Only the new and young generation of gamers might not be familiar with Apogee Software - that is, until one has read the article. Apogee, the legacy of shareware PC games. I remember everything like it was yesterday! Impatiently receiving my first oversized floppy disk containing a demo version of Cosmo’s little adventures, racing through the first few levels of Duke Nukem, defeating way too much zombies in Monster Bash, capturing the first castle in Mystic Towers, … The video game company literally created the shareware distribution model using various monthly subscribed magazines and one free floppy which was without a doubt numberous times passed on. Apogee Software not only published excellent DOS (platform) games from various companies like Micro F/X Software or Scenario, but also created their own brilliant spin-offs or even whole separate branches. The perfect example is of course Duke Nukem, I’m quite certain Duke is one of the most well-known gaming franchises/character of the entire PC gaming world. Besides the Duke Apogee also created a few enjoyable platformers as well as shooters like Bio Menace, Crystal Caves and Rise of the triad. You can consult a full overview including release years at Wikipedia.
How Apogee triumphed
Apogee was established in 1987 together with the early release of Kingdom of Kroz, which used funky ASCII art as a graphics layer. To distribute and promote the published games, Apogee did not follow the traditional shareware model (giving away the full game and asking customers to pay if they like it). Instead, most well-known Apogee games were cut into three main episode parts. Part one was usually distributed freely on a demo floppy or diskette. When you finished episode one and hungered for more, you could mail order the other two. Using this method also enabled you to receive bonus disks, for instance new versions of demos without waiting until your favourite magazine restocked, or even receiving a few full games (all three episodes) for free as a thank you. Back in the day, I paid for Hocus Pocus but received Mystic Towers and the sidescroller Raptor for free! That’s simply amazing. This distribution method was called the Apogee Model during that period.
Virtually every game you wanted to play was published or developed by Apogee in the ‘90s. Do you like shooters? No problem, play Wolfenstein or one of the hundred semi-successfull spin-offs like Blake Stone or later on even Rise of the triad which also used the Wolf3D engine - highly enhanched of course. It was supposed to compete with big hits like Doom, but Doom’s height difference maps gained far more populairty. That does not mean RoTT was a completely bad game - no single one ever touched by Apogee was.
Addendum - Thanks to jgkspsx for pointing out RoTT does have height differences, and the development team decided in the end not to use the Wolf3D eninge after all. Read the full 3DRealms article on Rise of the Triad here. Sorry for that!
How Apogee failed
Besides shooters, the biggest deal of Apogee games consisted of traditional platforming principes. From Apogee’s own Duke series to Alien Carnage (a.k.a. Halloween Harry), Hocus Pocus or Monster Bash. I grew up playing those games over and over again and that is bascially one of the many reasons I’m writing this very article. Like all faithful hard-core platform fans in ‘90, I knew (or rather still know) all Duke or Cosmo levels by heart, even if the games were not that hard to complete.
Nowadays traditional 2D platform games are hardly recognized or accepted in the PC gaming world. You’ll occasionally find one or two games devoted to an ancient Apogee game, just like this article, or a couple of independant developers trying to ressurect the genre. Besides the increasingly popular Nintendo DS, there’s almost no system to date were platform games are popular. This is the very reason why Apogee has become 3D Realms. Initially Apogee wanted to split up the brand name for each genre, making each new game identifiable based on which brand it belonged to. Sadly, during the late 1990s the once-popular genres like Platform games or sidescrollers slowly died, and so dit the publisher’s idea. Only 3D realms remained, developing and publishing Duke Nukem 3D and other recent games, featuring a 3D engine. good riddance, pixels.
The Apogee Legacy in motion
Watch the first few minutes of well-known Apogee games in these Compilation videos! The footage has been recorded using DOSBox. Please note all video game footage was taken from legally aquired games!
Compilation Video #1
- Monster Bash
- Duke Nukem I
- Duke Nukem II
- Mystic Towers
Compilation Video #2
- Hocus Pocus
- Crystal Caves
- Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventures
- Blake Stone
- Wacky Wheels
Compilation Video #3
- Halloween Harry (Alien Carnage)
- Rise of the triad
- Realm of Chaos
- Commander Keen I
- Commander Keen IV
- Bio Menace
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