The Daily Illuminator

Past columns

July 31, 1995

I am embarrassingly behind on posting trip reports. For now, we'll do Last In, First Out. Freshest on my mind is last week's journey to DexCon in New Jersey.

This is a big gaming convention . . . they were projecting over a thousand people, and if they didn't hit that, they got close. Lots of events, lots of fun.

I got to see my friends from Sci-Fi Supply . . . the ones who make the huge Ogre miniatures. The "Arena" -- the biggest miniature playing area you ever saw -- is a DexCon tradition. The Sci-Fi folks brought their Ogre stuff, sure, but they also had something new and incredible: a big set of Star Wars giant-minis, including a Star Destroyer about six feet long. Incredible!

TSR was there, demonstrating their new collector dice game, Dragon Dice. They had a cute gimmick . . . they hid rare dice all over the hotel for people to find. Evil, evil.

I got to spend time talking with GURPS writers Bob and Peggy Schroeck and S. John Ross, as well as Yamara creators Barbara Manui and Chris Adams. Not to mention Sam Lewis, Dan Palter of West End, Steve Bishop of WotC (who was there with his brain) and the lovely Kaja Foglio (oh, yes, come to think of it, Phil was there too, and so was the Winslow). If you get the impression that DexCon attracts a good crowd, you got it right.

Hey, what can I say? You should have been there. Maybe next year.
-- Steve Jackson

July 30, 1995

Tim Cain has posted an update to the GURPS Interplay computer game page. Check it out.

Executive summary: it will run under Windows 95, and maaaaaaybe for Mac, if Interplay can be talked into it. But you probably won't see it until around Christmas of 1996.
-- Steve Jackson

July 29, 1995

Scott is in Oklahoma City . . . he's Guest of Honor at DarkCon.

And we're all working hard to get ready for GenCon -- it's our one big convention push this year, getting the budget (of both money and energy) that we've split between it and Origins in past years. We will be running many, many, many hours of tournaments (mostly INWO) -- and lots of demonstrations too. Come see us!
-- Steve Jackson

July 28, 1995

The Illuminati want you to think about this story, pulled from the net for your edification . . .

"A friend of mine is a chief engineer at SuperMac, and he related this story to me.

SuperMac records a certain number of technical support calls at random, to keep tabs on customer satisfaction. By wild "luck", they managed to catch the following conversation on tape.

Some poor SuperMac TechSport got a call from some middle level official from the legitimate government of Trinidad. The fellow spoke very good English, and fairly calmly described the problem.

It seemed that was a coup attempt in progress at that moment. However, the national armoury for that city was kept in the same building as the Legislature, and it seems that there was a combination lock on the door to the armoury. Of the people in the capitol city that day, only the Chief of the Capitol Guard and the Chief Armourer knew the combination to the lock, and they had already been killed.

So, this officer of the government of Trinidad continued, the problem is this. The combination to the lock is stored in a file on the Macintosh , but the file has been encrypted with the SuperMac product called Sentinel. Was there any chance, he asked, that there was a "back door" to the application, so they could get the combination, open the armoury door, and defend the Capitol Building and the legitimately elected government of Trinidad against the insurgents?

All the while he is asking this in a very calm voice, there is the sound of gunfire in the background. The Technical Support guy put the person on hold. A phone call to the phone company verified that the origin of the call was in fact Trinidad. Meanwhile, there was this mad scramble to see if anybody knew of any "back doors" in the Sentinel program.

As it turned out, Sentinel uses DES to encrypt the files, and there was no known back door. The Tech Support fellow told the customer that aside from trying to guess the password, there was no way through Sentinel, and that they'd be better off trying to physically destroy the lock.

The official was very polite, thanked him for the effort, and hung up. That night, the legitimate government of Trinidad fell. One of the BBC reporters mentioned that the casualties seemed heaviest in the capitol, where for some reason, there seemed to be little return fire from the government forces."

July 27, 1995

GURPS is big in Japan, and the hot genre right now is . . . female professional wrestling!

The publisher of the Japanese edition is Kadokawa Shoten, a very large (and excellent!) publishing house. Their wrestling worldbook is called GURPS Ring Dream. If you check out the web page for the Gainax Festival, a big convention hosted by one of the major anime/computer game studios in Japan, you'll see what we mean . . .
-- Steve Jackson

July 26, 1995

Sometimes truth is stranger than anything the tabloids can make up . . .

Go check out last week's copy of the National Enquirer. On page 20 is a story about a friend of ours, John Kovalic. John is a cartoonist and writer for the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, and he does a lot of freelance art for us. He draws "Murphy's Rules" in each issue of Pyramid, and he did a fair amount of the art on the INWO cards. Anyway, a few months back, John decided to ask his girlfriend to marry him -- so he had one of the characters in his daily comic strip in the Journal do it. In the newspaper. Fortunately, she said yes.

