Tag Archives: freeverse

My One Good Steve Jobs Anecdote

A few hours ago, [Apple announced that Steve Jobs had passed away](http://www.apple.com/stevejobs/).

While I had the opportunity to see Steve present seven keynotes – two MWNY, five WWDC – the one anecdote I have is about what didn’t happen at one of those keynotes. (It’s admittedly second-hand information and I never personally verified it, but I subscribe to the Tony Wilson/24 Hour Party People notion of choosing between the truth and the legend.)

People who have been reading this blog for ages will remember that in January of 2004, I traveled to Macworld San Francisco to work the Freeverse booth; the main title we were pushing was ToySight, our somewhat-ahead-of-its-time camera controlled minigame collection. It won Best Of Show, and many hours were spent flapping my arms to show the game off to people.

Despite the long-standing belief that Apple has never given a damn about games on the platform, they did – slightly. To that end, there was an Apple Games team, focused on developer relations, and at the time run by Rich Hernandez. (Rich was a great guy, and has since moved on to Microsoft.) Rich really liked ToySight, and wanted to see what he could do to see if it could be included in the keynote that year.

So Rich started trying to get it up the chain, showing it to his bosses, and their bosses, and their bosses still. Everyone loved it. It eventually reached the top tier – being reviewed by Steve for inclusion.

After being shown the game, or at least told about it, Steve’s reaction was apparently one of full interest, on one condition: that Phil Schiller be the one to demo it on stage. Long time Apple fans may recall Phil having to jump off a ledge holding an iBook to demonstrate the build quality, so I suppose this was part of Steve’s general love of making Phil look silly on stage.

Phil, regrettably, refused. The demo slot instead went to Aspyr for a Tony Hawk port. And so we grumbled and silently cursed Phil under our breath for denying us our brief shining moment at the keynote. But I love that thought of Steve: so ready to find ways to rib his team and push them out of their comfort zone.

(Thanks to Bruce Morrison for reminding me of this story.)

In all the rush to label him with titles like “this generation’s Edison”, I think people have missed half of Steve’s worth. He certainly brought innovation after innovation to the marketplace, showed the world that the conventional wisdom for how the tech industry “had” to run was flawed, and rebuilt a company on the verge of bankruptcy into the biggest technology company in the world. But just as importantly, he has served as a hero, a role model, and inspiration to a tremendous portion of the technology sector (myself included). It’s not just the products Apple brought to market under Steve’s leadership that will be felt for generations to come, but the products of the people he inspired.

It goes without saying that I will miss him greatly.

Some other reactions worth reading: [Walt Mossberg](http://allthingsd.com/20111005/the-steve-jobs-i-knew/), [Pat Kiernan](http://www.patspapers.com/blog/item/remembering_steve_jobs_my_first_apple/), [Brian Lam](http://thewirecutter.com/2011/10/steve-jobs-was-always-kind-to-me-or-regrets-of-an-asshole/).

A Love Letter To Freeverse

Touch Arcade and Techcrunch have details on ngmoco:)‘s acquisition of Freeverse Software. This has a lot of implications for the iPhone software market, but I’ll let the business wonks talk about that.

Freeverse is entwined in the last 15 years of my life in ways that few things can compare. Their games and software toys helped keep me sane during high school. When my life went into a slight free-fall during college, I became anchored with an internship with them.

Continue reading A Love Letter To Freeverse

Shooting The Bullshot

Activision had posted a job opening for an “Art Services Screenshot Associate“. Among the many bullet points of requirements (four year degree!) and job duties was this gem:

Perform advanced retouching of screenshots and teach skills to others as needed.

This sort of “honesty” from Activision is becoming more and more common. I look forward to the inevitable “Game Reviewer Bullying Associate” position getting posted.
But this isn’t a post to knock Activision around again. This is about career paths.

Continue reading Shooting The Bullshot

A Short Marathon Of Marathon Anecdotes


After school, once a week, a handful of us would stay late and gather in the Mac lab. We had an agreement with the lab supervisor, and we intended to invoke it to the fullest degree possible.

We shut down At Ease, Apple’s woefully simplistic security software, and loaded up what we were after. Performas and PhoneNet connectors linked us together as we shut off the lights (yes, at 3 in the afternoon), pulled the blinds, and locked the door.

