Jeff “Dundee” Freeman

 Posted by (Visited 22138 times)  Misc
Sep 302008

jeff_freemanYears ago, when I was a young punk kid on UO, there was this really sharp, really witty, really annoying guy named Dundee on the r.g.c.u.o newsgroups. He challenged everything I said, and I got into epic discussions with him. He was an avid opponent of the PvP and PK structure that UO used, and had no patience for all of my endless reasons why it was important to allow player freedom and agency, saying that I was allowing jerks to run roughshod over everyone (and in the end, I came to agree with him).

His reasoning got more and more sophisticated as we argued. It was clear he was very knowledgeable about games. So eventually, I dared him. I don’t recall what it was in regard to, but I suggested that he go grab a mud codebase and just try his ideas.

He didn’t. Instead, he set up a UO gray shard, and fixed what he saw as broken in PK. It didn’t, of course, make everything a cakewalk. So he emailed me and asked for advice on how to handle annoying players — after all, I knew how to handle him. 🙂 So I sent him everything I could think of: articles, links, sample terms of service and codes of conduct, best practice policies. He wrote me back to say it had made a huge difference.

Eventually, he emailed me to say that his world was boring. That the lack of PK was sucking the life out of it. But he still didn’t think that what we had going in UO proper was working. I said “but you said player policing could never work!” And he said that maybe he was wrong, so he was going to try to solve it.

So he did. He made a second gray shard with player policing, and an intricate system of town dependencies. Different towns had different necessary goods. You had to be a citizen of a town. PKing resulted in ostracism from towns, turning you into a true live-off-the-land bandit, with a short lifespan. Among other things, he set up stuff like expanding spawn zones, so that if players didn’t cooperate to beat back the monsters from a dungeon, eventually they would invade the towns. I still remember the email I got when said “Hey, this player policing thing is actually working.”

By this time, he was a commenter on Lum the Mad’s site, he was someone whose posts I saw daily. We stayed in touch by email. And one day, he emailed me to ask what I was working on — it a secret, but it was SWG. And I said “tell you what, how about you send me your resume and then I can tell you.” He was shocked at first, as he told me later, but we laughed about it.

He came out for an interview, and honestly, I had trouble persuading people to hire him. He was really quiet in person. His cynical mordant wit didn’t come out, and in fact he seemed kind of shy. We had a rambunctious team, and there were concerns that his personality would make him ineffective. He didn’t get the job at first. But another spot opened up, and I insisted. So he joined, in the wrong job for his talents. It didn’t matter, because he quickly became indispensable and moved to the right role.

Those of you who cried when your SWG pets were taken away from you: that was Jeff touching your heart. I told him to make a pet system, starting with the basis of UO’s. We brainstormed a little bit — at the time, he was one door down from me, maybe two. We talked about the critters getting bigger over time. He added his own magic: the pets learning their name as you repeated it to them. Then he ran with the ball, and created the entire system.

He did much more, but for me that was a shining moment. This was a guy older than me, a guy with more life experience, frankly. But to me Jeff was the guy that I found out there and helped and advised and hired and watched blossom. He was on his own trajectory — no question — but I am not someone who has really been a mentoring type, honestly, for whatever reason. He was a guy I could point to who had challenged me, learned from me when I had something to offer, and forged his own path. He went on to do great work on Jump to Lightspeed and then with Spacetime.

We disagreed about the NGE. But I also knew that when he got blamed for the whole thing, that it was a silly oversimplification, and I said so. It wasn’t fair for him to be the public face of the NGE, but it happened anyway. He spent a huge amount of time talking to the players, talking to people for years afterwards, explaining, apologizing, justifying what he didn’t need to and shouldn’t have had to.

I remember one time at lunch, several of us were talking about getting together, hanging out. He was a moderately private person. He didn’t really want to, even if we all wanted to know him better.

I got word on Monday that Jeff had died unexpectedly over the weekend. I’m not the sort to use euphemisms like “passed.” Today the word is out that he took his own life. And I am still numb, still in shock about it. There are blog posts galore, memories from those who worked with him, interacted with him on forums and websites, and yes, the occasional utter numbskull on comment threads saying completely inappropriate things. I barely knew his family, and don’t really have any words to express my condolences to them.

And me, I just dreaded writing this blog post, because it will be the last time I get to write to him at all. I see messages from him reprinted here and there, and sometimes he even mentions me by name. But the last time we spoke was over a year ago, and the last time we emailed was well over a month ago. In the end, I think I learned more from him than the other way around.

It was a great eleven years, Jeff, even if we never did get to hang out.  But the games were good, whatever people say, and people loved what you made, and that counts for a lot in my book. Maybe everything.

