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A rich man  | Master key  | A school of their own

Master key

With one simple algorithm, George Fassett Jr. '97 has brought order to the world of 3-D games . . . and may one day straighten up your part of the World Wide Web, too.

By David Van Meter

The lights are off in a hotel exhibit hall just outside Dallas, but it's far from empty on this August day.

Five hundred computer screens blaze with 3-D images, their owners having traveled from across the country and now transfixed by the action that glows in front of their faces.

With a little help from his friends. George Fassett Jr. '97 and company are making searching for files (and monsters) on the Internet easier. Behind him from left to right are programmer Melissa Stephens Fassett '98 (his bride of two years), lead designer Wyeth Johnson, business manager and environmental science senior Wiley Lastrapes and researcher and business sophomore Charlie Bingham. "George has always been very methodical in his work, very thorough," said Fassett's former TCU computer science professor, Craig Morgenstern. "In school, George did anything he set his mind to, so it doesn't surprise me that he's done this."

The gathering is Quake-Con '99, an annual electronic Woodstock for those who play Quake and other online games (sorry, no trenchcoat mafia in sight). Across the Internet any given day, rockets whiz by with startling reality, plasma guns spit out purple spheres, machine guns blast away. And thousands of people run for their virtual lives every day. In fact, electronic gaming now ranks just behind AOL chatrooms in terms of users but just ahead of Hollywood in terms of entertainment revenue.

George Fassett Jr. looks on the electronic mayhem with the hint of a smile, sunglasses perched on top of his 25-year-old head. Part marketing guru but mostly computer scientist, what he sees is why he has built one company, GameKey, and four websites so far, just for people in the Internet community called "gamers."

They range from pimple-faced teenagers to white-collar professionals, and they make daily trips to and and (next up,, about a million total visitors a month. What do they seek?

Files. You see, computer games -- and every other program on store shelves -- are far from perfect. Patches to correct and improve software are posted on the Internet. In the gaming community, games are even modified by weekend programmers, often creating whole new games. These "mods" number in the thousands, scattered across cyberspace.

Enter Fassett. A self-taught Paschal programmer by age 13 and a Radio Shack night manager by age 18, Fassett was a computer geek of Bill Gates proportions. He arrived at TCU on a Tandy scholarship and by the end of his senior year had completed two major projects -- two of six examples used when the computer science department was reaccredited two years ago. The assignments also would mark the start of GameKey. Fassett emerged 15 months after graduation with an algorithm that assigns a "filekey" to a file, a number-letter arrangement not only indicating what the file is but also uniquely defining it.

On Fassett's sites, users now can locate almost any game file "in three clicks or less" just by knowing the filekey. "It's the simplest idea no one has ever thought of," Fassett said.

Or, as PC Gamer magazine reported, Fassett's sites are the "best one-stop shopping spot for game mods out there."

Still in the start-up phase, Fassett hopes to move past games in the coming months, predicting that companies will want to make locating software on the Internet easier for their customers, too.

"The Internet is becoming the ultimate learning, information, support, business, and communications tool," Fassett figures. "And I want GameKey to be a part of that."