Camen Design

© copyright

Kroc Camen Writes

  1. The Gathering Project (Later, the Lost Alliance)
    1. The Team Members
  2. About the Letters
    1. Badly Drawn Adventure
    2. HoTMeaL
    3. ComputerBitsUK
    4. The Lost Alliance Music Extravaganza
    5. T.H.I.S.
    6. NoNonsense MP3
    7. Camen Design
  3. The Prologue
  4. The Letters

This article contains an index and reference guide to over 200 pages of personal letters written to / from Tanner Helland during 2003–2005 that have been republished here as a source of background information to the events of my life and projects at the time—most of which have never been seen on this site before.

Suffice to say, added together, this reference and the letters and the additional documents I’ve recreated from archived material are massive. My later letters are very content and image heavy. Don’t start reading unless you mean to finish. All of this is being published for a number of reasons:

  1. The hope that people won’t commit the same mistakes again

  2. To honour my friends who helped me through the bad times

  3. To force myself to learn that where I have come from is just as important as where I am going—even if my past stuff is not so shiny and is embarrassing to put on show

  4. To leave a history of a time before social networking.
    A time when the forum was king and you spent more time offline than you did online

The work is currently incomplete; it has taken over a year to compile this much so far (16 documents) and there are another 9 or more documents still to process. As new letters are released I will update the RSS.

I am continually working on refining the markup, notes, reference material and interlinks. If you have any suggestions or require any further explanation of terms or the background behind the letters, or simply have a question for me, please contact me at

With all that said, I finally present to you “Kroc Camen Writes: My life as it was 2003–2005”.

The Gathering Project (Later, the Lost Alliance)

Around 2001 whilst I was still at college I came across a rag-tag band of Visual Basic 6 developers called “The Gathering Project” (referred to throughout as “TGP”). Like any VB6 group at the time, they had set out to create an RPG in VB6 to prove that it could be done. My skills were certainly nothing special at all, but I think a combination of charm and an eye for detail got me a job there. The project was headed up by Clint V Franklin and Tanner Helland, both VB6 programmers, but also an artist and musician respectively.

I can safely say that those early days at TGP were some of the happiest moments of my life. We became a close knit family and discussed the project in great fervour. Looking back, whole essays could be written about why the project ultimately failed, it was one of many such projects going on at the time.

Clint Franklin stepped down from the project early in 2003 and I took over, renaming the project to “The Lost Alliance” (referred to throughout at “TLA”). I never had the managerial skills that Clint had used to keep the team together for so long and after many emotional ups and downs I left after falling into disagreement with the team.

What I gained out of it though was a wealth of experience and the two best friends I have anywhere in the world. I stayed in contact with Clint and Tanner and we kept up to date on our various pet projects making this and that app / game.

My life focused around just a handful of people, the friends I could always count on as I fell apart in the real world.

The Team Members

Outside of TGP I never stayed in touch with the rest of the team and, at the time, I think I treated them with a lot of disrespect—being jokey to the point of being rude (you’ll see a lot of this in the letters). As many of the other members were not as assertive as the dominant personalities in the team, I never got to grasp with the other members as real people, but rather more like some sort of turing test.

Tanner Helland, a.k.a. “DemonSpectre”

Tanner Helland is a friend who I have kept in contact with all these years, along with Clint Franklin. They both managed a Visual Basic 6 game project named “The Gathering Project” that I joined in 2001.

Tanner was always the man who could find compromise when me and the other team members were split by disagreement. He always kept a cool head and saw things reasonably whilst the hot headed designer in me would not always be willing to admit fault. Tanner has a broad range of skills: programming, playing and composing music and writing. Tanner has a website with his blog and music, and a book that he has published.

Clint Franklin, a.k.a. “TheRAjE”, “raje”

A gentle giant amongst men. Clint’s appearance is that of a cool bad-ass that demands respect, but the respect he deserves is for being such a decent person. Clint has very little faith in his abilities, but he always shows solid skills in an increasingly surprising number of fields. I’ve never known anybody ever chop and change projects as much as this man (it’s dizzying)—he always has a solid idea at the core of his work but lacks the right kind of support network around him to keep him blinkered.

Clint is the only person on my IM list that I implicitly speak to the instant I see him, every single time (that is if he doesn’t hit enter before me). We have gone through so much in our friendship that I could not imagine myself being here today if it were not for him.

After a long stream of wildly different successive websites (a number covered in the letters), Clint maintains a very low key presence on the ’Web with some web space on my server at It’s important to note that Clint was, and still is, limited to a 28.8 KB/s Internet connection.

