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MaxChat #1: A Chat with Max Barry

29th January 2004

This is a cleaned-up transcript of the internet chat between Max Barry, some moderators, and many devoted NationStates players.

<Karmabaijan> Good evening everyone, and welcome to the first official function of #nationstates!
<Karmabaijan> I would like to introduce you all to Mr Max Barry, author of Jennifer Government and the game we all know and love, Nationstates.
<MaxBarry> hello :)
<Karmabaijan> You have all been informed of the rules and procedures for this event, so without further ado, lets get right to the questions.
<MaxBarry> Thanks everyone for coming -- this is ace
<Melkor> ok heres one
<Melkor> from.. um "Moonshine" : How long has Jennifer Government been in development, from first concept to final product?"
<MaxBarry> You're talking about the book here, I assume
<Melkor> I'm not sure
<MaxBarry> I started Jennifer Government in 1999...
<MaxBarry> and spent about a year writing it
<MaxBarry> It was about twice as long as it is now, had way too many characters, and a bizarre ending with this giant war
<MaxBarry> When I realized that was a pretty dumb idea, I spent about another 9 months rewriting it
<MaxBarry> Then I went through another edit stage with my publisher, and a mere 12 months later it was on the shelves
<MaxBarry> So, all up...
<MaxBarry> Quite a while :)
<Moonshine> hehe.. 5 years..
<MaxBarry> I started coding NationStates during that year, waiting for the book to come out
<MaxBarry> I was doing it part time, while working on my next novel...
<MaxBarry> I think I started coding on it in about Feb or March 2003
<MaxBarry> A couple of hours a day, that kind of thing
* Moonshine nods
<MaxBarry> And then we launched in November 2003
<MaxBarry> And the world was improved :)
<Karmabaijan> Thanks for the question Moonshine

<Melkor> ok heres another one
<Scolopendra> From Goobergunchia: "What are the upcoming plans for improving the forums?
<MaxBarry> lol
<MaxBarry> A very good question. :)
<MaxBarry> The funny thing with the forums is that I really just stuck it on the game as an afterthought
<MaxBarry> I thought, "I guess people might want to talk about their nations, so I'll add a bulletin board"
<MaxBarry> And they've been so popular that, well, they've really struggled in terms of reliability
<MaxBarry> Despite everything we've tried to do to keep them responsive, they've been getting worse and worse
<MaxBarry> However, I have some good news on this front :)
<MaxBarry> For the last few months I've been talking to a British gaming company called Jolt
<TheSLAGLands> [/shamelessplug]
<MaxBarry> At first about creating a sequel game, NationStates 2, but then also about this game
<MaxBarry> Jolt run a variety of online games at the moment, and have the kind of juicy hardware and bandwidth that we need
<MaxBarry> We've come to an agreement whereby they'll code up and manage NationStates 2, based on my plan for it
<MaxBarry> And they'll also take on hosting of NationStates 1
<MaxBarry> I.e. this game :)
<MaxBarry> This means that while NationStates will remain essentially the same, it will have professional level hosting
* Menelmacar|Siri yays!
* Reploid_Productions cheers
<Neutered_Sputniks> Told ya guys it was comin :P
<MaxBarry> which will be a relief to most of you as much as it is to me
* DreadLadyNathicana cheers loudly!
<MaxBarry> Jolt and I are in the process of getting ready for moving the game across right now
<[violet]> And of course, when we make the move, the site will be down for a few days to make sure we move everyone's nations properly
* Scolopendra holds up the "APPLAUSE" sign.
* Menelmacar|Siri applauds.
* Treznor applauds wildly!
<Karmabaijan> OK! Thanks for the question Goober, some big news on the forums front!
<[dredd]> Finally.
* MaxBarry snickers.
<TheSLAGLands> Oh, and if I may supplement here, Max...
<TheSLAGLands> Will the Jolt initiative cost money for the players of NationStates 1?
<MaxBarry> No, it's the same game, same setup, just on a different host
<Pergutoria> yay
* Melkor yays

