Splash screen for Jumpman, a computer video game by Epyx 1983

Title screen for Epyx game Jumpman, 1983

Epyx - Epyx Journey

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Epyx 1983 - 1989

Free Fallin’

When Automated Simulations attends the West Coast Computer Faire in 1980, Freeman meets his future wife and collaborator, Anne Westfall, who is in the neighbouring booth demoing a TRS-80 surveying program for Morton Technologies. He convinces her to join his company in the summer of that year. After various run-ins with Connelley over D&D content slipped into the design of Apshai, along with other matters, on Thanksgiving Day, 1981 the two leave Automated Simulations and later form game development house Free Fall Associates, along with Paul Reiche III. At their old digs, Connelley brings in some venture capitalists to raise funds, and there is a shift of focus as new management officially adopts Epyx as the new company name, with a desire to develop more arcade-like action-oriented fare.

Epyx Jumps to Success with Jumpman

Largely self-taught programmer Randy Glover supplies just that kind of action in his first professionally released game Jumpman, a spectacular entry into the platform gaming genre published by Epyx in 1983. Marketing Veep Bob Botch knows he has a hit on his hands: while demonstrating the usual Epyx RPGs in a rented condo off the beaten path at Winter CES ’83 in Vegas, every chance he gets he slips Jumpman into the drive as purchase reps get more and more excited by it. By the end of the show, Botch as a pile of orders for the action game, and Epyx has jumped in a new direction.

Randy Glover, creator of Jumpman, from 1984 issue of EFWCG

Randy Glover, creator of Jumpman, from Jan 1984 issue of Electronic Fun With Computer and Games

Click button to play Jumpman on the good old Commodore 64

The player takes the role of the character Jupiter Jumpman, running around Jupiter Headquarters in an attempt to defuse bombs littered about by the dastardly Alienators. With three difficulty levels featuring 30 different screens each, the gameplay is fast and addictive, with some levels sporting almost diabolical design. If players are finding moving Jumpman around the levels difficult (or are impatient to get moving), they can access 8 different settings that adjust the speed at which the on-screen character moves. And a randomizing function is also included, preventing gamers from knowing which screen will be next. The game is a success, selling around 40,000 units. Jumpman is followed by the sequel Jumpman Junior in 1983, which jumps onto consoles with a version for ColecoVision in 1984.

1983 Summer CES booth for Epyx, a computer game company

Better CES digs for Epyx in Summer ’83: a flashy booth on the show floor

Code symbols used by Epyx in their computer video games

Look for a combination of these codes, on Epyx games at your local retailer! 1983

As Epyx shifts more towards action-oriented game play, and Connelly feels more and more pressures of management pulling him away from actual software development, he leaves the company he helped found, opting to start up his own software development firm called The Connelley Group. As a guide to the changing nature of its games,  Epyx utilizes symbols on its packaging and catalogs to help gamers gauge how the various games emphasize action, strategy or whatever combination of the two… along with any educational value, of course. Having investors in common, Epyx bolsters its personnel roster by merging with Starpath, called Arcadia until forced to change their name with Emerson’s release of their Arcadia 2001 game unit. Starpath is the inventor of 1982’s Supercharger for the Atari 2600, a device for greatly expanding the memory of the 2600 while playing games stored on cassette tapes, playable through any cassette player. Possibly the best-known game for the Supercharger is Escape From the Mindmaster, an early 3D first-person maze game by Dennis Caswell. Moving over from his position as vice president of marketing and corporate communications at Coleco, industry veteran Michael C. Katz is named the new president and CEO of Epyx.

