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SAVANT'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, PART II
2001-01-31 00:44:00 [Filed by Savant]
Once again I made the 40-minute trek to the Davidson Conference Center at USC. I got quite lucky as I got to follow an Injured Person Relocation Unit Engineer (ambulance, for those of you who don't work at GOD) the entire way. Slowly I made my way into the den of evil…

Before the conference began, I got to meet one of our loyal readers and board posters "Damiano" as we had some… "talk" regarding current and future games. Not long after we started to speak, people began flooding into the room, so we took our seats. Today I was prepared: Dr. Kevorkian's phone number on speed dial on the cell phone, and a sniper rifle in my back pocket.

The first topic was the one I mentioned yesterday, the one I was excited about. "Narrative Environments: Worlds that Tell Stories." The first wonderful speaker Janet Murray (Hamlet on the Holodeck), while was well prepared (had actual game footage and stuff) and a fantastic author, had no idea what she was talking about. Two of the most notable quotes are:

"You essentially save the game by going to something called a lifestone." about Asheron's Call.

"The backrub is a landmark advancement…" about The Sims.

Quickly I dialed Kevorkian, but I guess the cops in OZ don't allow phone calls. Lucky for me, Raph Koster stepped up to the podium next and made me reconsider. He saved me from suicide - So the next time I write something to disagree with, you know where to send your hate mail. Koster's speech, as expected, was fantastic. He said he rewrote it in the shower that morning, so for the rest of the speech, I pictured him covered in soap bubbles holding a rubber ducky. I can't help it. A lot of what he said seemed to go over the heads of the non gamers there - You know, stuff like "Impositional and Expressive Narration in games." Like I said, he did an excellent job, in usual Kosterization fashion.

Tim Schafer of Double Fine Productions (Grim Fandango) was next. He did an ok job and stated right off the bat that he did not agree with Raph in the sense that he made games from the impositional viewpoint while Raph does it from the expressive. Not the best public speaker, but he was humorous and did manage to plug his game quite a bit. The game actually looks so good (Yes I've never played it, bite me) that I'll be picking up a copy this week - so I guess the shameless plugging worked!

Finally we heard from Ken Lobb of Nintendo (Zelda). I've gotta admit, the man was funny. His first line was, "We don't care about story." Hah! Aint that the truth. Also referenced EverQuest as EverCrack and EverChat. Talked about games like Donkey Kong to Super Mario, and even showed a clip of the original Legend of Zelda, which brought back memories.

Now the discussion round. I won't discuss all of the questions except one. Warren Spector gave a little speech (I suppose he felt he didn't have enough time when he was actually up at the podium) and mentioned how any sort of narration made him cringe. He finally ended up with a question, twenty minutes later: "Why aren't you writing novels instead of making games?" to which Tim Schafer responded simply with, "Well, because I like games." I'd like to take just a small moment for a newsflash for Warren - DEUS EX WASN'T THAT GREAT, STOP BEING SO ARROGANT. Uppity bastard.

Break time. I went and used the restroom. I don't know why this is significant, but hey, it's filling up an entire line isn't it?

"The Tail that Wags the Dog: Is Entertainment Driving Technology?" I wouldn't know, I left halfway through. Tom Hershey of Sony Pictures and Imageworks and Paul Debevec of USC's Institute for Creative Technology were putting me to sleep. I left before Ken Perlin of NYU and David Javelosa of Yamaha got up to speak. It was either going and having a cigarette or using the sniper rifle and being in prison. So my life was technically saved a second time, and while Raph had nothing to do with it, I'd like to make him responsible again - Just cause I can.

Lunch time! Nothing special, no one spoke at lunch today. Food was edible.

I wanted to make it to the next discussion, "Educating Game Designers" but got caught up talking to several people upstairs and missed it. I looked over the program and the speakers were Henry Jenkins (MIT), Eric Zimmerman (gameLab and NYU), Robert Nideffer (UC Irvine), Randy Pausch (Carnagie Mellon University), and Celia Pearce (USC). Educating is right - not too sorry I missed this one, are ya now?

As I said, I was busy upstairs chatting away with folks. Alex Mars was first (one of our loyal readers). Great guy - had a cowboy hat on and was quite a cool fellow to speak with it - props to our site for having such a great fan base. Shortly after, Raph came by. I forget what the topic was about, but I do know he left quickly to go to some television interview (Can nothing stop this man?)

