBA from Stanford, and becomes Apple Employee #68 in 1978, after having seeing the debut of the Apple II at the first West Coast Computer Faire in April of 1977. As Manager of Market Planning, his job is to convince the business community of the virtues of the Apple II and subsequent GUI-driven LISA computer as business tools. When he sees demonstrations of new spreadsheet program VisiCalc designed by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston for Personal Software, he knows he is seeing the future of business software. Apple brass are not so enthusiastic, however, and president A. C. “Mike” Markkula Jr. balks at Personal Software president Dan Fylstra’s demand of $1 million in Apple stock for exclusive rights to the program. Apple therefore loses the chance to monopolize the first spreadsheet program for their machine, which goes on to drive the sales of every home computer of the first wave.

Hawkins leaves Apple in 1982, another fresh millionaire minted from the skyrocketing company, feeling constrained as staff roles explode from the 50 or so when he started to over 4,000. With an initial outlay of $120,000, he starts a new company called Amazin’ Software. Coming over from his role as VisiCorp’s director of marketing, Rich Melmon is the first staff-member hired, becoming executive VP of marketing at Hawkin’s new venture. He is followed later by Tim Mott, Bing Gordon, David Maynard and Joe Ybarra. Late in the year they get together for a meeting to change the name of the company, after the first choice of “SoftArt” is nixed by Software Arts head Dan Bricklin. Down to the finalists “Electronic Artists” and “Electronic Arts”, the rules are that everyone must agree, and if you go to bed you forfeit your vote. Hawkins is Chairman, CEO and President, as well as the man in charge of talent. Looking for some venture capital, he sets up office in Don Valentine’s VC company Sequoia Capital. There Hawkins draws up the business plan for a new software company, one that would make a radical departure from the prevalent attitudes at the big game makers like Atari and Mattel, where the people actually designing and programming the games are considered little more than anonymous serfs. Trip headhunts staff from Apple, as well as Atari and Xerox PARC. Sequoia ponies up $1 million, along with additional investors John Doerr, Ben Rosen and Jerry Moss (The “M” to Herb Alpert’s “A” at A&M records). Valentine and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak join EA’s board of directors.

 

Sports Score

With $2 million in total capital, a 28-year old Hawkins sets up shop in San Mateo, CA in late 1982. The first platforms for the new company’s games are the Atari 400/800 and Apple II. Said games found by Hawkins through trade magazines like SoftTalk, as well as direct game submissions from programmers interested in having another entity handle the production and marketing of their wares. Hawkins’ mantra for the product he wants the company to release is “Simple, hot and deep”. Simple, as in gameplay that’s easy to pick up without having to memorize a 100-page manual. Hot, meaning a lot of action.  And deep, so that players continue to discover more and more of the game’s intricacies as they play. Initial releases include Music Construction Set by Will Harvey, and Mike Abbott and Matt Alexander’s Hard Hat Mack. Based on his recollections of televised One-On-One basketball exhibitions in the 60′s sponsored by hair tonic Vitalis, Hawkins comes up with the idea for one of EA’s first big hits.  Dr. J and Larry Bird Go One on One is co-authored by Eric Hammond, who’s biggest previous credit is having made Marauder for Sierra On-Line, ne: On-Line Systems. Recommended to EA via local programming legend Jim Nitchals, in late 1982 Hammond is initially offered the chance to do a football game for the company. Telling them he’s really more into basketball, this immediately sparks the interest of EA producer Joe Ybarra, who shares a passion for the sport. Hawkins then comes up with a ploy to bring in Julius Erving of the Philadelphia 76ers and Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics for technical consultation and promotion. Hammond shares author credit with Dr. J and Bird, although it mostly Erving who supplies the majority of the unique game strategies. Said features including the ability to rotate to protect the ball, and the defensive ability to hack away the ball from the opposing player. Dr. J’s court philosophies make such an impact on Hawkins that he incorporates them into his own business behaviours.

Along with the two basketball stars’ athletic styles, One on One also sports large, show-stopping sprites of the two stars, along with lovingly crafted details like Hammond’s addition of a foul-mouthed janitor who comes onto court to sweep up the mess when one of the guys smashes the backboard. To evoke the impromptu feel of a one-on-one basketball game, the cover image for the packaging is shot at a Springfield, Mass. public school playground, causing quite a stir with the local kids.

