Synapse Software

Synapse Software Corporation (marketed as SynSoft in the UK) was an American computer game development and publishing company active from 1981 through 1984. They developed primarily for the Atari 8-bit computers, then later the Commodore 64 and other systems.

Synapse Software
Corporation / Subsidiary
Industryvideo games 
FateDefunct (purchased by Broderbund)
SuccessorThe Learning Company
FoundersIhor Wolosenko
Ken Grant
ProductsComputer games
Productivity software

Synapse is primarily known for a series of highly regarded action games such as Fort Apocalypse, Blue Max, The Pharaoh's Curse, and Shamus, including some unusual games not based on established concepts, like Necromancer and Alley Cat. The company also sold databases and a 6502 assembler, as well as a series of productivity applications which led to its downfall.

Synapse was founded by Ihor Wolosenko and Ken Grant.[1] The company was purchased by Broderbund in late 1984.

Action games

Synapse's first releases were for the Atari 8-bit computers, starting in 1981. Some of their early games were based on elements of contemporary arcade games. Protector (1981) uses elements of Defender, and Dodge Racer (1981) is a clone of Sega's Head On. Chicken (1982) has the same basic concept as Kaboom! for the Atari 2600, which itself is similar to the arcade game Avalanche.

A notable early release is Nautilus, which features a split-screen so two players can play at once. In one-player mode the user controls a submarine, the Nautilus, in the lower screen while the computer controls a destroyer, the Colossus, in the upper screen. Similar to Atari's Combat, in two-player mode another player takes control of the destroyer. The same basic system was later re-used in other games, including Shadow World.

Survivor is the first home computer game to support up to four players, a side-effect of the first generation Atari machines including four joystick ports. In this case all of the players take command of different parts of a single spaceship; in single-player mode it operates like the ship in Asteroids, while in two player mode one drives and the other fires in any direction.

In an interview with Antic, Wolosenko agreed that 1982's Shamus was the beginning of Synapse's reputation for quality products.[1] Other high quality, better advertised games followed in 1982-3. These include Necromancer, Rainbow Walker, Blue Max, Fort Apocalypse, Alley Cat, and The Pharaoh's Curse. It was during this period that the company branched out and started supporting other systems, especially the Commodore 64, which became a major platform. Many of Synapse's games made their way to the UK as part of the initial wave of U.S. Gold-distributed imports (under the "Synsoft" imprint). Some were also converted to run on the more popular UK home computers, such as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

Synapse was an early developer for the unsuccessful graphics-accelerated Mindset PC project and created the first-person game Vyper (1984).[2][3]

Ports and re-releases

Synapse developed an official port of the arcade game Zaxxon for the Commodore 64. The Atari port was from Datasoft. Synapse also published Encounter! in 1983, which was originally released in the UK by Novagen Software without the exclamation mark in the name.

Text adventures and other programs

Although it is for their success with arcade-style games that they are primarily remembered, Synapse started out selling database software for the Atari 8-bit computers. In 1982 Synapse released SynAssembler, a 6502 development system which was much faster than Atari's offerings at the time. SynAssembler is a port of the S-C Assembler II Version 4.0 from the Apple II.[4] The port was done by Steve Hales, who also wrote a number of games for Synapse.

Some time before their demise, Synapse had started work on text adventures (or as they called them, "Electronic Novels"). The games were all based on a parser called "BTZ" (Better Than Zork), written by William Mataga and Steve Hales. Seven games were written using the system but only four released,[5] the best-known being the critically acclaimed Mindwheel.[5]

Synapse was developing a series of applications: SynFile+ (written in Forth by Steve Ahlstrom and Dan Moore of The 4th Works ), SynCalc, SynChron, SynComm, SynStock, and SynTrend.


By early 1984 Synapse was the largest third-party provider of Atari 8-bit software, but 65% of its sales came from the Commodore market.[6] The company ran into financial difficulty. According to Steve Hales they had taken a calculated risk in developing the aforementioned series of applications, and had entered into a collaboration with Atari, Inc. When Jack Tramiel purchased Atari's consumer division from Warner Communications, he refused to pay for the 40,000 units of software that had been shipped. This in turn hurt Synapse financially.[7]

Having been thrown into a cash crisis, Synapse was purchased by Brøderbund Software in late 1984. Although the intention had been to keep Synapse going, the market had changed, and they were unable to make money from the electronic novels. Approximately one year after the takeover, Brøderbund closed Synapse down.[7]

Software published by Synapse

Games separated by a slash were sold together as "Double Plays," with one being a bonus game on the other side of the disk.[8] Rainbow Walker was initially sold by itself, and the second game added later.[8]

  • FileManager 800 (database)
  • FileManager+ (database)
  • Disk Manager
  • Protector
  • Dodge Racer




Showcase Software

At the 1983 Consumer Electronics Show, Synapse announced it would publish games for the VIC-20.[10] These were a mix of original titles and ports and were sold under the name Showcase Software.[11] Only some of the announced games were released.[11]


  1. Dewitt, Robert (April 1983). "Interview: Ihnor Wolosenko (Synapse Software)". Antic. 2 (1).
  2. Michalopoulos, Demetrios A. (May 1984). "New Products" (PDF). COMPUTER.
  3. Mace, Scott (May 14, 1984). "Electronic Antics: Seeing Is Believing". InfoWorld: 38.
  4. "Synapse Assembler". Atari Wiki. Archived from the original on 2013-05-20.
  5. "Synapse Software", Adventureland
  6. Mace, Scott (1984-02-27). "Can Atari Bounce Back?". InfoWorld. p. 100. Retrieved 18 January 2015.
  7. Hague, James, ed. (1997). "Steve Hales". Halcyon Days. Dadgum. Retrieved 2014-06-13. Synapse took a risk and started developing business software for the Atari [and] we entered in a collaboration with Atari, which was still owned by Warner. [Jack Tramiel] bought Atari [and] we delivered on our promises and shipped about 40,000 copies [but] the new Atari failed to pay us so we were thrown into a cash crisis [..] the only solution at the time was to sell [our remaining unshipped products] to Broderbund. Synapse was owned by Broderbund for another year [..] but the market had already changed too much to make any money, so Broderbund shut Synapse down.
  8. Powell, Jack (July 1985). "Eight New Synapse Games". Antic. 4 (3).
  9. "Page 6". AtariMania.
  10. Uston, Ken (September 1983). "Reflections on CES". Creative Computing. 9 (9).
  11. "VIC-20 Cartridge Rarity & Gameplay list". Digital Press.
  12. "Salmon Run Manual" (PDF). Atari Mania.
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