October 27, 1996: Bored one weekend while his girlfriend and roommate are out of town, college freshman Scott Hardie who had only first visited a web site two months earlier decides to learn HTML. By the end of the two days, he has created a simple page on his student account, uncreatively christened Scott's Home Page. With no idea what to put on it, he adds a information about Street Fighter II and a list of Steven Wright jokes he was forwarded in email. Finished on Sunday night, he happily shows it to his roommate Matthew Preston and emails the URL to a few high school friends including Lori Velàzquez (later Lancaster).
November 16, 1996: Photos of Scott's friends begin to decorate his site, grainy grayscale thumbnails acquired with a cruddy handheld scanner. Yearbook photos are the first on the site, but it's the addition of large, colorful Halloween Party photos that truly kick it off: Kelly Lee dressed as a wolf, Jason Fedorow dressed as a Star Wars guard, and Scott Hardie dressed as Jason Fedorow. From the beginning, Scott's friends are a big part of his site.
December 14, 1996: Scott discovers Photoshop, or rather the cheap imitator that came with his scanner, and begins tweaking photos of his friends' faces to humorous effect. One friend is a Pulp Fiction fan and asks to join Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman and Bruce Willis in a photo from the film. Another friend replaces Arnold Schwarzenegger in a shot from Terminator 2. His love of distorting photos would eventually drive the central focus of the site.
December 16, 1996: Fandom bears its influence: Scott creates the first of several fan pages he will eventually make for his adored Metallica. Not having anything original to contribute, he types up and publishes the liner notes from a fan-made bootleg of Garage Days 3, including a typo of "Rob Haldord" that would lead a Judas Priest fan to send him his first nasty email because of the site. Scott's fandom would eventually inspire numerous other sections of the site including movie reviews.
January 21, 1997: Scott publishes his first self-written humorous content to the site, a series of top ten lists lampooning the Star Trek shows he enjoys. The idea is inspired by another site, but Scott tries to top it by imitating Letterman's humor and internal jokes like a reference to Klingon coffee in each list. To this date, his lists can still be found on other sites that stole them. Scott finds he likes creating his own humorous content much more than stealing everyone else's and begins a years-long campaign to create silly pages that mostly entertain himself.
February 3, 1997: One of Scott's favorite activities with friends is hosting murder mystery parties, based on either boxed sets bought at the store or self-written. They allow people who would never touch a role-playing game to enjoy one without realizing it, and they provide for even more silly photos of his friends for his site. Matthew Preston, Jason Fedorow, Kelly Lee, and other friends appear in his sets from 1997, and two years later Denise Sawicki and Lori Lancaster show up in a later edition.
March 1, 1997: After a budding RPG campaign with Matthew Preston falls apart due to Matthew moving away, Scott decides to take it online, and invites Jason Fedorow, Erik Nelson, and other friends to play. This fantasy-themed text game, written in daily installments by Scott with nightly email input from the players as to what their characters will do next, becomes The Island at the End of the World and eventually spans almost five years and five thousand pages of text, easily dwarfing all other content that would ever grace Scott's site. It keeps Scott interested in the web for years and its successors still survive today.
May 25, 1997: Always interested in showcasing his friends on his site, Scott takes advantage of the "web ring" trend for linking sites together. He creates one for his circle of high school buddies, who call themselves the Rat Pack, including Lori Velàzquez and Andy Hubbartt. Friends of those friends are also allowed to put their sites in the ring, including Jason Fedorow and Erik Nelson. It doesn't help any of them gain traffic, but it the photo of Jason wearing a tin foil helmet becomes an iconic image for their sites.
June 13, 1997: Always one to jump on a bandwagon and mock it from within, Scott writes a humorous mission statement for his site, defining its core principles. Among the site's less-absurd goals: "To use paintbrush programs to alter photographs of people so that they won't like me any more," "To make the people who designed HTML code wish they'd never been born," and "To give my friends ideas to steal, and to steal my friends' ideas." Mission accomplished.
June 20, 1997: When Scott isn't typing HTML in a dark room like a hermit, he enjoys going with friends to the local park and soaking each other silly with squirt guns. To celebrate their shared birthday in high school, Scott and Jason Fedorow inaugurated "BloodHunt," a semi-annual party in the forest preserve with Super Soakers and as many friends as they could talk into attending. Photos from the 1997 and 1998 sessions make it to the site and provide fodder for doctored photos for years to come.
July 23, 1997: The site's first true interactive section open to the public, since the Island game was separate and only open to Scott's friends, is a silly page in which Scott poses as gypsy fortune-teller Madame Udfar (anagram for "fraud") and answers advice queries submitted by friends, mostly Jason Fedorow and Lori Velàzquez. It isn't published on a regular schedule, but it is the first time Scott invites anyone reading to submit content, which would later become a pillar of the site. Another recurring content feature at this time is CuongWatch, in which Scott posts breathless updates on the health of Jason's friend Cuong, including such alarming injuries as mild sunburn and "aches."
July 30, 1997: When he designs the third version of his site, Scott creates a lower frame across the bottom just to promote his friends' sites with banner ads of his own design. it's another low-tech, high-silly way to link to them and keep his friends involved in his site. Such folks as Matthew Preston, Lori Velàzquez, Jason Fedorow, Erik Nelson, Andy Hubbartt, and Kelly Lee get the treatment. Andy Hubbartt is unhappy with his high-school nickname appearing on his image and asks Scott to cross it out, becoming the first time Scott has to remove personal information at a friend's request.
November 10, 1997: Scott continues creating self-contained humor pieces for his site, mocking such interests as ER and his Nintendo 64 as well as his experiences on the job at Taco Bell. Among the most absurd pieces from this era is Stupid Kids Gallery, a series of scans from his childhood psychology textbook with silly captions, still one of the conceptually oddest pieces to show up over the years. Scott soon gives up on his Education major (switching to English) before he can create any sequels.
February 1, 1998: Now sharing a dorm room with Matthew Preston again, Matthew is inspired by Scott's web silliness to create a game on his site: He would post a photo of a celebrity's high school yearbook photo with a hint to their identity, and ask players to guess who it is. Scott wins the contest but can't resist teasing Matthew with a parody version featuring their own friend Jason Fedorow in the photo. It wouldn't take Scott long to realize that there was much more potential in stealing Matthew's concept than mocking it, and with Matthew's blessing, he began work on a different game involving recognizing celebrity photos.
February 23, 1998: With Matthew standing by as he publishes, Scott launches Scott's Celebrity Goo Game, a weekly contest in which Scott distorts a celebrity's face with Matthew's copy of art program Kai's Power Goo, writes a clue hinting at their identity, and asks friends to guess who it is. Matthew picks the first category, Music, and so Scott leads with rapper LL Cool J as the first celebrity. The game suffers some bizarre clues and choices of celebrities until Scott gets the hang of it, but it's popular with his friends right out of the gate. Within the first month, there are guesses from Matthew, Jason Fedorow, Kelly Lee, a man living across the hall in the same dorm named Dave Mitzman, and a woman Scott meets that month through online personals named Denise Sawicki. When Matthew wins the game a few months later, Scott decides to keep it going with an unplanned "Round Two;" he then renames it The Celebrity Goo Game and finally drops The.
February 27, 1998: For the first anniversary of The Island at the End of the World RPG, which has become very popular among the circle of friends playing it, Scott organizes The Weekend at the End of the World, a chance to hang out and play the game in person. Space is cramped in the college dorm room, but Matthew Preston, Jason Fedorow, Ryan Orsucci, and Erik Nelson have a blast anyway. Colorful ribbons are awarded to each player, along with surprise gifts to keep as souvenirs. The party would prove so popular that it was repeated three more times over the next three years. Many of the concepts were reused in GooCon ten years later.
February 28, 1998: One of the surprise gifts given to guests at the first weekend party is a soundtrack album created just for the event: Rock songs by favorite bands of Scott and the players, most of them with a heroic or fantasy theme to the lyrics. A similar soundtrack is given out in 1999. At the third party in 2000, Matthew Preston surprises everyone by distributing his own soundtrack: Unlike Scott, who had borrowed existing songs, Matthew has actually composed an original song for every main character in the game using software on his computer, and recorded skits with his own voice. The album remains a fondly-remembered keepsake for years. When Scott creates GooCon a decade later, the first year's grand prize in Rock Block is a homemade collection of 500 great rock songs on CD. In subsequent years, a Pandora station seeded with every performer in Rock Block entertains GooCon guests as background music.
March 24, 1998: Scott had broken up with high school sweetheart Kelly Lee early in college, and except for brief reunions they went their separate ways for two years. With his Island RPG in need of another reliable player to keep it going, Scott contacts his old girlfriend at her nearby college and finds her receptive to playing. Her gameplay as psionic Quinn Alexand keeps them in touch daily, and within two months they are a couple again, staying that way through numerous moves, shared experiences, living together, getting engaged, graduating from college, and finally breaking up late in 2002. Although the relationship ultimately ends, Scott credits his web game for giving him a five-year love affair that changed his life. Kelly's presence on the site not only gives the RPG a huge shot in the arm, but influences for the better numerous later sections including a nascent discussion forum in 2001.
April 13, 1998: Numerous goo-game traditions begin in the first round, such as the gooing of popular rock-band frontmen like Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder and the incongruous use of historical figures like Leonardo da Vinci that defy what one first thinks of as a "celebrity," but no trend inspires such a happy tradition as the Don King goo. In a silly mood when he writes the clue, Scott ends it with the phrase "Who's the king?" Matthew rightfully mocks the obviousness of the hint so much that a similar king goo appears in every round of the game thereafter. A decade later, one would expect the game to run out of celebrities named King, but Scott has over fifty king goos saved up and ready for eventual publication.
May 18, 1998: Fed up with the gimmicky junk cluttering his home on the web, Scott's fourth version of his home page gets right down to business: it's all text on a plain background, as simple a design as he has ever created. This time the focus is on content where it belongs, with a renewed Celebrity Goo Game, an expanded Metallica fan page, and lots of silliness involving photos of his friends. Continuing the self-mocking tone of his earlier versions, Scott calls it his "I Can't Believe it's Not Better!" home page.
September 16, 1998: When Scott buys his own copy of Kai's Power Goo to keep the game running, it comes with a bonus feature called Fusion Room, which allows two photos to be melded together in bizarre combinations. It would be years before Scott uses this technique in the goo game, but right away he applies it to a new friends page, this time suggesting the bizarre combinations that would result from his friends splicing their genes together, with such participants as Lori Velàzquez, Matthew Preston, Kelly Lee, Jason Fedorow, Denise Sawicki, Andy Hubbartt, and Erik Nelson, with a "sequel" a year later adding Aaron Fischer to the mix (no pun intended). Scott is hurt when Pam Dornan, who had eaten lunch with him every day for a semester in high school, finds her distorted face on the site and emails Scott demanding its removal because she doesn't know who he is.
September 28, 1998: After Scott develops a crush on actress Alyson Court, attractive host of children's show Big Comfy Couch, he is disappointed not to find anything on the web about her other than basic credits. He compiles everything he can possibly find about her and creates The Web's First Loonette & Alyson Court Fan Page, including photos of going to meet her character Loonette at a mall. Against Scott's intentions, he winds up in a subtle rivalry with another fan who starts a successful Yahoo Club about her and claims his own page is the only one on the web even after he knows Scott had one first. it's a silly, short-lived competition over an actress probably uneasy with so many adult male fans trading photos of her starring in an innocent children's show. Scott nods to the controversy with an Alyson Court goo that fall and attempts to put it to rest with a little-used Alyson Court Web Ring the following spring.
October 12, 1998: Bored in art history class, Scott hits upon an idea that will become his most popular friends page: My Friends Nude!, in which he superimposes his friends' faces over famous historical paintings of nude figures. The page is a runaway hit with the very people portrayed on it. In fact, given that past friends pages had generated complaints from some of their subjects, it's a surprise that the only controversy this page creates is when two subjects gripe that their photos aren't more explicit. It sets a new standard on the site for shock humor and image editing.
February 2, 1999: Innocent celebrities, cartoon characters, and national monuments are turning to an unlikely food source human testicles in a bizarre web fad called "Ate My Balls." With Jason's blessing, Scott jumps right aboard the bandwagon with Jason Fedorow Ate My Balls!, in which he publishes ordinary photos of his friend and roommate with captions describing the man's obsession with consuming the tasty grub. The page gets a postscript when Matthew Preston takes a photo of Scott crying over two gumballs in Jason's gaping mouth.
March 3, 1999: Enrolled in a hypertext class as part of his English major, Scott is assigned to create a new homepage. (Everyone else in the class is learning HTML for the first time.) He opts for a simple yet striking look: All black with white text and vivid green links. The original version has a photo of Scott silhouetted in a sunny doorway on the far right, but it is soon replaced with a list of links to his classmates and friends. Scott highlights new content when it appears and endeavors to add more humorous one-off pages than at any other time in the site's past.
March 7, 1999: In the history of his site, only once does Scott pull the plug on a page due to controversy: The Young and the Lifeless, an ambitious project in which he turns his friends into characters in a trashy soap opera and intends to write stories about the various trysts, crimes, and intrigues of their fictional counterparts. One by one, his friends beg out of the project, and Scott cancels it before he even writes the first installment. It is not the last time he writes his friends into his fiction, since they occasionally show up in his text RPGs in various incarnations, but this is Scott's last attempt to portray them in an deliberately unflattering light.
March 20, 1999:Celebrity Goo Game, itself inspired by a weekly trivia game by Matthew Preston, inspires a separate trivia game by Aaron Fischer. Every week, Aaron posts the opening seconds of a TV show's theme music on his site with a clue, and asks players to name the show. Scott is determined to win the game out of pride for the goo game, but is narrowly defeated in the final week by Aaron's friend Mike Eberhart. The two finalists congratulate one another and go their separate ways until Mike begins Celebrity Goo Game two years later, eventually becoming a champion of that game as well. Completing the circle, in 2003 Matthew Preston would start a TV-theme guessing game on his own site, unrelated to either Aaron's game or the goo game.
April 7, 1999: Adoring of his favorite movies, Scott wants to put movie reviews on his site, but can't decide on a gimmicky format until he recalls a scene in high school: An English teacher, who had assigned the class to write reviews of Casablanca, warned one of the slacker kids that he had to write more than "It ruled" or "It sucked." Scott adds "It was okay" to the mix and launches Thorough Movie Reviews in which he "reviews" every film he sees with one of those three phrases and nothing more. The page is just supposed to be a one-joke gag, but Scott keeps updating it with new movies he sees, and gradually he succombs to his desire to write longer and longer reviews until years later it becomes the free-format, gimmick-free reviews archive it is today. The very first review Scott writes is for The Matrix which, of course, ruled.
April 20, 1999: Scott's hypertext class reads Neal Stephenson and William Gibson as part of a study of cyberpunk, a rumination on the future of technology and human communication. The assignment is to create a minisite about Stephenson's novel Snow Crash. While most of the students stick to plain text and links, Scott pushes his HTML experience as far as he's capable, attempting to create a media experience more about design than content, and it's as close as he ever gets to that ideal. Despite it being different from all other web sites he ever creates, Scott can't resist putting his personal stamp on it by sneaking in photos of his friends.
April 21, 1999: It is 49 goos and more than a year into Celebrity Goo Game before the game gets its first correct guess from a stranger, someone named Jennifer Youngedyke. Her email address is valid as far as Scott can tell, but she sends him no messages other five correct guesses that spring and summer, and that combined with her suspicious last name makes Scott wonder if she is one of his friends posing as an alias. It subtly influences the site that the first stranger to participate earns Scott's suspicion, making him paranoid ever after that any new unfamiliar registrant might be a friend in disguise, leading him to compare IP addresses and observe times of day when certain members login and participate looking for evidence of ghost accounts. Scott never discovers for sure whether Jennifer Youngedyke was a real person.