  54 Responses to “Jeff “Dundee” Freeman”

  1. Sorry about Jeff. I really love hearing stories of the old UO days. It seems like the wild west compared to the relatively locked down worlds of WoW and others. Back before I had a computer, just video-game magazines, I always dreamed of worlds where the persistent story was totally driven by the user, with massive wars and citizenship and things like that. Jeff’s shard sounds like it was a really awesome little place!

  2. Hey Raph – thanks for doing this right. Dundee was one of us, to the core. He would get in it with us on the forums, his ideas were sound and his ‘vision’ generally reasonable. So sad to hear he’s gone. I wish his family the most sincere condolences – he was a real pioneer and he touched thousands of people.

  3. As one of the people who called him to task in the early days of the NGE, he was there with as many answers as he could give me, and I came to respect and like him. Then after becoming a reader of his blog, I learned to appreciate his humor.

    When I learned he had a lot to do with Creature Handler in SWG — from you, I believe, Raph — I realized just how much fun I had that came directly from him.

    I know you are the one with the theory of fun, man. Here’s my minor corollary: the world just got less fun now that he’s no longer here with us.

  4. Jeff’s shard sounds like it was a really awesome little place!

    It was. :'(

  5. Reposting my note from Facebook and our guild site:

    I have received word through the grapevine that Jeff “Dundee” Freeman, one of the founding members of the my gaming guild, the Arbiters, passed away this weekend. We have not heard any details yet.

    Jeff began his association with us back in Ultima Online, through the usenet newsgroup, well before we had formally organized into the Arbiters. I, and Qualm, and several others who would go on to become Arbiters in EQ, conversed with him there often. In my typical Ellisonian style I sometimes debated alongside him and sometimes against him, but in either case Jeff had the quality, rarely found on the Internet, of being a person whom I might not always agree with but always found worth listening to. He was given to playing a ranger type of character, which gave us something to bond over I suppose as that’s what I prefer. In fact, the somewhat infamous Skara Brae Rangers, a “lootless army” dedicated to fighting PKs, was pretty much his idea. As I recall he wasn’t involved much past the initial implementation, thanks to the predictable outbreak of silly guild politics.

    Jeff came with us to EQ and was active there in the early days, but his love of Ultima Online led him to become an administrator on private UO servers. That, in turn, led to a job offer at then-new SOE Austin as a content developer on Star Wars: Galaxies. I tried not to hold that against him. 🙂 Jeff eventually became one of the main developers (if not the main developer) on the Jump to Lightspeed expansion, which I didn’t personally play. It was, as I understand it, one of the most well-received developments in SWG’s history and I’m sure that was no coincidence.

    Jeff did game with us a while in CoX, but like most of the guild left fairly early, and I lost touch with him over the years. I tried to keep up with his blog for a while but stopped when I pretty much gave up reading blogs altogether. I’m not sure exactly when, or what transpired in the interim, but at some point he left SOE and was working at Spacetime up until now.

    I did not know Jeff in real life, of course, but the side of himself he presented in our consensual hallucination was that of a good man. He was highly intelligent, well-spoken with a good sense of humor. He was firm in his opinions, unwavering when convinced of his rightness (which he usually was), but lacked the confrontational and competitive attitude so often seen (especially from me). As a gamer, he was exactly the kind of player you would want in your group or guild. Skilled and competent, yet never focused on mechanics, he would never denigrate another player’s performance or choices in character design or strategy or such. He was a good conversationalist, not the kind to game for long stretches without saying a word, and always good for a humorous bon mot or three every night. Jeff never lost sight of the fact that while the characters and world might be virtual, the people, social connections and emotions were all very real.

    Jeff’s strengths gave him what I have found to be the quality possessed by the best people in my life, the complimentary differences that challenged me to become a better person. I wish I could say that I have lived up to that challenge.

    Requiescat in pace.

  6. I’m stunned.

    This was definitely not the news I was expecting to wake up to.

    I don’t… I… Suddenly, I have nothing left to say. 🙁

  7. I met Jeff what seems like a million years ago, I was a big fan of his work, followed him all over the place.

    I was lucky enough to be his friend, I’ll miss you Brother.

  8. […] Koster, who got him hired into the SWG team, remembers him: Raph's Website Jeff “Dundee” Freeman […]

  9. I’ll miss you Jeff.

  10. Jeff’s private UO shard also had something I thought was pretty cool. You could hire hirelings to gather materials, and you had something like 60 “moves” you could set up for them. I had mine walking around Yew chopping wood, stopping at the Bakers shop and asking if his pie was ready yet, noticing a squirrel nest in a tree and pointing it out, etc. A couple of others used their “moves” to have a couple of secret lovers walking around and meeting for a kiss, timing it out between them just right. And this was something I always wanted to see expanded into entire households, or manors, with working labor that made trade items. I had hopes that people like Jeff (and you, Raph) would eventually wrestle control away from the current bean counters and actually make better simulations for us to play around in.

