Welcome to another Quick Bits article. I’ve earlier written in-depth articles on Muse Software’s most prominent games, articles where I’ve touched upon much of the history of the company and its developers. This is just a short summary of Ed Zaron’s Software company that came to include Silas Warner, one of the most prominent programmers and game developers of the early ’80s.
Ed Zaron, Jim Black, and Silas Warner had met at Commercial Credit a finance company in Maryland in the latter part of the ’70s. Prior, Warner had helped install and administrate the University of Illinois’ computer-assisted instruction system, PLATO, and had become a major contributor to the community, developing games and educational content for thousands of people to use and enjoy. Control Data Corporation, the company that built the million-dollar mainframe systems PLATO was operating on, became aware of Warner’s contributions and in 1976 hired him to develop in-house training programs for Commercial Credit which was fully owned by Control Data. Here Warner met fellow programmer Ed Zaron, who was developing software to evaluate credit scores, and Jim Black an accountant in the billing department.
In early 1978 Warner purchased his first personal computer, a 16K Apple II after he had visited Zaron who had acquired one himself. Warner, Zaron, and Black started meeting together after work, in Zaron’s living room programming games and software. By late April of 1978, the friends took their first creations, recorded onto cassette tapes, to the Trenton Computer Festival, at Trenton State College in New Jersey where they debuted with two Apple II games.
Zaron and Warner’s presence at the Trenton Computer Festival soon drew in enthusiastic crowds and cassettes were selling like hotcakes. Their venture validated that there indeed was a market for personal computer software and that it might even be a viable business opportunity. In August of 1978, Zaron incorporated Micro Users Software Exchange using the trade name the MUSE Software Company, later simply MUSE Software (Zaron had come up with the name MUSE and Warner that it could be the acronym for Micro User Software Exchange).
The trio continued to produce cassettes at night and traverse the East Coast selling games and software at computer trade shows at weekends. In the long run, this wasn’t a viable solution and Zaron quit his secure job at Commercial Credit, in 1979, to fully focus on MUSE Software. Black followed a few months later and a more cautious Warner stayed with Commercial Credit, not leaving until 1980.
While initially focusing on software for the Apple II the company soon expanded its offerings to other 8-bit home computers of the time and opened a retail store on the corner of Charles Street and Mulberry Street in Baltimore, called Muse Software and Computer Center.
While MUSE Software saw quite a lot of success with its software and games, especially its Castle Wolfenstein titles, the company never managed to get a firm grip on the rapidly expanding personal computer market. By 1985 the company faced major financial troubles, going from, at its peak, a team of 40 employees in 1983 to only six within the course of two years.
After filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 1985, the company was bought by Jerry Herskowitz’s Variety Discounters Company and in 1988, retired army veteran, Jack Vogt acquired the Muse Software name, and its IPs, including Wolfenstein. Vogt would, for a time, continue to sell most of the company’s products.
Warner left MUSE Software a few weeks before its demise in 1985. He joined Sid Meyer and Microprose where he stayed until 1989 as a programmer and technological oracle.
Sources: Wikipedia, games.greggman.com, Silas Warner’s talk at Kansasfest ’92, Video Game Newsroom Time Machine interview with Ed Zaron