Chapter 10 - The Road Less Traveled
For fifteen years I had chased the Hollywood dream. It was a fairly typical goal of making money, having success and achieving some notoriety. Nothing wrong with that and I really enjoyed doing it, but prior to meeting Jennifer I had begun to feel that this particular type of success rush was coming to an end. I sensed my interests lay somewhere else and that seemed like it could be a road less traveled. Little did I know then, how much this new path would take me into the back country as I set out to contribute something to making the world a better place.
Jennifer went home to Sun Valley and I went back to my Disney life. We continued to talk almost on a nightly basis. I had been using Jamie Sam’s Medicine Cards during this period to give me perspectives on whatever I asked about. When Jennifer went back to Sun Valley, both of us kept seeing a pair of red dragonfly’s where ever we went.
In Native teachings all new endeavors including relationships have a spirit animal that embodies the spirit of the enterprise. As the dragonfly’s keep showing up I looked them up in Medicine Card system. Here is what it said.
27 - Shattering Illusion
Dragonfly medicine is of the dreamtime and the illusionary facade we accept as physical reality. The iridescence of Dragonfly’s wings reminds us of colors not found in our everyday experience. Dragonfly’s shifting of color, energy, form, and movement explodes into the mind of the observer, bringing vague memories of a time or place where magic reigned.
Some legends say that Dragonfly was once Dragon, and that Dragon had scales like Dragonfly’s wings. Dragon was full of wisdom, and flew through the night bringing light with its fiery breath. The breath of Dragon brought forth the art of magic and the illusion of changing form. Then Dragon got caught in its own facade. Coyote tricked Dragon into changing form, and the shape of its new body became like Dragonfly’s. In accepting the challenge to prove its power and magical prowess, Dragon lost its power.
Dragonfly is the essence of the winds of change, the messages of wisdom and enlightenment, and the communications from the elemental world. This elemental world is made up of the tiny spirits of plants, and the elements air, earth, fire, and water. In essence, this world is full of nature spirits. If Dragonfly has flown into your cards today, you may have forgotten to water your plants.
On another level, you may need to give thanks to the foods you eat for sustaining your body. On the psychological level, it may be time to break down the illusions you have held that restrict your actions or ideas. Dragonfly medicine always beckons you to seek out the parts of your habits, which you need to change. Have you put on too much weight, or have you started to look like a scarecrow? Have you tended to the changes you have wanted to make in your life? If you feel the need for change, call on Dragonfly to guide you through the mists of illusion to the pathway of transformation. See how you can apply the art of illusion to your present question or situation, and remember that things are never completely as they seem.
Such a strong omen of change and cutting through illusion and letting go of old habits certainly represented us then and as we have journeyed together all these years.
The summer I met Jennifer I had planned to go to Tracker school. In my curiosity about Native American ways, I had read a series of books by Tom Brown.
He was a white man that as a young boy had lived on the edge of the remote Piney Barrens region in New Jersey. Tom spent a lot of time alone in that wild place. At some point an older native man began mentoring him in how to experience the natural world through an expanded awareness. Natives were experts at tracking. This required a deep understanding of the “signs” that existed in nature that told you where the animals were.
The natives also talked about standing in the “dead space.” There had been stories from first contact with whites that certain medicine men could literally disappear into thin air. It turns out the trick has to do with a humans field of vision. Because of the noise our white society creates we have a limited field of vision. Natives, because their world is more natural, had an expanded field of vision. When the medicine men “disappeared” they actually just moved out of the white’s limited field of vision and into the dead space just outside of it. Medicine men could teach you to expand your field of vision to see much more. Tom became an expert tracker with a reputation of finding anyone who was lost. Later he wrote the series of books I read and he started the Tracker School to teach these skills.
On arriving at the week long course, Tom opened the class by saying that sometime during the next week we would have a moment where we would see the natural environment in its totality for the first time. Literally an “opening/expanding” experience. He couldn’t say when it would happen, but if we followed his lead it would. This was similar to what Eastern Religion monks say about meditation practice leading to moments of enlightenment. If you followed the course of study they suggested, eventually you would have a moment when true reality opened up. Needless to say I was fascinated by Tom.
Before I arrived at the class I had actually contacted Tom about possibly doing a documentary film about his work. He promised to talk to me sometime during the week. As we got our assignments and went out into nature to practice, his presence was impressive. However, when I went “backstage” to talk with him I discovered he was a severe alcoholic and abusive to his family and staff. It was shocking to say the least. This kind of discovery would happen again many times during my future journey’s into the native world and later in spiritual communities, but this first time was a bit impactful. The question arises… “if this person has something valuable to teach me, do their personal failings color the value of those teachings.”