May 12, 1999: In May 1999, Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace is the most eagerly-awaited film in history, with a massive national craze over the imminent blockbuster. Growing tired of the hoopla, Scott throws together a page about the "hotly anticipated" The Love Letter, a minor romantic comedy opening on the same day that was virtually invisible against George Lucas's space opera. It was typical of the one-joke, thrown-together-in-two-hours sort of humor that drove Scott's Home Page during this era.
June 18, 1999: Scott's latest idea for a friends page has a lot of room for creativity: He pretends each one is a recording artist and creates the cover to their latest album, based on in-jokes or other references. A few of the jokes are too mean-spirited but the page is well-received, and the graphic design style Scott develops with this project shows up years later on the large promotional images he places at the top of his site homepage. The "CD collection" friends page is such a hit that it is followed up in December 2001 with a "book collection" sequel.
June 22, 1999: Always ready to steal a great concept, Scott borrows the humorous style of "The Onion" and fashions his own fake news stories in a feature that lasts two years. Among the headlines: Protestors Organize Million Monkey March, Boy Mauled by Pokémon, Bill Gates Learns He is Worth $90 Billion, Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company Admits to Cloning Humans, Bush Resigns After College Protest, Cellblock D Wins Prison Spirit Week, and Cats to Bush: 'All your base are belong to us.' The stories are mildly popular and get linked from various other sites, but take too much work for Scott to maintain with any regularity.
July 1, 1999: Two of Scott's loves, Chinese food and photos of his friends, come together in a new page called simply Fortune Cookies. Each friend is written a humorous personalized message purportedly from inside a fortune cookie, and the page is full of in-jokes. Among the entries: Kelly Lee gets "In two hours, you'll be hungry for a Steakburger," Jason Fedorow gets "You will not meet new acquaintances in bed," and Matthew Preston gets "Are you done? Want more Pesi?"
September 1, 1999:The Island at the End of the World, Scott's fantasy RPG, comes to its original end in April 1999 and loses several top players at its conclusion. Determined to give the game the interface it deserves before it resumes as Volume II, Scott spends the summer creating a colorful and highly organized new site just for the game, finally re-launching it as Blood on the World's Hands on the first day of September. It stays in this successful format for another two years, and during that time Scott keeps so busy writing new posts that he rarely manages to reformat old posts or add more reference material to the site, a trend that continues in games to come. The colored gradients in the menu re-appear intact in 2006 as part of the shell of a newly-launched redesign.
September 27, 1999: After Scott becomes an ordained minister through one of those Internet churches, he begins blessing household objects and offering to marry people's pets. Inevitably this inspires a page on his site, Homepages of the Holy, where he "blesses" other people's pages he finds online, starting with the anime fansite of newly-married Lori Lancaster. Scott decides to alternate between friends' sites and strangers' sites, but the award doesn't catch on and he soon abandons the project. Half of the strangers respond positively and the other half doesn't respond at all.
October 20, 1999: All over the web, Mr. T fights random enemies in a silly meme pitting him against President Clinton, Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII, Stephen Hawking, and even God. Scott puts his own spin on the trend with Mr. T vs. My Friends, a nine-page comic in which the venerable A-Team star kills Scott and winds up throwing his friends all over the place in the ensuing battle. Full of in-jokes, it becomes one of the most popular friends pages Scott ever creates, and leads to Mr. T becoming the 100th celebrity goo..
December 5, 1999: If American politics is a joke, Scott figures he ought to mine it for what it's worth. Scott launches Hardie/Preston 2000, his presidential campaign with roommate Matthew Preston as his running mate. With campaign pledges like "No more taxes. Ever," and "Social Security, schmocial schmecurity," the two set out to clean up Washington politics, but the grassroots movement never materializes and their parents won't fund their advertising platforms, stopping the joke at the page that spawned it. The following summer, Matthew's acrimoniously-split ex-girlfriend emails Scott to make fun of his campaign pledge to "Free Jeffrey Dahmer now!" because she thinks he isn't aware of Dahmer's death, and he patiently explains the joke to her.
December 6, 1999: Walking home from class one afternoon and thinking about how film critics always seem to publish their annual ten-best lists a month before the year actually ends, Scott is thunderstruck with the idea of creating his own "ten best" list and gets so excited he (almost) runs the rest of the way. A marathon writing session that night produces some amateurish text but clearly communicates Scott's passion for the movies he saw that year, and 1999 was a good year for cool movies: The Matrix, Fight Club, American Beauty, The Sixth Sense. Scott has so much fun writing his ten-best that he follows up a week later with a list of additional summaries of the year 1999 in film, and the feature becomes an annual element of the site, although thereafter Scott insists on waiting until January on principle.
January 7, 2000: Scott likes TV fansite WhoWouldYouKill.com, which asks visitors which character on popular shows they hate so much as to wish them dead (and how!), but he becomes so frustrated by the lack of updates that he rips off the concept and starts his own version. Scott's poll isn't dynamic: Members fill out a form that emails their choices to Scott and he manually edits the HTML files. What sinks the concept, not that it could have floated for long on its own, is that Scott grants every request for a show that he gets, and when Lori Lancaster promotes her Sailor Moon request on anime fan forums, Scott is flooded with requests for obscure anime programs that no one visiting the site thereafter has heard of, least of all Scott. Lori's anime goos become a respected (if feared) part of the goo game because they appear in moderation, but too much anime sends Scott's WWYK game to a deserving early grave.
February 8, 2000: Within a few months of each other, two humorous pages on Scott's site become minor hits. In The Poet Lando Ate, Scott jokingly writes about torturing Matthew Preston's hamster Lando: Lando, Lando, / You've always been a fighter. / Lando, Lando, / Your glory's getting brighter. / Lando, Lando, / Your smell is rising higher. / Lando, Lando, / Who set you on fire? That summer, Scott finds a muse in his favorite movie with Matrix Haikus such as: The Oracle lies / She says Neo's not the one / He wants his money back. This intentionally bad poetry inspires game elements in later sections of the site.
February 14, 2000: Enjoying a politically-incorrect dead pool game on another site (predict which elderly celebrity will pass away next), Scott launches his own version of the morbid game, and thus begins the longest "round" of any game he has ever created. Players can only predict ten celebrities with no overlap, making a point-based victory nearly impossible. Determined to see the game through to its finish once started, Scott keeps the game running for weeks, then months, then years, as ancient figures like Bob Hope and Ronald Reagan cling to life. Eventually, Boston native Dee Roup wins the game on July 7, 2003, by carefully replacing her choices each time one croaked. Can you imagine a round of the goo game lasting three and a half years? With Dee's victory, Scott happily announces that there will not be a Round Two.
February 20, 2000: A fan of the Academy Awards tradition, Scott decides to put a contest on his site for the 2000 ceremony, inviting players to predict who will win in each category, with varying point values depending on the prominence of the category, with the highest scorers receiving movie-themed prizes. The format was a hit and would repeat virtually intact year after year from then on. In the first year, Scott plays for fun and is defeated by 1 point by Peoria local Gabe Reynolds, a radio DJ who plugs Scott's site on the air the day after he wins the contest. Scott continues honing his skills and becomes the player to beat in subsequent years of the annual game.
April 20, 2000: The sixth incarnation of Scott's Home Page formally introduces a concept he'd toyed with every since the goo game began: Official weekly updates to the site. This time, instead of individual pages updating arbitrarily and independently, Scott would update the whole site every Friday, treating it like a magazine with a cover page and table of contents. This doesn't increase traffic or radically change the content of the site, but scheduled updates continue as a major site tradition for several years to come and lead to an even greater turnout of material.
May 3, 2000: The semester-long assignment in Scott's autobiography class is to write a thirty-page essay telling his life story or a particular aspect of it. Scott chooses to write about the 1997 death of his father, the discovery the next day that he had an elder brother, and the 1998 death of that brother, and how the two men shaped Scott into the man he is. The essay is deliberately journalistic in tone but still bowls over his class, unseating (to Scott's delight) the conceited stylist who had until then been the head of the class. When Scott publishes the essay on his site, he receives kind words from all quarters, but none more remarkable than an eBay trader with whom Scott's transaction has gone badly but who backs off from his threats when he reads Scott's essay and is deeply moved. The essay is such a hit that Scott writes a follow-up two years later about his mother and his fiancée Kelly Lee.
May 19, 2000: The "adoption" trend sweeps the Internet: You can "adopt" a Beanie Baby, Pokemon, or other cute creature by putting its icon on your homepage and thus linking to the site running the promotion. Scott mocks the fad with his own version: Adopt a Wu-Tang, in which visitors are invited to select a "cute" member of the New York rap supergroup of their very own. (This succeeds a minor Wu-Tang-themed page from the site in 1998.) Matthew Preston, Dave Mitzman, and Scott's new college friend Anna Gregoline jump at the chance to take one home, but the one-joke page is short-lived. Scott later tries to promote the 100th celebrity goo by seriously inviting players to "adopt" goos in the same manner, but mild interest from Matthew Preston is the only response.
July 27, 2000: With the TV series Survivor a national craze, Scott creates a contest on his own site, Web Page Survivor, aping the show's elimination concept but without the challenges, and casts his willing friends in the Tugboat and Pogoball tribes, later merging into Rat Honor. The four-way alliance of Effie Schaver, Matthew Preston, Dave Mitzman, and Steve Elliser goes all the way to the end and Effie willingly accepts that she must be the first of them to go, but trouble forms when Dave must choose between his two friends. His relationship with Matthew is forever damaged when he sides with Steve, and all involved (including Scott) learn a lesson about playing "games" of betrayal. Steve goes on to win the game and Scott announces future editions, especially after he becomes addicted to the TV series himself.
August 23, 2000: Since his one-sentence Thorough Movie Reviews don't provide enough of an outlet for his profuse love of cool movies, Scott creates a new section on the site, Confessions of a DVD Junkie, in which he expouses at great length about some of his favorite films from his DVD collection: The Matrix, The Haunting, Heat, The Ninth Gate, Run Lola Run, and Pleasantville. The verbose approach is Scott's favorite way to discuss the movies he loves, but it eventually proves too time-consuming to sustain and the project is canceled after four months. Scott resurrects it in more restrained incarnations thereafter.
November 26, 2000: Intrigued by a video game that lets you collect cards and play them in a 3x3 grid, Scott turns the rules around in his head until he feels compelled to make his own version. Using characters from his RPG The World Game as card subjects, he first creates a paper version that players use during a weekend convention, keeping track of ownership with colored disks. Soon the game arrives online with the creative title Card Battle, and it's easily the most complex part of the site, with varied rules to keep track of and many cards to collect. But Scott doesn't know how to program a dynamic site and must personally update each html file when a player sends him their next move by email, an arrangement that dooms the game to an early end despite its complex appeal and the work that went into it. Scott keeps considering the rules in the back of his mind for years to come, determined to make more of them with dynamic code and a broader theme than he ever could before.
December 2, 2000: Scott's website introducing people in real life doesn't always have a positive outcome. When one of Scott's male friends and one of Kelly's female friends meet in person after playing The World Game together, their strong attraction leads them to spend a secret weekend together in her dorm room without telling their respective partners. When the affair is discovered, the betrayals and lies and accusations send shockwaves through their circle of friends that most parties would regret long afterward. The young woman loses her relationship and quits the game. The young man only saves his relationship by promising to stay offline completely, a promise that he keeps for a decade and a half afterwards. Their lives are no longer the same afterwards, and nor for that matter is the website.
December 27, 2000: Scott succumbs to the biggest web fad of all when he moves the site to its own unique domain, celebritygoogame.com, where it sits for almost six years. Besides the new address and the move to a more robust hosting environment, another major change is the shift in focus of the site: No longer is Scott's Home Page the central focus; instead, the much more popular Celebrity Goo Game moves to the forefront. Scott gives the game a major overhaul, putting each archived goo on its own page so visitors could look up old goos, and adding player photos and bios to the site in an effort to give the game a community feel. These photos and bios will eventually morph into the member pages still in use today.
January 20, 2001: One of the last single-joke humor pages that Scott creates is also one of his strangest: An Essay Exploring the Theme of Man vs. Insanity in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, which consists of numerous paragraphs, lists, and links saying only, "All work and no play makes Scott a dull boy." Scott has just seen the movie for the first time and is tempted to create a genuine tribute page to it, but the one-joke approach seems best. It signals the end of the one-off humorous pages that for years have been a staple of the site.
February 19, 2001: One of the more complicated games on the site returns with Web Page Survivor 2: Outback Steakhouse, a parody of the second season of the popular reality show. This time, the Kooshball and Ogrecode (later Borrow Money) tribes compete in actual challenges invented by Scott, such as naming as many flavors of ice cream as they can and divvying up tasks in an imaginary household. When the contest comes down to five women in the end, Anna Gregoline's strategy to oust the popular Lori Lancaster backfires against her, and finally Lori defeats Kelly Lee to win a gift certificate for Outback Steakhouse.
June 5, 2001: After a round of the goo game in which Scott chooses celebrities representative of each of the players, he begins a special round (XIV) in which the goos are specifically requested by the players. The round opens with Yul Brynner, requested by Kelly Lee so the round could have a "king" goo (Brynner starred as the King of Siam in The King and I), and thus Brynner becomes the first player-requested goo in the history of the game. The round is a success among players and Dan Donovan suggests making goo requests a regular part of the game from then on.
June 16, 2001: The third edition of Web Page Survivor, Stranded in the Suburbs, keeps the challenge-based gameplay of the second game but adds a new twist: The sixteen players have fictional counterparts in computer game The Sims and are stranded in swimwear on a grassy lot in the virtual neighborhood, forced to fend for themselves with minimal in-game supplies. Scott has trouble keeping up with the simulation and stops posting screenshots to the site, but the actual WPS game proceeds uninhibited. A scandal erupts near the end when Anna Gregoline, who has brought her friend Kris Weberg into the game to fill out the cast, conspires with him first to vote out their ally Kelly Lee and then to engineer the vote so that Scott will be forced to have a three-way finish with them and fellow friend D. R. Scott is furious at his game being abused, especially when Kelly suggests that he deserves it for taking it so seriously, and his outraged rant on Tragic Comedy nearly kills the game. In the end, perceived innocent D. R. outlasts his controversial opponents to win the game; Anna and Kris tie for second place.
July 16, 2001: It begins as simply as Scott aping another web fad: Calling it Tragic Comedy, he installs weblog software called Greymatter on his site and promises to keep an online journal of his daily experiences, mostly tales about personally exterminating the field mice infesting the house he rents with Kelly Lee. He opens up authorship to anyone who requests it, and soon not just Kelly but friends Anna Gregoline, Derek Sutcliffe, and Kelly's friend Jackie Mason (then using her maiden name) join the mix. The comments following each entry become so popular that the journal quickly evolves into more of a forum than a group weblog, even though Greymatter continues serving the site for exactly one year.
September 10, 2001: Five years and 510 posts after it began, Scott cancels his beloved RPG Blood on the World's Hands, an emotionally devastating decision for him. The game has been on hiatus for several months and Scott finds it increasingly difficult to get back into writing a new post every few days, and by this time most of the key players have departed anyway. With a massive good-bye letter that explains his reasons and what details would have made up the rest of the game's story, Scott ends the game thanking those who helped it grow into such a voluminous success. Two years later, he transfers his still-lingering yearnings for his old fantasy RPG into a new text-based game set in the Victorian era.