<Neutered_Sputniks> Purgutoria, you have a question?
<TheSLAGLands> We'll take more questions on the Jolt issue later.
<Pergutoria> Max, can you tell us more about the Jennifer Government movie that's planned? It seems everyone's interested.
<MaxBarry> Sure
<MaxBarry> My agent sold the film rights to Jennifer Government just over 2 years ago now, to Section Eight Films
<MaxBarry> which is run by Steve Soderbergh and George Clooney
<MaxBarry> This obviously rocks :)
<Pergutoria> *nice*
<MaxBarry> The way it works is the film company buys an option, which means they have a period of time to try to get a film into production
<MaxBarry> They pay me a relatively small amount of money for the option, with the promise of a big payday if the movie actually gets made
<MaxBarry> Section 8 had 18 months, and a couple of months ago they renewed it for another 18 months
<MaxBarry> During all this time, they've essentially been developing the screenplay
<MaxBarry> I've actually lost track of how many writers they've been through
<MaxBarry> but it's a lot :)
<MaxBarry> They want to get the screenplay right before they take the next step of attaching directors, cast, etc
* Reploid_Productions thinks it would rock if the mods got small parts in the film =p
<MaxBarry> heheh
<TheSLAGLands> Cameos by Granny Slag!
* Melkor thinks it would rock too
<MaxBarry> So there's not really any major news, apart from that they're developing it
<Pergutoria> So, will NationStates players be considered for extras?
* Treznor doubts he could get Peter Winfield to play his part.
<Karmabaijan> Alright, thanks Pergutoria.
<MaxBarry> Sadly, no. :)
* Cogitation wouldn't mind trying his hand at acting.
<Melkor> ok next q

<Melkor> "<Compound_Interest> How do you feel about the strange way in which the layout and the title of your book changed during translation?"
<MaxBarry> I think here you're talking about how the German version of Jennifer Government is very different to the US/Commonwealth one
<Compound_Interest> Yes, thats what I ment
<MaxBarry> It's called "Logoland" and there's a picture of it at
<MaxBarry> It's always a bit weird getting translated
<MaxBarry> Because I've written a book that I can't read
<MaxBarry> When a book is translated, often the publisher will want to change the title to something they think will work better in their country
<MaxBarry> In fact, even if a book isn't translated, they still might rename it for the UK or Australia or whereever
<Compound_Interest> So you don't think the layout or title is horrible?
<MaxBarry> So the German publisher decided that "Jennifer Reigerund" (or whatever the German word for "government" is) sounded bad, and "logoland" sounded better
<MaxBarry> Now, I have no idea if that sounds better to German ears or not. I know it sounds kind of lame to Australian ears. :)
<Karmabaijan> Thanks for the question Compound_Interest.
<MaxBarry> The layout I wasn't thrilled with either -- partly because I love the cover of Jennifer Government and partly because NationStates had introduced that graphic to hundreds of thousands of people
<MaxBarry> But they've sold a lot of copies, so I guess they know what's best for German sensibilities.

<Treznor> "<Katganistan> Thank you for NationStates -- How do you feel about your website and its following?"
* Melkor esse ein berliner
<Melkor> mmmmm
<MaxBarry> I feel like Mickey Mouse who started all the brooms walking and couldn't make them stop :)
<MaxBarry> This was meant to be a little site
<Reploid_Productions> 550,000 nations later.....
<MaxBarry> I thought it would be kind of fun, but I didn't think too many people would agree with me
* Cogitation laughs.
<Cogitation> MaxBarry: Define "many".
<MaxBarry> Before NationStates I used to code for a MUD (, and we never got that many players, no matter how cool our code was
<MaxBarry> So how NationStates took off just totally floored me
<MaxBarry> I remember checking in to the site about 10 days after it opened and going, "Oh my god, there are 700 players."
* Katganistan chuckles
<MaxBarry> Then pretty soon there were 2,000, then 5,000, then 20,000...
<MaxBarry> I still can't really work out where this whole NationStates community came from
<MaxBarry> I just know that there is a community here now, and it's a brilliant one
<Reploid_Productions> Word of mouth, methinks. I found it in the Anne McCaffrey forums
<Katganistan> And I heard it from a friends, and told my students to check it out.
<MaxBarry> I love how people have created their own content for the game -- their own web sites, threads on the forums, all this stuff
* Scolopendra blames Karma for getting him involved.
<MaxBarry> I've read some of the most brilliant threads
<MaxBarry> And I feel really proud that I put this site up to let it happen here
<MaxBarry> You guys rock. :)
* Melkor hehs. bets they were all his :P
<Katganistan> Thank you :)
* Menelmacar|Siri yays! \^_^/
<Karmabaijan> Thanks Katganistan. Good question.

