I was just starting the second year of my two-year master's degree program when my grandfather died and left me a little money. I got to talking with a friend of mine about what we wanted to do after college, and we both wanted to own our own software company. It occurred to me that I didn't need a master's degree to start my own company, so I dropped out of school, used some of my inheritance to buy some equipment, and High Risk Ventures was born.
I was the projectionist at a six-screen movie theatre, and my partner was the manager. While in school we each had our computers at the theatre so we could do homework there (we had a lot of free time between shows). We continued to work at the theatre, about twelve hours a day six days a week, developing our first title, an arcade game called Space Madness.
We decided to make a game not only because we thought it would be more fun, but also because we thought the game market would be a lot easier to break into than the business or productivity markets. We planned to release a playable demo of the game on the internet and online services such as America Online, which would create the pull-through needed to get our box on the shelf. We also planned to sell through the mail order catalogs, and take orders directly from the end-users via email and telephone.
After 3-4 months of working at the theatre, Space Madness was beginning to take shape. It was also starting to require a more serious effort. We decided it was time to leave the theatre and focus full time on the business. There was little or no inheritance money left, so we took out a small business loan and got some office space.
We worked long and hard, but we weren't able to finish Space Madness before the money ran out. We took out another loan, which bought us a little time and gave us enough money to have 2500 boxes made. The Space Madness demo was finally released in June 1993. We got set up to take Visa and MasterCard, and started taking direct orders. The response was encouraging -- everyone seemed to love the game -- but the volume wasn't what we had hoped. We got into a couple of the mail order catalogs and sold a few hundred copies that way, but we were never able to get a distributor to take the product. We were a startup company with only one product, so it was hard to get distributors to even talk to us. The ones who did said the game was great, but our box was horrible and had to be changed. Unfortunately we were out of money and had no way to make a new box.
In the first few months of the project, we planned for the enemy base in Space Madness to have concentric rings around it, like the "castle" in the 1980 Cinematronics arcade game Star Castle. I wrote a test program for the graphics routines I was developing, which I also used to figure out how to do the rings. The program turned into a primitive Star Castle clone. We later decided not to have rings around the base.
When it became apparent that Space Madness was going nowhere, I decided to take a couple months and make a shareware Star Castle for the 90's based on the Space Madness game engine and the work I had done in the test program. The idea was that thousands of people would download the shareware game, see the quality of High Risk Ventures products, and be prompted to download the Space Madness demo. And we might make a little money as well from any shareware payments we received.
Cyclone was released in December 1993, and was well received. It did prompt a lot of people to download the Space Madness demo and eventually buy the game. And we made about $7,000 in shareware fees over the next six months or so.
While I was working on Cyclone, my partner began work on a contract job for a small local software company called Abracadata. The job was to port to the Mac a 90% finished DOS model train simulation game called Train Engineer. We were given no source code for the DOS version, since it was all in assembler. We rented a PC to run the DOS version on, and wrote the Mac version from scratch based on the running DOS version. They did give us all the graphics and data from the DOS version, although I ended up touching up some of the graphics for the Mac version.
It was around this time that someone asked us to publish his new game, PegLeg. The game wasn't quite finished, but it looked promising. We accepted it, helped him complete the design and organized beta testing. The game was eventually named Macworld magazine's Hall of Fame Best Shoot-em-up for 1995.
We had very little money during this time, and by the time Train Engineer was finished we were both six months behind on our personal bills. When it was finished, we got just enough money to catch everything up, but no more. We decided it was time to close the office and work out of our homes.
My partner continued to work on contracts with Abracadata, and I focused on PegLeg. It was obvious that we weren't going to be able to publish it successfully, so I started shopping it around. We soon struck a deal with Changeling Software to publish both PegLeg and Space Madness.
I started working on Cyclone II around this time, and I also started looking for a job, since I was out of money and our games weren't selling well. I got an offer from Domark Software, and took it. My partner also found work elsewhere.
High Risk Ventures, Inc. was officially pronounced dead as of December 31, 1997. May it rest in peace.