October 23, 2001: Living with Kelly Lee and having numerous gaming friends in close vicinity leads Scott to run an in-person RPG again for the first time in years. He chooses The Matrix as his theme and sets the action in a crew similar to Morpheus's team from the movie. Within a few months, in becomes clear that a web presence is needed to keep track of the rules and characters, and Scott creates a simple, stylish minisite for the game on his site. Among the players in the year-long game are Jackie Mason, trying an RPG for the first time, and Bill Valentin, who also runs a Victorian-era D&D game that piques Scott's interest.
January 19, 2002: Scott launches the seventh and final version of Scott's Home Page, which has been his web presence from the very beginning but is increasingly irrelevant now that the site exists at celebritygoogame.com and each section has its own unique design. Now reduced to a bio about Scott, a photo of him with his bald head, and a list of links to the other pages on his site, Scott keeps this version live for a little over a year before he finally accepts that there is no place for his home page in his evolving web complex. When it disappears, it would be the last time the site contains any content specifically written about its webmaster for another four years.
July 16, 2002: Since Tragic Comedy has become much more of a forum than a journal, Scott decides to switch to software designed for just that: XMBForums, a software package provided by his web host. Re-launched with a fiery logo, the new forum is a flop, as only Lori Lancaster and Anna Gregoline begin new discussions and several members complain of the technology just plain not working. Knowing that the software is doomed, Scott tolerates a troll for the only time in the site's history, allowing Erik Nelson to start flame wars with other members under the alias Jim Stevens, in particular annoying Jackie Mason. Within four days Scott reverts back to Graymatter, but this time the blogging software is buggy and unreliable, and Scott is at a loss to fix it. He knows the time has come up for a custom-written PHP version of the forum, and hires Matthew Preston to get to work on one.
August 3, 2002: Since his Matrix game renewed his interest in RPGs, Scott uses the hobby to find friends at his new home in Florida. Within a few months, he has kicked off a new game called The Weekly Curiosity, in which John Gunter, John R. Edwards, Tom Bruser, John & Edee Viola, and others (including guests Kelly Lee and Matthew Preston) play reporters at a tabloid newspaper of the weird like Weekly World News. The oddball game enjoys a good two-year run, driven in part by the web site, which is formatted as if it's the official site of the newspaper and presents character and adventure details canonically. One feature even lets visitors submit questions to the TWC reporters to answer in-character.
October 17, 2002: For the first time, the site becomes a self-sustaining entity independent of Scott, when he pays Matthew Preston $500 to code a PHP-driven new site for him. Now when members submit forms the site handles their content themselves, and it's capable of publishing updates on a timed schedule, without necessary involvement from Scott. Each section of the site gets a new look, and Scott gains a powerful admin to control the whole thing. Matthew more than earns his paycheck when Scott requests round after round of changes after it publishes, a fate Scott karmically suffers himself when he builds sites for a living a few years later. Scott studies Matthew's code and begins to learn it on his own.
February 23, 2003: On the fifth anniversary of Celebrity Goo Game, Scott honors the great players of the game by creating the Hall of Fame, a new feature that describes the varied accomplishments of its inductees in detail. Matthew Preston, at the time the undisputed all-time champion of the game, is the deserving first inductee, and is surprised to receive an actual trophy in the mail as his prize. Each year on February 23, another great player of the game joins the ranks, and induction to the Hall is generally the most coveted achievement among players.
August 5, 2003: Already despondent over being unhappily single, overweight, and deep in debt, Scott loses his meager job in sales and is ground down by the conviction that he is alone and has no future in the world. At the lowest point of his depression, Scott writes a suicide note on a dry-erase board, says goodbye to his cats, and gathers every pill in the house together into a drug cocktail that he intends to be fatal. Less than a minute from swallowing it, he tearfully decides to wait until morning to see if his spirits rise. Once awake, he absent-mindedly goes through his usual morning routine of browsing the web, and begins toying with parts of his web site that have aged and need maintenance. By afteroon, he has decided to ditch the old site and begin anew with something fresh. The weeks-long project slowly brings him out of depression and turns his mood around for the better, until he feels normal again by its late-September debut. Today, Scott believes he is still alive only because this site carried him through his depression.
September 26, 2003: The site is overhauled yet again, this time with a unified design that identifies sections according to color-coding. The look is inspired by the new StarTrek.com, which highlights new content daily with an attractive homepage design; Scott applies the concept to keep his new site seeming fresh on a daily basis. D. R. is the only person who knows about the overhaul in advance and encourages Scott as he reviews progress almost daily. The new site is a hit when it launches, making it feel more dynamic and more like an application than ever before. Finally having learned PHP, Scott is flush with the feeling that he can do anything on a web page, and being unemployed gives him plenty of time to add new content.
September 26, 2003: In search of a scoring system for Celebrity Goo Game that avoids randomization and encourages strategy, Scott launches the towers system: Each time a player guesses a goo, that guess is placed atop one of five towers. If it's right, the tower grows one step higher, but if it's wrong, the tower is wiped out. The first player to build five towers up to their maximum height wins the round. The rule system is popular with the players, but it suffers from the same flaw as a number of other systems, in that falling even a single goo behind the competition means that you've already lost. After a few rounds, Scott drops the system, but he is convinced to bring it back in 2009 with a few tweaks: Players must choose the tower before seeing the goo, and players who complete a tower gain a reward of their choice, such as toppling another player's tower.
October 18, 2003: Excited to run another text-based RPG on his new site, Scott combines the format of The Island at the End of the World, the setting of Bill Valentin's "Gothic Earth" game, and his own custom rule system to create Fin du siècle, a game set in a late-Victorian Earth where literary characters and horrific monsters roam the planet with the characters. Scott's eagerness to begin gets the game off on the wrong foot; he begins with four players and has to write two new players into the second post before the first real adventure can begin. Matthew Preston, Anna Gregoline, John R. Edwards, Kris Weberg, goo game player Amir Sufyani, and site newcomer Scott Baumann are the initial six players.
January 12, 2004: After Scott adds a poll to the goo game asking if players are interested in Web Page Survivor 4: Welcome to the Jungle, he sends a simple promotional message to the few who answered affirmatively, inviting them to sign up. Upset that his real email address has apparently been compromised by a spammer, new member Todd Brotsch sends a businesslike message to Scott asking not to be contacted again unless he has won a prize in a game. The phrase strikes directly at Scott's fear of being seen as a mere prize-giver by people who have no real interest in playing his games for fun. Scott is so hurt he permanently bans Web Page Survivor from his site, and never sends another email to site members except as part of an opt-in announcement system. Todd and Scott apologize to each other over the unintentional hurt feelings, but their relationship and the site are never the same again.
January 17, 2004: After years of only a few dedicated players like Matthew Preston, Lori Lancaster, and Kelly Lee participating in the goo game, finally it has taken off in popularity with strangers, and the competition takes center stage for many. The game evolves to compensate, leaning towards more Google-proof clues and gaining descriptive categories that help players solve the goo like a puzzle. The new breed of players are instant experts at the game, none more so than Steve West, who wins the game a mere 37 goos into his game career, the fastest player to become a champion since Matthew Preston in the very first round.
January 23, 2004: The goo game has already seen special rounds that experimented with game structure like letting players request the celebrities, but this concept is entirely new: A whole round of the game build on a single topic. It is the "Goo World Tour," and each celebrity represents a different nation around the globe. The quirky theme is a huge hit with enthusiastic players, who ask for more themes like it when it ends. Thereafter on a regular basis, goos are grouped together into themes that unify them, like space or the wild west or the seven deadly sins. It becomes one of the goo game's most popular features.
February 29, 2004: Someone somewhere links to Predict the Oscars 2004 during the open registration period, and this edition of the annual contest becomes flooded with strangers who don't participate in the rest of the site. In the end, 41 people enter the contest, which is twice as many as the previous four years combined. When the prizes are all won by strangers, the site regulars are just as disappointed as Scott, and a new rule in future Oscar contests requires at least a week of participation on the site before entry. Former players are grandfathered in, and 2004's PTO champions return to compete again in successive years, frequently placing just as high.
March 3, 2004: Unemployed, Scott spends his spare time reading movie industry news, and finds he wants to say something about it almost every day. The approach is novel: He transforms Thorough Movie Reviews into Thorough Movie Weblog, so that he can write whatever he wants about movies in general and still review whatever films he sees. The results are uneven, with updates coming in spurts, and Scott finds he misses the plain simplicity of his reviews as reviews. When his career picks up a few months later, he is relieved to cancel the weblog and restore the reviews back to their previous format.
March 4, 2004: Another web fad visits the site when Scott invites members to transform themselves into South Park caricatures using an online tool and send him the resulting images for publication. The discussion is a hit, and members have a lot of fun letting out their inner surly grade-schoolers, even getting a few of their loved ones into the act. They also get their only glimpse of top member Russ Wilhelm, who won't supply a photo due to family privacy. Scott takes it a step further by converting all Weekly Curiosity and Fin du siècle characters into warped cartoon illustrations. A subsequent call for members to become characters from The Simpsons is also popular three years later.
March 17, 2004: Since the site's population of strangers has grown, Scott realizes that some of them may be curious how certain members of the site know each other in real life, and where some live. To that end, he creates the "User Legend," a complicated diagram of site members connecting the friends, family, and couples with brightly-colored lines, and the "User Map," a United States map with icons showing where participating members live. Both features are popular but difficult to maintain, since Scott must edit the images himself whenever there's a change. Eventually he replaces the legend with a dynamic version, and plans a dynamic map ever since removing the original from the site.
March 24, 2004: The goo game isn't the only growing part of the site: Tragic Comedy experiences a renaissance when its focus shifts from anecdotal accounts of member's daily experiences to open-ended discussions about politics, education, society, and culture. Prolific new authors like Erik Bates, Melissa Erin, Anthony Lewis, Scott Horowitz, and Steve Dunn invigorate the forum with their new perspectives and contribute to what some still consider the forum's golden age, when serious topics are analyzed in a friendly, argument-free forum.
April 2, 2004: General members get their first physical "merchandise" based on the site after an intriguing Tragic Comedy discussion. Among his circle of friends, Erik Bates winds up in a game to create a mix CD entirely out of cover songs, and turns to other authors for ideas. They prove so prolific that he offers to send them copies of the results in thanks. Previously, Island at the End of the World players had received mix CDs and silkscreened t-shirts, but this was the first product available to anyone on the site. Scott had toyed with offering goo game t-shirts through CafePress.com and similar services, but found their rules too restrictive.
May 11, 2004: Years of tinkering with this site when he could have gone to class or spent more time with loved ones finally pays off in an unexpected way when Scott is hired as a professional web developer. He had dreamed of the job for eight years, but doubted that his meager HTML skills were enough to compete with the countless other young people trying to break into the field. When he learns PHP and the site becomes application-like before his very eyes, he finally finds the courage to apply in the web development field, and within four weeks he has landed a promising full-time position. The good news for the site is that Scott learns a great deal more on the job about PHP and development techniques, but the bad news is that his free time slowly dwindles, especially when he is promoted to a position managing other developers. Forevermore, the site becomes a high-tech application depending at least as much on content from various members as from Scott's own hand.
May 20, 2004: As the site grows in popularity, it attracts people not just outside of Scott's social circle, but outside of the contiguous 48 states. The "Goo World Tour" comes down to a final face-off between Alaskan Christine Marie Doiron and Ontarian Mexan Baxter. (Christine wins but Megan goes on to a longer, high-scoring career as a goo player.) Fellow Ontarian Chris McKinnon later follows in Megan's footsteps with his own high score. Labradorian siblings Nadine and Allan Russell do well in the goo game, and Amir Sufyani invites his friend Kat Stratton to play from Britain. The furthest registrant of this era is Mihai Rusu, a native Romanian who says he enjoys playing the goo game because it teaches him about American culture from an American perspective.
June 6, 2004: The site experiences its share of brief outages from time to time, but one glitch proves especially vexing to the community when three days' worth of content disappear from the site, including a new goo and Tragic Comedy discussions about the passing of Ronald Reagan. Scott is able to recover some of the content from his hard drive, but it takes almost a day of the site on hiatus for him to do it, and knowing those days are lost permanently disrupts all affected discussions.
October 2, 2004: Searching for a way to keep Fin du siècle from growing stagnant, Scott turns to the source: An official D&D adventure called "Red Jack" in which the party chases the ghost of Jack the Ripper in the foggy streets of Boston, to which Scott adds family elements for new player Erik Bates. The choice of this plotline for his game couldn't turn out better: Scott realizes that structured adventures with their own self-contained arcs from opening to conclusion will be the game's salvation. From then on, the game is much-improved as a series of separate adventures, and the modern era of Fin du siècle begins.
October 22, 2004: With a Tragic Comedy discussion about the Yankees' performance in the World Series growing more heated by the hour, Dave Mitzman invites superfan friend James Chiappone to join the site. James's posts are inflammatory from the beginning, and the next day, he begins a new discussion solely for fellow members to fling creative insults at one another. With the forum's civility in danger of permanent collapse and several longtime authors informing Scott of their intention to quit, Scott takes two unprecedented actions that he hoped would never happen: He deletes the entire discussion and removes James from the site to end the angry conflict. James and Scott have a polite parting of ways by email, and site members learn the value of preserving the culture of mutual respect.
November 1, 2004: Scott's new career as a professional developer teaches him plenty of new web tricks both technological and philosophical. From this experience comes a complete redesign of the site, built with a professional touch but little creativity. Originally Scott conceives an animated shell but his artistic limitations end that dream. He makes the site plain white with a simple gray header because he intends to create numerous shells and let each member select the one they want, but lack of time and design talent also keep that from becoming a reality. This plain-jane look to the site survives for nearly two years, much to Scott's frustration, but at least it focuses on content. The biggest change to the site beyond its look and code is that Celebrity Goo Game now updates daily instead of weekly, a radical shift that means multiple goos are active at once and the competition gets a lot harder to win, not to mention that it becomes harder to update in Scott's busy schedule.
November 3, 2004: Discussion of hot social topics, especially the election-day turnout during the presidential showdown between George W. Bush and John Kerry, helps Tragic Comedy reach a fever pitch of activity. This calendar week sees 932 member comments, with 302 on November 3rd alone, by far a single-day record. (By comparison, it took six months for the forum to have its three-hundredth overall comment in 2001.) Top participants this week include Anna Gregoline, Anthony Lewis, Lori Lancaster, Scott Horowitz, Mike Eberhart, Jackie Mason, Todd Brotsch, Erik Bates, John Gunter, Kris Weberg, Dave Mitzman, Scott Hardie, and new member Amy Austin in her third week on the site.
November 25, 2004: For the first time, a site member takes Scott up on his offer to host their own sites for free. (Scott doesn't use anywhere near the storage limit on his hosting account.) Eager to offer character data online for his space-based RPG Trouble Shooters, John R. Edwards has Scott create him a basic site at travellerlog.celebritygoogame.com. John doesn't get around to updating it and the RPG soon ends, but for a brief time the site is host to an entirely separate web entity owned by someone other than Scott.
December 3, 2004: Obscene, mean-spirited humor site SomethingAwful.com mentions this site as its Awful Link of the Day, asking rhetorically "what fucking moron thought [the goo game] would be a good idea." Instantly this site is deluged with dozens of unwelcome visitors, who register with names like "Fuck You" and post messages like "Why does your site suck so much cock?" Scott doesn't discover the damage until he gets home from work, and spends six hours cleaning all of the junk out of the database to restore normalcy. Not one of the visitors sticks around the site beyond the first day.