I went back to the class assignments and sure enough on the fifth day of practice, my vision suddenly opened up and I could see every nuance of the tracks that animals had left the night before. It was vivid like day glow paint. It was also unsettling, but expanding in the same moment. I questioned how a man could teach this revolutionary concept and be such a miserable human being. It was one of my early lessons about learning what I could from flawed teachers and moving on.
Whatever had begun in LA with Jennifer, deepened. At some point I realized I was falling in love again. The fact that Jennifer had a child I was yet to meet and she would have to move, was all in the background. When love hits like that, you often don’t pay much attention to the details at first.
I did fly up to Sun Valley to visit a couple of times.
This mountain town was beautiful and everyone I met spoke about Jennifer’s influence in the community over her 15 years of living there. She had organized global conferences way before it was hip to address issues like global warming with a cross section of talented people. One was even tele-transmitted to Russia. Quite a feat in those days. The original conference influenced CNN to create their Earth Beat feature.
She also opened a natural foods store/restaurant with her husband and arranged to bring healers and thought leaders in a variety of New Age disciplines to Sun Valley. She and Ed hung out with celebrities like Bruce Willis and Steve McQueen and had encounters with UFO’s.
You may be thinking if all that was true, why would she want to leave? The reason goes back to my theme of cycles. Nothing lasts forever and the energy that gives something, someplace or relationships power eventually dissipates. She was also now separated from Ed, living in her own home with Matthew, so there was that too. Sun Valley is a small town with all its positives and negatives. One of the negatives for Jennifer was that everyone knew her and depended on her to educate them. This had included some channeling work she had done for a while before becoming uncomfortable with it after Matthew was born. At the moment we met, she felt like she wanted a little less of everyone in her life.
You might ask.., what drew me to her. At that point, my life had been spinning in the starry Hollywood field for some time and I wondered what it would be like to slow the spin a bit. I was less enamored by the money and notoriety. The game business had stabilized as a 44 billion dollar enterprise built off "shooters" "war games" and "sports simulations." That part had grown less interesting to me even though the emergence of the Internet still excited me.
I was also re-awakening to the issues facing all of us and the planet. I felt in some ways ready to re-enter a more normal existence and use whatever skills I had as a storyteller to make a contribution to making the world better. This was just a vague notion at that point. It would take a whole new chapter of work in Hollywood to actually complete this chapter of the fame and fortune story, but what Jennifer was interested in fit with what I thought I might explore next. This included spiritual pursuits as well, and seeing as we had met and had been blessed by the Dali Lama, it seem fated. A real karmic connection.
I had been a step parent before with all that it had blessed my life with and the challenges it brought as well. This time I did not feel so naïve in my understanding of what it meant to have children in your life that were not my blood relatives. I met Matt when he was four during my visits to Sun Valley. He had a really sweet presence with a keen sense of curiosity and fun. I also met Jenny’s ex Ed as well. All seemed as stable as it could be after a divorce.
Jennifer told me the story of Matthew coming into this life very early on. She was not supposed to have children as a result of ruptured tubal pregnancy that almost killed her. She and Ed had gone off to India to hang out with the Dali Lama for awhile. They spent time in Dharamshala with side trips to sacred sites high in the Himalayas like Ladakh. Ladakh had been a sacred center of Tibetan Buddhism for many years. There were all kinds of temples scattered around its location.
As the story goes, Jennifer and Ed got directed to a particular temple by a smiling monk. When they had entered they realized that they were standing in complete darkness after the doors closed behind them. As their eyes adjusted, they realized sitting in front of them was a giant Buddha, multiple stories high. Extending from the Buddha’s groin area was a giant phallic penis. You can imagine their shock, but it turns out this temple was dedicated to fertility. Can you hear the dramatic music coming up in the background?
Jennifer and Ed returned to Dharamshala not knowing what to think and hoped for a glimpse of the Dali Lama. They stood with other westerners in one of the many places people waited for the Dali Lama to emerge. When he finally showed, he came right over to Jennifer, smiled and did some sort of incantation over her belly (I am not making this up) and laughed. As he walked away Ed and the rest of the sojourners crowded around to ask… “what was that?”
Shortly after their return to Sun Valley, against all odds, Jennifer became pregnant. The story doesn’t stop there however, and there is a point I am getting to about Matthew’s presence in the world. While Jennifer was pregnant she had five very powerful vision dreams of a young boy talking emphatically to her. He would say “my name is… Tenzin.” Tenzin was the first name of the Dali Lama. It was common in the Tibetan community in exile because a mother could ask the Dali Lama for his name for her child. These dreams were so powerful that when Matt was born Jennifer gave him the middle name of Tenzin after getting permission from the Dali Lama himself.
