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Mojo: 10 Years and Counting Digging up bad memories

An article by Magnus "The Gabez" Hooper: This piece was posted right after Mojo turned 10, in 2007. Some links have gone dead, and some images are currently missing. We'll re-add the images should we happen to stumble upon them. Things like footnotes also had to be displayed inline because... Well, we are too lazy to add a true footnote system to MojoX. ¬¬

You might be surprised to hear that Mojo is 10 years old. Over 10 years old, in fact, if you count Spaff's Monkey Island Site, Mojo's zygote twin, and certainly over 10 years old if you consider that the sites birthday was actually in June of this year, and not September as the date of this article might suggest.

"Are we all that pathetic that we've been doing this for so long? It's utterly bizarre – ElTee, drunk on champagne and a little bit of gin, reflects on the last ten years of The International House of Mojo

I think we can agree that ten years is a pretty decent unit of time. It may not be long enough to finish developing the Dig, or an Indiana Jones fan game, but for a web site at least, it's long enough to produce something like what you see before you now. Which, hopefully, is something that is good, and worth the space of ten years it takes for websites to brew and mature, like a fine wine, or a baby. Or a wine baby.

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Early versions of the site were admittedly basic: just a few pages, a newspost perhaps once a week, and no features to speak of. For a while, Spaff was the only one updating, and a glance at the archives suggests that he had trouble separating his "real life" events with actual gaming news. "had a bit of a pissup last nite" he unashamedly reports in one post from early 1998. "head feels like a SHIT omg i am gonna vomit."

But things were getting better. Pretty soon the site had other staff, and, when it moved to its mixnmojo.com address, took on the first hosted sites. Instead of paying for web-space, users had to "pay" Mojo by making fun, original content – and this feature is still a part of Mojo today (though there are less hosted sites).

A man known only as "DJG" was hired to script all the clever behind the scenes code, and this code is still running Mojo now - but DJG is also famous for three other reasons. 1) A few years ago everyone changed their forum status to DJG for a joke, creating puzzled looks from all the newbies; 2) nobody knew what DJG looked like, as in all the Mojo photos he's seen with a bag over his head (to find out why, see the interview at the end of this article), and 3) DJG designed a Quake map based on the real International House of Mojo, and would kill people relentlessly whenever he played it online. His character model had a bulls-eye painted on its back, but it was still impossible to hit him, such was the man's skill at Quake.

Along the way Mojo also absorbed sites like The Monkey Island SCUMM Bar (which incidentally predates Mojo by a few years), the World of Monkey Island, the Legend of Monkey Island, and other sites that are sadly no longer around, like The Definitive Monkey Island Site, Monkey Island Central and the appropriately named Yet Another Monkey Island Fan-site (Footnote: At least, into the Mojo "network." The sites still remained independent in most ways). I think there's also a Grim Fandango site somewhere around there as well.

As well as stealing other people's web-sites, Mojo also created its own. Adventure Developer, later renamed Adventure Developers, was created to house all the fan game talent that was flying around. Back on the mother site things were changing too: Jake Rodkin had been recruited and gave Mojo her first fully purple look. A massive relaunch was made complete with a very flashy trailer for all the new features.

The next step in world domination was pretending to be real press people, and that meant going to E3. Mojo went every year between 2000 and 2005, and often went along with Dominic Armato, the voice of Guybrush Threepwood. Everyone had a fun time, apart from Jake's girlfriend who was once left at the hotel while everyone else went to Disneyland (I was since told by Spaff that this story isn't actually true, even though I think it might be. However, Spaff did say: "we did leave Chris Remo in the hotel the last time we all went to E3, he didn't answer the door when we knocked or anything so we assumed he had gone."). David "Metallus" Eggers remembers more...

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Metallus

"I went to E3 three times: 2003, one day in 2004, and 2005. 2003 was the last year where loads of people went flying the Mojo banner. It was great to hang out with everyone from the internet back then: Spaff, Jake, Invisibelle, Telarium, Muppet (possibly representing other interests, heh), ZeroXcape & Swoosh from LFNetwork were there.

But whenever we were actually at the show it was hard to get much useful things done. The first night everyone works diligently to get features up, then by the second night everyone is tired. So the features from the last two days turn up a month later. And then the site gets hacked by a kid from Brazil and our spirits are crushed.

