Among several of the early Italian software houses from the 80s and 90s, Genias Software seems to be quite the exception. From day one, the company intended to actually cater to the audience’s tastes, not limiting their potential audience to national borders but, instead, keen on exporting games all over Europe and the United States. This was made possible also because, rather than having an internal team, Genias seemed to act as more of a publisher, managing to get in contact and work with several teams all over the country, subsequently distributing their games through agreements with publishers in Europe and the US.
This is their story.
From Simulmondo to Genias
Genias was originally founded in 1989, the business project of Riccardo Arioti, son of Mario, the man behind the massive invasion of the notorious Armati “pirate” cassettes. Young Riccardo did not really seem to share his father’s penchant for reproducing games developed by others to merely gain a profit. His dream was, instead, to scout around for young talented people busy developing their original games, as to nurture teams for the future and release games with – sure – an “Italian style”, but that could still be sold all over the world, without going for weird sports like bocce. “Right from the start, he was aware that it would be almost impossible to gain a profit from such a business endeavor, in Italy especially” remembers Stefan Roda, one of the very first collaborators of Arioti, “his was more of a hobby, rather than an actual job.”
Roda, while not a familiar name to many, can be considered an important “shadow figure” in the birth of the Italian gaming industry. Not only he was the one responsible for connecting Ivan Venturi with Francesco Carlà, which we remember as the birth of Simulmondo, but also Riccardo Arioti and Carlà, which would join forces between publishing company Ital Video and Simulmondo. “I knew Riccardo, having previously worked for him to develop a fast loader for Commodore 64. He told me about his dream to open a software house, but his father’s company would not really allow him to do that. So I told him about this journalist that I knew, a man with higher hopes and objectives, Francesco Carlà.” After Arioti and Carlà decide to join together Simulmondo with “legit” publishing company Ital Video, Roda leaves to serve his conscription term. Ten months later, in October of 1989, he returns to find the two have quarreled and split up. “I am not sure what transpired, but Riccardo angrily told me he wanted to pursue more profitable markets, rather than just focusing on Italy. I decided to join him since I was not interested in working with Simulmondo. I think Arioti was, overall, a better entrepreneur than Carlà: the journalist was good at hyping up his games and getting teams to work together, but to sell games, you would need something more.”
Genias: the developer as the publisher
Riccardo Arioti’s business plan was indeed quite different from what Simulmondo had been pursuing: rather than having an in-house team of programmers, with offices to manage and people to pay monthly salaries to, it was about finding promising projects by small teams, oversee production and publish them. Soccer? Yes, but also international sports like beach volley and wrestling. Roda mentions Arioti was a good businessman and, having seen what Simulmondo was doing, he decided to purposefully avoid getting people to work steadily at Genias. The company, instead, decided to heavily invest in publishing games in Italy, through Roman company Softel, along with pursuing the European and American markets. Arioti had plenty of connections outside of the country that he was planning to make use of. “We went to CES in Las Vegas and, pretty soon, closed a publishing agreement with Linel, a Swiss company that would bring Genias games all over Europe. Not soon after, we also struck a publishing agreement with Merit Software in the US”. In a few months, Genias’ games would easily reach many countries, even outside of the EU.
The name Genias? Arioti, in an interview, said their first intention was actually to be called Genesis but, luckily, they changed their minds. “Riccardo wanted something that reminded people of genius, since that’s what he was actually looking for but, since he could not obviously copyright that word, he modified it slightly.” The market in Italy for original games was still rather small in the early 90s, but nonetheless Roda mentions, “we had a fair share of gossip floating around, plus a whole lot of animosity regarding the on-going war between Genias and Simulmondo, despite the two companies actually not caring what the other was doing, at least most of the time. Thinking about it now, it was almost unbelievable that a market so small could still find reasons to argue!” Together with Riccardo Arioti, Roda would travel the world: “I was barely 23 years old, could not speak a word of English and I was traveling all over to see and sell our games! These were exciting times.” he remembers
Identifying which was Genias’ very first game is not that easy, Roda himself told me it is a bit of a mystery. If we were to judge by the earliest ADs that appeared in the magazines, though, in December 1989 Genias seems to appear for the first time on Zzap!, advertising a game by a team that was already very familiar to fans of Simulmondo: the Dardari bros.