December 27, 2004: So many players guess Pamela Anderson for the Jenna Jameson goo that Scott decides to create a whole week of goos that were frequently guessed wrong for similar celebrities. Thus the recurring "Do-Over Week" is born, becoming an easy, fun way for Scott to come up with celebrities who players are obviously familiar with. The concept doesn't stop players from guessing Martha Stewart for television goos, O.J. Simpson for crime goos, and especially Bill Gates for technology goos, the three famous figures who players most often guess wrong. (All three have been goos.)
January 11, 2005: After years of growing within the confines of the rest of the site, Scott's annual "Ten Best Films" feature finally breaks free and lives as its own entity. Perhaps inspired by the weirdness of films like I ♥ Huckabees and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Scott experiments with graphic design that gives each page a unique look while sticking to a consistent combination of elements. Scott's busy schedule keeps him from writing the whole feature at once as usual, so for the first time he publishes it one day at a time, discussing each film on the list with other Tragic Comedy authors as he goes.
January 19, 2005: With Tragic Comedy bustling with activity, Erik Bates suggests that the group begin some kind of virtual book club or possibly a movie club, to provide more structure to their loose pop-culture conversations. The idea is a hit, but before it can become reality, the squabbling between Amy Austin and Anna Gregoline that dominates so many other discussions invades this one too, and other members' attempts to steer it back to the book club fail. Scott saves the idea for another time when the feud is over, but years pass and participation dries up, especially after Amy and Anna leave. Scott eventually incorporates the "movie club" idea into a redesign of Thorough Movie Reviews in 2012.
February 6, 2005: Fed up with months of pointless bickering and insults between a handful of authors, Scott cancels Tragic Comedy with a heavy heart, knowing that it means his project has failed. Response from the authors is sad but accepting. What soon convinces Scott to restore the forum is a comment written by Steve Dunn a few weeks earlier, in which he praised the forum as a place for civil, intelligent discourse among diverse people who would normally retreat to separate web forums catering to their beliefs, exactly what Scott had always wanted it to be. Steve's kind words single-handedly save Tragic Comedy from permanent cancelation, but it is never quite the same again: Scott restores it with the requirement that participants agree to official rules of conduct, and also gives members the ability to hide each other's comments and report each other for rule violations. The forum enters a gentler era mostly concerned with pop culture fads and weird news, with a fraction of its former vitality.
February 11, 2005: Scott introduced his friend Erik Nelson to the site, who in turn introduced his friend Aaron Fischer, who in turn introduced his friend Mike Eberhart, but it is Mike by far who introduces the most new members to the site. Starting with his sister Wendy Eberhart, Mike brings in his co-workers Kelly Stokes, Jerry Mathis, Justin Woods, Russ Wilhelm, Bill Thompson, Derrek White, Ryan Tut, and Bob Miller, who in turn invite their friends and family Jacque Miller, James Miller, Joanna Woods, John Julitz, and Justin Hampson. Scott even overlooks his usual ban on pseudonyms to allow one of them access, although he does force another to give up a few ghost accounts. Many of these new members become accomplished goo players over time, making the strongest argument yet for a team-based structure to the goo game even though Mike himself is the most outspoken opponent of the notion.
March 14, 2005: The site enjoys its first planned crossover between sections when Dave Mitzman and Scott Horowitz inspire "New York Week" in Celebrity Goo Game and the characters return to their New York headquarters in Fin du siècle, gaining new player Michael Paul Cote while there. The crossover is noted in the large photography at the top of the homepage: The goo game's portion is noted with a modern color photograph of downtown over the Brooklyn Bridge and the message "I [Heart] NY," while the RPG's portion has a grayscale 1899 photograph of the same view with the message "I [Skull & Crossbones] NY" after a fictional villain launches a crime spree in the city.
April 23, 2005: Other players don't realize it at the time, but Celebrity Goo Game has just been joined by someone on the verge of real celebrity. Justin Hampson is introduced to the game by his girlfriend Wendy Eberhart, who was introduced by her brother Mike Eberhart. Justin plays strictly for fun, solving only 154 goos in two and a half years, but he has a good excuse for the lack of free time: A few months after joining the game, he makes his Major League Baseball debut as a pitcher for the Colorado Rockies, going on to play two seasons with the San Diego Padres. Scott doesn't become aware of Justin's celebrity status until the end of his time playing the game, but can't resist turning him into a goo anyway, making Justin the first player in Celebrity Goo Game to become a goo himself.
May 24, 2005:Tragic Comedy members learn a lot about each other when the "Four True Things" discussion asks authors to share five hard-to-believe facts about themselves, four true and one made up, then guess who's lying about what. The game is a hit, revealing surprising information about fellow authors, and drawing participation from nearly everyone in the forum at the time. A week later, it is succeeded by the "I Have Never" variation, where members list five things they have never done, a game that proves just as popular.
May 29, 2005: Scott hits upon a kooky idea for a themed week: Celebrities whose names are homonyms for prominent site members. Lori Lancaster has already requested a goo of Mexican actress Lorena Velazquez (her maiden name) and the concept has worked, so Scott creates seven new goos including presidential candidate John Edwards for Fin du siècle player John R. Edwards, NBA star Chris Webber for Tragic Comedy author Kris Weberg, and porn actress Nadine Roussial for goo game stalwart Nadine Russell. The themed week stretches the definition of "celebrity" but is a hit nonetheless, inspiring a recurring tradition with such goos as comedian Jackie Mason for newly-married Jackie Mason (formerly using her maiden name on the site), evangelist Adrian Rogers for new member Adrianne Rodgers, R&B crooner Craig David for former goo player Dave Craig, and more.
June 14, 2005: Competition in the now-daily goo game becomes so intense that victory seems a privilege reserved for a few dedicated experts, especially Mike Eberhart, Russ Wilhelm, Megan Baxter, Jerry Mathis, Elliot Farney, Denise Sawicki, Todd Brotsch, and Steve West. But none of these players achieves the fearsome reputation of Amy Austin, who Jerry nicknames "Darth Goo" for her apparently insurmountable mastery of the game. She guesses nearly every goo correctly within minutes of its publication, becomes the first player in three years to win a pair of rounds back-to-back, and blows away Denise's long-standing record of consecutive correct guesses, going for nearly three months straight without missing a goo. Amy's domination of the game forces Scott to get smarter about how he creates goos and to de-emphasize the competition so amateurs can play well too.
July 10, 2005: The site has numerous soldiers and sailors in its ranks, inspiring member E. M. to request "Military History Week" in the goo game. Scott agrees on the condition that the seven goos adhere to his standard rules of diversity in gender (at least 3 women), race (at least 3 non-Caucasians), nationality (at least 3 non-Americans), and category (several non-Military goos). Between E.'s original requests, an outstanding request from Mike Eberhart, and his own creations, Scott is able to strike this balance, but the result is a bizarre mishmash of Hollywood stars playing soldiers, figures from Chinese mythology, and virtually-unknown French resistance members from WWII. The themed week misses its mark so much that Scott throws away his diversity rules and declares that what makes for good goos is the only criteria that matters in the game forevermore.
July 17, 2005: In April 2005, Aaron Fischer announces his retirement from the goo game while he still has the all-time highest score, but he keeps his member account and continues playing occasionally. Three months later there is a more complete exit: Bickering and veiled personal attacks on Tragic Comedy take their toll when Anna Gregoline makes a sudden exit during a conversation about the infamous McDonald's coffee burn lawsuit. Anna is the forum's most prolific author, as well as an accomplished goo game player, Fin du siècle player, Predict the Oscars contestant, and more, but she abruptly cancels her member account and disappears from the entire site for months, eventually returning to lurk and write occasional brief comments.
August 5, 2005: A year after the conclusion of The Weekly Curiosity, Scott is ready to launch his next live RPG: Abre los ojos, a science-fiction game about time-travelers with bionic vision pursuing escaped fugitives across history. The game has numerous site members among its players, including John E Gunter, Aaron Shurtleff, Michael Paul Cote, John & Edee Viola, John Pierpoint, Deirdre DeLay, Tom Bruser, and Patrick Little, so Scott creates an extensive minisite for the game detailing all aspects of their characters and adventures. The code he writes is a test run for his full site redesign, proving to himself that the structure will work. When Scott is promoted to management at work in October 2005 and winds up with less free time, he must cancel the RPG, and the minisite never gets integrated into the public site as he intended.
August 14, 2005: The site's biggest crossover event to date is based on colorful New Orleans: There's "Nawlins Week" in the goo game, a review of voodoo-themed film The Skeleton Key, and an adventure set there in Fin du siècle that has the group meet E.J. Bellocq and Marie Laveau. Unhappily, Tragic Comedy joins the mix two weeks later when Hurricane Katrina destroys the city. For the second time (the first being 9/11), Scott links to the American Red Cross on his site and asks members to donate money, as the site's way of thanking the city for all the inspiration.
December 29, 2005: In summer 2005, Scott undertakes the ultimate rebuilding of his site: The new version will completely separate content from formatting, allowing him to redesign unlimited times without ever having to reprogram again. When his promotion at work in October 2005 takes away his free time, he struggles to keep up with the project, putting the goo game on hiatus and avoiding his social life in hopes of meeting his New Years Day deadline. When he finally gets there, Scott is crushed when he can't bring himself to finish the last of the work after completing 90% of the new site. In disappointment at the biggest web failure of his life, Scott scraps the new site entirely, waiting for another two months before he begins to devise another version, this time much simpler and less ambitious. Scott suffers the entire frustrating incident alone since he is determined to keep any future rebuild of the site a secret.
January 22, 2006: As Fin du siècle grows in complexity, Scott agrees with Anna Gregoline's suggestion that it needs a reference site just to keep track of data, but he is too busy to write the whole thing himself. For once, he adopts a web fad in all seriousness, installing WikiMedia at his domain to run "FINcyclopedia," an interactive, player-edited reference site for all names and concepts in the RPG. Scott contributes content with what little time he has, and player Kris Weberg composes a lengthy article about his own character, but mostly the wiki lies dormant for weeks at a time, not unlike the game that inspired it.
April 1, 2006: A Birmingham mental hospital is the setting for a landmark moment in Fin du siècle, the first time a departed player returns to the game. Amir H. Sufyani had been written out for inactivity, but he misses the RPG, and he convinces Scott to give him another try on the condition that he has to explain in-character how his character was staying in a nuthouse. In the same post, the game gains another new player when Jeremiah Poisson creates a character from another dimension trapped on Earth with the group.
August 1, 2006: After more than a year of work from Scott, the site transforms again, this time at a new domain: goo.tc. Redesigned to allow for greater personal expression by members, the movie reviews can now be submitted by anyone, and there's a new section for member blogs, Exquisite Corpse. The new "memberrank" system makes the most prolific members the most prominent, and a "friends" feature shows who knows who and what your friends & family have been up to on the site lately. The colorful new design provides a real boost to the site, with a flurry of new activity and new members.
August 9, 2006: Even though Thorough Movie Reviews has been opened to member-submitted reviews instead of being an outlet exclusively for Scott's opinion of films, the feature gets little use: The only member-submitted review after launch is Aaron Shurtleff's favorable write-up about the Korean film Oasis. The lack of activity confirms Scott's suspicion that his idiosyncratic system for reviewing films would be too complex for other members to bother filling out, and he makes plans to simplify the process in hopes Aaron's review won't become the only one ever submitted.
October 18, 2006: In Exquisite Corpse, Scott blogs about his distrust of astrologists, psychics, hypnotists, and other services he calls "Normal Paranormal" after some local friends mention partaking of them. One of these friends, Denise Krecicki, emails Scott a long and thoughtful defense of the subject, especially acupuncture, chiropractic, and feng shui. The two discuss each other's points back and forth for weeks, gradually developing a mutual fondness. Their debating leads to dating, two friends become a couple, and once again real life is affected by what happens on the site.
October 21, 2006: A few days before the website's tenth anniversary, Scott launches a commemorative special feature with its own unique, horizontal page design: "The History of goo.tc" describes one hundred of the site's milestone events in chronological order, with a particular emphasis on the intersections between online and offline, or how activity on the site affects "real life" beyond the Internet and vice versa. To further the notion that it is a living history, Scott writes every paragraph in the present tense, and commits to adding ten more items each year thereafter on the site's late-October anniversary. Although the special page design eventually disappears and the content gets integrated into the rest of the site design, the feature lives on, and eventually there are as many items added on the subsequent anniversaries as in the original set.
December 24, 2006: Unable to give the game the attention that it needs to flourish, Scott retires Fin du siècle with a final end-of-the-road post. The characters disband their adventuring party, with further solo adventures and life stories wrapped up in summaries that satisfy their arcs, such as Kerry Gilhoulie exploring the Dark Continent, Nigel Hawthorne battling vampires in San Francisco, Wo Jin sacrificing himself to defeat a powerful monster, and Charles Collins winning a Pulitzer for his return to journalism. Though the game has lasted more than three years, and it didn't end with a campy New-Years-Day conversion to the year 1900, Scott is still disappointed that the game has reached a premature end. He promises himself that he'll revisit the setting in a future campaign someday, but not online.
May 18, 2007: Erik Bates and Scott Hardie are the first site members to meet despite having no personal connections, when they learn they'll both be in Chicago on the same day in June 2006 and agree to spend it together, touring the city. But the first event that introduces site members for the express purpose of introducing site members comes when Steve Dunn issues a blanket invitation for anyone on the site to visit his Charlotte home for a weekend of NASCAR in May 2007. Scott is the only one to take him up on the offer, and the game has a mini-convention for two. The first night's conversation is all about the site, as Scott reveals his long-term intentions to Steve and is given back excellent advice about changes to such elements as the goo game's scoring system. The next day is spent at NASCAR, and it becomes memorable for an entirely different reason when Scott gets food poisoning and sprays his lunch all over Steve's van. The men quickly laugh it off, though Steve isn't laughing a few days later when he catches the same nasty bug. Through the site, Scott gains real-life friendships with Erik and Steve that all three appreciate.
July 12, 2007: Seeking to restore a connection from their youth, Derek Kendzor looks up his old friend Scott Hardie, finds the site, and the two resume talking. Derek even joins the site and participates in Tragic Comedy. This is one of many connections that site members have made with real-life acquaintances, though a few members have the misfortune to be looked up by people they wish to forget. The site helps to preserve numerous friendships and acquaintances that could have drifted apart, such as Dave Stoppenhagen and Lori Lancaster, or Matthew Preston and Dave Mitzman, or Scott and numerous members. Scott acknowledges this by creating a social-networking feature that diagrams the complex real-life relationships among the friends and family who use the site together.
July 27, 2007: The eternal, impossible quest for a perfect scoring system for Celebrity Goo Game takes a turn for the traditional when Round XXX is decided by a bracketed tournament. Twenty players are reduced to ten, then to five, then three, then two before a winner is decided. Some players don't like that they're eliminated by the speed of their guesses or by one simple error, but every previous scoring system had detractors, and this new one achieves its goals of producing one winner quickly from a field of many and providing drama along the way. Dave Mitzman earns his third victory in Round XXX, and Steve Dunn wins for the first time in Round XXXI despite inviting numerous friends and acquaintances Mike Rothstein, Greg Bair, Shawn Brandt, Vance Tucker, and Tom Leggett into the game to broaden the player body.
August 5, 2007: After nearly five months of work from Scott to code it, the site gains an exciting new game when Rock Block debuts late on a Sunday night, exploding in popularity the next day. Players collect cards depicting their favorite rock bands, then play against each other in mock battle to build their collections further. Proportionate to the rest of the site, the game is a monstrous hit from the beginning, with some players calling it "virtual crack" for its addictive nature, and several players wind up taking sick days during the first week due to exhaustion from staying up all night playing. There are a few missteps at launch, such as an auction system tied to the rest of the site and too few starting bands, but overall the game enjoys a very successful launch due to gestating in Scott's mind for seven years. It soon stabilizes, as the design quirks are ironed out and players figure out how to play a healthy amount of it each day. Players praise it as the best feature Scott has added since The World Game ten years earlier.
