Beam Software

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Beam Software
Type Developer
Fate Closed
Founder(s) Alfred Milgrom, Naomi Besen
Founded 1980
Defunct 2010
Headquarters Melbourne
Ownership Independent (1980-1999)
Infogrames (1999-2006)
Krome Studios (2006-2010)
Employees 40 (final), 180+ (peak)
Website http://www.kromestudios.com

Beam Software (previously Infrogrames Melbourne House, Atari Melbourne House and Krome Studios Melbourne) was a game developer based in Melbourne and founded in 1980 by Alfred Milgrom and Naomi Besen. The company was one of the earliest established and most successful game developers in the Australasian industry. The company operating independently until 1999, when it was sold to Infogrames. It became part of Krome Studios in November 2006 when Atari sold the company. After surviving a number of rounds of lay-offs which severely reduced the staff headcount, the company ceased operations in October 2010, when Krome Studios laid off most of its employees.

History

Establishment

Alfred Milgrom and Naomi Milgrom (nee Besen) operated Melbourne House (Publishers) Ltd. as a general publishing company from 1977. The company was run from London, but had offices in Melbourne. In 1980, Melbourne House began its approach on the burgeoning home computer market, with the intention to distribute US-written software and books for the UK market. Alfred Milgrom wrote the company's first computer book 30 Programs for the Sinclair ZX-80. Upon their return to Melbourne, Milgrom and Besen opened Beam Software with the intent of developing their own software for the UK market, and publishing overseas titles in Australia. Beam Software was initially run from their living room, with students from the University of Melbourne recruited as the first employees.[1]

Early Success

In 1981, Beam Software approached the Tolkien Estate with the intention of licensing the computer game rights to the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. The rights were successfully obtained after they promised to include a copy of the original book with each game. The Hobbit was chosen to be the first of the games to be developed.[2]

The first Beam-developed games released were Hungry Horace and Horace Goes Skiing in 1982, which were bundled with the ZX-Spectrum, and were among the first arcade-style games on the system. The Hobbit followed later in the year and was an immediate hit, topping the European sales charts and earning widespread critical acclaim. Beam commenced porting The Hobbit to many other popular computer formats, such as the BBC Micro, Commodore 64, Macintosh and MSX. The company started to expand, adding Adam Lancman as Financial Director in 1982. Beam Software became so successful that the company's management began to phase out Melbourne House's book publishing operations and focus entirely on games development.[3]

Expansion & Separation

With the success of The Hobbit on the ZX-Spectrum and the continued expansion of the European home computer market, Beam Software began to expand the scope of its development, increasing support for the Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC alongside the Spectrum. A steady stream of games flowed from the Melbourne studio throughout the middle of the 1980s, including Mugsy, Sherlock (which utilised the "Inglish" text parser from The Hobbit) and the long-awaited sequel to The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring. A second development studio called Studio B Ltd. was set up in the UK, run by Alan Giles and Stephen Cargill. However, Studio B only produced Fighting Warrior before disappearing.

Beam Software struck gold again in 1985 with the release of The Way of the Exploding Fist, one of the earliest fighting games released for home computers. Like The Hobbit before it, The Way of the Exploding Fist lit up the European Charts and saw widespread critical acclaim. It was followed by two sequels; Fist II: The Legend Continues and Exploding Fist +.

By 1986, Beam Software controlled 10% of the European home computer market[3]. During the year, Naomi Milgrom left the company and joined clothing retailer Sussan, a prominent Australian clothing retailer, though she would later return to Beam as a non-executive director. They continued to release follow-ups to their popular games, such as Mugsy's Revenge and Fist II while releasing new games like Rock 'n Wrestle and Knuckle Busters. Beam also expanded into porting games for other publishers like Marble Madness Construction Set for Atari Games.