Photo of Eric Hammond, programmer of computer video basketball game One on One

One on One co-author Eric Hammond, 1984

 

Free Falling

A key team to sign the revolutionary EA talent contract in the company’s early days are Jon Freeman and Anne Westfall. A co-founder of Automated Simulations/Epyx, Freeman has found himself chafing against the leadership decisions of partner Jim Connelley, feeling more and more hemmed in by marketing and publishing aspects of the company. Freeman and Westfall leave the company in October of 1980, and found Free Fall Associates in Morgan Hill, CA. in December of 1981. They are joined there from Epyx by Paul Reiche III, who is no neophyte to game design: as a resume of sorts while applying to RPG powerhouse TSR in 1980, Reiche writes AD&D module Temple of Poseidon. He works for the company for a year before leaving to join Freefall. Operating strictly as a game development house, Reiche and Freeman hash out the design principles of the games they create, with Westfall doing the coding in machine language. Freefall see the 8-bit Atari computers as the best, easiest platform on which to create games, and their first product is Tax Dodge in 1982, published by Island Graphics. In this clever Pac-Man riff, the player must run around a scrolling maze collecting money while avoiding the dreaded IRS agents, spawned from an IRS office in the middle of the maze. Inflation, deductions, tax shelters and lawyers all figure into the game. Unfortunately, not enough future chartered accountants buy into the premise, and without the kid vote the game has no chance for a big payday. However, through a profile in industry publication Softline, the fledgling development company is hooked up with EA. On the same day that his company is incorporated, Hawkins contacts FreeFall. Attracted by both the new attitude of the company and its policy of offering upfront advances against royalties, Freeman and Westfall sign the first EA developer contract.

Map for 'Temple of Poseidon', 1980 AD&D module by Paul Reiche III

Map for ‘Temple of Poseidon’, 1980 AD&D module by Paul Reiche III

Snap of Archon: The Light and the Dark, a computer game for the C64 by EA 1983

Facing off in Archon: The Light and the Dark

 

So Mote It Be

For their first EA game, the team is inspired by that greatest of all strategic games: Chess. Blending in a taste of sword and sorcery chess sets and Freeman’s remembrances of participating in large outdoor chess matches with humans as pieces, along with a nod to the holographic chess set featured in Star Wars, they start work on Archon: The Light and the Dark. As part of EA’s system of assigning producers to projects, Joe Ybarra helps guide the game’s development, as well as serving as a vehement game tester. The balancing act for the designers is to create a deep strategy game, while still offering enough excitement to appease twitchy action gamers. Archon features 18 fantasy creature pieces to a side, with different real-time attacks and spells available to rain down upon your opponent. The game is originally conceived as a two-player exercise, but near the end of its development, EA requests a one-player mode which extends production time. It is released for the Atari 8-bit computers in May of 1983, with a C64 version following in October. The game is a big hit, and Hawkings wants a sequel. But instead of producing a quickie knock-off by simply adding a few new creatures, Free Fall works out a different yet similar concept with an altered game field, more and varied creatures, and new spells and skills. Archon II: Adept is released in 1984 for EA, receiving even more acclaim than the original.

Produced concurrently with the original Archon is Murder on the Zinderneuf, designed by Freeman and Reiche, with Robert Leyland programming. Leyland himself had come from Automated Simulations/Epyx, having made Dragon’s Eye and Alien Garden there. In Zinderneuf, players take the role of one of eight thinly-disguised famous fictional sleuths, with names like Miss Agatha Marbles, Emile Klutizeau and Achille Merlot, and attempt to solve a murder case aboard a giant blimp. They have 12 hours (about 35 real-time minutes) to solve the mystery before the zeppelin lands and the killer revealed by the game. It’s a revolutionary game in that the plot and the sixteen characters you encounter on the blimp are shuffled around every time you play, making for a totally new gaming experience with every reload. Free Fall Associates trods the checkerboard floor again with Archon Ultra for SSi in 1994, adding online play to the mix. They eventually move into playing card games, with a game system titled Thrall. With both solitaire and online multiplayer modes, the games are featured prominently on Prodigy’s GameTV service.