At that point in Tibetan history with their country being systemically dismantled by the Chinese, there was a story going around that monks souls were reincarnating to the west. This migration was a part of ancient Eastern teachings coming to the West in the seventies.
Now what did I make of this? I didn’t know at the time, but when I met this very young child, he struck me as being very bright with some unusual qualities. Like me when I was younger, he did not seem to approach things in a typical manner. In my life this had some negative consequences when I was younger, but had served me well as an adult. One way to describe Matthew was that he was an original. There were little things. For example, he would insist on wearing four hats, the bills pointing in different directions. This would create an effect of what Tibetan headgear looked like.
He also had this thing about taking everything he owned with him, as if he was worried he wasn’t coming back. Never the less, we thought my meeting Matthew was going well until one day we were walking out the door to take a hike and I noticed that Matt had taken a red marker and drawn all over Jennifer’s pure white couch. We both looked at each other and smiled.
The Mouse Begins Wavering
Following the release of the Toy Story game, I struggled to find something interesting to do next at Disney. We had lots of meetings exploring lots of plans, but without technological tools Disney could not really morph into a real game company. At one point I suggested that they just release kids programs with each of their major movies. Their educational software group was already doing this and because of the Disney name they sold millions. I argued that was a business that was unique to Disney that fit their brand.
As I started to wonder if I would ever produce big interactive entertainment projects again, I was asked, because of my position at Disney and the Toy Story game, to speak at a variety of Internet conferences. One of those was in Beaver Creek. Colorado. The conference was organized by a local interactive media company and after the conference they asked me for advice on how they should proceed.
At that point no one really knew where the Internet was going. I certainly wanted to explore that, so I came up with this idea of gathering 40 of my cohorts from the studios and game companies at Beaver Creek in Colorado for four days.
At the time many of us were competitors so we couldn’t talk about what we were actually doing in-house, but I reasoned that we could talk about general Internet qualities that could be useful to all of us. In my work with the Headlands Center for the Arts, my friend David Sibbet and I had pioneered a process I called storycatching. It combined David’s visual group memory work with my method of story gathering. What we were imagining for this gathering could be captured and mined for the common themes they suggested for the future.
Eagle River Interactive said yes, so I put together a budget and dragged out my rolodex and began inviting an A list of participants. As long as I kept my Disney work up to date and included Disney brass they were okay with me doing this. There certainly wasn’t a lot else going on.
David and I picked some dates. In addition to my excitement about the possibilities I also saw it as a way Jennifer and I could produce something together. She had experience in stewarding big egos at these kinds of endeavors and I thought a chance to explore working together would be just the thing. We decided to meet in Colorado to visualize the design for the gathering at the location.
David, Jennifer and few people from the sponsoring organization used David’s graphic memory process to plan the event. We asked for guidance from a number of sources including Jamie Sam’s “Medicine Cards” These cards and their importance in my life would have much more significance latter.
Prior to meeting in Colorado I had been in Portland for the wedding of my cousin Steve. It was a reunion of sorts of the different clans of Pinger’s and Riordan’s that had begun to re-connect because of my crazy drive two years prior.
After the wedding, I flew to Colorado from Portland to meet the others at the Denver airport. Little did I know this airport would play a huge part in a future chapter.
As we drove up the hill we stopped in St. Georges to eat and as we came out of the restaurant I don’t know what came over me, but I suddenly kissed Jennifer for the first time. It was magic.
She was a bit taken aback, but not that much. This trip cemented our wanting to be together. The event came off great, everyone had a good time and we all learned something for our future Internet work.
One of the predictions we made in 1996 was that Microsoft’s influence, who at that time, dominated everything having to do with software and digital networks would decrease. Someone else would rise up to take their place.
We all laughed. No one could imagine that happening or the “what” that would take their place. However, at that very moment two students at Stanford were developing a search engine that would later be known as “Google”. No one saw that. Or that I would do the Goggle Ocean project with them 12 years later.
The Interplay of it All
I was becoming more and more bored at Disney. An old acquaintance of mine in the interactive entertainment biz, called me. I had known Brian for a while. He had been a pioneer in the game business and had a company called Interplay that was located in Orange County south of Hollywood. He had always been a fan of the Cinemaware style games I had done and had bought the PC rights to Voyeur when I was at POV.