Even the locked door wasn’t enough to keep the noise in as we joyfully slaughtered each other in Marathon.



I was sitting at home, following the news coming in from Macworld San Francisco, when the bomb dropped: Bungie bought out by Microsoft. Halo in jeopardy.

What happened next in the Mac gaming community can only be described as an epic meltdown.

In the midst of all of this, I IMed my tele-boss, Ian Lynch Smith of [Freeverse](http://www.freeverse.com/). We were both in a mild state of shock.

Curiosity struck. I asked, with the innocence only an intern can muster: “So if Microsoft ever came to you and offered you a bunch of money, would you take it?”

I cannot remember the exact response, but essentially: “In a heartbeat.”



It would be my final few months at Freeverse, although I didn’t know it at the time. After months of cranking on a few titles, we needed some sort of relief.

I quickly went on a search for a network game that could meet three criteria:

– Free to play.
– We were all familiar with it.
– Maximum fun in minimum time.

It did not take long to land on [Aleph One](http://source.bungie.org/), the open source version of Marathon. A lunchtime ritual was born.



Freeverse has [dropped the “Software” from their name](http://news.freeverse.com/archives/001228.php), and announced they’re [porting Marathon 2 to XBLA.](http://freeverse.com/games/game/?id=7009)

I’ve been blessed with glimpses into the development of this project during my occasional visits to the old office. I’m no stranger to game development, but this was distinctly odd.

If you’ve never identified yourself as a “Mac gamer” (the phrase remains laughable), it may seem so odd to identify one game with an open-ended platform. But as Mario defined the NES, Halo defined the Xbox, and GTA defined the Playstation 2, the Marathon series *was* Mac gaming. To watch a game you have so many memories of re-evolve and re-emerge over a series of months is more than slightly surreal.

But the last time I stopped into the office, I got to play a few rounds on the LAN. I cannot describe to you how gratifying it is to get to revisit a series that brought me such joy when I was younger, and a game that’s been a thread in the weaving of my life for the last 15 years.

Marathon: Durandal is due out in the near future.

Links for further, non-anecdotal info:

* [Freeverse M:D Page](http://www.freeverse.com/games/game/?id=7009)

* [Freeverse M:D Trailer](http://www.freeverse.com/games/game/vplayer.php?id=7009)

* [Microsoft M:D Page](http://www.xbox.com/en-US/games/m/marathondurandalxboxlivearcade/)

* [Masses of Screenshots + Info](http://nikon.bungie.org/misc/xbla_marathon/)

Another App To Change Your Life

Freeverse has released [Think 1.0](http://freeverse.cachefly.net/Mac/Think/Think.dmg).

Think is an app that will help you focus on whatever it is you’re trying to do by allowing you to “illuminate” any application, removing all other distractions.

Other apps have offered similar functionality, but Think does it with style and grace. I would do a tutorial, but the manual really nails what you need to know.

Cheers to [Mikey](http://www.mikey-san.net/) – it’s a fantastic app. Congrats on the release.

The Baron Breaks Free

A week from today marks the day I officially left Freeverse Software and moved into my current position at Weill Medical College.

During my tenure at Freeverse (which somehow lasted nearly five years), I had the chance to work on a [lot](http://www.freeverse.com/bms/) [of](http://www.freeverse.com/tsg/) [games](http://www.freeverse.com/squabble/) that I was proud to say I took part in the production of, even if my roles were nebulous and ill-defined.

But the one game I always held dearest to my heart was Wingnuts 2. The sequel to the first really notable commercial game Freeverse ever did, Wingnuts 2 was mandated to be bigger and better in practically every way.

More importantly (to me, anyway), I was tasked with game design. It’s the only game that I worked on that I sat down and worked out new gameplay elements, level progression, characters, enemies, and so on. Mark Anderson’s engine was amazing, and I couldn’t wait to explore the possibilities.

Of course, six months later I ended up leaving.

After I left Freeverse, I didn’t hear much about the game. They were busy, and justifiably so. I had always held out hope that someday, Wingnuts 2 would finally reach completion.

That day is today: [Wingnuts 2: Raina’s Revenge](http://www.freeverse.com/wn2/) is finally available.

