[ Retro Scan Special ] Buying from Epic Games in 1996

Monday, March 18th, 2013

Epic MegaGames Shareware Registration Invoice - 1996Epic MegaGames purchase invoice in January 1996.

You’re looking at a rare physical artifact from the twilight of shareware’s golden age.

Way back in 1996, when Gears of War maker Epic Games still went by “Epic MegaGames,” I ordered a few registered copies of its shareware games through CompuServe.

Since it was a special buy-and-download deal (very unusual in 1996), I didn’t receive copies of the games themselves on disk. Instead, Epic mailed an invoice, copies of the games’ instruction manuals (which have been displaced from this set, or else I would have scanned them too) and a shareware demo disk from Epic partner Safari Software.

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan Special ] Buying from Epic Games in 1996 » ]

Scott Miller Interview: On Founding Apogee, Shareware Competition, id Software, and More

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Apogee Software Logo

In early June, I conducted a lengthy telephone interview with Scott Miller, founder of Apogee Software (now known as 3D Realms). Today, the interview is up on Gamasutra. This is sort of a companion interview to my earlier talk with Tim Sweeney of Epic Games (another shareware heavyweight), although both stand alone quite well.

Scott Miller\'s HeadApogee is best known for publishing dozens of episodic shareware games, including Kingdom of Kroz, Duke Nukem, the Commander Keen Series, Wolfenstein 3D, and Rise of the Triad. The company later changed its name to 3D Realms and scored a monster hit with Duke Nukem 3D.

Through Apogee, Miller revitalized and dominated the shareware game industry, invented episodic gaming, pioneered the use of the freely distributable game demo, and provided the spark that inspired id Software’s founding.

During the interview, Scott and I went through his early days in programming, the founding of Apogee, the transition from simple shareware to 3D games, his interactions with id Software, his thoughts on shareware game competition in the early 1990s (including Epic MegaGames and Tim Sweeney), and much more. If you’re a fan of BBS or shareware history, you won’t want to miss it.

Bringing Shareware Out of the Closet

The concept of shareware has for too long been seen as the red-headed stepchild of the computer game industry. It has oft been relegated to the metaphorical back pages and footnotes of the history books — if it shows up at all — and frequently looked down upon by “serious” publishers who never deigned to give away any version of their work for free (until Apogee came along, anyway). I’d like to change that, and I’m hoping that my recent interviews with Miller and Sweeney will lay the foundation for a deeper understanding of shareware’s importance for future generations.

Although it might be a philosophy whose place in the sun has come and gone, shareware has not been an idea without merit or influence. As you’re about to read, the story of Scott Miller, his partner George Broussard, and their company firmly prove otherwise.

Tim Sweeney Interview: On ZZT, Shareware, Epic, and More

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Epic Games' Headquarters

You’ve probably heard of Epic Games by now — you know, the company behind Gears of War and the Unreal Engine. We read a lot about those blockbuster products these days, but Epic’s story stretches back much farther than that. For example, did you know that the very same Epic was once one of the world’s foremost shareware game publishers?

In January of this year, I had the immense honor of exploring Epic’s rich history in a sit-down interview with Tim Sweeney, founder and CEO of Epic. Over lunch at a local restaurant, we discussed his early programming years, the genesis of ZZT (Epic’s first game), Jill of the Jungle, Apogee Software, the shareware wars, his thoughts on id Software’s early work, the future of game graphics, and much more.

After some time on the back burner, this long, in-depth interview has finally seen the light of day over at Gamasutra. Shareware fans and general history computer buffs shouldn’t miss it. Heck, I did the interview and I’m reading it again. I hope you enjoy it.

Great Moments in Shareware: ZZT

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

ZZT

Read any popular game publication these days, and you’ll probably come across ample mention of Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, the 3D powerhouse behind blockbuster first-person shooters like Bioshock and Gears of War. Believe it or not, one of today’s hottest game engines traces its roots back to a 2D text-based game programmed by a University of Maryland college student during the golden age of shareware.

Tim Sweeney founded Potomac Computer Systems in 1991 with the release of ZZT, a graphical ASCII character-based game that ran on a simple object-oriented platform programmed by Sweeney. With an in-game editor, Sweeney created multiple ZZT episodes that he sold to finance the new company. Luckily, Sweeney didn’t limit the in-game editor to himself; it featured prominently on the title screen of the free shareware edition. Much to Sweeney’s surprise, the editor itself soon became the most popular part of ZZT, allowing players to create their own games in the ZZT engine. Potomac changed its name to Epic MegaGames, and a shareware giant was born.

ZZT Title Screen ZZT Game Screen ZZT Board Editor ZZT-OOP Code

A large community of rabid ZZT fans still thrives thanks to the Internet, where enthusiasts trade nostalgia, user-made games, and the latest attempts to squeeze every last drop out of the ZZT engine through emergent programming techniques. For example, clever world builders have managed to reproduce just about every major 2D game genre — even genres the engine wasn’t designed for — in ZZT‘s editor, albeit in primitive forms. For modern ZZT fans, the game’s fun lies not only in playing the community’s user-created games, but in the challenge of creating new and unexpected things with a simple set of tools and components.

The original shareware package of ZZT only included one game: Town of ZZT, a whimsical adventure created by Sweeney that calls upon a player’s action and puzzle-solving skills. But in the late 1990s, Epic released all of Sweeney’s classic ZZT episodes as freeware, so you’ll find those worlds in the file below as well, including Dungeons of ZZT.

Have fun. Feel free to share your fond ZZT memories (or latest ZZT exploits) with the rest of us.

(Update – 05/25/2009: If you love ZZT, check out this interview I conducted with its creator, Tim Sweeney.)

ZZT 3.2
Release Date: 1991
Author: Tim Sweeney (Epic MegaGames)
Platform: MS-DOS
Runs Best On: Any 286 PC or faster with MS-DOS
Notes:
Includes full Town, City, Caves, and Dungeons of ZZT episodes. ZZT runs pretty well on modern computers under Windows. You might also want to try running the game under DOSBox. Uses the PC speaker for sound.
– Download ZZT 3.2 – (175KB)