Lost Game: The Games of T.H.E.S.I.S.

While digging around for local software companies in Michigan a while ago, I stumbled across this ad in the first issue of the Atari magazine Analog for an educational software company called T.H.E.S.I.S. in Garden City.

ad for a software company called THESIS, which lists a variety products.

From looking at the ad, it seems like it’s mostly educational software but there’s a couple of games as well lie CON*PUTATION and TONAL ENCOUNTER. For a longer time than I’d like to admit, I thought there was basically nothing about this company and struggled to find anything. I don’t know what changed in those last two years, but it seems like I was just researching it poorly and it turns out that actually, most of their catalog is available for download.

First of all, this clipping from InfoWorld explains what T.H.E.S.I.S. is actually short for.

screenshot showing that THESIS is short for Timely Home Educational System and Informational Software

And then it looks like they were also referenced in this catalog of Atari educational software makers, which you can download here (link opens a pdf).

This was all I knew of for a while and assumed there was just nothing else, until a couple of years later when I decided to take another swing at looking up this company and it turned out I was just doing a poor job the first time. Searching for Tonal Encounter gave me a page on Atari Mania showing that the game is missing but the additional info that it was developed by Linda Schreiber.

It turns out, she has worked on a ton of games. This was a delight for me to find as someone who has an interesting in local game developers. It looks like most of the games that T.H.E.S.I.S. made have also been preserved as well. It’s really nice finding out that a company you figured was lost forever, was actually mostly preserved and you just didn’t do a good job researching them. IN MY DEFENSE I think it was made harder by the company’s name. It does look like a couple of the games by them are still missing but it is significantly less than I had assumed a few days ago. There’s still a few missing like Tonal Encounter, Math Facts, and Hidden Words, but most of them seem to be on that Atari Mania page.

screenshot from Spellbound showing a bunch of little blue guys and the word Necessary.
Screenshot of Spellbound, taken from Atari Mania

Not only did Linda make a ton of games, she also wrote a few books, with most of them focused on programming for Atari computers. She was an instructor for a long time but is mostly retired now, other than still writing and having a course on Udemy for making wine. While it’s not active now, she also had a blog where she wrote about her experiences as the co-founder of T.H.E.S.I.S. and in 2017 ANTIC: The Atari 8-Bit Podcast interviewed her.

Not really sure what the lesson learned from this whole experience was. I need to look harder when researching lost games? But I’m glad it has a happy ending.

Credit goes to Karen and BogusMeatFactory in the Michigan Games History Colletive discord for finding the InfoWorld clipping and educational catalog. It’s a little discord I started where I’ve been dumping Michigan game developer history research before writing about it somewhere more public facing. It’s not the busiest discord but you’re more than welcome to join here if you have an interest in Michigan game dev history.

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