    Jeff and I had a couple of very heated debates on his blog over freedom and violence in games. They were good enough to be picked up by a couple of sites that specialize in good debates related to any topic, on blogs around the internet. I can’t find them now, though.

    I have never felt that meeting people on the net was worth much. That it’s not like meeting someone in person, and thus you can’t really “know” them. But this news hurts.

    Rest in peace, Jeff.

  11. I was one of those overly-sentimental saps who cried over the loss of my beloved Creature Handler profession and pets in SWG. As such, I was one of the thousands of people Jeff managed to touch deeply via his handiwork, and who will carry those memories as a living memorial to his creative touch.

    /salute Dundee….

  12. I didn’t know Jeff, and in fact I never even played SWG. But this is a very well-written tribute, Raph, and I was extremely moved by your recollection of his contributions. I’m deeply sorry for the loss to Jeff’s family, colleagues and friends.

  13. Jeff Freeman was good people. I loved working with him on SWG and loved even more hearing his thoughts on UO and the industry in general. He was a talent, and the industry is worse off without him. When first interviewing him for SWG, I was expecting someone totally different. He was very outspoken about UO and was a community leader with his own (well run) UO shard. Then when I met him, he was humble and unassuming. He was almost embarrassed to be interviewing for a job in the game industry at all. I’m so glad he joined our team.

    Goodbye Jeff.

  14. Wonderful post Raph, you made me tear up a bit =( I’m sure he looked up to you greatly and appreciated all the help you gave him. He definitely was a “pay it forward” kind of guy – he helped me so much over the past two years. =(

  15. that was a beautiful post, raph.

  16. That’s awful, sorry to hear about that. Always enjoyed Dundee.

  17. Raph – I’m sorry that you’ve lost a friend, and I’m sorry that Jeff’s family has lost their son and brother (husband and dad?).

    I only knew of Jeff as a player of the games he worked on, but at least I got a small glimpse of his personality through those channels.

    It’s always hard to hear these tragic stories, but even more so when it’s someone who has touched your life, however slightly.

  18. Raph – thanks for doing this right. I met Dundee on RCGUO as well and really enjoyed talking with him, debating gameplay topics and his wit and banter. He was a great guy. I feel crushed that his troubles couldnt be dealt with any longer and he ended his life. I feel like I’ve lost a small part of me. Dundee and I never met in person although we did exchange a few emails. I’ll miss him.

    Thanks again for giving him a shot at doing that he was meant to be doing. He did really care.

  19. I was shocked by this and feel sad about it. Jeff highlighted my blog and said kind things about me for no reason. He seemed a very generous person. My condolences to all his friends and family.

  20. Lovely tribute, Raph.

    As a converted NGE ranter who came to enjoy his insight and humour, I’m going to miss his posts and comments. I can only imagine how his family must be feeling.

    Guy took a *lot* of time to try mending bridges that were maybe not his to mend and, in doing so, introduced some of us to a lot of the lore and back history of the games that we love to complain about so much.

  21. Wow. I had seen a brief news report a few places during my morning internet routine. Some guy who was on the SWG team died. I didn’t know him, it was a shame as it’s a shame when anybody dies, but I just passed over it. It didn’t occur to me untill I was a couple paragraphs into your post that you were talking about the man who died. Of course you knew him! I never think of you as the SWG guy, I think of you as the Metaplace guy and the Ultima Online guy. But SWG was a big part of your history.

    And this guy… well, now that you’ve told us about him, he’s not some stranger. He was a person, who did cool things, and now he’s dead. That’s even worse than just some stranger dying. But I’m glad to know that such a person was around, for a time.

    Thank you for telling us about him.

  22. I’m not sure what to say really. About halfway through your post I realized what it was and breathed an “oh, no”, to only have it confirmed in the end. I didn’t know him well, associating him with my good times in SWG and only really getting to know him through reading his blog these last few years. I was often challenged by his convictions and entertained by his ravings and his wit. His light from this sphere will be truly missed. My condolences to his family should they happen this way.

  23. Raph – thanks for setting the story straight.

    Jeff, with out a doubt you are one of the best design minds I have ever had the pleasure of working with. You will be missed.