Brian was looking to expand the company and take it public. He just couldn’t understand why I worked for companies like Time Warner and Disney. In his mind they were not real game companies. I also knew that Brian had a mixed reputation in terms of integrity. He was kind of a player. As I was taking all that into consideration he upped the ante.
I had been a fan of a sci-fi- fantasy artist named Gil Bruvel for a while. Lately he had been committing his painting style to 3D environments created on large Sun graphic work stations.
Brian thought we could make a game whose environment was based on his paintings and sent some of the plates to me. I thought they were fantastic.
The other project he was promoting was a Star Trek project. There had been a number of Star Trek games over the years, some good, others lame. Interplay had the direct license with Paramount to develop a game using the original cast of characters from the first show. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and all the others. Those actors had grown old, but the plan was to create 3D digital characters of them and use the actual actors to voice the animations.
I had always loved Star Trek so this put the final touches on our deal for me. My boss at Disney accepted my decision with good humor. Disney Interactive, in spite of spending millions, never really amounted to anything of note in those next years, so creatively it was probably the right choice.
There was another factor in this decision. Jennifer had said very early on that she could not imagine raising Matt in Hollywood. I didn’t disagree. So when the Interplay deal came up we discussed it and she said she was ok living in Laguna Beach in Orange County for a while. So, I put together a production group entitled…
Also found the house of our dreams two blocks off the beach.
Even as I started at Interplay I was already aware that this 17 year interactive entertainment chapter in my career was coming to the end. The Internet seemed much more interesting to me. I saw the deal with Interplay as creating a couple of cool final game projects, giving me some stock and when they went public, cash in and consider other things. For all those reasons, the wheel turned, Jennifer packed her house, I flew up and we drove from Sun Valley to Laguna Beach in a big yellow truck.
The Big Yellow Truck
I had driven rental trucks before, but this time there was a trailer on the back with Jennifer’s car on it. We were not into our RV phase yet so this seemed like a combination of vehicles you had to drive very carefully. Matt sat between us for the three day trip.
We frequented truck stops mostly and got a sense of the world that travels through them every day and in the dark of night. We felt fortunate that we were headed for a gorgeous home at the beach and I was getting to work with two entertainment properties I was excited about.
The Past Can Come Back to Bite You
I had met Jennifer’s ex-husband Ed a couple of times and it seemed like he was moving on. Their separation agreement was weighted heavily in his favor, but Jennifer seemed ok with it. It stipulated that Jenny and Ed would split custody of Matt. We should have realized our move would trigger some reaction. Ed had a point. Laguna was a long ways for him to come to visit Matt and because he was still so young it was not appropriate to put him on a plane. I don’t think either Jennifer or I expected the volatility of his reaction however, but it was extreme.
He threatened to delay the move which he couldn’t do, so we went ahead anyway. As a result, from there on out he was on the warpath. He ended up dragging Jennifer back into court even though his lawyer said he could not win. He forced us all to spend untold financial resources to settle this thing again. I even had to testify at the trial. It was also hard on Matt. He was in a new place and not feeling particularly settled and here were the supposed adults in his life at war with each other.
In the end, Ed lost rights and privileges as judge adjusted their arrangement to be fairer to Jennifer. If you are contemplating going to war like that, don’t do it. No one really wins and it can cloud relationships for years to come. It wasn’t until Ed got married much later and had his own daughter that things between Jennifer and him stabilized.
Re-connecting with Mason Girls
Another thing that happened as my relationship with Jennifer blossomed is that I reconnected with Sevrin and Claytie. I saw Sevrin mostly in New York. I had helped her try out for some of the most prestigious drama programs in the US.
Sevrin had survived a troubled childhood and after going to community college graduated with honors. She then went through the audition process to attend the big time drama schools. For some reason she wanted me to be her stage father for that process. I helped her rehearse her scenes and flew up with her to the San Francisco auditions. It brought back memories of casting calls, only this time I was on the other side of the process. All the drama schools collaborated on these auditions so when we first got there, Sevrin had to sign up with each one.
While she was signing up I attended the Boston University briefing and heard clearly that they were not messing around.
They wanted kids that were serious. I had no worries about Sevrin’s commitment, but she had been through so much rejection in her life, I didn’t want her to set her sights too high and get disappointed.
Her audition time came for BU and I held my breath out in the hallway. She re-emerged beaming. She said they had told her she was what they were looking for. Exactly the opposite of what they had said they would do in the parent briefing.
