Ken's book on Sierra

Nonspecific Sierra games or ones that do not have its own forum.
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DeadPoolX
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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by DeadPoolX » Thu Oct 29, 2020 5:27 am

Tawmis wrote:
Sun Oct 25, 2020 6:40 pm
I read Ken's book. Pretty good. There was only one chapter that went a little off for me, but the rest was an interesting read.

Amazing to also learn (no surprise, really) - but just how strong (mentally) and "stubborn" (for lack of a better word) Roberta was!

Although, it's also made me want to read this other book that gets mentioned quite a few times, called "Hackers" which apparently speaks to Sierra's "Party Days."
I'm in the middle of reading Ken's book, and although I wouldn't exactly say it's well-written, it's easy to read and interesting. I really learned a lot about Ken and Roberta's backgrounds (including how they met) and a lot more about Sierra itself than what's usually written online.

Regarding Roberta... sometimes she crossed the line, going from strong or stubborn to rude, especially in one particular board meeting that revolved around merging with an educational software company. I think she felt a more personal connection to Sierra than Ken did, who generally looked at the business side of things.

I've noticed a few formatting errors, such as font spacing or putting two spaces after a period. The latter was something done with mono-spaced font, but isn't done anymore with dynamic font. Given Ken's age, he likely learned to type using typewriters, so I wouldn't be surprised if he sometimes put two spaces in there without thinking about it. Regardless, an editor should've found these errors and fixed them.

One error that I found has absolutely nothing to do with formatting. I think it was the chapter where Ken was talking about flight simulators and Microsoft, and referred to Red Baron as a "World War II combat flight simulator." Red Baron was obviously a WWI combat flight simulator. This must've been a mistake made due to inattention as Ken knows the difference between the two world wars, and even talked about how much he enjoyed the Red Baron games much earlier in the book. However, an editor once again should've caught it.
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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by Tawmis » Thu Oct 29, 2020 12:09 pm

DeadPoolX wrote:
Thu Oct 29, 2020 5:27 am
I'm in the middle of reading Ken's book, and although I wouldn't exactly say it's well-written, it's easy to read and interesting. I really learned a lot about Ken and Roberta's backgrounds (including how they met) and a lot more about Sierra itself than what's usually written online.
Regarding Roberta... sometimes she crossed the line, going from strong or stubborn to rude, especially in one particular board meeting that revolved around merging with an educational software company. I think she felt a more personal connection to Sierra than Ken did, who generally looked at the business side of things.
Oh, yeah - it's not written as to be "big words" type of book - it's literally just Ken sharing his memories.
And yeah - I definitely feel like Roberta had a stronger connection to Sierra. I feel like Roberta was the heart of Sierra (emotionally involved) while Ken was the brains of Sierra (keep the machine running financially).
I am not sure if you've gotten to where Ken talks about Roberta's lack of interviews about Sierra - but I think this is why. For her, she lost a "child" where as Ken just got side swiped, business wise.

It was interesting what he said about getting along with people - and notes the Coles specifically as an example of something. I found that interesting. In my head, I just assumed, one big, happy family.

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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by DeadPoolX » Thu Oct 29, 2020 3:40 pm

Tawmis wrote:
Thu Oct 29, 2020 12:09 pm
Oh, yeah - it's not written as to be "big words" type of book - it's literally just Ken sharing his memories.
Yeah, and I understand that. It's just different (for lack of a better term) to read a book that's written so informally. Not bad, just different.
Tawmis wrote:
Thu Oct 29, 2020 12:09 pm
And yeah - I definitely feel like Roberta had a stronger connection to Sierra. I feel like Roberta was the heart of Sierra (emotionally involved) while Ken was the brains of Sierra (keep the machine running financially).
Roberta strikes me as very much an "idea person" and when she has a vision for something, she wants that vision to be realized, whereas Ken is more practical in his approach.
Tawmis wrote:
Thu Oct 29, 2020 12:09 pm
I am not sure if you've gotten to where Ken talks about Roberta's lack of interviews about Sierra - but I think this is why. For her, she lost a "child" where as Ken just got side swiped, business wise.
I have and it doesn't surprise me, although Roberta has given interviews in the past, and by that I mean within the last two decades. I think she's just not up for speaking about it over and over, like Ken does.
Tawmis wrote:
Thu Oct 29, 2020 12:09 pm
It was interesting what he said about getting along with people - and notes the Coles specifically as an example of something. I found that interesting. In my head, I just assumed, one big, happy family.
I haven't gotten to the part about the Coles yet, but I'm not surprised there was some conflict there. Based on some of the negative things I've read the Coles write about Ken over the years, plus their complete mismanagement of Hero U, I could easily see them viewing Ken as the "bad guy."

The Coles, like most purely creative types, are very good at imagining things and coming up with ideas, but lack the capability to manage themselves well. This is where someone like Ken comes into the picture, as unfortunately creative people usually need someone to "crack the whip" and keep them on task and avoid scope creep.

I think the above is why many game designers have failed at projects starting with Kickstater. They underestimate how difficult it is to manage everything, and either over-extend themselves by venturing into side projects or new ideas or simply can't manage finances well, to the point where they run out of money and need a second Kickstarter to fund their previous mistake. Unfortunately, these people usually don't see what they did wrong in the first place, so they repeat the same process and in the end, usually come up empty.