It is, for all intents and purposes, the very last Mac game I have ever – or likely will ever – work on. So if you have a Mac, give the trial a download. And look for my name in the credits.

Cheat To Win

Matt Fernandez (AIM) [7:29 PM]
Matt Fernandez (AIM) [7:29 PM] D=
Dan Dickinson (AIM) [7:29 PM] I did the same thing in 1998 against a girl I was playing Scrabble against online, using a program called X-Words Deluxe.
Dan Dickinson (AIM) [7:29 PM] I had bet the girl over the game; whoever lost would have to write the other an 8 page letter.
Matt Fernandez (AIM) [7:30 PM] I did not know this existed
Matt Fernandez (AIM) [7:30 PM] ahahaha
Dan Dickinson (AIM) [7:30 PM] I won, obviously.
Dan Dickinson (AIM) [7:30 PM] She wrote me the letter.
Matt Fernandez (AIM) [7:30 PM] That is so amazing
Dan Dickinson (AIM) [7:30 PM] A year later, I would admit to cheating.
Matt Fernandez (AIM) [7:30 PM] I am gonna hustle people at scrabble now
Dan Dickinson (AIM) [7:30 PM] She would hit me repeatedly.
Dan Dickinson (AIM) [7:30 PM] Three years later, we got married.
Matt Fernandez (AIM) [7:30 PM] =O
Matt Fernandez (AIM) [7:30 PM] That’s so romantic
Dan Dickinson (AIM) [7:30 PM] Shortly after that, I started working full time for the company that made X-Words Deluxe.
Dan Dickinson (AIM) [7:30 PM] I would tell my bosses this story.
Dan Dickinson (AIM) [7:30 PM] They would laugh.
Dan Dickinson (AIM) [7:31 PM] And that concludes Dan Anecdote Hour.

Defying The Machine

Yesterday, in my linkblog, I linked to a [fantastic speech by Greg Costikyan](http://www.costik.com/weblog/2005_03_01_blogchive.html#111069190589189590), given at the “Burning Down The House” rant session at the Game Developers Conference. It hit a lot of salient points, but in particular this portion rung true:
> You have choices, too. You can take the blue pill, or the red pill. You can go work for the machine, work mandatory eighty hour weeks in a massive sweatshop publisher-owned studio with hundreds of other drones, laboring to build the new, compelling photorealistic driving game– with the same basic gameplay as Pole Position.
> Or you can defy the machine. You can choose to starve for your art, to beg, borrow, or steal the money you need to create a game that will set the world on fire. You can choose to riot in the streets of Redwood City, to down your tools and demand an honest wage for an honest eight-hour day. You can choose to find an alternate distribution channel, a different business model, a path out of the trap the game industry has set itself. You can choose to remember WHY we love games–and to ensure that, a generation from now, there are still games worthy of our love.
> You can start today.

Those who have been here a while will hopefully still remember I used to work for a [small Mac-centric gaming company](http://www.freeverse.com/), and there was some nice synchronicity between the timing of that rant and a product release today:

Back in November was the uDevGames contest, a yearly Mac programming competition where people can enter any game they’ve programmed for the Mac in hopes of winning fabulous cash and prizes. Developers get to make a name for themselves, Mac gaming companies can find new talent, and end-users get a flood of semi-nifty to badass games to try out. Freeverse had, before I left, found at least one programmer through the competition.

[I did some reviews](http://vjarmy.com/archives/2004/11/udevgames_2004.php) of games I liked, you might recall. Out of the five games I listed under “Fantastical”, the one that had captured my interest the most by far was [Kill Dr. Coté](http://www.udevgames.com/downloads/?dlid=32). A major throwback to Smash TV and/or Robotron, it wasn’t a deep game but fit a gaming niche that I had been sorely lacking lately – the Quick One-Off Game. It was the only game I took with me for the Sakai conference in New Orleans to keep me occupied during the downtimes, and it worked brilliantly.

As part of one of my annoying character traits, I of course had to mention this game to everyone I knew who would care – anyone with a Mac, preferably those in the gaming industry. I went out of my way to throw this at Ian and Colin Smith, brotherly overlords of all things Freeverse. When I saw the [uDevGames voting results](http://www.udevgames.com/contest/2004/winners/), where the game won Best Gameplay but not overall game, I sighed and let my Coté dreams subside.