The directors of the company decided to sell the UK arm of Melbourne House in 1987. Budget games publisher Mastertronic purchased the Melbourne House brand for £850,000, and used the name to publish a variety of titles across home computer formats in the UK market at premium prices. The vast majority of Melbourne House's UK based staff moved to Mastertronic with the brand.[4] In 1988, Virgin took over Mastertronic, and distribution of titles under the Melbourne House banner ceased. Mastertronic later became the distributor for all things Sega in Europe, eventually being spun off into Sega Europe.

Console Development & A Change of Focus

Alfred Milgrom became enamoured with Nintendo's Famicom while on a trip to Japan, and brought several of the consoles back to Melbourne for research. Adrian Thewlis was hired by the company to reverse engineer the console. Beam developed a demo game to pitch to Nintendo, but were unsuccessful.

Undeterred, Beam continued development on its own set of development tools for the Nintendo system which they hoped to sell to American developers. They took their devleopment kit to the 1988 CES and had made their first sale when they drew the attention of Nintendo. Nintendo, wishing to keep tight content control over the NES, offered Beam a development license for the system if they agreed to discontinue their development kit. Beam was only the second non-Japanese developer to gain a license.

With the sale of Melbourne House to Mastertronic, the structure of Beam undertook a major shift, working mostly on commissions, rather than publishing their own titles. The company continued to produce titles for the ZX-Spectrum and Commodore 64 until the end of the 1980s, but the focus was clearly on the Nintendo Entertainment System moving forward.

Much of Beam's early NES work was with Acclaim Entertainment's LJN label. LJN's output consisted mostly of titles licensed from popular movies, television shows and comics. Early Beam NES titles included Back to the Future, Days of Thunder and The Hunt for Red October. Due to the tight scheduling and budgeting, the quality of these titles was dramatically lower than Beam's home computer output. Other NES productions such as the arcade port Smash TV and Star Wars were slightly better received by fans and critics.

Console development was proving lucrative for Beam, who started to expand their focus by gaining development licenses for Nintendo's portable Game Boy system and NEC's PC-Engine (though they would only develop one game for NEC's system). Beam was a prolific Game Boy developer, handling licensed games such as Bill and Ted's Excellent Game Boy Adventure and ports/adaptations of many popular existing games and arcade ports, including T-2: The Arcade Game and NFL Quarterback Club. Financial Director Adam Lancman became a shareholder and Co-Managing Director of the company.

Development expanded onto the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991 with Super Smash TV. That same year, they launched publishing division Laser Beam Software, the only Australian company to obtain a publishing license from Nintendo. With the establishment of Laser Beam, the company capitalised on the demand for Australian sports games, launching Aussie Rules Footy in 1991 and International Cricket in 1992. While the games were not officially licensed by the Australian Cricket Board or the Australian Football League, they were extremely popular and topped the charts for their respective years. Super International Cricket would follow in 1994. Australian sports were not the only games Beam released with a local flavour - Game Boy game Baby T-Rex was re-released as Agro Soar, which featured popular Australian television icon Agro.

Beam's staff continued to expand as the company began to develop games for the Sega Mega Drive, Mega-CD and Game Gear. The company regained critical favour with the release of Shadowrun for the SNES in 1993, a console RPG based on the popular pen & paper game. In an era where many games were developed to be family friendly, Shadowrun was aimed at a more mature audience, and celebrated for its intellectual plot and innovative dialogue system. Unforutnately, the game sold poorly after being shipped in low numbers by publisher Data East.

Back to the PC

With the 16-bit era drawing to a close, Beam began to shift resources to 32-bit machines and the PC, which was growing exponentially at the time. Beam's output for the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation was not as prolific as it was in the 16-bit era, with ports of Gex and Norse by Norsewest: The Return of the Lost Vikings being the only significant releases from the company.

Beam instead focused on output for the PC. They produced a mix of original titles, licensed titles and ports from other systems, including FMV adventure The Dame Was Loaded, then one of the most expensive multimedia projects in Australia and Cricket '96 an updated version of Super International Cricket. They also produced a short-lived CD-ROM magazine called The Disc.

