Working remotely means there are some colleagues I have not yet gotten to meet in person. Oh, we have Slack and IM and email, but without meeting in meatspace, my mental image is of what people choose to share. Thus, I knew Jason was very funny, equally at home with wordplay and math jokes and visual puns. His chat icon is Doge. He doesn’t post much at all in the social channels when there’s a deadline on, which lately has been ALWAYS. While he did his bio, we got to chat a little more, and that’s how I learned he’s a real renaissance man. Not only can he code, but he’s done theater, and he’s a writer too. The Lab is lucky to have this Swiss army knife of a guy. And if you (like me and Jason) have been around long enough to have played the completely awesome old Sierra or Infocom games, then you’re going to love this bio. — Sanya
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Welcome To Jason, the Biography!
An interactive game.
by Jason Hail
] You find yourself in a boy’s room, somewhere in rural Michigan, on a summer afternoon. The room isn’t neat, but it’s highly organized. For example, Transformer robots are lined up single file on the rug, marching off behind Optimus Prime to engage in yet another giant robot battle. The bedsheets are maize and blue, the colors of the University of Michigan. That’s the boy’s favorite college, which is conveniently only 30 miles from here. Nearby, a NES sits beneath a mid-70s model RCA television, piled high with game cartridges.
] The calendar, sitting on a desk cluttered with Nintendo Power magazines (“Metroid revealed!” the topmost exclaims in 40 point War Font), indicates that it is June 1987. Crickets drone outside the windows.
The door to the hallway is closed. The window is open.
] Your command?
] I just told you – boy’s room, midwest, 1987. You need to be more specific!
> look desk
] Shifting the magazines out of the way, you find a diary dated 1984. In neat but pinched handwriting the cover is labeled “Hyperstasiphobia – The Diary of Jason Hail.” You flip through the pages and find the same cramped handwriting fills nearly every inch with stories – stories about cyberwarfare, people addicted to technology, omnipresent computers that oppressively feed people useless information. 1984, indeed! This kid’s both in love with and deeply mistrustful of technology. But it seems like the love part is edging ahead: the last few pages are notes taken from OMNI magazine about the new Cray supercomputers and how “flipping sweet” they are (editor note: they WERE flippin’ sweet…).
] You notice the desk drawer is ajar.
> open drawer
] The drawer is crammed with letters, photos, postcards: places friends have visited, places the boy wants to see someday. Japan. France. San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge. There’s a schematic of a time machine, crudely sketched over a magazine photo of a Lamborghini. Ahem, we’ll just put that back in the …
> look time machine
] Oh, okay! Fine. The boy tried to figure out how to build a time machine. Give me a break! Do you know how popular Back to the Future was last year, er, I mean in 1986? Everyone had time machines on the brain…
> take time machine
] What?? I mean, you can’t have that. That’s my only documentation of the procedure to modify the … you know what? Fine. Take it. Just don’t show the kids at school, okay?
] Now, shall we continue or what?
] There are several photos in the drawer. Here’s one of the boy, Jason, standing in front of a Dragon’s Lair machine in his cousin’s arcade in Simi Valley, taken just as he was about to finally beat the stupid Goblin king. A photo with his four brothers, all five of them in shorts and wearing those knee-high athletic socks that positively scream 1980s. Another of his brother in cap and gown, graduating from U of M. There’s a note from Roberta Williams of Sierra Games, thanking him for his kind letter but politely declining to tell him the answer to the Gnome’s riddle in King’s Quest.
] A motherly voice in the hallway calls out. She sounds sweet but there’s a sternness behind it. “Jason, you need to turn those games off and come to dinner!”
] Your command?
] You sniff the air – meatloaf. Mmmm. You are hungry, and mom makes some tasty meatloaf, but.. You have something you need to do first. Better hurry before she drags you out of here.
> stall her
] Stall who?
] What about her?
] I don’t understand “sigh”.
> stall mother
] You holler back to her just in time. “I just need a few more minutes, ma! I’m almost through the final boss!” You hear her hesitate, then her voice calls back a bit softer and with infinite patience. “Okay, just another minute. Then dinner! You can go back to killing aliens after meatloaf.”