The Dardari Bros: teenage ninja game developers
The first team that Arioti decided to bring under his wing was one he was already quite familiar with, having already worked with Simulmondo and published a game through Ital Video. They were three brothers from Romagna (not Emilia, as they were keen to remind me…), the Dardari: Davide, Francesco and Marco. Davide, as the oldest, was the one in charge of programming, with Francesco and Marco as the graphic designers, also contributing music and sound effects. “We were little more than kids,” remembers Francesco, “but still very careful in the way we did business with Genias. My father was a pioneer in Italian television and, having already gone through several unpleasant business deals, he advised us to always bring our business consultant when signing contracts. Sure enough, the Dardari bros were always paid on time.” Roda confirms and sighs “making contracts with the Dardaris was often a pain in the back, but the games were always worth it, for sure.”
The first game developed by the Dardari bros and released by Genias is World Cup 90, a sort of quality of life improvement and overall graphical update on their original Italy 90 which was, instead, published by Simulmondo and Ital Video. The Dardari had begun programming games at a very young age, after the unexpected success of Italy 90, they found themselves at SMAU, one of the first Italian electronics fair, signing autographs while barely being of legal age. “Davide was 20, I was 17 and Marco was 14! We became stars overnight, it was an incredible time for us” mentions Francesco. Still, it was with World Cup 90 that things began to get serious, Francesco continues “we began to work under deadlines, with the idea of developing a second soccer game after we looked at Italy 90 and found several things we felt that we could improve on.”
Along with improving and adding new features, Francesco mentions how, together with his brother Marco, they consumed their fingers on Kick-Off, which was indeed another big inspiration. The final soccer game by the Dardari went on to enjoy quite a strong success, both from critics and gamers. World Cup 90 was converted for several other platforms beyond the Amiga, which was not something the Dardari would handle themselves. “But we did make the Atari ST conversion, I definitely remember various problems with the color palette…”. The Commodore 64 version was, instead, programmed by Ivan del Duca and Antonio Miscellaneo.
Roda mentions that the game was pirated several times, even outside of Italy, so much so that he believes many people played it not knowing it was, originally, an Italian title published by Genias. The game also came with an exclusive four-port joystick interface, which was also designed and built by the Dardari, which could be ordered via a form, included in the box of World Cup 90. Roda mentions that not only the Dardaris were the first in Italy to publish a commercial game for the Amiga, but also were extremely talented at programming actual technological interfaces, something that no other team in Italy was doing back then.
With the good success of the soccer games behind them, the Dardari decided to leave the sport of football behind. Interestingly enough, the brothers did not grow up playing home computer games: “our passion was first and foremost the arcade: that’s where we spent most of our time.” Also, Francesco mentions, they were never really interested in working for a studio, like other young developers at the time. “Indeed, our games were always developed at home just between us three brothers, we never set foot in an office, except when it was time to sign the contracts with Arioti!”.
Francesco Dardari also mentions the idea for their next game published by Genias, Over The Net from 1990, was born out of a brainstorming session with Arioti: “he had noticed that beach volley was quite popular in the US, so we hunted down every beach volley game we could find in the arcades and played them all to death, in order to get inspiration. Since his original idea was to develop a sports game that could be successful in the US, we ended up modifying the initial player sprites: we thought they weren’t brawny enough for the American public…”. Stefan Roda remembers doing the music for the game, which is something the Dardari would usually listen to and approve without interfering. Overall, Over The Net is still fondly remembered by many gamers, along with receiving mostly solid reviews by critics, with Australian Commodore Review giving it 82%, Datormagazin 77% and Amiga Joker a 73%, with similar votes by the Italian magazines of the time.
