☞Wasteland Warlock☜ (kingfox) wrote,
☞Wasteland Warlock☜

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The rise and call of Cheersoft

I love Google's Usenet archive.

Here's the first post by the former CEO/founder/president (who still owes me $80 or so for my last day working six years ago).

Here's people talking about Cheersoft going under.

Then there's a string of rats streaming from the sinking Worldgroup ship as sysops sell off systems that they paid five figures for, getting three figure offers months later, many of them talking about the product I poured my heart and soul into, Lost Caverns of Miczyk.

Finally I get called a `real [pioneer] of the online world'. And that guy was right, some of them really didn't want to be found. My former boss hid. I heard he was a swing dance instructor, working at a database recovery company (he got practice with that, more on that later), and other random rumors since then.

Even more extreme than that was this guy up in Canada that coded for us.

Cheersoft was a Galacticomm ISV, independant software vendor. Back in the day, Cheers was a large multi-line BBS that would have a few dozen people on, paying to use the system. All other BBS's in the area were one or *gasp* two line deals with nothing but files, message boards, and doors (games). Hell, I ran one through most of middle school and high school. Cheers was a unique addition to the virtual landscape of central Jersey. Soon others formed, such as The Imperial Fortress, which actually fucked Cheers over by stealing some lines from them. Not to take sides, I've heard both sides cry about the debate, I just found it ironic when another multi-line pay BBS called Excaliber tried similar tactics years later. Anyway, Cheers was a big deal. All the little BBS kiddies saved up their lunch money to get access, and people logged on morning, afternoon, and night. The adults had their bowling and drinking, the teenieboppers going to pool halls where the adults were, hanging out in front, and various other social gatherings.

Most of the people on these systems came from areas south of me, where civilization was a bit more sparse. Seriously, one girl I dated lived next to a pig farm. Tons of people from little central Jersey towns I wouldn't have heard of if it wasn't for BBSing spent hours online. Some of my best friends to this day are from this era in my life. The only people I've really kept contact with from high school I also pulled into BBSing. The friends from that era, those that are in long-term relationships/marriages, are with BBSers.

I became an expert at picking up BBSers. I'd literaly work the same rap on multiple girls at once, repeating the commands in the terminal program on two or three young females. I mastered the young tormented gothic depressed soul, looking for understanding and love. I'd get them on the phone, have phone sex with them a few times, and seduce them if I liked the way they looked in real life. There are few things I've done that I regret in my life, and a few nights from that time period I should have handled differently. I worked the sad mournful deep tormented young vampire angle back when it was trendy, and worked it well. Most people had their wild oats period in college, college for me was learning to have a relationship longer than a few weeks. High school was my insane drinking sowing my oats insane drama period. And my period of being an utter asshole. I still talk to a few females I knew from that time period, and they are amazed at how human I am now compared to how I was back then.

Anyway, Cheersoft. Cheers wasn't making money off being a BBS, just off writing BBS software like utilities and games. So the sysop shut the place down, sold off the user liscences, and went full-time with the ISV gig. That meant he sold Galacticomm products, made his own addons and packages for the systems to sell, and sold the software packages of rivals. We did other stuff, like turnkey ISPs on Worldgroup. He hired a few guys to code under him, a few guys to sell software, and ran the company out of a little storefront in Matawan. Well, actually, I think it moved once. The way I got hired was odd.... I was out hanging out with a guy my mother and stepfather used to game with who lived two blocks from my dad's house, and we went to visit an ex of his's new boyfriend's party down in Marlboro. The guy seemed... familiar. I tried coughing his handle a few times, but got no response. Finally at the end of the night, I made a comment about going over to a party with BBSers the next night. He then started bragging about how he ran a BBS... "I know, Malone. It was Cheers. I was Kingfox." "Woah! Kingfox!" By the end of the night, he got me drunk, and convinced me to work at his company coding Worldgroup addons in C++/VB. In email, confirming he still wanted me when sober, he mentioned a dress code. I showed up in a dress shirt and tie, and was greeted at the door by him in shorts, flip-flops, and a tshirt. He forgot to mention that the dress code was NO MORE RIPPED SHIRTS. Working there was a tour of old BBS'ers. Sarge, Path, Bandit, and Wintermute worked over in the sales room. Various BBSers south from where I dialed were in the coding room with me. We had our test BBS, we had a MajorBBS newsgroup, and we had a T1. The internet was still a novelty to me back then, I had only used telnet/ftp/gopher/etc. through a non-profit service up north before that. This 'world wide web' was new for me. Surely it would never catch on, telnet was the great protocol of the future.

