E-mail prank on Maxis, Inc. makers of SIM CITY

SIM COPTER with man in swimming trunks In April I bought the CD-ROM game SIM COPTER. It's put out by Maxis, Inc. the same people who make the very popular game SIM CITY. In the instruction book they promoted their URL, as a place to visit to get on-line tips for SIM COPTER. I stopped by the site and followed the links to the SIM COPTER page. It contained the usual tips but also something I didn't expect.

Apparently in the making of SIM COPTER a rogue programmer had inserted some scenes of men dancing in swimming trunks at a point in the program. Maxis apologized and posted a "patch" on their site. Go ahead check it out at either of the two URLS:

Plus a story about the "hack" from Wired News.

I thought this was too humorous to pass up so I wrote a short funny intro, made the graphic above, and linked to their URL's on the What's New page. It was on-line for about a month, then I replaced it with new stuff. Several days after I took it off I received this email....

Date: Tue, 20 May 1997 10:27:40 -0700
From: FelisCatus
Subject: Cool Site

Hi guys and gals,

Took a tour through your site for the first time as it came up as one of our top 10 referring sites last month. So this leads me to believe that a) you did a story on us last month, or b) a lot of our customers like to goof up their machines with your stuff, and then visit our site, both behaviors demonstrating good taste! Either way, do you have some sort of archive? Or let me know if you did a story on us last month. Keep up the good work on the site! It's wacky!

Karen Fagen
Online Content Specialist
Maxis, Inc.

I decided I couldn't just let them off with an honest explanation. That would be too boring. I decided to let my imagination take over. I decided to make up the idea of SIM COPTER parties. Would they believe me?

Hi Karen,

How is it in sunny California today? It's warm and sunny here in the great Midwest, but not warm enough to frolic about in my swimming trunks. Oops, I guess I gave you a hint about what our link to the site was all about.

I bought a copy of your fantastic game program "Sim Copter" last month. I decided to visit your Web site to check out any tips and hints you all might share. I was having a little problem keeping the helicopter from crashing into those pesky skyscrapers. It was a challenge to not only keep the chopper flying but also not to "kill" any of the "Sim" characters by having them get hit by that runaway train. So I decided to visit your site for a few tips.

I was surprised to find the note from your Vice President of Product Development Paul Zuzelo about the unauthorized "Easter Egg" sequence where a player is greeted by men celebrating in swimming trunks when you reach the final level of the game. Since it was unlikely that I would ever reach that level of the game I wrote to the technical support team and asked if I might have a copy of the swimming trunk sequence. Much to my surprise I never received a response from them. I then contacted a hacker friend of mine who was only to happy to find the sequence on my CD-ROM copy of the program. The fun really began after I gave my copy of "Sim Copter" to my younger brother.

He's a student at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan and a resident of Armstrong Hall on campus. He and his friends decided to make a social event of playing "Sim Copter". They converted one of their dormitory study rooms into their own "Sim City". They modified the program so that the swimming trunk sequence now comes up when ever you crash the helicopter into anything. They hooked up a computer to a large screen TV set and a powerful stereo system. They all put on their swimming suits, tap a keg of Budweiser, crank up the Beach Boys CD, and have a great time. Their "Sim Copter Parties" became so popular they were even written up in the student newspaper. I got an e-mail yesterday (5/20) that last Saturday night they had over 200 people at a "Sim Copter Party". I posted a story about the parties on the Web site (with a link to your site) and I have heard by e-mail that "Sim Copter Parties" are happening on college campuses in Florida, Texas and even in England.

I was meaning to contact you all at Maxis, Inc. to see if we might be able to work out a marketing deal. The guys at my brother's dorm are all ready talking T-shirts but I thought an "official Sim Copter Swimming Trunks" might be a better idea. Perhaps with a printed slogan on the swimming trunks... "I crashed, burned, and partied -- Sim Copter". What do you think? Would you be able to send me the name and phone number of the person who takes care of licensing for Maxis, Inc.?

Thanks for your note and the great game. I am looking forward to hearing from you, or one of the Maxis licensing folks, soon.

Steve Kremer

I really didn't expect to hear back from them. I figured they would just think I was some nut and ignore me. But I did get an e-mail back...

Date: Wed, 21 May 1997 11:48:38 -0700
From: FelisCatus
To: Steve Kremer
Subject: Re: Cool Site

Hi Steve, That is too funny! While it is capitalizing on something we would have rather not have happened, this is the kind of cult status thing we can't get with advertising or PR! I forwarded your message to our PR manager and members of the Copter team. They thought it was a riot! I don't think we can pursue the T-shirt/swimwear deal right now, but if you have any pictures or other stories of other SimCopter parties, I'd be curious to see/hear about those and we what we can do from there.