As for former partner Paul Reiche III, in 1985, eight years before Pokemon is unleashed onto the world, he along with Evan and Nicky Robinson make Mail Order Monsters, where players grow creatures with a wide variety of available skills and physical attributes inside genetic vats, who then battle against each other in different arena environments. Reiche then goes on to found game company Toys for Bob along with Fred Ford, developing the first two hit games in the Star Control series for Accolade.

"We See Farther" magazine ad for Electronic Arts

One of the famous “We See Farther” ads

 

Going Farther

EA starts shipping their first games on May 20, 1983. The entire 30-odd staff members including Hawkins go down to the South San Francisco  warehouse and hand-package the software. When a retailer comes by to pick up his order, it is personally handed to him by Hawkins. The crew gets a treat for their hard work: Hawkins has rented out an entire theatre, and the gang watches a special showing of Return of the Jedi, which the general public isn’t able to see for another five days. Along with the Atari 8-bit computer systems and the Apple II, the software company creates some of the most popular and ingenious programs for the C64 during its astronomic rise, by some of the most talented designers and programmers around. The new vision of Electronic Arts is heralded by the famous We See Farther magazine ads, with headlines like “Can a computer make you cry?”. These and later magazine ads are lavishly produced, featuring photos of the game designers taken by a rock album cover photographer over the course of an all day photo shoot in San Francisco. Under the guidance of art director Nancy L. Fong, Electronic Arts revolutionizes the way computer games are packaged, presented in 9″ x 9″ square folded “record albums”, constructed from heavy cardboard with colourful covers and fanciful instruction manuals and liner notes inside. The look of the packaging is not a coincidence; it’s meant to appeal to teenagers, the same demographic that buys a lot of record albums. EA promotes the game developers like rockstars and software “composers”, with extensive author images and bios prominently displayed. The music industry analogy is further continued in  EA’s talent contract, an amalgam of computer and music industry legal boiler plate. It also pioneers the idea of paying video game developers who have proven themselves in the field with advances against future royalties collected through sales of the products they produce. As well as financial compensation, EA also strives to facilitate easier and quicker design workflow for its artists by providing technology such as compilers, tools that allow designers to work in a higher-level language which is ultimately converted to the more difficult machine language understood by the computer. Graphic, audio and interface tools are also developed for the use of game designers. The company also has a novel stress-release program; employees are issued Nerf guns to take out their frustrations, and offices littered with Nerf balls is a common sight.

 

A Software Artist

In 1974 Dan Bunten is an industrial engineer graduate living in Little Rock, Arkansas, working as a management systems engineer designing mathematical system models under a grant from the National Science Foundation. Having been an avid boardgame player with his many siblings in his youth, in his off time he designs text-based computer games, the first of which is an Apple II business management game made in 1978 called Wheeler Dealers, with one of the aspects of the game being a real-time auction. Canada’s Speakeasy Software, based in Kemptville, Ontario,  publishes the game as a 16K cassette at $54 dollars apiece. It is one of the first software titles that comes packed in a dedicated box, in order to house the included adapter, designed by Bunten, to allow up to 4 players to play at one computer. This at a time when computer games are a solitary affair, come in zip-lock bags and sell for around $15. Only 150 copies of Wheeler Dealers eventually sell, but it manages to attract the attention of Trip Hawkins, a founding board member of SSI. EA buys a minority stake in SSi in 1979, with Hawkins’ company gaining the rights to distribute SSi software in the U.S. and Canada. The same year, Bunten makes Computer Quarterback, a text-based football simulation designed for his friends to play and sold to SSI, becoming one of their best-selling games up to that point. Bunten then makes Cartels & Cutthroats for the company, allowing up to 6 players on an Apple II. Cytron Masters is the final game Bunten does for SSi, released under their RapidFire game line, an attempt to pivot to more action-oriented fare a la Automated Simulations and their Epyx label . Cytron represents nearly eight months of development time on the Apple II, and is Bunten’s attempt at creating a graphical real-time strategy game that also offers a two-player mode. Released in 1982 for the Apple II and later converted to the Atari 800, Cytron is Bunten’s first game with graphics, and by this time he has gathered a core team of three – brother Bill Bunten, Jim Rushing, and Alan Watson – collectively known as Ozark Softscape. Hawkins, now running EA, tries to get the rights to sell Cartels & Cutthroats, but SSI won’t let it go. Bunten convinces Hawkins that he can do a better version of the game for EA, and under the auspices of producer Joe Ybarra, nine months later M.U.L.E. is born for the Atari 8-bit computer line.

