Inventing for the Internet the Early Years 1995-2005

Inventing for the Internet

Here is a look at inventing for the Internet written in 2005 looking back over the ten year period from 1995 up to 2005. In general, the focus was on making new use of the medium:

  1. People can interact to make content not just view content
  2. People can communicate with each other
  3. There is a computer for mediation – enforcing rules of a game or environment
  4. Production and distribution of virtual objects are free

Other inventive focus was the relation between story and game play. Sometimes a story would suggest game play but usually a relevant story was created for a given game play.

Here are the comments about inventing features for the Internet in the early years. Many of these ideas would have relevance being redone in today’s social media aware world – because we were socially aware in the past but perhaps did not quite have the platforms and sharing systems worked out.

Inventions for 2005 – 2010 will be the focus of the next posting.

Enjoy – Dan Zen.



Moustache Mysteries is a series of Shockwave interactive mysteries. The first, Lady With Brooch, was delayed in its launching as a distributor was sought.

A year later, Microsoft was developing an early portal campaign and paying content providers. It was making “shows” that would happen at certain times. Dan Zen had already done that with Gorgolon, realizing that for a multiuser game, scheduling the game to boost participation makes sense. Dan Zen had also provided daily inventions and danisms that changed every day to entice return visits.

With these techniques already innovated, Dan Zen adjusted the mystery to last for a certain period of time then say “come back tomorrow” and approached Microsoft. Unfortunately, Microsoft decided that there was not enough money to pay content providers. A trend that only worsened over the years as content providers eventually had to pay portals like MSN to get on their site.

The first of the Moustache Mysteries was built while working on the McLuhan CD ROM.

Four tools were built to populate the mystery with characters, clues, rooms, and hundreds of statements. The mystery has over 3,000 lines of code including a 12 level nesting of conditionals. Within this nesting are calls out to functions that determine which statements are passed depending on secret keeping capabilities, who is in the room, odds, etc.

Lady With Brooch, was played offline at mystery parties with booklets.

The parties were very successful and four more would come – The Kula Pu Idol, The Violet Vale, The Hungarian Hunt and Baron Digbody’s Castle.




The award winning Southam/Voyager CDROM on Canadian Media Guru, Marshal McLuhan, featured a set of interactive tools by Dan Zen unparalleled to date and perhaps since.

A highlight bar followed the lines in the transcript as audio and video played. You could click any line in the transcript and the audio or video would synchronize. There was a video show library that would let you see all the videos together and navigation was provided to you jump to the video in context. There were customizable bookmarks that were exportable and importable so teachers and students could share marks. A notepad allowed you to save text notes or paste in text from the disc and again the notes could be exported and imported. All these and more were on floating panels which were collapsible and controlled either with hot key or with a tool bar menu.

The disc also featured interactive games and artscapes to emphasize key theories of McLuhan. A set of Vocal snips of McLuhan were used to indicate wrong answers to the amusement of many.

The Web site provided a CD ROM feel by downloading all the pages in one big grid page. Then the name anchor was used to jump both vertically and horizontally between “pages”. Unfortunately, when Internet Explorer came along, it did not jump horizontally and browser testing was required to display a modified site.




Dan Zen attended the Macromedia Conference (dressed in Guru robes with name card hanging on a flower lei) in San Francisco when Shockwave was first publicly demonstrated. Right after, Word Warp, was put online. Word Warp is a tile dragging anagram game. This was perhaps the first online content to make use of dragging. This was well before JavaScript and even animated gifs were relatively new.




The first online interactive crossword was created by Dan Zen and a license sold to Websters (for a CD ROM) for $14,000.

At the time, the limit to the number of layers in Director was forty, yet, there were hundreds of squares that needed to be controlled. Dan Zen applied a unique way of tiling or stamping the squares by discretely moving one single layer and setting the trace function to leave a trail. The crossword could read in external text files and dynamically adjust to display the clues, the numbers, and the tiles. Hints and solutions were provided. As you moved around the crossword the appropriate clue would be highlighted and conversely, as you clicked a clue the crossword would highlight.




