Access Software was a US developer started by Bruce Carver and Chris Jones in 1982. It became most famous for a number of classic 8-bit games, including golf smash-hit Leaderboard, 10th Frame, military-themed Beach Head and the popular Tex Murphy games. Access Software was later acquired by Microsoft in 1999, becoming best known for the hit PC series Links.
Steve Witzel recounts, “I actually sold Bruce Carver his first Commodore 64.” This, we infer, was possibly the same machine used to create Beach Head, the game that first brought the Access Software brand fame and commercial success.
“I owned a retail computer store, Computers Plus, in Midvale, a suburb of Salt Lake City,” Steve explains. “A lot of people with 64s were just hungry for information. People wanted to know everything about the inside of the machine and Commodore wasn’t very forthcoming. Bruce was an engineer with a local firm called Redd Engineering, doing large construction projects, and he bought the 64 and really got interested in learning to program.”
With his background in electrical engineering, Steve’s knowledgeable demeanour meant that C64 owners were often coming into the store to glean technical information and swap programming tips for the machine. “Bruce wrote a little sprite-editing program and brought that in, and I gave him a few ideas and said ‘If you made a few adjustments, you know we would sell this product in the store,’” he recalls. “And he was quite surprised and went back and made those changes, and when we started selling the program he got very excited…”
It was, as they say, the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Bruce’s program, Spritemaster, sold well enough to convince him that there might be something in this home computer programming lark, specifically on the C64. “The Access Software brand was born with Spritemaster,” says Steve. “Bruce kept doing his day job and started on his next game [a Star Trek-inspired 3D shooter called Neutral Zone.] He came back and said ‘you know, I really don’t know how to sell’ so we started a consulting relationship. I was helping him set up distribution networks, and then when the program started to sell he came back and said ‘I’m having trouble copying the tapes, our audio-duplicators just aren’t working well enough.’ We finally felt we hit the big-time when I designed a little device for him that allowed him to copy six cassettes at once. We started getting quite a large distribution network and he decided to quit his day job, and the owners of Redd actually invested money in Access.”
Co-founder of Access Chris Jones remembers, “In the early days, we worked out of Bruce’s basement.” While employed as an accountant at Redd Engineering, Chris partnered with Bruce in order to handle the business side of the company. “We were duplicating the games for distribution; designing box art, advertising art, everything… it was a true basement operation. When Bruce developed Neutral Zone it did reasonably well which gave us some breathing room and we could bring others aboard to help with sales.”
Although simplistic, Neutral Zone demonstrated a key aspect of Bruce’s developing skill as a game designer – attention to detail and the integration of lifelike physics – something that had been engrained in him through his role as an engineer. Players fired projectiles that flew in a parabolic trajectory at enemy targets, a feature that would re-emerge in the most famous section of Beach Head, along with Neutral Zone’s filter-heavy explosion effects, born from his experiments with the C64’s SID chip.
“We had talked about a game centred on a World War II concept, which eventually became Beach Head,” recalls Chris. “That game did incredibly well and put us on the map. It also gave us an opportunity to get in with chain stores and major distributors.”
Beach Head also marked the start of a profitable relationship with the UK-based distributor US Gold, the company that would market many of Access Software’s future products in Europe. Access Software was suddenly going to become very important overseas…
You can read more about the history of Access Software in issue 120. Buy it now from GreatDigitalMags.com.
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