Saturday, October 15, 2011


Today I found a surprise. In the months following Leif's death, I searched his computers in vain for all the ZAON files I knew he must have. I remembered how hard he had worked on things like weapons, landscapes, and species of alien peoples. I remembered his showing me how he was creating landscapes with a computer program and some of the planetscapes he had created. I remembered things he had showed me on his computer back in Kansas. I searched in vain.

Today I was looking through a small box of his things that was in a closet, a box I hadn't looked at in all this time. They were things someone (perhaps me) had stuck in there when we cleaned out his apartment, little stuff like a couple of pocket knives, refrigerator magnets, a big plastic drinking jug from Alltel, a company he once worked for, and the like. And among the insignificant clutter was a CD with no label. When I looked at it closely, I could see "ZAON" written on it lightly.

To my surprise and delight, it appeared that many, if not all, of his ZAON files were on the CD, at least those he had backed up when he made the CD years ago. I not only found some landscapes he had worked on, but discovered what the program was that he used to make them.

Leif was an avid player of Planetside. I've written about that here before. I didn't know (or didn't remember) that the program to generate landscapes was from Planetside and was called Terragen. There are a lot more interesting planetscapes on the CD but I can't verify that he created them. These three, I believe I can because he named them with his "thegqpirate" handle, which was his email and online name in those days. (He changed it to Graeloch when he moved to Florida to begin a new life.) They were probably created in 2003.

I am sure there are others he created, but whether they are on this CD I don't know and probably never will. Still, I am glad to have these, something of his creativity to save and savor.

The CD had a lot of photos he had downloaded from the internet to use in creating unusual looking extraterrestrial human races, but unfortunately none of those he created from the mix. Those files must either have been on another CD or lost.

I spent a lot of time online recently trying to find out what had happened to ZAON. There are old discussions on some of the science fiction gaming boards asking the same question, but there are never any answers. The domain names are still registered, but there's nothing posted and the links I once had on the blog leading to ZAON are defunct. Sadly, I had to remove all of them.

All of the posts he put on the ZAON forums are lost to me now, and having read many of them in the months following his death and hoping to go back later and save them, I find it sad that so much of what he contributed is lost. All that seems to be left now is a PDF of the ZAON test playbook, an early version of what was someday to be published. Leif is listed as the "reality tester." in the credits. That title certainly did fit. He talked to me endlessly about whether the weapons that were being designed could really work, based on his knowledge as a military armorer, whether living species could actually function, whether space ships were workable designs. Leif really cared not only about the playability of the game, but the workability of the science fiction involved. For him, those were critical questions.

I wish that game had come to fruition and been published. I know he wanted that badly, wanted to see it out there for the gamers to enjoy, and to see his name as being one of the creators, in is way. Leif had the intelligence and talent to have been a designer. He had artistic ability and the capability to learn to use complex software. However, what he didn't have was the "fire in the belly" to go that route. He did not design the ships, the weapons, the planets, the races, but he helped to shape those designs with countless hours of both research and online conversation. It was such a part of him, and the participants in the design and testing of ZAON, and the players in Planetside, truly saved his life when he came back to Kansas from the army, medically retired, an emotionally broken man. I will always be grateful for that.

And now, I am grateful to have found these designs and remember him showing me how he worked on Terragen. Good memories. We need those.


  1. How weird. I was looking up the ZAON stuff today too, and still can find no trace of Justin, its creator, or Mike, the main guy he was working with. Everything is just vanished.
    In looking though, it brought me here again to see if you were still writing. You are, and it is such a beautiful and amazing thing. I still to this day tell people about Leif and the dream I had the night before we of the former ZAON community learned of his death. Its wonderful to see he is still so remembered.

  2. Thank you, Rush. Leif will always be remembered and loved. He was such a giant presence in our lives. It's sad to me that ZAON vanished. It was very important to Leif, and the guys he associated with on the forums were his brothers. I have been in contact with Brian Stearns, who was a designer. He, too, doesn't know what happened. Leif's Facebook page is still up, but it's "memorialized" so only those who were FB friends at that time can see it. I write less frequently on the blog now, primarily because I've already written so much that many of my thoughts are repetitive, but I will keep the blog going as long as I can. For us (my husband and me) I am going to collect the blog posts into a book someday. Thanks for caring. Thanks for visiting.

  3. Like Rush, I too was a member of the ZAON forum and remember talking with Leif. I still share everything that I have with people I know; I'm about to start a ZAON game actually.
    I've been reading through the entries and want to thank you for everything you've done.

  4. Porcelain Mask, thank you for reading the blog, remembering Leif, and commenting. I treasure memories of him from those who knew him.