Shamus Young has Passed On

I was first introduced to Shamus’ blog by Jeep Barnett after writing a short article about the physics implications of Portal. He encouraged me to comment, which I did, but didn’t really stick around. About three years later, a friend from university (the same Clint Olson who created a print version of Free Radical) recommended that I check out Shamus. This time it stuck, and I’ve been a regular more or less ever since the spring of 2010.

The main thing that interested me about Shamus’ work was the procgen stuff. Around the same time I was dabbling with procgen modeling, and wrote that famous bit of tree-generation code for Minecraft. I had an irrational sort of hope that Shamus would mentor me, so when our first direct interaction was both on the topic of procgen and unqualified affirmation, he had earned my undying admiration. The video-game critique and writing was fun, but it was the programming that kept me coming back.

When he published his AutoBlography in 2012 I bought a copy, and made a recording as I read it out loud to my little kids. He felt like a family friend after that, and the kids would talk about “Shamus” as casually as you would an uncle. Later that same year Shamus posted the initial fragment of “Fall From the Sky” and I took it upon myself to complete the work. Reading, studying, and re-reading his unfinished and unedited prose gave me a new appreciation for the man’s unique style and thought process. When the book was finished years later I had a newfound appreciation for Shamus’ authorial capacity. Some years later, I wrote:

I had hoped, starting the endeavor, that it WOULD be a collaboration between Shamus – whom I somewhat idolized at the time – and myself who felt acutely in need of camaraderie. Sadly, it didn’t turn out that way. Now that I am regularly talking with Shamus, I realize more vividly than ever how much I had hoped to be working with someone, and how much Shamus (and perhaps myself as well) is not the kind of person one can work with.

Which brings me to Shamus’ creative style. He was a man of singular vision; Seemingly incapable – for good or for ill – of incorporating others’ thoughts, suggestions, or ideas. If you agreed with him, and liked what he was doing, fine. If you didn’t, also fine. But there was no room for changing his mind, no process of coaxing or convincing. Like his comment moderation style, he created as he did not because he thought it was the best way out of many, but because he was unable to do otherwise. When I proofread “The Other Kind of Life” all suggestions but the most technical errors were dismissed without comment. There seemed to be no way for him to incorporate creative feedback. I reached out to him with so many creative projects over the years, but none came to fruition.

Shamus was mortal after all. No matter how strong my desire for collaboration, for mentorship, for friendship, for making that final game with him that would live up to the promise of Starflight and No Man’s Sky and Spore combined, for completing the story of Deck, of Alice and Simon and Gilbert, for reaching that little boy who loved puppies, and couldn’t touch them because it would kill him, and just wanting to see him smile, just wanting to be able to help him enjoy this world so full of suffering, no matter how strong we wished it, what we got was this instead. God grant that it is enough, for us and for him. I pray for the repose of your soul Shamus. “Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” May we meet again on those shining streets where sorrow is no more.

My middle son walked up while I was writing this and asked me why it looked like I was crying. After explaining what had happened, he responded, “So you can’t go work for him any more? That’s sad.” And yeah, it is.

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