My Most Memorable

by John “Spoons” Sponauer

When Doug first came to me in the spring and asked for help with the site’s 10th anniversary, I felt a little out of place. I really haven’t been an active contributor in the past three or four years except for an occasional musing, and frankly, had been OK with that. The work needed to run a site like this tends to wear people out, and I guess that’s where I was after five site owners, two kids and a boatload of good and bad times behind me. I never had to pay the site’s bills but, like everyone, had sunk a lot of heart and soul into the site just the same. Knowing SimHQ was in good hands, I slowly backed away from it, so I wasn’t sure what I really could add to the look back at the previous decade, having essentially missed half of it.

"...it all came back to me. The good times, the funny times, and the really bad times, too."But then I started going through the archives — and I have almost all of it archived, sorry as that news is for Wklink and the sheep — and it all came back to me. The good times, the funny times, and the really bad times, too.

As I read through the thousands of old e-mails, it became apparent that we’ve done well — really well — for a site basically started as one guy and a message board, and it also soon became hard to identify where I’d even begin making a list of the best moments, much less ranking them. So, I gave up.

What follows are ten top memories of my time at SimHQ, in no particular order or preference. I think they’re indicative of some of the best times I’ve ever had working as a team, and I hope you enjoy reading about them.

Wow, 500 hits? In a day? That’s great!

My first article for SimHQ (a review of M1 Tank Platoon II) was published within a day of my first child’s birth in May, 1998, and Crimson was pretty happy with it, which was cool, because I had enough other stuff on my mind!

I thought it was amazing anyone would publish something I wrote, and here was this crazy Canadian saying that the next thing on my plate was going to be a review of an upcoming “tactical shooter” called Rainbow Six. Despite having no real expertise in the subject, the game and the concept appealed to me, and I took him up on his offer of a beta review copy. In August, we published my review, and Frank went nuclear. The article was a hit, and I remember chatting with him that night; he was floored. The article had 500 hits that day (insert ka-ching sound here!). For two guys in 1998, that seemed like a lot. I still think about it today, because I think it shows how far we’ve come, and how little it takes to make a difference.

Tango Down!

About a year later, there I was, checking the mail every day like a madman waiting for yet another envelope from Red Storm Entertainment. Our contacts there had agreed to send us an advance copy of the sequel to Rainbow Six, and within 10 minutes of getting the unlabeled CD of Rogue Spear, I was busy taking screenshots for our preview, planned for the next day. We all knew that the game contained a much-anticipated level featuring a 747, and it was the first game level to do so in anything resembling a realistic tactical shooter. I played that beta, crashes and all, forever until I reached the level. Snapping screenshots left and right, I rushed them along for publication, and the next day, we became the first site on the Internet to post independent shots of what those crafty RSE level designers had given us. I received dozens of e-mails, and the site established its credibility as a leader in up-to-the-minute coverage of that title. It was a very cool moment.

PR, from the Other Side

Like all SimHQers, I was never paid to write for the site, but instead would do it for love of the genre, good camaraderie, and, oh sure, the occasional beta version of software in my greedy little mitts. To pay the mortgage, I’ve worked in PR & marketing, and some of the best memories of SimHQ are the great contacts and relationships I developed with people in the industry at the various game companies. I got to see the PR business from the press side of the house, which was a learning experience, to say the least!

There’s been some good companies, along the way… my perpetual kudos to the old team at Red Storm Entertainment, who were great to work with as their product line developed. Kudos too to Sierra, who didn’t blink when I asked for a personal favor: any kind of NASCAR memorabilia they could send to a certain friend at the site who was stationed on a certain large, flat, grey ship off of a certain unfriendly country on the Korean peninsula. They came through, and then some, for the folks who protect our freedom.

Kudos also to the great group of guys behind Steel Beasts. More on them in a bit.

All of these folks were professionals who were easy to work with, expected you to do a real write-up on their stuff, and didn’t complain when you showed their product, warts and all.

On the flip side, holy cow, were there some flakes!  My favorite was a particular  company marketing a very bad title (names withheld to protect the innocent). My contact there had promised me an early copy for our review, so I wasn’t terribly surprised when a UPS package showed up one day. I was, however, a little surprised when I saw how large it was, and even more surprised when I opened it up to find a very unusual “care package” for her son at college! I don’t know about you, but my mother never sent me many, many copies of games and promotional t-shirts when I was at school, nor did I ever get cash mailed like that. Well, one phone call in, and one frantic return phone call back, we had it all straightened out, and I got the correct package the next day. Her son got his the day after. The motto of the story? Her son got a box full of loot, and all I got was this lousy piece of software. 😉

A Diamond in the Rough

One development company has always stood out in my mind, because to me it exemplified what was so great about the marriage of technology, modern access to information and good old-fashioned hard work. I first learned about a tiny development project called eSim Games from a Usenet post, of all places, back in the early summer of 1999. Combatsim soon thereafter did a preview of eSim’s upcoming tank simulator, Steel Beasts, and I immediately got in touch with Al Delaney, the founder of eSim and one of those genuinely nice developers I mentioned above. We started chatting in July, I had an alpha copy of the title shortly after that initial contact, and before long SimHQ was publishing a wide range of articles about what Al, “Ssnake” and the crew were working on. I don’t think another site wrote as much as we did, in the level of detail, we did, about Steel Beasts, and I’m proud of that.

To this day, I think Steel Beasts is one of the best sims of all time, and it’s wonderful to see their product support so active in our boards and across the Web. In a time when our hobby is shrinking, and game companies get conglomerated and larger and larger, eSim seems to be holding its own, working on international government contracts and still providing a rich, deep consumer-grade sim for virtual treadheads. It’s the type of scrappy hard work and dedication to detail that seems to me has always fit in the sim community. Kudos, guys!

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