Stephanie Rancourt, a.k.a. “Asuka”

Asuka (pronounced ‘Oscar’), a French Canadian, was the team’s highly talented main programer. She had a background in doing-things-properly when it came to programming (UML et al) and due to—basically—ignorance, I think we never properly recognised her talents and worked more against her, than with her; both me and Tanner as VB6 programmers would just dive right into programming without the hint of a spec and just make things up as we went along.

I’m glad to say that Asuka did go on to become a professional games programmer. We have not been able to contact her in recent times. If you’re reading Asuka, my e-mail address is at the bottom of this page, please get in touch, thanks.

Kroc Camen (myself)

I was a programmer and designer, and later team leader. I helped lead the way in many aspects, but in leading, failed to properly work in a team. Many an argument over a decision could have been avoided if I were more willing to simply let the decision lie somewhere for the sake of unity than always on my turf. Because the project was organised as some kind of meritocracy—where those who put the effort in got to make decisions—it meant that there was no hammer that could come down and make things final. The best programmer (Asuka) couldn’t overrule me, and the best designer (myself) couldn’t overrule Clint or Tanner. It was a mess, and was behind me leaving in the end over my badly-handled attempt to force a decision (as leader) on the rest of the team.

You’ll see in these letters just how bad my attitude was and many of my flaws in handling the team. I publish this because I feel I have learnt a lot since then and changed my opinions, but still feel every bit self-confident about my design mindedness (even though my old designs have aged horribly :P).

Noam Brown a.k.a. “Wutalife”

Where as I joined the team later, little had I known how instrumental Wuta had been getting the team that far. Wuta had joined when the team was formulated in the beginning (see Year One of the Gathering Project written by Clint) but being the youngest member at just 13 had no particular skill to contribute other than to be an ideas man and motivator. In the end TGP would not have lasted three months without him. Over winter 2001 the team went into a slump and it was Wuta who brought the team back online. I joined late that year or early 2002 and I had never realised (until Clint wrote about the time before my arrival a year later) of Wuta’s key involvement. My own strong nature to press ahead and participate must have sidelined Wuta because I cannot remember much of anything about our interactions.

After TGP Wuta went on to write a Java online turn-based strategy game called Realm of War in much the vein we were trying to create as part of TGP and that we had failed to do.

I remember little of Intrest besides two main things: I was consistently rude to him for reasons I don’t know anymore, and the team had a falling out with him over lack of participation and he was ousted from the group.
Additional programmer from The Netherlands. Unfortunately there’s little I can remember of Vegeta101, besides discussion in the forums. I’m hoping as I go through the archive material I can draw out more details.
Second musician. Outside of TGP, DragonFyre writes a large amount of fiction.
David Schooley a.k.a. NinjaStalker

(abbreviated throughout the letters as either “NJ” or “NS”)

Ninjastalker acted as a third musician after Tanner and DragonFyre. As far as I remember his participation was somewhat minimal, mainly joining us for discussions in the group’s forums. After TGP he continued to produce music, some of it you can find here.

About the Letters

It was early in 2003 that Tanner took up two years missionary service that would see him travelling Canada with a busy schedule and no Internet access for two years (imagine that!). We decided to stay in touch by writing letters to each other and thus began a strange discourse that covered in great detail almost every aspect of my life at the time. This was all before I had found my perfect job that I’m in now and I wandered from crummy job to crummy job disillusioned with life, stressed beyond terms I can describe to you and increasingly mentally ill.

I am no longer that person, but the historical record that these letters document shows an intensively creative period of my life where I was still learning a lot of the very basics of what I know now. These letters will reveal much that you never knew about me, and incredibly exciting projects I was working on that have never been seen outside of my inner circle of friends.

On this website, you are used to seeing mostly finished, polished products. I don’t share my failed work. These letters reveal hundreds of designs, programs and ideas in flux, many of them laughable now, many of them I would be ashamed to share publicly. IE-only websites, bad, bad code and highly questionable design ideas. But there are some real gems there that I cherish dearly.

The letters themselves were labours of love, eventually becoming little high quality A5 booklets printed on glossy paper and presented in a designer fashion. Their length was every bit as excessive as the detail, one is 36 pages long.

These letters are important to me because I was forced to think in a way I never had before, and may never again. In this day and age almost every phone has at least basic Internet access. I couldn’t even imagine a situation where my friends would not be contactable one way or another for anything more than a few days, but here was a situation where Tanner would be offline for two years. Writing letters was a unique experience, far away from the instantness of the Internet. My letters were vessels that I would come to get out my frustrations and to share my elations. Even though I was writing offline, and it would be weeks or sometimes months before Tanner received the contents, I wrote with a strong sense of the present.

