[Continuing his ‘GDC 25’ archival research ahead of the 25th Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this February/March, official GDC historian Jason Scott goes back to the ’90s to unearth classic lectures on coin-ops, modem play and game packaging.]
When things go obsolete in the technical world, they really go obsolete. They disappear like they owe you something, like they’re trying to hide out, lest anybody find them. One moment, an issue or discovery seems like it’s going to be the one true way – the next, it’s not even listed as an option.
Since Game Developers Conference has always been a conference and a conversation about moving forward (with the occasional glance back), it’s not surprising that the odd talk would be a wonderfully assembled, well-spoken, insightful presentation about something no longer that relevant. Or, at least, apparently not relevant. Here’s a few that went by that got my attention in that theme.
With so much software showing up through online delivery these days,Pam Sandbury and Terry Soo Hoo’s 1997 GDC talk on video game packaging, now available on GDC Vault in audio form, sheds a lot of usefulness very quickly. That said, it’s a great snapshot of what makes a box stand on its own, and with the expectation that online sales will become more and more the norm, and the need to stand out from the wash of other products growing, it likely has some life left in it yet.
However, if you remember walking through your local software or computer
shop and being entranced by certain boxes and put off by others, these
speakers cover everything from placement and design through to logistics
and brainstorming unique ideas to make your program the must-have on
Herb Marselas gives a 1999 GDC lecture called ‘Don’t Starve that CPU! Making the Best of Memory Bandwidth’, also now available on GDC Vault in audio, an intensely technical talk about how best to code around the memory environment for PCs, circa, well, 1999. His machine-gun style of discussing these issues shows a bunch of thoughts about the problems inherent in optimizing engineering for graphics (and in his case, 3D, his specialty).
All of his discussions take place before the revolution in graphics cards, where enormous amount of power were afforded to hardware, away from the poor starving CPU. Make no mistake: computers will likely always have resource issues as regards games, but from the time of this talk, nearly all the variables and rules have changed. The process of breaking down the problem that Marselas discusses, however, has not.
In another notable talk I’ve just digitized to GDC Vault from audiotape, Chris Deyo and Leslie Mullens give a talk on ‘Internet Entertainment’ for GDC 1997. Specifically, they talk about the game You Don’t Know Jack, co-developed by their company, Berkeley Systems (the screen saver people), and showing how they utilize some clever slight of hand to make the whole experience of a game show work over a 28.8 modem.
The obsolete part is that their company, later that year, is bought out and ultimately closes a couple years later, leaving behind fond memories of flying toasters and hilarious game show rounds. In a world of broadband and streaming video, however, a lot of this talk solves problems people no longer pay attention to. (The speakers’ presentation itself, however, is top notch, especially in the face of a lot of questions from the audience about how they’re doing all this apparently-tv-quality motion and sound.)
Finally, in a fascinating Game Developers Conference 1996 talk, Mark Stephen Pierce — at that time a VP at the coin-op division of Atari — talks about arcade games in a GDC Vault audio-digitized talk called ‘Coin-Ops’, at a time when arcade games are still holding their own against the overtaking console and PC gaming segments.
As arcades lose their power and command of the market in the 14 years hence, a lot of his declarations about the position of coin-ops and the opportunities for consoles to ride coat-tails become quite different indeed. His position of authority as regards the coin-op industry in 1996 and the state of the industry is without question, however, having worked or working on titles at the time such as San Francisco Rush and Primal Rage – and having created Klax and Road Blasters in the ’80s.
It’s a delight to have so many insights regarding arcade games and the great snapshot he provides for the world of arcades at that late peak, before the darkness encroaches. Plus, come on, this is the co-creator of Dark Castle speaking!
Irrelevant subjects? Or timeless questions, answered clearly and thoughtfully by an earlier generation of developers, writers and business types? It’s worth a listen or two to ask that yourself. And don’t forget you can see all of the ‘GDC 25 Chronicles’ archival audio, video and scans on a special GDC website page now.