In the early nineties, when I was attending Penn State University, I knew a man named Sandman Archibald Bundeford. Yes, that was his honest to God, real life, on the birth-certificate, on the driver's license, stitched in his underwear birth name. I thought the names that celebrities were giving to their children these days were awful, but this kid had a stupid name before stupid names were chic. I always figured his parents were flower children, and named him while on some kind of acid trip.
In any case, Sandman and I had a freshman composition class together, and would occasionally kill time in the library. He was a nice guy, 17 years old if I remember correctly, mulatto, I mean mixed race, shy, but friendly, and always carried around the biggest laptop computer you would ever want to see. At that time it was pretty impressive to see someone with what was considered to be a portable computer. I would sometimes see him with his nose to the LCD screen analyzing some code, or scrutinizing the pixels of some image he was trying to edit.
Sandman hung around with some older students who were either interested in, or taking classes in computer programming, film, graphic design(his current major), and photography while I gravitated toward the other freshmen in the world literature courses I took. I was however, kept in the loop as to the progress of a project that Sandman and his pals were working on. He would talk to me sometimes about this game he was helping them make. From what I gathered at the time it was mixture of text based horror, and point and click style dungeon crawler they were calling Warlock, with an “E.”
He was wildly excited about being involved in this project, and would get almost giddy when he talked about it, grinning stupidly while assuring me Warlocke was going to be the next big thing in gaming. I always humored him, although in reality I thought the whole thing was sort of a pipe dream. There was progress being made though, as he would sometimes show me bits of what the “team” had accomplished thus far. It looked okay, but I didn't quite see how it would achieve the popularity of which he was so sure.
The premise was a simple one, get through a dungeon, collect items, fight baddies, save the princess, you know the drill. The hook however, was that this was going to be an “Adults Only” game with digitized photos depicting graphic violence and nudity. That adult theme was the gimmick that would serve as the selling point, getting grown ups to pick it up, and teenagers to lust after it. I guess I couldn't really argue that sex and violence sell.
Sandman's contribution was to help with the digitizing, and editing of the photos to be used in the game. Lots of blood and guts stuff like you would see in Fangoria Magazine, of which Sandman usually had a copy. He let me, or more accurately made me borrow a tape to watch one time on which he had recorded his favorite bits of movies like Mondo Cane, Faces of Death, and various “Italian cannibal films”... which is apparently a genre. Pretty sick stuff, not my cup of tea, but nothing unheard of.
For a few weeks I was hearing lots about Warlocke, and how underground gaming was going to break into the mainstream, but gradually Sandman's excitement seemed to wane. I eventually asked him about the progress of the game, and he said that all he knew was that it was “in development.” a few days later, I saw him fervently working at his monolith of a laptop again. When I inquired, he stated that the game was getting a graphical overhaul, and he was in the process of digitizing, and cleaning up a few new grisly photos. I chuckled and wished him luck.
It was later in the month, after spring break, that I met up with Sandman in the library after a statistics class. When he saw me approaching, he let loose the toothiest grin I ever saw from him, and he proudly held up a 3.5” floppy disk. He reminded me of Lady Liberty, towering high with her torch in hand. I sat next to him and he proceeded to tell me that the beta version was playable, and almost ready to shop around to distributors. He opened his laptop case, and handed me one of a stack of about a dozen floppies. “Here,” he said “take this home and let me know what you think!”
“Sure,” I agreed with a chuckle, adding “I hope my computer has enough juice to run it.”
After a few days of “Didja play it yet?” from Sandman, I finally got around to checking out what I was told would be the best selling game of 1992, the year by which they were sure they would have mass distribution. On a Thursday evening at home, I popped the floppy disk into my Packard Bell, and booted her up into DOS.
The setup ran smoothly, and was finished and configured in about 10 minutes. Upon launching the game program, I noted that the title screen looked fairly professional, maybe I had underestimated the ragtag band of artists and coders who, according to the startup screen, were calling themselves Tesserakt Solutions. More “rad” misspellings to distinguish themselves as an edgy, forward thinking upstart. I smirked to myself after reading the ALL CAPS LOCKED message explaining that this game was not intended for anyone under 18 years of age, despite being created by kids barely that old.
I selected a new game and hit return. A text box popped up telling me that I had to rescue the Queen's handmaidens from a dungeon before some ritual called “The Bloodening” occurred. Oh man, The Bloodening? Really? This was going to be interesting. I hit return again and started the game.
The interface looked pretty fresh and user friendly which was nice, the graphics were nothing to write home about. I noted the mouse cursor was a blood soaked arrow, and I appeared to have a few items in my inventory. I clicked the up arrow, which prompted the forward command, and came to a figure in a dark cloak. It was nice to have the option of either entering text commands, or clicking with the mouse. The hooded figure gave me a dagger, which of course was stained with blood, and I continued on.
