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Subject: Java Man Designer's Notes rss

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Here are the Designer's Notes that Al Brown wrote up for the "Java Man version 1.1" rules.

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A primitive version of the game was first played in 1974, the rules being developed on the spot in a meeting in Northern Virginia, using an "Outdoor Survival" board and counters. The game designer was seventeen years old. He was and is fascinated by the question of Human Origin and the development of early man.

The game was shelved for a couple of years, and then brought out and subjected to formal design and re-design, with many play-test sessions at the University of New Hampshire. During this time, the game designer was spending most of his efforts on developing play-by-mail games, and also a game of ancient naval combat.

The play-by-mail development led to the issue of a regionally successful game called "World Campaigns," but due to personal squabbles the designer was never given any credit or payment for his work.

The naval combat game was eventually accepted for publication by Tactical Studies Rules under the name "Galley", but was never actually published. TSR backed out of the contract, and allocated its resources into Dungeons and Dragons and its various supplements.

After these experiences, the designer resolved to publish games himself, rather than rely on others. Looking at the plethora of games then available on various subjects and periods in history, he noticed that there were no pre-historic games at all. Thus, there was a niche for Java Man.

New game counters were developed, and unique orders writing and game mechanics developed. The arrow counters were implemented to quash vociferous arguments about whether one tribe bushwhacked another, or not. They seem to work well.

In order to get the game into production on a limited budget, the game map was substantially reduced in size, and the number of counters limited to enough for five players, while several peripheral or optional rules were eliminated.

Java Man is interesting and instructive not only for itself, but also as a historical artifact in the development of simulation gaming. The modern player may find this difficult to imagine, but, at the time it was designed, there were, essentially, no computer games. The technical elite of our civilization used slide rules. Photocopies were expensive, and the machines to make them difficult to find. Java Man shows the compromises that designers in that time had to make between realism and playability, between complexity and fun, and between their imaginations and the physical limitations of a cardboard and paper medium. The game mechanics had to substitute for things that would today be transparent to the player, handled automatically and without his notice by software. Within that context, it was a good game, but doomed in the marketplace by poor marketing and bad timing.

Java Man was finally released onto the market just in time for the double whammy of Dungeons and Dragons on the one hand, which moved many gamers right out of the board-game pursuit, and personal computers on the other, which moved out many more. The traditional simulation game market imploded. The only games that were selling were either variants of already popular themes, or glossy products with high shelf-attraction.

Java Man, however, was a game on an unusual theme, and the majority of the physical production budget went into the typesetting and the map, which was not visible on the typical store shelf. Sales were poor, amounting to about 130 copies. Pardine, Incorporated went bankrupt, and the great majority of the original 1,000 copies of Java Man were sent off to recycling. Only a few survive.

Discouraged and more or less penniless, the designer went off to manage computer systems, and, later, to fly bombers and various other large, noisy aircraft. Thus, Java Man was Pardine, Incorporated's first, last, and only product, and is the only commercially published game to bear the author's name.

The designer remains interested in the strange history of the game's namesake, Java Man, an astonishing instance of a proto-human species in, of all places, Java.

The Leakey Faction, insisting on placing human origin in Africa, had Java Man re-classified as a more primitive creature, Australopithecus Javansiensis. But the evidence suggests that Java Man was actually at least Homo erectus, and might just be the fabled "Missing Link."

In any case, the question is, how did creatures with no civilization as we understand it survive and prosper? Because they did. Creatures like Java Man spread to every inhabitable corner of the Old World, thriving and multiplying, and in the process wiping out entire species. They even got across substantial bodies of water to, for example, Java.

And thus, our little game.

Al Brown

8 February 2006
Spokane, Washington
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