The BBS Moves to GEnie

We set up the JCGD BBS a year ago to facilitate communication among game developers. Over the last twelve months, the BBS has seen intense debates, some great rumormongering, and useful business contacts made. However, it has never reached the majority of the subscribers to the Journal. I suspect that a major factor in this has been the high toll charges that users must pay to reach the BBS. Even I, living in San Jose, found my toll charges to Sausalito reaching unacceptable levels. Thus, when Neil Harris of GEnie offered us a new home, the advisory board for the BBS leapt at the opportunity.

We are now all set up and running on GEnie. We have our own RT (Round Table) and the discussions have been picking up speed. The best part of this is that, as a subscriber to the Journal, your time in the Game Design RT is absolutely free!

Logging On to GEnie
GEnie can only be accessed during off-hours: weekday evenings after 6:00 PM, and all day weekends and holidays. Set up your telecommunications software to dial 800 - 638 - 8369. This is a national GEnie access number; you will want to find your local access number once you are logged on. You may need to prod it with a carriage return. At the prompt "U#=", type "XTX99623,JCGD" and a carriage return. This is our secret ID number that identifies you as a JCGD subscriber and allows you to sign up for GEnie without paying the normal sign-up fee. You will still need to supply a credit card number, and you will still have to pay normal charges for the time that you spend in other areas of GEnie; however, you will probably find these other areas well worth the expense.

Once you have logged on, you will need to send an EMail message to get set up. So move to the mail section of GEnie by selecting menu item 3 (GE Mail). The menu system for GEnie is quite clear and you should have no problem navigating your way to the mail area. Once there, select menu item 6 (Enter a Text Letter Online) to send a mail message to a fellow named "GM". This is Richard Mulligan, our immediate host. Carbon Copy your message to "NHARRIS" and also to "CCRAWFOR". "NHARRIS" is Neil Harris, our benefactor. "CCRAWFOR" is me. The subject of the letter should be "JCGD Free Flag". The content should be a short sentence such as, "Hello, here I am." When he receives your letter, Richard will set the flag in the GEnie system that insures that your time in the Game Design RT is not billed. When I receive the copy of your letter, I will open up the gates that allow you into the Inner Sanctum of the Game Design RT.

Don’t be intimidated by all this; the GEnie system is completely menu-driven, so it is very difficult to screw up, even if you don’t have a manual. Moreover, if you need help at any point, just type "HELP" and hit the carriage return and it will explain your options.

The Game Design RT
At this point, you have done everything you need to do to get set up with GEnie, and you must wait 24 hours for Rick Mulligan to set your JCGD Free Flag. If you are impatient and willing to pay the charge, you can proceed directly to the Game Design RT. Otherwise, wait a day. Whichever way you do it, when the time comes, just type "M935" at any prompt. That command will take you to page 935, the site of the Game Design RT. Select menu item 1 (Bulletin Board) to enter the Bulletin Board area of the RT.

You will find yourself in Category 1. There are fourteen categories. However, only the first four are open to the public; categories 5 - 14 are hidden and secret. When you first enter the Bulletin Board area, GEnie won’t know that you are one of the Chosen Few and will not let you into these categories. As far as you will be able to tell, categories 5 - 14 don’t exist. Three conditions must be met in sequence before you can enter the Inner Sanctum: 1) you must copy me on the JCGD Free Flag EMail; 2) you must enter the Game Design RT; and 3) I must set the entry flag for you. For this first encounter, you can have fun in categories 1 - 4.

The most basic command in your situation would be BROWSE. This command will search through all the categories to which you have access (in this case, only the first four,) and present them to you. It will also permit you, at intervals, to reply to posted messages. For this first encounter, I recommend that you refrain from doing so. For now, just read the existing messages and get acquainted with the style of the discussions.

It will take me a day or two to read my mail, discover your message, and set the flags to let you into the hidden areas of the RT. What’s more, I can’t do it until after you have entered the Game Design RT once. There is a way to know when you are "in": try the command "SET 5". This command will attempt to move you into category 5, one of the hidden categories. If you are in, then it will comply; otherwise, it will blithely lie to you that there is no such category. Once you are in, you can use either the SET command or the BROwse command to read through the hidden categories. Be warned, though, that the CATegories command will still not list the hidden categories.

Lastly, some suggestions for gentlepersonly (gag!) behavior. We are guests on GEnie and I would like to make our presence a positive contribution to GEnie, not a liability. The public area of the Game Design RT has been set up to provide regular (read: paying) customers of GEnie with useful information. Please, take the time to contribute to the ongoing discussions there.

While you are in the public areas, please don’t give away the fact that there are private hidden areas that are not accessible to the general public. It only upsets people to know that they are Unchosen. Moreover, I don’t want to show my gratitude for GEnie’s generosity by telling its customers that they can reduce their GEnie spending by subscribing to the Journal. So let’s just keep the existence of the hidden areas our own little secret, OK?

Please take advantage of the other Round Tables on GEnie. There are a lot of them, covering a great deal of material, and I am sure that you will find some of them interesting and useful. You will have to pay for the time you spend in these RTs, but you will undoubtedly find some that are well worth the money.

As always with any telecommunications system, you must be very careful to avoid the problem of misunderstood communications. Remember, the fine nuances of voice intonation and facial expression are lost in the pure ASCII world. Offhand witticisms offered in jest can read like vicious snarls; terse rebuttals can come across as cold anger. It’s very easy for well-intentioned people to end up at each other’s throats.

To prevent this, always word your messages in as conciliatory and professional a tone as possible. Be wary of sloppy language. If you crack a joke, terminate it with the three characters semicolon - hyphen - close paren. ;-) They represent a sideways smiling face and say, "That’s a joke, friend!" I guarantee, if you don’t clearly mark it as a joke, somebody will take offense. (e.g., "Oh, yeah? Well, for you information, buster, I happen to raise chickens for a living, and I can assure you that I never allow my chickens loose near roads, and so they don’t cross them!")

The problem is trickiest when you find yourself in the thick of a hot debate. Most people have difficulty maintaining strict standards of professional expression on bulletin boards. When that bastard on the other side of the wire lets fly with a particularly pointed broadside, it’s hard to keep your cool. All too often you shoot back a furious reply laced with juicy insinuations and clever put-downs. This is called flaming. Don’t do it flames, like forest fires, seldom just burn out. They grow on you. Pretty soon the whole board is one raging conflagration.

We don’t want to stifle honest intellectual debate. Our profession is still young and uncertain; there is much room for major differences of opinion between intelligent people. We want those differences of opinion to get a full airing. We need a demolition derby of ideas, a barroom brawl of opinions. Please, get in there and fight eloquently for your beliefs but keep it on an intellectual plane, not a personal one.

I urge you to join the Game Design RT on GEnie and participate in the discussions there. Our experience with the JCGD BBS showed that the community of users benefited greatly from the discussions there. Our hope is that a much larger community will be able to crystallize on GEnie. I hope to see you there!