Obsessed with board games, the interaction of people in competition is a compelling one for Trip. Predictions, for better or worse, are a recurring theme in Hawkins' life, and he starts off with two direct hits. At college in the early 70's, he creates a computer game to simulate the 1974 Super Bowl, with the program predicting a Miami win of 23-6. By the time the game was played out in Houston, the end result had Miami winning 24-7. In 1975, using information such as Intel's invention of the first microprocessor, and the action forming around Dick Heiser's The Computer Store, founded that year as the first computer retail store in the US, Hawkings creates another computer model. It informs him that he could feasibly start a company making home computer games by 1982.
Hawkins becomes Apple Employee #68 in 1978, after seeing the debut of the Apple II at the first West Coast Computer Faire. He is manager of market planning, and his job is to convince the business community of the virtues of the Apple II as a business tool. When he sees demonstrations of new spreadsheet program VisiCalc designed by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston for Personal Software, he knows he is seeing the future of business software. Apple brass are not so enthusiastic, however, and president A. C. "Mike" Markkula Jr. balks at Personal Software president Dan Fylstra's demand of $1 million in Apple stock for exclusive rights to the program. Apple therefore loses the chance for exclusive rights to the first spreadsheet program, which goes on to drive the sales of every home computer of the first wave. Hawkins leaves Apple in 1982, and with an initial outlay of $120,000 starts a new company called Amazin' Software. Rich Melmon is the first staff-member hired, followed later by Tim Mott, Bing Gordon, David Maynard and Joe Ybarra. Late in the year they get together for a meeting to change the name of the company, after the first choice of "SoftArt" is nixed by Software Arts head Dan Bricklin. Down to the finalists "Electronic Artists" and "Electronic Arts", the rules are that everyone must agree, and if you go to bed you forfeit your vote. Hawkins is Chairman, CEO and President, as well as the man in charge of talent. Looking for some venture capital, he sets up office in Don Valentine's VC company Sequoia Capital. There Hawkins draws up the business plan for a new software company, one that would make a radical departure from the prevalent attitudes at the big game makers like Atari and Mattel, where the people actually designing and programming the games are considered little more than anonymous serfs. Trip headhunts staff from Apple, as well as Atari and Xerox PARC. Sequoia ponies up $1 million, along with additional investors John Doerr, Ben Rosen and Jerry Moss (The "M" to Herb Alpert's "A" at A&M records). With $2 million in total capital, Hawkins sets up shop in San Mateo, CA. The new vision of the company is heralded by the famous "We see farther" magazine ads, with the headline "Can a computer make you cry?". These magazine ads are lavishly produced, featuring staff photos taken by an rock album cover photographer over the course of an all day photo shoot. Under the guidance of art director Nancy L. Fong, Electronic Arts revolutionizes the way computer games are packaged, presented in "record album" sleeves with colourful instruction manuals. It promotes its game developers as superstars and software "composers", with extensive author images and bios prominently displayed. The music industry analogy is further continued in the packaging, which Hawkins compares to a record album, and the format of which is widely adopted by EA's competition. Also widely copied is EA's talent contract, an amalgam of computer and music industry legal boiler plate.
The first platforms for the new company's games are the Atari 800 and Apple II, the games found by Hawkins through trade magazines like SoftTalk. Initial releases include Music Construction Set by Will Harvey and Mike Abbott's Hard Hat Mack. Based on his recollections of televised "one-on-one" basketball exhibitions in the 60's sponsored by hair tonic Vitalis, Hawkins comes up with the idea for one of EA's first big hits. Programmed by Eric Hammond, basketball game Dr. J and Larry Bird Go One on One features show-stopping sprites for the player graphics, along with lovingly crafted details like a foul-mouthed janitor who comes onto court to sweep up the mess when one of the guys smashes the backboard. The game is a first for celebrity endorsements, as well as practically establishing the professional sports category of games. In May of 1983 the first games are ready to be shipped, so the entire 20-member staff including Hawkins go down to the warehouse and hand-package the software. When a retailer comes by to pick up his order, it is personally handed to him by Hawkins. The software company creates some of the most popular and ingenious programs for the C64 during its astronomic rise, by some of the most talented designers and programmers around.