When Mojo showed up to the Full Throttle 2 display, LucasArts wouldn't run the demo for us initially, because they had seen that we were suspicious of the quality from screenshots. When we finally did convince them to demo it, our suspicions were confirmed. Not that we felt good about being right, though. It was actually kind of a soul-crushing experience."

As Metallus mentioned, the site was indeed hacked by a Brazilian child. The good news is that he was arrested for his crime and later sentenced to death. The bad news is that his attack jinxed the site, and "downtimes," when the site became inaccessible, became a regular occurrence. Things got so bad one year that Dan Pettit, a LucasArts play tester, was even accused of some malevolent skulduggery, leading to the following denial filmed at the 2002 E3.

At the same E3 disaster struck site creator James Spafford, who had broken his leg whilst recreating the skeleton dance scene from Monkey Island 2 in a car park. The rest of the Mojo crew suffered embarrassment when they slept past their alarm and missed many appointments with LucasArts, perhaps due to the fact that they had been up late at the hospital the night before, waiting for Spaff's leg to be set in a cast (Footnote: Again, this story was flatly denied by Spaff, though he did admit that everyone was once late for a Simon Jeffery (the old president of LucasArts) interview and ended up going in without him, leaving him blissfully unaware outside).

These awkward tribulations were not exclusive to that year's E3, however; many other staff members have had to undergo "episodes" whilst working for the site. Sometimes these trials were in the name of journalistic integrity, though other times other influences were to blame. "Eltee," former webmaster of LucasTones, remembers once feeling the urge to make a few phone-calls:

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elTee

"I was intoxicated, let's say, under the influence of something that made me very talkative, and for complex reasons I had left a club and gone home early, and I was bored with no-one to talk to, so I picked up my phone and went through the names. "Jake!" I thought. "Let's call him." I didn't know he was with Tim Schafer play testing Psychonauts!

Then I called his girlfriend, whose number I had through LucasTones. Well, his ex girlfriend now. She was less 'busy' and we had a nice chat, but I can't remember what we talked about. I just remember someone coming into the room mid-way into the conversation with a bottle of wine.

Then, this other time, Jake really wanted a soundbite regarding the similarities between Pirates of the Caribbean and Monkey Island, and I had written a huge 'LucasArticle' about it before anyone else really even knew the movie existed, and my Johny Depp crush was also well known. So he gave me the number of the Pirates of the Caribbean script-writer and told me to call it, and I trusted him.

What I didn't know was that he had got the number out of the damn phone book, and that his 'friend had done it before with some other guy and it worked out fine.' I had a few drinks to psych myself up, started shouting 'Pirates of the Caribbean!!' and all I heard in the ensuing melee was 'how did you get this number???' God knows if it was actually him."

Even when elTee wasn't on the phone, he still had the power to worry other staff members. He recalls one such time:

elTee, yet again

I think I freaked Jake out when I told him I was watching his tv

<LucasTones> what I meant was, nbc11 was on winamp tv
<LucasTones> "bay area" and it said San Jose in big letters, just like jakes window when I was talking to him
<LucasTones> so I said "hey I can see your tv!"
<LucasTones> he was all "where are you??"

The above quote is from IRC, or "Internet Relay Chat," or in other words: chat-rooms. The biggest "Mojo" chat-room of them all was called #monkey-island, where for years people logged on to discuss how much they disliked Escape from Monkey Island, or to ask each other who Dan Pettit was. The channel still exists now, but with far fewer chatters than it had in its hey-day.

Most of the time in #monkey-island was a lot of fun, though there were some serious channel feuds as well. Like the time that someone wanted the channel to discuss Mojo going to E3 24/7, but all the people in there wanted to talk about was Radiohead. Dominic Armato frequented for a while, but was probably scared away after a case of mild e-stalking from another chatter, Chariset (Footnote: See Lamer Files, Vol. V). Also, there was that time when I shouted "DOM DOM DOM DOM DOM DOM" in his face for seven hours, a technique known at the time as "flooding."