Warm up - betting on the wrong car
The final title developed by the Dardari bros for Genias ended up being a racing game: Warm Up. Released in 1991 for Amiga and Commodore 64, it was a top-down arcade experience. “I don’t remember where the idea originally came from, since we did not play a lot of racing games, even though I was a fan.” adds Francesco. Indeed, the idea for Warm Up did not come from the Dardari, it was Arioti himself who pitched it to them as a sort of final solution. Stefan Roda remembers the game having quite a complicated development history.
The Commodore 64 version of Warm Up was intended to be the “target release”, but Arioti had much bigger plans for the 16 bit version. He had seen the success of the release of Formula 1 3D by Simulmondo in 1990 and wanted to also develop a 3D racing game for Amiga, as to make Genias compete head-to-head. “Riccardo not only was a racing fan, but also used to drive karts in his free time. He was keen on publishing a game that played like a simulation, rather than an arcade, so much so that he got directly involved in the development of the Amiga version, which was something he rarely did”, remembers Roda. Apparently, it was a foreign team that was first contacted to develop this graphically advanced version of what was shaping up to become Genias’ top 1991 title.
Roda remembers that when it was time to publish the ADs for the magazines, the Commodore 64 version was 90% completed, but the Amiga one still pretty far from a potential release. As the ADs were being printed, Arioti finally got the chance to try a first demo of the game, ending up being extremely disappointed. “He found that the physics in the game was all wrong, like the car was, hovering, rather than running, on what felt like a gelatinous surface. He angrily commented something like: these developers have probably never drove anything more than a bicycle!” remembers Roda.
In the end, the original AD for Warm-up was modified at the last minute to include a weird mention: “anything could change in the final release”. This was decided because the company was slowly realizing that this long awaited 3D version was probably not going to be released. “We took a bet on the marketing, and we lost. In the end, the 3D version was scrapped and Riccardo decided to let the Dardari – who had no experience with 3D graphics – handle the final Amiga product, which was indeed a 2D top down racing game. That also came at a pretty high cost: I had to rush to change all the logos on the box and the images for the final advertisement. It was a nightmare, if it had happened today I would have fired my brand manager!” laughs Roda. In the end, Warm Up on Amiga came out as a solid, if unimpressive, racing game.
The Commodore 64 version of Warm Up, along with World Cup 90, was developed by the talented team of Ivan Del Duca (currently director of technology at 505 Games) and Antonio Miscellaneo, at the time respectively 21 and 19 years old. From an interview in Zzap!, it is reported that their World Cup 90 was among the greatest hits at the London Virgin Store for several weeks which is something that Del Duca remembers having seen when going to his very first ECTS. Del Duca talks about the work done on the interface of Warm Up which uses a pointer, similarly as the Amiga version, along with all the various tricks used to keep the scrolling at a smooth 50FPS. While also mentioning it as the first commercially released multiload Commodore 64 game to be developed in Italy, Del Duca also refers to a cartridge version that, apparently, never came to pass. The graphics for the Commodore 64 version for Warm Up were designed by “the best Italian video game graphic artist” as Miscellaneo calls him: Massimo Magnasciutti, one name which will be quite familiar to anyone who has read the history of Dynabyte.
Talking with Ivan Del Duca he mentions, today, that the games he worked on were not much gameplaywise “yes, we were good programmes, but having the vision to make a game fun, to really make the experience of playing it remarkable, that was something that at the time was out of our reach.”. He also mentions his and Miscellaneo’s first work was probably among the most expensive games for Genias: “we were a bit arrogant perhaps, and asked something in the realm of 18 million liras (19k euros of today) and Arioti agreed! I remember he actually went to meet us in Belluno, so he was pretty adamant that we should work for Genias. We didn’t even know how the rules of soccer!” he laughs.
