An Ivans Chou production. Some graphics courtesy Ender Designs

An Interview with Jim Foley

The following is an interview that I [isc] conducted with Jim Foley [JF] the author of the Realmz scenarios "Castle in the Clouds" and "Search for the White Dragon".

Jim has already produced two high quality scenarios with more twists than a roller-coaster, and is currently working on a third scenario, submitted in a recent "best scenario idea contest" Jim dreamed up.

Throughout graduate school, and now a full-time job, Jim has been producing quality scenarios for the Realmz game engine. Jim is committed to continued support through development of scenarios for both Realmz and the up coming science fiction role playing game New Centurians also by Fantasoft.

isc: Tell me, Jim, how did you first get involved with Tim and Fantasoft?

JF: Tim and I have known each other since the 8th grade. Back then, Tim had a Vic 20 with 2K of memory and a tape drive and I had a Commodore 64 around the same time. Tim was showing his aptitude for making computer games back then. He made a computer version of Stratego board game using all of that precious memory. Later, when we switched to Atari computers. Tim made "The Halls of Orcus" adventure game. It wasn't too bad for it's time, but it pales in comparison to Realmz.

After High school, Tim and I went to basic training together during the summer before we started college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During that time Tim found the Macintosh and introduced them to me. It was this little computer with a very small black and white screen which looked better than the green monochrome of the day. It also had this funny thing called a mouse. We were just blown away by what MacPaint could do. It drew these shapes and filled them in! Just with a click of a mouse. Remember that Brook Shields picture that would wink at you? That was awesome!

Anyway, when I graduated from college the first time I bought myself a Mac Plus with 1 Mb of Ram with a 40 Mb external hard drive. I sold it some years back, but I think it is still running, even after I put in a 16 Mhz upgrade in it that also required me to put a fan and another power supply in it.

Tim was smart and got a job after graduation. I went to graduate school to get my masters. We were still in the reserves, but we were in different units. Tim's unit got to go to Desert Storm while I got to stay home and watch it on TV while I wrote my masters thesis.

When Tim came back he bought a Macintosh IIsi and started work on Realmz. I new he had been working on Realmz, but I didn't know if anything would ever come from it. I would get pre alpha versions sometimes to take a look at. These were usually quickly dumped from my precious hard drive space, because they would usually cause a crash. Then one day I called Tim to see what was going on. I hadn't talked to him in several months and wondered how he was doing at his job. He told me the "game" was done and it was out there. I downloaded the game and was hooked. I have been lucky enough to get to make my own scenarios and continue to be a friend of Tim's.

isc: Tell me more about yourself. What was your course of study in college and graduate school? From what I recall, I don't think it has anything really to do with computers. How did you develop an interest in computers and programming? Because, from what I understand, scenario development is not as trivial as writing a good story. There's a lot of pseudocoding going on, so not just anyone with a passing interest would be dedicated enough to stick it out.

JF: Tim and I started at the University of Wisconsin-Madison planning to get degrees in Electrical and Computer engineering. To make a very long story short, we both graduated in something else. Tim graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering and I graduated in Metallurgical Engineering. I decided I would go on to graduate school and get my masters, but I ended up getting my PhD. Talk about over achievers! Anyone who has gone to graduate school knows that you get paid so much that you can start fires with Franklins.

When I saw the opportunity to make a few extra bucks by writing a Realmz scenario I jumped at it. I had taught myself BASIC and had FORTRAN and Pascal programming classes so I had some experience coding. The Realmz editor doesn't require knowledge of programming, but it does require the thinking. If this then goto this else do this sort of thing. After about 9 months of work and many questions for Tim I finished Castle in the Clouds. I didn't have a girlfriend at the time, so I could spent every waking hour I wasn't working on my PhD on Castle in the Clouds. Tim's constant, "When are you going to be done?" near the end of Castle helped me finish. Not getting 10 emails a day asking the same thing was also an incentive, but not one I ask for. Writing a scenario is like writing a Thesis or a book.

isc: Now, I know that income from scenario registrations isn't going to pay off your college loans. So, surely you're not in the scenario writing for the money. What is it that keeps you committed to writing such high quality scenarios?

JF: You are right, I am not getting rich writing scenarios, but the money does help a poor graduate student or new post doc. In addition, it gives me an outlet to try my hand at writing and making a thought provoking game at the same time. One of my favorite games from years past was Lode Runner. What I liked about it most was the ability to make your own levels and then play them. It will be very interesting to see how people react when a scenario editor is released for Realmz.

isc: I've seen an enormous load of really bad Doom WAD's, Warcraft maps, and Escape Velocity plug-in's appear when editors are released. They are published on the internet, and it's a real pain to filter through them to find a good one. Often times, I find that I've spent a lot of time downloading a really bad add-on. Do you think the release of the Realmz Scenario Development Kit (SDK) will be a good thing for Realmz as a whole? What do you predict will happen, if you could read the average shmo who "always wanted to write a Realmz scenario", when the SDK is released?

JF: I think the release of the Realmz scenario kit will be good thing for Realmz as a whole. I think it will do two things. One, people will see that it takes a little more work than they thought to put together a good scenario. Two, it will give other very creative and dedicated people the chance to make Realmz scenarios for all of us to enjoy. I know there will a lot of little scenarios out there that will not be the same or better caliber as the current scenarios, but I don't think that will stop the good ones from shining through all the muck. There are enough people that play Realmz that a list could be set up of peoples favorite scenarios. It would be another information source like the Book of Beasts or tip sheets release through the internet. Very good ones might even get a stamp of approval from Fantasoft.

isc: What, if any, were your inspirations for Castle in the Clouds?