A key team to sign the revolutionary EA talent contract in the company's early days are Jon Freeman and Anne Westfall, who leave Epyx in 1981 to create game development company FreeFall Associates along with Paul Reiche III. They see the 8-bit Atari computers as the best, easiest platform on which to create games, and their first product is Tax Dodge in 1982. In this clever Pac-Man riff, the player must run around a scrolling maze collecting money while avoiding the dreaded IRS agents, spawned from an IRS office in the middle of the maze. Unfortunately, not enough future chartered accountants buy into the premise, and without the kid vote the game has no chance for a big payday. However, though an ad placed in trade magazine SoftTalk, the fledgling company is hooked up with EA. On the same day that his company is incorporated, Hawkins contacts FreeFall. Attracted by both the new attitude of the company and some handy development cash, Freeman and Westfall sign the first two EA developer contracts. For their first EA game, the team is inspired by that greatest of all strategic games: Chess. Taking cues from sword and sorcery chess sets and live outdoor chess matches, along with the holographic chess set featured in Star Wars, they start work on Archon. It offers 18 fantasy creature pieces to a side, with different attacks and spells available to rain down upon your opponent. Archon is originally conceived as a two-player game only, but near the end of its development EA requests a one-player mode, extending its production time. Upon release the game is a big hit, and Hawkings wants a sequel. But instead of producing a quickie knock-off by simply adding a few new creatures, Freeman works out a entirely different concept with an altered gamefield, more and varied creatures, and new spells and skills. Archon II: Adept is released in 1984 for EA, receiving even more acclaim than the original. Produced concurrently with Archon is Murder on the Zinderneuf, designed by Freeman and Reiche, with Robert Leyland programming. Players take the role of a thinly-disguised sleuth from history, attempting to solve a murder case aboard a giant blimp. They have about 35 real-time minutes to solve the mystery before the zeppelin lands and the killer gets away. It's a revolutionary game in that the plot is shuffled around every time you play, making for a totally new gaming experience with every reload. After the rather disappointing Archon Ultra for EA in 1994, FreeFall moves into playing card games, with a game system titled Thrall. With both solitaire and online multiplayer modes, the games are featured prominently on Prodigy's GameTV service. After making Mail Order Monsters in 1985 with Evan and Nicky Robinson, Paul Reiche III goes on to found game company Toys for Bob along with Fred Ford, developing the hit Star Control series for Accolade.
In 1974, Industrial Engineer graduate Dan Bunten is designing mathematical system models for the National Science Foundation. Living in Little Rock, Arkansas, in his off time he designs text-based computer games, the first of which is an Apple II business management game called Wheeler Dealers, with one of the aspects of the game being a real-time auction. Canada's Speakeasy Software publishes the game in 1978 for $35 dollars apiece, and included in the box is an adapter to allow up to 4 players to play at one computer. This at a time when computer games came in zip-lock bags for around $15. Only 50 eventually sold, but it leads to Bunten's Cartels and Cutthroats for SSI in 1981, allowing up to 6 players on an Apple II. The game also attracts the attention of Trip Hawkins, a founding board member of SSI. Computer Quarterback comes next in 1979, designed for Bunten's friends to play and sold to SSI, becoming one of their best-selling games. Cytron Masters is the final game Bunten does for SSI, released in 82. It is Bunten's first game with graphics, and by this time he has gathered a core team of 3 - Bill Bunten, Jim Rushing, and Alan Watson - collectively known as Ozark Software. Hawkins, now running EA, tries to get the rights to sell Cartels and Cutthroats, but SSI won't let it go. Bunten convinces Hawkins that he can do a better game, and nine months later M.U.L.E. is born for the Atari 800. The whole game circles around the real-time auctions that had featured so prominently in Wheeler Dealers. The name for the new game comes from the Robert A. Heinlein novel "Time Enough For Love", where colonists on another world use bio-engineered mules to settle the landscape. In the game they become Multiple Use Labor Elements. EA prefers the unfortunate name Moguls from Mars, but the original title thankfully wins out after Ozark shows management the cool M.U.L.E. title screen. Only 30,000 copies are sold, mainly due to the fact that the Atari 8-bit
