About Us

larry_headshot                                                 Xmas holiday 2003

Larry Mellon                                           Click here for more pictures of Larry and Michelle. Click here for garden and renovation pictures.


Game Developer, Computer Scientist,

    & the original Maggot Rancher


When I joined Electronic Arts, the success of The Sims was causing the Maxis studio to scale out of control; nobody knew nothing about anybody. We were asked to put together something fun to read that others would not guess about our backgrounds. Here's the tongue-in-cheek one I wrote up!

From an isolated Canadian maggot ranch to the political morass of Washington, D.C., Larry knows far more than is useful about smelly mindless grubs...

My limited sense of self-preservation and strong competitive spirit led to a most entertaining sports career, while putting my surgeon's children, nieces and 2nd cousins through college. I've wrestled at the collegiate and national levels, appeared in a number of modern dance pieces, and done rugby tours of New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore. Sports did a lot for me. I grew up on the wrong side of the bell curve, entering high school undersized and painfully shy. The HS guidance counselor took one look at my hundred pound frame and signed me up for wrestling and rugby to get my nose out of a book and put some meat on my bones. I thought he was an utter whack job, but sports did wonders for my size and confidence around people. There was a wonderful picture in the yearbook, in my first rugby season. This little guy with pipe stem arms and perfectly white gym clothes was sitting down, looking studiously at the coach's notes, while a forest of massive, hairy and completely filthy rugby players stood, encircling the notes and I. They placed me at fullback, I think on the theory that it would keep me as far away as possible from guys who could break me like a twig! I ended up with a knack for reading the field and making tackles that used momentum instead of muscle, and once I'd grown a bit, I joined the pack. I traded in wrestling and rugby for as much fun as you can possibly have with 175 grams of plastic, playing in the Ultimate Frisbee Master's division for the US National and World tournaments. Ultimate is a wonderful excuse to visit new places and catch up with old friends.

A convoluted scheme let me stay in university for several years, while working as a research programmer for various groups on campus. Forced to graduate by the evil INS, I had an entertaining afternoon at the Registrar's Office, surfing through my credits to see what sort of degree I could get. Things added up to a B.Sc. (General Studies), with enough extra credits for minors in Ancient History, Modern Dance and English Literature. Ah, the golden years...

University was a fascinating, life-changing experience! So many irresistible topics to soak up, so many extraordinary people to learn from! My intellectual excursions wandered all over the map, but I spent most of my time diving into computers. I loved building new programming tools, user interfaces and parallel processing packages, while sampling courses in bio-medical ethics, philosophy and jazz dance!

I lucked out and attended a school that was top tier in distributed systems, super-computing, simulation and object-oriented programming: fascinating problems that you could sink your teeth into for years and still had challenges to come!

You don't get out much when you live on a maggot ranch, so university also taught me that girls existed, computers could be taught to play games, and that there was more to music than Disco. I'd drag in my big speakers from home and we'd crank code on the late shift, powered by chocolate-covered coffee beans, chai tea chats and classic albums from my fellow coders. They'd taken pity on my sad lack of musical knowledge and taught me to love music: Celtic to Classical, with Miles Davis, Pink Floyd, Cowboy Junkies and Gregorian Chants in between.

University was far more than just abstract knowledge for me; it was where I first learned about people.

I am still a skinny nerd at heart. Press my distributed simulation button and I will happily geek out for hours on the scalability of virtual worlds and optimistic synchronization techniques in parallel systems. I can be found at science fiction conventions filking, dancing and breaking the bank at the art show. Danger!! Bring up classic SF stories and you'll need a stick to shut me up.

When I left the family farm for the university era, I swore a mighty oath that my hands would never touch dirt again. Many moons later, Michelle and I discovered the beauty and pleasure of painting living landscapes with plants, hills and tricks with line of sight. Tailoring one's nest is a calming, pleasant task to mull over and iteratively improve over time. We both have very demanding jobs, so our projects are either long-term, where we do a few hours here and there, or we do the designs and contract out the time & sweat part. It took us over eight months to replace about 15 feet of horribly, criminally brown drywall in our bathroom, while it took our contractors less than two weeks to do the electrical, plumbing and tiling work! But we enjoyed learning how to drywall, and when you work with abstract software architecture, it is very refreshing to do a task that you can touch, see and enjoy in the physical world.

I love games almost as much as I love books. Good books are good friends, expanding your mind and providing new vistas and memories, time after time. Even when times were tough, my mom would take me down to the used bookstore each month, where I was allowed to fill a single brown grocery bag with tattered but beguiling goodies. Optimizing for books in terms of size and shape resulted in a pretty odd tangle of reading material! But once I discovered The Hobbit, Tom Swift and Heinlein, it was all over: the wonders of science fiction won out over the size of the books, with a slight seasoning of fantasy to fill up the corners.

