21st Log: Ion Storm expos


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Jennifer Vogel
January 19, 1999 1:00AM (UTC)

Ion Storm exposi sparks online storm

E-mails are flying fast and furious these days over at Ion Storm, wherethe fallout of last week's story in the Dallas Observer has started somemajor online "trash talk." "Stormy Weather," the current cover story of thisalternative weekly, is an exposi of the problems at Ion Storm -- the gamingcompany helmed by famed Doom designer John Romero, and creator of themuch-hyped but overdue game Daikatana.

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Once the toast of the gaming world, Ion Storm has run through nearly$26 million, produced one flop (Dominion), witnessed major internalpower struggles and lawsuits and botched several potential deals. To addinsult to injury, former CEO Mike Wilson (who was ousted in an office coup)recently wooed away a chunk of the Daikatana design team to his new company, Gathering of Developers.

The Observer story chronicles these struggles, painting anugly picture of inflated egos and bad decisions, and has nearly 2,000leaked internal e-mails to back up the story (Ion Storm has since slapped the Observer with a subpoena, demanding the returnof the e-mail).

Not surprisingly, the Observer article is being circulated andembellished by the online game gossip circuit. Fan-produced daily newssites like Blues News,PCBlitz and thefabulously catty BitchXGaming Insider have long been meticulously tracking the struggles atIon Storm and seem mildly thrilled to have the salacious details about theirgaming heroes' dark sides.

While some fan sites have satisfied themselves with diatribesabout unpopular Ion Storm CEO Todd Porter, others are now distributing yet more internal e-mails andposting the court subpoenas. Even the more mainstream news sites are tracking the flame wars.

And Ion Storm executives are joining in the fray; althoughthey haven't officially responded to the article, they're responding to theonline gossip. Over at QuakeFinger, you can read the online posts from game designers at Ion Storm, who feel they've been unfairlyshafted. And at PCBlitz, a response from Romero: "Well, of coursewe're not happy about the negative press and the fact of it is that anex-Ion employee was instrumental in setting it all up. Daikatana is doinggreat and the team is really positive and pumped, although this kind ofnews is disturbing."

Wilson, the only Ion staffer to emerge from the article unscathed,sighs about the catty response from the online gamers. "These people livegames, live it online. And this is the insight into the world that theytalk about so much. I'm sure a lot of them look up to Ion Storm and expectgreat things, and they're going to be a bit disappointed," he says. "I hope the designers at Ion Storm keep their heads down and continue tomake the games. In the end if the games come out and are good, no one'sgoing to remember any of this."
-- Janelle Brown

SALON | Jan. 21, 1999

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Microsoft does it again

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It's the same story every financial quarter -- Microsoft announces its profits and awed reporters note that the company has "exceeded analyst estimates" yet again. Microsoft's stock price then surges, and Gates-lovers rest easy -- the Redmond gang is still on top.

The quarter ending Dec. 31, Microsoft announced at the close of trading Tuesday, was no exception. Net profits were up -- as measured against last year -- a whopping 75 percent, to $1.8 billion. Never mind that ankle-biting Department of Justice, Microsoft is still rolling along.

Just how do they do it? In the Jan. 7 Seattle Weekly, inveterate Microsoft watcher Mike Romano detailed at least one nefarious possibility. It seems that late last fall, Microsoft made an out-of-court settlement with its own former chief of internal audits, Charlie Pancerzewski. According to court documents, reports Romano, after Pancerzewski accused the company of distorting its profit figures to show steady net revenue growth every quarter, he received his first ever unsatisfactory job evaluation, and shortly thereafter was forced to resign. Pancerzewski and Microsoft aren't talking now, but anyone interested in a revealing look at how Microsoft may do business is strongly encouraged to read Romano's story.
-- Andrew Leonard

SALON | Jan. 20, 1999

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Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes: Bowie loves MP3

Record companies have been quick to condemn MP3, the digital music format, as taking away the "artist's rights" to protect his music. But at least one famous musician is saying that that argument is hogwash.

David Bowie, a musical pioneer on theWeb and proprietor of the site Bowieart, last week offered a defense of MP3 in theBritish newspaper the Guardian. Besides the potential of MP3 for newdistribution and delivery systems, Bowie said, it could change the entireidea of what music is -- and that isn't so bad.

"A few days ago a kid downloaded one of my songs from my Web site. Here-recorded it at home, changing the bits that he didn't like and then putup his version on his own site. The new version is written his way, withchanges to the melodies and some of the lyrics and it is available as anMP3. It is unbelievable. If he can do that, imagine what can happen in thefuture," Bowie said. "Of course a lot of artists are absolutelyterrified by the idea, but I love it because I love process. To me, the endresult is not nearly as interesting as the process of getting involved in something."

Bowie's record label may not approve of his public endorsement of theenemy, but he doesn't seem to care. As he writes, "You don't have to staywith a record company forever. I get bored of those interminablesituations."
-- JanelleBrown

SALON | Jan. 19, 1999

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Y2K problems? Call out the National Guard

Who says states aren't adequately preparing for the year 2000 turnover?Washington state recently announced that potential infrastructure breakdownsand related lawlessness will be met with at least 2,000 armed NationalGuardsmen and women, who will be on duty on and after New Year's Eve 1999.

It's just a precaution, reassures Washington Guard public affairs officerMaj. Philip Logan: "We have power generation capabilities, and the ability tomove people from one point to another in helicopters and trucks. We will beready to do whatever the governor asks us to, or the president."

Government agencies, businesses and the public have been playing catch-upever since the severity of the Y2K problem became apparent. The bleak predictions haven't been wasted on Wisconsin state Rep. Sheryl Albers,who is poised to introduce a bill that does Washington's plan one better bymobilizing Wisconsin's National Guard and allowing soldiers to act withoutthe governor's approval.

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Albers -- who asked, "Why do all you media peoplejust want to focus on the National Guard piece" of her bill -- says thesweeping proposal also encourages information-sharing between companies andsets up a public education campaign. But if preparation doesn't work,the bill ensures that there will be plenty of military personnel around toclean up the mess. "This allows [our general] to decide whether to put[troops] on standby. We only have so many guardsmen, and if half of them arevacationing in Florida, that won't do us much good. So this gives him theopportunity to say that you will report on Dec. 26 or 27."

Lt. Col. Tim Donovan, public affairs officer for the Wisconsin Guard, saysdetails of the mobilization are still in the discussion phase. But, inconcrete terms, it has at its disposal 10,000 "trained anddisciplined" troops, 30 helicopters and "lots of civil engineeringequipment like bulldozers and other vehicles." The Washington Guard issimilarly fortified with 8,600 troops, 580 trucks, 350 Humvee all-terrainvehicles and 25 helicopters. But what if an officer tries to start ahelicopter only to find it has been rendered immobile by Y2K? Not to worry,says Logan. "Testing is going on as we speak and will be done by May."

Logan adds that all states will eventually develop plans similar to those inWashington and Wisconsin, which likely won't sit well with the public.Visions of armed guards taking to the streets are already causing an uproaramong many on Y2K Web sites and newsgroups and on radio programs inmilitia-heavy Washington state. "People are concerned that armed guardsmenwill be taking their weapons away from them," admits Logan. "But that is notour intent and not our job."


Jennifer Vogel

Jennifer Vogel is a freelance writer in Seattle and editor of Working Stiff.

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