I wondered whether Sevrin had heard them correctly. She bounced off to another audition and I saw one of the women from BU in the hallway and slid up next to her. I made some stupid comment about the craziness of the auditions and she just looked at me and said… “you’re with Sevrin.” I must have been that transparent. (no pun intended) She went on… “she was amazing.” I said, I thought you were going to withhold judgement until they had seen everyone. In her case the professor went on… “it was clear we wanted to offer her a slot.” I was dumb founded. Sevrin after all she had been through was going to live out her dream. And that wasn’t the half of it.
Claytie had also matured into a really interesting young woman. She went through her rebellion time in high school, but hadn’t done herself too much damage. She was really interested in writing plays. She was a very attractive young women who had also had played for a time with becoming an actress. She had done some small parts in my productions.
I had seen her in high school productions and she had something. Only issue was she hated auditions. In one of those parental moments I said… “well then you will have to write your own vehicles and star in them.” She took it in and later that is exactly what she did.
Claytie would also come and stay with us in Laguna.
Matt liked her and I enjoyed having her around. After the struggles Joyce and I had been through this was a chance for something more. Sevrin and I connected around her acting. Claytie and I connected around writing and our love of stories. I loved the way her mind worked. This was a good development.
Settled now in Laguna Beach we loved the SoCal beach life style. The sunsets that we watched off our deck overlooking the ocean were worth the price of admission.
Matt loved the beach and we did all the predictable things like building sand castles and playing war.
One unexpected thing was that Jennifer had trouble finding anyone she wanted to work with. Matt certainly needed much of her attention, but we both kept expecting she would find a new situation, but it never happened. I was off at work all day and sometimes late into the night, so other than helping with my productions, she struggled with finding something interesting to do.
The other thing was that Matt began school. He loved his pre-school program. It was loose and free. He wanted to live there. However, early in grade school other patterns started to show up. This was the time I began to see that he seemed like a foreigner in our culture. Things I took for granted as an American male like sports, he seemed to have no reference point to. I thought back to his supposed beginnings and wondered if he really was from far away.
Jennifer took him to see an American Buddhist teacher and he put Matt through a few tests and concluded he may have memories of a former life in Tibet. He warned Jennifer not to tell anyone, including the Dali Lama, because they would come and get him to educate him themselves.
There were a number of incidents that happened before I was with Jennifer that pointed in that direction. Matt would recognize Tibetan temples on wall hangings and say their complicated foreign name, even though that seemed impossible for a two year old. He seemed to have some knowledge of what heaven and the other realms were like. At a young age he would blurt out some description of these realms and then go back to playing. He had what appeared to be a photographic memory, so his retention was off the charts. All that however, added up to him feeling like an outsider in school and with other kids. He just didn’t seem to know what was expected of him. Sort of like me when I was going through it in school, but with a foreign flavor. This would continue to be a challenge for him and us.
Of Light and Darkness
All this was background to the real reason I told myself we were in Orange County. I was there to direct and produce big projects again for a real game company like Interplay. I set to work and was happy to be back in production on what would become Of Light and Darkness- the prophecy.
I laid out Gil’s 3D graphic architecture into a “village of the dammed.” There was only one issue. Gil had constructed these 3D environments on a very powerful Sun Graphic System. We needed to reduce them in resolution to run on a normal PC without losing their captive beauty. We also needed a game play engine. Both issues were solved by upgrading an existing Interplay game engine. However, so much of the PC RAM space was required for the graphics to run smoothly, it left little room for actual characters. So, we had this beautiful village to play around in, but nothing in it. Here's the trailer...
Sometimes limitations are the mother of invention. They were certainly that way when we did not have full motion video for Voyeur. I decided we could build most of the characters out of very simple ghost like animations, but do most of the dramatic work in audio. The one exception would be the main female character “Angel.” For her character we would use a motion capture process using a real actress. Here's a game play reel...
Being an ex-music guy, I knew the power of audio to help create a dream world like this. I brought Cliff Johnson, my puzzle king, in to do the puzzles the player would have to solve to achieve redemption and Ken Melville to create the story with me and write the script. Ken was also an ex-musician so we set about creating a complex layered audio environment for the game. The script ended up being over 500 pages.
The story Of Light and Darkness was greatly influenced by the times. I had always had an interest in the stories we were telling about the future. In 1996, the turn of the century was on the horizon and with it the Y2K meme. Y2K for those of you too young to remember, predicted all computer systems worldwide would crash as they rolled over the date into the new millennium. This would happen as a result of a global software error regarding a computer trying to turn over to the 2000 date and failing. It was of course a Microsoft glitch.
