Camen Design

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Tanner Helland Writes #6

This is one of a series of personal letters written to / from Tanner Helland during 2003–2005. These letters cover—in immense detail—events in my life during that period, including many unfinished and aspiring designs and creations. As a person however, I have changed from the inexperienced, often immature person I was and my skills in programming and web-design have changed just as radically.

These letters have been republished to give deep insight into the way I tick, and to show a lot of background work that lead up to the concepts and skills needed to produce this website, which ultimately I failed to do so back then.


Preparing to reply to your letter is a bit like preparing for some type of final exam—it takes weeks of preparation and study, and even after all of that I don’t feel as if I’ll even be ready. :) A ha ha. Many apologies for the delay in responding. I have been ever-so-busy as of late.


But first, a number of thank-you’s are in order. Thank-you for the letter. It was a delight to read. =) I look forward to them with great anticipation. Thank you for taking the time to so thoughtfully reply†. Thank you for your flattery and praise—it is somewhat unwarranted, but happily and thankfully received. =) Thank you for all that you spend on postage & ink costs. I greatly appreciate your sacrifice to stay in touch. Thank you for all the amazing—utterly amazing—work on T.H.I.S. (I’ll be writing more on that later, of course.) Thank you especially for the 4 CDs and jackets‡. What a treasure. I owe you projects until the end of time, and still I will owe you for your generosity and kindness! I so greatly loved the CDs. They have brightened many of my days and have helped me pass on my music to many more people.

Thank you, thank you. You are a true friend :)

ComputerBitsUK OK?
Believe-it-or-not, I managed to, eh, “provide” myself with a chance to look at your websites. But, to my dismay, they wouldn’t appear was down, didn’t work, and as I suspected was nowhere to be found. I am hoping that it was merely a fluke and that I just tried on a day when servers were down, but if not then I hope that all is well for you. Know that if there is ever an emergency and you need assistance you can e-mail
me, I check every Monday. I will always do whatever I can to help, especially if I can send a little bit of money or something. Don’t hesitate to let me know.
About me

Now about what I’ve been up to. When I received your last letter, (February 3rd the office got it, February 6th I picked it up) I was at the tail end of my 10th month as a missionary. Within a week I was called to be a district leader—which entails watching over & serving 11 other missionaries, 9 mean and two women—which placed a huge restraint on my freetime for writing letters and any other kind of personal business. Combined with this was a call to train a brand-new missionary simultaneously, which is also a time-consuming venture. So not only was I to run my area while training a new missionary, but I was also to watch and help 5 other companionships and their areas. I was so busy. But I loved it. We were able to help so many people out. Recently we’ve placed a huge emphasis on general community service and have been providing free stop-smoking workshops for people of every denomination to attend. It has truly been an amazing opportunity.

Then at the end of last month I was called to be a zone leader—watching over 2 or three districts of missionaries—and was moved down to the city of Lethbridge, Alberta. My new area runs from the east side of the city of the Lethbridge, clean down to the U.S. border and into parts of Montana, and then some 150 kilometers to the east of Lethbridge. It is quite an adventure. I miss being in the city of Calgary. But here it is much more rural and we spend a lot of time in small towns, where the people are more stubborn and unwilling to talk about religion. They all think we have ulterior motives. We really have nothing to gain from this work but the experience & memories & joy of knowing that we helped someone else find the same happiness we enjoy. That’s a great reward—to be sure—but in terms of monetary or physical rewards,


I don’t think anyone realizes that we don’t get paid for doing this. We actually have to pay in order to come out and spend all of our time serving instead of working.

I love it. I truly feel as though I’m spending all my time making other people’s lives better, I wish everyone could have this same opportunity.

But I’m excited that I am less than a year from returning home. As of this week—April 14th, in fact—I am less than 365 days from home. It’s strange to think that I’ve been at this for more than a year! It seems as though just yesterday I was at home, announcing to the team that I’d be departing for awhile. Ha ha—oh how time flies. I can’t believe we’re ⅓ of the way through 2004. We’re getting old!! :) But life is good. I’ve enjoyed being away from work and school and all that, but I am getting anxious to return to normal life, to find a job and a girlfriend and a career and all that. It will be fun.

