“It's more important to understand the truth than the facts.”
Paul Barnett is the truth. Mythic Entertainment's Senior Creative Director, responsible for the creative development of Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning gave the most significant presentation of GDC yesterday. He didn't want to come, doesn't like GDC, and rode a bucking trainwreck of a Powerpoint presentation (he hates Powerpoint...)
Doesn't sound like the stuff of legend, right? Yet, there's only one other time in my life after an audience/performer interaction that the place was totally quiet afterward, in a good way. Roll back to the early 90's, Skinny Puppy at the Palladium in LA: the people file out in absolute silence – ever left a good concert like that?
It was classical catharsis at it's best, taking it way back to the ancients. Similarly, at the end of Paul Barnett's presentation there was a stunned emptiness, as if no one dared breath for fear of breaking the spell. I've been accused of hyperbole before, but seriously, there were people with me, sober people with good jobs and sane minds. We just stared at each other, muttering inanities for a few minutes... processing.
So what was the message? Well there were quite a few, not all strictly on topic -- he is one manic dude. I think that was the core of it, really: he was Paul. Just like I'm Eric and you are you. This was an outright rejection of the big corporate gaming industry, hardware dominance, buzzword bingo, sequel-itis, and all the things that have made us big money over the past 20 years or so. Why bite the hand that feeds you? Especially considering the irony of his having most recently developed a monster MMO adapting a huge IP?
Well, what if the hand that feeds you is choking you with the other hand? What if there are berries and fruits a plenty close at hand, with no need to be force fed? This is exactly where the industry finds itself today. Arguably, the best games are being created outside the industry, in ones and twos, by people in bedrooms and through remote collaboration. This is only going to grow!
Players want to create, whole generations are now looking for different meanings in entertainment and community. People can make their own games, like way back in the day when I sat down with my Commodore 64 and decided I'd just make a game. Well, if you count typing in a lunar lander clone by hand every time you want to play, I guess I did. It was much more fun, though, once I'd saved up enough for a tape drive.
The great thing is that there are ways to make money, distribute product yourself, directly connect with an audience, and collaborate with like minded folks from around the world today. I have said before there is a democratization of development occurring (not that this isa terribly original idea) and we are in early throes of a revolution. So, in this context where anyone can make a game and tens of thousands are, what does an average developer really have to offer?
Yes, ultimately every person has a unique set of defining experiences, a unique point of view to offer, different families, tragedies, loves, and hopes. Being true to that is a deep calling, an authentic life well lived. The explosion of indie games is one of the new ways to express that, along with so many other changes social media and global collaboration have brought us. This is the new golden age, savor it.
One of his odder slide sequences and side trips featured music, specifically the Beatles, Sex Pistols, Creem magazine and ended up with music critic and pied piper Lester Bangs. I couldn't help but extend the thought into the movie, Almost Famous. This featured Lester Bangs as played by Philip Seymour Hoffman who delivered one of my favorite lines ever about authenticity: “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.”
There were other interesting presentations yesterday, including a flashy keynote, but honestly I can't bring myself to write about them. They were just facts, but Paul Barnett brought Truth – I was lucky to be a witness and remain grateful for his courage and honesty.