Dementia Retorts



I heard that "AdventureCon" was going to be cancelled this year. This is a convention set up by Howard Sherman to celebrate text games and so forth. An excellent idea, and I was actually a little sorry to see it not take place. It was originally going to be in Las Vegas. The last I heard it was supposed to be in New Jersey, apparently it's now been cancelled completely. Starting a convention from nothing isn't easy and there is no shame in it not coming together in one year, if it does in fact end up not coming together.

While at the site, I found a blog post by Howard titled "Dementia Explained? Why Kooks Embrace the Sublime."

I have long believed that Howard is very bad for interactive fiction due to the fact that he sells what are generally perceived to be terrible games. He couples that with a terrible amount of self-promotion that is very condescending and grating. Most of the sniping between Howard and every other person making or playing modern-day IF games occurs on the newsgroup. The newsgroup has been worthless for anything but Inform 7 or TADS 3 technical help for some time, so who gives a crap. What he wrote, however, probably deserves a response.

"For years I’ve been scratching my head over why some elements of the kook fringe, tin-foil hat wearing brigade just can’t deal with the fact I’m successful at writing interactive fiction."

(Let's go ahead and direct this to the man himself.)

Can't deal with it? With what, your success? You're not successful at it. In fact, before we even set the parameters of what success is, I will go ahead and say with complete certainty that if I say you haven't met them, I'll be correct. By all accounts, people who have had a reasonable, working knowledge of modern-day IF think your games aren't very good and you don't seem to be getting better as a writer. However, you set your own parameters later, when you claim that 200,000 people have purchased your games. We'll use that as a barometer, even though if you had sold one percent of that number you would have every reason in the world to feel that you ARE successful. You did this to yourself.

"Some of the kooks just flat out deny that my interactive fiction publishing company is successful despite the mountains of evidence staring them in the face."

What evidence? Come on, quit with the constant horseshit. You're claiming that you have "sold" hundreds of thousands of copies of your games and everybody knows that simply isn't true. If you'd like, we can list a few reasons why it's obvious.

1) Peter Nepstad has sold a few thousand copies of his game, 1893: A World's Fair Mystery, and in doing so he gained the attention of some mainstream press. You have sold "hundreds of thousands" of copies of your games and yet not attracted the attention of any person in the mainstream media. In fact, you have pulled text from the New York Times describing an Infocom game from 20 years ago and used it to promote your own games, only removing it when called out on this tactic. If you had met the numbers that you claim to, there would be some kind of confirmation of this from the press. It'd be a huge story, you making more profit than most development studios with a much larger workforce. You'd have us believe that you are approaching the numbers sold by Infocom's The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the people doing the talking for your company are Steve Carlton and Black Bolt.

2) If you had sold 200,000 copies of your games you would have an absolutely raging on-line community, killing themselves to form a community of their own on a forum of yours. There is absolutely no evidence of this. I couldn't find a link to a forum on your site, and I absolutely refuse to believe that you wouldn't be harvesting a forum for Google ads if you had that many customers. Let me put it this way: nobody reads this site and there's a Google ad at the top of the page.

3) Gish, an indie game that everyone who is into indie video games knows, sold 4,521 copies at about $19.95 a piece, netting the team $121,000 after figuring in some winnings from prizes. I don't know what the average price of your games are, but 200,000 sales at $19.95 a piece gross you almost four million dollars. Four million! So, why are you still working your day job? Why didn't this windfall of cash help out in getting AdventureCon to happen? When's the IPO? Quit lying about your numbers. Again, if you have sold more than 50 copies of your games that's, honestly, pretty good for the genre. But if you grossed four million dollars from IF games without any graphics "" would have more Google hits than my own name in quotes, which it doesn't.

4) What kind of review did you get in PC Gamer? 19%? Yeah, you're making some fantastic games, all right. So, on your enemies list are not only every single person who has made an indie text game since 1995, but Ziff-Media as well. What a bunch of assholes, those guys, not seeing the genius there.

"Most of these fallacies are ad-hominem attacks on me. Examples: 'Howard is a tool, Howard has a mixed reputation, Howard is so full himself, deconstructing Howie' etc. etc."

What I am about to write is the best advice you'll have ever received in your life. Here's how you get people to stop thinking of you as a tool. You're not going to listen to any of this, and that's fine, but this is pretty much the answer key to your life laid out in front of you, whether you want to believe it or not.

My steps to getting people to not hate you and hit you with ad hominem attacks:

1) Stop referring to yourself as an "Implementor." The "Implementors" were the original Infocom authors. They were a specific, time-sensitive bunch of people that made games for a specific company that no longer exists. Mike and Pete Austin would not be Implementors, even though they made text games in the 80s. They worked for Level 9. If Level 9 had an internal code name to describe themselves, then that's what they'd be. Like how the guys who stayed at Atari after most of the designers went to Activision are part of the "Dumb Shits Club." You have attempted to submit that anyone who is selling text games is an Implementor. (You also use some kind of retarded logic to somehow discount Kent Tessman and Peter Nepstad from qualifying, but whatever.) You immediately turn off people when you describe yourself this way. This is like calling yourself a member of the "Rat Pack" or the 27 Yankees. Mike Gentry and Adam Thornton and Stephen Bond and every other IF author that everybody likes would also turn people off if they started with that. So it's not just you. Well, I mean, it is just you, so stop doing this.

(You'll never stop doing this.)