Since these are personal letters, they do not bother to restate what was already known between myself and Tanner. Before Tanner left for Canada and during the two year period I worked on a number of major projects that appear throughout the letters as they develop. None of these projects were successfully completed, and most of which you will have never seen on Camen Design before—including Camen Design itself, circa 2004.

Badly Drawn Adventure

A platform game I was creating with stickmen graphics (on purpose). This became a massive project, spawning a beautiful level editor and fun style of graphics. I focused a lot on the code in this, even mailing Tanner the complete source, printed out!

Screenshot of the Badly Drawn Level Editor


This was my own personal HTML editor I had made during college and continued to develop and use right up until I switched to Mac and TextMate. The UI / UX of Windows text editors has always sucked. It seems that developers on this platform have a love of mediocrity. Ultimately I couldn’t finish HoTMeaL to my desired level of standards because Visual Basic 6 did not provide me enough control over the text frame to implement all the features I wanted. Nether the less, despite major shortcomings, it was still a better text editor for me than anything else on Windows. A bit sad really. Even now I am continually annoyed by the lack of split folder / file pane in TextMate, no other text editor I am aware of does this.

Screenshot of HoTMeaL, my HTML editor

(I am now aware that there is an HTML editor on RISC OS called “HoTMeaL”, but I didn’t know this at the time and nor did Google)


An online computer parts company I formulated with two friends from college. It was my first foray into database-driven / server-side web-development. I learnt ASP specifically for this, and used an Access database. For a year I coded, 5 days a week, whilst working the weekends at McDonalds (and fitting in time for The Gathering Project too). Just as we got the door open and made our first sale, the whole thing fell apart.

Screenshot of ComputerBitsUK website

The Lost Alliance Music Extravaganza

After The Gathering Project was renamed to The Lost Alliance when Clint stepped down, I produced an event called “The Lost Alliance Music Extravaganza” (‘TLAME’), a collection of music currently produced for the product that people could vote on.

The Lost Alliance Music Extravaganza website

I still have the code to this site, but it would take me quite some time to piece it back together because of all kinds of dependencies and bad design decisions I made when coding it. :)


Or “Tanner Helland Independent Sound” in full. A website I made for Tanner Helland to showpiece his music (before THIS he had an MS Word site on a free host :P). I think this took almost 18 months to create. I spent a lot of time just waiting for the right design influence before beginning any work. This site absolutely consumed my life at one point—I avoided full time work, quit a few jobs too, slept very little and struggled my way through so that I could get this done.

Screenshot of Tanner Helland Independent Sound website

I could make this pretty easily now, and would go about it a totally different way, but for then it was the best I could do and I pushed myself to produce something I thought would bring an audience to Tanner’s music. It was all done as a free gift.

NoNonsense MP3

Not a great deal of NoNonsense MP3 is covered in the letters other than the final incomplete version of NoNonsense 3, but NoNonsense MP3 was important because it was the first program I had written that I myself used (and relied upon) daily and the program for which I learnt Paint Shop Pro 7 (and digital art) in order to do the skins for NoNonsense 2.

Screenshot of NoNonsense2

What was NoNonsense MP3? It was a simple MP3 player that did a job that no other MP3 player at the time did. In the late ’90s the MP3 craze took off and there was hot competition between Winamp, Sonique, Musicmatch Jukebox, Windows Media Player and RealPlayer. Complicated interfaces were the name of the game then and it wasn’t until iTunes on Windows in late 2003 that trend reversed. NoNonsense MP3 was tiny, simple, and just loaded a directory of music and played it in random order—that’s all I needed, and all I wanted. The killer feature was an animated tray icon that could be clicked or double-clicked to move to the next / previous track. No other player had this feature at the time.

I rewrote it in version 2 to have better code, a skinnable interface and a transparent window feature made possible with moving to Windows XP. I’ve always liked NoNonsense, it’s probably my most favourite app I’ve written because it reflects an inner characteristic of me that’s still true today. I take what already exists, cut the crap out and build what works for me in a way that nothing else out there does. It was the same of HoTMeaL and the same of this website and of ReMarkable.

I was prepping a website for NoNonsense v3 when I decided to can the project, seeing that the market had changed and that iTunes was the inevitable way forward. But for a few years, NoNonsense was what I used day in, day out and nobody else had anything even close.

I now use ByteController to restore the basic principle of NoNonsense to iTunes.

