March 21, 2000

Seumas

- Kent

He was a friend. I dare to say even a good friend. That's pretty strange for some to accept, considering that he and I only spent a total of an hour together in person.

Seumas was a computer programmer. A computer game programmer. And so am I. We "met" online through an electronic mailing list about computer graphics. At first, we just saw each other's messages go past. Eventually, when you've seen the list for a while, you start to recognize people's names and styles. You begin to learn about point of view, and which people are usually sensible, and which ones are off-the-wall. His messages were always short and to the point, well-written and well-considered. He was clearly one of the "good guys".

At a game development conference last year, someone who knew us both in person briefly introduced us. I was shocked -- he looked like a pimply-faced kid! Turns out he was just getting over a serious case of the chicken pox. But he was still a kid. This intelligent, sensible graphics programmer was 20 years old.

Sometime during that summer, he popped up in an instant message on my screen at about 1:00 AM. I forget what he had to say, but he was really just establishing a connection.

It turned out that we both were science fiction fans, independent game developers, entrepreneurs, and liked to stay up until all hours. We had many after-midnight conversations about all sorts of interesting subjects.

I had the advantage of lots of years of experience, in life and in industry. He had the advantage of having already written one successful computer game that was extremely profitable. We talked a lot about what worked, and what didn't, on both sides.

He told me that his total classroom education consisted of 2 weeks in kindergarten. After that, it was all home schooling. Well, my hat goes off to Jim and Wendy McNally, his parents, who did one heck of a job. He was literate, funny, intellectual, friendly, and very kind.

He was generous with time, information, and data. I remember being shocked when he told me how many copies of DX-Ball 2 he had sold - both by the sheer volume, and by the fact that he was willing to tell me.

And then came the day last fall, when I was asking him what he was going to do with his life after TreadMarks. "What about college?" I asked. Or other long-term plans? He responded with the chilling words "I really have to worry more about getting to my next birthday." And then he told me about having Hodgkin's disease...and that he was one of the unlucky few percent in whom it hadn't responded to treatment.

But there wasn't a lot of time for worrying. We were both independent game developers trying like hell to ship our products before Christmas. He cheered with me as our product shipped in November...and I did the same for him in December when his product went off to duplication. (I was the second one to order it!)

Several nights a week, we talked about game reviews and production and music and art and programming and science fiction. He popped on one night and said "It's my birthday!", so I went to the freezer, found some ice cream and celebrated with him, 1000 miles apart...but close together on the internet.

Suddenly, in January, he basically stopped going online. He had started a new form of chemotherapy that had pretty much wiped him out and left him with hardly any energy to type. But he did pop in from time to time to say hello. I missed him and I worried about him...but I figured he was taking a well-deserved rest after the development of his game.

I met him again, finally, at the game developer's conference this year. He was cruising around in a wheelchair, bald, with gloves on, presumably to protect him from infection...but he smilingly removed the gloves to shake hands.

But we didn't hang out much. I had my business interests, and he had his. To my everlasting regret, I didn't even manage to get to the awards ceremony for the Independent Games Festival, where Tread Marks deservedly won three of the six awards. I stopped in to see him the night before I left, and he was stuck in bed...but those awards were mounted on a cabinet across from his bed where he could see them easily. I was really proud of him.

I walked out the door saying "see you around", and the chill in the room at that moment had me thinking "no, I guess you won't." I had no idea, though, that I'd never even see him online again.

Seumas, I'll miss you. I'll miss your wit (bad puns and all), your wisdom, and your optimism bordering on naivete. There's a hole in my buddy list that's going to feel very empty after midnight. Au revoir, mon ami.

I have just one question left, for all of you who believe that chat rooms are evil, instant messaging is a waste, and that the Internet is cold, unfeeling, and bad for relationships: why are there tears on my keyboard?

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