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Berkeley Systems

Overview

Berkeley Systems, Inc. was founded in the 80's by the husband-and-wife team of Wes Boyd and Joan Blades, to create handicapped access software for the Macintosh. Soon after, their friend Jack Eastman suggested the idea of a modular screensaver as an alternative to the plethora of single-display screensavers then popular. Making a modular screensaver meant providing some modules, so they made a handful of them, including the rather odd concept of the Flying Toasters.

Sales of After Dark rapidly swamped the original Access Software, and the company achieved iconic status in the Macintosh community. The company took on some venture capital and began a growth phase. Unwilling to "dirty their hands" with a Windows or DOS product, but also unwilling to forgo the much larger potential market, the contract to produce After Dark for Windows was put out for bids. The company also pursued and acquired the license for a module pack based on Star Trek. The Star Trek pack was so successful that the franchise was expanded, acquiring other major licenses such as Disney and The Simpsons.

Meanwhile, the Windows version of the product had become infamous for poor quality (most IS departments of the era banned its use), and the company decided to bring the product in-house at the same time as work began on a third generation Macintosh engine. Module pack work continued, including new licensed properties and original products. During this era the Berkeley Systems Access Software division continued to operate in a corner of the facility mostly occupied by screensaver development.

By 1995, the future for Berkeley Systems was beginning to look very bleak. Most of the "A list" licenses had been done or the licensors had commissioned work elsewhere. After Dark for DOS, a product that could have sold like wildfire in 1992, was finally produced just weeks before Windows 95 put the nail in DOS's coffin. The market for pricey, artistic and highly animated screensavers was cannibalized by cheap slideshow products. Attempts to find new products that would fit the quirky "utilitainment" niche of After Dark had come to rocky ends - notably a children's desktop product that was not really portable to Windows and a very nice customizable calendar program, which the company did not want to expand into the very competitive PIM market.

At this point in time, the company's iconic position in the Macintosh culture quite literally saved it. A company called Jellyvision had a prototype of an original game called You Don't Know Jack, which they approached Berkeley Systems with. The game was irreverent, quirky, and fun, and if handled even moderately well would be a huge success. The deal was signed, and the rebirth of the company began. With the strength of this deal, the founders were able to swing a "white knight" buyout of the company by Sierra and hence a move fully into the computer game market. Also as part of this transition, the Access division was finally spun off into a separate company.

Trivia

Location and contact information in Nov. 1995:

Berkeley Systems
2095 Rose St
Berkeley, CA 94709

Technical Support: 510-549-2300
Fax Support: 510-849-9426
TTY/TDD: 510-540-0709

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