In loving memory of multiple Dave Szulborski’s

I haven’t written anything here for about two years – I haven’t had the time, or have been involved in confidential projects that I was dying to blog about, but unable to do so.

So, it’s with a relief and an overwhelming sadness that I can now talk about working with the late Dave Szulborski, and can let you all into the story behind this photograph: Dave Szulborski.

Many of you reading this will already be familiar with Dave’s brilliance, and will be as gutted as I am that he is no longer with us. Many others here in the UK and the rest of the world probably haven’t heard of him, so I’m going to share a personal story that will provide a glimpse into his genius.

Dave was a pioneer of Alternate Reality Gaming – look it up. He wrote the first book on the subject, and it’s through that book that I got to know him.

First, a bit of background:

I’ve been working on an idea for a console game, film and ARG rolled into one for about 8 years. The idea was formed at University in 2001, and for several years I carried it around looking for people to work on it with me. Many people didn’t get it. Those that did wanted to take it in directions that I wasn’t happy with.

Fast forward to 2007, and I’d found a handful of people with the right ingredients to make it happen. I consulted a well respected games company here in Brighton, Relentless Software, and took some advice on how to present the idea to Sony Computer Entertainment. After a bit of toing and froing with David Amor, Relentless’ Creative Director, I settled on the idea of doing a role playing pitch to put producers in the centre of our game experience. David thought I was a bit mad.

After spending several days practicing the role play with my producer Jade, we took the train up to Liverpool to pitch the idea to Sony.

They loved it. They loved it so much they had to step outside and discuss what to do – which I’m told is unusual. When they came back in, they thanked us for a great pitch. The top brass who is apparently very hard to please even came over to shake our hands to say thank you.

However, with our complete lack of experience in console games, ARGs, and not a sniff of film experience, they said: “Sorry, your pitch has made a real impact with us, but we have to say no this time, as you don’t have the necessary experience. We will however, find a way of working with you.”

I was devastated and thrilled simultaneously. I’m a self confessed Sony fanboy.

So what to do? I picked up Dave’s book for starters, to get some ‘experience’.

I was blown away – Urban Hunt, the ARG he put together with a handful of helpers showed the kind of creative genius that I was looking to work with. So I sent Dave an email with all my ideas wrapped up in a tidy punch.

To my amazement and delight, he wrote back the next day. His words were:

“It’s not very often that an idea comes along that inspires me so much that I can see no end to its potential.”

Pretty good huh!?

Our relationship was sealed over a couple of emails, and we talked very seriously about Dave and his family moving over here to Brighton to realise this idea together. I was so happy.

Meanwhile, Sony had delivered on their word, and were offering us a project that would provide an opportunity to produce a full scale ARG.

So, I asked Dave to help us out, which he was more than happy to do – offering several consultations for free on the strength of our passion to work together. Man, this makes me tearful to think it will never happen now.

Anyway, our relationship with Relentless had also grown strong, with both David and his business partner Andrew Eades interested in our ideas. So much so that we decided to form a new company together, FuturLab Meta.

Now then, onto this picture of Dave.

Relentless could not believe that Dave Szulborski, the man who wrote the book, pioneered the genre, and now worked on the coolest stuff in the world, would have any interest in working with little ol’ me. I’m just a Flash developer afterall.

For months they would ask: “So, Dave Szulborski, is he really going to get involved? Is he even real? I just don’t get why he’d be interested in working with you.” Thanks guys 😉

I am forever in debt to both Andy and David @ Relentless, but what they failed to acknowledge was the power of the creative spirit. I know how strong it is because it’s in me – it drives me – up the wall sometimes. Dave had that same drive. He knew that our idea was a corker, that it could change the face of entertainment if done correctly. It was this bond that we shared so strongly.

So, the time came for Dave to travel over to the UK to meet with Sony. At this point it had become something of a joke that Relentless didn’t believe Dave was committed, as they’d never spoken to him.

