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The Last Thing You'll Ever Desire
October 23, 2012 5:26 AM   Subscribe

Derek Smart has been making games for over 20 years. He sold his first games in plastic baggies at hobby stores. Yet his longevity is somewhat of an anachronism. Many gamers today don't even know who is is, in spite of the fact that his games have sold well enough to keep his company in business since 1992. And the games themselves, well they're mostly terrible. Especially his first, Battlecruiser 3000AD. The Verge takes an in-depth look at the hotheaded perfectionist millionaire game developer whose impenetrable, terminally overhyped games sparked one of the most legendary flamewars in internet history.
posted by Rhaomi (35 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Gamers don't know who Derek Smart is?

Can I get a trigger warning on facts that make me feel old?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:30 AM on October 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


This is the dichotomy of Derek Smart. He may be the most hated man in games, but he is also one of the most honest.

FPP needs a satire tag.
posted by kithrater at 5:46 AM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


aaah, BC3k, instant nostalgia for comp.sys.ibm-pc.games.strategy. I think I still got it somewhere once it was given away on a demo pc with an issue of Strategy Computer Games or what it was called.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:46 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Back in the day, when I was editing video game user manuals and strategy guides for a small publisher, I used to steal the boss' time with visits to comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.space-sim ("market research, boss!"), keeping up with the doings of Mr Smart and the Detractors.

Good times.

Nice to read he's still kicking.
posted by notyou at 5:47 AM on October 23, 2012


Derek Smart, Derek Smart, DEREK SMART!. Just about the only thing I know about the guy.
posted by the dief at 5:59 AM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


You have just summoned him. I look forward to returning in the afternoon to find Metafilter a flaming ruin.
posted by selfnoise at 6:14 AM on October 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


The most hated man in games?

How about Uwe Boll? Jack Thompson? Handsome Jack, if we're going fictional?
posted by Foosnark at 6:25 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why was an "unplayable" game given a 2.6 rating?
posted by cribcage at 6:53 AM on October 23, 2012


Because that's how game reviews work. I have seen people complain about a game being given a 3/10 for being "merely" terrible, because a score that low should be reserved for game that's broken on a technical level.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:55 AM on October 23, 2012


I want to see the alternate universe where Kickstarter was around in 1997 and BC3k teamed up with Dwarf Fortress.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:59 AM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh god, Derek Smart....

Usenet sure was interesting back then - I forget the name of the dude, but there was a guy on c.s.i.g.flight-sims that claimed to have been shot down in the first iraq war, and when he got fact checked, flipped out.

Then there was the guy in the airwarrior newsgroup who claimed his dad was a bomber pilot in WWII and had restored and was flying a B-17. He was actually taking money for the restoration, and got in some hot water over that. I guess he still shows up from time to time on the Aces High forums.

But yeah, Derek was king of them all for a while. What a maroon.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:03 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


What a bizarre article. I know that it's standard to try to conform peoples' lives to a Behind The Music-style arc of bottoming-out followed by redemption, but this one is really forced -- the point seems to be that one of the most consistently aggro and irritating assholes in gaming is actually a nice guy because . . . the author sat in a room with him for a little while and had a calm conversation?

Also, PROTIP: None of the genuinely decent and nice people I know actually refer to themselves as nice people. When someone goes around claiming strenuously that they're really nice, you know that you'd better avoid them.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 7:05 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


"One of the most legendary flame wars in internet history"

I was going to snark but it seems superfluous.
posted by yoink at 7:17 AM on October 23, 2012


RobotVoodooPower said it right. Looking back, Smart's promises seemed crazy and impossible. These days, there are at least 2 games (Nethack and Dwarf Fortress) that make BC3k look like the top step at the shallow end of the pool.

But still, he's a millionaire? I wish I could fail upwards like that!
posted by BeeDo at 7:17 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


We're all going to get sued.
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 7:24 AM on October 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Why was an "unplayable" game given a 2.6 rating?

It's actually sort of remarkable the rating was so low. In the ancient days of yore, there was a game called "Outpost" that was released in a pretty thoroughly broken state, large systems of the game either not working or literally missing (there were entire chapters of the manual that were essentially about some fictional game of the same title), etc. PC Gamer at the time gave it a score in the 90 percentiles with Editor's Choice! stamping, having apparently reviewed the version of it that existed inside their imaginations as opposed to the reality of the product. (In retrospect, this not only taught the younger me valuable lessons about media hype about entertainment products, but also taught me a lot later about how people engage with politics and religion.)
posted by Drastic at 7:29 AM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


These days, there are at least 2 games (Nethack and Dwarf Fortress) that make BC3k look like the top step at the shallow end of the pool.

Or the more topically relevant Aurora.