<TheSLAGLands> All righty, we got this fine young stud Kaenei here with a question.
<TheSLAGLands> Kaenei wants to know what Max would do if he was not an author.
<MaxBarry> Hmm... well, practically I guess I would be selling computers for Hewlett-Packard, or doing something else in sales and marketing
<MaxBarry> since that's my background
<MaxBarry> But maybe I would be coding weird web games :)
* Karmabaijan ughs at HP :)
<[violet]> So you'd still have a need for myself?
<[dredd]> And me?
<MaxBarry> I've always enjoyed writing, and enjoyed making up games -- I've been lucky enough to have success in both of those fields
<MaxBarry> I think if I couldn't be a writer I would get more into coding games

<TheMostGloriousHack> A question from Myrth: If you could go back to 2002, would you bother creating NationStates?
<MaxBarry> Oh yeah, without question
<Myrth> in spite of all the headaches and sleepless nights?
<MaxBarry> It turned out to be a lot more expensive than I thought -- originally I budgeted about $30 a month for hosting -- but it's been much more successful, too
<MaxBarry> Yeah, it has taken vastly more amounts of time than I expected, too :)
<MaxBarry> I remember I thought, "Once the game's done, I can just leave the web site alone and it will run itself."
<MaxBarry> What a fool. :)
<Myrth> haha, and then along we came...
<MaxBarry> The game has been very successful at introducing a lot of people to my books
<MaxBarry> Which was the main financial reason for creating it in the first place
<TheMostGloriousHack> So the marketing ploy worked?
<Karmabaijan> Thank you myrth, and also, thanks for prodding me along about organizing this event :)
<MaxBarry> But it's also been much cooler than I expected, too, with the community that's emerged
<Myrth> made your first million yet? :þ
<Karmabaijan> one question at a time please :P
<MaxBarry> Not yet, unfortunately. :)
* Scolopendra watches Karma pull Myrth off the stage with one of those long canes
<MaxBarry> lol
<TheMostGloriousHack> OMG NOES!

<Treznor> "<Berserker> What's your funniest/favorite NS related incident"
<MaxBarry> oh boy
<MaxBarry> There have been so many...
<MaxBarry> But I think the situation with Francos Spain in the Pacific is right up there
<MaxBarry> You have this ruthless dictator presiding over a region and telling everyone that he's democratic and caring...
<Neutered_Sputniks> HA!
<Neutered_Sputniks> you mighta liked handling that one :P
<MaxBarry> As a satirist, I really enjoy that :)
* Scolopendra shakes his head and sighs.
<MaxBarry> Poor mods. :)
<Reploid_Productions> Max enjoys making the mods suffer =p

<Reploid_Productions> TROUSRS asks: TROUSRS: Do you think you will ever open a PayPal or similar function for NationStates server donations? Why or why not?
<Karmabaijan> Thanks, bers.
<Berserker> Thanks Max
<MaxBarry> I seriously considered that, when the costs of hosting this site jumped
<MaxBarry> I'm currently paying about US$400 a month
<Menelmacar|Siri> \O.O/
<MaxBarry> And I need to sell a lot of books to make that back :)
<[violet]> That's for all you from the NS2 forums who dont believe it needs to be pay-to-play
<MaxBarry> But the deal with Jolt that I talked about earlier means that the site won't need donations to run
<TROUSRS> Sounds good Max.
<MaxBarry> So it will work out great for everyone: players get a faster, working site, I don't need to keep shelling out for hosting (or trying to fix tech problems), and Jolt gets to make NS2
<TheMostGloriousHack> Huzzah!
<Karmabaijan> thanks trousers, and next we have...
<Karmabaijan> -e
<TheSLAGLands> That was funny. Like in the last desperate moment... "NO E!"
<MaxBarry> lol
<TheSLAGLands> "No V either, son."
* Scolopendra watches the big cane work its magic once more

<Neutered_Sputniks> <Berserker> How do you think your volunteer staff has been doing so far handling the forums?
<MaxBarry> heheh
<MaxBarry> Clearly a mod-approved question. :)
<MaxBarry> I remember when this site didn't have any moderators
<MaxBarry> At first it was small enough that it didn't need them, but then, boy, it needed them
<Scolopendra> Yay for tu... er... you know.
* Scolopendra shudders.
<MaxBarry> The mods basically keep this site operating now
<MaxBarry> Because I sure couldn't mod it all myself
<MaxBarry> I give them these vague directions about what should and shouldn't be permitted, and then they have to try to enforce that in a consistent way
<MaxBarry> In the face of a lot of grief, sometimes, too
<Neutered_Sputniks> Yes...a LOT of grief
<MaxBarry> So I have a lot of admiration and gratitude for the mods
<Reploid_Productions> (Key word being 'try' =p You guys don't make this stuff easy!)
<Karmabaijan> thanks bers, again.
<Neutered_Sputniks> lol
* Treznor pulls his nose out long enough to applaud the mods.