I won't say I'd necessarily manage a project well (after all, I have no official project management experience) but I'm definitely more on the practical, stay-on-task, management side of things. I can be creative, but it's not particularly easy for me, so I'd rather run things behind the scenes and keep very creative people running efficiently.

In most cases, this would make me the "bad guy" or at best, a "kill joy" but someone like that is needed. Without that person, projects turn into a frat house party and while that can be fun, it doesn't get stuff done and won't pay the bills.

The funny thing is that I'd view this very differently years ago, and in fact, my past-self would probably see my present-self as "the enemy." :lol:
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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by notbobsmith » Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:53 pm

Tawmis wrote:
Thu Oct 29, 2020 12:09 pm
It was interesting what he said about getting along with people - and notes the Coles specifically as an example of something. I found that interesting. In my head, I just assumed, one big, happy family.
I seem to remember that the Coles names the villain Ad Avis in QFG2 after Bill Davis out of spite, so I think there was a little bad blood there. But that's not unsurprising. Personality conflict are bound to arise in almost any situation, especially among creative types. And what DPX said is true. You need someone to say "Get it done" which can rub people the wrong way.

And didn't a number of employees leave to go to Tsunami? Was that mentioned at all?

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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by DeadPoolX » Thu Oct 29, 2020 8:37 pm

notbobsmith wrote:
Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:53 pm
And didn't a number of employees leave to go to Tsunami? Was that mentioned at all?
I didn't know this until I looked it up just now, but apparently a number of former Sierra On-Line employees (spearheaded by Edmond Heinbockel, Sierra's ex-chief financial officer) actually created the company in 1991. Tsunami was based on Oakhurst, California, which is where Sierra originally operated.

While Ken repeatedly talks about how Oakhurst was a great place to hike or enjoy nature or even raise a family (although he and Roberta weren't overly fond of the schools there), it was in the middle of nowhere as far as any branch of the tech industry was concerned. Sierra was pretty much the sole place to work in tech/gaming out there and since many people (and their families) had moved to Oakhurst to work at Sierra, they'd either have to sell their home and move, or try to make a completely unreasonable commute work if they lost their job.

So it's logical to assume that Tsunami was formed after some layoffs. On the other hand, Tsunami could've also been created as a "middle finger" of sorts to Sierra. I really have no idea.

That said, it seems weird that a former CFO would start a new game company in response to there being no place to work in Oakhurst. Most people have quite a few options available to them when they get to senior management positions, so moving probably wouldn't have been particularly difficult for Heinbockel.

There's obviously a lot more to the story here, and I don't know if Ken talks about it in his book. I'm roughly a little more than half-way through, so there's probably a lot more to read and learn.
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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by notbobsmith » Thu Oct 29, 2020 10:18 pm

DeadPoolX wrote:
Thu Oct 29, 2020 8:37 pm
notbobsmith wrote:
Thu Oct 29, 2020 7:53 pm
And didn't a number of employees leave to go to Tsunami? Was that mentioned at all?
I didn't know this until I looked it up just now, but apparently a number of former Sierra On-Line employees (spearheaded by Edmond Heinbockel, Sierra's ex-chief financial officer) actually created the company in 1991. Tsunami was based on Oakhurst, California, which is where Sierra originally operated.

While Ken repeatedly talks about how Oakhurst was a great place to hike or enjoy nature or even raise a family (although he and Roberta weren't overly fond of the schools there), it was in the middle of nowhere as far as any branch of the tech industry was concerned. Sierra was pretty much the sole place to work in tech/gaming out there and since many people (and their families) had moved to Oakhurst to work at Sierra, they'd either have to sell their home and move, or try to make a completely unreasonable commute work if they lost their job.

So it's logical to assume that Tsunami was formed after some layoffs. On the other hand, Tsunami could've also been created as a "middle finger" of sorts to Sierra. I really have no idea.

That said, it seems weird that a former CFO would start a new game company in response to there being no place to work in Oakhurst. Most people have quite a few options available to them when they get to senior management positions, so moving probably wouldn't have been particularly difficult for Heinbockel.

There's obviously a lot more to the story here, and I don't know if Ken talks about it in his book. I'm roughly a little more than half-way through, so there's probably a lot more to read and learn.
I made the connection was when I played Blue Force and the Ringworld games (this was relatively recently. I never played these "back in the day") and noticed some of the names in the credits. Yes, I am one of "those" people. To begin with, Blue Force was created by Jim Walls of Police Quest fame. But I also noticed some other artists and programmers that worked at Sierra: Chris Hoyt, Jeff Crowe, Robert Heitman.

I'm guessing that Heinbockel left to "explore new opportunities" and poached some talent on his way out.

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Re: Ken's book on Sierra

Post by Tawmis » Fri Oct 30, 2020 2:28 am

The Tsunami stuff is not mentioned in the book - and I've played Blue Force probably fifteen times - and other than the obvious of Jim Walls - I never picked up on Chris Hoyt, or Jeff Crowe - which should have rung a bell, because Crowe (to me) isn't all that common of a name, and had never seen it until Mark Crowe.

This is making rounds on the book of faces, and covers some of what the book covers (primarily the fall of Sierra) -

https://www.vice.com/en/article/z3vem8/ ... dant-fraud

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