2) Show some respect to the people who made it possible for you to even consider selling your games in the first place. You got a free language, interpreter, virtual machine and hundreds of hours of testing on all that stuff from a community that you went out of your way to ensure your "customers" never found out about. Nobody expects a programmer making a game in C++ to credit the guys who invented C++. But if the guys who made "Facade" came out with a SDK and someone used it to sell 200,000 copies of a software product, I would guess that the developer would let people know about the kit for at least their first ware. Being a multi-millionaire means never having to snub the tools developer. What's more likely is that you're deathly afraid of the indie text scene and would love it if it all went away. You got it in your head that you somehow deserve to be a paid IF author and man, those guys with their "boring" games sure are a thorn in your side. You get Anchorhead, 1893 and Future Boy! in front of the staff at PC Gamer and you tell me that you think the scores of those games won't break 20%.

(In truth, you will never give proper credit to the amateur IF movement that made your side business possible.)

3) Stop with the slimy self-promotion. You're not Stan Lee and you don't have anything as good as Spider-Man.

(You will never stop this, as it helps you ignore your own fundamental insecurity about all of this.)

4) Quit lying about how many copies you sold. How about you get better at writing text games and reach those sales goals? You got it in your head that you sold a specific number of games and everyone knows it's not true. Jason Scott sold a fraction of copies of his documentary, compared to what you lie about having sold, and he's got stories and pictures of cars filled with packages, and tips on how to inspect and mail them and all that stuff. I seriously find it hard to believe that there wouldn't be a dozen "Wow, it's so hard to get this many copies mailed!" posts on your blog if you were telling the truth. Just quit lying, nobody cares how many copies you've sold. You've taken something that SHOULD be cool -- your true number of sales -- and ruined it.

(You will never come clean with this, not that anyone cares.)

There you go. Four steps to help out. You've probably burned most of your bridges, but still.

"A healthy percentage of the kook herd engage in slippery-slope fallacies; 'everybody that likes Howard’s games must be stupid and tasteless.' That would be a couple of hundred thousand people at last count. The argument is, of course, laughable."

What's laughable is how you continue to maintain this fallacy. So you just instantly started writing award-winning IF, how about that. It took, with maybe a couple exceptions, the rest of the decent authors writing today a few games to get a handle on things, but not Howard Sherman. He hit the ground running with an awesome game that finished, ahhhhh, 26th in the IF Competition, but let's ignore that for a second. Pentari is currently running a 1.4/10 rating at the IF Ratings site, but the 18 people who voted are all kooks or something. Sure. Games with a parser written in LOGO get a 1.4 on that site for Christ's sake.

"That’s because the argument is supported by another fallacy; the red herring. 'If people cannot enjoy the superior quality of our free games (no matter how boring they are) and choose to pay money for Howard’s text adventure games instead, then they must be stupid.'"

Nobody is choosing to pay money for your games. First of all, you haven't sold that many and secondly, for their to be a choice they have to know about the hundreds of great, free games available to them, and they certainly don't get that knowledge from your site. What world are you living in where you are writing the great games, the true classics, and the rest of the community is farting out unplayable shit?

"Then there are a few truly pitiful people who engage in anonymous, cowardly ad-hominem attacks against me on bulletin boards, forums and blogs with totally false statements and responses to completely valid points that are true. Which is why they can’t stand them."

Yeah, it sucks, doesn't it? You ask yourself why Meretezky, Blank and Lebling never went through it. You ask them, because I'm sure you're all in constant communication, being Implementors and all. You make me sick. And the way you ended your blog post:

"Within the past 12 hours I finally figured out the whole thing. I touched upon this subject in my 'Viking Oven' post some weeks ago but thanks to Rush Limbaugh and Tony Robbins I have achieved total clarity and understanding."


... Holy shit, everything you post on the net must be a practical joke. Tony Robbins and Rush Limbaugh helped you figure out why you are the kind of guy who cares so little about the IF community that you tried to sue SPAG because a contribute to that zine (A ZINE for Christ's sake) thought one of your games were shitty.

You're never going to get it. You're never going to understand and you're never remotely going to be successful at this. Just quit trying to drag the rest of us down with you, and stop getting snotty because the 300 old bastards involved in this hobby don't believe your buckets of sloppy horseshit. A few years ago a post like this would have been filled with insults, put-downs and cartoon descriptions of the sort of misadventures we'd all like you to have in a wax museum fire. Honestly, if I may speak for the rest of us for a second, at this point we just all kind of feel bad for you.

Reader Comments:

May 16th , 2007

I suppose one point against Howard is that his "success" has not inspired anybody. You'd think that if other IF authors saw one of their brethren selling IF commercially, and succeeding, they would be inspired to do so themselves.

Case in point, Dave Gilbert (someone else who has openly critiqued Howard) created freeware graphic adventure games for years and finally went commercial. By most standards, he has been a success. He was nominated for a games developer choice award, been written up on and Kotaku and the Onion, asked to speak at conventions, and has been reviewed all over the place.

What's happened now? Several other freeware graphic adventure authors have been inspired by Dave's success and are now embarking on commercial efforts of their own. Who has been inspired by Howard? Nobody, that I can see.

The only difference here is that Dave's success is documented and can be proven. As for Howard, we only have his word as evidence.

Dave Gilbert
May 17th , 2007

Woah. Do a Google Alert and you never know what you'll end up with. Interesting website you all got here.

Thanks for the comments, Blatherson (Who knew Blather had a son? Can I call you Blather Jr?) I wasn't aware that I was so successful! It's nice to see that I'm making an impression on someone.

I've gotten lots of publicity, true, but that doesn't always translate to super mega sales. I've succeeded in most every aspect but financially, but I'm managing OK because I'm a single bachelor with no kids and small needs. It takes a while to grow any business, but I hardly need 200,000 sales to consider myself a success. The fact that I am able to do this without getting a "day job" is success enough.

I am disappointed about Adventurecon because Atlantic City isn't very far from me. But I've spoken enough about Howard Sherman and Malinche elsewhere so I'll refrain from commenting further.

Anyway, consider this site bookmarked!


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