From time to time through the years, I've posted Letters from the Custodian to update visitors to the site on the status of the Virtual Broomcloset and other topics pertaining to the Space Quest series in general. Now, with the site's sixth anniversary upon us (as well as the fifteenth anniversary of Space Quest 1's release), it seemed appropriate to issue a new letter to discuss such topics as the site's history, the anniversary celebration, and the future of the Broomcloset. Enjoy!
A (Not So) Brief History of the Virtual Broomcloset
Let me begin with a question that I've been asked several times (well, at least a few times) through the years: "Why Space Quest?" Why, precisely, did I choose to launch a website devoted to Space Quest six years ago? The answer is simple enough; to coin a phrase, I launched a Space Quest website because it wasn't there. When I first logged onto the Internet back in the autumn of 1995, I found myself with access to websites devoted to every topic under the sun. For weeks, I surfed from topic to topic and from site to site, truly beginning to appreciate the power of the online medium as I did so. One day, I decided to search for a site devoted to one of my favorite adventure gaming series, Space Quest. After all, there was a site out there for practically every other topic imaginable; surely there was a quality Space Quest site, too. In turn, I was rather surprised to discover that nobody had bothered to launch a website dedicated to Roger Wilco's adventures. Clearly, I had to do something to remedy that situation; I was a man with a mission (like those guys onstage at the Rocket Bar in Ulence Flats). There was one small catch, though: I didn't know HTML from a BLT.
So, with WYSIWYG HTML editors still a year or so down the line, I went to my local bookstore, picked up a copy of HTML for Complete Morons, and started learning what I'd need to know to make the dream of my own Space Quest site a reality. Eventually, thanks to the book and plenty of trial-and-error, I developed the minimal HTML and graphics skills necessary to build the site that I had envisioned. That left a key question unanswered, however: what in the name of Fester Blatz was I going to post in terms of content at this would-be Space Quest site? There weren't really that many models for fan-sites dedicated to specific adventure games on the Web at the time, so I essentially made it up as I went along. First, I'd need walk-throughs for the entire series; that was a no-brainer. Also, a few music and sound downloads seemed like a natural idea. In addition, I wrote a couple of pieces that remain part of the Broomcloset to this day: The Two Guys from Andromeda Story and Bea's Diary. In retrospect, I feel that these articles really helped set the tone for the Broomcloset as a whole; it was going to be a fan-site that included more than just a collection of hints and technical support. Instead, it was going to be a source of entertainment in and of itself, building upon and expanding the universe established by the Space Quest games. Still, even with the content starting to come together, I needed a name for my almost-completed site.
To be quite honest, I don't actually recall the origins of the "Roger Wilco's Virtual Broomcloset" name. I do know that back in olden days of 1995, virtually every site on the Internet had either "virtual" or "online" in the title somewhere, so it seemed like a natural fit for my site, too. In fact, if I recall correctly, one of the alternative names for the site that I originally considered was "Roger Wilco Online." For some reason, however, "Roger Wilco's Virtual Broomcloset" just seemed to have a better ring to it--although I'm relatively sure that "broomcloset" isn't even really a word. On a side note, the fact that the site was Roger Wilco's Virtual Broomcloset resulted in me receiving numerous e-mail messages through the years from (I hope) young children thinking that I was Roger Wilco. I never quite got the hang of breaking the news to them that I was just a regular college student and not their beloved space janitor/intergalactic hero. Anyway, the Broomcloset's name seems to have caught on despite its unwieldy, somewhat deceptive, and generally cheesy nature.
But, I digress. Anyway, when I finally squared away the initial content and the site's name, I launched the Virtual Broomcloset on November 29, 1995... to virtually no fanfare. Believe it or not, Space Quest fans weren't exactly lined up at the Broomcloset's virtual door on launch day. In fact, on that first day, I had two visitors other than myself (both of whom were friends that I had convinced to check out the site). Of course, that's really no surprise considering that it would still be several weeks before any search engines indexed the Broomcloset. So, I did whatever I could during that first month or so to promote the Broomcloset. I e-mailed virtually every webmaster with a site even remotely related to Sierra or adventure gaming and begged them to add a link to my site. There weren't any message forums at the time to promote the site, but I did stop by something called "Usenet" and posted links on some of the "newsgroups" there (you might want to check the Internet History texts at your local library for more details on Usenet). Fortunately, the Broomcloset launched relatively soon after the release of SQ6, and plenty of gamers needed help with that pesky Datacorder puzzle. In turn, visitors slowly began trickling into the site, and I continued to expand it little by little with new content. Along the way, a Danish gentleman by the name of Troels Pleimert also contacted me for the first time and began submitting material to the site.
