Baen Software Rose and Fell While Barely Making a Sci-Fi Splash

Wings out of Shadow

The name Baen has been associated with science fiction since at least 1983, when Jim Baen founded Baen Books (and maybe even before that, since he’d worked as an editor for various publications beginning in about 1973).

What many people don’t know, however, is that Jim was also involved in video game publishing, having created Baen Software in 1979.

The first game they published was Starclash, released exclusively for TRS-80 computers in 1980. The object of the game was to wrestle control of the galaxy from your computer or real-life opponent. A sequel, Starclash II, was released for MS-DOS in 1983.

Starclash II

At first, Baen exclusively published games, but they teamed with sci-fi author Fred Saberhagen to start a development studio, Berserker Works, in 1982. Games released include Berserker Raids (1983), based on Saberhagen’s Berserker series; Sign Of The Wolf (1987), which was based on a 1965 Saberhagen story of the same name; Wings Out Of Shadow, based on a 1974 short story; and Wizard War (1986), which was based on an exclusive Saberhagen story.

Baen also hired sci-fi author Walter Jon Williams to work as a game designer. He created a Pride and Prejudice game in 1984. (The linked source lists 1986 as the game’s release date, but according to the book Science Fiction Video Games by Neal Roger Tringham, it was actually 1984.)

Baen’s plan was to partner up with Simon and Schuster to sell their games in bookshops. Unfortunately, Baen Software was founded just a few years before the video game crash of 1983, when bookstore owners had reason to be hesitant about stocking anything game-related. Baen ignored mail-order catalogs, which was the primary method of game distribution at the time, and as a result their games sold fairly poorly. Most of the above games are extremely difficult to find, even on abandonware sites.

By the late 1980s, Baen decided to close down their software division and focus exclusively on publishing books. It worked out well for Jim and company, since the publisher went on to represent some of the most groundbreaking books and authors in the world of science fiction.

We’ll never know what they’d be contributing to the video game industry had they toughed it out and lasted to this day, but we’d like to imagine rich, complex sci-fi games, perhaps focused on space exploration or starfighter combat. It’s simply impossible to say what they’d be capable of today.

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  • mako33

    Wow, I’ve never heard of any of these games. Too bad they’re so hard to find. Thanks again for doing this.

    • Josh Wirtanen

      No prob! We love doing this! We’re as interested in this stuff as you are!

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