Liner notes for M.U.L.E.. L. to R.: Bill Bunten, Jim Rushing, Alan Watson and Dan Bunten

Liner notes for M.U.L.E.. L. to R.: Bill Bunten, Jim Rushing, Alan Watson and Dan Bunten.  Buntens’ sister Theresa far left

 

44 Acres and a M.U.L.E.

Along with economics of Cartels & Cutthroats, the new game is also heavily influenced by Parker Brothers’ timeless board game Monopoly. So much so, in fact, that the computer game features a “Species Selection” screen, where players can pick their favourite character to play with, akin to choosing a favourite metal token at the start of the famous board game. Bunten and his team have also pinpointed that the real joy in playing Monopoly is the dealing and collusion that goes on with players outside of the game board, and so do their best to program this kind of flexibility into the game. To further the Monopoly analogy: players engage in acquiring land plots (real estate) and are subject to the vagaries of random events (Chance cards). M.U.L.E. gameplay also circles around the real-time auctions that had featured so prominently in Wheeler Dealers. Inspiration for the plot and setting comes from the Robert A. Heinlein novel Time Enough For Love, read by both Bunten brothers, where colonists on another world use bio-engineered mules to settle the landscape and build a functioning economy. In the game these mules become the Multiple Use Labor Elements of the title, their shape taken from a foot high AT-AT Walker model from The Empire Strikes Back that Alan Watson’s son possesses. Referred to as Planet Pioneers at the start of the project by the developers, EA wants to label the game with the unfortunate Moguls from Mars. The ultimate title thankfully wins out after Ozark shows management the impressive M.U.L.E. title screen, with the title character ambling across.

Bunten’s history as a systems engineer really comes through in the design of M.U.L.E., especially in what’s happening under the hood. As players acquire plots of land on the colony planet of Irata (read that backwards) and start producing commodities to buy and sell, a remarkable economic simulation begins to take effect. Complex economic theories, such as Scarcity, Supply and Demand, Economies of Scale, Production Learning Curves and even Market Collusion all come into play, depending on player actions. Up to four people can crowd around the computer to play; this is easily facilitated by the four joystick ports on the Atari 800, but more cumbersome when attempted with only two joysticks on a system like the later C64 version. There, two people have to bunch up at the keyboard and use a group of keys on either side. Of course, this close proximity makes it easier for full-contact responses to any egregious actions by fellow colonists as gameplay unfolds. Players must be careful to avoid cornering the market too much, and not just due to the risk of getting punched by an aggravated co-colonist: following the plotline from Heinlein’s book, a minimum production capability of the settlement as a whole must be met, or else be considered a failure and refused inclusion in the planetary federation of the game. For those lacking enough willing human participants, the CPU can take up the slack for any empty player slots.

All the economic chicanery and colonist backbiting is coated by a breezy and accessible art style from Bill Bunten. Accompanying this is a jaunty rock theme commissioned from Roy Glover, and which later gives Dan Bunten a slight pause as it becomes the most memorable part of the game for most people. It certainly becomes an ear worm for Wil Wright, a fellow game-god who slips the theme into the soundtrack of his 2008 epic Spore, where one can hear it in, apropos, the game’s spacefaring section as players seek out new worlds to colonize.

Released in 1983, only 30,000 copies of M.U.L.E. are sold, however. This relative lack of sales is not a true symbol of the game’s success, as its market is initially limited to Atari’s 8-bit computers. It also has to be in the top three of the most pirated games in computer history, especially on the C64 platform where it becomes a classic piece of gaming software. 

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 a 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)



“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.
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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