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The 'GDC 25' Chronicles: The Best Kind of Drudgery

Continuing his 'GDC 25' archival research, Jason Scott debuts newly digitized audio from multiple years of the show, from an American McGee's Alice postmortem through the Messiah Engin

Jason Scott, Blogger

February 7, 2011

7 Min Read

[Continuing his 'GDC 25' archival research ahead of the 25th Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this February/March, official GDC historian Jason Scott debuts newly digitized audio from multiple years of the show, from an American McGee's Alice postmortem through the Messiah Engine and beyond.] The UPS guy has started to build up a level of respect for me these days - I get that kind of glance that says somehow I've become one of his big dropoff stops, when it's supposed to all be simple one-box deliveries in a suburban neighborhood. I make it a point to always help unload the truck, which keeps me on his good side and not finding boxes dumped sideways at the end of the driveway or worse. So when he showed up and I came out, all he had to do was look me in the eye and go "Fourteen". Fourteen? Well, it appears that while in the process of moving some offices, my corporate masters had packed up every last scrap of material related to GDC, sealed all the boxes, and sent this pile of history off to the archive guy. So now I have all the cassettes, programs, documents, CD-ROMs and flyers for all of GDC's past from about 1996. Not bad. This is what some of it looks like. Some of it: gdcdig2.jpg This is not the same as the first photo I put up a while ago - this is an entire other set of material. Formats include VHS, Betamax, Mini-DV, CD-ROM, Audio Cassette, Jaz Drive (shudder), and in one particularly interesting development, an entire hard drive with the year scrawled on it. So this is the crossroads, or more accurately the threshold; from here it stops being a novelty to have material to digitize or an inbox with work left to do - from here it starts being a haul. The presentations also can't be cherry-picked like at the start; this is just simply all of them, all types, every subject that the GDC organizers thought needed to be spoken about in later half of the 1990s. It's about duty over fun now. But that's a duty I think is worth taking on. So I've been going through the tapes I've already digitized, uploading them, and getting things together. Frankly, this amount of material coming in has meant I've had to really step up the ingesting hardware. Here's what we have going on right now in that department: gdcdig5.jpggdcdig3.jpggdcdig4.jpg There's now a dedicated notebook computer, called "Super Duper", whose many USB ports allow me to hook in everything from the cassette-to-USB to a number of hard drives and the video-to-USB converter that I've used to pull in the beginnings of what will be dozens of videotapes. (More of those coming in my next entry.) Some of the GDC material is on MiniDV, and I happen to own a Mini-DV capable video camera, so that's connected into the mess as well. The many fine folks recording GDC over the years appear to have gone from one type of recording medium to another, and each year had a lot of recording done, hence the piles of lookalike media stacked in my house. Betamax was big one year, but then MiniDV won for a couple more. By the time we get to 2007, it's all just being thrown onto hard drives and never seeing any sort of tape, digital or otherwise. Just this week, I've added roughly 100 hours of new content to the vault, pretty much all of it audio-based. Included in this batch are programs from various years, which are now my source material to figure out what may be missing, and what to write into the description field. That number is going to grow significantly - I'm continuing to digitize cassette tapes or transfer CD-ROMs where needed, and all those are being uploaded as well. The whole thing becomes daunting to consider moving through, like being faced with a massive library and being told you can sign anything out. Which, to be honest, is exactly what's happening. gdcdig1.jpg Oh, to be sure, there's plenty that we're loading into the free section of GDC Vault that's interesting just from the title. Listening to Michael "Saxs" Persson and David Perry let loose with a CGDC 1998 breakdown of the process of creating the Messiah Engine is a treat, no matter where your interests lie. (Here's a copy of the speech on Perry's own site) Many people worked very, very hard on their presentations for GDC, practiced and prepared, and you can hear how much effort went into them just by the way they easily drop fact after fact on the audience. For example, Lee Isgur is the real deal, history and experience-wise. His presentation called simply "State of the Industry 1997 is packed with facts and observations about the gaming industry as it stood that year. Along the way, he mentions on the side how he'd attended the second CGDC in San Jose, was involved in the initial offering of Electronic Arts, and invested in Data General, which goes way back. If you need a bracer course in how things actually were in the 1990s, this is the talk for you. I thought that Dianne Drosnes' "Breaking into Latin American Markets" was a tour-de-force of knowledge and overview, describing what works and doesn't work in selling software in the 11 countries she's talking about. GDC has done a good number of foreign market overviews - while her specific financial numbers have gone the way of all things past, her explanations of things to look for when entering a new set of countries still hold true. While I've been obviously more than happy to do the gruntwork of digitizing cassettes, it's nice when I stumble on more stable media for talks, and a number of CD-ROMs were jammed into the back of the some of the boxes, meaning I got entire years of GDC audio and documents, and it's been a matter of bringing them into the system. What I'm saying, is if you're looking for audio of American McGee doing an excellent 2002 postmortem of American McGee's Alice, well, GDC Vault now has that handled. Even though he starts out claiming he's not very prepared for the presentation and uncomfortable giving them, this is just silly humility - McGee walks you from the first inkling of an idea to do an Alice game (hearing the word "Wonder" on his car radio) all the way through the design and coding process, until we're walking the hallways of his publisher and the choices made there as well. Could you ask for anything better? Or maybe you'd like to hear Jon Blow of Braid fame discussing using a webcam for a game controller, long before there anyone was coming up with words like Kinect or terms like "Eye" for the ability to manipulate what was going onscreen without the usual controls. Everything he's talking about in this zippy presentation is right on the money - he even describes using the webcam interface to do an "air guitar" game, "like Parappa the Rappa". The machinery is humming over here, and hours and hours are joining the vaults - I've got weeks of work left to do, bumping right against the start of GDC, which I am attending. I'll have more entries before then, with more highlights, but there'll be no way to describe them all to you or why you should check them out. And I am sure people will check these out on their own time, stumbling on a talk that hits them anew about something they're working on, or inspiring them with the fact that the problems they're encountering have always been there, and are to be embraced or avoided. This situation, for me, is truly the best kind of drudgery - the process of turning a mass of tapes and reels and haphazard piles into something anybody can enjoy, reference and learn from for many years to come, from the comfort of whatever place and time works for them. [Don't forget you can see all of the 'GDC 25 Chronicles' archival audio, video and scans on a special GDC website page now.]

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