Making Their Mark

Making Their Mark
Making Money on the Mac

Pat Miller | 16 Oct 2007 12:17
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The method behind Maelstrom would propel Ambrosia in a promising direction for the first few years. Games like Apeiron, Swoop, Barrack and Chiral would take inspiration from classic arcade games like Centipede, Galaga and Gals Panic and revamp them with plenty of gameplay twists, keeping Mac gamers perpetually chasing each other for the all-time high scores. Besides changing the gameplay itself, however, they would also build in a uniquely Ambrosia feel. They took the essence of the low-res characters people fell in love with in the arcades of the '80s and created new characters with their own personalities, with expressive visual design punctuated by wacky sound bites. What's more, they built their business model around the shareware model, preferring to rely on mail order, the internet and magazine CD inserts for distribution instead of fighting for expensive store displays at a time when Mac-specific shelf space was virtually unheard of. Word of mouth became music to Ambrosia's ears.

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One (perhaps unexpected) perk of the shareware distribution model was Ambrosia's games quickly became a communal experience. Friends who shared Ambrosia games often competed with each other over their high scores; Ambrosia would run high-score contests to put people in competition with each other all over the world. People would talk about the awesome games they had; Ambrosia created forums for each of their games so players could come together and shoot the stuff. "Ambrosia's jovial nature and distinctive character really permeated all aspects of its boards, its products and everything that the Mac community saw," says John Champlin, official "SchmoozeHound" of Ambrosia Software. "There would be random weird tales of travel, or odd stories being posted on Ambrosia boards by not only its members but from Andrew himself. We have over 20,000 members ... and the numbers grow daily."

The community became more critical to Ambrosia's success, as the games they released became deeper. Games like Cythera, Avara and the infamous Escape Velocity brought people together to swap tips, blow each other up online and, in the case of Escape Velocity, modify the ever-loving heck out of the game. EV was fairly open-ended, both in terms of game design (it plays something like Grand Theft Auto: In Space!) and in terms of development architecture. All the game's data files were readily editable by basic Mac tools, and the editing only got easier with Ambrosia's own EV Bible, which allowed members of the community to step up and create their own tools and tell their own stories.

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