But Ian, much unbeknownst to me, had taken the ball and started bouncing it with [Justin Ficarrotta](http://www.justinfic.com/index.php), the programmer of this bundle of joy. The game was finessed, given some new assets, and tweaked to perfection.

And behold – Kill Monty was released today. And it makes me happy because, among other reasons:

* It still remains a game very easy to pick up for however long you need to be distracted and then put down.
* It maintains the core Coté features I loved – Survival mode, five difficulty settings, countless red pixels, the Story button.
* It has the thing Coté needed – variety. More levels, enemies, and lead characters.
* There are unlockables. There aren’t enough computer games with unlockables.

I was talking it over with another friend today, and I nearly died laughing when he said “It’s better than Doom 3 because your Mac can actually run it.” But I don’t actually think the comparison to Doom 3 is invalid, after some consideration. We’re talking a game that’s less than one-third the price that could quite possibly give you the same amount of entertainment. Your $12.95 goes directly to the people who made the game possible – programmers, artists, sound creators – rather than getting splintered among manufacturing efforts and licensing fees. And yes, there’s no [performance issues](http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20050315-4704.html) with Kill Monty.

So as one somewhat biased former gaming company coot ranting on his personal website, take my advice: If you have a Mac, and you’re running 10.3, [download Kill Monty](http://www.freeverse.com/download/select.php?name=killmonty&platform=osx) and give it a try. And if you want to see other games like it, [plunk down the $12.95](https://store.freeverse.com/). It’s worth it – the flamethrower rocks.

Blinded By The Lights

I need to preface this by saying that while I’ve blogged through many major event in my life, what follows is not only major change but affects a number of people who have been my friends, peers, and coworkers for the last four years.

Over a week ago, I declared that my 24th birthday was going to be “most unremarkable”. Life, thankfully, has a way of making me eat my words.

Last year, while I was working remotely from Ithaca, I was making occasional trips into New York City to help out at the Freeverse office, usually during a time when the office was going to be short-handed. Somehow, in the middle of one of these trips – one in late June – I was pulled into a sudden interview at the Cornell Medical School. I wasn’t prepared, I wasn’t aware of what I was interviewing for, I was just there and trying my best.

Over the following year, a bizarre series of events continued to unfold at a slow rate – slow enough to simultaneously make me both anxious for resolution and to forget about the process entirely at times.

But, as you may have figured out by me now posting about this, the process has in fact come to an end.

I have been offered – and accepted – a position with the Office Of Academic Computing at the Cornell Medical Center. The position will have me playing a number of roles relating to the distance learning program for the school in Qatar.

To a number of people who are so used to me being a part of the Freeverse equation, I’m sure this comes as a bit of a shock. At the very least, it’s been a difficult concept to wrap my own head around, despite having done the mental math and seen that this is undoubtedly a good thing. Having been with Freeverse since March of 2000, there’s a large lump in my throat as I have to disconnect what’s been a fairly constant part of my life for the last four years. From the bizarre position of “distance intern”, through a drought, then back for occasional work, then to CTO, then to CTO/Webmaster, and then to some weird amalgamation of so many roles I would often make up new job titles as needed, I think I’ve probably done everything possible at one point or another. When you’ve been that entrenched in something, it’s hard to move on.

This is beginning to sound like a break up letter, isn’t it? I don’t want it to be read that way. I’ll still show up on GameSmith, I’ll still keep my ear in the Mac gaming industry, and I’ll still be willing to give you all the same shrill advice I’ve become known for over the last four years.

There are roughly a thousand people who I’d like to thank, and I think most of you are going to get yours over IM as I can’t possible drag this blog entry any longer.

But to Ian and Colin – you two took a ridiculous chance on a kid you didn’t know, and gave me so much more leeway and room to grow than I ever could’ve hoped for. You put up with my devotion for minutiae and went out of your way to help me out, and for all of this I am eternally grateful.


I will not be leaving NYC, and I’m not moving back to Ithaca. The Cornell Medical School is on 69th & York Ave, in the Upper East Side. It’s actually closer to my current apartment than the Freeverse HQ is.

I will not be traveling to Qatar. Incidently, It’s pronounced “Cutter”, not “kah-tar”. I still consistently get it wrong.