BETWEEN MY MORE EXTENSIVE ARTICLES, I’VE DECIDED TO DO A FEW SHORTER ARTICLES ON SOME OF THE EARLIEST ON-LINE SYSTEM (SIERRA ON-LINE) TITLES. WHILE ON-LINE SYSTEMS IS KNOWN FOR ITS EARLY HI-RES ADVENTURE GAMES, THE COMPANY PUBLISHED A MYRIAD OF TITLES IN ITS FIRST COUPLE OF YEARS. FROM SPORTS AND TABLETOP GAMES TO FAST-PACED ACTION TITLES INSPIRED BY THE POPULAR VIDEO ARCADE GAMES OF THE TIME.
When Ken and Roberta Williams had completed the development of their first game, Mystery House, in the summer of 1980, Roberta took out a full-page ad in Micro 6502 magazine. To offer more than just Mystery House, two other titles, Skeetshoot and Trapshoot, both developed by a third party, were also featured. While Skeetshoot and Trapshoot quickly faded away, the company’s portfolio rapidly expanded with a multitude of new titles added over the next couple of years, one of the titles being Pegasus II by Olaf Lubeck.
By 1981, video arcade games had become the hottest thing around. Manufacturers all were striving to please an ever-growing customer base, constantly demanding new and more elaborate games well-deserving of their hard-earned cash. This led to unique designs and concepts in the hope of becoming the next big commercial success story. Consequently, 1981 became one of the most innovative and prosperous years in video arcade games, spawning numerous major hit titles, which in return greatly inspired the early home computer developers, ultimately resulting in a saturated home market full of rip-offs and clones.
One of the years big hit titles was Konami’s side-scrolling space shooter Scramble, released in the U.S. by Stern. Scramble would become Stern’s second best-selling game and the highest-grossing video arcade game in June of 1981. While Scramble was commercially successful and critically acclaimed it wasn’t officially ported to any major video game consoles or home computers at the time. Fortunately, early Apple II adopters got the chance to play an excellent clone of it when Olaf Lubeck’s Pegasus II was released for the Apple II by On-Line Systems the same year
In 1981 Ken Williams had put out advertisements in magazines, searching for new developers to further expand the company’s portfolio of games. The ad simply read, with bold letters, “AUTHORS WANTED” and below listing the perks of working with On-Line Systems. Including “I (Ken) will personally be available at any time for technical discussions, helping to debug, brainstorming, etc.“.
On-Line Systems “Authors Wanted” ad from InfoWorld in 1981
One who saw the ad was Pam Lubeck, wife of professional scientific programmer Oluf Lubeck. Lubeck had written a couple of video arcade clones on his Apple II computer prior to reacting to Williams’ ad and mailed in his creations. Williams quickly replied, showing interest in one of the titles. The two agreed on a publishing deal and Lubeck’s Pac-Man clone, Gobbler was published for the Apple II in 1981.
The game ended up doing quite good, selling just shy of a thousand copies a month. But by becoming successful and also being superior to most other Pac-Man clones, the title soon got Atari’s attention.
In the late ’70s, Atari had acquired the rights to produce home versions of Namco’s arcade hit. Atari which yet had to release its official Pac-Man port for its Atari 2600 home video console (the game would be developed throughout 1981 but didn’t see release until the spring of 1982) soon claimed copyrights infringement. Gobbler, by request from Atari, ended up being pulled after just 5 months on the market.
While Gobbler was off the market Lubeck was already onto his next game, Pegasus II. Greatly inspired by Konami’s Scramble.
Olaf Lubeck’s second title published by Ken and Roberta Williams’ On-Line systems. Pegasus II was released in 1981 and only for the Apple II
Pegasus II was one of the very first computer games to feature a built-in level editor, a feature Lode Runner a few years later would popularize. The level editor would become one of the key inspiration to a young John Romero, who, of course, later in life would become one of the most prolific game developers.
Like Olaf Lubeck’s earlier Pac-Man clone, Gobbler, Pegasus II played excellently and showcased fast-paced side-scrolling action, quite admirable for 1981.
With the included Terrain Editor you were able to create your own unique terrains and play through them
A Pegasus II rerelease, under Sierra On-Line’s short-lived arcade label, SierraVision, was advertised but I’m not sure if it ever materialized.
Lubeck would, while still working as a researcher in the Computer Research and Applications Division of Los Alamos National Laboratory, continue to partner up with On-Line Systems and write Cannonball Blitz in 1982 and in 1983 when On-Line Systems had become Sierra On-Line, program Sega’s mega-hit Frogger for home computers.
Konami’s Scramble became so well received that a new arcade version, replacing the spaceship with a helicopter and increased difficulty was made. The new version was released later in 1981 under the title Super Cobra after The Bell AH-1 SuperCobra helicopter.