In addition, at the turn of centuries it seemed every apocalyptic story re-emerged predicting the end of life as we knew it. (One of those was the Mayan Predictions of 2012, but that was some ways off)
I had no real interest whether any of these predictions were true, but instead I was attracted by the power they seemed to have concerning what we were imagining about the future. Ken and I set about using all these memes in constructing a dramatic story of a war for the life or death of humanity. The villain was a dark spirit called Gar Hob and his seemingly accomplice was a mysterious female apparition named Angel who showed up on television screens scattered around the village.
Casting for L&D was a monumental job. There were over 100 parts in addition to the two main ones. We went looking for a star to voice Gar Hob. Someone that had the right combination of a sinister manner with black humor. We found the perfect actor in the academy award nominated James Woods.
James at the time was a major Hollywood star that had played a variety of bad guys convincingly. For some reason he said yes when we told him the story. He suggested an actress friend of his, Lolita Davidovich, to play Angel. That meant she had to be wired up to create the motion capture sequences for her character that we would see in the village. James had a reputation for being difficult to work with, but I found him hilarious. Lolita on the other hand turned out to be a total pain in the ass. Divas, what can you do?
The rest of the characters were audio only, so we found some very good voice talent for all of those. Ken had also created a fictitious rock band called the MF’ers. They had something to do with the coming apocalypse and that led him to write the title song featured in the trailer. It was fun producing music again.
The Mayan Calendar
In spite of what seemed like a lot of hysteria about the end of the world as we knew it, the Mayan Calendar really interested me. Priests in the ancient Mayan civilization had mathematically calculated star alignments out to the year 2012. A calendar truly synced with the way the universe was unfolding. Our 12 month Roman (Julian) Calendar had always been an inelegant way to depict time. Months of different duration, a leap year to make adjustments etc.
The Mayan Calendar on the other hand was 13 months of 28 days with one “day out of time” every year on July 25th. Each of these months had an energy signature. You could find your “birth” imprint formed by “glyphs” from three interlocking wheels.
Mine was “Blue Crystal Storm.”
For a long time I had felt I was out of sync with the universe. It turns out if you organize your life around the Julien calendar it is OUT OF SYNC with the way the universe moves and expands. From that point on I kept both calendars. The Julien one to stay connected to this western world and the Mayan calendar to sync with the Kosmos.
Star Trek – Vulcan Fury
The other property was Star Trek. When I arrived at Interplay another team had been working on it, but I thought their story was kind of lame. One of the great things about having a license with Paramount was that we had access to Star Trek production people. It turned out Dorothy Fontana, who had been Gene Roddenberry’s head writer on the original series was available. Gene had long since gone to where no man had ever gone before, so Dorothy was the keeper of the grail.
We had lunch and I found all her stories about producing and writing for that series inspiring. I asked her what was the one story she had never gotten to tell. She mentioned the little known relationship between the Vulcans and the Romulans. Most fans did not know they had actually come from the same background. This rivalry would get spotlighted later in the first of the new generation of Star Trek movies in 2009. Spock had to go back in time to defeat the Romulians who were intent on destroying Vulcan. Even though this film featured a new generation of actors, it was the last time we would see Leonard Nimoy playing the older Spock.
The story Dorothy never got to explore was the following... The Vulcans had developed a doomsday weapon, all but forgotten in their evolution to peace based on reason, When the Romulians attacked they had to make a fateful decision about the use of the ancient weapon. Something that flew in the face of everything their logically constructed, peaceful meaning making system represented. As she spooled the story out I knew this was it. “The Secret of Vulcan Fury” was born. Here is the first script signed by some of the cast.
The plan was to create digital characters with the original actors providing the voices. I would get to work with Shatner, Nimoy and all the rest. Here's the pre-release trailer...
The project in some ways had the same issues as L&D. It required a lot of processing power to run the animated characters and dramatic situations on the Enterprise.
We did a couple of tests using a few of the actors and although they turned out to be convincing, we had no idea of how we were going to process the amount of footage required for the entire game. What solved part of that was a strange phone call I received one day.
I had always known that the military/intelligence community and Hollywood had a kind of back door relationship with each other. The intelligence agencies were always interested in the stories Hollywood was telling.
At the time the only ones with super computers capable of processing the footage we needed were military installations not available to the general public. The call I got from this mysterious guy suggested that “they” would consider transcoding the footage for us. I said that was great and I would love to visit. That was when I realized who “they” were. He said that was not possible for national security reasons. We were to send our data to a certain address and they would send it back to us when it was processed. At that point I didn’t know if this was a joke, so we packaged some data and sent it to them and sure enough about two weeks later we got the processed footage back. At least we had a way to do it, but the game design really needed work and that never got completely worked out.
