The conversation was also an end in itself. I think both Paul and I always knew the odds were against Alexander
ever seeing the light of day, but in true Ponarvian spirit, we attacked the project with
a highly professional dedication and sense of purpose. The secret truth is that Alexander was more fun to design than it ever
would have been to play, and for years we had a blast doing pure design. Our detailed dialog, often supplemented by
charts, screenshots, and prototypes, remains as a fine case study of the creative process.
Most of that conversation is preserved in the following collection, gathered from a variety of sources. Note that I
usually signed my name as "Epicurious J.", my pen name from a column Paul and I co-authored in our junior high
school paper. Paul sometimes refers to himself by his pen name, "Smendrick T.", but during this period more often
prefers the name "P. King Duk", or just "Duk".
||Paul opens the dialog with a list of possible improvements to Strategic Conquest.
New pieces, reporting options, and startup options.
||World generator and AI opponent. Multiplayer games, customized production,
enemy strategy, path tracking, names, and textual records.
||First priority: generating a random world map
||No to swamps and mountains. Still need name for the project.
||Capital city, production schedules, tracking enemy activity, first mention
of a command language
||Piece characteristics matrix. Charactistics vary by city. Preliminary syntax
for command language.
||First edition of the Konquest Journal
||Names, weather, and more command language ideas
||Naming scheme. First reference to a spy. Events and sample scripts
for the command language. Continent generation.
||Data Dictionary. Air Transport piece. Multi-player games approved. Startup options.
More work on continent generation.
||Possible project name: Phoenix
||Second Joint Conference. Cities, bombs, roads, new pieces. Afterthoughts on
||First Online Summit. Ideas for a better interactive journal.
||Design of journal. Need text file map to test smoothing algorithms.
||Second Online Summit. John to work on journal, Paul to work on code.
||Progress on continent generator.
||First draft of continent generator.
||Generator now produces text files for input to HyperCard.
||Third Online Summit. Progress on HyperCard maps. Identifying continents. Bugs.
||Fourth Online Summit. No breakthroughs.
||Fifth Online Summit. How big can maps get?
||Smoothing algorithm proposed. Micro continents.
||Questions about smoothing algorithm.
||Questions and answers about smoothing.
||Sixth Online Summit. Paul agrees to give new algorithm a try, but it may take awhile.
||After a long pause, Paul returns to work on his continent generation program
||Questions and answers about the current state of the continent generation program
||Bug reports and initial graphics: commemorative painting and 3D globe
||Response to bug reports
||Progress report, trouble implementing smoothing
||Development continues at a snail's pace
||Conversion to C++ continent generator. Puzzle: How big does the spark list get?
||Graph showing size of spark list uncovered in the archives. Initial thoughts at refining the algorithm.
||First sketches of the one-pass smoothing algorithm, plain english recap of continent generation
||Two-pass smoothing, grid size
||Alexander icon revealed, grid size
||Bits or bytes? Landscape or portrait?
||Maps stack, multiple resolutions
||Attachment document, paratroopers, engineers, spies, patrol paths, automatic project schedules
||Latest copy of the C++ generator, ideas for settings dialog
||"Mostly sea to mostly land" scrollbar, "chunky to stringy" scrollbar, grid
lines, smoothing document, shoreline 100 times bigger than macro-level map
||Improvements to world map display
||Problems with smoothing
||Memory allocation: "Go wild!"
||Attachment hierarchy, new pieces (infantry, rangers, helicopters, engineers),
hovering vs. landing, planning missions, daydream mode
||Three strategies for storing shorelines
||Wish list: improvements to world map display, separate worldview window, smoothing
||Response to wish list
||News flash: coastal smoothing achieved
||First set of coastlines: "interesting but flawed"
||Gridlines, wish list priorities
||Second set of coastlines: "torn into powder"
||"Lacy" smoothing not working, need new approach
||Two ways to make gridlines
||Current method: painting gridlines over the surface
||Agreement on grid size, need to change current method, grid numbering,
using sparks as cities, eight-way scrolling box
||Land and air pieces sharing the same space, mid-air refueling, armies vs.
