Farmer Bill's Eternal Farm
Half my life ago, I created my very first game, which I called Farmer Bill's Almond Farm. You can see it here.
It all stated when I read Andre LaMothe's Teach Yourself Game Programming in 21 Days. That book taught me some of the fundamentals of making a simple game and I got the idea to do an adventure game, similar to the Kings Quest and Space Quest series, though with less text. I decided to model the game after almond farming. You see, my grandfather was an almond farmer up in Capay. He had one of the highest production farms per acre in the valley and some of my favorite memories are of Christmas time up at that farm. So, I called him up and told him I had a school report about farming and asked him what he did each month during the year. I wanted to surprise him with the final product. Then I went to work and spent the next several months writing Farmer Bill's Almond Farm. Every level in the game represents a different month and is based on his answers.
That Christmas, I gave him a copy of the game. It was an interesting experience watching my grandfather, who had probably spent less total hours playing games his whole life than I spent playing games in a single day, play through this creation of mine. He was genuinely excited and happy, but most of all he was proud of me. I learned later on that he even played it several times when I wasn't even there.
15 years after I gave my grandfather that game, I found myself standing in a hospital, making the decision to end his life. Although really, the decision wasn't mine to make. It was his. The man that I knew and loved had left this world before we ever got there and all that was left was a collection of cells trying desperately to cling to life. Modern technology certainly could have saved his flesh, but his brain was gone. So we honored his wishes and let him go. That was one year ago today, and at 1:03pm on December 22nd, 2011, he was pronounced dead.
The next few months were a roller coaster. I unplugged from the world for several weeks. We had a military funeral in January (I think) and I watched a Navy Commander had my mom a folded flag and thank her for her father's service to this country. For the second time in my life, I watched her completely lose it. I completely lost it too. It was clear to me that this wasn't some assignment they had, it was an honor they were privileged to perform. I'll never forget those words. "On behalf of a grateful nation, we thank your father for his service."
After the funeral, I found myself at my grandfather's house going through all his stuff. My mother, her sister, my uncle, and my two cousins needed to decide how to split up his estate. There was one particular box that was full of treasures that meant a lot to him. At the bottom of that box was a blue 3 1/4 floppy disk with the words Farmer Bill's Almond Farm written on them. He had kept that disk all these years.
As 2012 kicked into high gear, I found myself longing to create some kind of legacy, something to help say goodbye. This is where I think things like religion and spirituality really help people, but that's not my particular dance, so I needed something else. I do think about the times that he seemed most content and it always drifts back to those times on the farm and the late nights when it was just the two of us, sitting in his cozy house. I'll miss that most of all. Then I got to thinking, I may not believe in an afterlife, but I'm an AI and simulation programmer, so why don't I just build one?
About three years ago, I had a long talk with my grandfather about building a farming simulation game as a sequel to Farmer Bill's Almond Farm. It would model things like soil quality, fertilization, pollination, water, etc. You would create a little schedule AI for the farmer and the goal was to maximize the amount of yield you got from your trees. I took tons of notes and borrowed and a farming book from him (which I still have), but I never really got off the ground with it. Life came up, as it always does.
Seven weeks ago, I pulled out all those old notes and started work on a project I call Farmer Bill's Eternal Farm. It's very similar to the original concept, except that there's no input whatsoever. It's a fish tank; an eternal farm for Farmer Bill to work on. A little window into the afterlife.
So, while other people may have ball games and parades and A Christmas Story and looping fire animations playing on your TVs, I'll have this playing on mine.
It's the closest I can come to having my grandfather with me at Christmas.