Not having a list of text commands didn't seem to affect my game-play, as almost every command I used seemed to work. I figure they must have loaded a lot of variables into the command section, which was a nice touch for those of us who haven't played many text adventures. After coming across a wooden chest and obtaining a spell-book, I learned a lightning spell. I was starting to wonder when I would get to the digitized photos that Sandman had been working on.
Eventually an enemy appeared, and I battled him. The skirmish was uneventful, I took some damage and then defeated the foe. When I killed the enemy the display area went from showing the dungeon ahead to displaying a crudely digitized photo of a red face I assumed was my enemy after his defeat. It was a strange and somewhat off-putting image “I guess this is where they're going to earn that 18+ rating,” I though to myself.
Hitting any key or clicking anywhere seemed to remove the photo and bring the dungeon back. I explored some more and came across a guy in a wizard cloak and hat. He asked if I was “friend or foe.” I typed “friend” and he proceeded to call me a liar and engage me in battle. I could tell this game wasn't shooting for any points intellectually.
I attacked him a few times, and finished him off with the dagger. I was “rewarded” again with another picture of a bloody face. The color palette the designers were using really didn't lend itself well to this kind of digital photo display. Through the mess of grey, black, and red pixels I could tell that the face being shown didn't look anything like the wizard I had just battled. This was a matter of content over form, and the content was simply shock value.
After receiving another spell, and a key from the wizard, I continued my search through the corridors of the labyrinth. Honestly there weren't even very many wrong turns or pitfalls. I guess they just wanted to keep pace pretty action packed. I eventually came to a set of iron bars and used the key I got from the wizard on them. What I saw next caught me off guard.
A pixelated image of a topless woman tied down with rope popped up in the display area, accompanied by text offering to thank me with either a spell, or her “body.” I'll admit, I was more than a bit curious as to what would happen if I took her up on the offer of her body. I was a college student without a girlfriend, give me a break! So I typed “body” into the text field,and was shown another picture of a topless woman, this time not tied up. She was staring at me as seductively as a 4 color block-woman could. I admit, it was pretty funny, and hey, maybe it would work as a selling point for the game! Maybe there's a market for pornography resembling glitched out Nintendo games, as for me, I'd rather just look at a Penthouse magazine through a kaleidoscope.
After you see the handmaiden's naughty bits, you can just type “spell” and get the new attack anyway. So my journey through the game continued on, as I fought baddies, got items and rescued handmaidens. For each fight I won, I was rewarded with a new gruesome photo, “The spoils of victory!” Some of them looked like they were out of a horror magazine, or a slasher flick. Others were harder to make out, but were slightly more upsetting. I was noticing that they didn't even seem to fit with the dungeon crawl theme of the game, they were more like crime scene or emergency room photos. Like I said, not easy to see exactly what was happening in them. I guess Sandman did the best he could with the low resolution and minuscule color palette he had.
The pictures the handmaidens were a little odd to me also. I'm not a prude or anything, I know that some chicks are into bondage, but the women in the pictures all looked kind of frightened, or worried. They did not appear at all relieved to see the Warlocke come to save them, despite their constant offers to ludicrously satisfy his physical needs. Whatever, maybe I'm just not into tied up girls.
I eventually saved the third and final handmaiden, and when I turned around was face to face with a new enemy known as “The Blood Demon.” Well, who else would you expect to hold a ritual called the Bloodening? This was the toughest opponent I had yet faced, all the othersup to this point were almost criminally easy. I had the health potion though, and the items didn't seem to disappear after use, so the only thing that really made the Blood Demon tougher was that he took longer to kill. I wondered later if it was even possible to die in this game.
So I handily defeated what turned out to be the final boss of this short game. The game showed me a picture of my slain foe, which looked like some kind of dead raccoon, or turtle, but I was surprised that they actually got an image that wasn't just another human victim from a slasher flick. I was told that I would be receiving a handsome reward. I hit the return key and was compensated for my efforts in the labyrinth by another nude female, who I assume was the Queen, telling me to “Come hither and collect thy reward.”
Another tap of the return key brought up a thanks for playing message, and a list of the guys who made the game together. I saw Sandman's name in the special thanks category, and imagined how stupidly proud he must have been. There were one or two other names I thought I recognized, only as friends of Sandman's though.
Since I beat the game in one night, I was able to talk to Sandman about it the following day in the library. He once again asked me “Didja play it yet?” And this time I was finally able to give him the answer he wanted. Of course he wanted to know what I thought about it, and how blown away I was by it. I didn't really have the heart to tell him that the plot of the game was wafer thin, the characters were all but non existent, the game-play was inane and repetitive, the dialogue was ridiculous, comparable games were offering sound, and sometimes music, the sex and violence would probably kill any mainstream release, or that the graphics were barely up to par with other computer releases, and totally eclipsed by Nintendo and Genesis... So instead I said that it was bitchin' and really fun.