PC development continued as the market expanded on the back of Windows 95 and the growth of the Internet. Beam teamed up with Microsoft for the basketball game NBA Full Court Press, part of Microsoft's earliest push to become a games publisher. They also released KKnD: Kill, Krush 'N Destroy, a capable real-time strategy game heavily inspired by Command & Conquer and WarCraft II. An expanded version KKnD: Kill, Krush 'N Destroy Xtreme followed a year later, along with Cricket '97, the first 3D cricket game, which also featured commentary from the iconic Richie Benaud. 1997 also saw the launch of Hotgames, a Beam-operated website with news, reviews and downloads for PC games. They also launched Smarty Pants, a division of the company focused on development of educational software.

Beam learnt a tough lesson about the nature of the PC market when KKnD 2: Krossfire was released. The game was scheduled for release in South Korea months before the United States - pirated copies of the game worked their way to America long before the official release, resulting in abysmal sales. It was the last entry in the KKnD series.

The company did not give up on PC development, releasing Alien Earth and DethKarz in 1998.

ASX Listing and Sale

After a number of successful years, Beam's management sought to expand the company's publishing operations with a public offering in 1996. Beam Software became Beam International Limited. Six million shares, representing 15% of the company, were issued for $AU0.50. Beam was the first Australian company to issue its prospectus both online in HTML and on CD-ROM[5]. At the time of the issue, Beam had 70 employees and recorded revenues of $AU5.2 million for the 1995 financial year. On March 31, 1999, Beam International Limited sold its games development and publishing divisions to Infogrames to extinguish AU$12 million in debt, while the Hotgames website was sold to Fortune City Inc. It subsequently changed its name to Blaze International, and shifted focus to providing software and services for the entertainment and telecommunications industries. Adam Lancman and Alfred Milgrom stayed on the board of Blaze International until 2001.

Blaze International has since become a mineral exploration company with the primary interest in Yeelirrie Uranium Project in Western Australia[6].

The Infogrames Years

Before Beam was sold to Infogrames, the company had re-registered the Melbourne House brand name, which Virgin had allowed to lapse. When Inforgrames bought Beam, they changed the name of the company to Infogames Melbourne House. Adam Lancman stayed on as CEO, though Alfred Milgrom would resign from the company in 2001. GP 500 was the first game released under Infogrames ownership. The game was praised for its attention to detail.

Infogrames Melbourne House's next hit was Le Mans 24 Hours, based on the famous French race. The Dreamcast version of the game was heavily praised for pushing the system's graphical capabilities while providing accurate and enjoyable gameplay. The game is one of the highest rated games on the Dreamcast, and garnered a number of racing game of the year awards in 2000. The success of Le Mans increased expectations for company's next racing game Grand Prix Challenge, which was also well received when it launched on the PlayStation 2 in 2002.

After Infogrames relaunched the Atari brand following its purchase of Hasbro's gaming properties, Infogrames Melbourne House became Atari Melbourne House. The parent company invested an additional AU$50 million into the developer.

Atari Melbourne House also developed a number of licensed games. Looney Tunes: Space Race and Men in Black II were poorly received, but Transformers (based on Transformers: Armada) earned the company a great deal of praise for the graphical fidelity they were able to achieve on the PlayStation 2.

After the release of Transformers, Melbourne House began to languish under the control of Atari, who was suffering from major financial troubles following years of consecutive losses. Atari dropped the Transformers license and cancelled Melbourne House's Transformers 2. Melbourne House's other major project at the time, a disaster game entitled The Big One was also cancelled by the publisher. A number of layoffs were incurred by the studio, with the headcount dropping to about 40 from over 100.

Adam Lancman resigned from Atari Melbourne House in early 2005, with Andrew Carter assuming the role of CEO. Sadly, Adam Lancman passed away shortly after leaving the company.

Melbourne House's final project under Atari was a port of the seventh generation title Test Drive Unlimited from the Xbox 360 to the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable. The port was widely praised for bringing the expansive title to less capable platforms without compromising the original vision of the game.

