Penguin Software

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Penguin Software
FateAcquired by Merit Software
PredecessorsMP Software, Co-op Software
FounderMark Pelczarski

Penguin Software was a computer software and video game publisher from Geneva, Illinois that produced graphics and application software and games for the Apple II, Macintosh, IBM, Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari 8-bit, and Atari ST computers. They produced the graphics programs Graphics Magician and Complete Graphics System, graphic adventure games such as the Transylvania series, arcade-style games like Spy's Demise, and role-playing video games such as Xyphus.


The company was founded in 1978 by Mark Pelczarski as "MP Software" with its first product, a graphics program called Magic Paintbrush,[1] it evolved to "Co-op Software" as part of a sister company, Micro Co-op, then adopted the name "Penguin Software" in 1981 when software publishing became the primary focus.[2] Like many other home computer publishers at the time, Penguin Software openly credited the developers of their games on boxes and title screens; developers that were often not direct employees of Penguin Software but rather independent designers that were paid royalties by Penguin Software for the games that sold.

Penguin Software's core products were its graphics programs that were among the industry best-sellers of the early 1980s [3]. The Complete Graphics System, first published in 1981, was a set of drawing and 3D graphics editing programs for the Apple II by founder Mark Pelczarski. Special Effects, co-written by Pelczarski and David Lubar later the same year, helped establish the company's slogan, "the graphics people". In early 1982, Pelczarski, Lubar, and Chris Jochumson created The Graphics Magician, which would define the next several years of the company's evolution. Graphics Magician was aimed toward developers or anyone wanting to be a developer, allowing any programmer to create animations for arcade-style games and compact graphic images for adventure games and educational software.[4]

Developers began submitting their own creations written in part with Graphics Magician to Penguin Software for publication; those that were accepted were polished and published and the authors were paid royalties on sales. These included the first two games published by Penguin Software, the animated game Pie Man by Eagle Berns and Michael Kosaka, and the adventure game Transylvania written by Antonia Antiochia.[5] Many other publishers of software for the Apple II also licensed The Graphics Magician for their products,[6] as there was no fee for the license; the only requirement was a credit line that Graphics Magician software was used in the product, which served as advertising for more sales of the Penguin Software graphics tools.

One of the other widely touted aspects of Penguin Software's titles was that they deliberately stopped using copy protection, thus making it easier to back up their programs. Pelczarski sent a letter to many computer magazines to describe his position, which asked that users of their software not abuse their trust.[7]

As software sales expanded into book stores, Penguin Software was confronted by Penguin Books in regard of infringement of their name. Fearing that the legal costs of a lawsuit could have decimated his company, even in the case of an eventual victory, Pelczarski phased in a new name "Polarware" in 1986, eventually ending the "Penguin Software" brand.[8]

Since the Apple II, Macintosh, IBM, Commodore, and Atari computers all had varying graphics capabilities and different processors, releasing a software title for each different brand of computer usually involved programming it again from scratch for each platform. Penguin Software/Polarware began focusing on cross-platform ideas that would allow them to release games simultaneously on different systems without the lengthy re-programming process; the compact images from Graphics Magician could be used across platforms, and an adventure game development and deployment language called Comprehend was created to be system independent and was used for several releases.[9] Also using Graphics Magician across platforms and with a portable design, the first three titles in the Adventures Around the World geography game series were released; however a similar idea called Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego reached the market a few months sooner and doomed the Penguin Software series.[10]

In 1987 Polarware was purchased by four employees, Jeffrey (JJ) Jay, Steve Greene, Peg Smith, and Trish Glenn; this new team produced the children's software series written by Brian A. Rice, The Electric Crayon, a simple electronic coloring book. In 1988, Polarware was acquired by Merit Software and the Polarware name soon disappeared.


As Merit Software moved on to newer products, rights to the old software title were bought back from the remains of Polarware, and many of those titles were subsequently released as freeware to bring them out of Abandonware.[11]

Also after end of official support of their products, an enthusiast reconstructed a source code variant of the Comprehend engine to port these games to modern platforms.[12]

Software titles[edit]

