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'Tales from the GDC Vault': A Portal to Better Labeling

Continuing his 'Tales from the GDC Vault' series, digital historian Jason Scott showcases the the GDC multimedia archives, including Portal co-

Jason Scott, Blogger

May 4, 2011

4 Min Read

[Continuing his new 'Tales from the GDC Vault' series, digital historian Jason Scott showcases his work on building the GDC multimedia archives, presenting a video of Portal co-creator Kim Swift from IGS 2007 and audio ephemera from a decade previous.] Having gone through dozens of tapes, I figured I'd take a moment to send a message to anyone running cameras at any event that has lots of sessions and recordings associated with it: labeling is awesome. I say that having picked up a pile of tapes in some crazy format, and finding them labeled "PART 1: CONTENT" up through "PART 8: CONTENT". Not to mention the label that said "GDC 2000." Luckily, most have something useful like "FRIDAY - 03-10-00 2:30p - STORYTELLING BATES" (i.e. Bob Bates of Legend Entertainment speaking on Storytelling at GDC 2000, on Friday at 2:30pm). But with so many of these going through my various tape players, it's usually a surprise about what comes out the other side. And then there's the ones that confuse me without meaning to. One audio tape had the year of GDC - in this case 1997 - and the name "Impromptu Ai Nak." I figured he was some designer from faraway lands giving an impromptu talk in a conference hall - but in fact, it was an impromptu AI discussion between various developers about issues in artificial intelligence. Can anyone recognize the speakers? (And check out the other digitized audiotapes of GDC 1997 sessions we've put up on Vault.) And finally... one of the audio tapes had the title, and then "chose not to be recorded" typed on the label. "Oh ho," I thought, "glad to see things were preserved regardless of the whims of the speaker back then." Popping the tape in, I heard some people chatting informally in a room, followed by the speaker requesting that he not be recorded. And that's where it ended. Does what it says on the tin! ks.png So hey, Portal 2 came out a couple weeks ago, and if my decades of experience playing games taught me anything, it was to immediately download Portal 2 from Steam and start playing it non-stop, ignore the world, and finish the single-player game before the entire internet had a chance to ruin any bit of it for me. Mission accomplished! As Portal 2 bursts into the gaming consciousness, this would be an excellent time to remind ourselves that before Portal 2 there was Portal, and before Portal there was Narbacular Drop. Here's a GDC Vault video presentation by designer Kim Swift about her part of the design work for Narbacular Drop, which was the inspiration behind what became Portal and all the good things that have flowed from there. What makes this 2007 presentation from the first-ever Independent Games Summit so compelling to me is that Portal hadn't been released yet. She is describing a game that is going to make a huge mark on the world, and she has no idea this is going to happen. Instead, Swift focuses on what she thought working as a student development team at DigiPen (her alma mater, where Narbacular Drop was created) taught he about creating a good team and good output, and then tells the story of being absorbed wholecloth into Valve itself. As for her advice? It's very good, talking about how innovation was one of the advantages students had, since they weren't hunkered down with some sort of business case, and could concentrate on making the game strikingly original. She lists the advantages of students experimenting with the game structure, and then how things changed once they came into Valve to work on Portal. (Her description of Gabe Newell turning in his chair after seeing the Narbacular Drop demo and offering the entire team jobs sounds like something out of the end of a 1940s musical.) Another interesting fact she reveals is that the production time on Narbacular Drop and Portal were the same length. (Although, of course, they didn't have to get any homework done during Portal.) Swift moved on from Valve before Portal 2 was completed, joining up with Airtight Games, but you can still see the importance of innovation and moving forward in the current game. Check her talk out - and apologies for the slightly pixel-y transcoding, we'll try to get a higher quality version up in the longer-term. This past week I have digitized something like 20 hours of video from the last 10 years - the Betacam SP player is working just great. Now begins the process of uploading said video to various servers. History saved! Stay tuned.

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