After they finished World Cup 90, Arioti was adamant that that kind of money will not be repeated, thus Ivan continues: “we definitely did Warm Up for much less. I don’t think we even ever saw the Amiga version frankly. Genias was all about a lot of ideas, but most of them did not really have legs to stand on. I also remember we met Magnasciutti because he was apparently serving his conscription term and was bored out of his mind. Somehow he tracked down our phone number, called us up and well, we got him on board to do the graphics for Warm Up”.
After seeing what happened with the original 3D version of Warm Up, finally, we go back to Amiga and the Dardari bros. While Francesco considers Over the Net the best game they developed, he mentions Warm Up as an actual proof that they had grown as a team. “It was also our first, and last, game to be developed in Assembler by Davide, instead of C, as that would have been too slow”.
As a way to, somehow, compensate for the lack of 3D graphics, the Amiga version of Warm Up received a special video introduction developed by the Holodream team. Francesco remembers being quite impressed: “initially I thought someone had developed it with Lightwave or something like that, but apparently each screen was handmade in Deluxe Paint! I didn’t know who made it, at the time, but I immediately realized it must have been a crazy amount of work!”. Roda remembers commissioning the intro to Holodream (see below), “it was quite a great work by them, I also remember the electronic track playing while the car spins was inspired by Queen.”
What happened to the Dardaris after they finished with Warm Up? Davide chimes in: “by 1992, game development was becoming more and more something of a professional job. The years of the bedroom coders were coming to an end and working on games as a full-time job was overlapping with my university studies. So we had to give that up, unfortunately”. Francesco mentions that Arioti was quite understanding of the situation, “despite us being his top-tier team, he did not really complain that much and, overall, we left on good terms. He was sorry to see us take a break for sure. But we did not know that break would last for so many years…”. The Dardari would go back, every now and then, to their original games to update them and release them for iPhone, but they haven’t, yet, worked on a game together again.
Holodream - from Rome with love
The Holodream team were four people from Rome: Raffaele Valensise the producer, Fabrizio Farenga main programmer, Alfredo Siragusa on graphics and Nicola Tomljanovich as musician. In order to look at their history in full detail, let us go back for a moment to 1989. Valensise, with another team, had worked on several conversions for Simulmondo, among them Ivan Ven
turi’s Bowls for Amiga. But, with the split between Carlà and Arioti, in 1989 Raffaele decided to also take the jump and leave Simulmondo to go work for Genias. “I did not really share the overall ideas that Carlà seemed to be adamant in pursuing. I remember we pitched him a pinball game and he rejected it, because, apparently, to him it was lacking in that overall Italian feeling. Thus, we suggested adding the Testarossa brand and, sure enough, then it was okay, but then the Ferrari license was too expensive, so in the end we had to shelve the game.”
So, Valensise’s team (Giuliano Peritore and Dario Pennisi) had decided to leave Simulmondo, but there was a problem. The team had a binding three year contract with Carlà’s company, that would expire only in 1992. “We thought the only way to get rid of those chains was to bargain with him: we told Carlà that he could have the source files for F1 Manager, if he agreed to let us go. Sure enough that was enough to convince him and, thus, we went to work for Genias.”
Arioti, by then, was already hunting down international publishers all over Europe, along with trying to find Italian teams that he could work with. Valensise’s team pitched their first game for Genias: a puzzle game. It was originally titled “Roll-out” and programmed mostly by Giuliano Peritore on his own. In the end, the game came out under a different name, since Arioti insisted on renaming it “Tilt!”, released in 1990 for Amiga, Commodore 64 and Dos (along with an unreleased ZX Spectrum version which Raffaele found out about only years later).
