The Advent of Online Poker

As is readily apparent from the opening episode, online poker plays a significant role in the world of Quorum: The Gambler’s Tale. But while our story is most assuredly a work of fiction, it does take place against the backdrop of real historical events — and while we take more than a few creative liberties in the interests of storytelling, I thought some background on its real-world underpinnings might prove illuminating.

Poker has historically been thought of as necessarily an in-person activity. At least part of the game’s allure has always been in the interactions between players, and popular wisdom holds that winning is less about the cards a player holds than it is about the ability to “read” the opposing players. And a game whose primary purpose is not just the activity itself, but the opportunity for camaraderie and personal engagement. The fact that it doesn’t require any specialized casino equipment — and doesn’t advantage a “house” over any individual player — makes it ideal for venues ranging from a casino operation to a friendly neighborhood gathering. So on its face, it seems an odd choice of game to transition to digital play (except perhaps as a learning exercise or a modest diversion), where the social aspect is removed almost entirely.

Still, there was at least some incentive for capitalizing on the game’s enthusiastic player base. Most people (at least in the American market) don’t live within range of a casino, making (legal) play options a fraction of what they could otherwise be. Moreover, traditional casinos were not especially interested in promoting the game, given its comparatively low margin compared with other games (even with a house percentage, or “rake”). And just about everyone knows how to play, at least in broad strokes, making it a potential draw for a large number or people of varying skill levels.

This last point actually led to another major (if largely unspoken) appeal: For those experienced players interested in making significant money playing the game, a larger player pool — especially one made up of capable but comparatively inexperienced players — could significantly expand the amount of “easy money” in play. Combine that with the increased rate of play online, where savvy players can play multiple “tables” at once, and the potential financial payoff for such players is substantially increased.

From the organizing site’s perspective, with revenue based on percentages of each game’s winnings, the massive number of potential tables in play made for a commensurately large revenue opportunity — as contrasted with live casino play, where physical space (and time) constraints limited such potential.

Early on, one of the biggest obstacles to setting up an online poker site was the questionable legality of such an enterprise. Given the differences in state laws (not to mention less-than-clear federal guidance), it was an open question as to whether such an operation would be on stable legal footing. Would a player physically located in a state where such games were illegal even be able to play on a site located in a state where it was legal? Or would federal limitations on interfering with interstate commerce render everything legitimate?

Another obstacle to establishing a credible online game — particularly where real money is involved — is the issue of trust. How could players know the systems running the game (not to mention the people behind those systems) were handling both the game and the players’ accounts responsibly?

Despite these obstacles, several entrepreneurs opted to give it a try. By establishing companies headquartered (even if largely on paper) outside the United States, they attempted to skirt around the ability of U.S. (or individual state) regulators to interfere. And by recruiting top-notch coders and slowly building trust in their computer systems, these sites gradually built up a significant player base, apparently outside the reach of American law.

The first major site to offer real-money play, PlanetPoker, debuted in 1998, endorsed by professional poker player and author Mike Caro. Despite early software issues, the site was able to keep its business by virtue of being (for a time) the only option available. That changed when a competitor, Paradise Poker, entered the market the following year, with improved software, more reliable servers, and a wider variety of poker variants available. But 2001 saw the biggest leap forward in terms of customer base with the launch of PokerStars and PartyPoker, both aided by widespread marketing campaigns (including television and print advertising). In 2002, PartyPoker instituted a tournament with a guaranteed $1 million prize, an absolutely unheard-of amount.

As a draw, online sites began offering “satellite” tournaments — games where in addition to taking the cash prize, the winner would earn a seat at a high-profile live poker tournament. This became a massive boon for the online poker industry when Chris Moneymaker won such a satellite tournament, and went on to win the Main Event of the World Series of Poker in 2003.

Other major players in the online poker world were UltimateBet (launched in 2001), 888 (2002, originally called Pacific Poker), Absolute Poker (2003), and Full Tilt Poker (2004). By this time, the marketing model for these sites was fairly well standardized, with professional poker players quickly aligning themselves with one site or another. In one case, Doyles Room, the site was inextricably tied to its namesake, poker mainstay Doyle Brunson. And in the case of Full Tilt Poker, professional poker players were not just spokespeople, but actual principals behind the site. Poker-themed television programs became synonymous with their online-site sponsors (and multiplied rapidly).

Online poker was now a reality. But in the years to follow, business would hardly be smooth…

~William R. Coughlan, writer/director of Quorum

Space Opera Done Silly

As mentioned earlier today, we’ll be appearing at this year’s Escape Velocity on Memorial Day weekend.

