Pie in the Sky Software

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Sunday, 14 March 2010 03:31

A History of Pie in the Sky Software's Products

The First Product:  InnerMission

The first product  was released in 1987.   It was a 3D screensaver for DOS called Innermission.  It was a 'TSR' which stood for 'Terminate and Stay Resident' program.    If your computer was idle for a long time it would switch to CGA graphics mode and display a 3D field of stars moving towards you.    Later versions added the ability to draw text messages with the stars that your viewpoint flew through.   The last version we release in 1991 is still floating around the internet.   It was shareware and cost $5.00.

Corncob 3D Flight Simulator

Corncob 3D Box with Screen ShotThe next product was Corncob 3D.    This was a 3D flight simulator for DOS.    It used the fanciest consumer graphics card of the time, the 'EGA' graphics card.   The EGA Graphics card could display 16 unique colors on the screen at once at the astounding resolution of 640x350 pixels!

I just looked around on the web to see if there was any mention of this old game, and I'm completely astounded to see that somebody actually has a YouTube video of a Corncob 3D mission!

Corncob was collaboration between myself and my good friend George.   I was a physics graduate student at Duke University, an he was a post doctorate.   I had become interested in 3D graphics after creating InnerMission, and had seen the flight simulator for Apple II when I was in high school.       My buddy Wayne let me play it in the afternoons after school.  Sublogic Flight Simulator for Apple II
With all the amazing resolution, color depth of the EGA display, and the cpu horsepower that modern 16-bit 80286 computers had, I felt I could make something at least as cool as SubLogic did.

The game engine was written in 100 percent 16 bit 8086 assembly code.   I used the Microsoft MASM assembler and launched it from the DOS command line.  I wrote assembly routines for line, sphere and polygons, then worked out the 3D models by doing arithmetic on paper and specifying the coordinates in arrays in the source code.

I got an old book from a used bookstore which explained the mathematics of flight, and I got my first practical use of my physics education.

For more information on the Corncob 3D Game engine and how it worked, see this page.

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Corncob's Success

corncob_deluxe_320  Corncob initially was released as a shareware product, like InnerMission.   I created a zip file with a readme.txt file in it, and started uploading to BBS systems.    In those days the internet existed, but almost nobody had internet access in their homes yet.  Instead, people in the local community ran Bulletin Board systems.   This would be a dedicated computer attached to one or more telephone lines in their home.   Anybody could call and log in and chat, leave or get messages and download or upload programs.

   And so like InnerMission, I uploaded it to every BBS I could find, calling long distance with my modem to states all around the US.

  Eventually I got a call from Dave Snyder from MVP Software.   He did shareware marketing.    Dave was truly a great guy, and I really enjoyed working with him.   He took a cut of the profit, but in return he tirelessly promoted Corncob 3D, and eventually landed some retail deals.    Over the years with all the business people I've dealt with,  Dave was the best.

  Corncob Deluxe ended up on retail shelves all across the country.   It was so cool to walk into a KMart and able to buy a copy of my game!    It cost me $5.95, but of that I think I earned around 30 cents for every copy.       As I recall,   KMart took 1/2, then Who took most of the remaining, and then Dave took his standard cut, which I don't recall what that was.

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CastleWolfenstein

Id Software's Castle Wolfenstein Changes Everything

On May 5, 1992, Id Software released a shareware game called Castle Wolfenstein.

  The game featured texture-mapped 3D graphics, and first person game play.   This took the shareware game market by storm.     The graphics engine could only draw vertically oriented cubes, and vertical sprites which always turned to face you.   The floor and ceilings were just solid color and always were at the same height.   In fact, the floor and ceiling didn't have to be drawn at all, since it was just a solid color fill in the window, with the walls and sprites drawn on top of it.

   After having written the Corncob 3D game engine, which could handle polygons of any number of sides at any angle, I realized how simple it was.   And yet they managed to absolutely maximize the potential of such a simple engine.

   The natural thought was,   "Hey I could do that too!"   And the P3d game engine was born.

