The History of SSI Games

"More like Chess than Pong."

--from the Winter 1981 description of Computer Bismarck

Once upon a time, each major game publisher had, or at least seemed to possess, its own unique identity; its games just felt different from others'. Back in the 1980s, SSI's games signified attention to detail, superlative documentation (especially the background material), boxes that were nothing short of art, and, most importantly, a high emphasis on playability.  The foundation of this was wargaming, and wargames' influence expanded to the other genres dabbled in by the company.
Those features combined to cause me, for one, to play just about every SSI game that came out (for the Atari ST, anyway). If the box said "Strategic Simulations, Inc.," I would be virtually guaranteed a very good--usually great, occasionally extraordinary--gaming experience. That's hardly surprising when one browses through the old catalogs and looks at the list of names: Dan Bunten, Roger Keating, Paul Murray, David Landrey, Chuck Kroegel, and, of course, Gary Grigsby.  In later (but still old) catalogs those names were joined by a couple of others: Norm Koger, Jr. and Westwood.
Sadly, those glory days are in the past. A changing market has destroyed those halcyon times of lore. Think about it: as late as 1985 SSI's first ever game, Computer Bismarck, published half a decade earlier, was still in print. In fact, nearly all of SSI's list was still in print. The Winter 1985 catalog, for example, listed 50 different titles available for (in varying amounts) four different platforms.  Today, the ethereal fruit-fly life-spanned computer game lifespan has made such a commitment impossible.  
However, in celebration of my favorite era of computing , I am pleased to put up this page detailing, as much as I can, the complete list of SSI works.  We need to remember history, and that includes computer gaming history.  There have been occasional works detailing the history of general computing or of video games, but histories of computer gaming are either a few paragraphs in those works or occasional magazine articles.  Let us remember where computer gaming has been and where it is going!
Internal development at SSI halted in November 2000. While SSI continued as a label under new owners, the French software giant Ubi Soft, it had been phased out by the mid 2000s.  I think we can safely say that the SSI of fame pretty much died with its purchase by Mindscape.  Yes, there were still great titles (Steel Panthers, for example), but the glory days were behind it.  (Even Panzer General pre-dated Mindscape!)  
In happier news, SSI founder Joel Billings founded a new company with Gary Grigsby and Keith Brors. 2by3 Games (not overly catchy) will be publishing various Grigsby wargames under the auspices of Matrix Games. The first, Uncommon Valor was released to mixed reviews.    There have been some rumblings in the wargaming community about Billings' commitment to wargames.  I think such arguments are invalid.  Admittedly, SSI did move away from wargames in the wake of Pool of Radiance, but if you were selling 250,000 units vs. 50,000 what decision would you make?  The fact is that SSI continued to support wargames long after other former publishers (EA, Brøderbund, etc.) had halted.  Panzer General was a solid attempt to make wargames appealing for a larger market, and Steel Panthers was an attempt to make a solid serious wargame.  In reading reviews for the various 2by3 Games' games (I own a few, but admit that I haven't really played them much at all), it seems that those attempts never went to 2by3.  While I appreciate the dedication to hard-core wargamers, I think the lack of interface improvements over the past decade is disappointing.  There is really no concerted effort to create new hard-core wargamers.  
As for this page, it continues in slow-but-sure construction mode.  Who would think typing in all of those catalog descriptions would take so long?  :-)   Look at the Text Table for a quick overview of game availability, the Alphabetical pages provide more detailed information, and the Games By Platform pages give timelines of SSI support for all supported platforms.  There are also a few other miscellaneous pages; hopefully, the links are self-explanatory.
Let me know what you think as well as any suggestions for improvements.  I hope everyone who, like me, has enjoyed classic SSI games will enjoy this labor of love. 

Update (8/14/14):
A new link has been added to a press release announcing a new company formed by former SSI employees, TSI: Tactical Simulations Interactive. 
Missing games are still being slowly added.  How did I miss the Eye of the Beholders? More will come.
I'm still searching for clues on some of the smaller-releases near the end of the active support for the ST and Amiga.  Does anyone know if the ST versions of Pool of Radiance and Secret of the Silver Blades ever shipped?  I haven't been able to find copies in the various ST emulation sites out there, but ST Informer had reviewed SotSB at one time I think; I don't know if that was a phantom review, a beta review, or something else. Similarly, there were reports of ST versions of Norm Koger's last SSI wargames (the Conflict: series), but I haven't been able to find them.  Also, some of the last Amiga releases may have been UK/Europe only; I'm still looking for those as well. I did find information on the first SSI conversion, Computer Baseball, online.  It's good to know that that made it out

   



SSI Game Bibliography

               (The background colors in the platform column are an attempt to recreate the color-coding used by SSI from the middle 1980s.  Game headings in the listings pages in the back of its catalogs were given different colors that matched the colors of the platform stickers on their game boxes.  Apple was red, natch.  Games for the Apple IIGS and Mac were in offshoots of red, purple and orange.  Commodore was dark brown; Amiga was light brown.  Atari ST was light green (much like the default color of its desktop) and 8-bits were dark green.  IBM, of course, was blue.)  



SSI & TSR: The Original Collaboration


A Retrospective of 'Games in the Works'

The First RTS?               The Best of SSI      

FAQ               Links           Still Available: Old SSI Software Still Being Sold  


Text Table (Original Page)


The Best of SSI:

Cartels & Cutthroats

Colonial Conquest

Phantasie

Rails West!


Personal Pages

My SSI History    



Please send any feedback to clund@cox.net



 

 

 

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