In a few days, our good friend and fellow game programming/playing guru, Alan Donnelly will be packing up his life (and his wife, Katie) and moving back home to the East Coast. It is a sad loss for more than personal reasons because our day job game development team has just become one person lighter. It is a huge loss for the team, and his big New York Rangers loving shoes will not be easily filled. It is also a sad personal loss because it is rare to find someone of Alan’s personal and technical caliber.
Over the years, Steve and I have met very few people who we have clicked with on both a personal and technical level. Usually it was one or the other, but friendships and work relationships have cemented into pretty solid ground when both types of connections can be achieved. The 8bitrocket brotherhood is a small one. There have been very few people over the years who I consider part of it. To be a member, you must have a love of games, making games, and discovery. You must want to learn much more than any job is willing to teach you. People who I consider members usually want to spend time working out a problem, and don’t expect others to their their work for them.
The first member was Eric Barth, a brilliant kid, who now is a professor at Vanderbilt. We started out making games on his Apple IIe, and when Steve and I got the Atari 800, we would wow each other with game creation feats of 8-bit magic. Eric, Steve and I drifted apart, as some childhood chums do, but have recently caught up on each other’s whereabouts and lives.
The second and third members were Ian Legler and Brandon Crist. The four of us bonded during our rebel, punk rock years, and later tried several times to start up a game company. Our outlet of the time was making films about punk rock gangs of thugs and super heroes. When Ian, Steve, and I learned to program (the right way), we discussed combining Brandon’s writing and artistic skills with our code-fu. We repeatedly discussed all types of games we might make. Unfortunately, the lure of Microsoft pulled Ian up north, and our dreams were set aside for wives, families and other good things that life has to offer. Steve, Brandon and I still get together and talk about making a game, but his teaching career and young daughter leave little time for such exploits.
The next member was John Watson. He was my first boss at my current day job. In 1997, he was the smartest guy I knew. Steve, John and I road the early internet boom to great profit. John loved games, and the three of us wanted to start a game company, but the boom died before we could get started. In 2000, John eventually moved on, and I am sure he is doing great things.
In 2004, I asked my friend, Katie Lonker, if her boyfriend Alan would be interested in joining our team. In 2001, Katie and I bonded at work while trying to squeeze ad serving into a technically inept company that had no idea what to do with it. Even though she soon (smartly) moved to other parts of the company and steadily rose up the ranks, we kept in touch. I knew her current boyfriend from her stories, and a few social gatherings. He seemed like a pretty interesting dude, so I gave it a shot and offered him a job. Alan accepted and he quickly became a star programmer and game designer. On a personal level, Alan fit the brotherhood mold perfectly, and over the last few years he has become someone that I really like and trust on both a personal and professional level. I saw Alan as almost a third Fulton brother as Steve and he would discuss Star Wars for hours, and he and I video games and sports. We built great games and sites together, and were firing on all cylinders for the last few years.
In 2006, we hired Chris Cutler. Chris became an immediate member of the brotherhood (he didn’t even know it, poor dude) as Steve, Alan, Chris, and I would spend lunches and meetings discussing games, game engines, pop culture, Star Wars, bad (and some good TV). It is rare to find people who will work on something like a game engine in their spare time at home, and then bring it in to their day job and give it away for nothing. All 4 of us did this repeatedly over the the last few years. The sheer love of discovery, interest in making games, and a work ethic instilled in us by our parents and individual circumstances created a team that was massively more than the sum of its parts. For Alan though, the lack of respect we have all been given by the big business decision makers was too overwhelming. That, combined with the allure of going home to the East Coast was just too much.
Anyway, things can’t last forever, and as Alan departs for home, we hope to keep making games and discussing pop culture with him. Only time will tell if that is even possible given the distance involved. Steve and I will be on the look out for the next member of the brotherhood. Someone who can juggle his personal life with his love of games, making games, and having fun. By running 8bitrocket.com, Steve and I hope to keep the brotherhood alive. In the past, people drifted away, but I hope to stem that tide with a global on-line presence.
Hats off to Alan and Katie. You will be missed very much by all you leave behind. You know where to find us, as do all of the active and currently inactive members of the brotherhood. Keep in touch, the games aren’t going anywhere.