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But at 5:30 that afternoon, Wilson informed them that Porter had left early, without signing the release. And so here they were the next morning, nervously perched in their cubicles, waiting for a sign that it was time to bolt. It came shortly before 10 a.m.--after Wilson cashed the check that Porter had signed that morning. Logging onto his computer, Wilson sent a message to ION audio man Will Locanto: "The monkey has landed."

Locanto and the others handed in their resignations.

The defections hit the insular world of gaming like a miniature Starr report. Within hours, "BitchX," a wicked little Web site that serves as the gaming industry's Drudge Report (but is better written) had posted the item. By the next day, the news hit virtually all of the 50-odd Web sites and online editions of print publications that cover computer gaming. It even worked its way into mainstream press.

Two weeks later at ION Storm, CEO Todd Porter was still doing damage control.

"A lot of people have made a really big deal about this," says Porter. As he speaks, Porter sits at the head of a marble table in ION Storm's glassed-in conference room. Behind him is a stunning view of east Dallas. "I look at it as a real positive. The team that we have on there now is...incredibly motivated, incredibly, incredibly talented...The guys we hired to replace them were, you know, heavy-hitters...Some people who left were going to be phased out anyway. "

Though ex-ION Stormers laugh about Porter showing up in the early days decked out in business suits, he since appears to have embraced gamer chic. During this interview, he sported jeans and sneakers and a ponytail streaked with gray, which made him appear older than his 38 years.

About Daikatana, he remains upbeat: "We expect to sell two and a half million units of Daikatana." He is no less bullish about Tom Hall's project, Anachronox, a role-playing game due out this summer. "We expect to sell about two and a half million units of Anachronox." As support, he cites "awards" handed out before anyone has ever seen the games: "They've already both won 'best new game of 1999.' The most-anticipated titles of their genres."

Perhaps it is no coincidence that two and a half million units of Daikatana is about what ION Storm needs to sell in order to pay back its advances from Eidos and begin earning royalties, according to documents leaked to the Observer. When ION Storm first prepared its business plan in the fall of 1996, they projected Daikatana would sell something more like 175,000 retail copies. Of course, the plan also projected that Daikatana would be out in 17 months, and would get ION out of debt in 26 months.

Internal e-mails also hint at what Porter would never publicly admit: The defections may have killed the ION Storm owners' plan to sell part of their equity to Eidos for $12.5 million.

Like many of the men who run software game design companies, Porter is a self-taught programmer who worked his way through a half-dozen companies before striking out on his own. Born in Chicago, Porter set out to enter the seminary, attending tiny Central College in Pella, Iowa, for three years before dropping out to work in the software industry. According to testimony from a deposition, he also worked for a while as a male stripper. (He danced under the name "Preacher Boy.")

Porter has undeniable talents for myth making, self-promotion, and landing on his feet. Take, for example, the story of his previous company, Distant Thunder, a game developer consisting of himself and artist Jerry O'Flaherty. According to ION's press materials, "[w]hen Todd Porter turned a $30,000 investment into a $3 million return, it was a sign of things to come." In fact, this Midas-touch story is exaggerated. In 1994, Porter borrowed $30,000 from a software-industry investor named Stephen Kennedy. According to Kennedy, Porter quickly ran through the cash, as well as through a $240,000 advance from Merit Software. The company was about two weeks away from folding when Porter got lucky: publisher 7th Level came in with new money from its initial public offering and saved the day. In February 1995, they sold the company to 7th Level for $1.5 million. Porter got 70 percent. Distant Thunder, which existed only a year, never produced a game. It did begin G-Nome, a title that 7th Level eventually published. It flopped. (In 1996, a computer-gaming magazine named G-Nome "Coaster of the Year"--as in, fit to put your drink on.) As for 7th Level, in 1997 it got out of the game industry.

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Christine Biederman