Welcome to the second part of my series of smaller articles on Synapse Software, as told through the games that defined the company. The first part can be found here.
Synapse Software co-founders Ivor Wolosenko and Ken Grant‘s work on File Manager 800 had taken almost a year. When the database software finally was released, in the summer of 1981, it was full of bugs, and the first hundred copies had to be recalled. While cranking away to get things right, the company had agreed with fellow Atari User Group member Rob Re to publish his spare time project, Dodge Racer, a game that would change the course of the fledgling company. The bet on a second product in its initial lineup proved a wise decision, creating interest around the company and generating a revenue stream while the File Manager 800 issues were being ironed out. Soon another member of the Atari User Group would cross paths with Synapse, and come to play a crucial part in the company’s formative years.
Mike Potter had been working with John and Patty Bell‘s Crystalware, out of Gilroy, California, throughout 1981. He had become an early adopter of home computers when his dad had purchased him an Apple II when he attended high school. When the more capable Atari 800 had become available he made the switch and in early 1981 he walked into John and Patty’s computer store and showed off the Atari 800 games he had been developing and selling by himself, under his label Micro Mike’s Computers in local computer stores. John, impressed by Potter’s work, which showcased screen scrolling and animations, offered Potter $4.000 upfront plus 30% royalties for a new game he had in mind. Potter delivered as promised, and Crystalware’s first Atari 8-bit game, Protector, a Defender-inspired game, was published in May of 1981.
Potter ended up working on 11 titles for Crystalware in the six months he worked with the company. A dispute over trust and royalties made the parties separate in the Autumn of 1981 with Potter being sent on his way. The rights to Protector were handed over to him and in November of 1981, he met with Wolosenko who, after requesting some minor improvements and bug fixes, agreed to publish Protector for a 30% royalty.
In late 1981, Potter’s improved Protector was published for the Atari 400/800 as Synapse Software’s second released game.
Mike Potter’s Defender-inspired game, Protector had initially been published by Crystalware but a dispute over trust and royalties made the parties separate, and Potter brought his Atari 8-bit game to Synapse Software which published it in late 1981.
A Commodore VIC-20 version was released by HESWare in 1983
Save your people from the imminent threat of the Slimehordes of Fraxullus. Transport them to the City of New Hope before evil drops them in the Dragonmaw volcano. When all survivors have been moved to New Hope, the first part of the level is completed and a passage opens, the enemy disappears and the volcano erupts. Its lava encroaches on New Hope and threatens to destroy buildings and anyone on them. Quickly ferry the survivors in New Hope through the laser-guarded gauntlet to the entrance and the safety of the underground fortress behind the passage
Synapse Software’s improved version of Protector was met positively and received better reviews than the version Crystalware had published earlier in the year. John Bell witnessed how the new version grew into a hit and unsuccessfully tried regaining the rights. Potter, while still young, was an extremely fast and well-versed programmer and would over the next year develop four more titles for Synapse Software.
The game path had proven successful and Wolosenko came up with concepts for two new games, Chicken and Slime. He assigned Potter to Chicken and another programmer to Slime.
I’ll be covering Chicken and Slime in upcoming Quick Bits.
Sources: Robert Dewitt’s 1983 interview with Ivor Wolosenko in Antic magazine, High Score! Expanded: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games, Wikipedia, Dadgum…
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