infantry vs. rangers, parachuting, helicopters, fuel dumps, engineering products (roads,
bridges, canals, fuel dumps, artillery batteries, radar installations, anti-aircraft,
land/sea mines), and a question: "Can ships sail under bridges?"
||Piece size, design, and color
||Piece design sketches - need larger size for beveled look
||Larger size approved
||Three piece styles (stone, wood, and steel) and seven ways to play (with
three players). Forming and reforming attachment groups. Multiple pieces
per cell on surface and air grids.
||Three person game with no neutral cities, map revealed from start. Library
of pre-designed maps. Popup map pallette for easier navigation.
||New rev with larger grid size
||Sketch: twenty piece designs in six styles
||Confusion about surface and air grids
||Mockup of three-way battle on smoothed map
||Problems with non-destructive grid lines
||Status display dialog, graphics programs, sound effects during drags
||Mockup of attachment closeup window. Air grid increased to nine units per
cell. Spy planes, unloading transports, ferrying infantry with
helicopters, attaching helicopters to fighters, bombers with mixed cargo,
mid-air refueling, automatic attack by attached subs, occupying vs.
capturing neutral cities, fighters landing in a city vs. flying over it.
Distinguishing between neutral, captured and enemy cities in close up view,
scrolling within closeup view, modal vs. multiple views.
||Continents look like cat vomit - stringy, not beefy. Try globs instead of
sparks. Window names. Further implications of an air grid - helicopter
airlifts into a beseiged city.
||Response to attachment mockup. Confusion about which enemy pieces are
visible. Spy planes and spy "attacks". Proposal: host plus all its
attached pieces are allowed exactly as many attacks as the unencumbered
host. Movement and attacks between surface and air grids. Proposal: allow
armies to occupy as well as capture neutral cities. Rangers cannot jump
from airborne helicopters. Definition of attachment still fuzzy:
containment vs. coordination. Visualizing containment. Refueling.
Automatic attack. Separate grid for subs? World view pallette, menus,
||In battle map, fixed heirarchy determines which piece is on top (visible);
in closeup view, not clear. New behaviors emerge when we distinguish
between surface and air grids. Battle map displays either surface or air
pieces depending on currently selected piece. Disagree on proposal
limiting attacks of an attached group. Adjacency: air pieces must fly OVER
surface pieces to attack. Occupying vs. capturing. Display of occupied
cities. Helicopters cannot attach to fighters. Currently no concept of
containment - difficult because heirarchies would be unavoidable. Restrict
bombers to one type of cargo? No need for undersea grid. Closeup window
non-modal. Globs instead of sparks. Menus, window names.
||Display number of pieces per cell in battle map. Charge one movement point
for attachment/detachment. Can enemy see a sub under a carrier? Arguments
for containment. Establishing and displaying containment. Occupation.
Show asterisk on occupied neutral cities. Bombers restricted to one type of
cargo. Two grids sufficient.
||Summary of 14 agreed-upon points. Indication of multiple pieces. When
does attachment provide concealment? Argument against restricting attacks
of contained pieces. Argument against containment. World thumbnail should
float above battle map.
||Implementing the floating world thumbnail. Argument for containment tabled
||New generation algorithm.
||Report on Empire Deluxe. Piece and city names, orders menu, promotions,
production map, paths mode. More bug fixes.
||Request for more info on Empire Deluxe.
||Detailed notes on Empire Deluxe.
||Seven new features gleaned from Empire Analysis: minimum flight time,
production map, city and piece naming, moving patrol paths, "sentry" instead of "sleep",
pre-defined behavior scripts, production time reduced for subsequent pieces.
||Agreement on all seven features. Two more Empire screenshots.
||Simultaneous movement instead of turn-taking
||Automatically generated text radio messages for every action that could
be intercepted by spies. Radio silence and blackouts. Teams of players on each side.
||Expand radio message idea to become fundamental part of architecture.