Working there was probably one of the greatest jobs of my young life. My daily life at the half-way mark into the job went like this:

Wake up at 9:30 AM. Dad has showered and left hours ago to beat the rush hour traffic, up by 4:30 or so. Stagger into the shower, throw some random clothing on, and start up the car. Drive down the road, onto Route 9 north, onto Route 9 south, onto the GSP south, and zip from exit 129 to exit 120. No traffic, going seventy or so, passing wetlands and a boating club after I drive over the Raritan. Get off the GSP, drive about local roads for a bit, pull into QuickChek a litte after ten. Grab a two liter bottle of soda, a roll or something, and drive back a couple hundred feet to the office. Clock in (salaried but still required to use a clock), plop down, and catch up on email for a while. Go through bug reports for the big project I was put in charge of, and go through the MajorBBS newsgroups. Check out whatever new products our competitors have come out with, maybe even throw one onto our test BBS to give it a whirl. Fix any reported bugs in Caverns, and start the lunch debate. After an hour debating what to get for lunch (had to get Chinese if the president was getting laid, he needed his carbs), someone got lunch, usually from the local Chinese place or QuickChek. Ate lunch while telnetting into the BBSes my friends were on, and finally got down to real work after lunch. Fixed bugs, coded up new features, and worked hard on Caverns. If I had made some progress, released an updated zip. If it was time for a major revision, update all the documentation, version.txt, etc. and post an announcement. This was a $400 or so product, after all, that some eighteen year old snot-nosed kid who faked his way into the job was in charge of. I only knew Pascal when I got hired, the president found out too late, but got me fluently speaking Worldgroup C++ extensions within a week or two, after doing an online multiplayer version of Mancala (sold for $100). It was an amazing job, I learned so much. At six the boss left, maybe early if it was Friday, and the rest of us Dukematched for a bit. I left between six thirty and seven, drove up past the first toll plaza, called my girlfriend for most of the summer (more on her later), and hung out with her and/or friends until the wee hours of the morning.

The project I was in charge of was a horrible travesty. There was always a demand for MUD-style gaming on MajorBBS/WorldGroup. There was MajorMUD and a few other similar projects, but none that really let you make your own place. So Ian, back in 1993, started coding up a total free-form game. You make the races, the classes, the rooms, the monsters, the items, the spells, the 'moves' (don't ask), everything. It cost a crazy fee, and people still bought it. It was an entirely unworking project when he let me take the helm with it, yet it still had fans emailing suggestions and ideas and praise weekly. Sure, we also had our critics. One bitter sales employee once plopped me on the phone with an irate Texan bitching about paying a huge fee for a non-working product... and I couldn't really disagree. But I did my fucking best. When I started, when you fought a monster you had a string of messages pop up like: The weapon in Bob's left groin hits skeleton. He/she does seven points of damage! I found the memory allocation error that was causing random bodyparts to think they had weapons in them. I fixed it to use the actual weapon name. I fixed it to do genders correctly. It went from that painful ugly nasty string to Bob hits skeleton with the dagger in his left hand for seven points of damage! I made spells work, I made rooms deletable even though the president swore it shouldn't and couldn't be effectively done without really hurting performance. I threw my life and soul into that project, and memorized every single line of that spaghetti code mess. I even got a couple of other coders hired after me under me working on stuff. We did time utilities, fixed up stores, monsters, everything. I had a pile of bug reports and feature requests handed to me one day by a co-worker. Of course, said co-worker and I had met ages ago... some BBSer I slept with took me to his house to show off her new boy toy hours after we first had sex, and he helped me during the nasty breakup with her. Now, years later, she was begging me to set her back up with him in return for setting me up with some cute little girl who I ended up dating for months who ended up being an ex of the woman who took the virginity of the brother of the first virgin I ever deflowered, and later ended up cheating on me with aforementioned ex. And people wonder why I calmed down in college.