It took a couple of months, but the Enquirer heard about the story and printed it. And -- this is the shocker -- they got it right! And they didn't add anything about two-headed alien children of Elvis to spice it up, either.

And now I can say I know somebody who's been in the National Enquirer . . .
-- SDH

July 25, 1995

Steve's back from New Jersey, but I'm leaving for Oklahoma City in a couple of days -- and of course, there's GenCon just down the road . . .

Got the official list of Origins Awards winners via e-mail today, so I updated the list I had posted earlier, correcting one mistake and crediting all the various designers, authors, artists, sculptors, art directors, editors, etc. who sweated over these outstanding products. So go give it a second look . . .
-- SDH

July 21, 1995

A kind of quiet of Friday, especially with Steve half a continent away in the wilds of New Jersey. Guess I could do an update:

August releases: GURPS IOU and Pyramid #15 are both at the printer, looking good for GenCon debuts. Pyramid will have a bunch of card game giveaways, including Everway, Towers in Time, Highlander, Shadowfist, a German INWO card, and more. Plus, it's a pretty good issue, too. And GURPS IOU is wonderful -- a twisted cross-genre multiple-reality romp, with great art by Phil Foglio.

September releases: I continue to think happy, positive thoughts about GURPS Fantasy Folk, 2nd Edition; if the artist comes through with a few more pieces and gets them here in time, we'll be OK. And the first supplement for INWO, Assassins, is also rolling forward nicely, though a few things still need to go right to get this out. I remain positive . . .

October: GURPS Blood Types, the definitive historical sourcebook for vampires, blood-suckers and soul-stealers from every historical period and culture, is right on schedule. We'll also have a reprint of GURPS Fantasy with all-new art.

And just announced for November: GURPS Greece, one of the best historical sourcebooks we've done in a while. It's right on schedule, too.
-- SDH

July 20, 1995

While we're on the subject of flashbacks, did you remember that it was 26 years ago today that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their ``one giant leap for mankind''? And today, it seems the most interest we can whip up in space travel is to stand in line for ``Apollo 13.''

But that's not really what I wanted to talk about today . . . got back from Origins '95 in Philadelphia a couple of days ago, and I had a very nice time. The convention center was the nicest building Origins has ever been held in, with outstanding food service (putting the Mecca concession stands at GenCon to shame), and it was open 24 hours a day! Sadly, the cost turned out to be more than GAMA can really afford, so a return engagement is not likely anytime soon.

Saw lots of old friends and lots of new games. Yes, most of them were card games. No, hardly any of them sucked. But it still looks like an awfully crowded market this fall -- gentlemen, start your engines!

And as Derek mentioned earlier, INWO took the Origins Award for Best Card Game of 1994, and we couldn't be prouder. For a complete list of winners, follow the link.
-- Scott Haring

July 19, 1995

We're the Kids in America (oh-whoa-oh, Sing Along!)

The Flashback Lunch-Hour is a ritual growing in favor, where my favorite retro-'80s new wave tunes are cranked up and poured out across a public ill-informed of the classic nature of music from that period. I mean, come on, how many people know the history of the New Romantics? Don't you want to dress like Adam Ant? Da, da, da.

And in the spirit of flashbacks, here are some pictures unearthed from Origins 1984, in Dallas, TX. Dark Confession #1: I was there. Dark Confession #2: I played in the first annual Autoduel World Championships, moderated by Now-Managing-Editor Scott Haring. Dark Confession #3: I sucked, as I do at most games, and didn't really get into gaming again until after I got a job here, almost ten years later. Ooooooo. An autographed angel's feather to the first person to correctly guess my age at that convention. Extra points if you can make Scott feel real old by guessing how young I was when I got the X-Wing model he was playing with in my office earlier today.

In the meantime, here are pictures of both Scott and Steve from that era. Enjoy.

-- Derek Pearcy

July 17, 1995


It is with a great deal of relief that I tell you GURPS Illuminati University is now at the printer! This is thanks to Jeff Koke, layout person extraordinaire, who not only finished the book well before the FedEx deadline on Friday, but early enough to want to get in a little Journeyman Project 2: Buried in Time -- last week's favorite CD-ROM game.

