Monthly Archives: February 2012

Years on the Inside

Many people are aware of Nintendo’s ill-fated stab at 3D game play, the Virtual Boy. But few have heard about  Illustr8’s attempt at a fully immersive gaming experience. Much like Nintendo, they attempted a very ambitious project with technology that was not fully developed or realized.

Illustr8 was primarily an educational game company, churning out text adventures in the mid-to-late eighties, but it was their attempt to corner the market on a new fad that would lead to their dissolution and infamy.  “Virtual reality” gaming experiences had been around for a year or so at the time, booths set up at state fairs and tech conventions. A lead developer for Illustr8(whose identity has never been confirmed) experienced a booth one year and brought a new idea back to his fellow developers. They would make the first “totally submersive” arcade experience, according to a memo that popped up in a few court cases.

The situation was often hit by setbacks and stagnation. Long after VR games had fallen out of vogue and the first home “3D” consoles had gained in popularity, Illustr8 still struggled with their magnum opus.  Finally, after years of development, a single prototype booth was ready for beta-testing.

Fellow designers Rick Oscen and Tom Ballard have both gone on record accusing the other of inducing programmer Ned Bates to be the first guinea pig, neither claim has been substantially proven. The only thing that is certain is that hours later, they managed to get the booth open again and extract Ned, who was by this time “coated in vomit”

OSCEN: you realize we never installed anything like a locking mechanism. We weren’t stupid, we allowed for cases where the faint-of-heart and those prone to epileptic fits could be extricated easily and with no fuss.

THE COURT: then why the alleged difficulty of opening doors?

OSCEN: it took us a while to figure it out, too. Turns out they were holding the doors closed. And we only really caught on when Ted Jackson nearly got his arm ripped off.

(Excerpt from court transcript)

To this day no one cohesive story has been pieced together of actual game content employed by the booth. Oscen swears that the company was attempting its first ever rail-shooter, Ballard that it was a side scrolling beat’em up. Other employees have replies ranging from serious (light-gun shooter) to probably sarcastic (“hell”)

Unable to get Bates to talk about his experiences or rouse him from his apparent stupor, no further testing was attempted while they committed Ned to the hospital. The next tester, Rhoda Jenkins, was part of the scripting team. She is currently undergoing treatment for PTSD and severe claustrophobia. She is still unwilling to talk about her experience inside “the hate box”(as it came to be known) except for one in response to an offhand comment that she was “only a few hours” inside the machine. Rhoda was heard to reply “longer than that” but refused to further elaborate.

Illustr8 was a relatively unknown company at the time with a fairly isolated headquarters, which may go some way towards explaining why the “tests” went on for as long as they did. Tom Ballard has gone on record to say that “after a while, we just started sticking people in there to see what would happen.” When asked why neither of the two lead developers ever entered the machine, both Ballard and Oscen have replied to the effect of “someone had to stay outside.”(Greenfield 30)

Testers were required to stay in the booth anywhere from three to thirty hours at a time. Symptoms of a term in the box ranged from catatonia, convulsions, violent outbursts, to total mental shutdown. Usually they were found “curled up in a corner like lab rats”(DNE6) but a few had different responses. Mark Bronwell  launched himself at the beta team once the door was forced open. An unnamed female employee(dubbed “the coffee girl” by Oscen and Ballard) was found clinging upside-down to the ceiling of the booth, staring at the demo team. She took half an hour to extricate because she was “creeping everyone out and no one wanted to touch her.”(DNE 18)

However, employee reaction was not always severe. Often, if the stay in the booth did not exceed a few hours, the employee recovered enough that they were deemed fit for work again even though they now suffered from paranoia and claustrophobia. One employee gave anonymous testimony at the trial:

EMPLOYEE: that door shut and you were alone in there. Just…cut off. From everything. You had no outside frame of reference or anything like that.

THE COURT: were any employees wearing a watch at the time of their stay in the booth?

EMPLOYEE: (laughs nervously) yeah, not that it did anything. You weren’t …they weren’t right on the inside. Time went wrong…you ended up smashing ‘em anyway, because it didn’t like them.