JF: My inspiration for Castle in the Clouds is life itself. Many of the situations in Castle in the Clouds occur in real life where there is no second chance if you make the wrong decision.

isc: Do you mean your own life or just sort of "life" in general?

JF: Both. Life is a journey and you learn along the way down the path of time searching for something in the future. That is what the characters do in Castle in the Clouds. The parts of the scenario that are related to my life are subtle. For example, the ending of Castle in the Clouds is symbolic of me finding my brother who had recently died and how much of a loss I had felt. The world keeps spinning though and you move on. I wanted to convey a similar feeling to players of Castle in the Clouds.

isc: If you don't mind me asking a very personal question, can you tell us a little more about "finding your brother"?

JF: It was a Sunday morning in 1991 when my brothers alarm clock went off at noon. I went down to my brothers room after about a minute or two to wake him up. My brother was a pretty sound sleeper so I didn't think much of it. He had also been working two jobs saving up for his wedding that was in about 5 months so I knew he was tired. I went to wake him up and realized after a bit that he wasn't breathing and I couldn't find a pulse. This is not something you expect to find at all. I couldn't believe it, I thought I must of been dreaming. After about 2 days of not knowing why he had died and being questioned by the police the autopsy showed Ed had went into a diabetic coma and died around 8AM. Ed didn't know he was diabetic. The real sad thing was, that he had a doctors appointment on Monday, because he was feeling flu like symptoms. His fiancee had just had the flu, so he just naturally thought he caught it from her. Losing someone close to you is one of those things that you can only understand if you have experienced it first hand.

isc: I had heard from somewhere that some characters you write into scenarios are "avatars" of people you know in real life. Is this true? If this is so, can you site an example or two?

JF: Yes, I do include avatars of people that I know. Thufar Savag is a good friend of mine who's last name is Savage. The small character Blake in White Dragon, is my nephew Blake. The character name Dwared is an anagram for Edward, my deceased brother and father of Blake. The orchid women in White Dragon was inspired by my girlfriend Judy. Some of the beers found in Castle in the Clouds are also named after friends of mine.

isc: Did you have in mind that it would turn into the first of sequel right from the beginning?

JF: No, I wasn't looking past Castle in the Clouds at all. I just wanted to finish Castle and have it be good. It took a lot of effort to finish Castle when I did and then it took even more effort to start a new scenario. I took a few months from writing scenarios so I could catch up with my thesis work. It takes a lot out of you to make a scenario, especially since you have to work on it when you just finished a 8-10 hour day working. You get real bored with it after a while and it takes some gumption to stick it out and finish it.

isc: Have you always wanted to be a writer or a video game programmer or did the onset of Realmz spark an interest?

JF: Yes, I always thought it would be neat to make a video game, but I always had other responsibilities and I hate to program. I can do it, but I don't always like it. Tim's scenario editor provided me with a way to make a game without spending 4 years on a computer to do it.

isc: Can you give us a hint of what you're currently working on, and what we might be looking forward to?

JF: I am working on the scenario written by Joe Cannon. He submitted the best scenario to my contest. I am working on making the maps and encounters fit his vision the best I can. I don't want to give away too much information right now, since we are in the early stages of the scenario making process. A lot of things will change between now and then. For example, the graphics changed completely over night because of a Realmz update. I also plan to start a New Centurians scenario as soon as the editor is somewhat stable in it's configuration. I have seen a copy on Tim's computer and I am excited about the new possibilities.

isc: Do you have more ideas for new Realmz scenarios already bobbing around in your head?

JF: Not really. I am more interested to working with Joe Cannon on his idea. I am also looking forward to making a New Centurians scenario, because many things will be new and different. I am hoping to add a few things to White Dragon that I had in mind when I started writing it, but didn't get in the first version.

isc: Hypothetically, if you were independently wealthy, had all the time in the world and no one on your case, what would be something(s) you've always wanted to do?

JF: This may seem kind of funny, but I would like to still do the same job I do now, but make sure I enjoy my time off. I have spent many years to become a PhD in Metallurgical Engineering and it wasn't just for money. Anyone who finishes a PhD knows that they have a lot of debt to pay back and you never really make up the time or money you lost getting that PhD. I want to make a difference in the metallurgical world and hopefully improve life here on earth. I would also take more time to travel and see how other people live. I would also probably increase the level of my "hobbies". I would [like] to build a greenhouse for my my orchids, mainly so I could house all the orchids my girlfriend buys. I would also [like] to have a bit of land for the horses that I want someday. As far has having something that I always wanted to do that I will probably never get to do is fly on the space shuttle. Ever since, I saw the astronauts land on the moon, I wanted to experience space.

isc: Thanks Jim for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me. I've learned a lot from our time together and I think both your scenarios mean so much more knowing what I know now. Thanks again for allowing me to interview you and I am, as I'm sure everyone else is also, looking forward to more of your works.

Realmz tm, New Centurians tm, Fantasoft, and the Fantasoft logo are copyright Fantasoft, LLC.

Doom tm is copyright id Software, Inc.

Warcraft tm and Warcraft II tm are trademarks of Blizzard Software, Inc.

Escape Velocity tm is copyright Ambrosia Software.

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