<Melkor> <TROUSRS> Do you think SYRUP will ever become a movie? Personally, I liked SYRUP a hell of a lot better (and JG was awsome which makes Syrup a very highly speaking word out of the range of my vocabulary) and it had a lot more character development. I think it would be a movie that attracted a large bunch of viewers.
<MaxBarry> Heheh, thanks
<TROUSRS> Yay, me.
* Melkor lowers TROUSRS onto the stage with a crane & harness
<MaxBarry> Funny timing, I got an e-mail from a guy who wants to option SYRUP just a few hours ago
<TheMostGloriousHack> Whoa
* Melkor has an orc bring him a mic
<Menelmacar|Siri> Wow.
<MaxBarry> It's been a lot tougher with SYRUP
<TROUSRS> Why so?
<MaxBarry> Because no-one like George Clooney wanted to buy the rights
<MaxBarry> When it's George Clooney, it's an easy decision :)
<MaxBarry> When it's some guy you've never heard of, who has connections you can't verify, with production companies you've never heard of... it's harder
<MaxBarry> I do hope that SYRUP will make it into a film one day, but at this stage it's looking like a long shot.

<Menelmacar|Siri> Okay... Peng-Pau, who isn't here to ask in person, wants to know: "The naming conventions in Jennifer Government are that the persons first name is their given name, and their surname is their employer. Who would you be, as an author has no true employer?"
<MaxBarry> As a self-employed person, I would own my own company, and thus be able to call it whatever I wanted
* Melkor chuckles heartily
<TheMostGloriousHack> "Maxx"?
<Melkor> "Max Power"
<Scolopendra> "Max VIOLENCE"
<Cogitation> Similar to the character "Violet Enterprises" in your book?
<MaxBarry> Yeah, exactly Cogitation
* Karmabaijan notes Karma KarmaCorpTechSystems is rather akward
* Treznor makes stretching motions to Max.
<Menelmacar|Siri> Sirithil Fëanor Holdings Group...

<Neutered_Sputniks> Abu-DhabiKhristatata|Quin> Do you ever get tired of being worshiped as a god? Or do you enjoy it?
<MaxBarry> hahahaha
<MaxBarry> I keep telling my friends, "You know, on my site, I get some RESPECT." They find that hard to believe.
<Abu-DhabiKhristatata|Quin> It is a great honor that my question has been asked and that I get to speak with you Mr. Barry.
<MaxBarry> I think it's just because I'm kind of this unseen figure, the guy who made the game :)
* Scolopendra hears a vacuum cleaner
<MaxBarry> I'm really not that special. :)
* Neutered_Sputniks kneels in reverance
* Scolopendra puts on his vestments. "All hail the Tetragrammaton Lord of Our World!"
<TheSLAGLands> I'm up?
<MaxBarry> See, that's sarcasm -- the mods don't show me that kind of respect!
<TheSLAGLands> Just because we rock and you suck. =P
* Reploid_Productions slaps Slaggy with a danish
<TheMostGloriousHack> No, because we do actual work :P
* Karmabaijan slaps slag and yells
<TheSLAGLands> Now then, speaking of things that rock...
<Menelmacar|Siri> Hey! I respect you!
<Karmabaijan> NEXT!

<TheSLAGLands> <SillyCats> Which writers and/or genres influence your own writing the most?
<SillyCats> Uh, what Oz said.
<MaxBarry> Two authors I love are Chuck Palahniuk and Neal Stephenson
<MaxBarry> A lot of people have compared Stephenson's "Snow Crash" to "Jennifer Government", because they're both set in corporate-dominated worlds
<Neutered_Sputniks> what about Joseph Heller?
<MaxBarry> Snow Crash is more cyberpunk, though
<MaxBarry> When I was in high school I read so much Stephen King that it couldn't help but be an influence
<SillyCats> the main stream horror, or his other works?
<MaxBarry> Catch-22 is an awesome book, but I never really saw the connection to Jennifer Government that some other people did
<Karmabaijan> one question please!
<MaxBarry> The horror, the horror :)