There was another title in the works though, the Amiga conversion of Dragon’s Kingdom, originally released by Alberto Frabetti on the Commodore 64. The game was hyped in several magazines in Italy and it was, really, one Amiga title that many young kids were most looking forward to. Raffaele comments: “yes, true enough it is a game that I still get asked about today. Graphically, it was shaping up to look incredible for 1990, but we had to shelve it for various reasons, the main being that the programmer, Francesco Martire, was having troubles at school and his parents ended up confiscating his computer. It’s almost ridiculous thinking back to it now, but these were the kinds of problems that we were having to deal with at the time!”
Fabrizio Farenga enters the scene
After Tilt ended up reporting quite poor sales, Valensise gets into contact with Fabrizio Farenga. “I had started doing some work on various home computers, by 1990 I had moved to the Amiga and more advanced stuff.” remembers Fabrizio. “I ended up sending Genias a demo of a semi-textual graphical adventure that I had made, with a friend, by digitizing photos of the rooms of my parent’s house, kind of a spy story vibe. They actually liked the code better than the game concept, so Arioti himself told me to get in touch with their man in Rome, which sure enough was Raffaele Valensise.”
By then Valensise had begun working for Softel, one of the major video game distributors at the time for Central and South Italy. Softel would be the company that would distribute all of Genias games from that point on. Together with Siragusa as the graphic designer, Holodream’s first task for Genias was, indeed, working on the introduction for Warm Up by the Dardari. Farenga remembers the incredible work made by Alfredo Siragusa, his friend, who “faked” a 3D rotation of the car by rendering each single frame, drawn by hand, of the spinning car. “It took him something like three months! But he was a human scanner, the man could do anything” laughs Fabrizio.
Warm Up Intro (Amiga)
For their first actual game, Holodream, together with Valensise, decided to try something that could be potentially more attractive for the audience. “Arioti wanted a fashionable game of sorts, so we threw away the 2D side scrolling game we were working on and decided, instead, to try our hands at a wrestling game: it was a sport that at the time was not only popular in the US, but also in Italy. Arioti handed us dozens of VHS tapes of wrestling matches and told us to watch them and make something up. That’s how Top Wrestling was born.”
Top Wrestling was released in 1992 by Genias, only on Amiga, with music by Nicola Tomljanovich. Farenga remembers they featured not just parodies of many famous wrestlers of the time, but also some real life references like Insane Hussein, clearly a reference to Iraq’s prime minister Saddam Hussein. “When we delivered the game we actually went to Genias in Bologna, for the first… and last time, I think. We finished the final build at 2 in the morning and three hours later we were on the train from Roma to Bologna. We saw that Genias was printing the boxes for the game: apparently they used to print a larger number of boxes for all versions, in order to cut down on printing costs.
I also saw a box for the Commodore 64 version and asked who was going to handle the conversion. Arioti answered that he didn’t know and they would find someone to do it”. In the end, the Commodore 64 conversion was commissioned to Angelo Righi. Supposedly, he managed to finish a demo but, in the end, the final product was never released and Top Wrestling remained an Amiga exclusive.
From Bologna to the UK
Back home from Bologna, the Holodream guys were excited and on a roll. “We decided our next project was going to be a racing game, in the style of Lotus for the Amiga” recalls Farenga. After a few months of work, unfortunately, they realized there was a problem. He continues: “Arioti still owed us money for Top Wrestling, so we thought that maybe this new project could be used as a sort of carrot to dangle in front of his eyes and give us the money. Basically, if he paid us we would make sure Genias would publish our racing title which, at the time, was called F1 Challenge”. Valensise continues: “Riccardo told us he could not really give us the money we were asking, instead he very plainly advised us to go look for another publisher. It so happened that, around that time, Max Reynaud (journalist at Italian magazine the Games Machine – ed’s note) told us that he could bring the F1 Challenge demo and show it around at ECTS to all the publishers that would be interested. And so, that’s how we got the attention of Team17.”