In 1996 Dan Zen prototyped a series of interactive advertising games available to view at Hypno. Dan Zen coined the term Interactive Advertising and did a Web Crawler search. The term was nonexistent.

Samples included the Dial-a-Dell game – long before Dell sold computers online and people ordered by phone. The slogan was “See how fast you can Dial Dell and that’s how fast you can get a great computer” You would then punch in Dell’s telephone number onto an interactive phone and your time would be recorded. Dan Zen had all the technicians remembering Dell’s telephone number!

The EGOscope let you inflate EGO Entertainment’s logo and patch it as it sprung holes. Turning the advertiser’s message and brand into content is the key. This type of relevance is often missing even in today’s campaigns.




The Dens are set in the Great Wall of China and represent early atmospheric forums / blogs. You can no longer create public dens but they are still active and act like a legacy to this time of communication online.

Note the subscription feature (the bat icon), a feature still used today in forums but invented by Dan Zen – although it is unknown if other subscription systems predated them.

The Den technology was also later used for communal story telling in the Blimp Race series where people hurled curses at other blimps and planned their strategies. And in Shrink Ray where players were shrunk and stuck in a bottle. And as forums for games like RichDeck, Motogami and of course the Billionaire’s Den in Password Paradox. The Hand Game was a collaborative effort that used the technology.




For an offline marketing campaign, Dan Zen collected hundreds of lake stones and stamped on them. These were distributed around campuses, streets, shops, homes, etc. Online ads in Shift Magazine site said, “whenever you see a stone, think Dan Zen”. This type of association can lead to fairly long-term life.

Samples can be seen here.

When distributing a bucket of stones around Sheridan College, it was discovered that the Sheridan pathways are lined with these types of stones. The distribution was halted as it would appear that someone had just gone around stamping their stones. Ten years later, Dan Zen teaches at Sheridan in the Interactive Multimedia program.



DAN ZEN 1996 TO 1998

The Dan Zen site officially launched with a launch party. To see the online invitation, click here.

The site featured an animated gif intro that explained the metaphor of the site. The intro was based on a coincidence where a simple psychology-type test yielded the same pattern as the Dan Zen signature.

The elements of the test were used as the main sections – creative (content), self (about Dan Zen), philosophy (about the games) and materialism (purchase).

The games were for sale through an early secure server in two ways – for home play and for site play. The home play offered set content like ten lists of items to anagram. The site play offered updateable content so the Webmaster could change what words were in a list to anagram. It was soon determined that charging money for community type games like Salamander and Gorgolon would not work. Up-sells were provided, etc. but in the online world where so many alternatives are free, sales were hard to come by.

In 1998 Dan Zen took the site down to focus all interests on one game at a time.




The Tower of Babel is an embodiment of the idea that ideas can come from unusual combinations of words. A story, metaphor or reason was created as to when one might come across these words.

The result was that people would whisper words that have never been said and the words are captured by the wind and taken to the tower of babel.

The feature is self modifying as you can vote on which words you like and which ones you do not like. The words people vote for most rise to the top and the others sink into the ground and are no longer shown. Over ten thousand words have been whispered into the tower.

Utopia was created based on the combination, “Sasquatch Seeds”, found in the Tower of Babel.

Teaching at Sheridan, Dan Zen uses the power of combinations in creative exercises and has also made an offline game called STRETCH that plays with this concept.




YesUmNo is a voting game where you click on the logo to vote yes, um or no. Polls or voting is one of the most basic forms of communication.

Many find the collapsing menu to be odd and the interface is a little exploratory. But it can be played – just type in a question and then everyone takes turns clicking their opinion and finally hit the equals sign to tally the votes.

This game harkens to board games played with family or friends. To accommodate multiple players around the computer, multiple mouses are envisioned. The mouses plug into a hub which then goes to the regular mouse port. The person moving the mouse has control until the mouse is stationary and then the next person to move gets control.

The hub would of course take the form of Swiss Cheese with the holes being where the cords plug in. Mind you, infrared would probably make more sense.

