Critical Mass[We interrupt our regular GameSetWatch programming for a call to action from Gamasutra's news director Leigh Alexander, who mines her childhood to discover a strange video game influencer whom she desires reacquaintance with.]

Dear Mr. Blauschild,

As you may have realized from my blog and body of work widely available on the Internet, I am a video game journalist. I was recently the recipient of a sudden electroshock of nostalgia, during which I suddenly remembered that you, sir, are the source of my fear of elevators.

You see, Mr. Blauschild, I am actually the heir to my father's consumer technology journalism mantle. My father covered a variety of home entertainment products including what were at the time fairly newly-invented items including the home personal computer, the home videocasette player, and the home video game console. As a result, I was raised with plenty of access to press review copies of just about every Apple II and Commodore 64 game ever developed, and that, sir, includes your portfolio of work as a designer of text games accompanied by graphics published under the marquee of Sirius Software.

Mr. Blauschild, you developed quite a few excellent products which stumped me mightily -- I was only five or six years old at the time, and precocious but not especially freakish, please understand. So it was that your titles Critical Mass and Escape From Rungistan came to form one of the earliest gaming palettes that I can to this day recall. So did Kabul Spy, Blade of Blackpoole and Gruds In Space, but I am unsure whether you are the one to whom I can assign responsibility for these titles.

Current internet research informs me that indeed Sirius Software's adventure titles were merely poor clones of what Sierra titled at the time its "Hi-Res Adventures," but my young mind knew no difference, and I'll have you know that Escape From Rungistan challenged me for years. That action sequence with the skis? I even consulted my uncle, a ski aficionado, for advice on how commands like LEAN RIGHT and LEAN LEFT might correspond to actual skiing, but all I ever ended up with was a face full of splinters (via text, naturally). I once had a dream I arrived at the animated cannibals that I saw in the game's manual -- and bragged to my friends that I indeed passed the ski sequence -- but in truth, it was a dream only.

Although my young days were filled with fantasies of triumph, I never did beat any of your games, Mr. Blauschild. I was only six years old.

However, my particular bone to pick with you hinges on the odd title Critical Mass, which as I'm certain you recall begins in an office in which the word LITHIUM is written on the wall to inform the player of a password for later use. Why should a six-year-old know the meaning of the word LITHIUM, Mr. Blauschild? Well, I knew it not, but what really took its place beneath my skin was the "action sequence" that followed the player character's exiting his office via text command.

As I'm sure you cannot not have forgotten, almost immediately upon opening gameplay, the player is placed in a plummeting elevator, and if the player does not type "JUMP" at the precisely-timed correct moment (followed, of course, by the seminal 'Return' key), the player will die -- after being informed that one's elbows and knees have switched places, or perhaps it was the hips and shoulders, or other such gruesome penalty.

Mr. Blauschild, I was six years old, and it took me months -- I jest not, months, sir -- of repeated attempts before I fundamentally understood the idea of action gameplay timing. I did pass that point in your game, indeed I did. I arrived at the airport and bestowed the flower upon the Hare Krishna (I had no idea, of course, what Krishnas were). I took the plane to France where I was delighted by your clever street names such as "Rue La Chat" and "Rue La Pig" -- and was then immediately frustrated by the key in the drain pipe, the flooding streets.

But to this day, Mr. Blauschild, every time I enter an elevator in my normative adult life -- I am now twenty-something, sir -- I recall your game, Critical Mass, and wonder whether, should the elevator plummet, my upper and lower joints will trade places if I do not JUMP at precisely the assigned moment. My body temperature perceptibly lowers, and every time -- every time I enter an elevator, Mr. Blauschild, and I a New York resident! -- I prepare myself to JUMP. I am traumatized, and it is your fault.

This means, Mr. Blauschild, formerly of Sirius Software, developer of the games that formed my childhood sustenance, that I shall never forget you. And this means, in addition to having traumatized me for life, you taught me action gameplay timing, sir. Not only were there the skis in Escape From Rungistan, but there was that hellacious "call Gidget" waterski sequence in Critical Mass. What is with you and skis, dear sir? I know not -- but I concede, here and now, that you helped create me as I am.

Today I am a game journalist, Mr. Blauschild. And you taught me not only my terror of elevators and my comprehension of action gameplay timing, but my love of the intellectual interactive puzzle, my yen for banging my head against the steep wall of frustration, my asbsolute addiction to outwitting the sadistic logic of a game designer.

Certainly, you are not sole among my earliest mentors; I must thank early Origin Systems veteran Dallas Snell for Ring Quest, Phillip and Bob Hess for the insanely ruthless Death in the Caribbean, of course, the Williamses Ken and Roberta (because before King's Quest, there were Mystery House and The Dark Crystal, of course). And slightly later, I owe my gratitude to Al Lowe for teaching me, by way of Leisure Suit Larry, what a "prophylactic" is at the age of eight or so (yes, precocious, intellectual independence, hallelujah)!

But perhaps against all odds, Mr. Blauschild, I loved and loathed alike your titles first and best. Thank you, in both highest esteem and admiration, and in good-natured frustration, bitterness and childhood damage, for my passion and for my livelihood. All that exists to be read with my name beneath the headline was born in part of you.

Sincerely yours,

Leigh Alexander
News Director, Gamasutra
Proprietress, Sexy Videogameland
leighalexander1 at gmail dot com

PS: To all gentlemen and women herein named, I forever adore you, genuinely.