July 23, 2020
When I was 14, I wrote a short story called “Hacker Steve.” The titular character, whose name and hobby I'm sure you can surmise, was a college student who loved using technology to play pranks on authority figures. I had no idea how college worked but I assumed, from films, that much of it involved pranking “the Dean.”
The story was terrible:
Of course, no story you write when you're 14 ever has value, except to solidify your own delusion that you are a writer and that somehow makes you special. So Hacker Steve was born and died on the page and I eventually went off to college. Disappointingly, I didn't prank any Deans, though I did once anonymously inter-office-mail a banana to an Assistant Registrar.
Around then, I started drawing comics to amuse friends. One series, Diamond Find, went on to be the basis for a gigantic interactive game. Others had less staying power, but were still funny in their own right:
All of my comics, however, suffered from a lack of artistic training and, worse, a certain sloppiness of lettering. Drawing in pen also brought its own challenges, namely that any mistakes had to be incorporated into the comic, because I was not going to start over.
Still, with a bit of patience and zooming in, you may be able to have some laughs. “Slime & Oliver” is particularly messy, but a personal favourite:
A few years after college, when two friends who'd always liked the comics were getting married, I got an idea for the ultimate wedding gift. I had a blank notebook with 25 pages, and I thought: could I fill this with comics before the wedding?
“Her Secret Refrigerator” had a couple of follow-ups, and I got two pages out of “Executive Error,” a dark comedy about workplace typographical mistakes. Trigger warning for CEO suicide.
As a diversion, I branched off into visual poetry, writing a story about life in the forest with animal friends:
And who can resist the charm of “Tradesperson and Dinosaur,” the Mario/Yoshi send-up? Tradesperson only cares about his work, and Dinosaur is a terrifying, unstoppable carnivore.
I did succeed in filling the book, and Black Ink was well-received by the couple. I'm not saying all the comics were good, but at least the book was full, and I'd been able to disguise many errors.
I needed a break from drawing after that, but soon got the itch again. This time, I wondered: could I make money off comics somehow?
A new business idea was born – a subscription service where I would mail you a comic every so often (drawn on premium silver card stock), but also, maybe, a real silver coin?
With more ballpoint pen confidence this time around, I got more ambitious. I scribbled over much of “Pantry” for atmosphere, which I guess is just shading, but still felt pretty advanced at the time.
The subscription idea didn't make me any money, and I even lost a fair bit, thanks to all the silver. Plus, forcing myself to produce quickly is a bad recipe for comics. Most were straight-up not funny, and others were a little too off-the-wall.
At this point I was clearly falling apart mentally, and the comics were reflecting that. “Curator” is practically autobiographical:
Scraping the bottom of the barrel, I began to think back to old ideas that I could mine for characters and/or punchlines.
Then I remembered... Hacker Steve. He would have a new life after all. And this time, I would know more about college.
I present in its 5-episode entirety:
The first comic establishes the characters of Steve and one of his nerdy roommates, Eugene. They have hacked a thing and it's coming back to bite them.
Ahh, classic Steve. In this character I captured the essence of my original story, but without 5,000 words of convoluted remote-control prank description.
It starts to go off the rails in the second episode, which is itself just an extended Stephen King reference. It introduces Steve and Eugene's third roommate, Gerald, and is extremely wordy. I guess I had a lot to say here.
It's alluded to, but Steve is doing some weird hacking experiments that no one seems to understand. Luckily, he knows what he's doing? Maybe a bit too well.
Indeed, killing off the main character in the third comic doesn't bode well for the staying power of the series, but I had a plan to tie it all together.
Has Steve returned? I guess we'll never know for sure. But certainly his roommates live on to have more adventures without him. In this spinoff, Gerald and Eugene take things to the streets:
I don't draw comics very much anymore, because it's clearly not what I'm meant to do with my time. But do I regret sinking so much into them? Of course not.
Well... maybe I regret this one a bit.
July 1, 2018
It began with a series of barely legible comics.
Who can say why? But in the fall of 2011 I had an idea for an interactive story based on this idea. I became obsessed and so sat down and wrote a little Java program that would construct one in a CSV file. The finished product was over 80,000 words of diamond adventures.
A minimal reader did the job, and with some basic character art it was playable:
I sent it around to a few people to do editing and testing, but knew at this point I knew it could be more. I added a second CSV with more encounters and B-stories, including branching consequence trees for finding some of the unique diamonds, and a questionable storyline where the Feds send their best profiler to hunt you down after you assassinate a city councillor for a diamond.
Designing the game for a phone presented the challenge of text size — how to fit the content into a screen so small? I was also thinking ahead to smartwatches, which I still believe are the future. It was at this point that I decided it would work best as a speed-reading game, and thus implemented it as a flashy, lightning-fast comedy brain trainer. This version was the first to feature HD diamond graphics.
I definitely wanted to capture a hip demographic, and market research pointed straight to vinyl. While it took a bit of editing, I managed to fit the game onto two sides of an LP and pressed a limited edition copy:
However, it failed to attract a minimum bid at auction and thus remains unsold. This collector’s item can be yours though, for the right price! Serious inquiries only.
After dismissing the idea to port the game to the more popular iOS, I decided to make a website where people could play Diamond Find for free! At first the plan was to implement it in Ruby on Rails, and thus I ported the game to Ruby, creating a terminal-based skeleton:
Functional, but I was still more comfortable with Java at the time, and shelved Terminus after only a week.
Far more ambitious than what I reasonably had time and money to build, the FractalFic platform was designed not only to run Diamond Find, but also to allow users to write and publish their own Diamond Find-style adventures. For mass appeal, I even watered down the city councillor murder plot by making the gun chocolate.
It drove me into debt and depression, but the Java and web skills I learned during its nine-month build were enough to secure me an entry-level dev job. Success!
FractalFic, however, was a failure. Despite receiving some press coverage (from ClamBlog), only a few people ever wrote stories, and the cost of running the server was not offset by the “freemium” pricing model I’d set up. It ran for a year and a half before I pulled the plug.
But I couldn’t just let Diamond Find die. Years later, now proficient in Ruby on Rails, I knew I could implement a new version in a very short time. And did I ever!
It’s free, and if you sign up for an account, you can save all the diamonds you find to your profile & even download HD versions as wallpapers. It's the best version of Diamond Find ever!
So will you just fucking play it? I... I can’t keep doing this.