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'Tales from the GDC Vault' debuts lost Halo, MMO design talks

As part of the continuing "Tales from the GDC Vault" series, the Game Developers Conference presents a new batch of classic lectures from the show's past.

GDC Europe and GDC Online have come and gone, but there can never be too much GDC content, so "Tales from the GDC Vault" returns with three new free talks from roughly a decade ago.

These lectures include a look at the development of Halo: Combat Evolved, lessons on building MMO worlds such as Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, and a keynote on the shifting importance of computer graphics pioneers at the turn of the millennium.

First, Marty O'Donnell, Jaime Griesemer, and Mat Noguchi from Bungie speak at GDC 2003 in 'Halo: Development Evolved' about how experimentation and communication were key to designing, engineering and scoring the first Halo. The members describe how they rapidly concepted and prototyped level, character, and gameplay designs to figure out which direction they wanted to go.

The team even touches on some development lore, discussing how Halo was a real-time strategy game and third-person title before it finally became a first-person shooter. [GDC Vault free video]

Going further back in time to GDC 2001, Raph Koster and Rich Vogel (both of whose credits include Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies) give an advanced lecture in 'Design Patterns for Massively Multiplayer Environments'. According to their recipe, online worlds need a spatial environment of a virtual world (not just a gaming lobby), some kind of persona or avatar, and a sense of persistence.

The pair also explores classic models for such games. These included the scavenger model (derived from Zork and seen in Pokemon) which requires players to gather objects and return them somewhere, the impositional model (D&D style) based on earning points from dominating the environment, and the expressive model (seen in many PvP games) where players determine social hierarchy. [GDC Vault free video]

Going even further back to GDC 2000, Silicon Graphics, Incorporated (SGI) co-founder Kurt Akeley delivers the programming keynote ''New Pioneers at the Graphics Frontier'. Here he examines how the shifting importance of computer graphics pioneers, along with corporations and the open-source community, affects the evolution of the graphics industry. He also describes some of SGI's experiments, and lack of success, with programmable hardware and microcode. [GDC Vault free video]

'Tales from the GDC Vault' presents talks on the Dreamcast, PlayStation 2 from 1999

Continuing his Tales from the GDC Vault series, GDC historian Jason Scott has digitized and uploaded three free, notable videos from the 1999 Game Developers Conference, all of which are available online for the first time.

Two of these classic GDC videos touch on the dawning of an older generation of video game consoles, with keynotes from Sega of America's Bernie Stolar on Sega's Dreamcast and Sony Computer Entertainment of America's Phil Harrison on the upcoming PlayStation 2. The third video brings Nvidia's Mark Kilgard, lecturing in-depth on stencil buffering techniques for creating reflections and shadows.

These videos join a handful of other GDC Vault lectures from 1999. Join us now as we look back at these presentations from another classic Game Developers Conference:

- First up, president and chief operating officer of Sega of America Bernie Stolar highlights the technology of the Dreamcast in his console keynote. Sega's home console became the first and only to use GD-ROM technology, opting out of DVD integration due to high costs. The system boasted the portable, playable Visual Memory Unit that allowed developers to expand their game experience and allowed players to swap saves and other user-generated content.

In his keynote, Stolar predicted the limitless possibilities of an online environment that could extend the shelf life of games with downloadable add-ons (realized more fully a console generation later). [GDC Vault free video]

- In another console keynote that year, Phil Harrison offers a sneak peek of the technology behind what becomes the PlayStation 2 (introduced more formally at his GDC 2000 keynote). Harrison demos several renders on what he claimed was the world's first "true" 128-bit CPU, dubbed the Emotion Engine. He discussed various specs and tool architecture that would allow the console to generate content in real-time.

In his speech, Harrison dreamed of the market growing to allow a superset of entertainment, including music and movies. And seemingly trumping Sega's announcement, Harrison shared that Sony's next console would support DVD media. [GDC Vault free video]

'Tales from the GDC Vault' presents classic EA, Maxis, Namco videos from 1998

Continuing his Tales from the GDC Vault series, GDC historian Jason Scott has digitized and uploaded five notable videos from the 1998 Computer Game Developers Conference, all of which are available online for the first time.

These classic CGDC videos continue to provide us a look back at some of the most challenging issues our industry faced almost 15 years ago. The archives which will be further added to over the next few months give us another chance to both learn from our past and even apply classic game development lessons to today's ever-changing market.