A couple of funny stories about the actors. William Shatner (Bill) came by one day for lunch and we showed him some of the tests we had done of his Captain Kirk character. He watched it and then was silent. I was sure he didn’t like it… when he just sighed and said that he missed being that young.
Another story involved James Doohan the actor that played the iconic “Scotty”. Jimmy was getting really old at that point.
That was clear when we brought him in for a voice over session. I put him on mic in the studio and proceeded to roll tape. The first few takes were awful. Jennifer, who was standing behind me, said he seemed like he was having low blood sugar issues and suggested feeding him some protein. The only protein we had on the craft table was bacon. She fed him a couple of pieces and like magic, Scotty showed up in all his glory. That session also included Sulu and Ohura. Such fun!
Interplay was so excited about this project that they made an early deal with a cereal company to put a sweepstakes on their cereal boxes to promote the game. Here are the mock ups they came up with.
First Signs of Trouble
While all this was unfolding, home life had settled in. Jennifer was still not working except on my projects and that was fine because Matt needed a lot of her time as he went through the adjustment. I was on a trip to Hawaii visiting Gil Bruvel, when Jenny came down with this mysterious illness that put her in bed. Luckily we had friends close by to help out and she came out of it as I was coming home. This however began a bizarre journey for all of us into the world of viruses and chronic fatigue syndrome. This would come into full view later when we were on Whidbey Island, but it foreshadowed a challenge that would be in our lives going forward.
The Canyons Call
I had visualized Of Light and Darkness as a three part series. The first we were doing with the western world memes. The second was set in the Southwest featuring Native American stories concerning the future predictions.
The third would explore the Eastern Tibetan “Wind Horse” stories.
I had for a long time explored American Native myths and stories and one day in a book store the "Medicine Card" deck by Jamie Sams jumped out at me. It was a set of 48 cards; each one represented a different spirit animal. Each spirit animal had its own energy so as you shuffled the deck and laid out 7 cards from the 48, it claimed to tell you something about the question you were asking from the perspective of those energies.
Predictive cards and systems like these come from all over the world. With the emergence of New Age spirituality many of these like the Chinese I-Ching had come into vogue. I knew people who lived their lives by what they told them. I was not that much of a true believer, but I did notice with this deck I got some perspectives that were useful. I had used it during my emotional break for guidance and it had helped. We also used it to influence the design of the Beaver Creek Gathering.
As a result I set about finding Jamie Sams, the Medicine Cards creator. I knew she was living outside of Santa Fe, but her contact info was closely guarded by her agent.
Later I would understand all the secrecy. I left my contact info with her publisher and one day out of the blue she called. From the get go she was a handful. A very colorful, powerful, part native woman that was into lots of light and darkness worlds. Jennifer also got interested in her. We went out to Santa Fe and she welcomed us into her gorgeous home with open arms. Jamie was a larger than life character and half the time we would just listen to her long stories. She would cook us meals and take us deep into the Hopi reservation for secret meetings with elders concerning power objects that were supposed to be connected to the Tibetans.
There is a claim in some circles that Tibet and the Southwest communities/tribes exist on opposite sides of the planet, but are joined through the core of the earth by a straight line of energy. Sort of mirrors to each other is one way to put it.
Jamie was also totally into UFO’s and claimed to be present at visits by these mysterious strangers. As I said, a handful, but there was one other thing we learned from this visit. She was sick. She had what she called a stealth virus and was working with some radical medical researchers trying to find a cure. This story linked up with Jennifer’s background in healing and set us on a journey down a challenging rabbit hole. (later story) In this moment though, she was very helpful in fleshing out the story for L&D 2.
What all of this meant was that Jennifer and I spent time in the Southwest visiting the canyon communities and getting briefed on the stories from elders we met.
I even had a native flute made for me that I used at my personal Medicine Wheel ceremonies.
I am not saying we were on the inside. Whites, no matter what their intentions are, find themselves held at arm’s length by both the Navajo and Hopi. Rightly so. The history of what we did to their culture is our own American genocide tale. We are still living it today.
Laguna Beach was beautiful. As a result we had lots of visitors, family and friends. Jennifer also organized my 50th birthday party there. Really the last one I celebrated. The guest list was a who’s who of my Hollywood network. And the ones that couldn’t be there sent remembrances. We went with a Of Light and Darkness theme.
My Mothers Next Beau
Mother had adjusted to not having Patrick with her. She shouldered forward. but he would never be forgotten. One day when I was talking to her, she said “have I ever told you about Don?” This was so unexpected from my mother, but I played along.
Don was a boy she had known at the Presidio during the summer she met my Dad. The way she told it both their pictures were on her dresser that summer. She eventually chose Dad, but Don was an army brat as well and it turned out he had been asking about her at a couple of the reunions many years later.