An off-line version of YesUmNo has been made with three pouches in an apron. Beads, buttons or pennies are used as the voting chips at a party. This version is depicted by the Kirputnik Cam




Salamander was first played as an offline game where a number of Dan Zen’s 80 hats and various accessories were dispersed around the house. Under each was a clue and party goers went around trying to match their clues to player’s disguises.

The online game works well because it just keeps going. As soon as the Salamander is caught, he slips away and the park builds again. The Salamander has been caught 230 times with over 11,000 players.

The online game also provides for light role playing and multiuser feel.

Strategies are available to catch the Salamander – two hints: watch the dots and sit on the stones.




Chains was a communal publishing game where people would pay $10 to write a commentary on what the previous person had written on various topics. Then once 100 people had completed the chain, they would get to read it.

An interesting concept and perhaps should be moved into the realm of a free game.

Here are the categories:


A. Is it better to float down stream?

B. Does the sleep of reason produce monsters?

C. What is beyond an echo?

D. Is a game better when it portrays real life?


A. Why are you late?

B. Did you do that?

C. You dress like a slob.

D. You were going 60 over the speed limit.


A. The land of Fallovia has many graves which relentlessly remind Jade of her mortality.

B. Sheldon shoved the envelope in front of his crooked boss at the annual meeting.


A. Metaphorically kill three birds with one stone

B. The big blue thing was in the small red thing

C. The forth lever was finally pulled first

D. The moustache is lost, adjust your wrist band




Ah, such visions of grandeur for this one. The game you can only play once. It would be like a signature, like a personality test that you can share with others and it would represent you. Laboratories filled with people in futuristic white where Gycopos were carved into sculptures that would be passed down generations were imagined…

In practice, who knows. Perhaps some people found the test interesting. Try it yourself at GYCOPO.




Telepathy is a intriguing spin on a newsletter. In a sense, communication from Dan Zen to the receivers seems not unlike telepathy at a distance. Thoughts are distributed so easily.

The wording is all written as if the receiver is thinking to themselves that they are sensing telepathy and all of a sudden the message arrives in their head.

Some people most likely sign up for Telepathy not knowing exactly what will happen. This has been quite a successful way to market the newsletter with over 25,000 subscribers.

It has been a delight designing HTML Telepathy but with the advent of spam filters, it has unfortunately become impractical and we have reverted to plain text.

Some of the early Telepathy messages can be seen here: Telepathy




Web Ouija makes use of an interesting property in Shockwave – the Macromedia Director plugin. That is, the mouse can be tracked even when not over the application. So it can be tracked around the rest of the Browser window and even on the desktop. For instance, you can hover over your garbage can and Web Ouija will always give you the same message.

People can make their own lists of links and put Web Ouija on their page somewhere and their visitors will be able to roll over the links and have the Web Ouija profess its wisdom.

The wisdom is of course provided for by the Webmaster but the answer is provided by the mysterious forces of randomness.




Teleporters were invented before JavaScript (although now use JavaScript). Using early Shockwave, they quite probably were the first example of roll-through technology on the Web.

Roll-through technology is when as you rollover something, it takes you through to another page. Like a “click-through” but a “roll-through”.

This is inherently patentable technology as the prior art points away from it being successful. Nobody in their right mind would expect this interface fiasco to be useful.

But, done with the right message, it is quite a plausible means of advertising. Picture an ad for a vacuum cleaner or a magnetic personality or a black hole, etc. Match the message to the technology and you have relevance.




Perhaps one of Dan Zen’s most elaborate games, Gorgolon is a sci-fi role playing spot-the-artificial-intelligence group-writing adventure. Here is the background in a nutshell:

The planet was experiencing polar melting and had to come to terms with living under water. They set up computer systems to determine the best way to start anew. Origin 5 was chosen which said to mine a vast pool of glass between the ocean floor and the molten core and live in glass bubbles. They were to run connected air towers up and down and heat the up tower with the furnaces to create circulation and create a large gorgle sound – welcome to Gorgolon.