Last year, we did an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic War of the Worlds since it was the 80th anniversary of Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast. It was great fun to update a radio adaptation to the present day and set it in and around Washington, DC.

This year, we were asked to once again pick a known work (as opposed to something original like Rogue Tyger or Quorum). However, the organizers also said that parody was an option and it’s the 40th anniversary of both the original Alien and the TV show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Ladies and gentlemen –and assorted aliens– get ready for
Nostromo 2: Electric Alien Boogaloo (featuring Chuck Codgers).

So, we’re still working on the script and this week someone posted a link to the full runthrough to Space Ace, the sci-fi themed sequel to the interactive animated video game Dragon’s Lair.

Beats having to cough up a whole lotta quarters to try and get through it all, right?

Anyway, it’s been a fun, silly inspiration as we continue to work on the script. More details to come as we get closer!

Join Us at Escape Velocity 2019

We got confirmation this week that we’ll be doing a live performance at the Museum of Science Fiction‘s annual science-expo-meets-pop-culture-convention, Escape Velocity!

Escape Velocity 2019 Promo from Museum of Science Fiction on Vimeo.

We don’t know the exact date and time of our performance –it’ll be sometime that Memorial Day Weekend– but the whole convention is a lot of fun.

If you’re going to be in the Washington, DC area that weekend, please come by National Harbor. We know that tickets are now on sale — and there’s a 30% off code (EV30) you can use through today, February 15th.

More details as we get closer to the event!

The Las Vegas “Underground”

In researching Las Vegas while writing Quorum, I was amazed to discover the existence of a hidden world beneath the city’s streets: the (officially) abandoned drainage tunnel network, which would prove critical to Jimmy and Peeps during their surreptitious return to the city. (Jimmy even gives a shout-out to one of several articles that introduced me to the subject.)

Originally conceived as a way to prevent flooding (which had become more common as Las Vegas construction intensified), some of the drainage channels date back to the mid-1970s. But the Hydro Conduit Corporation expanded the tunnels in the 1990s; the plan was to construct nearly 1,000 miles of tunnels over the next decades, but as costs increased, the project was scuttled. At present, there are about 300 miles of tunnels, out of about 450 miles of flood channels overall.

In 2002, murder suspect Timmy “T.J.” Weber used the tunnels in an attempt to evade police after murdering his girlfriend, a weeks-long manhunt that drew widespread public attention to the tunnels’ existence. This in turn prompted a series of articles on the tunnels — and the staggering homeless population that seek shelter there — by author Matthew O’Brien. O’Brien went on to write the book Beyond the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas, and launched the Shine a Light Foundation to help the underserved population of the Las Vegas tunnel system.

There are, in fact, hundreds of homeless people living underneath the brightly lit streets of Las Vegas. An entire neighborhood culture has formed, with residents helping each other and forming communication networks to warn against the very real danger of flash flooding. But as is unfortunately common among the homeless nationwide, mental illness and addiction are all-too-prevalent afflictions, and civil and police oversight is effectively nonexistent. The world beneath the city is truly a world unto itself, almost entirely divorced from that of the streets above.

Curiously enough, the idea of accessing the casinos directly from the tunnels is not a bit of creative invention. Though the casinos rarely like to draw attention to the fact, the reality is that many of these tunnel exits offer near-direct access (though they are also frequently protected by motion sensors). And many of the tunnel denizens do venture up into the casinos in a nightly attempt to scavenge unclaimed slot-machine winnings (frequently gathering an average of $50 per day).

The character of Crunchy isn’t modeled on any particular person, but is an amalgam of various people whose stories were brought to light by O’Brien and others. One thing that struck me was how so many of these people tended to remain (on balance) positive, despite their circumstances. How they worked to form a community rather than pursuing self-interest at others’ expense. In a story populated by nefarious characters and pessimistic outlooks, I thought it might be a welcome break to take a brief interlude, to focus on the positive in spite of apparent adversity. Crunchy may be downtrodden, but he maintains his sanguine perspective throughout his time with Jimmy and Peeps. And that may leave a lasting impression on Jimmy that will prove significant in his adventures to come.

~William R. Coughlan, writer/director of Quorum

Jabberwocky: What’s in a Name?

We’re closing in on the end of our Alice in Wonderland giveaway (it ends this Friday), so I figured we’d do one more Alice-inspired article. One question we may not have answered on this site is why it’s called Jabberwocky Audio Theater.

The most immediate answer would be that JAT takes its name from Team Jabberwocky, my production company. But then, you ask, why did I name my company “Team Jabberwocky?”