With another book at the printer, we've moved on to Dark Forces, the first-person Star Wars kill-everything-in-sight game. So far, we've spent over 80 man-hours neck-deep in imperial troops; we're billing the time to "Production, Triplanetary" 'cause charging GURPS Space just didn't feel right. Besides, we are actually still working on Triplanetary. By the way, right after the third level -- you know, the sewer system -- if anyone knows how to get past the . . . what? No, no problem here, Steve. No, it's not all colored. No, no, I have enough coffee, thank you for asking. Well, no, I didn't . . . AUGH! AWAH! MY EYES! I'M BLIND! I'M BLIND! I CAN'T SEE! YOU'RE A CRUEL, CRUEL MAN, MR. JACKSON, WHOSE BARBARISM WILL LIVE LONG AFTER YOU!
-- Derek Pearcy

July 16, 1995

"Why Didn't You Sleep Saturday Night?"

This question has been asked of me, as I drug my poor corporeal vessel around in a decidedly sleepless state. Here's my excuse. I was relaxing at a friend's house late Saturday night when Dana Blankenship, our National Sales Manager (and also a good friend), called with the heart-stopping news: INWO took the Origins Award for Best Card Game! Needless to say, I was still reflecting on the relative coolness of this from a friend's hot tub when the sun came up. Being nominated by our peers, game company employees and freelance creatives alike, and having that nomination confirmed by our fans, is always a flattering rush. Positive reinforcement does wonders for the amount of adrenaline in your system. I bet Steve is still giggling, and well he should be. We were up against some really, really good games, the first generation of collectible card games, games some of the best companies in the industry released within the first year of the craze.
And the good news rolls in like propaganda leaflets dropped on an enemy landscape. Flying Buffalo won Best Play-By-Mail Game -- again! -- with their license of our original Illuminati game, written by Illuminati Online big cheese Draper Kauffman. The man has a stack of award plaques taller than I am.

So, now out of the hot tub and back to work on the first supplement for the best card game of the year. Hmm . . . I like the way that sounds.
-- Derek Pearcy

July 13, 1995

The Network rules . . .

Geekware, publishers of the "FrankenCard" computerized database for Magic: The Gathering, have just released a licensed version for INWO. Suggested retail price is $29.95. For more information, contact head geek Jeff Osborn at (If we find out they have a web page, we'll link it in.)
-- Steve Jackson

July 12, 1995

Scott and Dana are off to spend a couple of days at Origins - we decided not to have a booth there this year, though. See us at GenCon.

I'll hit Saturday and Sunday of Origins, and spend the next week on the East Coast . . . appearances in NYC at Compleat Strategist (we hope) and Neutral Ground. The following weekend I'll be at DexCon in Somerset, NJ. Good con - I've been there before - I'll be running INWO and Ogre Miniatures.
-- Steve Jackson

July 11, 1995

Just a few assorted bits of weirdness . . . First, if you like prehistoric beasties, here's an advance look at some really cool new stamps - not dinosaurs, but extinct mammals. Nice.

Second, here's the best bit of confusion about the Secret Service raid that I've seen in a loooooong time. There's this cool Australian net.manga called geekgirl. And they did an article on conspiracy, which is a Good Thing; and they made up a sub-link about INWO, which is way cool. But whoever wrote it had his facts sort of confused . . . so surf over there and mock him unmercifully. That will teach him to toy with the Secret Masters. Or not.

Finally, here's the cool sig of the week:
> --
> Kevin Mowery --- kemowery@freenet.columbus.oh.us__________________________
> "We come into this world naked, covered in our own blood, and screaming in
> terror--and it doesn't have to stop there if you know how to live right."
> --Dana Gould

Now, just try to have a nice day. I dare you.
-- Steve Jackson

July 10, 1995

It's time to do our very best imitation of a chicken with its head cut off . . . just ask the people around the office how I'm doing.

Summer is a crazy time to try to work at a game company. It's when you're pushing to get out your biggest releases of the year, while half your staff spends half their time traveling to conventions, all at the same time. Tell me again why I signed up for this?

Wednesday, Sales Manager Dana Blankenship and I head out for Origins. Steve will follow a couple of days later. After Origins, Steve will spend a few more days in the Northeast visiting game stores and the like before attending DexCon in New Jersey the following weekend. And Art Director Lillian Butler leaves for DragonCon on Wednseday, too.

Speaking of our art director, new Artist's Guidelines are now available on the Web. Check 'em out!
-- SDH

July 9, 1995

I just saw the new boxes for Hacker - not just the layout, but the actual printed boxes. Very neat. The design is by Rick Martin.