Epyx Lights the Flame with Summer Games

In late 1983, Olympic fever is building through the U.S. as Los Angeles prepares to host the Olympic Summer Games the next year. At the same time, Epyx is under pressure to produce a hit. Scott Nelson, one of the former Starpath programmers, had created a decathlon game for the Supercharger called Sweat!, but when the company merges with Epyx the project is shelved. Although this Atari 2600 game provides little in the way of actual program code, its subject matter is the impetus for Epyx’s sports extravaganza Summer Games. The generic title is purposeful: Atari is the official licensee for the ’84 Summer Olympics, so Epyx must walk on eggshells, avoiding too many allusions to the Olympic games in their sports extravaganza. This project is chosen as a way of getting the new programming team from Starpath all working on the different sections required in the game. It is written in 100 percent assembler machine language, and the lead programmer is Stephen Landrum, accompanied by Randy Glover, Jon Leupp, Brian McGhie, Stephen Murdry, and Scott Nelson. The idea of a dedicated artwork team is championed within Epyx by graphic artist Michael Kosaka, who starts with the company in 1984. Thus is Summer Games the first game at Epyx to assign an artist full-time from the start of the project, in this case Erin Murphy. From then on in they are used in the development of every game, along with a sound designer.

This is the tape version of Summer Games for C64, so make yourself a sandwich (and eat it) while it loads

There are eight Olympic events presented in Summer Games, including the pole vault, diving and skeet shooting, along with an impressive opening ceremony with the lighting of the Olympic torch. Each section features its own control method, with either frantic joystick waggling or complex timing moves. The various sports are all presented in loving detail, and Summer Games is one of the earlier games providing two-player simultaneous action on one computer. Up to eight people can play, and options include the chance to practice a single event, compete in a number of specified contests or going up against the full roster of competitions. A large selection of countries is available, each accompanied by their flag and a musical sample of their national anthems. The best times are saved as world records, providing motivation to keep practicing. Even though the game development tools must be built from the ground up, Summer Games is completed in under six months, and it goes on to become a huge success with over 200,000 units sold. The Games series become a major franchise for the company, followed by Summer Games II and then Winter Games in 1985.

Again, tape version of Winter Games for C64, so go shovel snow in the driveway while it loads

The latter is again contracted out to Bob Ogdon and Action Graphics, doing most of the work on it over a nine-month development time. The wide range of music in the game is composed and programmed by David Thiel; your ears might also remember his wonderful work on the audio for Gottlieb’s popular arcade game Q*bert. Released in the fall, Winter Games goes on to sell 200,000 copies just by the end of the year… and Epyx as a whole posts close to $20 million in revenue for the year. Next comes World Games in 1986, due to its nature an understandable worldwide hit for Epyx, selling between 400,000 – 500,000 copies.

Click button to play California Games on the Atari Lynx handheld

California Games computer game ad, 1988

California Games UK ad, 1988

California Games, the most successful of the Games games, arrives in 1987, eventually becoming a million-seller for the company. As that game flies out the door, even Epyx president Gilbert Freeman lends a hand boxing copies on the production line to help meet the intense demand. California Games is then followed by California Games II. Also in 1988 comes The Games: Summer Edition, an Olympian effort requiring the use of 17 programmers, eight artists, two musicians and five technical writers to produce versions of the game for different platforms, all at the same time. This is followed by The Games: Winter Edition; both are graphical revamps of the original Summer and Winter Games and both now have official Olympic Games licensing. In 2009, gnarly dudes and duceces can pole vault back to the 80’s with graphical revamps of Summer Games, Winter Games and California Games, all made by Magnusoft Deutschland GmbH and put out for the Android mobile platform and Windows by Epyx Deutschland.

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Comments >>

  1. avatarMax Chatsworth

    Synapse and Epyx. The two best game publishers for the Atari 8 bit home computers in my opinion. I got my hands on every title I could that they put out with my limited chore/paper route money in the early 80’s.

  2. avatarPloppy disk

    Purple Saturn Day a game by EPYX sold here at an Alco Department Store was on Floppy disk for PC.
    The year was 1999 I think ?

    1. avatarWilliam

      Interesting. I’ll assume that you mean “1989”, the same year that Epyx went into bankruptcy.

      It sounds really interesting. Kind of a “Summer Games” in space. Or just “Space Games”, maybe. 😉

      Thanks for reading and posting.


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