September 2, 2007: To boost participation in Rock Block, avid player Russ Wilhelm suggests a "Block Party," a daylong event for experienced players and newbies to play many short concerts at the same time, winning extra cards in the process. Only experienced players show up, but the idea is popular enough to spawn follow-up events every few months afterwards.
September 9, 2007: One month after its launch, Rock Block gets a popular new feature: A practice page called Heaven & Hell where members can challenge AI opponents to boost their playing skills. Angel plays simple games and is easy to defeat, but Devil cheats and captures cards that he shouldn't, giving players plenty of headaches trying to earn their first victory against him. The feature, intended by Scott from the beginning and aided by a suggestion from Denise Sawicki, proves that there's room for expansion of the game's narrow rock-music theme, and furthers the game's design model of players entertaining themselves without the need for regular updates from Scott.
September 12, 2007: On the morning of September 13, spontaneous glitches are Scott's only notice that his webhost has upgraded his software platform, breaking his site in the process. Once he updates his code to run differently, he discovers something even worse: An entire day of the site is lost. All of the discussions, concerts, goo guesses, and other content from September 12 is gone forever. Members get over the loss and Scott resolves to change webhosts as soon as possible, but more permanently, he also decides to prevent this from ever happening again, by developing a system to archive the site data independently of the webhost. Scott looks forward to the site's future, confident that its past will remain intact.
February 10, 2008: Since Exquisite Corpse and Tragic Comedy members seem to spend a lot of times pasting links that aren't necessary worth creating a new post or discussion just to share, Scott creates a page called Oddities just to link to weird things members find on the web. The page chronicles everything from techno-dancing vikings to knife-fighting lobsters to how to make a cat yodel. It doesn't stop links from being shared elsewhere on the site, but it does give some members an easy outlet for unusual links that they wouldn't bother to put anywhere else.
February 11, 2008: Erik Bates brings to Tragic Comedy a game that he has played with friends: Someone provides three clues and other players try to guess what movie they describe. Erik begins with "running, shrimp, Jenny" which describe Forrest Gump, and the discussion goes on to include such diverse titles as Die Hard, The Wizard of Oz, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Jaws, and Pulp Fiction. The discussion eventually peters out after a month and 138 comments, but Scott remembers the game four years later and programs an interactive version of it into a redesign of Thorough Movie Reviews that attracts over 100 entries in the first few months.
April 20, 2008:Rock Block gains a major new feature when Scott introduces Themed Concerts, allowing players to play with bands from the same place of origin or decade of influence or genre of rock. The weirdest themes are the name themes, which group bands named after colors or animals or food or other topics. Though the themed concerts don't count in the official scores because of the random distribution of cards, they prove very popular, getting as much play as regular concerts and giving players new achievements to pursue.
May 18, 2008: In an effort to make it easier for site members to keep track of new content, Scott introduces a complex new page on the site called Dashboard. Members subscribe to the pages they like, and updates to those pages appear on the Dashboard on a per-member basis. This frees up the site homepage to focus on introducing the site to new members, and gives Scott a renewed focus on usability in his future changes to the site.
June 20, 2008: As Shawn Brandt prepares to leave the company where he has worked with Michelle Lager for several years, Michelle enlists Scott's help to give him a send-off. Grateful for Shawn introducing her to his favorite web game, Michelle gets Scott to create a special goo of Shawn with the clue This goo used to be a Duke but now has gone on to master North Carolina. His expertise will be sorely missed. The goo is placed on the site like a real goo but where other members won't find it, and Michelle gives a framed printout of the page to Shawn as a going-away present at his farewell party.
June 24, 2008: The "Song Crush" discussion in Tragic Comedy has an ordinary beginning: Scott invites other members to share popular songs that they're currently infatuated with and that they think other members would enjoy. Through embedded YouTube videos, everyone gets exposed to some great new music and better appreciates each other's taste. But the discussion never quite dies down, eventually lasting so long that Tony Peters creates "Song Crush 2" because the many YouTube embeds in the first discussion are making the page difficult to open. The thread continues for years to come, inspiring Scott to make "Song Crush" a permanent sidebar feature on Tragic Comedy in 2013, so that the latest tunes enjoyed by site members can be shared and found more easily.
September 19, 2008: After months of entertaining new ideas for the goo game such as building the guess form in ajax, leaving goos active all round, and replacing the searchable archive with a browseable version, Scott puts his plan into action with a stark-white version of the game intended for maximum usability; the color is intended to come from photos and other content. Members do not react well, even after having time to become accustomed to the changes. Scott learns two lessons: Appearance does matter, and always roll out a redesign in total instead of one section at a time.
September 27, 2008: The site's hosting company grows increasingly difficult to work with, breaking the site by changing server environments, turning off the site when there's a problem and waiting for Scott to contact them about it, and so on. Scott is too short on time when it happens to do more than get the site running again, but finally it happens on a Saturday morning when Scott has nothing else to do all weekend but port the site to a new webhost. The new company is much easier to work with, but the site becomes victim to frequent outages where members receive "connection timed out" warnings for several minutes at a time. As frustrated as he is by the long-running trouble with webhosts, Scott is at least proud that his site has outgrown small hosting companies and needs a professional-grade environment.
October 11, 2008: Scott's web skills gain him his first freelance work, but it's a modest assignment: A small five-page site for friend Bob Van Kay, whose beef jerky, sauces and dry rubs are the highlight of a colorful retail food business. Following Bob's directions, Scott taps into his memories of GeoCities-style sites of the 1990s by adding a guitar-riff audio clip and playful animation. As a prank, Bob pays Scott his three-figure fee in quarters, but apologizes with jars of snacks that are served to guests two weeks later at GooCon: Siesta Key. The site itself is short-lived, replaced the following year with a retail site driven by Yahoo's site tools.
October 24, 2008: After years of failed attempts to get the site members together, Scott finally pulls it off by renting a house on Siesta Key in Florida and inviting members to chip in $200 to stay there for a weekend, meals included. Kelly Lee, Matthew Preston, Steve West, Aaron Shurtleff, and Jeremiah Poisson and fiancée Ines Sarante take him up on the offer. The group plays Rock Block with paper cards, plays Celebrity Goo Game live on a TV screen, watches the previous Best Picture winner, guesses at site trivia, and has a terrific time. The event is capped with a decorated cake for the site's 12th anniversary. Steve dominates the competitions, winning all events, but the unexpected key event of the weekend is a discussion inspired by Tragic Comedy using icebreaker questions that leads to Matthew, Kelly, Steve, and Scott sharing very personal details about themselves and bonding.
November 14, 2008: After years of being hosted on limited virtual servers that didn't afford enough CPU or with lousy webhosts that would take the site offline and wait to be contacted, the site has clearly outgrown the resource needs of a personal website and needs a professional-grade solution. Even as Scott is proud of the site's growth, he is desperate for a way to settle the mess, with frequent brownouts at the current host. Friend and fellow site member Jeremiah Poisson steps up with a solution: He will let Scott rent space on his enterprise-level server from his freelance programming business for a fraction of what Scott would pay for the machine himself. Scott jumps at the opportunity and moves the whole site in one evening, giving the site a stable, powerful, headache-free home at last. Jeremiah grows even more generous in 2009, spontaneously offering to lower Scott's rent to a fraction of the already tiny rate it had been.
November 29, 2008: Controversy erupts in Rock Block during a Thanksgiving-themed block party event. Chris Lemler's mother LaVonne signs into the site minutes before the closing deadline and plays only Chris, ignoring concerts with other players, giving Chris the count of most opponents played and a big prize in the game. When Scott asks him privately whether he arranged for his mother's conveniently-timed visit or signed in as her himself, Chris anticipates expulsion and broadcasts his goodbyes to the site, and the scandal goes public. An argument erupts on Tragic Comedy that reveals longstanding mistrust in the community, and a stream of private messages to Scott providing further "evidence" shows how deep it goes. Scott decides to trust Chris in this case, but the accusations continue over the coming months, eventually coming to a head in June 2009 when players quit the site convinced that Chris is cheating in various ways. At first, Scott is ready to remove Chris for good, but he discusses the matter with LaVonne over a period of several weeks and changes his mind. In July, he publicly declares his belief (and the site's official position) that Chris is innocent, and implores other players to give Chris the benefit of the doubt in future interactions. The controversy disappears, although block parties become a thing of the past.
January 2, 2009: Not every new feature or code change on the site is worth announcing in Tragic Comedy, but players invariably notice the changes and ask what they mean or why they happened. To satisfy this curiosity, Scott creates a Twitter-like feed of site updates that mentions and explains every change to the site, large and small, with members able to subscribe in Dashboard. it's a popular feature, but it highlights how much attention and effort goes into some sections of the site and not others.
January 30, 2009: The recession leads to a professional setback for Scott that gets him thinking about ways to earn extra income on his own, by converting goo.tc into a subscription-model business while slowly growing its member base. Scott initiates a secret multi-year plan that will gradually transform the site into a viable small business, first by changing superficial details like the domain name and the terminology ("users" would become "members"), and then by replacing games and elements inspired by other people's creations with wholly original work of his own or with media that he could license from online providers. This plan remains unmentioned in public for years, but when a few members are told of the plan at GooCon: Champions Gate in 2010, they're supportive, even though they're told that it means replacing Rock Block with an original game based on pirates. Scott goes on to spend a significant amount of time over the next few years slowly weeding out inappropriate content and preparing the site for a bigger audience, including undertaking time-consuming efforts to raise the site's profile with search engines.
April 7, 2009: On the tenth anniversary of Thorough Movie Reviews, Scott sets out to revive the languishing feature by returning to its original premise of ridiculously short movie reviews (hence its joking name). With a nod to the popularity of Twitter's 140-character status updates, Scott limits the movie reviews to 255 characters, the length of a tinytext field in the MySQL database where the reviews are recorded, although members still have the option of writing longer reviews if they wish. To give the new format a big launch, Scott publishes 68 short reviews all at once, overwhelming the subscribers. Reception to the format change is lukewarm, as some members contribute new reviews but not as many as Scott hoped. Scott wishes he had slowly published one of the reviews daily over 68 days to give the feature a feeling of ongoing activity.
May 17, 2009: Scott's longstanding plans for annual Rock Block tournaments finally come to fruition: "Stairway to Heaven," a months-long tournament, pits all players of the game against each other in an escalating series of concerts where the winners climb higher towards Heaven and the losers fall lower towards Hell. Over the summer, some players are slowly eliminated and a cadre of veterans inches towards the top, although several players like Ryan Dunn, Amy Austin, and Jeremiah Poisson manage to turn around their early misfortune and do well. On October 4, with Steve Dunn, Russ Wilhelm, and Justin Woods right behind him, Scott Hardie reaches the top step where Steve West has been waiting for a month, and a Final Challenge begins that promises to be an epic, weeks-long battle for supremacy. It ends hours later when Steve crushes Scott in the first round of their concert and becomes Rock Block's first champion, winning sweet prizes and sweeter bragging rights.
July 27, 2009: Four years after the failure of Abre los ojos, Scott commits to running a new live RPG called Gothic Earth. Seeking to boost his odds of success, he returns to what has worked well for him in the past, the rule system of The Weekly Curiosity and the game setting of Fin du siècle. Since players need to manage their characters online, Scott leverages the site's existing systems for member accounts and member interface by building a new section just for the game. This inadvertently attracts the enthusiasm of site members who don't live in the area and want to know how they can play, which forces Scott to explain that the game is played offline by Sarasota locals only, although he begins considering ways for other members to get involved. The players get a character-editing system, and interactive general store for buying equipment, and a wiki for keeping notes about the world that they explore.
October 4, 2009: Ahoy, mateys! Starting with the legendary Francis Drake, Celebrity Goo Game observes "Pirates Week" with a septet of notorious raiders of the seven seas, as well as a new category for goos, Piracy. It's all part of a tradition of pirate-themed content across the site, everything from the characters in the World Game being abducted by pirate captain Cassandra, to the heroes of Gothic Earth making a risky bet with the ghost of Gasparilla, that eventually culminates in the launch of an entirely new game on the site that turns players into pirate captains with crews of their own.
October 23, 2009: The second GooCon, held in an Orlando suburb named Citrus Ridge, seeks to build on the success of the 2008 event in Siesta Key. Returning guests Scott Hardie, Kelly Lee, Matthew Preston, and Aaron Shurtleff are joined by first-time attendees Jackie Mason and Amy Austin. Besides the swimming pool and relaxing in front of televised football games that make it a relaxing weekend, there's a live session of Gothic Earth based on the short story The Most Dangerous Game, a return of "Celebrity Goo Game Live" which Aaron clinches before the final round, and a game of site trivia won by Amy. Over dinner, the guests take turns remarking about other site members past and present, making it a weekend about everybody who has been a big part of the site.
October 25, 2009: Most sequels to themed weeks in Celebrity Goo Game are lukewarm leftovers of the same concept with diminishing quality, as the best candidates have already been gooed the first time. Seeking to break this trend, Scott works hard to make Seven Deadly Sins Week II a creative success, redefining the terms of the theme and designing seven goos that would be fine additions to the game as independent goos outside of any theme. However, the week is undone at the very end, when a glitch related to daylight savings time exposes the answers to all seven goos for hours before Scott discovers it. Scott leaves the goos published with the answers exposed and erases the incorrect guesses already made, so that all players can benefit from the unintentional "Freebie Week" instead.
December 8, 2009: If the idea of "six degrees of separation" is true, then even famous people must be connected to Celebrity Goo Game players. This proves true when Roxana Saberi, a journalist whose Iranian imprisonment and subsequent hunger strike make her internationally famous, becomes a celebrity goo, and player Denise Sawicki reveals that the two were friends in childhood and remain acquaintances as adults. The phenomenon occurs again in October 2016 when Ken Bone, a lifelong friend of player Chris Lemler, becomes a popular Internet sensation (and a celebrity goo) after asking a question at a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
December 10, 2009: Only a few months into its existence, Gothic Earth is threatened by controversy: Player Stephen Gambill does not get along with the rest of the group, who consider him an obnoxious miscreant. He has already driven away one player before the game even started, and tensions at the table continue to worsen. Stephen's change from playing a violent, monster-slaying agent of the Vatican to a smooth-talking, charismatic stage magician fails to solve the problem. Rather than lose more players or be forced to end the game, Scott tells Stephen not to return, in the process making him the second person forced off of the site. The decision saved Gothic Earth, as the group dynamic shifted to one of teamwork and good humor afterwards.
April 1, 2010: Seeking a way to liven up Celebrity Goo Game, Scott revisits an idea from 2004: The Goo World Tour, a series of goos from international destinations. This time, the goos are arranged geographically in a long, winding route across the planet, from Gisele Bundchen in Brazil to Keisha Castle-Hughes in New Zealand. Each new goo is announced by a large photographic header decorated with a goo game postmark, spotlighting a panoramic view of the celebrity's home country. The round is popular with players, including the eventual winner Ryan Dunn, and inspires Scott to get more elaborate in both his theme-concept plans and his visual presentation of the game. Norway's banner with a bright sailing ship is the most popular, as judged by voters in a ballot later that year.
