Plamondon in 1978
|Full name||James Plamondon|
In correspondence with Huw Williams in 2019, Plamondon notes that he comes from a "very nerdy family" and that he, his parents, and his two older brothers were all hard-core science fiction fans. Plamondon's father was an aerospace engineer throughout the 1950s and '60s and an expert on the inertial guidance systems for intercontinental ballistic missiles, and eagerly purchased home computers when they first became available in 1977. The family's first machine was a Tandy TRS-80 ("the cassette tape drives were hopeless"), followed later that year an Apple II. Plamondon's mother was a technophile as well, purchasing "a Polaroid SX-70 camera when it first came out in 1972, and one of the first modern microwave ovens in approximately the same year."
Plamondon, then 17, saw computer programming as a promising career and one that might offer an escape from the drag of '70s stagflation, so he assiduously practiced BASIC on the Apple II ("like Lew Alcindor — renamed Kareem Abdul Jabbar just six years previously — practiced his skyhook").
"What I remember most," recalls Plamondon, "is lists of entities on pads of yellow quadrille paper, which my father, the engineer, bought by the ream. Creatures, rooms, test strings, choices, everything had to have a unique ID number, and it was a pain in the ass to suddenly think, 'Hey,it would be cool if I could just...' and then have to renumber everything. If I recall correctly, the items had to be numbered sequentially because they were array elements (but it was a long time ago, so I am probably wrong about that)."
Plamondon recalls that he completed both The Senators Chambers and The Temple of Ngurct in the summer of 1982 when he was 22, just after graduating from Oregon State, but that he might have started Ngurct earlier during the preceding Christmas break or spring break. He says he chose the name Ngurct because it was the option that his brothers, friends, and parents found to be the least pronounceable. (And because "Temple of Sally just didn't sound ominous enough.") Dungeons & Dragons was an inspiration for the adventures: Plamondon and his brothers were dedicated fans of the game and played weekly throughout college.
Plamondon avoided adding death traps to his adventures since he dislikes games where the player has to learn by repeatedly dying. "The player should be able to make it through the game on her first try, unless she did something that was obviously stupid." He also wanted the characters in his adventures to actually have some character, but since the constraints of the medium made it impossible to give characters detailed story arcs, "I cheated by using names and dialogue to convey character in a way that leveraged cultural stereotypes."
Asked what impact writing Eamon adventures had on his later life, Plamondon noted that it's hard to separate cause from effect. "I wrote the adventures to practice coding in a way that was shareable and inherently fun. I had an interest in computer games since at least the first time I played Computer Space at a pool hall, probably around 1974. In my 1988 Computer Science degree, I focused on artificial intelligence specifically for writing computer opponents in games... an emphasis for which there was absolutely zero market demand at the time (oops). The main thing I learned from Eamon in 1983 was the power of platforms, which has been a through-line in my career. Don could have written one game. Instead, he wrote a platform for writing games — a platform on which other authors could innovate and add value."