Chronomaster of Friendship

Back in late 1994, when we were living together in Santa Fe, Roger Zelazny got a call asking him if he’d be interested in coming up with an original story that would be the basis for a computer game.  Roger loved alternate forms of storytelling, so he was enthusiastic.  On the other hand, he knew absolutely nothing practical about either computers (he still worked on a typewriter) or games.

Scot and Jane Noel

He asked if I’d be interested in joining him on the project.  Since I’d been a gamer for about fifteen years at that point (I’d actually published a couple of Call of Cthulu adventures in Challenge magazine) and knew a little about computers,  I felt I had something to contribute.   Roger ran a bunch of ideas by me.  The one we came up with involved a mission to discover who was disabling a series of pocket universes.  Revenge was involved and the solution contained a rather nice twist.  We named it Timepockets.  Later, it would be renamed Chronomaster.

In mid-1995, when Chronomaster was underway, Roger died.  The first person I heard from, outside of our immediate circle of family and friends, was Scot Noel, my contact person on Chronomaster.  He arranged for a huge basket of food and fruit to be sent.  I’m not kidding when I say that, if that hadn’t been in the house, I’m not sure if I would have eaten.

When the initial shock was over, Scot assured me that DreamForge wanted to continue working with me.  This was a terrific relief.  Not only had I gotten attached to the project, I was already seeing how the business world was falling into two camps: those who still valued my contributions and those who didn’t have the time of day for me now that I was no longer connected to The Famous Roger.

(First aside: I should note that by far the majority fell into the first camp.  Roger befriended and chose to work with good people.)

Scot Noel at DreamForge became one of my lifelines.  Once the basic game design was completed, he asked if I wanted to work on the scene by scene development – this would mean designing the scene, dialogue, and the basics for some of the puzzles.  I did.  I  had a lot of fun – including coming up with what I still think was one of the best alternate endings put together for a computer game up to that time.

Next, Scot drew me in for beta testing.  I’m sure he had something to do with getting me recommended to write both the player’s guide and the associated novels.

(Next aside: Chronomaster launched to very good reviews.  However, the company issuing it – as opposed to DreamForge, which created it – suffered financial problems.  The game went off the market far too soon.  Only one of the three projected novels was written.  I understand that particular little paperback is fairly collectable.)

Through all the steps of my involvement with Chronomaster, Scot was incredibly patient with me.  He never forgot that I was grieving.  Nor did he fault me for my technical shortcomings.  Although I knew the basics of word processing, I hadn’t done much with computers beyond that.  I didn’t even have e-mail.  Moreover, I was broke and really couldn’t afford upgrades, especially for a one-shot job.  Scot found ways around all these problems.

When Chronomaster was completed, I was invited to a launch party in Hollywood.  I went, mostly hoping to meet Scot.  He wasn’t there, having chosen to be among those who stayed home to attend to all the final steps in the game’s release.

Time passed.  In 1996, when I settled down to write my Christmas cards, I decided to send one to Scot, since he’d been kind when I needed kindness.  To my pleasure, I heard back from him.  That started a correspondence which has been going on for about fifteen years.  I was delighted when Scot married Jane, who had been art director for Chronomaster.  I followed their adventures with interest.  I held my breath when Jane quit game design to found her own company.  I was thrilled when “Jane’s Computers Made Easy” (now CME) was successful enough that Scot also quit the world of computer games to join her in running the business.

About six years ago, Jim and I went to the Pittsburgh area to visit my sister and her family.  In between attending a Mother’s Day celebration at my niece’s kindergarten and other such fun adventures, I managed a book signing.  Scot and Jane brought a few friends down for it.  After, we all went out to eat.   We found visiting as easy in person as it had been through letters.

This past weekend, Scot and Jane came to New Mexico on their own family visit.  They made time for us. They came by our house and we had a great time talking about all the things that don’t seem to make their way into letters.  They’d memorized the names of all our pets.   We took them out to see the petrogylphs near our house.  Jane asked to see my polymer clay figures and we compared notes on technique.

At some point, I brought out the notebook I’d used when we were doing Chronomaster, complete with some of the original character sketches.  Scot and Jane told stories about their side of the project, filling us in on where some of the programmers and artists had ended up.

The game is gone, useless to anyone but a stalwart collector of old hardware.  The book is nearly vanished, its unfolding story incomplete.

But Jim and I gained a couple of good friends out of the project.  Somehow, I end up feeling that we got the best part of the bargain.

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8 Responses to “Chronomaster of Friendship”

  1. Paul Says:

    What a nice reminder about friendships — and how they can be nurtured through actual, thoughtful correspondence (as contrasted with tweets and ephemeral email snippets and such). Maybe there will still be a place for the post office in our science fictional future. (By the way, if at some point you come up with a short story touching on something like pocket universes, you might consider reclaiming that original title; “Timepockets” is just too good a title to waste.)

  2. Ann M Nalley Says:

    I have a copy of CHRONOMASTER and pull it out about once a year to reread and enjoy. Thanks for sharing this very personal and touching “back story” with all of us. It must be difficult to be so transparent about such personal memories, and again, I thank you.

  3. Alan Robson Says:

    What a lovely story. I’m so pleased things worked out so well. I too have a copy of CHRONOMASTER (the book, not the game — I’ve never seen the game). I just did a quick search and found several copies for sale. The cheapest was $3 and the most expensive was $102. Goodness me!


    -Alan

  4. Other Jane Says:

    Thank you, Jane, for the wonderful post. We certainly enjoyed the trip. It’s wonderful to be able to talk and spend time with you and Jim.

    DreamForge was a very special place for many of the people that worked there. Working creatively with others makes for a special bond. I’m glad that you and Scot have kept that bond so strong for all these years. We look forward to letters and visits for many years to come.

  5. janelindskold Says:

    I’m glad to hear that several people on this list at least heard of _Chronomaster_. It really was a pretty good story. It’s a shame I didn’t get to take the novels further…

  6. paulgenesse Says:

    I totally remember hearing of Chronomaster, though I never played. That’s fascinating to hear about how your friendship has evolved and lasted for so long. What a great visit it sounds like, and thanks for sharing.

    Paul

  7. ELIZA Says:

    I hadn’t heard of Chronomaster, so I thought the title of your post must have to do with those ‘hard points’ in our lives that we name things as ‘before’ or ‘after’. Marriages, births, and sadly, deaths. I’m so glad you had a fruit basket – and thankful for the wonderful people who sent it.

    You always weave things together so nicely Jane. 🙂 And this reminds me I owe people letters.

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