May 30, 2010: The summer 2010 Rock Block tournament, named for Bob Dylan's classic "Like a Rolling Stone," challenges each player to push a boulder across a field. Each time they defeat another opponent, the stone rolls further along - but if they are defeated and lose momentum, they lose all progress and have to start over. Justin Woods wins often in the early phase of the tournament, but no players make substantial gains until the rules change so that no progress is lost in defeat, after which Chris Lemler and Ryan Dunn storm ahead of the pack. But the real chaos begins in the fall, when another rule change forces players to take on every opponent simultaneously instead of one at a time, and over a hundred concerts begin running simultaneously. Justin Woods, Matthew Preston, Russ Wilhelm, Ryan Dunn, and Scott Hardie all arrive at the end on the same day after a grueling competition, along with Steve West who is ineligible to win due to his 2009 victory. The finalists face off in the new "Rolling Stones" collaboration theme, with Justin emerging as the winner after only a few hours. The controversy over the frustratingly sudden ending to a months-long tournament leads to plans to handle future summer tournaments differently.
July 5, 2010: Seeking to reverse Tragic Comedy's decline in participation despite not being able to contribute more often himself, Scott launches a five-point plan to make it easier for members to interact. 1) "Exquisite Corpse" is discontinued and blogs are merged into TC. 2) Instead of the "Oddities" page collecting all funny links in one place, members are encouraged to share links as a jumping-off point for TC discussions. 3) Polls are added to discussions, to make them easier to start. 4) Members can flag whether they are interested in Celebrity Goo Game discussions only (or not any Celebrity Goo Game discussions), and the same for Rock Block, helping to reduce the clutter keeping some partially-interested members from talking more. 5) For members interested in a conscious effort to help TC grow again, an optional reminder to contribute is added to Dashboard. The effort yields results over the subsequent months as the number of new discussions picks up, led in part by a push from Steve West.
July 25, 2010: Alluding to his ambitious plans for the site's future, Scott takes a bold step by renaming it Funeratic, a made-up term intended to convey the spirit of the site. The change was partly to make the site more accessible to outsiders, since many people would not click on a link to the oddly-named goo.tc with its foreign top-level domain, and partly to give the site a clearer identity. The creation of a Facebook fan page and YouTube channel follow soon after, with more plans to come.
August 29, 2010: The theme of the upcoming GooCon: Champions Gate is Hollywood awards ceremonies, in the spirit of the annual "Predict the Oscars" contest on the site. Scott decides to give out actual award statuettes in "The First Annual Funeratic Awards for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence," and publishes a ballot inviting site members to vote in twelve silly categories: Funniest Title for a Themed Concert, Prettiest World Tour Banner, Best Argument for Promoting U2, Wildest Attack Strategy, Most Intimidating Competitor, Funniest Sentence That Would Have Made No Sense Ten Years Ago, Cleverest Goo Request, Greatest Nemeses, Best Choice for a Birthday Band, Favorite Blog, Best Negative Review, and Funniest Sentence Taken Completely Out of Context. When the awards ceremony begins at GooCon, the guests pose for paparazzi photos on the red carpet, then give offbeat acceptance speeches as each winner is revealed. Steve West claims the most trophies, with others going to Aaron Shurtleff, Erik Bates, Lori Lancaster, Nathan Quam, Scott Hardie, and Steve Dunn.
September 4, 2010: As a fun twist on the ongoing debates about whether certain bands deserve to be promoted to R10, the highest rank in Rock Block, Scott programs a ballot that will offer members a choice of two bands each day, eventually narrowing the choices down to semi-finals and finals, promising that the winner will become the next R10. Because the band U2 has been the subject of more promotion talk than any other name in the game, Scott expects them to dominate, but they are overcome by the Allman Brothers Band in the second round. Eventually, the Doors, Grateful Dead, Roy Orbison, and Pink Floyd are the final four nominees, with Pink Floyd emerging as the ultimate winner. The poll serves its purpose of having a little fun with the promotion system and starting more discussions, but it also reminds Scott of the simple power of the bracket format, influencing Celebrity Goo Game. The code template is saved and adapted for later use on the site.
October 13, 2010: For the third October in a row, Funeratic members gather in Florida for a long weekend of live fun and games. Denise Sawicki, Kelly Lee, Matthew Preston, Scott Hardie, and Steve West rent a house in Champions Gate, just outside of Orlando, and spent an afternoon at DisneyQuest, Disney's indoor theme park and arcade. Matthew runs a round of Celebrity Goo Game Live, giving Scott a chance to play; Scott wins Matthew's round and Matthew wins both of Scott's rounds. The live Rock Block tournament, "Battle of the Bands," is dominated by Denise in the early running, but Matthew perseveres to an eventual triumph. A live session of Gothic Earth has diverse strangers evict a magical spirit from a haunted house, and Gothic Earth is adapted into the Fluxx card game for an additional round of play. The centerpiece event is the distribution of the Awardies, followed by a preview of the site's future.
October 15, 2010: During the awards ceremony at GooCon: Champions Gate, Scott reveals a surprise to the guests. In a twist on the previous year's remembrances of site members who couldn't be there in person, Scott had arranged for site members to record themselves saying nice things about the guests at GooCon. Steve Dunn's praise for Matthew Preston and Aaron Shurtleff's compliments about Amy Austin are delivered with plenty of good-natured humor, while Jackie Mason's gratitude for Denise Sawicki strikes a sentimental tone. The most elaborate videos are by Nathan Quam & Raquel Hartzell, who become their Gothic Earth characters to celebrate Kelly Lee, and by Ryan Dunn, who demonstrates the stages of losing to Steve West in Rock Block. The presentations become a big hit with GooCon guests, and later with the rest of the site when published online. They also constitute Funeratic's first steps into online video.
October 17, 2010: Funeratic makes like every other reputable "brand" and gets a "presence" on Facebook to better "reach" its "audience." Scott is uncomfortable marketing to a small group of friends, but he uses the Facebook page as a way to highlight additions to the site that they might not have noticed otherwise, and it lays the groundwork for future integration with Facebook as a platform. Scott also creates a Twitter account just to lock up the "Funeratic" username, but has no use for it at the time.
October 24, 2010: If one of Funeratic's best qualities is its ability to bring people together in person, it's that exact quality that costs the site one major member when she loses the ability to partake in it. Prolific longtime member Amy Austin has struggled with her ability to attend GooCon: Champions Gate in the weeks leading up to the event. When she cancels (again) on the first day of the weekend and then re-confirms, Scott draws a line and asks her not to come at all. Due to this and other problems in the previous year, Scott regretfully insists that she not attend future GooCons. Very unhappy at the prospect of not getting to meet other site members again, Amy makes her feelings known and soon stops participaring entirely, influenced in part by changes in her personal life. Her induction to Celebrity Goo Game's Hall of Fame in February 2011 marks the likely end of a long campaign of success in the game for the player once nicknamed Darth Goo.
December 5, 2010: On the eve of a new round of Celebrity Goo Game, Scott surprises players with a completely new format to the game: A new theme of five goos each week, culminating in a brief elimination tournament with timed goos to pick a winner at the end of every three-month season. To complement the changes, Scott redesigns this section of the site with a sleek new look, preserving the previous red colors in the (condensed) navigation menu and offering a week-by-week schedule of the current season in the sidebar. Additional improvements include narrative paragraphs describing each pair of opponents in the tournament, ajax-based form submissions that show the results of each guess without leaving the page, and a re-organized Player Achievements guide that makes each feat easier to understand. Scott intends this to be the first of several redesigns, tackling each section of Funeratic one at a time.
January 9, 2011: Eager to upgrade another section of the site after Celebrity Goo Game, Scott picks the one with the most potential for interesting visuals: Gothic Earth. First, he applies a design that looks like pages torn from a journal, with "aged" photographs depicting a skull and bizarre statues. Then, he cleans up the sprawling navigation menu, reducing it to five key items with a Reference page gathering the other errata. Finally, he puts useful information for players into the margins, like the date of the next game session and a handy, customized list of ways to earn bonus points for their characters. The new look is popular, but unfortunately makes other Funeratic members even more interested in playing a game that is almost exclusively played in the Sarasota area.
March 14, 2011: When Jeremiah Poisson joins Gothic Earth after having previously played Fin du siècle on the site, it's yet another sign that the new role-playing game has much in common with its predecessor, which itself was based on a previous game played by Scott. The ghost of Jack the Ripper, a German vigilante named Liesel Schreiner, master hypnotist Svengali commanding his own private (unwitting) army of thieves, an ill-advised raid on the Hellfire Club, and other plot elements from Fin du siècle are put into a blender with many new ideas, and become the inspiration for new plotlines in Gothic Earth. The repetition is intentional: One of Scott's intended goals with the game was to create the kind of epic adventure that Fin du siècle didn't last long enough to become.
June 5, 2011: When he announces that the 2011 edition of GooCon will be held in the St. Louis area, Scott goes a step further: He promotes GooCon to a complete section of the site by itself, giving it a green and wood-grain design with a prominent photo of the St. Louis arch on the homepage. Rather than cramming a growing amount of information into a single page in the gray nether-regions of the site, this upgrade allows lots of room for planning, with an itemized budget that gets updated as each purchase is made in advance of the weekend, and a decorated schedule that fills out the daily itinerary with an alluring preview of each activity. The third "redesign" in the series is another success.
May 21, 2011: With a long announcement on the site, Scott finally reveals a secret that guests at GooCon: Champions Gate learned the previous fall: In order to save Rock Block from copyright infringement, he has decided to transform it into a new game called Pirate Paradise. Players will still collect cards, do numerical battle on a 3x3 grid, and participate in summer-long events, but the setting will change to the golden age of piracy and a slew of new features will improve the game. Rather than spring the change on players as surprise, Scott decides (on wise advice from Kelly Lee and Steve West) to hold a final summer tournament in Rock Block to give the popular music game a proper send-off. He chooses Don McLean's "American Pie" as the theme, based on its bittersweet subject matter.
May 28, 2011: With Rock Block disappearing soon to make way for a new game, Scott launches the tournament to end all tournaments (literally): "American Pie," based on Don McLean's epic tribute to the saddest day in rock history. Players must proceed through 31 separate trials inspired by the lyrics of the song, mastering six new play rules, defeating a suped-up version of Devil, and revisiting elements of past tournaments. After months of gradual progress and several reversals of the lead position, Justin Woods pulls off victory in October and becomes the first player to win multiple tournaments. Steve West also earns praise for timing his moves so carefully as to make it almost impossible to advance beyond him, even though Justin manages the feat. If Rock Block has to end, this fun competition and walk down memory lane makes for a fine send-off.
September 30, 2011: After years of coming close to victory on the site without being able to clinch it, Justin Woods finally makes a breakthrough: He wins Celebrity Goo Game three times in less than a year, and does so handily, having plenty of extra chances to spare when he eliminates his last remaining opponents. He also wins Rock Block's summer tournament for the second consecutive year, winning ten concerts in a row to catch up to Steve West at the last minute in "American Pie" and triumph. Justin's utter domination of seemingly every game on the site earns him a reputation for being an aggressive competitor, and positions him as the player to beat when other site members meet him for the first time at GooCon the following month. He goes on to win the very next season of Celebrity Goo Game on the site despite increased determination to beat him among his opponents.
October 13, 2011: Exactly a year after the previous GooCon, Funeratic members gather in the suburbs of St. Louis for GooCon: Villa Ridge. Chris Lemler, Erik Bates, Jackie Mason, Joanna Woods, Justin Woods, Kelly Lee, and Scott Hardie are there all weekend, joined for a single evening by Carol Wilhelm, LaVonne Lemler, and Russ Wilhelm, many of whom are meeting in person for the first time. Competition is emphasized even more than in previous years as nearly every activity becomes a game with a prize, and every guest leaves with at least one. Celebrity Goo Game Live gets silly with a recurring goo of actor Scott Bakula. Tragic Comedy provides fodder for a fun guessing game called "Who Said That?" Pirate Paradise is previewed in a nearly-finished state, two months before launch. A field trip to the local bowling alley is dominated by Chris, a bowling coach in his spare time (no pun intended). Gothic Earth gives players a chase across Paris in 1898, and a chaotic card game based on Munchkin. In its fourth year, GooCon is better organized and more fun than ever.
November 16, 2011: Scott makes a small mistake with a goo and then a much bigger mistake as Celebrity Goo Game's referee, with long-lasting consequences. In trying to create a goo of eco-terrorist and arsonist William Cottrell, Scott accidentally goos an image of the similar-looking Christian rock singer Travis Cottrell. When several players guess Travis, Scott expresses his regret at gooing the wrong Cottrell, but rules the guesses incorrect anyway, because the clue specifically indicates William. Ryan Dunn rightfully protests that his tournament chances have been ruined by Scott's bad call and refusal to make it right. This incident leads to the creation of Advanced Rules in the goo game that spell out exactly what outcomes will follow in this and every other conceivable situation, which go on to prevent similar controversies more than once in the future. But Ryan leaves the game soon afterward, and Scott remains sorry for years afterwards for making such a lousy and unfair judgment call.
January 1, 2012: Ready at last after the longest development phase of any section of Funeratic, Pirate Paradise enjoys a successful debut that sees thirteen players join the new game in the first few days. Scott times the launch for a holiday weekend when activity is normally lower, so that any issues discovered by the first few players can be addressed quickly before more people come in. In the new game that is a heavy modification of Rock Block, players create their own pirate crews and do battle for treasure, learning dirty low-down techniques and seeking the ultimate prize of ten million gold coins. The game is a hit, much to Scott's relief, and Rock Block is retired three weeks later. Scott considers this the first and biggest step toward eliminating any content on the site that potentially infringes on copyright. Celebrity Goo Game celebrates the launch with a week of famous pirates.
February 22, 2012: When Steve Dunn is inducted to the goo game's Hall of Fame instead of the widely-anticipated Justin Woods, it generates controversy for the third time, after Russ Wilhelm is inducted instead of Amy Austin in 2010, and Lori Lancaster is inducted instead of Steve West in 2008. Scott's policy of inducting a single player each year according to qualification criteria that he does not share publicly, combined with well-intentioned players stirring anticipation by soliciting predictions as the date approaches each year, leads to resentment when the "wrong" person gets the honor, even though the "passed over" player is technically ineligible or Scott explains why the choice was so difficult. Tired of the hurt feelings, Scott contemplates dropping the Hall of Fame entirely, but decides to leave it alone. He does change the annual induction date to March so that it doesn't occur in the middle of the winter tournament, where it might falsely appear that he favors one competitor over another.
May 14, 2012: In the early days of Gothic Earth, players Nathan Quam and Raquel Hartzell had taken to recording game sessions on their tiny mp3 recorder and sharing the results online, to help players better transcribe the events of the plot for the game wiki. Years later, Scott is frustrated by how his own laborious note-taking slows down the pace of every play session, so he borrows their idea and begins recording game sessions on his own mp3 recorder and sharing the results with players on Funeratic. The page is inaccessible to anyone not actively playing Gothic Earth so that players can feel free to speak their minds about work or family or other opinions that they wouldn't want aired online. The resulting three-hour audio files are enormous and create an inconvenience for Jeremiah Poisson in hosting the site, so Scott eventually keeps only the five most recent files online and makes the rest available by request. The audio files not only help in transcribing game sessions and keeping better notes, but they allow absent players to catch up on what they missed. it's the first audio component to any game on Funeratic.
May 19, 2012: Tragic Comedy gains a long overdue feature: The ability to control who sees what you write, including comments, blog posts, and replies to posts. Members can choose to share their contributions with the world, or all Funeratic members, or certain Funeratic members only, or no one. They can also retroactively change the privacy settings on previous content. Scott has been uncomfortable with this kind of privacy for a long time because it hurts readability and search-engine traffic, but he relents out of consideration for other members' preferences. He wishes he had done it before the lack of privacy options cost the site several prolific commenters, including Melissa Erin and Jackie Mason, but he applies global privacy settings to their old contributions as a favor even though they've already left.