Title Author Published
Magic Paintbrush Mark Pelczarski 1978/1981/1984
The Complete Graphics System Mark Pelczarski 1981
Special Effects Mark Pelczarski and David Lubar 1981
The Complete Graphics System II Mark Pelczarski 1982
The Graphics Magician Mark Pelczarski, David Lubar, and Chris Jochumson 1982
Pie Man Eagle Berns and Michael Kosaka 1982[13]
Spy's Demise Alan Zeldin 1982
Transylvania Antonio Antiochia 1982/1985
Crime Wave Scott Schram 1983[14]
Thunderbombs Tom Becklund 1983
The Quest Dallas Snell, Joe Toler, and Joel Ellis Rea 1983
The Coveted Mirror Eagle Berns and Holly Thomason 1983/1986
Expedition Amazon Willard Phillips 1983
Bouncing Kamungas Tom Becklund 1983
Pensate John Besnard 1983
Transitions Andre Schklowsky 1983
Paper Graphics Robert Rennard 1983
Cat Graphics David Shapiro 1983
Short Cuts Kelly Puckett 1983
Minit Man Greg Malone 1983
Stellar 7 Damon Slye / Dynamix 1984
The Spy Strikes Back Robert Hardy and Mark Pelczarski 1984
Ring Quest Dallas Snell, Joel Ellis Rea, Joe Toler, and Ron Goebel 1984
Xyphus Robert Waller and Dave Albert 1984
Arcade Boot Camp John Besnard 1984
Sword Of Kadash Chris Cole / Dynamix 1984
Disk Repair Kit David Winzler 1984
Disk Arranger William Swanson 1984
Transylvania II: The Crimson Crown Antonio Antiochia 1985
Oo-topos Michael Berlyn, Muffy Berlyn, Raimund Redlich, and Brian Poff 1985
Home Connection William Shaw 1985
Home Data Manager Mark Pelczarski 1985
The Spy's Adventures in Europe Mark Pelczarski, Marsha Meuse, Elizabeth Redlich, and Brian Poff 1986
The Spy's Adventures in North America Mark Pelczarski, Mark Glenn, Brian Poff, and Elizabeth Redlich 1986
The Spy's Adventures in South America Mark Pelczarski, Brian Poff, and Elizabeth Redlich 1986
Electric Crayon: Fun on the Farm Brian Rice 1986
Electric Crayon: This Land Is Your Land Brian Rice 1986
Electric Crayon: ABC's Brian Rice 1986
Talisman: Challenging the Sands of Time Bruce Hoffman, Raimund Redlich, and Brian Poff 1987
Sesame Street Crayon: Letters For You Brian Rice 1987
Sesame Street Crayon: Numbers Count Brian Rice 1987
Sesame Street Crayon: Opposites Attract Brian Rice 1987
Electric Crayon Deluxe: Dinosaurs Are Forever Brian Rice 1988
Electric Crayon Deluxe: At the Zoo Brian Rice 1989
Transylvania III: Vanquish the Night Antonio Antiochia 1990


  1. ^ Hunter, David (February 1983). "Exec Penguin Software (Graphically Freezing)". Softalk magazine. pp. 48–54. Retrieved July 25, 2017.
  2. ^ Maher, Jimmy. "The Magnificent Penguin". The Digital Antiquarian. Retrieved July 25, 2017.
  3. ^ "Softalk Presents The Bestsellers". Softalk magazine. December 1982. pp. 334–336. Retrieved July 25, 2017.
  4. ^ "The Graphics People". Polarware Archive site. Retrieved July 25, 2017.
  5. ^ Maher, Jimmy. "Transylvania". The Digital Antiquarian. Retrieved July 25, 2017.
  6. ^ McIntosh, Linda (March 1, 1985). "Software Wizard Creates Colorful Animation With Magician". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
  7. ^ "Softline Salutes Penguin Software". Softline magazine. March 1982. pp. 58–59. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
  8. ^ Savetz, Kevin (January 10, 2017). "Audio Podcast: ANTIC Interview 267 - Mark Pelczarski, Penguin Software". ANTIC: The Atari 8-bit Podcast.
  9. ^ Maher, Jimmy. "Comprehend". The Digital Antiquarian. Retrieved July 25, 2017.
  10. ^ Maher, Jimmy. "The Magnificent Penguin Hangs Up His Tuxedo". The Digital Antiquarian. Retrieved July 25, 2017.
  11. ^ "Polarware Archive site". Retrieved July 25, 2017.
  12. ^ recomprehend by Ryan Mallon on
  13. ^ Cover of the game "Pie-Man" from Penguin Software from the Scott Schram website. Schram programmed the conversion of this game to the Atari 800.
  14. ^ Cover of the game "Crime Wave" from Penguin Software from the Scott Schram website.

General References[edit]