Message passing across object hierarchies.
||More ideas: let bombers exchange bombs for fuel (range), radar sites on ships, stealth aircraft, flexible repair times, amphibious seaplane.
||All except amphibious seaplane approved.
||Question about generation algortithm: upper bound on sparklist.
||Idea: assign elevation to each cell.
||A resurgence in Alexander activity.
||Request details on phased generation algorithm.
||Details coming soon...
||Details and code found in previous letter.
||Rumors of Conquest 4.0
||New version has fractal worlds and two new pieces.
||Rumors confirmed. List of new features with terrain screenshots.
||Fractal worlds: the bar has been raised.
||More ideas: enlarge cell display to show both air and land/sea pieces, enforced automation (automatic production schedules, canned rules of engagement, pathways, phases of play with limited manual override), spies, variation within pieces, rewards for capturing continents/countries.
||Lessons learned from first Conquest 4.0 game.
||Screenshot of first victory.
||Share these notes with Conquest creator?
||Stalemate in a Conquest 4.0 game. Spies could attach to enemy pieces, spies and cities; automatic roads, bridges, and tunnels.
||Spies and automatic roads approved.
||Giant Conquest 4.0 map
||3D flyovers. Our land turns green and lush while enemy's land turns Mordor-brown.
||Suggestions for programming assignment. Determining what continent a given city resides in.
||Will use Alexander continent generation algorithm for programming assignment.
||ID tags for each land cell?
||Possible metadata for land cells. Could players build a Panama Canal?
||Possible modifications to generation algorithm: stacks and queues.
||Skepticism about stacks, uncertainty about queues - need to run experiments.
||Expect queue test files soon...
||First queue-based world - "a curious diagonal stringiness."
||First color map of queue-based world.
||Another attempt using modified queue.
||Dynamic array algorithm runs faster. A million cell world in 30 seconds.
||More experiments. Tracking the continent ID of each land cell. "Seeds" instead of "Sparks".
||Maps for three more test worlds.
||Continent IDs might work as Country IDs.
||What could we do with countries?
||Need description of how color map GIFs are made.
||Two more test files: Island World and Continent World.
||Maps of Island World vs. Continent World.
||First public presentation of Alexander technology.
||Next tasks: nailing down continent IDs, adding cities, adding mountains and rivers. Rivers could be both narrow and wide.
||First worlds with continent assignments.
||Two functions for copying worlds.
||Possible use for copied worlds.
||Using fractals for smoothing.
||Need more information about fractals. Adding a third dimension to algorithm.
||Placing cities. Twin cities would be interesting.
The first written record appeared on a Hypercard-based journal I created called Archipelago, which was also sent through
the mail and received by about a dozen subscribers. Since none of the other Archipelagoans shared our obsession,
Paul and I took the conversation offline using yet another Hypercard-based journal I created using my own HyperCard
Essay Construction Kit (HECK). A
facsimile of that journal
was created as part of this exhibit.
In the early 90s, Paul and I both acquired email accounts; the remainder of our dialogue was taken from email records and
preserved transcripts of early AOL chat rooms. We both eventually outgrew AOl, and over the next five years used a variety
of email accounts, including work as well as home email. Paul and I both changed jobs several times. Fortunately, I preserved
copies of most of my work email, and was able to recreate most of Paul's work email from copies captured within the body of
It was surprisingly challenging to salvage the text from even rather recent email records. The underlying formats kept changing and
many files were all but unreadable by the time I located them. Some reconstructions took pain-staking detective work; in some cases
I had blocks of text but no date. Paper notes of our taped conversations supplied additional clues. I was also able to recreate
almost all of the various charts, sketches and maps we sent back and forth over the years. Tables and lists within the text were
all converted to HTML by hand.
The final dialog consists of 170 web pages supplemented by dozens of specially-created graphics and took a full year of stolen
moments to create. I suspect that few will ever read these pages, so this exhibit was truly a Project Of No Apparent Redeeming Value.
It was a labor of love, but I have labored in the faith that even the most unlikely PONARVs can provide unexpected dividends.