I also got to meet Serafina of Atriarch. Apparently, she feels we don't cover her game enough. I'm not quite sure if it was the fact that she kept telling me that, or if because she was chanting "atriarch, atriarch, atriarch" in a hushed tone for the rest of my time up there. Either way, I don't see why she feels that way, I feel her game gets plenty of coverage! Well, maybe if she didn't dodge every question I asked about the game, I'd have something to say! I was able to find out that they plan to have all users on a single server and have permadeath (nothing new for those of you follow their website), and that they plan to publish worldwide and already have some publishers lined up - No dates on beta or anything folks, sorry. Though I do know that I even got a nifty atriarch sticker out of the deal. Did I mention she is the lead designer of Atriarch? I sure hope so, because you know our motto at LtM - "We aim to please!"

At this point Raph and Bluebaron joined us again, and we rambled on about random junk for a short while - with lots of shouting that included something along the lines of "I DON'T WANT TO SEE THIS ON SOME WEBSITE TONIGHT." Lucky for you all, I'm deaf - oh wait...

I did manage to sneak in one "official" type question to Raph. "How much creative control do Sony and Verant have over Star Wars? Cause, well, you know…" Rest assured, loyal Jedi's, Raph told me that he's apparently "in a very unique situation" and that no creative interests will be compromised in the making of this game. I did a small happy dance.

We rambled some more, and eventually I got to make my way down to the hall for the next speech of the day that I was actually looking forward to, "Self-Authorship: Role-Playing Games and Avatar-Based Worlds." Geoffrey Zatkin of Verant/Sony (EverQuest, Sovereign) was first, and was followed by Matthew Ford of Microsoft (Asheron's Call). Both gave great speeches. Most notable were:

"…GM's as in game police…" from Geoffrey, and a small tidbit for you Asheron's Call players from Matthew, "The Virindi are the focus of the next major plot…"

Last on the panel to speak was some guy named Steve DiPaola of Stanford University (OnLive). I don't quite know how attached to reality this individual was (much like many of yesterday's speakers) as nearly his entire speech revolved around some chick named "Purple Tears" from one of his virtual worlds, and how she's some married housewife who likes to "play" different "more open" characters. He went on and on and on about this lame woman, and even showed us some of the "places" she's built in his virtual world, and how she gets in and out of relationships JUST LIKE IN REAL LIFE. Gee, Steve, that's amazing stuff, really. If I didn't know better, I'd have guessed he was her current "love interest."

The discussion part was pretty lame except for two individuals who have massive sized brains. The first was some kid in a suit who jumped up and plugged that kid who levels characters for you in Asheron's Call (No, I won't link to the bastard.) and asked about Verants latest EBay crunch (more about this in a second). The second was some dude who took about 20 minutes to ask a question no one understood, and the panelists asked for a one sentence "summary." His questioned asked if games like EverQuest could be used as Desktops or OS's. What a peen.

Time for a break! Instead of going upstairs, I rushed to the front of the seats to be able to speak with Geoffrey and Matthew. Introduced myself, and of course, they were quite polite when I mentioned the site. I asked Geoffrey if he felt that the massive amounts of time it took to get anywhere in EverQuest was reason enough for the EBay stuff, and also if the upcoming releases of some of the newer games was the real prompting for the recent EBay crackdown. He sounded genuinely sincere when he said that "No." it wasn't, and they simply felt that it wasn't in the best interest of the game - from a customer service standpoint, and a general one. He also stated that they weren't "scared" of any of the new competition, at all. Do I believe him? Yeah, probably. Like I said, he seemed sincere.

Next I jumped over to Matthew Ford, and complimented him on the approach that they've taken with Asheron's Calls customer service. You may not agree with some of their policies, but in all honesty, they are the most fair (which is probably why you don't see too many stories on them here, Twinkie scandals aside).

It's funny because standing up against "the man" becomes a bit more difficult when he suddenly has a face, a name, and a good personality. A thumbs up to both Geoffrey Zatkin and Matthew Ford for being very personable, friendly, and overall good guys who took the time to answer questions and give their real opinions.

You'll have to excuse me, as I skipped the last discussion again. My ass was hurting and I wasn't interested in it. Here is the program:

4:15pm-5:30pm
Games at Work: Simulation and Training
Long before the advent of the computer, games have been used for simulation and training. From chess to jousting, adults have used games as a means of learning valuable, if not lifesaving skills. These early military simulations are precursors to modern VR training systems. In the age of computers, simulators have been used in a variety of applications. Every commercial airline pilot learns to fly by essentially playing a computer game. Today's military is now using modified consumer games to train soldiers, and recently gave a grant to USC to create a military/entertainment hybrid lab dedicated to using entertainment technologies and techniques in simulation and training. This session looks at the use of game in a variety of workplace training scenarios.
Terry Hackett, Jellyvision, You Don't Know Jack
Mont Hubbard, UC Davis
Larry Tuch, USC Institute for Creative Technologies
Lee Milligan, NovaLogic


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