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SAVANT'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, PART I
2001-01-29 21:16:00 [Filed by Savant]
If you can't remember where I said I'd be today and tomorrow, go here.

It started a normal day, really it did - but soon, the clouds began to darken and the sky rumbled... It was then I knew I should have stayed home. The conference opened up with an awe inspiring comparison of gaming to rock and roll, with the underlying Toys R Us theme, "I don't wanna grow up..." I tried to sneak out immediately, but to no avail, lunacy had me in her unforgiving grip. With an aspirin bottle in one hand, and a spoon (in case I decided to dig out my own eyeballs) in the other, I was ready to face the evils the day was about to offer.

When the opening analogy was over, as if my twitching and convulsing hadn't given away that my inner child was having gas, I was indulged with the pleasure of listening to someone by the name of J.C. Herz (Joystick Nation), who not only used the word "brilliant" seven times during her 10 minute speech, but compared narration in games to "the path of a particle."

The remainder of the day wasn't nearly as disappointing, as you will soon find out - at least the storm had passed.

The first panel was to discuss "The Computer as Storyteller: Procedural Narrative." Just what we need, new buzzwords: "Procedural Narrative." Lisa De Arauji of Creaturelabs (Creatures) and Sean Baity of Maxis (The Sims) sounded more like they were at E3 instead of a discussion conference on the interactive age. Not to take away from the great work they have done with their respective games, but I was quite honestly expecting thought-provoking speeches on what the topic was about, not about how great their games did at storytelling and how their next game(s) will too. Having never played Creatures, I got to hear about "Artificial Life" (buzz word!) and how great it was.

Next up was the topic "The Movie Game." Marsha Kinder, a professor at USC, sped through her nonsensical speech as if it were one of her lectures in class - I was barely able to understand, and of what I was able to catch, she was completely off base. Hal Barwood of Lucas Arts was next to bat - He did an excellent job. His speech was educational, well prepared, and executed perfectly. He didn't plug his game(s) at every opportunity, and actually snuck in a few jokes (licensing ones!). The final panelist was David Perry of Shiny Entertainment (Earthworm Jim) who also did an excellent job. Granted, David did plug his work almost exclusively, but he did so while sticking to the actual topic. He was also funny. Then followed a "discussion" round - where the audience got to ask questions to the panelists (this happened after the first discussion as well, but wasn't nearly as entertaining). The two questions (out of three) of note went to the beloved Marsha Kinder - The first was, "What are your three favorite and worst games?" to which she responded with Myst, and then rambled on. The next question, asked by path of a particle girl J.C. Herz, was classic, and helped her regain some respect: "Have you ever actually played any of these games? Cause, you know, that's sorta important." (paraphrase) to which Marsha's answer was an obvious "No, not really." (paraphrase)

At this point we broke for lunch, where Will Wright of Maxis (Sim City & The Sims) gave an excellent speech. I am intimidated by the size of this mans brain. His ability to Kosterize statements and theory was astounding. After lunch, shortly before I was herded back into the conference room, I had the pleasure of finally meeting Raph Koster face to face. I'm not sure whether my mental prowess caused his bladder to chemically react, if he just wanted to avoid me, or if the man had to actually pee - but after a quick few words, he made off to restroom - silently muttering, "Piffle," no doubt.

Back to the grind, the topic was now "New Genres." Panelists were: Emma Westecott (Starship Titanic), Alex Mayhew (Ceremony of Innocence), Bill Tomlinson (MIT guy), and Jean-Marc Gauthier (Isabel). I'm sorry if anything interesting was said, but I wasn't able to catch most of it - but it involved games with flies, butterflies, and wasps, and how they were breaking new ground and what new potential markets they can get (I'm not kidding).