She seems like she’ll leave you alone for a few more minutes, but eventually dinner is waiting for you. You needed to do something before dinner, but what was it..? You lean against the desk, deep in thought.
Suddenly you slip, and bump the bookshelf above it! The bookshelf groans under the weight of all the books piled up on it. The shelf is about to collapse!
> look shelf
] There are a ton of books piled up here, books on spaceships and computers and programming. A great book about the experience of being a writer, The Writer’s Journey. The ACT Guide to Applying to College, Alan Moore’s Watchmen graphic novel…
There’s too many books, and that shelf is about to give way! That will bring mom back upstairs for sure!
> fix shelf
] With what? You don’t have any tools! What does this look like, This Old House?
> hold shelf
] Your skinny little arms are no use! That shelf is about to give! Hurry!!
> take books?
] You grab all of the books and shove them in your pocket…
Ouch! Tight fit. But the shelf is secure now. Quick thinking!
> look window
] You cross to the window. Outside, it’s just fields of grass and corn for miles. And a rural highway, that runs by your neighborhood. Occasionally, a car zips by. Otherwise, there’s little sound other than crickets and a gentle breeze stirring the grasses. This is the kind of idyllic quiet that drives young boys nuts. No wonder he prefers shooting aliens and engaging in imaginary cyberwarfare with William Gibson.
> turn on tv
] Now we’re talking! Contra is still paused on the last level, just before the Mother Alien battle. And you still have all three lives! There’s a chance to beat the game perfectly, no lives lost, if you can juuust get through the next fight without taking a single hit.
] Enter the Konami code now for great victory!
> up up down down left right left right b a start
] In a blaze of bullet-hell glory, you vanquish the alien forces and restore peace to the galaxy. All in an evening’s work, Mr. President. Time for some meatloaf. Looks like you’ve earned a break…
] + 100 points
] A quick check of your pockets, and you find:
Approximately 200 books
A drawing of a time machine
> use time machine
] Your curiosity gets the best of you, and you decide you have to know how it all turns out for this weird kid who can’t possibly fit in a 9-to-5 environment anywhere. You fashion a crude time machine, using the boy’s schematics as a guideline, out of a plastic model Ferrari and several discarded Capri Suns (the foil is where the magic lives…). You hop in and set the controls for present day. Along the way you see a slideshow of highlights as Jason levels up:
GRADUATION! – Leaving home to actually go to U of M.
UNDERGRAD – Jason discovers there’s actually such a thing as a game development program – you mean you can get PAID to make video games?
MEETING HIS FUTURE WIFE, JESSICA – who’s almost as kooky as he is! (just kidding! she’s even kookier)
MARRIAGE AND MOVING WEST – heading out to San Francisco to work in vidya games! The boy’s dream!
MAKING GAMES! From Hot Wheels to Evil Dead, Dark Void to Counter-Strike, he gets the honor of building the same stuff that he loves to play.
SEATTLE – On a lark, Jason takes a job at Sierra Online, where he narrowly misses working with Roberta Williams but makes a ton of friends and gets to work on a (sadly cancelled!) reboot of King’s Quest.
FAMILY IN SEATTLE – Settling in the soggy north country and having a family, including two little munchkins named Madelaine and Graeme who love games almost as much as their dad.
Gradually the time machine spins down and we arrive at present day:
GAME DEVELOPER – UNDEAD LABS
] You are seated in front of your computer at a chic, modern game development studio in downtown Seattle. There are dozens of bright, talented, video-gaming loving folks all around you. On the screen in front of you is a DEVELOPMENT ENVIRONMENT, for writing code, and a copy of whatever the MYSTERY THING is that Sanya will kill you if you mention in any more concrete terms. However, instead of focusing on this excellent MYSTERY THING you’re having way too much fun writing your biography for a webpage. Perhaps you should consider WRAPPING IT UP?
> wrap up
] Good thinking, Jason.
> but save time machine