Ambrosia games

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If you're looking at the slides, "[NEXT]" means go to the next slide. My name is Richard Moss, and today I'm going to talk to you about a company that's ambrosia games near and dear to my heart, not only as someone who grew up playing some of their games — [NEXT] but also as the author of a book called The Secret History of Mac Gaming, which covers their history, along with lots of other games and game developers from the s and 90s Mac gaming scene.

And arguably the best among them in terms of the quality of its output. And they had top-drawer offbeat gaming options, too, with titles like [NEXT] Avara, a kinda abstract-looking arena-style first-person shooter, and [NEXT] Harry the Handsome Executive, where you guide a middle management executive through an office electronics apocalypse while scooting around in a swivel chair.

For about 15 years or so, from to aroundthe Ambrosia Software name was inseparable from quality Macintosh games.

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But then it faded rapidly into the background, for reasons I'll get to later, and finally the company closed its doors at the end of last year. There's not enough time to cover everything, but I'll try to get to all the key stuff and you'll hopefully come away with a good sense of a why Ambrosia Software matters to the history of computer games and b what made Ambrosia special to the Macintosh flock.

I've got some interview clips, a bit of gameplay footage, some photos and old documents to help ambrosia games along the way. I wanted to set up an emulator as well but just ran out of time unfortunately. And hopefully there'll be plenty of time at the end for questions and stories from you in the audience. But before we go into rise and fall of Ambrosia, let's do some quick background.

First, on Ambrosia founder Andrew Welch. Then second on the Mac gaming scene in the early 90s. His dad owned a marketing company, and it was through that business that young Andrew planted the seed for what would become Ambrosia. When he was something like 12 or 13 years old, he found the company's library of books and documents on typography. He thought it was cool, so he learnt how to de his own typefaces on his Macintosh.

Then, starting from age 14 or so, he sold them on America OnLine. But most people doing this sold their fonts without any documentation at all, so there was no way to know after the fact who made it, how to pay for it, who to contact for support, and so on.

So Andrew taught himself how to code a utility program that could wrap his fonts in a simple document reader thing. He enjoyed coding so much that ambrosia games kept doing it, and made various other utilities for his relatives. Then he went off to college to study photojournalism and in his spare time he created [NEXT] his first game, a Wheel of Fortune clone called Wacky Wheel.

There were lots of people putting out crappy little games as freeware or shareware, but even the rare good ones weren't really making anything more than pizza and beer money. Quick definition of shareware: [NEXT] it's software that you give away, free, but you ask that if someone likes it they pay you a registration fee — which, depending on the exact implementation, might get that person customer support or free updates or maybe just remove the nag screen from the boot-up process. Ambrosia games on the PC side, shareware had already taken off.

Instead of ambrosia games away the whole thing for free and requesting that people pay if they like it, Apogee and Epic's games were [NEXT] episodic — episode one distributed freely over the internet and BBSs and through mail-order floppy disks, and all subsequent episodes available to order for a set fee. I'm actually writing a book about this stuff, so if you're curious to learn more ask me about it later. And id Software were just starting to make their name at this point as well.

So the time was ripe for shareware to step up and hit the big time on the Mac side, too. College kids across the United States had Macs set up in their dorm rooms, while creative professionals all around the world had taken up the Mac mantle and were keen for more time-wasters to get them through the lulls in their output. But there weren't many games coming out — the porting industry, which took PC games and put them on Mac, was still in its infancy after struggling with the [NEXT] peculiarities of adapting games for the Mac's multi-window mouse and menu-driven interface.

Truly cross-platform commercial computer games that had concurrent Mac and PC releases were still rare though there were a few special ones like [NEXT] SimCityand Mac-first development had gone into a bit of a lull for a variety of reasons at the end of the s — from which it had yet to fully recover.

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So there was lots of room for a great new Mac-native game to stand out. And, crucially for our story here, someone was wrong on the Internet. It was one of the colour Macs that came out. Ambrosia games someone had said something about the fact that while it was too slow to do decent animation on — and by that point in time I had actually taught myself for Assembly language, as well.

So I set out to prove this guy wrong, because it's always fun to try to prove someone on the Internet that they're wrong. I grew up going to a lot of the arcades where we played games like Asteroids and Centipede and that type of thing where after school I would get dropped off there and play. So I decided to make an Asteroids-based game. They pulled liberally from pop culture, drawing tiny clips and references without permission from all over the place, kind of like the wall of sound that early hip-hop and remix culture had.

You could play it and share it freely, but it'd nag you to send in a cheque to register every time you booted the game. And a lot of people did. I just had a blast. I thought it was really really cool that I could do something just sitting in my room in upstate New York, which was where I was at the time. And I got these contacts from all over the world. I thought that was really really cool, and it was at a time where people were just starting to get connected online.

Like now it's no big deal — you can go on Twitter, Facebook, anywhere, and you can contact people from anywhere, any walk of life, pretty much anywhere that they have an Internet connection. But back then I thought it was kind of special and kind of cool. I really enjoyed that part of it more than anything else. One of the coolest things about Maelstrom was that you could modify it. To layer on even more pop culture references. Maelstrom was such a success that Andrew found himself at a crossro. He could keep going down the photojournalism path, or he could double down on his shareware business and do Ambrosia Software full time.

