In 1991, Sierra was on the vanguard of online graphical virtual worlds, as The Sierra Network, initially devised by co-founder Ken Williams as a service for house-bound seniors called The Constant Companion, moved from test marketing to nationwide service.
Moving from simple parlour games like chess and backgammon to action games like Red Baron and The Shadow of Yserbius, TSN also promised virtual “theme-parks” like SierraLand and LarryLand.
In addition, users could communicate with each other across live conference areas. To help new users parse the strange text they might be seeing online, in the Summer of 1992 Sierra-published magazine InterAction helpfully provided a guide to this arcane language:
It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it
It’s interesting to see how online shorthand has evolved from the early days of virtual communities. For instance, <ROF,L> The comma seems a bit superfluous if you’re trying to acronym something. And <G,D&R> for grinning, ducking and running. That’s waaaay too much work.
As for the emoticons, I have to say that (a smiling person wearing a striped necktie) and (Uncle Sam) are two amazing feats of engineering, but regular use for them in the vernacular is dubious. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Or so says a smiling Batman B-)
Squaresoft’s Parasite Eve was based on a popular Japanese book written by pharmacologist Hideaki Sena in his free time. Doing testing on mitochondria cells, producers of electrical energy in organisms, he started to wonder about the results if mitochondria decided it had had enough and took over the bodies it was residing in.
Sena was happy with the video game adaptation of his work, an adaptation that went on to big success in its own right, and spawned two sequels.
All NYPD cop Ms. Brea wanted was an evening at the opera without the actors and audience spontaneously bursting into flame. Unfortunately, as we see in this horrifying PlayStation game intro, she didn’t get her wish.
You’d be hard-pressed not to feel your blood quicken in anticipation of the coming battles as the intro to 1990’s PowerMonger unfurls like a kingdom banner. The game intro featured in this installment of Grand Openings was a revelation on the Amiga computer, telling a whole narrative of conquest through stirring music and effective animations.
PowerMonger itself was a fun RTS, offering a huge landmass to take over and varying strategies with which to do it. While it eventually became a tad repetitive as you steamrollered opposing armies over and over again, the nearly endless permutations of lands to fight on and fascinating little touches in gameplay never let it get boring.
You knew Peter Molyneux and his game company Bullfrog Productions had something grand up their sleeves as this mini-movie played at the beginning of their exceedingly fun war RTS game. To arms!
With the start of a new video series, we look at some great intros to classic games that set an atmospheric tone for the rest of the proceedings.
We start with Chrono Cross for the PlayStation, yet another staggering RPG by the masters of the genre, Squaresoft. A sequel to Chrono Trigger on the SNES,Chrono Cross was a big hit, both critically and at the cash register, moving over 1.5 million units.
The intro to the game is suitably epic, giving quick glimpses of young protagonist Serge’s coming adventures, and ends with him making a startling discover…. he has apparently died. It also features truly amazing music from composer Yasunori Mitsuda, that perfectly captures the emotional sweep of the game.
Inspired by the great success Activision is enjoying in its early years producing games for the Atari VCS/2600, Los Gatos-based Imagic becomes the second third-party software manufacturer. Former Atari vice president of marketing Bill Grubb forms the company under a $2 million business plan, founded on July 17 1981. He is joined by Dennis Koble, who in 1976 was one of the first programmers hired by Atari. Also part of the founding team is ex-Mattel Electronics alums, Jim Goldberger and Brian Dougherty. Dougherty asks Pat Ransil, a classmate of his from U.C. Berkeley, to come along for the ride. Imagic Corporation’s staff is initially made up of 10 employees, consisting mostly of former Atari and Mattel crew. The list of programmers includes Rob Fulop, who at the tender age of 21 had been hired by Atari in 1979. While toiling in obscurity at the company, in 1980 Fulop created a VCS version of the 1978 arcade hit Night Driver. He also pumped out a version of Space Invaders for Atari’s 400/800 computers the same year. Next came his masterful adaptation of Missile Command to the VCS in 1981, into which he also hid his initials as an easter egg for astute gamers to find.