So anyway, this guy and I once realized that while the boss was away, little work was done. People were Dukematching instead of coding, and shit needed to get done. So he convinced me to pull an all-nighter, and I loved it. I coded, he pushed me and told me that I could do things that I said couldn't be done. He fed me jolt, pizza, and cigars (one of the few vices I had that summer besides sex with someone two and a half years my junior who was a bit too bubbly for me at that time). It was amazing.... the boss was shocked to see people in the office before him, and was more amazed when we told him that we had been working all night.

I always wanted to do an actual world for the project. The project only gave people the tools to build a world, so most of these turnkey system-running lazy bums didn't want to spend hundreds of hours setting up a world after paying hundreds of dollars for the product. We talked about doing multiple worlds and modules, releasing them for even more money, and I canabalized a few world ideas that some old employees had worked on. Never finished a world, though a few of our more rabid fans had built complete worlds.

Getting back to the guy in Canada I mentioned, there was some coder who would email the president every so often, asking for a project to work on. Ian would give him a project, he'd hide again from the law and any contact with anyone. A month or so later, he'd surface with completed source code, asking for payment. Ian would test it, pay the man, and he'd vanish again for a while. We'd read some odd news reports about the guy, and the rumors about him in the BBS boards were odd.

There was the one executive at Galacticomm who was just insane. Being a founder, he could get published in the industry rag no matter what he wrote... even if it was a rambling message to his children about treating people well, months before he died under less than stellar circumstances. We got to know a few of the big company's people, and tried to work a few into our games.

Sure, there were the pranks. The long variable named after my genetalia. The locker sized 'As big as Neil's mom' that some kid put in while testing locker code. Of course, I found a major showstopping bug (like that's any different from the rest of the painful spaghetti I started with), and had to release a new patch that day. Of course, the kid didn't tell me he left some live data in the development copy..... and some BBSes ended up having lockers as big as Neil's mom. Neil was furious, and I patched the patch hoping noone had downloaded the zip yet. Then there was the time Neil was told to restart the crashed test BBS and rebooted the file server instead, nearly destroying some half-compiled work. We made big signs up for him after that. Then there was the water cooler initiation rites. And the running jokes about bats and rolled up magazines. And the two sales guys having a fight with each other, only carrying it out in the 'Letters to the Editor' section of the industry rag over the course of a few months. The two guys fought over which ecommerce plugin was best.

We had tons of fun. I haven't worked in an environment like that since, and I guess it was as close to working in the dotcom boom as I came. And, like the dotcoms, it ended. One day Ian realized that he just couldn't make it work anymore. He broke down in front of his computer, and was selling things off by the end of the day. He offered to pay us for the rest of the week, but had to shut down and couldn't offer more than that. For me, that was fine, I was going off to Drew in a couple weeks anyway. For others, who had this as their primary source of income, it was a harsh blow. At first, a few of my co-workers rallied around the boss, without me asking, and demanded that he give me all rights to the project I was working on. He then told them that he had to sell it to make sure their final paychecks didn't bounce. They shut up. So I lost the code I loved, lost the dream job, and went off to school.

I miss those guys. I miss working on a concrete product full-time for money. I miss that environment, I got so much work done and learned so much with them. It was amazing...... But we were the dinosaurs, setting up forty-line BBSes throughout Jersey as the giant ISPs were gearing up to rub out the mom and pops. We were pushing our killer apps through telnet or a Worldgroup dialup virtual basic-written screen scraper, when the web was taking over. And we hit the tar pit, years before the dotcom killing fields.

Wow that was a long rambling story.

Anyway, gotta stay up and pick up my sweetie from Hoboken in a few hours.

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