Farenga remembers thinking Valensise was jerking his chain when he heard about the English studio’s interest. “It was an incredible news, especially for me who had always been a fan of Team17! Thus, for quite some months, Holodream would keep working with the English studio on several projects. F1 Challenge was, back then, designed to feature several made-up names for the pilots and circuits, which quite clearly spoofed the real ones. Truth be told, we stole those names from an Uncle Scrooge’s comic story!” But Team17 did not like the idea: afraid of copyright issues, Martyn Brown asked Holodream to modify all the pilots’ names, with the circuits subsequently named after the various countries. Naturally, F1 also was a copyrighted brand and had to go, so the team came up with the name F17 Challenge.
After the original release for the Amiga ECS, Team17 also wanted a conversion for CD32, which was going to be released in a bundle with action game Project X. But, Fabrizio remembers, there was a catch: “For some reason, Team17 did not want to send me a CD32 console, so I was forced to work on that conversion with the CD32 SDK on an Amiga 4000, along with a controller they had sent me”.
That version ended up being quite problematic, continues Farenga: the first CD pressings contained a critical bug, that would crash the entire system, forcing Team17 to throw in the bin almost a thousand faulty copies. “Since I was finally able to get ahold of a console, which was in a SINGLE shop all over Rome, they sent me one of the faulty copies to test the bug. Sure enough, on my SDK the game ran fine, on the console itself it crashed because… of an uncommented line! A stupid bug if there ever was one! I fixed it but, in the end, they took the cost of the first batch of copies from our royalties“.
Small issues aside, F17 Challenge went on to be quite the success, with magazines like Amiga Force awarding it 88% noting that, especially for a budget title, it looked quite impressive. Amiga Power was definitely less enthusiastic, calling it “the low point of Team17’s career so far”. This, as with other reviews of the time, proves that no journalists really paid any attention to the names shown in the intro and always referred only to the publisher of games, rather than to the actual developers.
Farenga went on to have quite an intensive relationship with Team17 and Martyn Brown in the following months, so much so that he ended up also working – for free – on the sequel to a little known title released for free on the UK magazine Amiga Format: Waggle-o-mania 2. “It was one of those joystick killer applications, a very basic and simple game. But when I realized I would be working alongside legends like Alesteir Brimble and Rico Holes, I just said yes right away, I want to do it! Oh those were different times, I was still so young” laughs Fabrizio.
The later years of Holodream
Valensise, talking about his experience with Genias concludes: “the thing I’m most proud of, as a former Genias team member, was the Commodore 64 conversion of Chuck Rock. That was a work of beauty and art!” But, he mentions, the on-going relationship with Core Design for that conversion was rather fractured, “they would be doing the QA while our team handled all the programming, they did not really seem to care about the 64 market anymore, since in the UK it was basically dead at that point. In Italy, it was still very much alive”. Roda mentions “I remember Core Design acting all pissed off with us, on the phone, because they were not happy with the final result, but instead I reckon it was fantastic. In the end they also wanted to distribute it in the United Kingdom, so that’s proof enough of the great work done by Luca Zarri, Marco Corazza and the others.” The game was awarded 96% by Zzap! but, unfortunately, in the end Core Design never really published it in the UK, even though magazine ADs of the time mentioned the C64 version as being published soon. Chuck Rock, on the Commodore 64, had a very limited release only in Italy. It is one of the rarest Italian titles for the Commodore computer, for sure.
Years later part of the Holodream team, without Valensise but other programmers like Christian Padovano and Daniele Pasca, worked on a sort of “final goodbye” to the arcade games that they grew up playing. Their final release ended up being Nebula Fighter in 1997: a love letter to the classic 8 and 16 bit era 2D side scrolling space shooters. “Work on that title began on a 386, years before the release! Then we slowly moved it on as computers were becoming more and more powerful, as we first converted it for DOS and finally for Windows 95.” They also ended up picking up a few inspirations along the way: “the spaceship explosions were actually directly stolen from Star Wars, even though Alfredo modified it to fit our game. Luckily, no one at Disney has sued us… yet!”.