This is going to be called the Hacker Blue Box Edition, because the box is mostly blue. It will be a VERY limited edition, not because we are trying to be cute, but because we had only about 850 sets of game "guts" left. Rather than throw them out, we printed boxes to hold them . . . but to save money, we designed a new half-size box that could be run at the same time that we reprinted the Car Wars Card Game boxes. But all these new Blue boxes are already sold to distributors . . . sorry about that. If you want to see one, twist arm on your favorite store NOW. Once these are gone, Hacker goes out of print indefinitely.
-- Steve Jackson

July 7, 1995

I was sitting at my desk a little after 5 p.m., contemplating what I would write for today's Daily Illuminator, knowing that I could actually go home for the weekend once I finished this task, yet somehow stuck. When suddenly in walked Will Fisher, one of our business office stalwarts, with a question about an advertising invoice from a French magazine. The invoice was in francs, and he wondered what that equalled in good old U.S. dollars. Flushed with confidence that you can find anything on the World Wide Web, I offered to bet him $5 that I could find the information he wanted on the Web in less than 10 minutes.

Feeling a little like Phineas Fogg, I booted up Netscape and went to work. It was no contest. I pulled the information down in 3 minutes. This is no testimonial to my web-surfing skills, mind you, just another example of why the web is the greatest piece of information technology since, well -- the printing press, maybe? Is that too far a reach? I don't know.

I did it like this: A quick click off the Illuminati Online home page to the Surf the Web button, and from there to Searching the Web and to WebCrawler. After inputting a couple of key words (in this case, ``money, foreign, exchange'' and ``rate'') I got a list of pages. One click later I was in Sweden at the Currency-Exchange page, following the instructions and getting the exchange rate.

Easiest $5 I ever made . . . ain't technology wonderful?
-- SDH

July 6, 1995

I went to Topeka last week . . . and I had a great time.

The first thing I noticed is that it's green. I'd expected it to look more like Texas, or maybe worse. Nope; it's lush and pretty and the daylilies are just now hitting full bloom.

But I wasn't there to look at the flowers; I was there as a guest of KulCon. They had about 200 people, and a great guest list, including Steve Bishop of WotC, Tom Dowd of FASA, Dave Gross of TSR, and Dave Frank of Games Workshop. From the comics world, they also had Stuart Immonen, who pencils for Superman. Nice guy!

I ran an INWO demo and a session of Darwinopoly (I hope we publish that someday, because it's always fun. How much of a market is there for a game that takes 6 or 8 players, a ref, and at least 4 hours? Someday I may find out.)

But I also got to play something . . . and it was a blast. "Wyrd Images" is a Midwestern group that runs LARP - Live Action Roleplaying, for those who haven't run into the acronym yet. (Almost as ugly as GURPS.) They started off doing vampire games, though they're branching out a lot . . . but it's not "Masquerade" rules, and you don't sit around comparing angst. Vampires vamp, humans run for cover, and the FBI investigates all of them . . .

I was a Fed in this game, but my orders were not to go flashing that badge except in emergencies. So I took the cover of a tabloid reporter, and started getting in lots of faces. "Hi. I'm looking for people who believe in vampires!" I was such a noisy jerk - far worse than the "real" reporters in the game - that apparently nobody suspected my real affiliation (except the two vampires who found themselves on midnight flights to the Washington labs, and you know, they never got the chance to spill the beans . . . )

At the climax, as it happened, I was standing there with the biggest darn gun in the game, but by then, nobody was deeply into analysis. For one thing, I was bodyguarding the boss vampire as he tried to cast the spell that would save the world. For another thing, Steve Bishop had just been revealed as Satan Himself, and was grabbing the spotlight as he ranted back and forth up on a table, trying to break up the casting without using physical force. (I put a couple of rounds through him - only shots I fired all game - and they went right through him. So it goes.)

So I didn't die, I didn't blow my cover, I helped save the world from Satan, I made a Bureau contact with a vampire who just might not be loony, and I had a great time. But you know, I think I would have enjoyed it almost as much even if I'd fouled up and died. Almost. (What can I say? I started out as a wargamer. It's always better if the other guy gets dead.) Anyway, if you get a chance to play with Wyrd Images, I recommend it . . .

And after the con, I got a chance to visit a really nice game/comics store in Topeka, called "The Gatekeeper." Beautiful setup - huge, well-stocked, posters everywhere, a gaming room in back . . . This kind of place could change the whole image of game stores.

So all in all, I had a great time. Hope your Fourth was as good.
-- Steve Jackson

July 5, 1995

We're back. Have a nice holiday? Steve's back from Kansas -- I'll get him to post something soon.

Not a lot new to report on the game progress front, except that everybody is going nuts trying to get INWO Assassins to the printer so that we'll have something to show off at GenCon. We did see the Pyramid #15 bluelines today, though, and that's looking pretty good.

Today's interesting Web site: The GAMA Home Page. GAMA is the Game Manufacturer's Association, the trade organization that sponsors Origins. It's a pretty neat site, actually -- not very flashy, but lots of solid information. Check it out.
-- SDH

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