So that’s my life right now. :) How have you been? Are you still working? I imagine you’ll send the usual updates on BDA w/ your next letter, so I’ll continue on with my growing list of things to reply to! This letter is going to break my hand!! It’s already tired!
Thanks for the VBrains shot. :) Ah, those were the days. I liked the little assistant fellow, but hey—what do I know? Hehe. It was such a good idea in theory, but as always the lack of unity made it hard to get going. Maybe someday (assuming I remember how to use a computer when I get home… hehe)…
Perhaps what amazes me most about TLA is that the whole thing fundamentally rested upon the two of us. When Clint left, we kept things running. When other team members disappeared, we carried on. Yet when you and I left, things fell apart. Figures. :) I enjoyed reading your 2-year anniversary letter. Amazing to think it has been that long, eh? And the 25th of this month (April)

will—or rather, would have been—the 2.5 year mark. I can’t believe how long it lasted. Crazy. I guess that means I’m 0/2 on internet start-up RPG projects…

…But as they say, the third time’s a charm. He he he he…

TLA Resurrected?

In all seriousness, I have considered one last, grand final VBRPG project upon my return. The possibility of it working haunts me. I know it can be done. There is no physical limitation preventing it from working. In fact, there are only two reasons that TLA failed—lack of planning, and lack of unity. The talent was there. I would even go so far as to say that the desire & dedication was there for key team members. It’s kind of like having all of the ingredients you could ever need, but no recipe—or even an idea of what you really want to cook. That was TLA’s problem. We spent two years debating what we were going to make instead of actually making anything.

So, obviously, the key to success would be to have a recipe before gathering the ingredients. In TLA we made the mistake of doing things backward—we gathered the ingredients before picking a recipe. And when we finally semi-agreed upon a recipe, we realized the ingredients were all wrong.

It’s an interesting analogy. My dilemma lies in what kind of an RPG to make. No one can even seem to agree on that.


So I had a different idea—maybe the key would be to first sponsor a team to make a VB-based RPG editor. See, I think it would be smarter to do a project like this in two parts. First have a team work on the engine itself. Set a date of one year for completion, and then get as far as we possibly can.

Then, when the year is up, we start transitioning into a full-blown RPG team (i.e. recruit artists, writers, whatever). What I like about this approach is that it solves all the TLA problems. We wouldn’t have to worry about “stunt-men and make-up artists writing the script” because such people wouldn’t even exist until the engine was nearly done.

RPGMaker v2.0
Or, we could do it in multiple stages. 1) Recruit designers & design the game style 2) Write a script 3) Based on the requirements of

the design & script, recruit artists & musicians & SFX guys to do all the media 4) Based on the design & the media, recruit programmers to build the engine.

I really like this organization idea because it’s completely opposite of what most teams do. I actually got the idea from how they produce movies & TV shows. Everything is done before they actually get out the cameras and start filming. Why should writing a game be any different?

What do ya think?

So here’s the catch—I’m getting too old to do this alone. :) Hehe. If I were to do this, I would want a partner whose judgment I could trust. Say that partner was you… :) The two of us would probably do the majority of the design & script work before we even went public w/ anything. We would handle all recruiting and publicity work. I guarantee that if we wanted to, we could publicize a project like this all over the internet, and if appropriately done we could gain massive support—far more than TLA even did. It would truly be a community effort.

Anyway, it’s an idea I’ve been mulling around in my head. I can’t shake this burning desire to make a VBRPG project work. If you’re game, I say we give it one last try… The “Grand Finale”, if you will.

Or, if you’d rather not, we can stick to the present projects and I’ll just have to save my VBRPG desires for another life. :) haha

The new equipment

Congratulations on all the new equipment! Those iPod things sure are cool†. One of the missionaries out here had one and I was really impressed. They are fun. Hopefully you’ve got even more cool toys by now. Haha :)

Music for you… and anything else…
And you’ve got it—one whole musical score for BDA. Now I’ll have to warn you, that—as you well know—my music is far more suited to an in-depth love story with full-blown 3D cinematics than it is to a comedy. But I’ll do my best. :) It’ll be an adventure, that’s for sure. (Not unlike everything else we work on, heh). Also, any programming assistance I can offer is yours for the taking. No hope of payment is necessary—if we do sell it, you can keep the money. You’ve certainly earned it. The only thing I would ask is that if it does well enough, I could really use some new composing software. I want to buy a full-blown version of Cakewalk Studio so I can start moving into fully digital music instead of only MIDIs. So if it does well, that would be all I need. The rest is yours. (But we’ll worry about that when it happens…)

Now as for BDA, I like your encryption ideas. Very clever! I have no suggestions for it as of now, but if I think of anything I’ll let you know. As usual, you seem to have thought it out in great detail :). As for the actual encryption for the algorithm to turn HKeys into licence keys—always compress the data using Zlib or something similar before encrypting. That removes most patterns in the long sequences of repeated data, which prevents many methods for deciphering algorithmic encryptions. Once you do that it is much harder to decrypt, because you have to unencrypt the compressed data, which isn’t anything recognizable anyway. It’s great :) A combination of pre—and post—compression encrypting usually works best. Lemme know what you decide on.