This turns out well and there is more story in the help section. But, every day at 12 noon, a fire ivy, nurtured by static charge, grows up the towers to the surface where it discharges and causes a static storm which garbles signals between saucer fliers and Origin 5. The fliers, must identify which signal is Origin 5 or else their saucer will crash.

The game can be joined at any time (see the help section to become a Gorgolonian) and you will report to Origin 5 to help it monitor the progress of the civilization by answering a series of questions. It turns out that the leaders of the game get to read all the answers to the questions as a reward for their valor. There are over 5,000 lines of communal sci-fi from over 1,000 Gorgolonians.

But, the actual game play happens at 12 noon where anyone that is flying a saucer gets to see multiple channels. For a period of two minutes, they can talk to the others and try to pick which other channel is Origin 5 or the artificial intelligence as opposed to another player.

The game is a Turing test. But a complex environment has been woven around it. An environment that was inspired by a Dan Zen Space Rock concept album (with Thee Gnostics). Two apparently different concepts were brought together and a story was told as to how they relate. This is the same technique for creativity that is discussed in the Tower of Babel.




One of Dan Zen’s most successful game was Blimp Races. In the first race, people created their own blimps and then e-mailed friends to join their blimps. The blimp with the most people wins the race. The first race had about 700 people all having fun and cursing other blimps in the forums. Subsequent runs had thousands of players.

Six degrees of separation were explored as who people invited and where they came from were displayed. In the second race, two years later, it really exploded when invites went into Silicon Valley and reached out to India, Hawaii, the Netherlands, etc.

The third race two years later was more difficult as distrust in e-mail had grown to a maximum. People were being overwhelmed by spam and just not in the mood to click links in e-mail. This situation may have gotten better with spam filters and it might be worth a try to hold race four.

The race was almost sold and set to run on the large Bell/Sympatico portal but a change in management and a reduction of original content resulted in a no-go.




Prediction Train lets you make predictions in different categories and vote on whether you think other predictions will come true. You can track when votes were made as the predicted date approaches. This potentially would give an indication of the social climate.

Some interesting things have occurred – Dan Zen predicted Bill Gates would step down as head of Microsoft and in a sense he did.

The game is self-modifying in that viewers can vote to remove certain predictions.




Grim Reaper’s Age Guesser is the most popular game on Dan Zen primarily because Dan Zen has had the number one entry for Grim Reaper in Google.

You answer 13 questions and the Grim Reaper will guess your age. To see how the answer was determined, you submit your real age and it will show you.

Each question has a calculation that determines an age. If the question gets within five years of the actual age then its factor goes up by one else it goes down by one. In the end, the total guess is made by adding up all the answers multiplied by the factors and dividing by the total number of factors.

For a while, after being listed in Yahooligans for kids, the only question that worked well for ages under 13 was “when did you last climb a tree?” This question ended up with a factor of thousands. Things have balanced out a little since then.

Over 10,000 people have had their age guessed and the Grim Reaper guessed 5% correctly, 35% within three years and over half within 5 years.




In 1998, after a couple years of trying to sell games, Dan Zen decided to take them all away and concentrate on one game at a time.

Utopia, an erotic mystery, was the first game.

A five hundred dollar prize was offered for the first person to solve the mystery. And people were to line up for a month to get ready.

The first two days were free if you invited 10 or more friends. Thousands of people lined up and only a handful paid.

It is quite difficult to make money with original online entertainment content.

The mystery predated the most influential television movement of the day by several years.




Spirogram was the second feature (after Utopia) to be singled out on Dan Zen. It claimed that you could quadruple your visitors by adding a Spirogram to your site.

Spirogram lets you send spiral encoded messages and send them to people who then come to the site to decode the messages.

Although the campaign was targeted the Web masters to pay for a Spirogram, Dan Zen visitors could also use the Spirogram on Dan Zen and many have.




Itching was the Dan Zen poster and Web campaign run in anticipation for the Dan Zen relaunch. Concentration of marketing on one product at a time did not seem to make a difference when it came to paying for games so Dan Zen brought back all the games for free with a shareware model of donations to the world’s tallest hat.