Well, the “team” part is easy. Any theater or film project is assembling a team or sorts. And back in 2004, I was planning to assemble a team for the 48 Hour Film Project. I knew I wanted “Team Something,” but what was the something?

I recalled that when I was doing classical theater, I often warmed up my voice reciting “Jabberwocky” the poem by Lewis Carroll. Your average Shakespeare play has a host of words you generally don’t bandy about with in everyday life (apart from the fellow theater geek reading this and saying, “That’s not true!”). It’s also fun to recite, to feel the words move around in your mouth, to try and press here and there and imbue the meaning into terms that Carroll made up and make sure they sound true (because, of course, ‘frabjous’ and other terms are wonderfully truthful and sound like they mean).

So I decided on Team Jabberwocky and, when it came time to form a company, that’s the name I chose. It has a touch of the fantastical without taking ourselves too seriously (though we do take our productions seriously).

So there you go. In part, because of the whimsy and inventiveness inherent in Carroll’s work on the Alice books, that’s why we’ll eventually be doing an adaptation of them and why the Alice in Wonderland giveaway is part of our promotions right now as we await the debut of our 2019 season.

I’ll close with a recital of “Jabberwocky” by Christopher Lee, who did such a wonderful job of voicing the creature himself in the Tim Burton movie (I shared a clip yesterday). Enjoy!

~ Bjorn Munson
Artistic Director

The Many Voices in Alice

One of the reasons we’re so keen to do an adaptation (maybe a couple of adaptions) of the Alice books is because we know our company of actors will dive into the various voices with relish.

So even if we hold off on the musical version of Alice in Wonderland we talked about yesterday, we know we could have no end of fun with characters like the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, and so many additional characters that are often cut from the feature film adaptions (the books can be quite episodic, which we think will lend itself to an audio mini-series.

Of course, there are all the visuals we don’t get, but rewatching the various films as we got ready for the Alice in Wonderland giveaway, I really enjoyed Sterling Holloway’s take on the Cheshire Cat. I know he’s most often thought of as the voice of Winnie-the-Pooh, but his distinctive voice is just right in all sorts of roles.

Of course the modern Tim Burton films are so visual effects-heavy, that they’re almost animated films in and of themselves… and again, they have some great vocal talent. Listen, for example, to the oft underrated, never duplicated Christopher Lee as the Jabberwock:

I should mention that all three of the films are part of the giveaway we’re running, which ends this Friday, so certainly sign up if you’re feeling a little mad.

~Bjorn Munson
Artistic Director

The Sound of Mad Music

We mentioned in last week’s Alice in Wonderland giveaway announcement is that one of the reasons we think it’s a great fit is both are name and that we’re almost certainly going to do an adaptation of the Alice books sooner rather than later.

One of the ideas we’ve been thinking about is doing it as a full-blown musical version, possibly availing ourselves of JAT regular Brooks Tegler, whom you might recall contributed some great jazz music to Quorum.

What you may not know is the Disney Alice in Wonderland created its own jazz standard in the form of the theme.

When we realized that, we realized a very jazz-based Alice in Wonderland might just be what we should aim for. What do you all think?

Oh, and don’t delay on the giveaway. It only lasts until this Friday, February 8th.

Some of the giveaway prizes...

Tuesdays Make Great Unbirthdays!

Chesire Cat
I mean, if you’re reading this on Tuesday. If not, other days work as unbirthdays too!

So many of you have discovered us thanks to the Doctor Who Giveaway we participated in last year, so when it came for many of the same indie creators decided to do an Alice in Wonderland-themed giveaway, we had to join in.

It’s rather in our name, after all.

Goodies goodies goodies

Not only that, if you’ve been keeping up on our news, we’re going to go more fully into fairy tales and fantasy later this year with the debut of two new anthology series: Though the Looking Glass (guess where we got that title from?) and Through a Glass, Darkly.

Frankly, we’re kind of tempted by all the goodies one could win, so we hope some of you are too (and even if you don’t win, you’ll learn about all sorts of cool indie fantasy creators and their works. But don’t be late! The giveaway ends on February 8th.

More goodies.

Listen Online! JAT Chat # 4 – December 2018

We close our inaugural season delving deep into Quorum and giving you some bonus scenes you only heard part of!

 

 

 

Listen to the Episode! 

Shownotes

Length: 27:54

Rated AD-PG, so parental guidance is suggested.
We play some bonus scenes from Quorum, which includes some salty, but still broadcast acceptable language.

Rated AD-PG (Audio Drama “PG”)
Rating: AD-PG