I think they saw the dollar signs flash before their eyes with the possibility of becoming a cult rage. I sent them back a quick note further setting the hook telling them about an up-coming "Sim Copter Party". Several days later, after the Memorial Day holiday weekend, I sent them this final note. I stepped up the "bizarre" level to see if they could figure out that I was sending them up...


I promised in the last e-mail to let you know how the SimCopter Party at Purdue University went last Friday and to try to get some pictures to you. Well, it started out fine but ended with me spending most of the weekend at the Lake County Indiana jail bailing my brother out.

The party started out just great. My brother Mitchell arrived to find the fraternity guys had set up a large study room with two computer/bigscreen "play stations" and had added an element of their own, a "control tower". Each pilot/player had to get radio "clearance" by answering strange questions thought up by the "tower". Everyone was having a great time until it got a little out of hand just before midnight.

I mentioned in my other e-mail that a lot of the people at the party are aerospace engineer students and also pilots. Around midnight a new arrival at the party was a guy who had just got off work. He was an experienced pilot who had flown supplies for oil companies in Alaska and he had over 200 hours flying a Bell Long Ranger. He played SimCopter for a while then they all began talking about the Bell Jet Ranger "family" of helicopters. Another attendee at the party mentioned that he had the keys to the Purdue hanger and that they had just received delivery of an old Long Ranger that had been donated to the department. One thing led to another and the next thing Mitch knew he was out at the airport with four other guys strapped into a Long Ranger headed out for a real helicopter ride. Luckily it was being piloted by the stone cold sober experienced guy. I would have thought the cold air at several thousand feet would have sobered up the rest of them but that wasn't to be. They were trying to decide where to fly when one of the group mentioned that on a recent return trip from Chicago he had flown over a giant mansion on a farm in southern Lake County. The person he was flying with had mentioned that the house and farm was owned by talk show host Oprah Winfrey. The student was so impressed with what he saw he had copied the lat. and long. position of the farm and just happened to have it on a scrap of paper in his wallet. A minute or two later, after programming the on-board navigation computer, they all were off to see Oprah. It probably would have been a great, crazy, story if it had simply ended with them doing a low pass over her house at 1AM and heading back but it was destined to get even more bizarre.

One of the guys mentioned how he loved watching Oprah and actually had scheduled some of his classes so to be sure not to miss her show. He went on about how he thought it was a shame that her long time boyfriend Stedman Graham hadn't proposed to Oprah. As they approached the farm he yelled out over the din of the chopper blades "Hey Stedman, marry Oprah!" That started a chorus of all of them yelling "Hey Stedman, marry Oprah!" They all quickly decided that it being a holiday weekend old Stedman and Oprah might actually be at the farm and why don't they drop in and give Stedman the message personally. They figured they could drop in low over the trees right in front of the main house and as long as the chopper faced the house they couldn't see the registration number on the side. The plan was quickly adopted and they approached the house minutes later. They swooped in low and landed about fifty yards in front of the large farmhouse. Four of them jumped out and raced toward the house and the pilot stayed with the copter and kept it revved up for a quick getaway. They got close to the house and started chanting "Hey Stedman, marry Oprah!", "Hey Stedman, marry Oprah!", "Hey Stedman, marry Oprah!" When they started seeing lights going on inside the house they raced back toward the helicopter. As it appeared they had delivered their message and were about to make a clean getaway, fate intervened. As they piled into the chopper and the pilot was about to take off the main hydraulic system decided to malfunction. They lost all hydraulic pressure to the controls of the helicopter and the pilot had no choice but to shut down the engine. Mitchell said the next few minutes were like a bad dream. The pilot and two guys had the cowling off checking the pump and more lights began going on in the house. Next it was a set of large floodlights completely illuminating the yard, an armed security guard pointing a pistol at them, and the sound of sirens in the distance.

My brother probably will be the luckiest of the bunch. He only has to deal with the civil charges of trespassing. His court date is set for July and since it's his first offense he will probably get off with probation. The others have to deal with FAA violations and maybe being expelled from their fraternity and the university. The prosecutor still hasn't decided on whether to file grand theft charges for in effect stealing the helicopter. And after all that their message to Stedman and Oprah was never delivered. The security officer told the police that Oprah was spending the holiday weekend at her house in Colorado. Mitch has an appointment Friday with a lawyer to discuss his case. I won't be able to send you any video or stills from the party. The sheriff's department confiscated the 8mm tape out of Mitch's cam corder. We will have to see if the SimCopter party trend continues thru the summer and if it picks up again this fall.

I told Mitch about asking you for any T-shirts, etc. you might have and he is interested. If you do have some you might be able to send, please let me know and I will send you my address.

Thanks again for the great game. I will keep in touch and let you know what I hear about the "SimCopter Party" trend.

Steve Kremer


I have yet to hear back from Karen and I rather doubt I will. The moral of this story....

"Never trust correspondence from someone with the word 'joke' in their e-mail address"

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