THE COURT: I’m sorry, what didn’t like them?

EMPLOYEE: (whispering) they told him he’d be fine, you know that? They’d already pushed him in once, then they did it again. Guess they wanted to finish the job. (begins laughing hysterically)

THE COURT: what are you talking about?

(whereupon EMPLOYEE continues laughter until a paramedic is called forward and sedates them)

(Excerpt from court transcript)

The “him” in the testimony undoubtedly refers to Anthony Prentiss, the only employee to go into the booth a second time and the reason for Illustr8’s eventual dissolution. He was, in Ballard’s words “the best of the flock” that had survived the experience with relatively little mental trauma. They packed some survival supplies into a duffel bag and gave a number of timepieces to Prentiss to have on his person at all times. At 4:30 July 25, Anthony Prentiss entered the booth for a second time. Three days later, an employee called the police.

Tom Ballard: the thing you have to understand is we didn’t really know what we were doing at that point. You do something for so long you stop wondering about the reasons behind it. I think we were all just sitting around, waiting for him to come out of that thing.  No one had even thought about calling the police, no one even suggested it. Gave me a real start when they showed up.(DNE 48)

Squad cars responding to the call found the game company’s headquarters mostly deserted, as the employees gathered in the testing room at the end of the building. According to the police report the employees were “grouped around a booth, watching it in complete silence.” A total evacuation was called in, and the jaws of life were used to open the booth. Immediately after, paramedics were summoned. The coroner’s report has yet to be released.

Both the bottles of water and the various sealed food packages were untouched, but death has been attributed to neither dehydration nor starvation. One officer at the scene commented that it Prentiss appeared “welded” to the wall of the machine, upon extrication the body promptly “fell apart.” Ballard and Oscen were escorted from the scene in handcuffs. Illustr8 was quickly dissolved; those employees still capable of functioning in the work force went on to careers in other areas than game development, the rest were committed to various mental institutions. When sought after for comments, most employees have been notoriously close-mouthed on their experiences, either out of perceived loyalty to the developers or perhaps mental trauma. One of the only direct descriptions of the experience was given by the anonymous court employee during the trial of Ballard and Oscen:

It’s like…it’s like a punishment, in there. Like you don’t know what you did wrong but you’re hurting and something’s making you hurt and you can’t fight back and you can’t hit it and eventually you get to thinking you deserve it

Both developers were found guilty of reckless endangerment and manslaughter. Oscen had his sentence shortened for good behavior and is currently out of prison, working somewhere in Dayton, Ohio. Ballard just recently made his fifth appeal, rejected as well.  After many court trials, a documentary(“The Hell Box” Pine Creek Video, MN) and countless articles, there is still much left unanswered about the Box, an independent games company’s first, and last, foray into other areas of gaming. No source has yet come forward with the current whereabouts of the booth.

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Diary of the Flood

August 3rd

My dad went crazy today.

My mom says he’s having a midlife crisis. I dunno, don’t most guys with a midlife crises just get really fat and start tanning a lot? They don’t just start shouting that god spoke to them and they’re a biblical prophet in the middle of Kmart. Whatever it is, he won’t let it go. He keeps getting all these tools and aluminum siding to build a boat. I’d like to see that. The only other thing he’s ever built is my clubhouse, and that thing collapsed after a month.

Mom says we just have to bear it until she can convince him to get help. It’s getting really hard, though, because he keeps introducing himself as the chosen man to my friends, the mailman, even policemen. It’s just embarrassing when he refers to me as the scion of the prophet to impress girls for me, but it gets way worse when he starts trying to get them to come on the boat with him.

He’s started all these new house rules too. He put the recliner on the coffee table and called it his throne and we‘re to never move it under pain of death. It’s right in front of the sofa and it weighs a ton. Mike started crying when he couldn’t watch Tom and Jerry and dad yelled at him for not having faith.