The day he arrived in our office was a great day for me and Jade – the living legend, in our office, working on our project!

We got a call from Andy from Relentless asking if he could have a picture of Dave, to prove he was actually real. It was a joke of course, but we thought we’d oblige.

Now, I’d told Dave about this disbelief we were getting from Relentless, and he thought it was hysterical. The man was so humble, again it brings me to tears.

So, the picture you see on his website, is the picture we took of him in our office, to prove his existence to our doubtful business partners.

However, Dave had the idea that we should send a picture of me, with Dave’s head cut out and stuck over mine. Classic. We sent that, and I don’t think Andy found it too funny.

The next morning as we travelled to Sony for our meeting, we told Dave that we’d all be having a meal that evening. It would be the first time that Relentless would meet Dave.

Dave pondered this for a moment, and then announced that we should all wear Dave Szulborski masks – Dave included. Haha, what a genius!

So we did – we had the staff make around 10 Dave Szulborski masks, and when we arrived at the restaurant, a bag full of masks were there for us to wear.

When Relentless walked in, they were met with a large table full of ‘fake’ Dave Szulborski’s.

Now, to me this seems like such a good example of Dave’s way of thinking. The man best known for playing with people’s heads in a charming way – wearing a mask of himself.

I don’t think Relentless found it too funny really, but it was our joke, and I’m really happy we had the chance to share it with Dave.

Rest in peace buddy. If I ever get a chance to realise my opus, it will be dedicated to you.

To get an idea of just how much this guy was loved, check out this thread on the unfiction forums: Unfiction.

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  • Phil Goddard
    Posted May 15, 2009 at 12:11 am 0Likes

    Unfortunately I never got the chance to meet or even email Dave as I was keeping James at arms length, as i knew his mind would suck me in, and that would be that 🙂

    The last few months i have been dedicating a lot more time to James and Futurlab and now proud to call myself a Director of the company. As such I have read a shit load of material from Dave, ordered his book TINAG (literally yesterday), and was sooo looking forward to workign with and learning from him. C’mon Dave, what’re you playing at! (Manchester humour :))

    I feel inadequate to be even adding a comment about Dave Szulborski, as for one, i wasn’t sat round the restaurant table that James mentioned above.

    However, this sad sad news has only inspired me even further to make the best damn ARG game(s) in memory of the guy who kicked the concept off.

    Hats off Mr Szulborski!

  • Addlepated
    Posted May 15, 2009 at 8:19 am 0Likes

    That’s a wonderful story. One of the things I loved about working with Dave was his sense of humor. So crafty! And his seemingly endless wellspring of amazing, mind-blowing ideas. Sometimes I’d come out of a meeting feeling like I just did 10 rounds with Mike Tyson because bam, bam, bam, it was one awesome thing after another.

    He was so excited to be working with you guys, and I’m sorry that didn’t happen. I’m sure it would have been incredible.

  • Nos
    Posted May 15, 2009 at 8:13 pm 0Likes

    You made me laugh and cry. Like Addie said, working with Dave was an amazing experience. It has forever changed me, and I hope that someday your project will continue on.

  • James @ FuturLab
    Posted May 15, 2009 at 11:31 pm 0Likes

    Thanks for the comments. As Phil said it’s made us both even more committed to making it happen, if that is indeed possible :p

  • varin
    Posted May 17, 2009 at 3:01 pm 0Likes

    It’s bittersweet to hear these wonderful memories of Dave. He was an amazing man and I am so thankful to have worked with him myself. I hope to see your project come to life soon!

  • Jade Tidy
    Posted June 7, 2009 at 1:37 pm 0Likes

    I've only just been brave enough to read this post, as I knew it would tug at my heart strings and remind me of our loss. However, I'm sitting here with a smile on my face, remembering those great times we had working (and playing) with Dave. He was a genius and he will live on through his son, family, friends and colleagues.

    He was truly inspiring and his creative spirit, passion for his family and determination has left an imprint on my life. To Dave!

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