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Free Fall Associates was a computer game developer of the 1980s and early 1990s. It was founded in 1981 by Jon Freeman, his wife, game programmer Anne Westfall, and game designer Paul Reiche III. To start the new company, Freeman and Westfall left the computer game developer and publisher Epyx, the company Freeman had co-founded in 1978.
Birth of a company
Freeman, along with friend Jim Connelley, started Epyx as Automated Simulations as a vehicle to publish a game they had created together called Starfleet Orion for the Commodore PET home computer. They eventually published dozens of titles for numerous platforms, some very successful.
By 1981, however, Freeman had become frustrated with what he called "office politics" and decided to leave the company. His wife, Westfall, joined him, though she cites a desire to learn assembly language programming on the Atari 800 as a motivation. Reiche joined the duo as the company's third member.
Free Falls' first game was 1982's Tax Dodge. A Pac-Man clone for the Atari home computer systems, while clever, Tax Dodge didn't do well due to a lack of publicity.
Association with Electronic Arts
Soon Freeman made a contact that would prove pivotal for both Free Fall and the fledgling computer game publisher, Electronic Arts (EA). The same day he incorporated his company, Trip Hawkins contacted Freeman. Freeman was attracted by EA's generous attitude and the welcome windfall of development cash. Soon, Free Fall signed EA's first two development contracts. For their first title, inspired by sword-and-sorcery themes and the holographic chess-like game featured in Star Wars, they set to work on Archon. Originally developed as a two-player only game, EA requested a one-player mode as well. Though it only had a passing resemblance to chess, Archon featured innovative gameplay and theme. Freeman and Reiche developed the game design and Westfall focussed on the programming. Freeman and Reiche also developed the artwork for this first version for the Atari home systems.
Upon its release in 1984, Archon was an enormous hit and EA asked for a sequel. Archon is still regarded as a seminal game in the history of computer games.
FreeFall immediately set out to create the sequel, but significantly altered the gameplay, strategies and premise of the game, adding a new gameboard, new spells, new creatures and abilities to the mix. Archon II: Adept was also released in 1984 and received even more acclaim than the original.
Both these games were lucrative for both Free Fall and EA and were key to EA's success as a fledgling publisher. Through the years, as more systems came on the market, such as the Amiga and the Atari ST, FreeFall ported these games to those systems. The games were hits on all systems for which they were released.
Free Fall also developed a murder mystery game concurrently with the first Archon. Murder on the Zinderneuf (MotZ), with Robert Leyland, was innovative in that it generated a new plot each time it was played. Freeman says he was inspired by his favorite board game Clue. MotZ debuted a few weeks after Archon, but was eclipsed by Archon's enormous success.
Freeman and Westfall went on to develop a few more games, such as Swords of Twilight (1989) for the Amiga and Archon Ultra (1994). Sometime during this period, Reiche left for other opportunities. None of these other games did nearly as well as Free Fall's first two seminal games.
Reiche paired up with programmer Fred Ford and the two developed the highly acclaimed Star Control series, published by Accolade. Star Control is another milestone series and a significant achievement in the history of computer games. Reiche eventually founded the small video game developer Toys for Bob.
After the disappointment of their later titles, Free Fall went on to develop some online card games which were featured on Prodigy's GameTV service. These games included Simplex, Eureka, Reflection, Stop & Go, Grab and Heartless.
Free Fall Games
By 2002, Freeman and Westfall had renamed their company Free Fall Games. Their focus still seems to be on developing card games, presumably in an attempt to appeal to female gamers. Their only game to date, Triplicards, was released on or around 2002.
In February 2007, it was announced that Myriad Interactive have secured the rights to release a new version of Archon. It is not known whether Free Fall Games is developing this version or not.
- Free Fall Games official website
- Free Fall Associates company profile from MobyGames
- Interview with Jon Freeman and Anne Westfall from Halcyon Days
- Interview with Freeman and Westfall regarding Archon from AlienBill.com (November 1984)
- Triplicards website
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