I’m getting really sick of that line. Pissed because he hogged the last of the milk and won’t get off his ass to go to the store? Lack of faith. Ask him to shower because his funk is making the house unlivable? He has higher things in mind. Refuse to bring my friends over so he can shower them with wisdom? I’m ungrateful at the lord’s power.

14th

He’s been getting worse. Mom finally made him sit down with Pastor John, I think that’s what set him off.

I wasn’t there, I took Mikey to the park so if anything went down he wouldn’t have to see. What I gathered after is that dad went apeshit the moment he knew the pastor was in the house. Pastor John tried to talk to him, but he said it was like trying to talk sense into an angry chimp. He went real red in the face and just started throwing shit at the pastor’s head, and at my mom when she went to call the cops. The pastor left and my dad went to squirrel away on his “boat” while mom had a screaming fit. She was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee and a cigarette. She hasn’t smoked since Mike was born.

She got the two of us together and told us daddy might have to go live somewhere else for a while, somewhere quiet where they can figure out what’s wrong with him. I said I hope they have jackets in his size there. Mom just looked really tired and didn’t say anything.

15th

He finally did it. He ruined mom’s birthday.

It was just a little party with her friends from church, a few relatives that live nearby. Mom doesn’t like big, noisy get-togethers, like dad does. Did.

She was wearing this new dress and she made guacamole. It tasted terrible but I was just glad she cheered up enough to do something.

Her birthday was actually going really well, right up until the point my dad stomped across the yard. Everyone gasped. I guess he was a sight if you hadn’t been there for his breakdown. He was wearing, like, five different teeshirts and his pants were all torn to hell. His stink was pretty much a solid wall around him by then. He walked right up to my mom and started screaming in her face and calling her “apostate whore.”

My mom just kind of stood there in her party dress, crying, until he called her worthless for the fourth time and then she ran inside and locked the door after her. I got one of his old golf clubs and went to kneecap him. He kept dancing out of the way, so Uncle Eric got him in a headlock for me. The party was pretty much over by then. Dad got taken away in a police car. He tried to press assault charges against me, but no one would back him up on it so it was just him. Uncle Eric and grandma went to sit with my mom for a while and Mike helped me clean up the party stuff.

My dad wasn’t always such an asshole, was he? I can’t tell if I’m just now noticing, that he’s always been like this, or if it’s just a sudden change. Maybe he was always like this, and I was just oblivious.

Whatever. I just hope he doesn’t come back again.

17th

He’s out on bail. He came by the house to chew out mom, but we were all waiting for him.

My mom said we’re getting a divorce.

He said you can’t do this.

She said I pretty much have to, this is unbearable.

He said you divorce me you’re going to hell, I guarantee you that.

Uncle Eric chimed in at this point and told him to please whip out a defense like that in court, it would make things go so much faster. Dad didn’t have much to say about that, because Uncle Eric’s a big guy and my dad’s a chickenshit. So finally he agreed to it but said he wanted to finish his boat first. Eric said get that eyesore off the lawn and you can do whatever the hell you want with it.

Me and Uncle Eric spent a lot of last night trying to shift it, but the thing weighs a ton. I don’t know how my dad thinks it’ll float, he doesn’t really know anything about building or floatation or stuff like that. I’ve seen three-year-olds make better boats out of modeling clay.

My dad just kept muttering under his breath. I knew that he wouldn’t call uncle Eric names to his face, and right after he left dad went off. My mom calmly waited through all his crap and then told him he’d be living somewhere else from now on.

Dad said but this is my house. My signature’s on the lease.

Mom said mine is too. I want you to go find somewhere else to be crazy and taker your boat with you, I’m not putting up with it any more.

Dad said fine, but he was spending the night in this house. And I guess mom was tired by now because he kept pushing and she finally said yes. But he had to sleep on the couch, he wasn’t coming anywhere near her until he took five baths. I could hear him crying like a little baby from my room. Mikey got up in the middle of the night to get into bed with me so I yelled at him to shut up and let people sleep. He just cried louder, but I think he was forcing it by now. Thank god for headphones. I woke up with System of a Down blasting so loud I didn’t hear the shouting in the yard until I tore them out of my ears.

