Somehow I managed to recover Mike H's interview from the late BYONDcel project, which unfortunatly was lost due to my failing to back up my sources.
I'm going to post it here for reference! If you haven't read it before, enjoy!
How did you come across BYOND?
I've known about BYOND or its predecessors for over 10 years now. I was a fellow physics major in college with Tom and Dan, and I found out about their little project over the summer of 1995. A bunch of us were living and working on campus that summer, and Tom happened to share the apartment next to us. My roommates and I spent a lot of time over there, playing poker, watching Beavis & Butthead, and getting in trouble with the Dean's office. Good times.
I don't recall seeing Dan around much that summer, but the impression was that he was also somewhere near campus.
I can still remember Tom demoing an early version of Dung for us on his SGI, and we were all quite impressed. Apparently Dan was connected in from somewhere else, making his character move around on Tom's screen. Way cool. My roommate Chris, a very talented artist, spent a good chunk of his free time creating icons for Dung that summer. I believe many of those icons made it into the Step BYOND tutorial.
We all graduated in 1996, suddenly thrust out into the Real World. Most of us, afraid of a little poverty, found jobs working for The Man. But not Tom and Dan! They boldly set out to turn DUNG into the multi-billion dollar enterprise they knew it could be. Well, either that or it was just a convenient excuse not to get a job. Very clever! I kinda wished I'd thought of something like that.
Shortly before graduation, I found out that fellow classmate Nemo was planning to share an apartment with Tom, and they were looking for a third roommate to help keep the rent down. Nemo had gotten a job working for the same company as me, so it was a perfect fit. We found a place really close to work (location didn't matter much to Tom, as he would spend his hours in the apartment, slaving away on DUNG) and moved in shortly after graduating.
It was a 2 bedroom apartment, and somehow I got the short end of the stick, so I slept on the couch in the living room while Nemo and Tom each got one of the bedrooms. I guess it made sense that Tom would get a bedroom because his schedule was literally opposite of ours - as Nemo and I got up for work at 7 in the morning, Tom would be just wrapping up a long night of coding and getting ready for bed.
Tom and Dan seemed to be making good progress on their project, especially considering that Dan was usually either halfway across the country in Wisconsin, or halfway around the world in India (the India thing actually worked quite well, because with Tom's nocturnal schedule, they were both online at the same time each day). Yet it never seemed to get finished, so our friends soon started to joke that the product should be called DUNG 2000 -- because it wouldn't be done until then. We thought we were being funny.
Tom moved out of the apartment after about a year, and then I was no longer exposed to DUNG on a daily basis. Throughout that whole year, I hadn't ever bothered to sit down and learn the language to create something of my own. It seemed like a nice little program, and Tom had shown us some cool demos, but I never really gave it a good look. It wasn't until some years later, in early 2001, that I finally decided to begin working on my own BYOND project (DUNG had become BYOND in late 1999).
I don't recall what actually sparked my interest at that time, other than I'd decided I finally wanted to play a networked version of Uno. I couldn't believe there were none out there. Obviously BYOND was the clear choice, so I studied some tutorials and the reference, and within a week Una was born. It also helped that I had direct personal access to the BYOND developers for bug reports and help!
The thing that really struck me when making Una was just how incredibly powerful this system was. I knew that Tom and Dan were really smart, but I was truly blown away when I actually started using BYOND. I had no idea its language was that rich, or that its features were that well developed. All this time it had been sitting under my nose... This is what really motivated me to become more involved in BYOND, both as a game developer and in any other way I could help. More than ever, I felt that this system deserved to succeed.
How did you become part of BYOND's development, and what exactly does Mike do?
Over the years, I had done a few things here and there to help out - some work initially developing the dantom.com website, the Dantom and Dung logos, and even some original MIDI files (some of which also made it into early tutorials like Step BYOND). All of that was done while sharing the apartment with Tom in 1996-97. I even made the graphics for Dung-Man during that period, even though the game itself wouldn't be written until about 4 years later. Actually, I think Tom may have written a little demo in DUNG's language at the time using those.