Itching, a pun on the I Ching, featured Dan Zen’s friends and the public itching. The slogan was “This person is itching to play Dan Zen”.

The site gave some descriptions of the games and featured a random person itching each time.




After a running the Itching campaign, the Dan Zen Board of Games was launched. All the games were made free and people could donate to see the World’s Tallest Hat.

The board metaphor provided a front cover (see samples here) and then a main menu with each game represented as a square on the game board. There was one person who at a quick glance perhaps thought the site was a game on its own as opposed to multiple games but this feedback was not taken seriously.

Many of Dan Zen games could be board games with the addition of computing power and omniavailability.

Early JavaScript was used to change a message image as the different game squares were rolled over. Secondary pages provided common top navigation with cross promotional links. Ads from the Blah Blah network, now UGO were served to some success.

As features were added, the Teleporter squares were added or taken away to keep a balance. The board eventually was becoming too large and a redesign led to The Pagoda of Games.

It should be noted that the original hopes for the Board interface was a motion graphics site where the visitor’s mouse would part clouds to reveal a map below. The map would be quite large and have pictorial representations of the games, hidden Easter eggs, etc. Unfortunately, Flash 3 did not have the power to do this and the experiments led to the scope interface for UTOPIA which was then reduced to a custom cursor for visualization reasons.




In making the Dan Zen games free, Dan Zen turned to a donation model and as a reward for donating, let people see the Tallest Hat in the World. The results were less than satisfying so additional incentive was added in the next relaunch – the Pagoda of Games.




One of Dan Zen’s most successful game was Blimp Races. In the first race, people created their own blimps and then e-mailed friends to join their blimps. The blimp with the most people is winning the race. The first race had about 700 people all having fun and cursing other blimps in the forums. Subsequent runs had thousands of players.

Six degrees of separation were explored as who people invited and where they came from were displayed. In the second race, two years later, it really exploded when invites went into silicon valley and reached out to India, Hawaii, the Netherlands, etc.

The third race two years later was more difficult as distrust in e-mail had grown to a maximum. People were being overwhelmed by spam and just not in the mood to click links in e-mail. This situation may have gotten better with spam filters and it might be worth a try to hold race four.

The race was almost sold and set to run on the large Bell/Sympatico portal but a change in management and a reduction of original content resulted in a no go.




Hip Cats was originally going to be a work of artificial intelligence called e-male. E-male was an idea floating around for some time. It would let you construct a person with various visual components and characteristics.

In the end, the community and creative writing aspects were deemed more important than the visual aspects so default visual people were used. Also, the name e-male left out a gender.

As Dan Zen explored the modifications of characteristics, it became interesting to see various translations of the same text into different moods or genres of speech. Playing with the slang or vernacular of various movements an idea was born. Why not let what the people are saying be translated into Beatnik, Psychedelia, Goth, Urban, Cyberpunk, Surf, etc.

In general these were all fairly hip environments and miraculously, was not taken.

To avoid excessive download the new technology of DHTML was used to only load the text that changed as questions were asked and answers given. This technology is a combination of iframes, layers and JavaScript which each browser handled differently leading to 1,200 lines of different code for each.

Perl is used for the backend to keep track of logins, question and answer creations, mood translations, ratings, who hangs out with whom, who dates whom, messages, purchases, personal translation moods, various buzz postings in multiple categories, Hip Cat Top Ten letters, different templates, etc.

Translations and linguistics were extensively researched along with histories, music, books and films of the genres. These works can be purchased through an affiliation with Amazon.

Of the thousands of Hip Cats, there are indeed some very interesting ones but also very many lame ones some of which have dropped off the scene as they are rated more than five times with less than a fifty percent average.

If you would like to have a Hip Cat Scene (templated) then please look up our ambassador, Sador Ambas.




The most addictive game on earth – well, for some people. Password Paradox lets you guess people’s passwords as you attempt to gain access to a secret worth a Billion Dollars!

Hundreds of players have guessed the 21 passwords and entered the Billionaire’s Den – some arriving there dozens of times.