  24. […] (Edit: Raph Koster’s tribute) […]

  25. Raph, well said… While I as one that argued, talked, fought with Jeff on many times, over of course the NGE and his lead hand on it and it’s failure I would never wish ill will to him or his family.

    I think if for a moment we do know that we are all human.. I don’t think I could have taken the heat from 150k people in the world myself, so he was stronger then we will know. I loved CH and all that it was in beta and in game.. the good will always be present, I just hope that it will out weigh the bad more so.

    One thing he said to me, that I will remember in one of his replies back was that he was “Truly sorry for all he did with the NGE”… That was my turning point for him and I think alot of us SWG fans.. and SW fans as well.

    He cared enough to say he was sorry and for that, we should all wish his family well and ease of pain. It’s a tragic loss, granted I don’t see anyone condoning his method we wish him peace.


  26. If anybody knows how to get in touch with Shay … please point her to this post, and my gmail address of “[email protected]

  27. If there is an afterlife (and I believe there is), Dundee is already submitting suggestions to the designer for improvements.

    Safe voyage, Jeff. You’ll be missed.

  28. Thanks for posting this Raph.

    I haven’t been involved in online games for a couple years, but I remember that Dundee was always able to bring a smile to my face.

    I was going through a few old rgcuo posts tonight, and I think my favorite Ultima Online moment of all time was the madcap assault on the Terathan Keep. As I recall, that all started from a posting Dundee made in the newsgroup, and the next thing we knew 50+ some people were involved in the attack, everyone having a blast. It was absurd, because there was no big boss or crazy loot at the end. As far as I know, this was before raids. The point was to storm the place and have fun for the sake of having fun.

    Since I didn’t have the opportunity to know Jeff better, that’s the memory I’ll keep of him.

  29. There is a (moderated) location for memorials to be given to the family here.

  30. Thank you Raph.

  31. Raph, suggest you put that in the article body?

  32. […] mo­re pers­o­n­al o­bituary yo­u n­eed­ to­ read­ Ra­ph­’s. I d­on­’t­ ev­en­ wan­t­ t­o t­al­k […]

  33. i had the great privilege of playing on his “grey” UO shard. got to know a lot of really nice folks during those years. even got over my fear of mondays which was shared by many who played there. see monday you’d log in and find out what major game subsystem he’d completely rewritten over the weekend because he had a better idea. drove us all a bit nuts over mondays but after he moved on to swg we missed monday madness.

    never knew him even in game but he surely left a major mark on my life through that shard and the people he attracted to it.

    Be at peace Dundee the mad coder of the world of dreams

  34. More than almost any other industry that I can think of, the games industry is still one of interpersonal relationships, of inspiring moments and amazing people.

    This memorial severs to emphasize that.

  35. I remember Dundee’s wit and humor very fondly from the old UO newsgroup. I rarely posted in the newsgroup myself but had followed the discussions there and (like anyone who used to follow that group) always made sure to read Dundee’s writings. Then in the early days of EQ1 I could hardly believe my luck when I ran across the “famous” Dundee and Shay in Lesser Faydark. They were very friendly and funny as we traveled together for a bit. Later I wound up joining a young guild “for people who don’t join guilds” and found out that Dundee was one of the founding members. The community and friendships formed in that guild are what made MMORPG’s really stick for me, personally.

    Jeff represented the best of what draws me to MMOs; that gamer spirit of exploration filtered through humor and commraderie.

    My heart goes out to the friends and family he’s left behind.

  36. Thanks for sharing this, Raph.

    Jeff “Dundee” Freeman was responsible for the most immersive and fun MMORPG class I have ever played, the CH. By creating the class and letting me play CH he gave me hundreds upon hundreds of hours of fun. Thank you, Jeff, for what you have given me and others. May you rest in peace.

  37. […] wish Jeff a heartfelt “rest in peace”. For a more personal obituary you need to read Raph’s. I don’t even want to talk about that whole unfortunate SWG NGE episode, for which Jeff was […]

  38. […] wish Jeff a heartfelt “rest in peace”. For a more personal obituary you need to read Raph’s. I don’t even want to talk about that whole unfortunate SWG NGE episode, for which Jeff was […]

  39. Dundee was a swell guy.

  40. One thing I have always said was when he came to the forums and took the heat for the NGE was that he had more cajones than any of the folks that were a part of the NGE.