Mikey threw up sometime in the night. I think it’s mostly just stress from having a nutbar as a dad. My mom was trying to get him to pack his shit while she took Mike to the clinic, said she wanted him gone by dinnertime, understand?

My dad was sulking and muttering under his breath. He went and sat down in the shade of his boat when my mom left, he’s there right now.

I’m worried. He reminds me of that guy, John Lits or List or something like that. He woke up one day, had breakfast, and then shot his whole family. The thing I hear about guys like that is they don’t consider their families as people with their own thoughts and feelings, but part of them, like organs that have to take all their shit. My dad thinks like that. I can tell.

He keeps looking up at the sky now. Beseeching, I think they call it. I wonder if god told him he’s a loon too?

16th?(written on an endpaper torn from a book)

I can’t believe it. I can’t fucking believe it. The old bastard was right.

He must’ve got the jump on me while I had my headphones on, my head still hurts. I woke up on this piece of shit hours ago and still feel like puking. There’s water everywhere and still rising. Mom’s gone. Mikey’s gone. All that I have left in the world is this crazy fucker.

He’s down “below deck” right now. I said he didn’t know boats, right? He really doesn’t. At least he’s got a pump set up as a bailer, but he’s just shoving shit in the cracks like that’ll save us. We’re sitting really low in the water. Every once in a while we bump into something and the whole thing just shudders and stops. I figured out that these were the tops of houses, so we’re about twenty-five, twenty feet above ground.

I’ll never see my mom again. I’ll never see my little brother again. I’ll never see my friends again.

I wonder if dad can even see down there, his boner probably takes up most of the room. Fuck, I’m too tired for this.

Later:

I can sit up without puking. He’s fucking lucky that I’m too sick, too sick to help means too sick to beat his ass too. He deserves it. Smug bastard’s been at the front of the ship, just crowing down at people.

I hope it was quick. It probably wasn’t quick enough, though.

We keep going in circles because he doesn’t know how to steer a ship either. I’d go help him, but I don’t feel like getting up just now. I saw the rudder before it went into the water, he built it wrong anyway. We can’t go straight unless we hi to the left to make up for the curve.

goddammit fucking puke again

19th?(inside a dust jacket)

Shoulda known the dumb bastard wouldn’t know how to pack. He took a bunch of food from the refrigerator, didn’t even bring a cooler to keep it in. the lettuce is pretty much slime now, and the cheese is all soft and sweaty. He just keeps saying the lord will provide, and I finally snapped and told him the lord should provide a fucking ball gag for his giant fucking mouth. He just shrugged it off, I guess his ego is still healthy.

Later:

Well, either he was right or god is just fucking with us now. Someone’s backpack and a cooler floated near enough to snag with the boat hook. The backpack had a box of crackers that dissolved from the water and half a pack of slim jims. The cooler was full of Frescas. Diet Frescas. I think god thinks you need to lose some weight I said, and he hit me with the boathook. Fucker. He sulked all the way to the other side of the boat and ate all the slim jims. That sure showed me.

Later:

he told me I’m supposed to turn over any food I find to him. Yeah fucking right. The idiot doesn’t know shit about rationing, and he thinks the Fresca’s will prevent dehydration. It’s like being stuck on a boat with a three year old.

30th?

We’ve been out for a while now and we haven’t seen anyone else, until today.

Which is really weird, because don’t you think that other people would’ve been quick enough? There had to be some people who were near a fishing shop, or one of those army supply places, and grabbed a few inflatable boats and some supplies. Was it really that fast? Fuck, I don’t know.

We found her out by the old water tower. She was clinging to the top and trying to keep her head above water. Dad wanted to just snag her with the boathook because we wouldn’t be able to get close enough because this thing steers like a fucking cow, but I talked him into tying a rope to the cooler and throwing it out to her. It took three tries but we got her.