June 3, 2012: Thorough Movie Reviews enjoys a full redesign and expansion. The reviews themselves are now grouped together by movie and accompanied by a plot description provided by Netflix, and spoiler warnings protect against accidental discovery of sensitive plot details. New features include the Three Clues trivia game and a "Movie of the Month" forum (later "Movie Discussions") in which Funeratic members discuss interesting new releases. The ten best list is retired as Scott no longer wishes to continue the annual tradition. The overhaul also provides some infrastructural improvements, such as SEO improvements and index-based search results.
September 2, 2012: Days after suffering a heart attack at age 42, Dennis Wuorenma passes away, devastating close friend Sarah Kyle and touching several other members of Funeratic. Dennis has played Celebrity Goo Game and Rock Block for a while at Sarah's invitation, and is the first member of the site known to have died. A simple memorial for him in Tragic Comedy attracts kind words from Scott, Sarah, Matthew Preston, and Steve West.
September 8, 2012: Plans for GooCon: Villa Ridge 2 fall apart when Joanna and Justin Woods are forced to cancel, and Scott is unable to attract enough people to take their place, even by offering to change dates and cover the weekend cost himself. Plans for the GooCon-that-wasn't include a team-based Celebrity Goo Game, a Battleship-inspired contest in Pirate Paradise, a return of Rock Block, and several more elements that were new to the annual gathering, along with a few old favorites. Scott predicts that the lack of interest marks a permanent end to the annual tradition, but he resolves to adapt the unused games for inclusion on the site. When Scott and Kelly Lee undertake the rest of their planned October road trip north, they make a point to stop in St. Louis for one evening and have dinner with Chris and LaVonne Lemler, Erik and Pam Bates, and Carol and Russ Wilhelm in lieu of GooCon.
September 16, 2012: One of the simplest but best improvements of Pirate Paradise over its predecessor, Rock Block, has been automatic battles, which the site generates on schedule for willing participants using randomized conditions so that they don't have to keep manually creating their own battles. Nine months after the game begins, Scott expands this feature to give players much more precise control over the exact terms they're willing to use against each opponent, and automatic battles overtake regular battles as the most common form of gameplay, much to the delight of the game's lazier players, including Scott.
November 26, 2012: Pirate Paradise's first big annual event begins: In "Wrath of Circe," the sorceress sails about the open sea, transforming pirates into pigs whenever she inevitably defeats them with her magical crew. Players sail around a map of the Caribbean Sea, battling each other in pursuit of pieces of a treasure map that leads to a cave of ghosts, who teach the Handicap ability that lets the winner overcome Circe's natural advantage. After four months of play, Matthew Preston beats the rest of the pack and vanquishes Circe, turnring everyone's pigs back into pirates and earning himself a million-coin bonus in the game.
November 30, 2012: Perseverance pays off for Big Apple resident Mike Rothstein, who finally triumphs in Celebrity Goo Game after six years of playing consistently but unluckily. Along with Samir Mehta, Mike is one of the last two remaining players from a group of Duke University friends introduced to the site by Steve Dunn, including Vance Tucker, Jim Kraus, Jason Evans, Shawn Brandt, and Greg Bair. Other players, especially Steve and Samir, cheer how Mike's patience and dedication to the game finally result in an well-earned victory. To prove that it's not a fluke, Mike goes on to win the game again less than six months later.
December 16, 2012: After years of Scott writing his own "Ten Best Films That I Saw" feature at the end of every calendar year, he opens the floor to all Funeratic members, creating a virtual ballot in which everyone who reviewed movies that year can vote on which titles they thought were best, and thus determining the collective opinion of the website. In the feature's inaugural year, the collective votes of Chris Lemler, Erik Bates, Evie Totty, Samir Mehta, and Scott are tallied, and The Dark Knight Rises is declared the best film of 2012 according to Funeratic. The feature winds up generating many more reviews and discussions about the year's best movies and trailers.
January 26, 2013: A major flaw is discovered in Pirate Paradise: A code error has allowed players to promote their crew members endlessly instead of having a limit based on their experience, and some players have developed very powerful crews that are more like small armies. Scott establishes a transitional period for several weeks before the correct ruleset takes effect, during which players promote and fire some of their pirates in order to satisfy the new limits, gaining a full refund on the spent gold coins. Only one player, Russ Wilhelm, opts to keep his over-promoted crew, knowing that he will not be able to promote again for possibly years. With crews restored to reasonable levels, competitive fairness is largely restored to the game.
February 4, 2013: To make the most of Celebrity Goo Game's fifteenth birthday, Scott recreates seven previous page layouts stretching back to the game's simple origins in the late 1990s, into a more complex blue period in the early 2000s, and through its evolution into a wider red layout the late 2000s. Each design is visible for 24 hours only, on another day of the Quindecennial theme, which features five young celebrities all approximately the same age as the game itself. The project creates by far the most elaborate custom layout that any individual theme in Celebrity Goo Game has enjoyed.
April 4, 2013: The passing of beloved film critic Roger Ebert is discussed on Tragic Comedy as it is everywhere online. The occasion makes Scott think about Thorough Movie Reviews, which were a product of Scott's love of movies and love of plain, honest, funny, and life-affirming criticism, both of which were the direct result of enjoying so many of Ebert's reviews and other columns in the years prior. Well before Ebert's death, Scott had already come to regret one particular mention of him on the site: Among the harsh and foul-mouthed early pieces written for Thorough Movie Reviews, a 2001 page called "Fuck You Roger Ebert" complained about Ebert's review spoiling the entire plot of Sean Penn's The Pledge, including the final scene. Scott's shame at being so churlish about a man he liked and respected made him quietly delete that particular page from the archives long before the entire feature was eliminated.
June 15, 2013: Out of the blue, Scott is called by one of the celebrities previously featured in Celebrity Goo Game, who is unhappy about an ugly distorted photo of their face appearing online. They accept Scott's assurance that the game is all in good fun and no personal criticism was intended, but they still want all specific information about them removed from the site, and the corresponding pages scrubbed from search results. Scott agrees to help, working with Bing and Google to get the pages removed as quickly as possible. This paragraph is the only reference to the person remaining in the entire content of Funeratic, and is deliberately generic to omit any hint of personal detail.
October 5, 2013: At long last, Scott publishes the project that has taken him most of 2013: A full redesign of Funeratic that makes it compatible with mobile devices, plus other upgrades like subscriptions integrated with every page and improved photography around the site. The project began in March 2013 as a redesign of Tragic Comedy that Scott originally called "Spring Cleaning" because he didn't expect it to take more than a few weekends, but the scope grew to encompass the entire site. The project went through three complete overhauls of the code base until Scott finally settled on using the popular Bootstrap UI library developed by Twitter, which made the development process faster instead of slower, and gave the site an appealing if somewhat generic look. Even upon launch in October 2013, many individual pages remain in need of overhaul, giving Scott plenty more to do in 2014.
November 14, 2013: Just as Scott is gearing up for a two-week road trip, which will include an engagement party with his fiancée Kelly Lee to be attended by Funeratic members Jackie Mason, Lori Lancaster, and Matthew Preston, the site decides to take a vacation of its own: Over a period of several days, Funeratic becomes less and less stable, refusing to generate some images and load some pages, cultiminating in a twelve-hour outage on November 14. This happens right in the middle of Celebrity Goo Game's fall tournament, disrupting the competition and forcing several goos to be struck from the record after some players had already solved them. Because Scott has to devote an entire weekend to reconfiguring the site and moving it to a new host, he is forced to shelve plans to change the goo game's format to something Japanese for the following season, and "temporarily" gives up regular additions to Pirate Paradise that never get back on the same schedule again. Scott has to continue to monitor the site daily during his trip, but the crisis does pass and the players remain supportive and understanding, even as Justin Woods beats them all again in the goo tournament to claim his amazing seventh victory.
February 23, 2014: Scott feels pessimistic about the site's decline and his ability to keep up with changing trends, so when member Samir Mehta, who has a law degree and good sense in general, offers to give Scott advice over the phone, Scott happily accepts. Samir first offers insights into copyright law that give Scott immediate relief from his Sisyphean ordeal of converting the site's huge body of content. But even more importantly, Samir offers his opinion about what the site should be, based on Scott's strengths, weaknesses, and capacity to work on it. He gets Scott to stop trying to fix the problem of declining participation by offering newer and better features, and instead treat it as a problem of lack of awareness of the site's existence, which can be solved through outsourcing the work of marketing that Scott avoids out of dislike. Feeling new wind in his sails thanks to Samir's advice, Scott abandons the business plan that had taken the site in the wrong direction for years, officially embracing the site as a mere hobby like it had always been, and decides that the first change should be to resurrect a very popular rock & roll game that had been sacrificed to make the site viable as a business. Samir's advice would shape the site's future and maybe even save it from extinction, earning Scott's lasting gratitude.
March 15, 2014: Site members had married before, including Justin Hampson and Wendy Eberhart in the mid-2000s, but those weddings didn't have the same effect on the site as Scott Hardie marrying his longtime girlfriend Kelly Lee, with several Funeratic members past and present in attendance, including Amanda Ross Bryant, Andy Lee, Andy Perkins, Evie Totty, Jeff Coopes, Jeremiah Poisson, Joan Hardie, and Wes Bryant. The wedding is coordinated with guests in advance using a hidden page on the site. Planning the wedding, as well as the honeymoon in Los Angeles and San Francisco, takes up most of Scott's attention for months, leaving the site adrift with a declining activity level that Scott feels helpless to change. After returning from the trip (which was based in part on suggestions from site members, including former San Francisco resident Samir Mehta), Scott writes a pair of extra-long blog posts describing the wedding and honeymoon in great detail with dozens of photos, both to share with the world and for his own future recollection. It has been a great adventure and Scott has loved every minute of it, but he is also glad to get everything in his life, including Funeratic, back to normal again. He doesn't yet know that a death in the family the following month will soon take over a few more weeks of his life.
March 29, 2014: There's no denying that participation on Funeratic has dwindled to a tiny fraction of its peak levels a decade earlier. There were once hundreds of new comments daily in Tragic Comedy, but now entire weeks pass with only one or two comments. The site reaches an all-time low in March, when Tragic Comedy goes a record 22.7 days without any activity. Other sections are also in decline: Thorough Movie Reviews often goes weeks between new reviews (including a six-week draught in the fall of 2013), while in Pirate Paradise, there are only five new non-automatic battles between players in the first half of the year. Only the flagship Celebrity Goo Game stays active daily, but even it is reduced to around fifteen regular players. it's clear that the site needs more participants to survive, and Scott begins formulating a more aggressive plan to attract them, asking for players' help in the meantime to spread the word to family and friends. This era in the site's history feels largely quiet and uneventful week-to-week.
June 1, 2014: After a few weeks of programming that Scott privately dubs "Project Tokyo," Celebrity Goo Game begins its summer season with an entirely different format inspired by the culture of Japan. Players claim levels on an ever-growing pagoda by solving goos, trying to score enough points to occupy the highest level when the season ends. Along the way, they can acquire the help of nine lucky cats to help them, such as Kuro the thief, Momoiro the romantic, Ao the psychic, and Aka the drunk, who manipulate scores, let them guess again after missing a goo, or choose upcoming goos. Players are also invited to submit their own goos for points in the game, leading to new goos from Chris Lemler, Joanna Woods, Justin Woods, Lori Lancaster, and Samir Mehta. With this new format, the goo game achieves a fair (and fun) balance of luck, strategy, and skill, while the cats and pagodas add personality to the otherwise plain game, a breath of fresh air after several years of timed tournaments and weekly themes.
July 24, 2014: During a lull in the lunch conversation at work with his fellow developers James, Nathan, and Nkosi, Scott brings up a programming problem that has him stumped: The upcoming revival of Rock Block should restrict the artists available on the form to those playable given the chosen opponent, but the computations so far take thirty seconds or more to re-draw the form options, and Scott wants a faster algorithm that can do the math in under two seconds. Scott only intends the question as a thought experiment about math formulas and efficient logic, but James considers it a challenge and writes his own script to calculate the values quickly. His solution is ultimately incompatible with the game, but Scott continues to think about the problem and has a eureka moment at 3am that solves the problem by building on some of James's innovations. When the game launches a few weeks later, Scott invites his co-workers to check it out, but only Rosa Melano joins and plays concerts.
August 8, 2014: Although Funeratic is getting quieter online, it continues to bring its members together in other ways. Chris Lemler's participation in disc golf tournaments gets members rooting for him and following his progress on a league website. Amy Austin's dog's serious illness gets members to rally with donations to help pay for veterinary bills. When Steve West brings his often-mentioned wife Brenda and daughters Lauren and Olivia to Florida for a vacation in August, they're joined by Kelly and Scott Hardie for a dinner of gator bites and other Floridian food at the same restaurant where they had dined years earlier with Denise Sawicki and Matthew Preston at GooCon: Champions Gate. Kelly and Scott go on to support the Wests' annual Autism Walk on Olivia's behalf, continuing the offline connection inspired by the site.
August 18, 2014: When Gothic Earth faces yet another player moving away as several others had already done, Aaron Shurtleff proposes a solution: Allowing distant players to participate online in the tabletop RPG via video conference. Aaron and fellow former player Jeremiah Poisson participate in a trial game session about a fake miracle worker in Tombstone, Arizona, which proves that the technology is sufficient for Aaron and Jeremiah to keep playing Gothic Earth every week as their old characters. A game on Funeratic once again helps friends keep in touch, even if they have to use an external video conference service to play the game together. It works so smoothly that Scott even considers using the technology to resurrect GooCon online.
September 6, 2014: Two and a half years after disappearing from Funeratic, Rock Block comes roaring back to life in a full re-launch, with a carefully curated mix of old and new content, including new artists like Diana Ross, Traffic, and Curtis Mayfield, as well as new themes like A is for Aerosmith and Hitsville U.S.A. New features include an interactive concert-generation form, a way to earn new artists directly by playing the game, automatic concerts started by the site, and more. Though it doesn't inspire quite the same frenzy of activity that greeted the game's original launch in 2007, the re-launch is very successful by the standards of the site's reduced membership in the summer of 2014. Rock Block immediately becomes the second most active section on the site (behind only the goo game), seeing consistent daily activity during its initial weeks.
October 2, 2014: In a roundabout way, Gothic Earth is being turned into a video game. Scott is contacted by someone who is part of the thriving mod community for the game series Civilization, who happened upon the Gothic Earth storyline on Funeratic and wants Scott's blessing to develop a custom mod based on the RPG that will let players take control of one of the many "qabals" warring for control of the fictional world throughout its history. Scott warns him that much of the game's setting comes from popular fiction and the Masque of the Red Death RPG, but Scott wholeheartedly approves this modder's blend of those pre-existing elements with characters and concepts unique to Gothic Earth. Scott and the players look forward to the results of the project, which is already previewed online in a modding community forum with screenshots and extensive documentation of the work in progress.
October 18, 2014: After years of enduring a sluggish, ancient computer from the era of Windows XP's initial launch, Scott finally acquires a new machine and stops pulling his hair out waiting for two programs to run at the same time. This finally brings about the long-anticipated day when celebrity goos will no longer be made with Kai's Power Goo, the once-popular, long-forgotten, mid-1990s image distortion software that gave the "goo" game its name and inspiration. Although Scott has sometimes created goos with Photoshop or online programs, Kai's Power Goo has been used in the creation of perhaps 99% of all goos. With over 3000 goos published online and nearly a thousand more created for various GooCons, Scott wonders if he has used Kai's Power Goo more and longer than any other person on Earth. Kai Krause's software has had a nice long run, but eventually the goo game has outlasted it.