Games can also stretch your mind, let you geek out with friends or just take a short holiday somewhere new: a stranger in a strange land. I'll play Go or Magic at the drop of a hat, and I wistfully yearn for someone who still plays four-card majors. Radford and I would hit the local bridge clubs, sometimes winning with our situation dependent and chronically optimistic bidding. We were always 'the boys', youngest in the room by far. Radford once put us on top with such a crazy psych bid that the other side simply folded. The ploy was new to me, where you quickly bid very high, using the theory that if your own hand is so bad, the opposition must have all the power cards. He was pretty close to a coronary when I innocently upped his bid with my -- in theory -- matching cards! The poor opposition, and myself, grew increasingly puzzled as they thumped us, trick by trick, waiting for the power cards that Radford just didn't have. But the other teams won a slam under the same conditions, so by merely getting thumped, the psych bid won!

Alas, my old-school skills in Unix/Multics multi-player games did not carry over to the present. Paleolithic versions of today's real-time strategy and first-person shooter games, a powerful Unix simulation plus ASCII graphics provided compelling, even mesmerizing game play. Strong game play will often trump a pixel-pumping monster UI, a lesson that would benefit many of today's games. The success of CounterStrike provides a similar lesson, where I can be easily found as the 3rd corpse on the left.

One can sometimes achieve an elegant, even beautiful user experience by combining strong game design with immersive views and an intuitive UI. My favorite here is the classic Age of Empires. I've lost myself for hours in AoE, moving nothing but my eyes and the mouse, just as deeply involved in the 3D world as I was in the much older, ASCII-driven world of NetHack. Sometimes visual creativity can provide much of a game's appeal: the sheer beauty of American McGee's Alice pulled me completely into his clever twist on the classic Wonderland story. The gameplay, simple jump/puzzle/kill, was nothing original, but smoothly done, it combined with the visuals to create one of my favorite games.

At the core, I remain quite a simple person. I've grown somewhat from skinny, socially inept geekdom into something broader, albeit still slightly eccentric! But what I enjoy really hasn't changed much. At the office, I love tough problems that make me stretch. And in the evening, I like to read or write: writing provides me with tremendous clarity on problems.

Finally, my wife taught me that just relaxing is oddly, well relaxing! My ingredients for a successful Sunday morning: Michelle (my belle), an old favorite book, and some random assortment of snoozing cats.

Michelle and I met tossing Frisbees on the public lawn in front of the White House, Washington, DC. It took one date to discover that we were completely perfect for each other: my happiness and growth as a person was instantly, continually and exponentially improved.

We really enjoyed our time in DC and Arlington, where we first got involved in community work, gardening and just the immense variety of life and food that the Capitol region provides. But we were both Beltway Bandits at the time, consultants to different research groups in the US government. Michelle was a communications and data consultant for the EPA, and I was a research scientist for DARPA and NRL in various parallel and distributed simulation projects. Our jobs had been fascinating and challenging to start with. But eventually itchy feet set in, and we wanted to see what sort of different lives we could create for ourselves: becoming stagnant is a near-death experience for learning junkies like us. I wanted to switch to the promising new massively multiplayer video game industry, but all of the jobs appeared to be out on the West Coast. Michelle was an Army brat growing up: moving from town to town was in fact expected and enjoyable for her; I was the wimp who didn't want to move! Even though I really loved living in Arlington, Michelle pointed out that there could easily be places just as nice in California, and with the amazing climate and equally broad range of people, perhaps even better places existed. I've always enjoyed the outdoors, and California has some spectacular scenery, not to mention what they do to grapes out there. So Michelle quickly convinced me and we ditched our East Coast lives to set sail for San Francisco!

Michelle's goal was to finish her master's thesis and become established as a writer. After the fascinating experience I had had as a programmer in Jade (a startup building parallel simulation tools), my goal was to be a part of creating a startup company in the MMO game industry. We knew that it would take us several years to establish even the abilities to attempt those goals, but we are very creative people and we love to learn. So for us it was worth the gamble to completely change our lives, careers and goals.

It's been several years now, and we still love our California life! We've achieved many of our goals, and created new goals, while growing as people along the way. There have been a few oops, and a couple of major ouches, but one can also learn from, or at least recover from, those. You can follow the links on this page to see how far we've gotten in our California Dream, and the stories by which we got there. Enjoy!


Back To The Mellons

Michelle and Larry Dec2005 michelle_pacific
Michelle Mellon
Writer & Editor
I find delight in the darkness of the everyday, much to Larry's chagrin. Abandoning my past lives in nonprofits and consulting, with loads of project management, meeting planning, and database and Web design and QA under my belt, I have finally given in to the voices in my head that whisper creepy stories to me or wake me, shaking, from my sleep. Find out all about my professional plunge into the world of creative writing, here.