I wasn't going to rain on this guy's parade, and hey, maybe the game would get picked up and become popular in some form or another. The fact remained that this group of college kids actually did put together a playable computer game that worked and might garner some attention. That's more than a lot of young programmers can say.
When he asked, I told him that the digitized photos looked really good, and would probably be a lot better as computer technology improved. He agreed, and continued to talk my ear off about all the work that he and the others at Tesserakt had done, and how this was only the beginning for them.
Finally, he had to go to class, and I was spared having to hear about adjusting the resolution on the in game photos for the third time. From that point on, his mania seemed to level off, and we got back to talking about things other than Warlocke. But after several weeks it was actually me who brought it up again. I asked what was going on with the video game, he told me that Aaron and Robert, two of the programmers, were just working out minor bugs. Just before the end of the semester I asked again, and he said that he had been able to get into contact with neither Aaron nor Robert, and others who worked on the project either didn't know, or wouldn't say what was going on. I told Sandman it would probably work out in a few days. Personally, I figured things were going nowhere with the game, or that there was too much adult content in it to get picked up.
Over the summer break, I was still living back home with my folks. One day in July, my dad told me to read an article he saw in the paper about some Penn State students that had been arrested, or questioned by police. I read over the article, and saw a few names I recognized. I knew them either from the Warlocke game credits, or through Sandman, who wasn't mentioned in the paper, but was still a minor. I told my dad that I knew some of the kids' names, but didn't know any personally.
The news story read that Jeffrey Maxwell, Robert Porter, Aaron Alvers, Peter Bodine, Daniel Scannel, and an unidentified minor had been arrested on suspicion of kidnapping, assault, and burglary, in Philadelphia county. I was quite surprised by this, and wondered what had happened, as the news article didn't give much detail.
I didn't hear much more about this for a week or so, when a news report came on the local station. It elaborated and gave new developments about the PSU student events. Apparently Jeffrey Maxwell, and Daniel Scannel were questioned and released while Robert Porter, Aaron Alvers, and Peter Bodine were being held on charges that now included murder, and conspiracy to commit murder along with another man named Jerome Watts. Obviously this got my attention.
Porter, Alvers, and Bodine, allegedly traveled from State College PA to Philadelphia and the Bucks county area at least 3 times between February and May of 1991 and hired prostitutes. The three were accused of taking the prostitutes to an empty house and assaulting them, causing bruises, broken ribs, and in one of the girls, a concussion. This abandoned house, a former residence of Jerome Watts, was also thought to be the site of at least two murders committed by Porter and Alvers. Watts, a 34 year old sanitation worker had copped a plea deal in return for further evidence on Porter and Alvers, Bodine was still being held on conspiracy.
After gathering physical and circumstantial evidence on Porter, police obtained a warrant, and allegedly found a shotgun which may have been used in the murders, as well as photographic evidence linking himself, Alvers, and Bodine to the scene of the crimes. There were also several incriminating files found on his computer, and some “body parts appearing to be from small animals” hidden in his bedroom walls.
The next day I got a call from Sandman, to whom I can't remember giving my number, but my family is in the phone book. He sounded nervous and almost frantic. He told me that I had to “Delete that game” from my hard drive and shred or burn the disk he gave me. I told him I saw the news and asked him what the hell was going on. Still sounding shaken he said that he had no idea where the photos he had digitized came from. “I swear, I thought they were just from Fangoria and some titty magazines!” He choked out. “And some of em were! I swear to God some of those dead people were just special effects from movies, I know, I've seen em'!”
I told him to calm down, and that he had nothing to worry about. That he couldn't have known what he was doing and the police would realize that when he was questioned. He seemed to be settling down a bit, but said he had more calls to make. I told him that probably wasn't a good idea at this point. He just said “yeah...” and hung up.
That was actually the last time I ever spoke to Sandman. I had heard that he transferred to Penn Tech to finish school. I can't blame him, PSU main campus is a big place, and I'm pretty sure almost everyone would have been eyeing him, as well as the other members of Tesserakt Solutions. And I never asked him, nor anyone else about which of the photos in Warlocke were from horror movies, and titty magazines, and which ones... well, weren't. I didn't want to know, I still don't want to know. I deleted the game from my hard drive, but I couldn't remember where the disk was.
I actually found it not long ago, and couldn't resist the temptation to play through it again. Incidentally, it never got picked up for major distribution if you can believe it. But there must still be a few copies floating around. I remember how silly I thought it was back in school. It didn't seem silly this time through, and I kind of wish I hadn't replayed it.
I wonder what ever happened to those guys, I know that Jeffrey Maxwell and Dan Scannel got off with extended probation, and Aaron Alvers, and Pete Bodine, served 6 and 4 years respectively. Bobby Porter is still in the Penitentiary I think. I guess in this day and age it would be easy enough to track them down, and see what they're up to. Seems kind of morbid though. I do still think about that quirky mulatto kid from freshman comp though, how hard could it be to track down someone named Sandman Archibald Bundeford?