Ultimate wargaming and fantasy company
There are several companies that have produced
wargames and simulations for the Atari but perhaps the best known is
SSI whose products have always been held in the highest regard.
Prior to their recent agreement with U.S. Gold there was a
flourishing trade in importing SSI simulations with dedicated
wargamers thinking nothing of paying £70 or so for a top-class
product such as War in Russia! So how does a Company such as SSI
gain this sort of reputation and support?
START WHEN YOU ARE SEVEN!
SSI started out in 1979 with Computer Bismarck which
was one of the first computer games to provide 'support materials'
such as movement charts and grease pencils and quality packaging
which was copied by many others and still remains a hallmark of SSI
products. The company was founded by Joel Billings, an experienced
board game player who gained a huge following at war gaming
tournaments where he often played in three divisions simultaneously,
managing to win all three! He began gaming at the age of seven when
he became fascinated with the challenge and realism of strategy
board games. After his school education he had to decide whether to
go to graduate college but opted instead for writing computer games
and so Computer Bismarck was born on a borrowed computer.
Joel wanted to use the power of computers to enhance
the board games by providing animation, quick response and
challenging opponents for solo play. It seemed that none of the
established companies was interested in this use of the home
computer so, based upon a few surveys of the likely market, he
borrowed $1000 and founded SSI. At the time many 'first' computer
programs, such as those put out by Scott Adams, were home produced
in polythene bags with crudely typed
labels but Joel felt he was competing against an established board
game market and so invested in an innovative four colour
bookshelf-sized box, with contents to enhance the software –
packaging which has since become an industry standard for this type
Like many youngsters starting in business, the family helped out and
SSI, despite having an estimated turnover for 1987 of $5 million,
still retains close family connections. Joel's sister Susan is the
company's operations executive and his mother Leona writes many of
the instruction books and has even learned to program herself.
Father Robert, a professor of English, writes many of the colourful
background stories found in SSI rule books. The company is now quite
sizeable with several more board members and 32 staff. It's
continued growth over the past six years has meant moving four times
before settling in a 12,000 square foot facility in Mountain View,
Although they started with wargames, and have
produced many of the 'classics' to be found in M. Evan Brooks'
survey of war games in this issue, SSI now has a broad range of
products including Fantasy Adventures and Sports simulations. Many
of their titles such as Questron, Wizards Crown and Roadwar 2000 are
well-known to Atari users and several have won awards. Roadwar 2000,
reviewed in this issue, was voted as `Best Strategy/War Game of
1986' by a leading American magazine and Gettysburg and Wizards
Crown have also recently been awarded similar titles. In all SSI
have produced 75 different titles and currently market over 60
programs in 200 different versions.
Never a company to stand still, SSI target over 50
new games a year, including conversions, and uses a strong team of
internal and external developers to produce their titles. Despite
this output they regard quality as paramount and this has led them
to an agreement with TSR which promises to be the most exciting
event of 1988 for anyone interested in computer adventuring and
DUNGEONS & DRAGONS
Earlier this year SSI entered a competition with
several other companies in a bid to become the publisher of computer
games based on the phenomenally successful Advanced Dungeons &
Dragons games developed by TSR. The official Dungeons & Dragons has
an enormous worldwide following and any company that could produce
computer games with TSR's blessing would be sure to have a very
successful 1988 and beyond!
Obviously many companies wanted Dungeons & Dragons so
TSR set some very high standards and invited interested companies to
prove to them why they should have the privilege. SSI already had a
quality background and were able to better their competitors and so
win the licensing agreement which will last at least five years. SSI
will produce a a series of role-playing adventures and, as a result
of their marketing agreement with U.S. Gold in this country, the
latter will produce five multi-player arcade style adventures all of
which will be marketed worldwide. SSI will also be producing
Dungeonmaster/ Player Aid disks to assist players of the
conventional board games.
It won't be an easy task, for TSR will vet every step
to ensure that the products are of the highest quality but SSI, with
their past product history, should have no problems.
A WHOLE NEW WORLD
The scope for the Fantasy Adventure simulations is
enormous as TSR have created a whole new fantasy world in which the
computer simulations will be based. Entitled Forgotten Realms, it
will be supported with conventional Dungeons & Dragons board games,
novels and calendars the first of which have already been produced.
SSI's first fantasy adventure will be set in the mountains of the
Forgotten Realms which take up about 27 square inches of a map
measuring some 24 square feet! If they get the first one right, and
there is no reason to think that they won't, there is likely to be a
lot of adventuring coming your way in the next five years!
If SSI's wargaming followers are worried that they
won't get a look in, they needn't be for SSI promise that the work
on the Adventure games will be carried over into a continuing series
of wargames that will feature enhanced graphics. In the pipeline are
several games from the guys who produced Gettysburg including one on
the Civil War battle of Shiloh and another on Napoleon's battles in
Europe. From other authors there will be a platoon level World War
II game and a simulation of the conflict in Afghanistan is also in
A STORY OF SUCCESS
SSI then, developed from a young man's fascination
and enthusiasm for board games into a major $5 million turnover
computer company that has just won the biggest licensing deal in the
computer industry. Having the right product at the right time
obviously had a lot to do with it in the early years but the real
story of success is in continually producing software of the highest
quality, well researched and well packaged and which does not date.
Computer users will be playing wargames and fantasy adventures long
after the initial fascination of arcade games dies away and that is
what Joel Billings recognised way back in 1979.