<Treznor> "<Crimson_Blades> do you ever participate in the forums, or do you not participate in inter-game relations?"
<Treznor> Bah, bad typo. :-)
<MaxBarry> I do, yes
<MaxBarry> I used to have the nation "Maxtopia", but I mentioned that in an interview, it went online, and I started getting dozens of telegrams from other players
<Crimson_Blades> ha
<MaxBarry> Pretty much all of them saying, "Are you really Max?"
<Crimson_Blades> let me tell you
<MaxBarry> So I got rid of Maxtopia
<Crimson_Blades> your book is treated as a bible in my house
<MaxBarry> Now I have a nation that I play, but it's secret :)
<Neutered_Sputniks> muwahahahahaha
<Menelmacar|Siri> Ever on the forums?
<MaxBarry> I post on the forums, yep
<Menelmacar|Siri> Sweet. \^_^/
<MaxBarry> It doesn't compete for Delegate or anything like that, but it gets involved in regional politics sometimes

<DreadLadyNathicana> <PopeHope> Are the views of a capitalist world portrayed in Jennifer Government (and NS) a reflection of your own personal views?
<MaxBarry> I guess that depends on what views of the capitalist world you think the novel has...
<MaxBarry> It seems to get misinterpreted a lot :)
<PopeHope> lol...abbreviated elaboration?
<PopeHope> (of your intention of the views)
<MaxBarry> "Jennifer Government" doesn't try to make the point that capitalism is evil...
<MaxBarry> But it's set in this ultra-capitalist (capitalizt) world, which obviously has a lot wrong with it
<Treznor> Would it be fair to say that a writer gets to take an exaggerated viewpoint of specific topics in order to further a plot?
<MaxBarry> The idea is that laissez-faire capitalism, like all the other systems, has pros and cons, and when you push it to the very extreme, those pros and cons become very clear
<MaxBarry> So in JG, you have a lot of people becoming very wealthy and other people pretty much selling their own livers for food
<MaxBarry> I'm not anti-capitalist. I guess I'm anti-extreme-capitalism, but then I think pretty much everyone would be... it's not a radical position
<MaxBarry> My beef is with corporations, not capitalism :)
<PopeHope> Well thank you. As an aspiring writer I admire your writing, and stop by Prarie Lights on the 9th (to get my book and nation signed lol). :)
<Neutered_Sputniks> As anyone who's read Syrup would understand ;)
<MaxBarry> Great, see you there!
* Scolopendra looks up from spraypainting "Down with the Man!" signs, a Soviet flag over his head like a bandana. "Really? Drat."

<Karmabaijan> OK! I think we will wrap it up on that note. Thanks to everyone who participated!
<MaxBarry> (This is probably a good time to mention I'm touring the US from next week:
* DreadLadyNathicana cheers!
<Scolopendra> [/shameless plug]
<TheSLAGLands> We now return you to your regularly scheduled discussion of the Silmarilion and sucking up to Siri.
<Melkor> HAH
<Karmabaijan> Stay tuned for announcements as to upcoming Q&A sessions with Max, hopefully at a more European friendly time period.
<Melkor> or me
* Cogitation laughs.
<Melkor> dont forget me
<MaxBarry> Thanks to Karma for organizing this -- it's been terrific
<Melkor> :P
<MaxBarry> And thanks to the mods for clowning around as usual :P
* Scolopendra bows.
* Menelmacar|Siri gives Max a hug and a rose, and kindly thanks him for coming.
<Neutered_Sputniks> what else would we do with our time?
<Reploid_Productions> ^_~ Just doin' what we do best, boss!
* Melkor gags
* Scolopendra also slaps a sign saying "Read My Book or I'll Eat Your Country!" on Max's back.
* Tactical_Grace delurks briefly.
<TheSLAGLands> WAIT!
<Karmabaijan> I will be posting an official, cleaned up chat log sometime tonight. Look to the announcement threads for info.
<TheSLAGLands> Max, are you really [violet]?
* Melkor watches a team of snipers take out SLAG
<Treznor> <Berserker> Sir, Thanks for your time Mr. Barry
<MaxBarry> I'm sorry, I seem to be losing my connection
<MaxBarry> I couldn't quite make out that last question
<MaxBarry> bzzzzt
<MaxBarry> bzzzzzt

For more about Max, see