February 18, 2015: Scott is dismayed to learn that several Funeratic members have been prevented from participating during weekday hours for some time, ever since the website had been blacklisted on numerous professional networks as a time-wasting distraction among their employees. It's nice to have been successful enough to warrant being blocked, but with the site already struggling, Scott cannot afford to lose any more active members. He devises a backdoor entry point into the site that gets around the blacklisting, allowing several members in the know to keep on playing whenever they want. The only problem with the solution is that players have to mention to Scott that they're being blocked for him to know that they need to be granted backdoor access, but for those who do get it, the solution helps.
February 22, 2015: Funeratic enjoys a fairly stable hosting environment during this period in its history, but when the site does go offline, it happens at a very unfortunate time: The night of the Predict the Oscars contest, when site participation is at an annual high. The servers hosting Funeratic stop running at 4pm and stay offline for the rest of the night. Several members including Scott have been deliberately waiting until the last few hours of the contest to make their "real" predictions, and have no choice but to compete with rough guesses made prior to the outage. To each of the several members who complain, Scott apologizes and directs them to his host's Twitter feed for updates, as the situation is out of his hands. As frustrated as he is, Scott opts not to abandon his host, since their uptime is otherwise reliable.
April 27, 2015: With declining participation threatening the future of the site, Scott decides to start advertising Funeratic. On advice from Samir Mehta, Scott avoids doing the marketing himself, since prior experiences have made him uncomfortable with the practice. Instead, he hires German company Hello Traffic to make a set of ads and run them on similar websites, for a small monthly fee. The campaign brings in a steady flow of forty to ninety new visitors on a weekly basis, leading to several new registered accounts and active members.
May 23, 2015: The re-launch of Rock Block has gone well, but it feels even more like the old game again when the first seasonal tournament gets underway, based on Europe's hit song "The Final Countdown." Players must keep winning concerts in order to keep their countdown clocks from running out. Play is fast and furious, with a winner (Steve West) emerging triumphant after only two weeks. The event is such a success that future tournaments are announced at the end, with the caveat that they won't be over as quickly. The next, based on "Happy Together" by the Turtles, proceeds at a much slower pace over the course of the fall.
May 29, 2015: Amidst the game's frequent winners, there are a number of other dedicated players who keep up with Celebrity Goo Game season after season whether or not they ever get the glory, accolates, and prize that come with a championship. LaVonne Lemler scores a triumph for the underdogs when she earns her first victory in the game after solving 1,732 goos over the course of seven years. Players like LaVonne, Aaron Shurtleff, Richard Slominsky, Sarah Kyle, Scott Horowitz, Tony Peters, and others, are unsung players who show dedication, skill, and enthusiasm for the game by participating for many years, deficient only in luck. The game is all the better for having them.
July 31, 2015: Funeratic adds support for text messages, finding another way to interact with members wherever they are. Several players sign up to be notified of their turn in Rock Block or new private messages from other members. The biggest use for it comes in Gothic Earth, as some players often have to be absent at the last minute, forcing a game cancelation after other players are already in the car driving to Scott's house to play. Scott builds a simple attendance chart of who's in and out of the next game session that sends instant notices by email and text message whenever a game session has to be canceled by mass absences, sparing all of the players some frustration.
August 9, 2015: After considering it several times in the past, Funeratic finally organizes an official fantasy football league, using Yahoo! Sports to provide the functionality. Numerous players quickly sign up: The inaugural season includes Chris Lemler (Superman Punch), Erik Bates (Saint Louligans), Joanna Woods (MeanMug), Justin Woods (Salty Dog), Matthew Preston (Under Pressure), Samir Mehta (SDS's Excellent Team), Scott Hardie (Concussionators), and Steve West (Fat Rats). With discussions on the site and on Yahoo!, the league brings new life to Tragic Comedy and yet another new kind of game to the community. It's so successful that two more fantasy leagues are founded in the fall to play basketball and hockey, this time on ESPN's service.
October 24, 2015: Funeratic gets a long-overdue upgrade when Scott encrypts all member passwords in the database and alters the "forgot my password" email so that it resets the password instead of retrieving it. Scott also offers members three different levels of security based on how comfortable they are with their information being stored in browser memory. Password encryption is an invisible but important change that members have requested for some time, and it comes with a few side effects, like email addresses now having to be mandatory (with no other way to regain lost access to an account) and Scott no longer being able to log in as another member in order to test a reported problem from their perspective. Offering members more safety and comfort is worth the trouble.
October 30, 2015: Thanks to the technical assistance of IT expert and Funeratic member Jeff Coopes, Scott finally has a home computer running Ubuntu (Linux), which makes it far easier to do Funeratic development. For one thing, Scott can easily run PHP and MySQL and Apache on the machine, so he can run a local copy of Funeratic on his computer that mirrors the live site (complete with an automatic nightly refresh of data and files from the live site), making it far easier to test new features before they get published; Scott no longer has to disable access to certain pages of the site so that he can work on them, and he can try out more ambitious new features like generating gooed images on the server. Scott also sets up version control software to keep track of his changes, making it even easier: Not only can he restore any previous version of the site code to figure out where a bug was introduced, but he can segment projects off into branches of code, doing a project months ahead of time and letting it sit in a branch until the time comes to reintegrate it and publish it. Every section of Funeratic sees changes large and small thanks to this major system improvement.
November 21, 2015: Celebrity Goo Game takes a strange turn thanks to an incomplete project. Scott starts using software called ImageMagick to generate goos on the server: All that he has to do is provide a celebrity's name and click a few links, and Funeratic generates the images automatically. But while Scott intends to make each gooed image truly random, he is unable to finish the project and instead generates them according to a handful of algorithms, resulting in a boring sameness to every gooed image thereafter. Since the project isn't finished, Scott also doesn't accomplish his secondary goal of making the tool available to members to create their own goos. The software does allow Scott to make goos much more quickly, but the project qualifies as both a partial success and partial failure.
December 19, 2015: Playing the video game Fallout 4 inspires Scott to make a web page based on The Onion for the second time. Pairing screenshots from the game with headlines from The Onion, Scott pretends that the satirical newspaper is reporting on the events of the post-apocalyptic game world, with headlines like "American Life Turns Into Bad Jerry Bruckheimer Movie," "Experts Agree Giant, Razor-Clawed Bioengineered Crabs Pose No Threat," "It's Sad Seeing How Much My Hometown Has Changed Since That Level 7 Nuclear Accident," and "Area Man Beginning To Think He Has Memorial Day Off." The page is a hit when Scott shares it, almost making up for Scott disappearing for eight weeks while exploring the game's irradiated wasteland.
February 27, 2016: Funeratic's first live online tournament gives Rock Block players a chance to compete head-to-head: Inspired by Bobby Day's classic hit song, the "Rockin' Robin" tournament pits players against each other in a double-round-robin tournament, while most participants join either a videoconference or text-based chat room. Things get off to a slow start as players struggle to get online with their devices, but the delays give players a chance to converse and catch up. Once the playing begins, talking takes a back seat, and the competition is fast and furious, with Steve West eventually emerging victorious. Although there are lessons for doing better next time, everyone agrees that the format works well and deserves re-visiting in the future.
June 4, 2016: After five years of declining participation, Pirate Paradise is scuttled for good. It once started out strong as a replacement for Rock Block, but outside of a few popular tournaments, it has struggled to keep lots of players participating at once, and the return of Rock Block in 2014 has rendered it obsolete. By the time Scott announces its impending end, it has seen zero player activity for half a year, and the nature of its registration process makes it virtually impossible for new players to join without other players already being active. In the interest of keeping the rest of Funeratic feeling vital without one whole section being a ghost town, Scott ends the game and thanks players for the good times playing it.
July 14, 2016: The 2016 version of Ghostbusters has been controversial since its announcement, not just for remaking a beloved classic but for casting women in the four lead roles. The debate eventually makes its way onto Funeratic when the movie comes out in theaters, with members debating the movie's merits versus its reputation and the chilling effect of labeling people sexist merely for disagreeing. The conversation spills over from Thorough Movie Reviews into Tragic Comedy and even out to Facebook. The presidential election ultimately sparks the most discussion of any subject in 2016, but the movie is a provocative flashpoint all the same.
July 23, 2016: With the site's membership continuing its slow decline, Scott proceeds with an ambitious multi-step plan to make Funeratic more appealing to search engines, improving everything from images to page addresses to HTML markup to indexing to linking, and asks members to help by linking to Funeratic from as many different places online as they can. The effort does improve traffic but does not (at first) lead to new memberships. A few former members are attracted back, however: Elaine Beckland, Jesse King, and Stan Iwanchuk all return to guess celebrity goos, and Elaine becomes a daily participant in Rock Block as well. Efforts to improve site traffic and participation continue on an ongoing basis.
October 1, 2016: With less than a month to go before the event, Scott is forced to cancel plans for "GooCon 2016," a day-long online gathering of Funeratic members to celebrate the site's twentieth anniversary. Real life has gotten in the way: Kelly and Scott are very busy seeking their first house with only a few months to move, and Scott doesn't have time to finish the GooCon preparations. He promises to revisit the half-finished activities soon afterward, but it's an unfortunate missed opportunity for Funeratic members to celebrate a big milestone together. On the day that the event was intended to happen, Scott can at least share the good news that a house has been found and purchased.
November 9, 2016: Although the volume of comments is a far cry from Tragic Comedy's heyday in 2004, the surprise victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the presidential election is still a landmark event for Tragic Comedy: A shock to some members, a relief to others, and a turning point for site participation. Liberal members spend weeks before and after inauguration debating how terrible they think Trump and his policies are, and the normally friendly Tragic Comedy feels like a bitter, unhappy place for weeks. Other members stop discussing politics whatsoever, either turned off by the negativity or just unwilling to voice their support for Trump in the midst of such liberal hostility. Over the coming months, Tragic Comedy gradually begins to feel light-hearted and welcoming again on other matters, but its political discussions in the Trump era remain tense for much longer.
January 22, 2017: With browsers like Google Chrome adding more restrictions for websites that collect passwords over plain HTTP, Scott decides to give Funeratic an upgrade to the more secure HTTPS, ensuring a direct connection between the server and each end user. Funeratic is just a small gaming website, but its users deserve to have their data protected, especially as usage increasingly happens over public wi-fi networks. The change adds occasional slowness when loading a page on Funeratic, as an extra step must be made each time to validate the SSL certificate, but the change is the right thing to do by users and by the site, giving it a small boost in search-engine traffic at the same time.
April 23, 2017: Mistakes compound: When Scott fixes a bug in Rock Block concerts that has been processing the same code multiple times whenever Chris Lemler finishes a concert, he makes a small adjustment to the number of new artist ranks that Chris's opponents have earned, since a few players benefitted from defeating Chris "multiple times" in the same concert. This proves controversial, since a few players are now deprived of ranks that they had every expectation of being able to spend, so Scott corrects it by giving every player the same adjustment that the most adversely-affected player deserved, granting everyone a +6 bonus. But one fix that Scott put in place, code that auto-adjusts the ranks if they become incorrect again, does not help the matter, as players keep noticing slight fluctuations whenever the numbers auto-correct themselves. Scott is forced to make yet another change in how new artist ranks are calculated and recorded. What should have been a simple fix turns into weeks of corrections, but players come out of it richer, with extra artists in their labels.
July 31, 2017: Rock Block's previous tournament, a live videoconference-based competition taking place in a single afternoon in 2016, had been a lot of fun, but Scott struggles to find a time to do it again, barely able to secure a date in his own schedule let alone try to coordinate with all active players. He finally gives up and runs a simple tournament (based once again on a double-round-robin format, this time taking its name from the Rivingtons hit "The Bird's the Word"), letting it play out slowly over eight weeks instead of one afternoon. The competition is popular, inspiring Erik Bates to return to the game and for players to exchange friendly banter during concerts and in Tragic Comedy. The short tournament is such a success that Scott commits to running them much more often in the future, aiming to get close to the original plan for Rock Block to have a new short tournament every season.
September 3, 2017: Once again, it's time for Celebrity Goo Game to adopt a new scoring system to refresh itself, after years of lucky cats and pagodas. Scott appreciates how differently some players approach the game, and devises a system that will reward players for experimenting with different styles: Players earn badges (colorful icons) for accomplishments such as solving a consecutive streak and solving many goos on the same day and being first to solve a goo and so on, with the player who accumulates the most badges by the end of the season becoming the winner. Players approach the new system with gusto, devising stretegies to maximize their badge collections, but it soon becomes clear that the system is flawed, being static and uninteresting. A year later, the game switches back to the previous system, the Japanese pagoda and lucky cats model.
September 10, 2018: After living for years on the Florida coast without any signs of a major storm, Scott's luck runs out as the massive Hurricane Irma roars across the entire state overnight. Kelly and Scott evacuate to a shelter with their cat and a few supplies, and Scott uses Tragic Comedy to help alleviate the boredom and provide updates on their condition, trying to stay upbeat under the circumstances. Once the storm is past, Scott continues to use Funeratic to keep his sanity while waiting almost a week for the power to be turned back on. It's a difficult event, made more bearable by the human connections on Funeratic.
September 24, 2017: Members have had options to control Funeratic since the site first became interactive, allowing members to customize everything from whether icons are circular or square, to whether Rock Block prompts them with a confirmation before each turn in concert. With a project launched on this day, Scott unifies the various options scattered across the site into a series of "Options" pages, one per section, that give members control over how various pages display, some new and some pre-existing. And for members who like to live dangerously, there are two new options: In Rock Block, there is now the possibility of playing with trade rules in automatic concerts, and in Thorough Movie Reviews, plot spoilers can be displayed automatically instead of staying hidden by default.
December 2, 2017: Rock Block's tournaments, when there are enough players to hold them, have been won exclusively by Steve West, the most dominant player in the game. But the varying rule structure of tournaments creates an opportunity for someone else to get ahead. In the "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" tournament, named after Pat Benatar's propulsive 1980 hit song, each player starts with ten targets. For each victory in concert, a player can hit another player's target. Each player is eliminated when all ten of his or her targets have been hit, with the last player left becoming the winner. Steve is the first player eliminated in this format, with Scott close behind him, followed by Matthew Preston and Chris Lemler. In the end, it is Erik Bates who wins, unlocking a play rule and gaining bragging rights as only the second person to become a champion in the game. The format proves popular and is repeated in 2018 with a similar tournament based on AC/DC's "Shoot to Thrill."
February 4, 2018: For Celebrity Goo Game's 20th anniversary, Scott decides to revisit the past: He recreates the 20 goos that he believes have been the most influential on the game, such as those that inspired new rules and new features in the game. This includes the first goo created by a player (Jackie Mason's Aaron Burr), the first goo to be part of a theme (Penélope Cruz), the first goo inspired by current events (Elián González), the last fictional goo (Long John Silver), and more. It culminated on the game's 20th anniversary by recreating the very first goo (LL Cool J), 20 years to the day from its first publication. Not every goo was popular (the theme required revisiting some of the least liked and least solvable goos to remember why the game stopped publishing goos like those), but by and large it was a hit, a landmark celebration worthy of the occasion.
Funeratic's annual Predict the Oscars contest is now underway. Which films will take home statuettes on February 24? Enter now for free and you could win a $50 gift card! Click "Go" for more information.
February 20, 2000: A fan of the Academy Awards tradition, Scott decides to put a contest on his site for the 2000 ceremony, inviting players to predict who will win in each category, with varying point values depending on the prominence of the category, with the highest scorers receiving movie-themed prizes. Read more...
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