The ‘GDC 25’ Chronicles: The Inbox and the Starting Line

[In a new series of posts, official GDC historian Jason Scott will be presenting video, audio, photos and attendee recollections from the last twenty-four iterations of CGDC and the Game Developers Conference event, ahead of GDC 25 in San Francisco next February.]

Hello, my name is Jason Scott, and this is my inbox.

Jason's Tape Inbox

What you see here is the first of what I hope will be hundreds of tapes, documents and artifacts related to the nearly quarter-century history of the Game Developer’s Conference.

A short while ago, I agreed to be GDC’s official historian and archivist to help celebrate the 25th conference by digitizing as many records of past events as I can. A short time after agreeing to this task, huge piles of boxes arrived on my front porch. The digitization has begun!

GDC Item Catalog

In a twice-weekly posting leading up to the 2011 GDC, I’ll be bringing you highlights and discoveries from this process, and posting them for you at the GDC Vault to enjoy and share.

While daunting, the collection is pretty straightforward – awards presentations, conference roundtables, panels and speeches given by the attendees of GDC. In most cases, the name of who’s presenting, what they’re presenting, and when are on the label. Usually. Somewhat.

I’ve also been given copies of the accompanying papers and brochures that GDC offered to attendees, and expect to do a lot of cross-referencing to figure out what things happened, when.

A lot of material before 1998 is either lost or difficult to find – we didn’t have digital cameras and inexpensive life recording in as much force back then, so finding recordings from that period will be a challenge. For more recent vintage, there are many more recordings and artifacts: GDC kept some of the tape masters and professional recordings that were made for broadcast and sale, and a lot of people seem to like walking around the conference center snapping photos.

Some GDC Tapes
Tapes from the First Batch

I’m occasionally asked what the purpose of keeping such archives could be, when the computer (and in this case, the computer game) industry is one that moves so fast that last year’s tech is obsolete and forgotten.

Part of it is definitely nostalgia – names that grow to superstar status can be heard in tapes working around ideas that are going to take the world by storm in the future.

It’s certainly great to hear or see someone presenting their thoughts on not-yet-released games, and predictions that may or may not have come true. And concern about the amount of storage and CPU available is a perennial favorite, as yesterday’s heights are today’s lows.

But more than that, in these recordings and stories are life – life captured in an industry that has amazing growth, influence, dreams and nightmares. Ideas spring forth and are quickly disregarded, perhaps dormant and awaiting one of us in the present to reconsider it and move forward with it.

And forgetting where major mistakes were made does, in fact, lead to their repeating. It has value in all sorts of fashions, and by preserving these, I hope you’ll find this value for a long time to come.

Gems are already evident just from the first wave of cataloging and digitizations – starting with the next entry, I’ll start highlighting some of them for your enjoyment.

Audiotape and videotape only tell so much, of course. That, I hope, is where you all come in. If you were at a GDC in the past (especially distant past, pre-dating 2000), and you have stories, recordings, or anything else related to the events, I’d like to hear from you. We’re looking to collect stories, track down facts, and get some of these nearly-lost speeches and presentations back online.

As a starting-off point to learning the history of GDC, you can’t do much better than a recent reminiscence and history of GDC by its original founder, Chris Crawford.

Chris captures both his original goals and intent for GDC, and includes the ups and downs of his experiences with it – from his uniquely Crawford-ian perspective – before he and GDC parted ways. And what a picture!

Do you remember things differently? Do you have thoughts or memories to add? The official e-mail for the project is Word of this project has already begun to spread, and so feel free to join the crowd – I’m a good listener.

Let’s see how much of GDC’s history we can save.