Just for fun, I dug up an early version of the Dantom website that I made during that time. If you check out the "Reviews" page under "Games", the guy on top is Chris, our icon-making friend mentioned above. Needless to say, we ultimately felt that particular page wasn't fit for public consumption. :)
I didn't really become part of "BYOND Staff" until late 2002, when Tom and Dan were looking for some help with various server and community tasks so they could continue to focus on the software. The BYOND community was growing by leaps and bounds, and they no longer had the time to give attention to every detail, as they had in the old days. So a few of us (none with business degrees, I think!) were initially brought on board to help discuss the "business" aspects of BYOND. Deadron and I were also given access to the BYOND source code so that we could start upgrading the website.
I spent the next few months learning my way around the website back-end code, as well as designing a new HTML layout for the site. One thing I can say is that Dan's a brilliant programmer, but boy, he doesn't use comments! That made it more difficult to learn, but in the end I probably understood it better, since I was forced to trace through the logic and figure out for myself exactly what was going on (the same process continues today, whenever I need to look at a part of the BYOND code I'm not terribly familiar with). Finally by March 2003 we were ready to flip the switch and put up a completely overhauled website broken into 2 sites -- one for games and one for developers.
Since then, I've worked on a variety of tasks to help keep BYOND moving forward in any way I can. By far my biggest priority is keeping the server running well. That's an ongoing battle, as there are always areas where we can improve efficiency, and the growing community continues to stress resources at peak times. And even aside from optimization, I'd say that 80-90% of the work on our server is done by me. Everything from website setup and content to backups, maintenance and functionality upgrades.
My recent work has included:
# Updates to BYOND's core functionality (world.hub_password, etc)
# Website and hub updates
# BYOND icons and logos
# Some features for the Members site (Deadron did most of the work there)
# October contest help
# Contest t-shirts
# BYOND Store items
About the only thing I don't do is Windows development.
Why the transition from Air Mapster to Mike H.?
Air Mapster was a silly name created for a silly website. When I started using BYOND, I figured this was as good as any other name for me to use here, both as a player and a game developer. But when I became an "official" member of BYOND staff, I felt like I should just use my own name in this new capacity. Otherwise it would be kind of like the CEO of Intel going by "SuperCoolDudeLolz" in all his official transactions. Kinda silly. The key "Mike" had already been taken, so I added my last initial.
If I ever get back to game development (2001 was pretty good for me in that regard, but I haven't done much since), I'll probably release new games under the Air Mapster key. I do have a few things in progress, but unfortunately just haven't had time to work on them. If only I didn't need a real job to make money...
What's the history behind "Bike Gods"?
First off, it's "BIKE GODS". ;) (Burn! Sorry, Mike. :( )
Some friends and I started going mountain biking in the hills of southern California in 1999 as a fun weekend activity. By late '99, four of us were going on a pretty regular basis, with a few others joining in from time to time. At the time, we were calling it BIKE Club (that movie "Fight Club" must have been popular at the time).
After I got my digital camera in May 2000, I started bringing it along on rides to document our mad biking skillz. The obvious next step was to put up a website for all the world to see. Unfortunately, all permutations of "BIKE Club" as .com, .net, or .org domains were already taken. After much discussion, we finally settled on bikegods.org because of its inherent braggadocio, and the BIKE GODS were born.
Of course, we all had to have crazy BIKE GOD names for the site. Byondo was obvious. I was Air Mapster because I could jump on my bike and I was good at following maps (actually I think I'm just normal at that; Byondo and Zippy MacPhee are just really bad at it). Zippy MacPhee never used the brakes on downhills, achieving insanely fast speeds. TsaiBorg was almost literally a machine - he would swim every morning at ungodly hours and was in phenomenal shape. We're pretty sure that going on rides with us actually worsened his physical conditioning because he spent so much time waiting for us to catch up on those hills. I'm not sure where Bootyboy came from, but that's ok, because he's also a BYOND Member.
Over the next year and a half, we documented 37 mountain biking events with amazing pictures and videos. It was all real, including this, this, and this. Really. We even made a 2001 calendar that we printed up and gave to friends and family. I think I may still have a few extra copies in a closet somewhere... anyone want a 2001 calendar?
Unfortunately we all got busy, lazy, and out of shape. Rides became less frequent, and now I think it's been 1 or 2 years since we last went. Pretty pathetic. One of these days I'm gonna dust the cobwebs off my bike and get back out there. Really!
Where did you get Bruno from?
