Ceiling Zero, one of the many early computer games that for a short period of time showed its face before quickly disappearing again, leaving nearly no traces of itself now 30 years later. Ceiling Zero was conceived by only 21-year-old programmer Stephen Warady in 1981. Warady was a prime example of how the early home computer industry was being shaped by sparkling teenagers and young adults. Most of them had never held a real job, they were hatching straight from school charging with unforeseen energy and drive, trying to leave their mark on the rapidly growing software entertainment industry. While a few succeeded and are now remembered and celebrated as the pioneers that heralded the business, most became nine days’ wonder and are now nothing but forgotten memories.
Warady had found his great interest in computers after he had attended multiple classes of programming during his highschool years in the mid-70s. In college, he had gotten the opportunity to study Data Processing at Moorpark College in California. His interest in computers and software hadn’t gone unnoticed and for Christmas, in 1980, his parents bought him an Apple II computer.
Warady quickly grew confident with the machine and soon took over the books and records for his dad’s publishing business. But like most young programmers, the interest in videogames and graphics greatly overshadowed other forms of computing like dull recordkeeping. For fast-paced arcade-style programming, Warady needed to learn assembly language. Studying primarily from magazines of the day, he soon became certain in his programming skills and headed straight into the development of his first game, Ceiling Zero, a somewhat Space Invaders-inspired game but with original and fresh additions.
Ceiling Zero is, like Space Invaders, a fixed screen shoot ’em up. At the bottom of the screen, you control a laser gun, restricted to only move left and right. From the top, waves of aliens are heading your way, released from the alien mothership. A “ceiling” prevents you from shooting the spaceship, the ceiling starts at level 15 and moves down every time you’ve completed a wave by shooting and destroying all incoming enemies.,
The player’s goal is to survive until the ceiling has reached the floor, ceiling zero.
To market his new game, Warady created Ram Software but for publishing turned to Jim Leitzke and Drew Clausen, the two owners of ComputerLand in West Los Angeles, who had extensive knowledge of the microcomputer business. Together they formed Turnkey Software, a company to serve as the marketing and packaging unit of Warady’s Ram Software.
Ceiling Zero was published by Turnkey Software, for the Apple II in late 1981. While it wasn’t a clone, it was inspired by the many popular video arcade games of the time, especially Space Invaders. The beautiful cover art by Walter Mueller also clearly references Space Invaders
Ceiling Zero was quite a feat for a first game and executed stunningly with beautiful graphics, animations, sounds, and impressive super-fast gameplay. The game was released in late 1981, missing out on most of the all-important December Christmas shopping craze.
After the release of Ceiling Zero, Warady started work on another fast-paced action game that to my knowledge never materialized, the same with an advertised adaption of Ceiling Zero for the newly released IBM PC.
Warady would go on to spend the better part of the next two years working as a programmer on Michael Crichton’s foray into computer games with his graphic adventure, Amazon, based on his 1979 novel Congo. Amazon was published for the Apple II, Commodore 64, and IBM/PC in 1984 by Trillium Corp.(Telarium), a subsidiary of Spinnaker. It went on to become the best-selling Telarium title with around 100.000 copies sold.
After Amazon, all signs of Stephen Warady seem to disappear and I haven’t been able to find any further information on neither Warady, Turnkey, nor Ram Software.
Sources: Softline magazine, InCider magazine