These videos, which feature renowned industry figures such as EA's Richard Hilleman (pictured), Shiny Entertainment founder Dave Perry, and Maxis engineer Paul Pedriana, join a handful of other GDC Vault lectures from 1998. Join us now as we look back at more exciting lectures and presentations from another classic Computer Game Developers Conference:

- Current Electronic Arts chief creative officer Richard Hilleman keynotes the 1998 conference with "Herding Cats: How to Build, Manage and Sustain Successful Teams." The EA veteran expresses that leadership is not enough to make good teams work for product development, but that it is part of a bigger system, discussing who the customers are and how to reach them, leadership characteristics that work for him, and how to build teams effective in the long-term, while adhering to holistic lessons "learned from Mom." He even encourages hiring and nurturing his own replacements, stating that doing so "will set you free." [GDC Vault free video]

- Interestingly, Michael "SAXS" Persson and David Perry (who both worked at Earthworm Jim and MDK studio Shiny Entertainment) walk the crowd through their scalable real-time deformation and tessellation engine in the lecture, "Messiah: What You May or May Not Believe." Persson walks through rendering several Messiah characters, discussing the sophisticated for the time tools and 3D engine used in creating the noted "body swapping" game. [GDC Vault free video.]

- Elsewhere, Maxis software engineer Paul Pedriana (SimCity 3000) expresses that the C++ language has evolved to become "perfectly viable for games" in his lecture, "High Performance Game Programming in C++." Pedriana blazes through 60 slides in 60 minutes, covering dozens of programming topics, while analyzing related code and showing their benchmark results. [GDC Vault free video]

Tales from the GDC Vault: A retrospective look at game development in 1997

As part of the continuing Tales from the GDC Vault series, GDC historian Jason Scott has digitized and uploaded four notable videos from the 1997 Computer Game Developers Conference.

These videos, just like the many other classic and free lectures on the GDC Vault, provide a look back at some of the most pressing issues developers faced more than a decade ago. These archives give us a chance to both learn from our past, and even apply classic game development lessons to today's ever-changing market.

These brand-new videos, which feature renowned developers such as Brian Moriarty and Ernest Adams, join a handful of other GDC Vault free lectures from 1997. Join us now as we look back at some of the most exciting lectures and presentations from the classic Computer Game Developers Conference:

In the first of these new videos, Michael Dornbrook, whose work spans from Zork to Rock Band, shares his thoughts on maintaining relevance in "Surviving the Bloodbath: Perspectives on our Industry's Cycles." He observes the early warning signs of boom and bust cycles and strategies for surviving the busts and prospering from the booms. [GDC Vault free video]

Next up is video game musician George "The Fat Man" Alistair Sanger's "Music on Computers: A 5 Year Projection from the Project Bar-B-Q Think Tank." He presents the opinions and consensus of the BBQ Group (which still holds yearly conferences) on the topic: "What do you want to see in hardware and software for music on computers in the next 5 years?" [GDC Vault free video]

Also included is Infocom and LucasArts veteran Brian Moriarty's lecture, "Listen! The Potential of Shared Hallucinations." Here, Moriarty explores ways to creatively engage online game players and ditch "single-player designs retrofitted with a clunky multiplayer option." He encourages such games to "evolve with their audience" and "allow [players] to participate creatively" to "explore the unique possibilities of the online medium." [GDC Vault free video]

Tales from the GDC Vault returns with newly-digitized lectures

[Digital historian Jason Scott returns to his "Tales from the GDC Vault" series to introduce freshly digitized lectures from GDC's past, including a keynote from The Matrix's John Gaeta.]

Hi, it's Jason Scott, GDC archivist. My job has been to digitize older materials from the GDC archives and get them into the GDC Vault site, so that years and years of GDC talks can join their more modern brethren and educate and entertain for years to come. I also disappeared for a while.

What, did you think I was gone forever? Actually, I've been very busy, even though it hasn't translated to any blog posts for a while. Without further ado, let's talk about what I've been up to.

First, take a look at the picture above. that's what 173 Betacam SP tapes look like after you digitize them -- just a hard drive in a dock. Besides the 200+ hours of tape this translates to, it also has dozens of hours of audio recordings as well.

They range from a couple choice pieces in 1996 up through to 2004. After 2004, GDC switches to MiniDV tapes, and I've got that box waiting for me in the future, but it's the oldest material that we're going for right now.

During this time, GDC organizers upgraded the back-end of the GDC Vault, moved some servers, and I held off too much aggressive uploading. But we're in back in full now, and I've got some dedicated machinery creating the .FLV files of these long-lost talks and getting them to you.

I've also been transcribing the session descriptions from a library of programs provided to me, so you can get a solid preview of what you're going to see and hear. Or, in a few cases, not so solid at all.

gaeta.jpgThe winner for me in the "description bonanza" category has to be special effects wizard John Gaeta, who did the effects for the Matrix series and is credited with the "bullet-time" effect that is still showing up in films more than a decade later. This description of his 2004 keynote leaves... well, perhaps it leaves everything to the imagination.