Prior to the release of Test Drive Unlimited, Atari went through a major reorganisation which saw the company put Melbourne House on the auction block. After several months of no interest, Krome Studios stood up as a potential suitor, and purchased Melbourne House from Atari on November 3, 2006.

Krome Studios Melbourne

Krome Studios renamed Melbourne House to Krome Studios Melbourne upon completing the purchase of the developer in 2006. They immediately hired an additional 45 staff members.Krome Studios Melbourne has been involved in the development of the Wii version of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Star Wars Clone Wars: Lightsaber Battles and Star Wars Clone Wars: Republic Heroes. After the release of these games, Krome Studios Melbourne was been severely affected by layoffs, with its headcount being reduced from around 100 to 40. Although the company celebrated its 30th anniversary in September 2010, it would be closed along with the rest of Krome Studios on October 18, 2010 after the main branch of the company failed to secure work-for-hire contracts.

Games Developed by Beam Software

An asterisk (*) denotes a port or adaptation of an existing game

ZX Spectrum

Commodore 16

Commodore 64

TRC-80

BBC Micro

Amstrad CPC

Atari 8-bit

Acorn Electron

Dragon 32

Oric Atmos

MSX

Apple II

Amiga

PC

PC9801

Macintosh

Nintendo Entertainment System

Game Boy

Super Nintendo Entertainment System

PC Engine

Mega Drive

Game Gear

Mega-CD

Philips CD-i

Saturn

PlayStation

Nintendo 64

Dreamcast

PlayStation 2

Xbox

GameCube

PlayStation Portable

Xbox 360

Wii

PlayStation 3

Unknown

  • Walkabout (cancelled in 2010)

Notes

  • Shares suspended trade in 1999. Beam was last quoted on ASX screens on February 9 last year when the shares traded for 30 -- less than half their peak -- capitalising the company at $12.48 million. It had grand plans to list on the Nasdaq exchange and expand in the United States which were scuttled when a $6 million equity injection collapsed at the 11th hour in November 1998. With the company in dire straits after a $17.7 million loss in 1998, new chief executive David Skelton -- a former executive with the Seven Network, PMP Communications and News Ltd -- was called in. Over 14 months, he has gradually switched the business focus from multimedia and games products to a complete Internet play. Two divisions were sold for a combined $11.5 million plus potential trailing revenue, and staff numbers have been cut from more than 100 to 20 over the year. The company recorded a small net profit of $442,294 in 1999, slightly reducing its accumulated losses to $15 million, and had $1 million cash in the bank on December 31. Mr Skelton said a board revamp over the next few months would see founder Alfred Milgrom replaced as chairman, although his family still owns about half the company. Former managing director Adam Lancman owns about 20 per cent, while Mr Skelton now owns 10 per cent of the company as part of his employment package. [10]
  • Beam's Park Street studio was located between a brothel and a Salvation Army store.

References

  1. Hits of the 80s: Aussie Games that Rocked the World Essay - http://www.acmi.net.au/hits_80s_essay.htm
  2. Digital Hands: An Interview with Philip Mitchell - http://www.invasivedesigns.com/otherhands//archives/articles/18/digital_hands.html
  3. 3.0 3.1 Beam Software Timeline - http://www.acmi.net.au/hits_80s_timeline.htm
  4. Guter, Anthony - Mastertronic history - http://www.guter.org/mastertronic_history.htm
  5. First Australian Company Prospectus to be available on CD-ROM and Internet - http://web.archive.org/web/19970607102911/www.beam.com.au/noframe/1508962.html
  6. Blaze Limited - http://www.blazelimited.com.au/
  7. Nintendo Magazine System Issue 5 pp49
  8. Nintendo Magazine System Issue 5 pp49
  9. http://www.futuregamez.net/special/melhouse/adaminterview1.html
  10. Phillips, M. (2000, March 1). Beam Blazes back. Herald Sun.