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Lethal Tender and Terminal Terror

 lethal_tender_320  About this time (1993),  Colin joined on to help with artwork, since my skills are severely lacking in that department.    A texture mapped engine was developed quickly, and with his help we put a game together.   I was disappointed that Dave Snyder wasn't interested in marketing it, so I just sent it off to game publishers cold.     I don't remember very much about the searching process, but we ended up going with Expert Software.

  The product packaging is shown on the right.   The quotes read "Money is the root of all evil - Nick Hunter", and on the right side "...Keep the change, buddy - Thorne Devereaux".   Presumably Nick Hunter is the good guy, andThorne Devereaux is the bad guy on the right throwing the bomb.    This time I could walk down to Babbage's at the mall and buy a copy.   It sold well and the money was very good for a short time, but the overall experience was not the best.

">Click Here to see a You Tube video of Lethal Tender

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   We did follow it up with Terminal Terror, another similar product for Expert, but that did not fare as well, as could be expected as the competition was already outpacing us.    The main problem with Pie in the Sky Software has always been that technology advances so quickly that code must be rewritten constantly, and when you just have a couple people there is just too much to do.   Consider to develop a new title in order to compete against similar products you need to:

  • Design a  Game
  • Write or Update the game engine to be competitive
  • Generate Content - levels, artwork, scripts
  • Test
  • Fix Bugs
  • Market

  If the team is too small, then either the schedule will lag, or else quality will suffer.    If the schedule lags, then technology outpaces you even faster.

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lethal_tender_box_back_480

 

While we were developing Terminal Terror, I was contacted by Jurgen from Punkt.de .  We made an agreement that we would create a 3D game for the german market, and he sent a signficant advance.    We thought we could use alot of the graphic content in both Terminal Terror and the german title.   However, we had a drop-dead deadline with Expert for Terminal Terror, and not with Punkt.de.   So we concentrated more on Terminal Terror and eventually Jurgen became very displeased with us and rightly so.

    About this time we decided that trying to compete with much larger companies is silly and we needed a take a different approach.   Dealing with publishers was no fun at all.    So it was decided to try to make a product which we sold direct to the costumers.    The idea was that we stop trying to develop the game engine, the game design, and the content all at once.   But instead we would sell our game engine with an editor and let the customers do their own designs and content.

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The Game Creation System is Born

gcs_box_front_320     At a software conference I met John, who was a software engineer in West Virginia at the time.    He seemed like a great guy and we began to collaborate on the new project.    John wrote the game world editor, while I worked on the game engine.    Instead of going the shareware route, the plan was to advertise in computer game magazines.

    We decided in the fall of 1994 to take out a full page in PC-Gamer magazine, which would run in the November or December issue.   However, the product wasn't finished.   However, with more than three months before the ad hit, we'd have plenty of time, right?

  Well, getting this product together was really daunting.    I was working pretty much continuously, as was John who had a full time job at the same time.    The ad hit.  We had a 1-800 telephone service taking orders for us.   They were coming in fast, but we weren't ready.    Colin helped with artwork and the manual and the packaging.

    The first run of manuals were printed at Kinko's.    We printed up a master copy on a regular ink jet printer and just had them run double sided copies and bind them.    When I went to pick them up they were ready to confront me.    They thought my operation was making pirate copies of copyrighted software.    I was non-plussed and amused, but so tired from working non-stop that I didn't do a good job of convincing them that I actually wrote every word on the printed pages.   In the end they let me go with the manuals, but they made it clear they still didn't believe me.

   We realized we absolutely had to have something to send soon or we were going to be in trouble.   Although we hadn't yet run charges on anybody's charge card, we knew there would be many really really disappointed people if they didn't have their products in time for Christmas.

   At that last possible day, we had the garage filled with piles of boxes, addressed and ready to ship.   I called Fed Ex and asked them to come pick them up.    We were sending them all out via 2nd Day express at $13 per package at our cost.    I told them to bring a truck that had some space in it, but even still the guy's jaw dropped when I rolled up the garage door.

 

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 March 2010 01:18