The session's lengthy description covers topics from all over the map, spanning issues such as using "computer graphics for curing the criminally insane," "the rise of telekinetic programming," "the persistence of Japan," and much, much more. It's an eclectic, sometimes confusing list to be sure, and experiencing the session itself is the only real way to make sense of it all.

Tales from the GDC Vault: The Flood Begins

[Continuing his 'Tales from the Vault' series, official GDC historian Jason Scott debuts landmark videos featuring computer pioneer Danny Hillis, the 2004 Game Design Challenge, AI legend Marvin Minsky, and Peter Molyneux, among many others.]

This has been a long time coming. The past few months of this GDC Vault digitization process have been incredibly slow, especially in regard to this column and giving you new things to check out.

It turns out that rescuing the video and audio from these old tapes has been quite intense, and prone to all sorts of unexpected thrill and chills as I both unearthed rarities and found frustrating dead ends, meaning days of lost work. No history has been lost, of course -- just time, lots of time.

Now, the whole chain of digitization, clean up, compression and prep for the web can be done on a single machine, using a variety of tools (most open-source), which I can push through pretty quickly. It still takes two to three times the length of a tape to prepare it for the web, but it's dependable, and that's what matters.

With a room full of tapes ready to go, I know how the next few months are going to be spent with this material. It's obvious there are gems aplenty in this pile, and filling the GDC archives is going to be a very rewarding project.

So let's drop some GDC history, right?

Not every keynote had to be all about the latest console or the best graphics, and GDC has peppered its lineups over the years with some intellectual heavy-hitters from the academic side, to give everyone another perspective on this things they make.

In 2000, the keynote was Dr. Daniel Hillis (called Danny Hillis in basically every documentation of the event I could find), who was a co-designer of parallel computing, co-founder of Thinking Machines, and a veteran of Walt Disney Imagineering.

His talk, presented here in full, is a one-hour rumination on the importance, nay, the critical aspect of play in scientific and intellectual discovery [GDC Vault free video]. Pulling from his years of interesting with amazing people, Hillis provides us with his thesis on how the games industry can play in the advancement of the human race.

Tales From The GDC Vault: 'That Big Moment'

[In the latest installment of "Tales from the GDC Vault", digital historian Jason Scott debuts free video of major keynotes introducing the Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, and Xbox (via Bill Gates) to the world at Game Developers Conference.]

I'd argue that there are few bigger moments in the game industry, and perhaps in almost any industry, than the introduction of a new console. It's certainly one of the most expensive undertakings these companies will endure, requiring years of design and fabrication and meticulous planning.

If you did it all right, and luck falls in with you, and the right software houses get behind you, then success will come fast and free -- you'll have to construct additional buildings just to hold all the money.

But if you misstep, fail to have the right "kind" of titles or the killer launch games waiting alongside your console, then financial ruin and misery await you -- wounded, your company may not recover for years.

In this most stressful of times that a CEO may encounter, comes the tradition of the keynote speech, the time when you will step on stage, welcome everyone, talk of freedom and power and ability and dreams, and then point to the console mockup or system that you are going to drop on the world by (hopefully) the millions.

Any missed cues, or onstage crash, and the rags will be buzzing about it the next day. One solid, amazing demo, and you'll be the toast of the forums and the hallways of GDC. Like I said... it's as intense as it could possibly get.

With that in mind, I've digitized from BetaSP tape, specially for GDC Vault, not one but three keynote speeches given at GDC over a decade ago, introducing (or re-introducing) a new hardware console to the world. We now know who came ahead, who fell behind, and what tricks and triumphs these machines had in store, but it's very enlightening to look back with this knowledge at the offerings and statements in these presentations.

Tales from the GDC Vault: Nintendecade

[Continuing his 'Tales from the Vault' series, official GDC historian Jason Scott debuts complete free video of two seminal Nintendo keynotes at GDC -- Shigeru Miyamoto in 1999 and Satoru Iwata in 2005.]

The videotapes are starting to pile up in the "done" box and the process of turning the resulting video files into more lightweight video streaming files is now well underway, and I'll be adding these talks at a good clip for the coming months.

Since Nintendo gave the main keynote for the 2011 GDC [GDC Vault free video], I thought it might be fun to bring out two other Nintendo keynotes given across the last ten years plus: a Shigeru Miyamoto presentation from GDC 1999, and Nintendo's 2005 GDC keynote that introduced the Nintendo DS in depth to the world.

So we're debuting these talks for the first time online, free via GDC Vault. Firstly, Miyamoto's appearance and keynote at the 1999 Game Developers Conference [GDC Vault free video] is a big deal -- a real big deal.

Even if you didn't know who he was, the introductions and palpable excitement from the presenters shows that having the legendary Mario game designer was a huge win for the conference.