He and his college roommate incorporated the company inand they soon managed to convince some merchant services company to give them an so they could [NEXT] take credit card payments — which seems like nothing now, but was a huge deal back then, before we even had a World Wide Web, when accepting online payments seemed risky.

Come Ambrosia Software was ready to expand its operations. Maelstrom had earned enough money and acclaim that Andrew had the foundation he needed to hire office space and operate as a shareware publisher like Apogee and Epic. Both games were a modest success — nothing at all on the order of Maelstrom's profits, but enough to keep things moving along.

And while this was going on, Ambrosia started to engage more with the Mac community. Andrew had always been active on Usenet and AOL, but now they took on more of an official presence. I just thought — I had seen some company newsletters that some companies were doing. I thought it might be a cool idea to do it. We felt like we were part of the community, so we didn't have any problem being open about — talking about — stuff that was going on. And honestly we found it kind of fun to share what we were doing there. Some months it became a chore to put together but I still think it was kind of a cool idea from the point of view of connecting with the people that liked our games ambrosia games utilities or whatever it was.

It was beautifully naive stuff, full of cringeworthy photos that they'd taken with an Apple QuickTake camera and silly stories of office life and the same kind of humour and 90s edginess and remix culture that they'd put in their games. Ambrosia was fiercely independent and fiercely devoted to two ideas: 1 that Windows sucks [NEXT] and 2 that the internet was the future, which extended to — as I said before — an electronic-only newsletter and digital-only games and software distribution.

And Andrew Welch wrote more than a few editorials in the newsletter that laid this message down hard. And I think also because it kind of inadvertently fit with Ambrosia's games, which were often loud and brash and in-your-face. After that, their ambrosia games of output ramped way up. They had a bunch more arcade mashups over the next several years —[NEXT] Barrack was similar to arcade hit Qix and the Windows game JezzBall, but way louder and more obnoxious.

Their big hit of this period was a space game called Escape Velocity, [NEXT] which has a fun origin story — so I'll just quickly share it with you. It started as yet another Asteroids clone, written in creator Matt Burch's free time, because he was way ahead of his electrical engineering classmates at college, but pretty quickly he started to expand it into a sandbox game — go anywhere, be anything, whether it's a space pirate or a trader or mercenary or government agent or whatever, with inspiration from [NEXT] old model rocketry catalogues, [NEXT] Star Wars and Star Trek, and the [NEXT] Doc Smith adventure novels.

Which he'd never actually played. Ambrosia games owned a copy, but he'd lost the game's [NEXT] Lenslok copy protection device before he even got the chance to play it once, and the store wouldn't ambrosia games him take it back. So how did it influence him, if he'd never played it? Let's find out. And this was back in the days when manuals were, well, physical manuals, and they were very detailed.

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They often had a story. If you look up the manual to Elite, not only does it have a detailed backstory of the universe but also has a maybe 3, word short story in it about a fictional space pilot who is travelling space lanes and fighting pirates and all this.

I read that so many times at age 10 or something. It was right in that zone where it was a very impressionable time. And I thought, ambrosia games what a great videogame this must be, if I ever got to play it. But its success probably owes as much to its moddability as to its core de.

Like Maelstrom, it encouraged players to change it — but because it's a much more elaborate game than Maelstrom, these modifications could also be much more elaborate. You could overhaul it completely. As a result, EV plugin sharing and authoring became almost as popular as the game itself. Most plugins would only be small — they'd add some new ship upgrade or change a couple of behaviours or something — but some were much more ambitious.

Modders call them total conversion mods ambrosia games they replace the graphics, story, everything, really only using the original game as an engine. And then, again, later on, EV Override got a total conversion mod with an elaborate new story [NEXT] by a group of Tasmanian university students that would also get published as a separate game with new engine enhancements supplied once more by Matt Burch.

That was called EV Nova. And I want to talk briefly about Harry in a moment, because it's a fantastically creative game that I think exemplified the approach Ambrosia took as a publisher. I once asked Andrew Welch about why their catalogue was so eclectic, and I remember he explained that they never really thought about branding.

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If an independent developer sent in a demo that seemed cool, they'd them and then put some resources into making sure it met the Ambrosia standard — which I think we could loosely define as a level of polish and shine that made a game barely distinguishable from a full-price commercial title, despite being a mere 20 or 30 bucks shareware.

Sometimes hitting that polish was harder than hoped, like with Cythera — which was just overflowing with funny bugs like infinite inventory [NEXT] if you carried all your stuff in a series of corpses, which were weightless and so tripped up the weight carrying limit.

And if you made the corpse at the end of the chain carry the one at the beginning the game would crash. Ambrosia's PR guy of the time Jason Ambrosia games came up with a creative way to turn these bugs and the delays they caused in the publishing schedule into positive buzz and free publicity.

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He also wanted to make sure Ambrosia would fork out the money to have a booth at Macworld Exposo he wrote [NEXT] in The Ambrosia Times that he'd eat actual bugs at the event if any Ambrosia ambrosia games that year shipped with a bug.

It was a big stage. There were probably hundreds of people watching. And there was I think mealworms, four deaths-head cockroaches, four Madagascan hissing cockroaches, one tarantula, and one scorpion. The mealworms were kind of in a salad.

They had dressing on them. There was — the cockroaches I think were on pizza. They weren't very good at all.

Ambrosia games

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