    The one thing that I loved about SWG, and that was taken with the NGE, was the creature handler profession. If that was indeed his work then he had done something that no other developer in 27+ years of gaming has done, made me ‘feel’ something for those pixels on screen. Every pet I had had was a special comrade. They were more than tools and a means to an end. The last night before the NGE finally hit and took them away myself and several other CH’s were sitting in Theed. We had our pets out dancing and playing until a GM came in and told us to disband or else our accounts would be banned. It was getting late, I had already cancelled my account, but I took those pets out for last runs around the game world. Took screenshots of each and every one of them, pulled out my Plains Hunter, (one of hte first pets that went extinct early in the games lifespan, she had only ever died once in all those months) let her bask in the virtual sunset, and logged.

    Nothing much more to say. Wish I had known that he was responsible for the CH system before so I could’ve at least thanked him for that much.

  41. Thanks for sharing your memories, I believe most of us seasoned and scarred SWG players feel as we actually knew him after reading your heart felt story. Believe me, most of us understand that Jeff became a scapegoat for many ignorant “numbskulls” around, the decisions were taken way over his head.

    Now I will think of Jeff every time I bring out my pets, and probably I should pay him a thought more often should I know what he was involved with in SWG, a game that has slowly shaped up to a great game, old paint on it but great to play.

    May you be with the Force Jeff

    /Zimoon @ Gorath

  42. […] Difficult Second Album In reading on of several posts lamenting the passing of Jeff Freeman, a PC game designer, I came across a post on his blog that […]

  43. […] The news is all over game sites now that Jeff Freeman, AKA “Dundee”, is dead. Raph Koster has a tribute up. […]

  44. Sorry Raph, I almost always agreed with Dundee back on the newsgroup.

    I am another of the Arbiters folks who joined a guild with Dundee in EQ.

    It’s hard to know what to say. He was such a force of personality. I can’t believe he’s gone.

  45. First let me say that Raph that your words on Dundee were perfect, I dont think I could have written anything more precise.

    I had a met Jeff back when SWG was first entering development. Met him at the Water Tank in NW Austin. Eventually the conversation turned to video games, and I remember, heh he asked me if I’d heard of the Star Wars mmorpg that was under development told him yes and he handed me his business card. I nearly fell out of my chair. Over the years I had many opportunities with chat with him at the bar over many beers.

    I can honestly say that I have never met someone as funny and brilliant minded as Jeff. His ideas and ways of thinking when related to game development inspired me. I cant think of how many hours we spent going over ideas and ways of looking in different directions when it came to game development. He was the reason I switched majors in college to game development.

    As I continue with school and eventually enter game development as a career, I will be thinking of Jeff often. I hope that in some minor way I can pay tribute to his life through my work.

    I just read about his passing tonight. And I dont think I can properly describe how much this has hurt me. He was a damn good friend, and I am honored to have been lucky enough to have known him. His ideas were remarkable, I just wish he would have stayed around to implement and see them come to fruition.

    The game development community has lost a brilliant mind, and I many of us have lost an incredible and unique friend. I’m still in shock about this news, will be for some time to come.

    My thoughts are with his family, I hope they are able to carry this burden and heal, in due time.

    Thank you again for your words Raph.

  46. Damn. I don’t know what else to say. Why? *sigh*

    I think I read everything that Jeff ever posted on MUD-Dev. I often skipped some posts, due to the overwhelming traffic, but never Jeff’s. I knew that everything he wrote would be witty, succinct, well-written, and insightful. He didn’t disappoint.

    I never met Jeff in person, but always wanted to. When I heard that Spacetime was laying off people, I even thought about contacting him to see if he’d have any interest in working at Edge of Reality. I didn’t. Damn.

    I respected you a lot, Jeff. The gaming world will miss you and your insights. My prayers are with your family.


    Raph, if there is any sort of memorial fund or anything else set up for his family, can you please send me the details? Thanks.

  47. Presently, in a galaxy far, far underground…

    There is a fountain memorial to Jeff that will last forever.
    We sure hope he likes it and, possibly, stops by occasionally
    to see the galaxy he worked so hard to create…
    restored to it’s once great glory.

    Thanks, Jeff and know that there will always be a table named and
    reserved for you in my cantina. Stop by any time, Sir.

  48. […] great job of chronicling Freeman’s terrible treatment at the hands of fans in this article. Raph Koster, Former lead developer of Star Wars Galaxies, talked about Freeman on his blog this morning, after […]

  49. […] great job of chronicling Freeman’s terrible treatment at the hands of fans in this article. Raph Koster, Former lead developer of Star Wars Galaxies, talked about Freeman on his blog this morning, after […]

  50. […] Some additional links and places to find food for thought… Tribute/eulogy by Raph Koster: Article via Escape Magazine: […]

  51. […] (2 of them) now have the keys to this blog and are supposed to post to it.    I think about Jeff Freeman every so often, and his amazingly fun blog which has disappeared after his passing.  I do want all […]

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