Camen Design

The idea for this website began in 2003 and initially was designed as a hub around a set of independently themed sub-sites covering various works of interest. The whole thing was massively overambitious to begin with.

Camen Design

The Prologue

This optional information covers the history of The Gathering Project / The Lost Alliance as written by Clint and Tanner themselves in much finer detail, including the formation of the group before I joined.

The History of The Gathering Project—29th March 2002
Tanner Helland details the events in his life that lead up to the formation of TGP.
Year One—26th October 2002
Clint Franklin describes the rocky first year of operation in great detail.
32 Questions: Interview with the Creator of Yoderic’s Battle Arena—26th October 2002
Another VB game programmer interviews Clint about TGP.
This is very extensive and talks more about the game itself than anything else here :P
The History of The Lost Alliance—13th February 2003
I describe the events surrounding the change over from The Gathering Project to the new name The Lost Alliance, with me taking the role of project management.

The Letters

These were personal letters never originally intended for publication and whilst I have kept the editing to an absolute minimum—even retaining spelling mistakes where they don’t confuse the context—we both mutually agreed to cut out portions of the letters that contained lengthy religious discussion. We both feel that the Internet isn’t the right place for that, it just incites pointless angry e-mails, and it could wrongly misrepresent our differing opinions and knowledge we have now.

Each of my letters have been carefully transcribed from the original, very complex, Word 2002 files into clean HTML (via ReMarkable). Amazingly, the transcription is very accurate and true to the look and feel of the originals. Tanner’s words have been transcribed with his permission from the handwritten letters I received and edited according to his preferences.

From Tanner #1—14th April 2003; 2 pages
Just Tanner’s first letter to me that started the series off.
Only covers a number of basic questions.
From Kroc #1—April 19th to April 22nd 2003; 5 pages
Answers to Tanner’s letter, details of a machine code like scripting language based on the Commodore 64 to power Badly Drawn Adventure.
From Kroc #2—May 17th to May 22nd 2003; 4 pages
I leave The Lost Alliance due to a squabble (read: hissy-fit) caused by myself and my attitudes to ‘design’.
From Tanner #2—13th May 2003 (received 2nd June); 5 pages
Tanner’s experience of assembly programming and details of his schedule.
From Tanner #3—17th June 2003 (received 23rd June); 4 pages
Encouraging words from Tanner.
From Kroc #3—June 2nd to June 27th 2003; 10 pages
Screenshots of the Badly Drawn Adventure website, and forums.
The first (quite bad) mockup idea for Camen Design.
From Tanner #4—8th July 2003; 5 pages
Just brief points on BDA, Camen Design and other small bits.
From Kroc #4—July 15th to September 18th 2003; 15 pages
I go through a rough period during the writing of the letter. The first screenshot of the Badly Drawn Adventure Level Editor. Camen Design makes significant progress. Death of TLA.
From Tanner #5—29th September 2003 (received 4th October); 7 pages
A very lengthy reply from Tanner covering just about every topic currently in discussion.
Tanner explains his ideas for what he’d like out of a website, and his plans for what he wants to do when he returns from his trip.
From Kroc #5—October 4th 2003 to January 25th 2004; 18 pages
A vast letter. The team discusses 2 years of The Gathering Project, it having fallen apart earlier (see my previous letter). I finally begin design of Tanner’s new website. I discuss piracy vis-a-vis Badly Drawn Adventure and cover design aspects of the level editor and reveal the game’s story.
From Tanner #6—April 17th to April 20th 2004 (received 24th April); 8 pages
Tanner details happenings on his side. With the loss of TLA, Tanner discusses other possibilities for projects. For BDA, Tanner suggests expanding the number of locations in the game to add diversity.
From Kroc #6 NEW!—February 21st to April 24th 2004; 28 pages
Three pieces of artwork, a lot of planning discussion on Badly Drawn Adventure, looking back on TLA/TGP failures and a surreal list of a hundred things that might make you Kroc Camen.
From Kroc #7—April 27th to June 16th 2004; 36 pages
In Progress…
The Design of Badly Drawn Adventure; 20 pages
In Progress…
From Tanner #7—June 3rd to June 8th 2004; 13 pages
In Progress…
From Tanner #8—June 15th to July 10th 2004; 7 pages
In Progress…
From Kroc #8—July 29th to October 2nd 2004; 32 pages
In Progress…
From Kroc #9—October 5th 2004 to January 9th 2005; 36 pages
In Progress…
From Tanner #9—October 22nd to October 30th 2004; 8 pages
In Progress…
From Kroc #10—January 21st to February 28th 2005; 6 pages
In Progress…

As they say, the best is yet to come.