Rob Fulop, circa 1981
Imagic designer Rob Fulop with various Demon Attack versions, 1983
Demon Attack designer Rob Fulop, circa 1997
Demon Attack, VCS/2600
Phoenix on the Atari VCS/2600
That same year Fulup leaves Atari to join Imagic, and there he designs Demon Attack over a five-month period. It debuts at the 1982 Winter CES in Las Vegas as one of the three initial cartridge offerings from the company, along with Star Raiders knock-off Star Voyager and pool game Trick Shot. Demon Attack becomes the best-selling Imagic cartridge, moving over one million units and ported to numerous video game and computer platforms. It also plucks the 1983 Videogame of the Year award from the pack, awarded in the pages of Electronic Games magazine. Out of the “gamestorming” sessions held to create new game ideas, Fulop also creates hit Cosmic Ark for Imagic, along with the idea of linking the game with Koble’sAtlantis; when the player loses at the end of Atlantis they’ll notice a ship taking off amid the destruction. This is the Ark from Cosmic Ark, charged with collecting species from new planets to help the Atlanteans repopulate. Fulup also populates the Imagic catalog with the lesser-known Fathom and a very rare Rubik’s Cube game called Cubicolor. Also on board at Imagic is VCSVideo Pinball creator Bob Smith, whose output for the company includes Riddle of the Sphinx and Dragonfire.
Dennis Koble and Bill Grubb, 1982
Ad for Dragonfire, by Imagic 1982
Imagic ads in a nutshell: Do you have the stones to play our games?
Imagic game designer Dennis Koble, 1997
The company expands to a staff of 250, with sales eventually surpassing 125 million dollars. An extensive advertising campaign attempts to differentiate the company from the competition, with an aggressive (some might say, passive aggressive) series of ads insulting casual gamers and sneeringly daring hardcore players to defeat the increased difficulty of Imagic cartridges. Not one to be outdone by “the other” third-party game maker, Imagic moves into an ambitious 123,000 sq. ft. office and manufacturing plant in 1982. Part of their plan from the beginning, Imagic expands their roster of games from just the Atari 2600, to include cartridges for the Intellivision and the Odyssey² as well as Atari’s 8-bit computer line. The initial product for the Atari 400 and 800 computers is, of course, to be Demon Attack.
The Imagic’s Over
Although their formation as a third-party video game manufacturer had been inspired by Activision, Imagic doesn’t have quite as successful a transition through the great video game crash, a result of overreaching, underperforming and just plain bad timing. Looking to raise capital to maintain their ambitious game release schedule, in late 1982 the company files with the SEC to make a public offering of stock in the company. The problem is that during the review period for the IPO, Warner Communications makes its fateful announcement that Atari has underperformed in the fourth quarter of the year. This sends a shockwave through the markets and Warner shares plummeting. This has such a detrimental effect on Imagic’s financial footing that the IPO filing has to be pulled.
Just kidding, it’s actually great news. Imagic ad, 1982
As high-profile Atari games such as E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark languish on store shelves, buyers and distributors begin demanding that video game companies like Imagic buy back unsold inventory. The company capitulates in order to keep preferred positioning on store shelves but must burn up $12 million worth of their privately held stock to pay for it all. An announcement in the later part of 1983 indicates their intention of adding home computer software to their library of games, including ports of their more popular games like Demon Attack and Microsurgeon for the Texas Instruments TI 99/4A computer. Another announcement in October, however, reveals that Imagic has laid off most of its staff. The intention of the company is to drop the manufacturing and distribution part of their business and become a video game design house only. In the end, after having produced 25 games for various home consoles, Imagic folds up shop in 1986, one of the more high-profile victims of the big video game crash.
Welcome to the new Dot Eaters. To commemorate our 15th year in existence, we have totally revamped the site from top to bottom, in order to provide a better experience while examining our antiquities. The retro systems, games and companies we cover now all fall under the “Bitstory” section, with each article given its own page. Navigation throughout the site is streamlined and optimized to make getting to content easier. And, of course, there’s the new visual presentation you see all around you.
To celebrate, we are having a launch party, complete with classic game consoles set up that people can play. You can check out the details on our Facebook event page. I hope you enjoy the new look and feel of the Dot Eaters, and please share your opinions with us.