Farenga and Siragusa, at one point, also managed to find a publisher, One Reality, but it was not something they remember being happy about. “Even though at one point the game was even available on Steam, I don’t think it ever made us any money, they barely gave us anything to finish development and the royalties were almost non-existent. We thought about working on some other games after Nebula Fighter, but in the late 90s games were already being made by huge teams, we were just two people, so that was the end of Holodream.”
The other "Geniuses"
At the start of the article, I mentioned World Cup 90 as the first title released by Genias but, perhaps, graphical adventure Mystere came first. Published on Amiga, Atari ST and C64 in 1990, it was originally developed by the brothers Orofino, Gianluca and Giuseppe, a project that dated way back to the early days of Simulmondo. Gianluca told me: “we pitched Mystere to Carlà back in 1988, but he did not like it. Instead he told us to recycle the text parser for a project of his, Rimini, Blue Sea. The original idea for Mystere came from an old Apple II adventure game called Fuga dal Castello (Escape from the Castle) that we played on our uncle’s computer way back in 1977″.
The brothers were then called by Arioti, who knew they had an adventure which was basically finished and desperately needed a game to jumpstart Genias. “My brother, Giuseppe, had a contract with Carlà so his name could not appear in the game. That’s why I’m credited as the programmer.” Giuseppe comments: “the whole game was programmed in Amiga BASIC, so it was also pretty easy to convert on Commodore 64”, which was done by Marco Corazza. About the “Lockness” bit, Gianluca laughs and remembers: “that was our fault! We were really were supposed to write Lochness but we were kids, so we got it wrong. Genias Software never did check so, in the end, they had to make up a convoluted storyline in the manual about two lakes existing in Scotland to try and cover up that mistake…”
Talking about the game in an interview from Commodore Gazette, Arioti said the game was published to “both show the public that the textual adventure genre is not dead and, also, to show that we have talented Italian programmers.”. The game came with an original soundtrack on cassette, for all three different versions, composed by Gianluca Orofino which he mentions was composed on the internal sequencer of a Korg M1, he refers to it as “an absolutely deranged choice”.
While the Commodore 64 version was developed by Corazza, a highschool classmate of Stefan Roda, the Atari ST version was, instead, converted by Fabrizio Macaluso. Even though some copies of the latter do exist, it seems the game was barely distributed at all and, to this day, it is probably one of the rarest Atari ST game to ever be actually published. Part of the team behind the Commodore 64 version of Mystere, Corazza, Luca Zarri and Andrea Paselli under the name “Surprise team” would also later work on the mentioned C64 conversion of Chuck Rock.
The Orofino brothers after Mystere worked in a games shop in Tuscany (which still exists at the time of writing) but continued playing Amiga games. As fans of Skidmarks, Giuseppe worked, during his time off, on a sort of similar Amiga racing game called Wheelspin. “It was around 1994, when I decided to get serious and finish it, so we could think about releasing it. Probably, it was graphically superior to Skidmarks but not as playable” he remembers. The two brothers went to the UK to get in contact with as many international publishers they could. In the end, they ended up having quite a long (and “alcoholic” as Giuseppe puts it) relationship with Richard Holmes and his company, UK publisher Black Legend.
But that ended up being the wrong choice, as Gianluca recalls: “by 1995 they were going out of business and they basically disappeared into the ether not soon after Wheelspin was released. We even got into contact with a lawyer, but we did not have the money to try and put on an international lawsuit. In the end, we didn’t see a penny from the game.” Giuseppe remembers “when I got back to London in 1996, to try to see if anyone at ECTS was interested in our PC demo of Wheelspin, I decided to visit Richard and I went back to Italy with his boxed copy of Wheelspin. I think we were entitled to that, at least!” Unfortunately, the PC version has probably been long since lost. Nicola Guerra and Gabriele Gabrielli also worked on the game.