One of what I consider to be the true milestones of the Virtual Broomcloset's history came in the winter of 1995/1996, a few months after the site's launch. I was at home from school for Christmas break, and we didn't have Internet access there at the time. Therefore, I was cut off from my website for nearly a month (just as it was started to generate some real traffic for the first time, too). Still, I could hardly stand not having access to my e-mail account for a month, so I opted for a low-tech solution. I called one of the system administrators at xtc.net (the original host of the Broomcloset before the name switched over to wiw.org) and asked him to read my e-mail to me over the phone. Pretty pitiful, eh? Anyway, as per my request, my longtime friend at xtc.net, Andy, started reading through the messages in my inbox for me.
"Let's see... here's one from Dylan Carter with the subject line 'Can't get past Skate-O-Rama.' Here's one from firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line 'ROGER WILCO RULZ!!!!' Ah... this one is from some guy named Josh Mandel with the subject line 'Nice site!' The next one is from Jennifer DeCan--"
"What was that last one?" I asked, surprised.
"No, no--the one before that!"
As a long-time fan of Sierra's adventure games, the name "Josh Mandel" immediately leapt out at me. To tell the truth, I never imagined that someone from Sierra would actually visit the Virtual Broomcloset--much less contact me regarding the site. After all, at the time, I idolized the game designers and writers at Sierra the same way that most kids my age looked up to rock stars. I was so excited on that wintery day that I immediately got off the phone with Andy, hopped in my car, and drove nearly two hours to the xtc.net offices just to respond to Josh's e-mail message at one of their public terminals. Of course, the primary reason that Josh e-mailed me in the first place was to point out that I omitted him from the Two Guys from Andromeda Story, but that's beside the point. In turn, over the course of the past six years, I've had a chance to not only get to know Josh, but also to correspond with and interview other Space Quest creators such as Scott Murphy, Mark Crowe, and Leslie Balfour. All of these Andomedans are fine individuals who truly care about Space Quest fans, and the Virtual Broomcloset wouldn't be what it is today without their generous input.
Over time, the Virtual Broomcloset grew larger and larger, covering an even wider range of topics related to the Space Quest series. I added even more articles, creator interviews, downloads, and eventually launched the infamous message forum known as the Subspace Channel. Believe it or not, the site even began to get some real press coverage along the way, with positive reviews appearing in a handful of print magazines. One book covering PC gaming online even had a great write-up on the site. I vividly remember the feeling of suprise when I was thumbing through this book one day at Books-A-Gazillion and unexpectedly saw my name (and my site's name) there in front of me. It's a good thing that I was loitering at the store that day, or I might have never even known about the write-up in the first place. As the site grew in notoriety, so did its number of visitors. Soon, I was receiving dozens of e-mail messages per week concerning the Space Quest series. Heck, I even occasionally responded to a few of them!
As the Broomcloset grew, so did the online Space Quest community in general. Dubbed the Wilco World Wide Web (WWWW) by Freelance Space Quest Historian Troels Pleimert, the Broomcloset was quickly joined by literally dozens of Wilco fan-sites. Some of these included Troels' own Wilco's Domain, the Roger Wilco Memorial, WilcoWeb, Scumsoft HQ, StarCon 3000, the Star Confederacy, Popular Janitronics, and too many more to mention by name. Furthermore, it was around 1997 or so that Sierra began leaking bits of information about the then-forthcoming Space Quest 7. News of this impending, long-awaited project fueled all of Space Quest fandom, inspiring more and more websites along the way, and generally making it an exciting time to be a fan of Roger Wilco.
Then, things suddenly changed on the WWWW in early 1998. Sierra announced that Space Quest had been placed "on hold indefinitely" (or, in non-legalese, "cancelled"). Despite the launch of various "Save Space Quest 7" campaigns, the enthusiasm that once inspired much of the activity on the WWWW was replaced by dejection and, in some cases, apathy. Many Space Quest websites stopped updating or disappeared altogether. In turn, the Broomcloset was at a crossroads. I had spent many months working on the site and, with Space Quest 7 no longer on the horizon, I wasn't sure where to take the site in terms of future content. At the time, it seemed like there just wasn't anything new or creative left to say about Space Quest. All the nits had been picked, all the polls conducted, and all the articles written. Or so I thought.