The last thing my mother wanted to do was get married again, but they connected. That began a wonderful late chapter of her life. As fate would have it Don liked all the fine things, food, opera, and theatre that my Mother did. Patrick had tried to do those things with her, but it was not his strong suit.
Don’s wife of 50 years had died about the same time as Patrick, so here they were looking across the dance floor again. My mother made it very clear she did not want to get married, but some companionship would be nice. This began five years of a new man in her life and ours. Don was very gracious, and although he was not Pat, we were happy our mother was jumping in the pool again.
Orange County Unsettled
I was spending way too many hours at work and although we continued to enjoy the beach life, something was stirring again. Two years in, Interplay was turning out to be a kind of lie. Jennifer also was not finding her feet and Matthew was having issues in school. In addition, there was continuing divorce fallout with Ed and Jennifer’s health kind of wobbled in and out. Certainly there were emotional and psychological tensions emerging, but I figured we push through it, get my payout from Interplay and move on to what was next.
That turned out to be somewhat of a false narrative. Brian had seduced me with the story that Interplay was going public and my stock would really be worth something. A real cash out move. The reality was that there was all this financial tension at the company, and little progress being made towards going public.
We would have these long meetings with accountants who kept demanding I come up with numbers and production plans for the next 5 years. This was a big undertaking and in my mind not very productive. The numbers more than a year out meant nothing. I let my displeasure be known to Brian and other officers, but I thought as long as I delivered L&D and Vulcan Fury all would be good.
The problem with that perspective is that it turned out delivering those games was not a high priority for the company. I had been through this before as Cinemaware got ready for the sale to Sony. In those times, the numbers (whether they are real or not) are all that matter. I kept getting into these fire fights with bean counters as I tried to finish the games. I also picked up they were having trouble with the offering and I had some idea (although never proven) that Brian was taking money out the back door of the company for his own purposes. The whole thing began to feel like a lie. It turned out they had hired me for how my resume looked, not what I could produce. That would have been fine if the myriad of potential investors were buying the Interplay story. They were not.
And old pattern came up for me again. I got more and more irritated, sometimes very much so. I was feeling totally frustrated so I just raised my voice. That did not endear me to the higher ups including Brian. I think he sensed I knew something was up and kept looking away when I would ask about it. Against this backdrop I finished L&D and went out on the road doing press previews. Vulcan Fury was still in early development. When I returned, two weeks before L&D released they fired me. First time I had ever been fired.
I can’t say I was totally shocked, but in hindsight I think they believed they had used up all my value, and wanted to cut costs to make the numbers look better. I had also become more and more difficult to deal with. Had I played the game better would this have happened? You never know, but Interplay never went public and a few years later the board kicked Brian out for lying about everything. He walked away with a pile I am sure, but as his parting shot to me Interplay did not pay out my contract like it was legally supposed to do. They paid half and said “sue us”.
Vulcan Fury, as a result of me not directing, never got finished either. Many years later on the 50th anniversary of the original show, a reporter called me about “the greatest Star Trek game never completed”. I did the interview, feeling somewhat sad about the way that ended.
The chapter was clearly ending. Laguna was not the long play for us, but the change had come earlier than I wanted. And there was no buyout to set us up. In all the dark lords I worked for in Hollywood, not one of them betrayed me like Brian. Lesson learned. I had made this decision knowing he was capable of this kind of behavior, but looked the other way because of the potential payout. Not completely true motivations on my part and getting fired may have been a way the universe was saying to me… get on with what you really want to do.
But if not Laguna... Then Where?
Jennifer, Matt and I had visited Whidbey Island which is a ferry ride north-west of Seattle. Her whole family lived there. The island was classic Northwest beautiful.
The mountains rising from the shining sea, whales and salmon in the channels and lots of good coffee to ward off the light deprived depression. It was one of the places we had talked about in addition to Boulder Colorado that we would consider living after Laguna.
As I drove home that day, I thought about other possibilities and honestly couldn’t think of another interactive entertainment company in Hollywood I wanted to work for. Jennifer was also restless for some place safer. It turned out the Laguna I had remembered as quiet artists’ colony in the 1970's had turned into a bustling beach community with all the inerrant problems. While we were living there a child had been abducted as he walked to the beach just down the road from us.
Besides I was curious about the Internet at this point. Seattle was home to Microsoft and lots of software startups that were in the middle of a crash course about what to do with it. Even though I knew island life was a California fantasy, I felt pulled to do something completely different. As Jennifer picked up the phone I simply said…”I think its Whidbey.”