Once you let go of strictly representational graphics, a lot of possibilities open up.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:31 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


But still, he's a millionaire?

He's sitting on 4% of world's GRAR reserves.

Nearly worthless when he invested in the late 1980s, but with the rise of the Internet and the need for GRAR, he did quite well.
posted by zippy at 7:47 AM on October 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


Hah, Outpost. Best part of that game was the reviewer swag.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:53 AM on October 23, 2012


But still, he's a millionaire?

Perhaps BC3K's presence on Wikipedia's list of commercial failures in video gaming is undeserved?
posted by phl at 7:54 AM on October 23, 2012


Ugh, if this guy can make a living out of this, there's no reason I can't.
posted by hellojed at 7:57 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


From the Wikipedia article on the game:

In Take-Two's SEC filings on February 10, 1997, the company stated that Battlecruiser 3000AD accounted for 14.2% of revenue for the fiscal year ending October 31, 1996. The filing also stated that Take-Two "made advances in the aggregate amount of approximately $618,000" for the title.

Thrifty living, good investments, and the miracle of compound interest over 15 years?
posted by zippy at 7:58 AM on October 23, 2012


zippy, yeah, although an advance isn't money in the bank unless the game well sold enough for it to be recouped from royalties - though with the subsequent litigation who knows what actually happened there. I do wonder how many sales that 14% actually represented, back in 1996.
posted by phl at 8:06 AM on October 23, 2012


Reminds me of an old Atari 800XL game by omnitrend called Universe, which had a binder full of a manual and then lots and lots of rather dull screens. You even had to manually work out the correct height to orbit a planet at. I had a knock off copy and never got it to fully work, but it was marvellous in it's own way (and by that I mean I used to really feel as if I was piloting the Nostromo!)
posted by ciderwoman at 8:09 AM on October 23, 2012


I feel like I would actually want to play BC3K, because I kind of like big space-ship simulations, but also (and more importantly) to defeat the dark armada of Admirals Malmsteen and Vai.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:53 AM on October 23, 2012


Don't you mean MetaFilter's own Derek Smart? He'll be signing up soon enough.
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:57 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


although an advance isn't money in the bank unless the game well sold enough for it to be recouped from royalties

Actually, that's not true. In most cases it IS money in the bank. You just won't get any *more* until enough has been recouped. Some contracts require the return of an advance if there aren't X sales by Y date, or if the author is late on delivery (or doesn't adhere to a bunch of other conditions), but often it's open ended, and if the delivery conditions are met, the company just has to write off the advance as a loss.
posted by chimaera at 9:13 AM on October 23, 2012


Pro tip: when a game designer has a PR handler, that game designer is a hot mess.
posted by ellF at 9:18 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Back in 2000, the man "so dangerously smart the Government made him put the word right in his name" apparently had $100,000 lying around to drop on licensing the Serious Sam engine:

In other interview news, the normally reclusive Dr. Derek Smart, PhD has taken time out from working on fifteen different games all about operating a spreadsheet in space to announce that he has licensed Croteam's Serious Engine. What's he going to use it for? Beats him. It appears to have been an impulse buy. (Link to Old Man Murray may be NSFW.)
posted by straight at 9:28 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh god. The memories.

The only dude rivaling Smart for sheer insanity is the guy behind Grimoire.
posted by Justinian at 9:33 AM on October 23, 2012


Old Man Murray? That takes me back. I didn't know it was possible to have nostalgia about reading about the various fuck-ups of the gaming industry.

Next thing you know there's going to be an FPP about Fucked Company.
posted by Talanvor at 10:56 AM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Cleve Blakemore is still going strong with a kickstarter-type thing for Grimoire (a Wizardry-type game that's supposedly been in development for 17 years), a portentously-narrated video hyping the game in which he compares his perfectionist development process with that of neanderthals making cave paintings and promises he will be upgrading the graphics to 1024x768 resolution, and an active blog claiming to be written by his son, Cooper, bragging about their supporters' recent victory in a flame war against the "trannies" at RPG Codex, and claiming they have a new artist who has upgraded Grimoire's graphics to look like Crysis, that is, "to look like Grimrock," only better.
posted by straight at 11:16 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thrifty living, good investments, and the miracle of compound interest over 15 years?

Or, very possibly, yet more blatant lying, which Derek Smart is very, very good at. It's his primary skill.

Game design? Not good. Programming? Well, enough better than I am that I can't really judge him. But lying? He's world-class there.
posted by Malor at 11:37 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wasn't he proven as not even being a PhD? I remember strong questions being raised, and him refusing to provide links to or proof of his dissertation, but I don't remember the final determination.
posted by Malor at 11:38 AM on October 23, 2012


He has a PhD in Irony.
posted by Sparx at 2:29 PM on October 23, 2012


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