After a brief period of site inactivity resulting from a severe lack of inspiration after the cancellation of SQ7, I realized that the only way to keep Space Quest alive was through the efforts of devoted Space Quest fans. After all, I couldn't just stand idly by and allow Roger, Sludge, Bea, and all the rest simply to be discarded onto the rubbish pile of adventure gaming history. If Sierra was going to let the legacy of the Space Quest series lapse, I came to the realization that it was up to fan-sites like the Virtual Broomcloset to pick up the torch and run with it. So, I rededicated myself to making sure that the Broomcloset remained one of the finest adventure gaming sites on the Web. More site features, articles, interviews, fan fictions, and Space Quest trivia quizzes followed over the course of the next two years. In turn, my efforts reached a peak in November 2000 with the site's fifth anniversary celebration (including the release of Vonster D. Monster's excellent fangame, Space Quest: The Lost Chapter). Now, the sixth anniversary is upon us, it's nearly 2002, and the Broomcloset is still going strong--a far cry from the eight or nine pages of ugly HTML code as which it began.
What the Broomcloset Means to Me
What does the Virtual Broomcloset mean to me? It's not easy to put into words, but it certainly means quite a bit. I'm very proud of the fact that the Virtual Broomcloset was the first Space Quest site online and that it's actually still updating to this day. Six years is a long time--especially on the Web--and I view the continued existence of the Broomcloset to be quite an accomplishment. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, the Broomcloset is the oldest still-active adventure gaming site on the entire Web. I consider that fairly impressive, if I do say so myself. Most importantly, though, I'm exceeding proud of the overall quality of the content that comprises the site today. It's the result of many hours of work (both on my part and by other Space Quest fans), and I personally don't regret a moment spent on the site. In fact, I wish that I had more time to spend working on the Broomcloset.
In addition, a very important part of the Virtual Broomcloset to me is the strong community that has formed in recent years at the site's message forum, the aforementioned Subspace Channel. If you haven't had a chance to check it out yet, may I suggest that you take a look? Whereas I can't possibly update the Broomcloset on a daily basis, there are new posts about Space Quest (and almost every other topic under the sun) appearing at the SubChan literally around the clock. Heck, while you were reading this paragraph, odds are that Diane (the forum's resident Spreader of Nonsense) alone probably posted five or six messages. Anyway, if there's a more active (or more closely-knit) adventure gaming BBS on the Web than the SubChan, I'm not aware of it. As far as I'm concerned, that's pretty darn cool. Check it out today and join in on the fun!
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, I've made quite a few friends through the years, thanks to the Virtual Broomcloset. You folks know who you are, and it's been been a real blast getting to know all of you through e-mail, the SubChan, IRC, ICQ, AIM, YIM, and over the phone. You guys and gals definitely make it worth all the effort!
The Sixth Anniversary
I suppose that brings us up to the present and the
Broomcloset's sixth anniversary. This celebration has been months in the
making, and I think it's going to be quite a bit of fun for everyone
involved. I consider this anniversary a way of thanking visitors to the
Broomcloset for their support through the years. Who knows? Even if nobody
bothered to visit the site, it might be here anyway. Still, it's nice to
know that there are people out there who enjoy my efforts, and this
celebration is my way of showing my gratitude to them for coming back to
the site again and again.
What can you expect as
part of the anniversary celebration? Well, the official tag-line for the
celebration is Six Days of New Content to Celebrate Six Years
Online. I know, I know--it's not all that catchy, but at least
it's descriptive. Anyway, I'll be posting a slew of new material ranging
from new articles to trivia quizzes to downloads and beyond on a daily
basis from November 29 until December 4. I have a few relatively big
surprises from some familiar faces planned along the way, so be sure to
check back on a regular basis. Also, don't miss out on the Subspace Channel
during the celebration. As I said above, there's always something
happening there. Also, I should note that this celebration would not be
possible without the all of the time and effort devoted by those Space
Quest fans who submitted material for the anniversary. You guys and gals
know who you are, and you're all tops in my book.
I have to admit that I never imagined that the Virtual Broomcloset would
ever reach its sixth anniversary way back in 1995 when I was slaving away
on the original version in my dorm room (and keeping my roommate up
waaay too late in the process). Now that the anniversary has
actually arrived, let's make the most of it! Someone should be around with
a party hat and some Andromedan punch shortly.
What Lies Ahead
What lies ahead for the Virtual Broomcloset? That's a good question--and one to which I don't necessarily have the answer. I can assure you, however, that as long as there are people out there interested in Roger Wilco's galactic misadventures, I'll make every possible effort both to keep the Broomcloset alive and to ensure that it remains the finest source for Space Quest information on the Web. It's been a great ride for the past six years, and I look forward to seeing what the years ahead hold.