Bruno came from the Hearts For Hounds dog rescue in Long Beach, California. Apparently his original owners kept him locked up in a cage outside all the time because they were only interested in breeding him for the big money that Pug puppies can sell for. What jerks. I'm a firm believer that pets should be a part of the family, not lawn furniture or security guards. Luckily for Bruno, the rescuers convinced his owners to give him up since they didn't really care about him.
My wife has always loved Pugs, so one day I was looking on Petfinder to look for Pugs in our area, when I came across Bruno. We called the shelter, went to go meet him, and immediately fell in love. He was the perfect little Puggy gentleman. He stayed at the shelter for another week, getting over a respiratory infection, before we took him home. He's been our child ever since, and we're just happy to give him a much better life than he had before. He's brought so much joy to ours.
Did anything ever come from the stolen iPod?
No, unfortunately my place of work doesn't seem to take thefts very seriously. This seems odd, considering that we are a contractor to the Department of Defense. Security is supposed to be a big deal around here.
As I noted in my blog, the iPod was stolen one evening when I had left it in a locked computer lab for about 20 minutes. I kept hoping I had just misplaced it, but 2 weeks later we had a hard drive stolen from one of the computers in that same lab. This time, the thief actually shutdown the machine, opened it up, and pulled the drive out, leaving the computer unbootable when we came in the next morning. That was enough to convince me that it was the same person who took my iPod.
Because the hard drive theft was government property, we were able to get the head of Security to come down and investigate. He took down some information about the affected computer, probably to write up a report, and that was it. He didn't seem to care to do any further investigation. He did give us the ok to hook up some webcams in the lab in case the thief came back, but unfortunately there were no more incidents.
The night of the last theft, we had been running some data processing overnight on that computer, saving to an external RAID set. Once we got the machine back online, we checked the output directory on the RAID set and pinpointed the exact time the computer must have gone down based on when data stopped: 9:30 at night. We told the security guy, but he didn't seem to care. We estimated that he could probably narrow the possible suspects down to a dozen or less, based on how many people would have been at the plant at that time of night, and how many of those would have been logged into secure areas elsewhere. Didn't care.
I've been limping along with my older iPod, which has a bad hard drive. Some days it's ok, others it doesn't even want to boot up. And lately I've been driving a rental car with only a CD player (my car's in the shop for awhile due to an accident), so no iPod there. What a pain it is to be changing CDs all the time!
If Apple ever fixes my big pet peeve with the iPod, I'll probably buy a new one.
What are your feelings about BYOND's current developments?
First of all, I'm thrilled at the success of BYOND Members. It's not enough to pay any staff member's living expenses, but it should cover some basic operational costs this year, which is certainly an improvement over the past. More importantly, it shows how much the community has come together to support this project. That's very encouraging!
I think 2006 is going to be a big year for BYOND. BYOND 4.0 has been in the works for quite a long time now, but things are finally coming together for that. As Tom has already explained, the interface changes will give developers the ability to make more professional looking games. Along with this, we're working on some new changes that will make the website much easier to navigate. With that, we hope to expand the BYOND audience and give not only ourselves, but all the game developers an opportunity for greater exposure and success.
Where is Mike going to be in the future of BYOND?
Hopefully sitting on a huge pile of cash. :)
Seriously, I'd love to see BYOND become a profitable business to the point that we can hire at least a few people full time. If I could quit my job and work on BYOND full time without taking a major pay cut, I'd be absolutely ecstatic (finally my wife wouldn't bug me about spending too much free time on BYOND!). I think it's pretty clear that nobody on this project is doing it to get stinking rich (it would have been abandoned years ago if that were true), but it's difficult to move things forward quickly when we all have other obligations sucking up our time. Covering basic operating expenses was the first step towards this. As we grow the audience and offer a better experience in BYOND 4.0, we can take the next step (which, like many things in BYOND, has been in planning stages for a while now).
If we can push forward to that point, I'd certainly like to be one of BYOND's full time employees. I imagine that I'd be doing much the same kind of work I do now, only being able to spend a majority of my time on it. Extra time for BYOND may also give me some time to get back into game development, but in a more official capacity (wouldn't it be cool if we could offer services to port existing games at the request of copyright owners?). My crystal ball doesn't tell me how soon any of this might happen, but either way I expect to be involved with BYOND for quite some time to come. Maybe even working on a proper Mac port if it can move up the priority list. :)
Jun 11 2006, 11:08 pm