The game is self modifying – the passwords are different each time a new Billionaire succeeds. See if you can surmise how it is done.




Shrink Ray came at the dawn of Web mail and was a very interesting viral marketing game.

You arrived at the first screen asking you to fill in some information to play. If you did, you got shrunk! As you were shrinking you had time to e-mail your friends and tell them how to avoid the trap in which you were caught – in this case, your message would tell them to not fill anything in – only press submit.

Soon, people started passing the first test, and they were taken to a barnacle registry page with six panels. The panels were set up to register barnacles – barnacles are Dan Zen’s helpers. Each step of the way, if the player did things out of order or chose the wrong option, they would be shrunk and would have the last minute opportunity to send a message to friends telling them not to do what they had just done.

All the shrunken people got to talk in a bottle which ended up with over 3,000 posts. Click the link for more of the story and some screen shots although the site is no longer active.




The second of Dan Zen’s fully interactive mysteries, The Kula Pu Idol mystery was launched as people were looking forward to summer vacations. Set in the Hawaiian bungalow of Princess Lava Lava Yo, the mystery features a dozen characters most of whom seem to have alternate identities.

You play the pool keeper and have stumbled on an auction for the Kula Pu Idol. Although it seems more like a party to you, there are a lot of mysterious things going on underneath.

Best of luck and if you enjoy the mystery, please let others know and let us know too! We hope one day that the mysteries will be made into movies – then at least they will be solved 😉

We played this mystery a couple times at parties where everyone had booklets and it was pretty incredible.




Hypno is a site which features information on Dan Zen marketing campaigns before the Pagoda Interface. It was created for the Board interface.

Of note are the Dan Zen stones, the urban posters and stickers and the interactive advertising section. There are some summaries of viral marketing games too. Many of the features were created from first principles and were quite unique for their time and in some cases unique even to date.




It is always nice to get feedback on the features. Dan Zen has a review page and a survey page and these have elicited some feedback. But it was not until the Dan Zen Garden came along that we caught a good look at the effect of the site. In this difficult world of trying to make money on original content, or even just having people enjoy original content, it is very rewarding to have thousands of people describe themselves and their experiences. Many are very complimentary, and many show that there is a diverse and engaged populous.




Baron Digbody’s Castle is the third Moustache Mysteries interactive mystery produced. This one includes the booklets to play the mystery offline with friends. It is ideal for Halloween time and indeed was played several times with great success.

Perhaps Dan Zen’s favourite mystery, it features a cast of crazy characters and a twisty plot.

Still to come is the Violet Vale – a fortune teller’s ball mystery and The Hungarian Hunting Lodge – treasure hunters mystery.

You play Gloves, one of the Chauffeurs vying for a position at the castle. The opening mini-game of driving a car along a twisty road to get to the castle will give you an indication of your driving skills ;-). This also works lightly into the plot.

Please contact us if you are stuck and we can help guide you through.




Save Earth is a massively complex game with a simple pattern matching skill game at its core. The story and the data tracking however are quite extensive.

The site is set in 2020 and features some loosely projected technologies. We probably will not have screens or perhaps even text by then so the predictions are not particularly serious.

There is a part 2 of the game for when the over one million patterns are mapped and the invisible sphere surrounding Earth is shattered. It looks like we are about 11% of the way there but there certainly have been some dedicated pilots with several flying hundreds of times and tagging thousands of patterns!




Quite an interesting game, Spy-mail lets you send messages to people and if you do not protect the message or forget to protect the message, then other players can spy on it.

Even before we launched Spy-mail, we sent a Spy-mail message to the president of GameSpy, the very large multi-user gaming site who happened to have the URL We made them a branded site and asked if they would be interested in using it. After a while, we spied on the topic and sure enough, there was a message from another employee back to the president that was unprotected. We got to read the initial message from the president saying “what do you think about this…” then “well, we already have our upcoming gaming network mail…”

Do a spy on Agent Dan Zen and you will find a number of interesting uses of Spy-mail.

