‘Tales from the GDC Vault’: A Good Cover Story

coverstory.png[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

Luckily, I’ve gotten the covers for almost every program or proceedings booklet from 1993 to 2009. In some cases, the booklet is better for its information than as scanner fodder, because I think some of them spent an awful lot of time under a lot of other things. Still, with a little cleanup, they start to look pretty good. Here’s some from the late 1990s:

5760019135_efa70f7be2_m.jpg 5759636625_386c8dbef9_m.jpg

The purple one is from 1997, and the orange one is from 1998. With the addition of sharp colors and slick paper, the programs and proceedings start to feel very substantial.

Skip forward to the latter half of the 2000s, and the programs and proceedings look like flyers for a rave:


By the way, there’s nothing wrong with looking like a rave! The intersection of club or dance aesthetics with the action-glamour aspects of videogames is well-tread ground that is worth exploring in some future column, but the shift in the covers tells the story in its own clear fashion. That, and it demonstrates the reducing cost of printing spiffier and spiffier covers.

Here’s the full set of scans, including the covers and occasional inside pages I gathered to see how they look online. To properly get good scans, sadly, you really need to break the binding on these programs, and I just won’t do that unless I can get at least two copies of each, so please, if you have an extra copy of a program, consider donating it to be scanned — I’d love to turn these programs and proceedings into PDFs so they can be perused by the masses.

Additionally, I have two videos added to the GDC Extras Vault on archive.org, which is where I’m putting items caught in the net that don’t really qualify for the main GDC Vault. One caveat, as always, is that perhaps nobody will want these items.

And the first one probably falls under that — it appears to be a set of test renderings of a 3D (in the old sense) CGI version of the 1999 GDC Logo/Brand. We see the letters come slowly in, quickly in, flopping in, and so on. Either this went up on a screen during an event, or a group was showing the GDC organizers some possible logo renderings to put before recorded video, but who knows. I figured it at least shows how it was still a bit time-consuming to render out CGI logos back in 1999.

More interesting from a historical perspective is the second tape, which is a 1996 gameplay sizzle tape. Almost definitely made for the 1997 GDC, this appears to be a collection of footage and screen captures from console and PC games in 1996 or earlier, including Super Mario 64, Wing Commander III, Civilization II, and You Don’t Know Jack. There are lots of little snippets in there, and there’s even a chance some might have been in beta form when the footage was taken. I’m sure time will tell.

(It’s probably at least worthwhile to browse the thumbnails page of this video, and see how many you recognize.)

Until next time, previous attendees — please keep rifling through your archives of your visits to GDC. I’d love to get your stuff online.