Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Waste of Time

Reminiscing the days we used to run de_dust 24/7 on

My dad once said that if I spent as much time studying as I did looking for love, my grades would be a lot better.

Yeah, that was high school.

Since then I've held odd jobs and odder hobbies. But looking back at my previous experiences I can identify where I acquired each of the skill sets I now use to run what you know as LUCIMA.

In late 1999, I started playing a game called Counter-Strike. A first-player shooter built off of Valve's Half-Life physics engine, Counter-Strike was IMHO the first rampantly played multiplayer FPS (I think even before Team Fortress became popular... well at least it overtook Team Fortress quickly!). Considering that it was a mod of Half-Life is truly impressive. Basically 2 guys (Gooseman and Cliffe) in a garage modifying the Valve code into a different framework that had a different set of objectives, weaponry, and scenarios. Originally a free download on top of the Half-Life game, Counter-Strike was eventually sold to Valve (for probably a substantial amount of money) and sold directly via Valve as a standalone game.

Although I started playing Counter-Strike as a mere "user", I eventually created my own server ( Within months I ran 3 servers, one from home and two from our school's T1/T3 lines. In fact, the two servers at school ate up so much bandwidth that the network administrators paid us a personal visit just to see what was taking up all the bandwidth. They were cool but the head of the IST (Information Systems Technology) put an immediate cease and desist on our servers after he found out it was a game. Perhaps we shouldn't have gotten greedy with our two servers hosting 32 player games. But we got more than a semester out of the two Bitchbot servers :)

What did Counter-Strike teach me? For one, it taught me a lot about computers. Our servers were running AMD chips overclocked and those suckers were generating heat like Lebron James chasing his 2nd championship ring. I remember resolving a few crashes where one of the servers (we're talking cheap consumer-grade components here) would fail cataclysmically when the 30th person joined a game or something. I remember applying Arctic Silver and making sure the heatsink was sitting well on the CPU.

More importantly however, Counter-Strike taught me how to manipulate scripts and some basic code. I was never a computer programmer nor did I care to be. But running these Counter-Strike servers required heavy amounts of manipulations to the server-side code. You have to remember that all of this, Counter-strike, servers, etc. was a huge experiment. Counter-Strike was in beta (before Valve acquired it) and it did not include many of the server-side features it possesses today. We had to manually implement many add-on scripts in order to increase the value of our servers. Value that would keep as a top 10 server for months on end.

What did the scripts do? They were value-add features like saving spots for administrators to log in without kicking off existing players. They would admin players special rights to alter maps and boot assholes off the server. We had scripts for outputting statistics to websites that you could easily view. We even had scripts that would catch cheaters or prevent them from even joining the server. And as time progressed it got more complicated. Scripts would often "break" on updates and I'd have to look at code to figure out what was wrong. And with poor documentation I was often on my own, seeking help from forum contributors who had hopefully endured the same problems.

But this is the exact same skill set that allows me to run is like a Counter-Strike server. It's not a custom-built website. It's built upon the WordPress platform (just as the CS servers were built on the Valve platform) and allows me to add many of the modifications that you see on the website. Modifications including a membership component, portfolio for photo/video, website design templates, Google Analytics (on the back end) for statistics, etc. I leverage everything I know about computers to put together and without running those Counter-Strike servers in college I would not be able to run as a fashion photography website especially with the complex education/workshop media components.

The second experience from which I've leveraged heavily was the entire management of Bertha. I credit much of the branding with LUCIMA to having the experience of creating an identity with Bertha. The key with creating a new identity is consistency, believability and getting people emotionally involved. This was easy with Bertha because there were few 600HP BMWs in the world and she was the only 600HP mid-size sedan BMW. Without getting too technical, the g-forces from 500ft-lbs of torque (T61 turbo on a 3.2L inline six) were enough to make grown men squeal like little schoolgirls on Christmas Day.

And enough to make girls cry. I've had passengers literally weep from fear.

Keeping her in the magazines and on the bulletin boards made for good consistency. As for believability? I remember the first time I introduced her to the community, I wrote this post from first-person perspective and said, "Hi my name is Bertha..." and Bertha literally achieved overnight fame in the modded BMW community. Even the name "Bertha" was consistent with the heavy curb weight of the car. But like the "Big Bertha" Callaway clubs, when you think Bertha you think force/strength/power.

Keeping the modifications going kept people excited. People wanted to know what the next mod was. People wanted to know how much power she put out on her dyno runs. People wanted to know if Bertha with 3 passengers was still faster than a Dodge Viper.

Not faster, but just as fast.

What I learned with Bertha was that when you create a new identity you also assume the responsibility of fueling that "marketing machine". Like in the movie S1m0ne, where Al Pacino's character has to perpetually give the media something to keep them believing that Simone was a real actress, as Bertha's "agent" I was perpetually responsible for her guest appearances whether it was at a car show or at a photoshoot. I had to also make sure that media was syndicated across the different social media outlets to keep her on top of people's minds. And as I said in the other post, I was basically Bertha's agent/custodian because she was essentially a C-list celebrity.

And that's basically exactly how I feel about LUCIMA. There's Charles and then there's LUCIMA. LUCIMA is the talent and Charles is the agent. And like Bertha, LUCIMA is an identity that needs to be perpetually reinforced in people's minds. The images, the videos, the blog posts, podcasts, etc. all serve to further the brand and increase the consistency, believability, and emotional connection with the audience.

But to come full circle to the title of the post "A Waste of Time". To anyone else, running Counter-Strike servers or modifying your car would appear to be an enormous waste of time and money. But the underlying theme of both experiences is that both were fueled with passion. And with passion anything is possible; even manipulating code and creating/managing an identity. So as many of my blog posts are written, the title to this post is rhetorical. Is it a waste of time? Not at all. The experiences I gained in those two endeavors prepped me for what I'm doing today. Where would LUCIMA be without Counter-Strike and Bertha? Well, LUCIMA wouldn't exist and Charles would probably be at another desk job wishing he could be doing exactly this.

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