As for shipping costs, I would think that $25 would be about 4–5× more than the cost for shipping & the CD itself. Plenty of profit to be made :).

I love the editing pane idea. Brilliant, simply brilliant. It’s the little things like that that I would have never in a million years devise. You never fail to amaze me, heh. The play / pause button is also a great idea but I hope it’s not too hard to implement. The structure pane is possibly the best idea of all, simply because of


how practical it is. It’s about time that an editor used something intelligent like that. Very good idea.

In fact, the whole thing is simply a masterpiece as far as the programming design goes. I love it. The only thing I doubt is the story, and that stems somewhat from personal preferences rather than any significant flaw. In my limited experiences, the best games are the ones that draw me in emotionally. When I have some sort of attachment to the characters in the game, it provides a strong motivation for succeeding. After all, these are my fake “friends” at stake. :)

I would worry that an entire game based around a training camp wouldn’t provide the depth to entertain players for much more than an hour or two. I would see the training camp as a level or two or three, merely enough to acquaint the player with basic controls and game mechanics. After that, something more in-depth should provide the motivating factor. It could still be comical—maybe Yokozuki has to perform outrageous feats to impress his demanding girlfriend, who sends him out on stupid missions to earn her love. Or maybe he loves his pet gopher and he has to pursue him through miles of ?† circumstances until he finally gets to him. I don’t know— I just think we should think bigger than a training camp. I also like that, especially if we send Yokozuki international, because then I can write a whole bunch of different styles of music. If Yokozuki has to traverse the Egyptian pyramids, I can write an Egyptian song! Same for Spain, India, whatever. It would be fun. :) So that’s my only suggestion. Take it for what it’s worth, heh. Other than that, I think you’re right on track. It looks great. Congratulations on a project that’s actually progressing! :)

MIDI Editor / PhotoDemon
That’s an interesting idea—writing a MIDI editor. I’ve actually contemplated writing a .wav editor, since it’s so hard to find sound programming in VB source code. PhotoDemon’s lack of focus was due primarily to the fact that it was never intended to be a marketable product. I originally wrote it as an image compression
utility, then once I got the format down, I abandoned the 256 color editor and focused on learning basic graphic processing routines. The original version was completely built off of GetPixel and SetPixel, believe it or not. Heh :) Later I completely cut out the whole 256-color portion of the editor, taught myself DIB sections, and began expanding it w/ features I couldn’t find in other editors. Before I knew it, it was so much larger than I had planned that I figured I oughta clean it up and make it presentable, and several thousand hours of work later, PD emerged. I can’t believe how much time I spent on that cursed thing :) But it taught me most of what I know about VB, so for that I’m grateful. Will see how motivated I am to program when I get back :) Haha

And last but not least is T.H.I.S. Oh man. We have really got to shrink those letters down. :) But it’s hard when letters get sent every three months instead of every three weeks. I will try to be more prompt in the future… and hopefully my schedule will allow it. Maybe yours will too :) Hehe.

Anyway, what can I possibly say about T.H.I.S.? “Just mind blowing” should suffice. :) Hehe. Kroc, it’s amazing. I love it all. The color scheme is great, the layout is intelligent and user-friendly, the menus look great and the feel of the whole site is indeed more than I could have imagined.

You have such a gift for design. I couldn’t possibly offer any advice that would improve the site. It’s already a masterpiece. I guess my only idea would be to change “international” to “independent”, maybe even “Tanner Helland Independent Studios”, Or if you think international sounds better, leave it. I trust your judgement completely.

I hope that you’re only working on T.H.I.S. when it appeals to you. Just seeing this much excites me beyond any hope I could even have of designing a site for my music. You are truly one-of-a-kind. Amazing! Simply amazing!!

I would write more, but 4 pages has taken its toll on my brain and my hand. :) I hope this will suffice for now & I hope to hear back from your soon! God bless & good work!


Photo of Tanner standing in the snow holding a sign that reads “-45ºC”

Now that’s cold.