To his great credit, Miyamoto provides a presentation about his ideas on game design, the history of Nintendo's entry into the console game market, and a call to innovation, and it's filled with ideas both specific and universal. In other words, he makes it worth the trip.

miyamoto.pngHis speech, coming via a BetaSP archive we've digitized, starts in English. But then he announces he'll continue in Japanese, which he does, with a translator providing the rhythmic back-and-forth between the two languages.

And the core message, as I hear it, is that he thinks story and gameplay, with a good dash of artistry, is what brings the games from being mere shoot-em-ups and twitchfests to being something more, something that will stay with people a long time.

Perhaps that might seem obvious, but his consistent vision from the days of Donkey Kong up through to what he hints at (the Wii) gives these games a sense of weight and thoughtfulness, and his wish in the speech is for many others to do the same.

As an unbroken, long-form presentation of evidence that Miyamoto deserves his high regard and hall of fame designer status, this speech is perfect. It lives up to all the promises of any great speech, and is well worth enjoying, even a decade plus later.

'Tales from the GDC Vault': A Good Cover Story

[Continuing his new 'Tales from the GDC Vault' series, digital historian Jason Scott looks at the evolution of GDC's programs and print advertisements, as well as some of the show's eclectic video reels from the 1990s.]

I suppose I could have entitled this entry "Judging a Book by its Cover," but even I have to draw the line somewhere. Welcome again to another entry of Tales from the GDC Vault, as I bring to you some highlights from GDC history that I am adding to the archives.

I've been capturing tapes like crazy, focusing on the "interesting" stuff, which really means I am essentially judging books by their cover -- I have to go by the tape labels, and if they mention keynotes and premieres, I put those at the top of the to-do list, while tapes that simply list the room number and session time have to wait for another time. Good thing I have some reference material to compare the times and dates to!

Along with the hundreds of video and audio tapes I received in the mail was a three foot stack of documents, mostly made of programs, proceedings and stray advertisements from various GDCs over the last 15 years. I've mostly been using them as reference material, as I type in the descriptions for talks that I'm digitizing. But these documents serve another purpose; they become visual manifestations of what attendees saw in their swag bag when they picked up their badges. Let's check them out.

(By the way, I put scanned images and photographs from GDC Vault work on the Official GDC Flickr account.)

The earliest two covers I have, from 1993 and 1994 respectively, show black and white, almost science-fiction-like drawings, including one of a robot playing chess, which is about as retro as you can get. As pure trivia, and possibly coincidence, the first game software sold for microcomputers was a chess game.

5759464811_eb126f9251_m.jpg 5759534163_631d01764d_m.jpg

'Tales from the GDC Vault': Carmack Lays it Out

[Continuing his new 'Tales from the GDC Vault' series, digital historian Jason Scott reveals his first full-length digitized video from the Game Developers Conference archives - John Carmack's fascinating keynote from GDC 2004.]

It took a lot longer and was more involved than I'd expected, but the first of the GDC presentations stored on BetaSP tapes and not available for a lot of years is now online over at GDC Vault's free section: John Carmack's 2004 Game Developers Conference keynote presentation.

For what are no doubt the usual reasons of opportunity, scheduling, and bad luck, this was the very first time he gave a speech at GDC, even if the work he'd done (including Commander Keen, Doom and Quake) had been the topic of discussion and mention for the previous decade.

Describing in deep technical detail the issues I had building the workflow of transfer from Betacam SP tapes to .flv files is probably not the best use of your time, so let me quickly go over the high-level version of it.

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

[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!

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 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 a crushing grip by Sony meant that the format was shoved aside for its 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:

'Tales from the GDC Vault': Cow Clicking and A Little Extra

[Continuing his new 'Tales from the GDC Vault' series, digital historian Jason Scott showcases his digitizing and contextualizing work for Game Developers Conference content for the GDC multimedia archives, showcasing Ian Bogost's newly-free Cow Clicker talk and a new GDC 2000 press reel.]

Jason Scott, GDC Historian and Archivist here. Great news for you, if you've been hearing a lot about this "GDC" thing and want to know what you're missing.

Game Developers Conference has not just been freeing up older, classic talks like the ones I've been digitizing from over a decade ago - they've also released a variety of just-recorded talks from recent GDCs. All of these are recorded using the digitally speaking mechanism, where you can watch the speaker and slides, just the slides, just the audience, or whatever works for you.

There's a growing pile of these present-day presentations that you'll get your hands on, and I'll be pointing out some of the ones that really grabbed me, looking over them.

So here's a great talk to check out from this just-past GDC, one of the more surreal and meta-referential talks that was on the lineup: "Making a Mockery: Ruminations on Cow Clicker" by Ian Bogost, originally given at GDC Online 2010 in Austin in October 2010.

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