There's something quite brilliant about the simplicity of IRC, especially when compared with all the gee-wizz and fizz-bangs on modern technology. When I say "simplicity," I really mean that design wise. Underneath you can change preferences like crazy. I suppose that's something that's changed: things these days tend to look more functional than they really are. You get programs now that try to do a bit of everything, and don't really *do* anything. To put it another way: it's the difference between MP3s and MIDIs. Sure, MP3s sound better, but there's definitely a charm with the old MIDI synthesiser, and there's more you can do with them, too.

But listen to me going on about the last decade like it was the 1940s. The thing is, people really do get very nostalgic about that sort of thing. It's partly an age issue, I'm sure. These people were playing Day of the Tentacle when they were eleven. Now they're 24 with five hungry children howling in their ears. Wouldn't it be lovely to go back to the apparent simplicity of "back then," a time when everything was thrills, chills and candy?

Let us continue diving into our childhoods, then – or rather, our teenagehoods, as I think many Mojoers first came to the site in their early teens. The denizens of #monkey-island discussed this topic quite poetically one night in early 2001:

<_emma_> The community has changed a hell of a lot in the 3 years I've been involved in it.
<_emma_> Or maybe it's me.
<tel_lunch> emma, it's probably both.
<Mort-Hog> The #monkey-island community is nothing like what it started out to be. I don't like it, I don't like the change, but some people do.
<_emma_> I was 17, in school and lived with my parents when I first came here.
<_emma_> I'm 20 now, have my own house with my boyfriend and I'm financially independant
<_emma_> That's a pretty big change
<_emma_> Also I have a job
<Calvinh> I think I started comming here after cmi was released
<bgbennyboy> heh and i started coming here in Febuary
<Mort-Hog> I was something like 12, a loser, and had just started secondary school. Now I'm 15, a loser, and just finishing secondary school!
<Calvinh> My life has change radically since the start
<_noodle> i came here after going on the scummbar
<_emma_> Heh. I matured and became an adult in this room.
<InsomniFox> yes. at least 5 years because I was here when CMI came out....
<Mort-Hog> So did I.
<_emma_> I wonder what it'll be like here in another 3 years.

In another three years time "the community" was going to be in the decline. I remember the IRC channels being full of "political" bickering, though that may largely have been from me. Quite a few were disappointed with Escape from Monkey Island, and Full Throttle II wasn't looking any better. Then, just when LucasArts looked like they were about to do something right with Sam & Max II, they did something wrong – something very wrong - and cancelled it.

But spin the dial another three years and I think things are looking better. We have a lot of great games to look forward to, and a lot of people interested in them. This optimistic view is only one opinion, though. This is what Mojo's creator had to say on the subject:

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Spaff

"I hardly even know the community any more. I think that for one thing, a lot of people involved have 'grown up', and so has the site... It used to be written by me, badly typed, horrific spelling, no sense of what makes journalism or blogging good, and slowly it's grown towards something a bit more polished, although still keeping that mojo style - i read a recent article where someone went to Tell Tale and harassed Jake, it was kind of a horrible article but also so awesome, it was a classic mojo stalking article.

In the old days there were 500 monkey island sites, now there are like 3, same goes for each of the Lucasarts games. People don't make those kind of fan sites these days it seems, which is kinda sad, but more so than that, Lucasarts aren't making the games for people to obsess over. Sure we have other companies spawned from LEC, but the community is more fractured now I think, just like the development teams are, maybe I'm just so far removed from it that I don't see how strong it is. :)"

Spaff's certainly right about the fan sites. Now, instead of designing a site with screenshots, character profiles, etc., people usually just make a blog. Everyone has a blog now. Even your mother. It's not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, there are some really good blogs out there (one I'd like to mention is The Adventuress), but it was nice having all the fan-sites as well. Even Mojo has become more bloggy; it's hard not to get swept up in all the crazes.

Some sites hold out, though. Like Mr Bill's Adventure Land, which – I swear – hasn't changed in the past ten years at all. It still thinks that it's in the 1997 frames boom, and caters for users with 640x480 resolutions and 56k modems. The thing is, it's practically the only site that's like that now, which makes it a sort of historical treasure on the Internet. Really, the whole thing is completely brilliant. Run by a husband and wife couple who work on their farm most of the summer and play adventure games to while away the cold winter nights. It's all so wholesome it makes me want to explode. Well done, Mr Bill: don't ever change.