She’s young. I’d say a few years younger than me. She had this pretty little thin brown face, I couldn’t tell where she was from. She couldn’t speak English, she just kept saying shit in this really rapid fire language like water. She didn’t need to speak English to understand the look my father was giving her, though. He called her Eve and when I tried to push him away he backhanded me like a girl. Fuck, I have to sleep outside and listen to that balding fuck got to town on a little girl. What the hell happened?

????(written on the wrapper from a flat of fig newtons)

It just goes on and on. We sail and sail but there’s just flat nothing. I try talking to her but she just keeps her eyes cast down and won’t respond. I really hope she doesn’t think I condone what that fucker does. He keeps whistling and fiddling with the rigging. He doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. The sail keeps collapsing because he doesn’t know how boats work. I think I’m getting scurvy, my teeth feel all loose and bloody.

All we get is the shit that floats, all the prepackaged junk food. I haven’t had a solid shit in weeks. I keep telling him the water around us isn’t safe to drink, but he does anyway and he makes her drink too. Bastard. She didn’t do anything to deserve this.

I think of mom down there, floating like a leaf through a drowned city. You’d think there’d be bodies. Drowned people float, don’t they? It’s like the whole world left us to be alone with this asshole. I might deserve it, just a little bit, but I can’t think of what a girl that age would’ve done.

Later:

fuck i cant do this fuck shes pregnant FUCK

No date(written on a bit of canvas from a sail)

I did it I’m going to hell and I don’t care do you here me I don’t care she’s free she’s where that fucker can’t touch her anymore.

She was asleep in his bed, he was down below fixing cracks that keep popping up(he’s gonna run out of caulking eventually haha fucker) her belly hasn’t started to show yet. I think she knew what I was there for, she woke up with me looking down on her and she didn’t scream she didn’t even scream, she just looked at me with those big sad eyes and said nothing. I hope it was quick enough.

I’m sorry.

I’m taking off the fix I made for the rudder he can swim in circles for eternity I hope he gets to spend the rest of eternity alone with no one to tel he’s right, he’ll fucking starve anyway but before that I hope he gets scurvy.

Carved into the wood of the cabin door:

fuck you you hateful fuck how old was she thirteen forteen but you dint care you just stuck it in her how many wives did god promise you bet that was a disappointment I’m going now I’m going to find mom and mikey and we’re going to laugh at you from underwater enjoy being the last man on earth you selfish prick I’m not your organ fuck cant write curves

Scrap of paper on a makeshift rowboat:

Fuck im away, feel so free. I took food with me and I broke the ship and he’s just going to die on his own bastard deserves to be alone. I ate all the food already and drank the water but still no sign of land water just keeps rising maybe this was supposed to happen, maybe he was wrong and the right people are down there. Going into the water, see if I can find them

Later:

I hope its quick

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Lycoperdon pseudopolis

From the diaries of Henri Smythe

From the diaries of Henri Smythe

Name: “City” fungus

Latin: Lycoperdon pseudopolis

Habitat: widespread, though it prefers “waste” ground and vacant plots.

Habits: develops as mycelium underground over the course of centuries, once the sporocarp develops the fungus detaches itself from the ground, often taking large portions of the surrounding area with it.

Reproduction: unknown

Edible? chewy

Description: this literal genius loci may remain dormant underground for centuries as mycelium until triggered, whereupon a fruiting body will develop rapidly enough that a city appears “overnight.” The triggering event can be as devastating as a natural disaster or as seemingly benign as someone digging a well in the wrong spot, but once triggered growth is exponential. The largest sporocarp on record measured appr. 568  km² , but they vary widely in size from the “hamlet”(pseudopolis  pagus) to the “metropolis”(pseudopolis  urbanus) which possesses outgrowths that rival the Empire State Building. Oddly enough, while the mushroom has an uncanny resemblance to human structure no “live” presence has ever been detected on one.

The fungi will inevitably drift towards the sea as the end of its life cycle nears and it loses altitude, but there have been occasions where the biomass falls just short of its destination. Memorable occurrences include the defoliated suburb of New Brunswick and “the Minsk Incident.” No first-hand account of such a “fall” has ever been recovered.

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