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Strategic Simulations, Inc. profile
 
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Unknown
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Ja
 
background details
 
Strategic Simulations Inc. is an excellent example of a company run by people with a genuine, burning passion for what they do. The company started as an idea in wargamer Joel Billinger's head in 1979, due to a lack of opponents for his board games. Joel realised that a computer were able to handle all of the calculations involved in wargames and, more importantly, it could act as an opponent. He didn't have any programming experience, but managed to hook up with programmers John Lyon and Ed Willeger, who produced SSI's first 2 games, Computer Bismarck and Computer Ambush respectively, in 1980. Both of these games were written for the Apple, and they heralded a new age, where computer wargaming was a reality. In order to find a publisher for the games, Joel called up Avalon Hill, the company that had made many of the board games that had inspired Joel, but they weren't interested. Joel tried other places, but eventually realised that SSI would have to publish their games themselves.

80's Wargaming
All the way through the 80's SSI was dedicated to bring computer gamers everywhere the most detailed, realistic and above all, fun wargames posibble. And the list of those games is very long indeed (although many of these games were never released on the PC), which is partly because many of the games were built using the same development tools, thus making development much easier. A few games from this period worthy of mention are Kampfgruppe,Battle for Normandy and Shiloh, although to be honest most of SSI's wargames from that period are grossly outdated by now, and will probably only appeal to people who want to experience the grand old days again. But although most of these games are outdated both gameplay and graphics wise, many of them introduced new elements to the wargaming genre, that are now considered mandatory.
In 1982 Gary Grigsby started working for SSI, developing games, his first one being Guadalcanal. Grigsby has since risen to a guru-like state in the wargaming community, with many great titles under his belt.
In the early and mid 80's SSI completely dominated the computer wargaming market, partly due to their great games partly due to their lack of competition. SSI's main competitor in those days was Avalon Hill, the very company that Joel had hoped would publish SSI's games, and AH's games didn't do nearly as well as SSI's.
SSI continued to develop wargames through the early 90's, producing truly classic titles like Panzer General (1994), a game that, although not really innovative, managed to do very well in stores and quickly gathered a huge fanbase. It also started SSI's famous General series, although none of the other games in the series ever reached Panzer Generals popularity. Another game worth mentioning is Steel Panthers (1995), which is basically a very well done remake of aforementioned Kampfgruppe (both games were designed by Gary Grigsby), and a game that has so far spawned two sequels.


The TSR Deal
Considering that SSI was founded and run by people who loved board games, it's not really surprising that the company would start developing role playing games as well. In the early and mid 80's SSI developed several successful RPG series, such as Questron, Phantasie and Wizard's Crown. These games were moderately succesful, but SSI's big breakthrough in the RPG genre was yet to come. In 1987 they signed a deal with TSR, the company holding the rights to the Advanced Dungeon & Dragons license, granting SSI exclusive rights to develop AD&D based games. The first game to utilise this was Pools of Radience, released in 1988, which immediately become a huge success, and was the first of the acclaimed Gold Box games, named so for their similar packaging. The Gold Box games all used the same engine, and 9 were produced all in all. Before this, most of the RPG's released used a rule system resembling the AD&D one (but still staying on the safe side of copyright violation), but Pools of Radience used the actual AD&D rules. This, combined with the fact that SSI could also use the official and popular settings such as Forgotten Realms, DragonLance and Ravenloft (it should be noted that SSI produced the only games ever to use two latter settings), and the fact that the engine used in the Gold Box games was truly innovative, contributed to make the Gold Box game hugely succesful.
In the Following years and in the early 90's, SSI continued to pump out RPG's using the AD&D license, and were as such the king of computer roleplaying games. They developed such classics as the Eye of The Beholder series and the Ravenloft games, both of which used the more traditional first-person view, where you turn 90 degrees at the time and move in "steps", so to speak. Many companies produced this kind of RPG's at the time, but these two series remain some of best known and most successful of their kind. Many of these games are still played by a lot of people today, and particularly the Gold Box games have definitely been a huge influence on later hit games such as Baldur's Gate. And on the subject of innovations, it has to be said that SSI developed was is propably the first MMORPG, namely Neverwinter Nights (yes, this is where Bioware got the name for it's later hit), which used the Gold Box engine and, by the way, made a LOT of money for SSI.
However, not all of SSI's RPG's were good enough to become smash hits, and by 1994 SSI's RPG's were becoming trivial and dull, when compared to competing titles, and eventually they lost the AD&D license to Interplay.

The Odd Stuff On The Side
Although SSI initially became known for their wargames and since cemented their position as the number one RPG company, they have also dabbled in other genres, making the odd adventure/action/RTS game here and there, some of them very acclaimed and successful. Some of these games are Stronghold (developed by Stormfront Studios), a kind of mixture between city building and RTS that uses the AD&D license; Veil of Darkness (developed by Event Horizon Software Inc.), a very good horror action/adventure game that unfortunately failed to do as well in stores as it deserved; Silent Hunter, a highly praised, and very detailed WW2 submarine simulator that so far has spawned two sequels. SSI didn't publish many of these kinds of games, and a good deal of the ones they did publish, they didn't develop themselves, as noted above. At the end of the day their field of expertise was making wargames and RPG's.

All Good Things Must Come To An End
The mid 90's weren't good for SSI, at least not from the perspective of their fans. In 1994 they were bought by Mindscape, and in 1995 they lost their AD&D license, to which they owed so much of their success. They were still going strong on the wargames front, though, and continued to produce quality games for Mindscape. Mindscape later changed names to the Learning Company and was acquired by Mattel. In 2000 Mattel decided to sell all its software divisions to a company called Gores Technology Group, which renamed them GAME Studios and then sold them to Ubi Soft, in 2001. Today, SSI exists only as a brand, in Ubi Soft.
In the end SSI went the way that many of the old succesful developers do; being bought by a larger company and reduced to a brand name. Luckily their games still exist, and many of them are available as abandonware, so old fans can relive the glory days, and newcomers can see how they used to make computer games back in the day (and quite possibly fall in love with some of them).

However, in recent years, UbiSoft have discarded Strategic Simulations, Inc.
 
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