The second to last topic of the day was probably the best: "The Audience Takes Charge: Game Engines as Creative Tools." First to the podium was Warren Spector of Ion Storm (no, not THAT Ion Storm - the other office (Deus Ex, Ultima)) - He was followed by Dr. Greg Zeschuk and Dr. Ray Muzyka of Bioware (Neverwinter Nights, Baldur's Gate II). All three of these individuals did a fine job of talking about MOD's and how the industry was changing by giving people the tools to make the job easier. Before you get too excited, please note that they both found way to sneak in their production clips of their respective games (the E3 ones) and videos showing how great their proprietary tools were at giving the users the ability to modify the world, but overall, I enjoyed their speeches - nicely done.

You thought it was over, didn't you?

Continuing with "The Audience Takes Charge: Game Engines as Creative Tools" was the next panelist Anne-Marie Schleiner - apparently someone who has created MOD(s) and does other stuff. The microphone was so close to her mouth that the heavy breathing prompted some of the men in the audience to hastily head in the direction of the restroom. I couldn't make out most of what she said due to the before mentioned situation. She ended her speech by showing Anime pr0n (I'm not kidding), and mentioning that she was working on an "adult-oriented" erotica game with someone (I'm really not kidding).

Last on the list was Eddo Stern, an "Artist/Teacher" from USC. Remember when I said the storm had passed earlier? I lied. This young man got up to the podium and unveiled some of the most amazing things my virgin eyes had ever seen. First up was (I can't remember the name) THREE MICE (the computer kind) SOMEHOW GLUED TOGETHER and how he used them to play EverQuest with three characters simultaneously (on three separate computers with three separate internet connections) - and how they ran in circles in the town of Qeynos and were like NPC's. Apparently me banging my head into the chair in front of me didn't slow him down, because he then showed us his next masterpiece: VIDEO GAME CLIPS TO MUSIC. This was a series of video game clips to a soundtrack that had some sort of theme to it. By now I was bleeding from the ears and eyes, yet still he continued - He revealed his final and greatest invention: AN AUTOMATED MACHINE ON TOP OF HIS KEYBOARD THAT HAD NAILS WHICH TAPPED THE KEYBOARD TO... GET THIS... ARE YOU READY? PLAY EVERQUEST FOR HIM - IT WAS EVEN DECORATED WITH A RISK-LIKE MAP ON TOP OF THE MECHANISM. University Dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen - I guess he's never heard of macros. I wish I could make this stuff up. He finally stepped down with many guffaws and chuckles emanating from the crowd, and I'm sure his account has been banned.

Pooduck is even scared of this fella.




As I was about to sneak out and head for the hospital before the final topic began, I muttered to my co-worker next to me "I can't wait to write about this tonight." to which a gentleman two rows in front of me asked, "Oh whom do you write for?" I proudly said, "LumTheMad.net" - His eyes gleamed like that of a little boy on Christmas morning, "Which one are you?" "Savant" I said bashfully. "Oh hey!" he responded, "I'm Bluebaron." -- "Ahh, the man working on the s00per seekrit game," I said. The short conversation then continued with him asking about my recent selling out, and by me mentioning whom I now work for and the fact that we're developing a certain new genre MMOG. Of course, I should have mentioned that I'm PM over the MMORPG's currently and have not yet gotten my hands into the new game, because he quickly started asking questions in a mad-scientistic manner to which I had no answer. Embarrassed that I didn't know, bleeding from the head, and pleased I got to meet bluebaron and Raph that day, I snuck out before the final topic.

Oh, and in case you were just dying to know about the last subject, here's the program:

"4:45pm-6:00pm
Games and Cognition
While controversies rage about whether games are good for kids, cognitive research shows that games can have a variety of emotional, behavioral and cognitive benefits. Health and educational professionals across the country have been looking at ways of using the excitement and interactivity of games to develop important cognitive, spatial, and other life skills for both children and adults. Interactive games and media are being used in a diverse array of applications, from training autistic kids to cross the street, to curing phobias, to treating Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome to early diagnosis for Alzheimer's disease. Researchers will look at the cognitive attributes of games and their use in a variety of clinical applications."


Tomorrow should be good, Raph is up first and the topic is "Narrative Environments: Worlds that Tell Stories."

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