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A History of Epyx






Epxy was started by Jim Connelley and Jon Freeman. Both were Dungeons & Dragons players. Connelley was Freeman's dungeon master. Freeman was a regular contributor to Games magazine. Connelley purchased an 8K Commodore PET in 1978. He and Freeman started to teach themselves programming, trying to automate D&D stuff.


Connelley was reeling a bit at the price tag for the machine and decided he could write it off if he formed his own computer company. He and Freeman formed Automated Simulations and released a BASIC game called Starfleet Orion. It was the first tactical space combat game for a personal computer. The game sold well. They followed it up with Invasion Orion. Again that sold well. Soon they ported their games to the TRS-80 and Apple II.


Their first big hit was Temple of Apshai (part of the Dunjunquest series). Released in 1979, it featured a character you generated D&D-style attributes for and then marched around a dungeon. Freeman left Automated Simulations in 1981 shortly after meeting his wife Anne "Yoko Ono" Westfall. Together they formed their own computer game design company and eventually went over to Electronic Arts in 1982 (at that time a little start up founded by Trip Hawkins).


With the departure of Freeman, the new management of Automated Simulations renamed the company Epyx. Connelley and Freeman, being both hardcore RPG gamers, were focused on producing games they knew best. Epyx's new management, however, decided to shift the focus towards action games. Its first big release was 1993's wildly popular Jumpman (created by Randy Glover). The game sold 40,000 copies and was followed by Jumpman Jr. Jumpman evolved into Impossible Mission, which was released in 1984.


Connelley however did not like the move into action games and left. Most of Epyx programming staff followed Connelley out the door. Connelley and his programmers formed The Connelley Group which released the way awesome Karateka (1986). Yeah, they did that!


In 1982, Epxy purchased a company called Starpath which made the Supercharger attachment for the Atari 2600. Some might remember the Supercharger game Escape From the Mindmaster, which is the great-great-great grandfather of Doom. It was a 3D first-person maze game (written by Dennis Caswell).



The 1984 LA Olympic games proved to be a watershed year for Epxy. Scott Nelson, a programmer acquired in the Starpath merger, turned his unreleased Supercharger game Sweat! into Epyx's classic Summer Games (a game responsible for not only the destruction of numerous joysticks via brutal wear-and-tear but numerous friendships via the game's brutally competitive play mechanics). With successful sports action games and then a hot selling Fast Load cartridge (350,000 were sold) to speed the C-64's notoriously slow 1541 drive, Epxy was raking in $10 million a year and had some 200 employees.


Unfortunately, Epyx failed to predict the declining popularity of the C-64 in 1989 and growing IBM PC sales. Sales dropped off and much of the company's cash got sunk into developing a handheld computer game system. In an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to stave off Chapter 11, the company sold its prototype handheld gaming system to Atari. It laid off all but 20 employees and pulled the plug on most of the games under development.


The company managed to briefly get out of receivership and released a few PC titles but the gig was up. Epyx was sold to, disturbingly, a media company that released Christian software products. Well, good luck with that. Most of Epyx's software titles were not a good fit with the Christian software company's line. Atari snapped up the rights to most of Epyx's games. Hasbro acquired the bankrupt Atari and as of 1989 owned the rights to the Epyx game titles.


-- Karl Mamer





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