That same year Bunten gets a sex-change operation, or as she puts it, a "pronoun" change, becoming Dani Bunten Berry. She is then involved in an attempt by Sega to move M.U.L.E. to the Sega Genesis, but the project is aborted after Berry refuses to add weapons to the MULEs as per Sega's request. This is followed by a year in Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's think tank Interval, in a project to develop games designed especially for girls. Her last gig is designing Internet games for Mpath Interactive, where her work there culminates in WarSport in 1997, a totally free, downloadable action strategy game. If you could pick out one driving obsession in Berry's career, it would be using multiplayer games as a device to bring people closer together through a computer conduit. Berry designs more multiplayer games than anyone else in the industry. By the mid-90's the gaming industry as a whole has finally caught up with Berry's multiplayer vision, with the option to play online becoming a standard feature in games. But online gaming loses its greatest champion on July 3, 1998, when Danielle Bunten Berry dies of lung cancer.
In the late 60's a curious Bill Budge attends a newly created computer programming class at his high school. Using time on an archaic IBM 1401 provided by a local business, Budge writes out his assembler code on sheets which are transferred to punch cards and receives the printed output. Starting with mathematical functions, he moves into Fortran programming and his first finished game is a version of tic-tac-toe. He has discovered his calling. Attending the PhD program at UC Berkeley, he programs games on his new Apple II, many of which are proficient translations of current arcade hits like Asteroids and Tail Gunner. Inspired by PONG, he writes a version called Penny Arcade. Watching the phosphor ball move back and forth in his darkened apartment, on a 80 dollar b&w TV set, it's a kind of epiphany to the young Budge. He trades the game to Apple for a printer, and soon after lands a position at the company as a graphics engineer. Although Budge is not previously a pinball fan, Wozniak and the other engineers at Apple are, and their enthusiasm rubs off. During his spare time at Apple he codes Raster Blaster for the Apple II in 1981. It is the first home computer pinball simulation, derived from Budge's experience with an earlier arcade version. He founds BudgeCo. to market the game. Taking the bitmap graphics editing tools he has created to make Raster Blaster, Budge incorporates them into Pinball Construction Set, and the GUI (graphical user interface) used to place the pieces becomes the first ever incorporated into a computer game. The GUI is inspired by the XeroxPARC Alto, the first computer to use one as its operating system. It becomes a big hit for a young EA, and Budge is sent out on a press tour and signs copies of the game for fans. He re-writes the game for the Sega Genesis in 1993, under the moniker Virtual Pinball. He joins Hawkins' 3D0 in 1993, as a distinguished engineer.
Such are just a few of the many talented designers and programmers in the early years of Electronic Arts. A list of the other games produced during this period reads like a top 100 made for the early computer platforms, including titles like ArcticFox, The Bard's Tale series, Earth Orbit Station, John Madden Football, Marble Madness, PHM Pegasus, Racing Destruction Set, Realm of Impossibility, SkyFox, Strike Fleet, and Wasteland...to name a few. Hawkins begins developing the 3D0 gaming hardware project inside EA at the beginning of the '90s, and he leaves the company he founded to guide this new hardware licensing venture (which I'll cover in later entries). Electronic Arts, of course, is now one of the largest game companies around. It now serves as a distributor for such powerhouse game developers as Origin, Westwood, EA Sports, Jane's Combat Simulations, Bullfrog and Maxis.
Special thanks go to Trip Hawkins and Bill Budge for providing additional information