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Tales from the GDC Vault: On Betamax, Black & White, A Talk Under Siege

Continuing his new 'Tales from the GDC Vault' series, digital historian Jason Scott showcases a Betamax video rundown, plus talks or excerpts featuring Peter Molyneux (Black & White

Jason Scott, Blogger

April 25, 2011

4 Min Read

[Continuing his new 'Tales from the GDC Vault' series, digital historian Jason Scott showcases his work on the the GDC multimedia archives, presenting a Betamax video rundown and talks or excerpts featuring Peter Molyneux (Black & White) and Chris Taylor (Dungeon Siege).] Jason Scott, GDC Historian here. I'm here to talk about the future. I'm here to talk, in other words, about the Betamax format. For people of a certain age, Betamax is kind of a joke. For others who are younger, it's barely a word, something you might have heard in passing in an unrelated discussion about video. But what it is, in fact, is a video format that never quite died, and which still sees some amount of activity in the present day. It was a contemporary format to VHS, first introduced in the 1970s, as one of the standards intended to be used in all sorts of consumer-grade hardware for videotape. It had some positive features, but overly tight control by Sony meant that the format was shoved aside for VHS, the not-so-great-but-cheaper competitor from JVC. Not one to just kill the format, Sony instead tweaked it: the professional reworking of that consumer-grade video technology into Betacam meant that it had a lot of use in the professional sector going forward. Granted, that activity has decreased intensely with the advent of digital recording and high-definition requirements, but you can be assured that there are more Betamax players and recorders out there than the initial guess of "zero." One of them, I am happy to say, is in my house. Check out this svelte monstrosity: Unlike the all-too-frequent eBay "shipping and handling" shenanigans, when I discovered this thing was fifty actual pounds I thought the price charged was fair indeed. (I purchased the entire item, with shipping, for about $250, in case you're wondering). It works really well, too, another bonus. In this situation, I am taking tapes that are in some cases a decade old and running them through, so I'm still in the process of testing various encoding and capturing trickery to get the whole thing working. Another side technical note - the video ingesting system uses an RCA plug for audio input, but I found that a real waste considering the Betacam player uses professional grade XLR outputs. So, I ended up buying a bridging box to go from XLR to USB input: So what tape gets the inaugural treatment? My first experiments have been with a tape of Peter Molyneux, from the GDC March 2000 (also called GDC '00) conference, in which he introduces the world to his new game Black & White. The presentation itself is pretty good, but I can't put it all up yet - I am not 100 percent happy with the combination video and audio grab, and still want to work some of the kinks out. Here's what a frame of that presentation looks like on Betacam SP format: pm.png So, here is a short GDC Vault-hosted excerpt of that speech. In it, Bullfrog Software founder Molyneux covers his career up to 2000, how he's always wanted games about people, and then launches into an extended overview of playing around in the Beta version of Black & White. It's easy to see why Microsoft had him be a key part of the Xbox portfolio, and one of the game-specific presenters for the announcement of the Kinect a decade later - he's charming, and nothing in the presentation phases him. I'll have the full talk up sooner rather than later. Betamax! Is there nothing it can't do? Also available this week, here's a little something from the audio-only, digitized from cassette onto GDC Vault. Specifically, in the CGDC 1997 bin is a talk entitled "'Lessons Learned on Dungeon Siege and Other Random Things', done by Gas Powered Games' Chris Taylor, that is a beautiful, hilarious spinning of tales related to game development. In 1997, the Total Annihilation designer can still bring up the single-developer era while also discussing the more factory-based situation that starts to become prevalent, where monetary choices are beginning to dominate and the games are being made along reasons far outside of creativity. Heck, how many game talks recommend that you go buy Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People? He also let you know that instant messaging is very important. Agreed! Oh, and he mentioned that maybe you should consider using a Wiki, though he struggles to tell you how useful it can be. (Not bad for 1997!) What a character he is in this! It feels like your buddy who got into games breaking down what his day and work is like, with no pretense, no need to justify. Sometimes things don't work out, sometimes they succeed wildly. Run it in the background while you're working on something - you might find yourself working even harder because your new buddy is inspiring you. Stay tuned for items coming up! I'd better have some use for this gargantuan machine on my floor....

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