Rocks in the Rocket Science Lobby

In 1994 Rocket Science Games was the only video game company with a rock in its lobby.

We had moved our game development facilities from Berkeley and Palo Alto and consolidated into one building on Townsend Street in the “South of Market” neighborhood in San Francisco.  (We’re were just around the corner from the future home of SF Giants AT&T Baseball Park, which then was just a rubble-strewn parking lot in a sketchy neighborhood.)

Since we were the hip, new, edgy, “Hollywood meets Silicon Valley” video game company (more about “big hat, no cattle” startups in subsequent posts,) our office obviously had to match the image.

Our receptionists’ desk was built on the wing of a WWII P-51 fighter plane, and the rest of the office décor matched.  All that is, except for our lobby, as our offices were on the 4th floor. When you got off the elevator, you faced a non descript corporate-looking set of walls.

This was about the time Christies and Sotheby’s were starting to auction Soviet space program artifacts, and I was thinking that perhaps a spacesuit in the lobby would be appropriate given our name.

One day, out for a walk at lunch, enjoying one of my favorite activities – watching them tear down the Embarcadero freeway (San Francisco urban upgrade post 1989 earthquake,) – I realized I was looking at the answer.

And it was much, much better than a space suit.

SF embarcadero freeway demolish

A week later as our employees came up the elevator there was a Lucite case on a pedestal with a single grey rock, lit with a single spotlight, on a velvet pillow.  In front of it was a brass plaque that read:

Moon rock, Apollo 18, July 1973 – Copernicus Crater.”

Apollo 16 Moon Rock

For the next few years, people from all around South of Market would come by the Rocket Science Games lobby to see our moon rock. It added to the mystique  of the company – which helped with raising money and getting press ink. Everyone agreed that having our own moon rock was way cool.

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Postscript: In all that time, not a single person who admired the moon rock questioned its provenance or authenticity.  A bit surprising considering the intersection between geekdom and space.  Maybe it was just too much ancient history.

NASA’s moon missions ended at Apollo 17.

The rock was a piece of rubble from the Embarcadero Freeway.

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Only over time would I realize it augured the future of the company.

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4 Responses

  1. I’ve only recently discovered your website, haven’t read any of your books, but *this* is the story I’d like to hear. How did your skills in sales and marketing and your ability to discover and validate customers run aground at Rocket Science?

    • Dan,
      I have a pile of those stories queued up for later this year.

      But the short answer: hubris.

      steve

  2. Here’s another fun layer to add to this story. The traffic problems caused by the Embarcadero Freeway may have been an embodiment of a Braess’s Paradox.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braess's_paradox

  3. Hello Steve. I’m hoping you have email alerts turned on, so you see it when someone comments on your blog. I’m writing to ask you about Rocket Jockey.

    (Your Twitter didn’t look overly active, so I figured this would be the best means of contact. The matter is “Rocket Science” related, and I didn’t want to clutter up newer posts…)

    I’ve long held Rocket Jockey in high regards. I’ve met (unfortunately) few others that knew it. Imagine my surprise and joy when an author on ArsTechnica.com recently highlighted it as a “Masterpiece” (http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2011/07/masterpiece-rocket-jockey-for-the-pc-1.ars ).

    Now he’s followed that up with an interview from Sean Callahan (http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2011/07/there-is-a-360-version-of-rocket-jockey-that-you-cant-play.ars ). A snippet from that:

    >>Sadly, unless you can track down an old packaged version of Rocket Jockey, there’s no legal way to play. “As far as I know, it’s never been legally available for download,” he said. “The problem is the rights are in limbo with Rocket Science Games. Nobody can obtain the rights because no legal entity exists to license them.”

    And that’s why I’m writing you. Is this correct? Are the rights literally unattainable? Was there no paperwork detailing who got the property of the company? If nothing else, surely the desks and chairs went somewhere, and without exceptions written into the legal documents, I assume the IP followed suit?

    I’m not writing you with a business proposition. I have nothing to sell you, and I certainly can’t afford to buy anything. But I’m writing you as a fan of the game, hoping you can help me find out where the rights lie, and determining if they can be freed up. This is a rabbit hole I’m willing to go pretty far down, so, if you’re able to help at all, I’d appreciate it.

    You can email me at my posted name, at gmail. I hope you can find the time to help me out in this little endeavor of mine.

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