Given the right codes, Spy-mail also acts as a full fledged Web-mail account – not bad for a few months of partial programming.




One of Dan Zen’s most successful game was Blimp Races. In the first race, people created their own blimps and then e-mailed friends to join their blimps. The blimp with the most people is winning the race. The first race had about 700 people all having fun and cursing other blimps in the forums. Subsequent runs had thousands of players.

Six degrees of separation were explored as who people invited and where they came from were displayed. In the second race, two years later, it really exploded when invites went into silicon valley and reached out to India, Hawaii, the Netherlands, etc.

The third race two years later was more difficult as distrust in e-mail had grown to a maximum. People were being overwhelmed by spam and just not in the mood to click links in e-mail. This situation may have gotten better with spam filters and it might be worth a try to hold race four.

The race was almost sold and set to run on the large Bell/Sympatico portal but a change in management and a reduction of original content resulted in a no go.




Opartica is Dan Zen’s first Flash feature after five years of using Director. Flash 3 was looked at but it did not have a powerful enough programming language. This changed with Flash 4 and ever since, Dan Zen has built games in Flash.

Opartica is an Web application that lets you overlap op art shapes and spin them, move them and change colors. You can save the collages in a portfolio and exchange them with others.
A version of Opartica was built for Austin Powers but it was not used: Austin Powers Golden Ball.

Opartica was well accepted by the VJ community and has been projected on a number of bands and dances. It is hoped that stores wanting to advertise to the dance culture would request their logos to be put in the center of Opartica. If you have interest in this, please contact us.

Opartica still remains one of the strongest examples of using interactive multimedia to let people create content not just navigate through content – a prime directive of the Sheridan Interactive Multimedia Program.




After a few years of the Board interface, we started to get… board. It was also fairly full. We created the Pagoda of Games, a Flash interface with lots of motion, to lead people into a pagoda of games and present them with moving menus representing motion through rooms in the pagoda. This allowed the Dan Zen games to be categorized.

The Pagoda also offered a different approach to making money where if people donated to Dan Zen then they would let everyone in line into Dan Zen. So it was an appeal to help others with their donation as well as Dan Zen. This did increase donations by 100%. But unfortunately 100% of a little is still a a little ;-).

The pagoda has lasted three years and filled up nicely as expected. So it was time to redesign and along came the Dan Zen Deck of Creations.




The Kirputnik Cam was a prototype interface for Dan Zen and then launched as the first feature of the Pagoda of Games interface. It provides a bumpy ride through the Dan Zen workshop viewing imaginary representations of Dan Zen games through a Web cam mounted on the Webmaster robot, Kirputnik.

The interface features movement and zoom and also introduces random bumps along the way.

The drawings are of Dan Zen online games and gadgets as well as some offline inventions. As you roll over the features, Kirputnik describes them but eventually Kirputnik runs into some technical difficulties which you can overcome by pressing a button. Have fun.




Rich Deck is the Dan Zen card game where you buy and sell zany companies and make millions of Deck Dollars.

Rich Deck is a full Web application equivalent in complexity to large sites like e-bay. If you own a company, you make money from people buying franchises. If you have a franchise, you make money by e-mailing friends and having them accept the card. Different bonuses are given to different franchise owners for logging in, for players accepting the card logging in, for every 100 players logging in, for every week you own the franchise, etc. The technology is Flash – PHP – MySQL

Rich Deck was the prototype for Zen Deck. So with small modifications, Zen Deck was built. Zen Deck is a “card viewer” and works well as a portfolio tool or site interface.

Several other games along these lines are being considered – Spy Deck is one of them where you use agents to get at people’s secrets. In this case a group of people would start a Spy Deck game and play it amongst themselves.




One of the series of Zen tools created, Zen Play lets you store a series of Web pages and play them back as a slide show at various speeds. It provides a slim frame up top to let you pause or advance through the pages.

Zen Play is a nice simple way to show work, a business presentation, etc. where your content is on different Web pages. It is also easy for the public to use to cycle through your presentation.

Dan Zen has used Zen Play each year in Open House presentations for the Sheridan Interactive Multimedia program.