Going back to Genias, to this day, one of the most notorious Italian games released by the company was Catalypse. Roda remembers the programmer Andrea Pompili came to them with a game, basically 90% finished, which looked downright impressive for the limited hardware of a Commodore 64. Despite being a love letter to classic 2D shooter Armalyte, Pompili displayed great knowledge of the technical limitations of the 8 bit computer and had managed to deliver a solid well made shooter. Catalypse even used voice samples (by Pompili himself) and a rocking soundtrack by Michael Tschogoel, who Roda remembers also working on The Neverending Story II, a title which Genias Software published in Italy. The intro of the game, instead, used actual music that the programmer’s band used to play live in Rome. Pompili used SEUCK for the movements of the enemies, while programming everything else from scratch.
The game was at the forefront of a bit of a kerfuffle, when Zzap!, in the UK, scored Catalypse a quite poor 30% This made many Italian gamers mad, along with Genias. The bad review became such an issue that when the Italian version of Zzap! translated it, they were forced to post a second version that amended the score, since even the Italian journalists did not agree with the issues their English colleagues had complained about. In later years, Pompili has gone on to work in the field of artificial intelligence, along with developing security systems for phone companies. He was also at the center of a huge scandal in Italy involving telecommunication company Telecom Italia and the secret services. Catalypse would be the last game that Roda supervised since, by late 1992, he left the company, looking to do something else.
Genias did not release many adventure games, despite Arioti – in that mentioned interview – talking about a SCUMM-like system that was in development at Genias (in 1989) that “would be capable of handling HAM images without flickering” but that, as far as my research has gone, did not came to pass. The only other adventure released by Genias was the semi-textual graphical Profezia, developed by Trecision and covered extensively in the article on their history.
1993: the final year of Genias
By 1993, Genias, left without the Dardari bros and with Holodream going to work on other projects, was on its way out. Stefan Roda mentions “When I decided to leave to work somewhere else, I think Arioti was already on his way out. By then, games were being made by teams that were bigger than the three people teams we were used to work with. Doom was out and suddenly no one could think of simply releasing small games in the hopes of profiting, which, was never what Genias was all about anyway.”
The final game released by Genias was, probably, Nathan Never, developed by a team led by Emanuele Viola and Marco Genovesi. As Viola recalls in an interview, the team was apparently never paid for their work and even ended up suing Genias, to no avail. By 1994 Genias Software had basically disappeared from the games market and, like most other software houses/publishers of old, did not seem to be able to survive in a market that was becoming global and difficult for small companies.
In late 1992, the company had also began distributing software, via a different internal division called “Pro-Line”, which the only one that actually got released was an anti-virus software for Amiga called Virus-Killer Professional, apparently developed by a foreign group of programmers. By 1993, though, Genias Software had begun slowly disappearing from magazines and, by all accounts, by the end of the year, the company had ceased to exist, even though news about that final year are scarce at best.
The history of Genias feels slightly different from that of “friendly competitor” Simulmondo or even Trecision. This was a company directed by someone with a very specific business plan, who knew the videogames market quite well and was aware of the potential negative consequences of hiring a team of internal developers. Riccardo Arioti, for the most part, seemed to make savvy business choices, he never went into console development because that seemed to be too expensive and, in a market with small revenues as that of Italy, he felt that was a move too risky. Despite some having slightly unpleasant memories of their time dealing with Genias, many people still speak highly of the work done by the many of the talented development teams that the Italian publisher managed to promote all over the world.
This history is, first and foremost, a tribute to them.
Sources & References
Interviews with Francesco Dardari, Raffaele Valensise, Stefan Roda and Fabrizio Farenga conducted via phone and Skype between 2020 and 2021.
Magazines: Zzap!, Amiga Power, The Games Machine.
Many thanks to all my interviewees for their time.