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Maxis SimCopter Saboteur Unhappy With Way Firm Had Him Programmed

December 07, 1996|AMY HARMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Computer game programmer Jacques Servin can't quite put his finger on what it was that drove him to insert random scenes of studly males kissing each other into the recently released game SimCopter--without informing his supervisors.

Maybe it was his growing frustration with more traditional forms of gay activism, such as marching. Maybe it was distaste for his boss' easy acceptance of the female bimbo animations he concocted.

Or maybe he had spent too many late nights designing little people for helicopter enthusiasts to rescue from riots and natural disasters. (His requests for time off were denied.)

"Ultimately I was kind of pissed off," said Servin, who was fired last week. "It was the accumulation of a lot of things."

Maxis, the Walnut Creek, Calif., game publisher that has built a franchise around its fabulously popular (and nonviolent) SimCity simulation game, discovered it had become the victim of a SimSabotage only after 78,000 copies of the CD-ROM had been sent to stores.

Maxis spokesman Patrick Buechner said the firm would not ship any more copies of the doctored version of SimCopter, which sells for $49.95. A "patch" for the game will be made available next week on its World Wide Web site.

Buechner declined to describe what exactly was to be patched. "It's supposed to be a brass band. There is no brass band there," said Buechner, referring to the celebratory moment when a player reaches the final level. "I'm not going to make any calls on the interpretation of what it is."

Video and computer game programmers have a great deal of influence on the creative process of game development, and there is a long tradition of embedding their own signatures in the software. The practice has even become institutionalized with "Easter eggs," secret key commands--often approved by the publisher--that, when discovered by avid players, generate a surprise.

Maxis says it will tighten its quality-control procedures in the wake of the SimCopter scandal. But the incident underscores how difficult it may be to control a rogue programmer who understands the technology better than his corporate masters.

Servin says he intended his special surprise to occur with far less frequency. ("Unfortunately, my random-generator number didn't work as I'd planned," he said.)

However, on Friday the 13th and on Sept. 30, Servin's birthday, the affectionate, swim-suited men are programmed to come out in force, he said.

"Then, everywhere you look, muscle studs kissing everything in sight, especially one another," Servin wrote in his own news release this week. "On top of police stations and hospitals, kiss-ins! Instead of riots, instead of tuba bands, queer PDAs [public displays of affection]! Instead of shoppers and criminals, wild boys!"

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