Zen Motto is an attempt to pierce the physical world. One of the most viewed yet empty spaces in our society is the border around the computer monitor. Zen Motto is set up so that you can print a motivational motto and tape it on your monitor.

You can use an existing motto or submit your own. The mottos are two words which often leads to multiple interpretations in a Zen sense. Almost 3% of the views have led to a printing. Perhaps you should try it!

Zen Motto also showcases the Flash grid component for sortable tabular data. It makes use of a full e-mail publishing system where people’s mottos are submitted, an e-mail is sent to the editor who can accept, modify or decline at which point the motto is processed and may show up on the site.




MotoGami is a set of motion games including ChooFu, ConGon, KiteKilt and InfiZoom. It is hoped to add more in the future.

Motion games tend to use dynamic animations, hit tests, dragging, etc. Often the simple game play can be embellished with a fun story. For example, jumping or ducking objects turned into ChooFu where you practice Kung Fu on top of a train avoiding the smoke puffs to keep your guy clean. Or a spotlight that gets smaller each time you find and click something with it becomes a search light for cons as you try and capture them after a jail break.

Dan Zen generally tries to make “mind games” with storytelling and community as opposed to frivolous motion games, but it in this case, it was fun to let loose.




Changing Mail lets you change e-mail you have sent even after it is received and read! This is an example of inventing an application for a specific technological feature. New opportunities can be explored here. Aside from rather mischievous endeavors, you can look at a one e-mail and it will always tell you the current weather – or a new joke or what your kids or parents are doing.



Tilator lets you tile various pictures. There was an early version used for geometrical tiling and a fuller version used for tiling themed pictures in a variety of ways.

This second tool was a result of experiments for a new Dan Zen interface after the Pagoda of Games. Dan Zen always wanted to make a map interface where you could look through swirling clouds and follow the map to the various games. The swirling effect, or as far as worked out, is part of Tilator.

As it turned out, the experiments and further thinking led to a new interface involving trees and blossoms and will most likely launch when the Deck of Creations becomes old.




One of the most useful Dan Zen tools, Zen Picture shows pictures in a unique and efficient way. It slides horizontal pictures horizontally and vertical pictures vertically without a break. Zen Picture also lets you apply captions which with the continuous feel of movement, lends well to story telling. We have an upcoming version where sound can be added overall or to specific pictures.

It has been called “a very civilized way to view pictures” and said that “Zen Picture has made me interested in using pictures to tell stories and finding connections between pictures”. This, we believe, differentiates Zen Picture from tradition picture viewers.

It is our hope to have photographers use the tool and post their presentations in the public area.

You can download a Zen Picture zip file with all you need to make Zen Picture work. Currently, Dan Zen has made about fifty Zen Picture presentations and has gotten quite good at using the tools efficiently.




Zen Deck was created when building Rich Deck as a generic card viewer. Whenever you build a feature you can often make a tool so other people can build the same type of feature. Zen Deck was modified quite heavily for Rich Deck but the core still stayed generic. Zen Deck is used for the current main interface for Dan Zen.

Other samples of the tool can be found here: Flash Deck and Flash Goddess

Zen Deck reads in an XML configuration and data file. It is fairly customizable in terms of colors and content. The layout and functionality is rigid. You can download the zip file with all you need to set up a Zen Deck feature of your own. See the “About” link in Zen Deck for the download link.




Zen Dots is the time line tool that you are using right now. It lets you efficiently view a timeline and associated data. As the viewer, you can expand or contract the scale of the timeline and drag the timeline to view various event descriptions. As the creator, you can set the dates, the colors, and the descriptions which are HTML.

Download the zip file for all you need to create your own timelines. It uses an XML configuration and data file. Alternatively, the tool, less the HTML output field, is available as a Flash component so you can use the timeline slider as an interface to control different types of descriptions.




  1. Unbelievable production, Dan, it is a wonder that so many creative ideas can come from one mind! You are the Picasso of our age, a true environmentalist – only your environments are virtual.

  2. Pingback: Albert Pujols

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