Archive Acquires Steve Jackson Papers

The UT Videogame Archive is pleased to announce the acquisition of approximately twenty boxes worth of material from Steve Jackson. The materials, originating from Jackson’s Austin-based paper game publisher Steve Jackson Games, were transferred on March 26 from the Austin History Center, where they were previously housed. The materials included games published by Steve Jackson Games (SJG), press releases, and the company’s newsletters.

Why, you may ask, is the Videogame Archive interested in materials from a paper games publisher? The most immediate answer lies in the close affinity between paper-based games and videogames, an affinity brought into sharp relief by the passing of Gary Gygax this year. Jackson’s influence on Austin’s videogame community may not be quite as legendary as the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, but his games were mined for videogame ideas, and at least one game — Autoduel, published in 1985 by Origin — was based directly on Steve Jackson’s game Car Wars.

Comparison of a Car Wars advertisement and the box cover of Origin's Autoduel, both of which use the same artwork by Denis Loubet. Not surprisingly, Loubet spent time at Steve Jackson Games, first, and then moved on to Origin.

Furthermore, not a few of Austin’s videogame developers got their game design start at Steve Jackson Games. One of those developers was Warren Spector, who began working at SJG while pursuing a Ph.D. in Radio-TV-Film at UT. Others include Allen Varney, Denis Loubet, Aaron Allston, Jeff George, Steve Beeman, Bill Armintrout, and David Ladyman. So many developers got their start at SJG that Spector has been known to dub Jackson as “the Father of Austin Gaming”.

Finally, in the late 1980s Jackson found himself playing a central role in the formation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, when the Secret Service raided the SJG office and confiscated several key computers and files. As chronicled in Bruce Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown, it took several months for Jackson to retrieve his much-needed computer and data, forcing him to temporarily lay off his staff and close up shop (Sterling himself, it should be noted, counted Jackson and Spector as his friends in the early 1980s, before he found success as a science-fiction novelist). The ensuing attempts to recover his equipment, data, and lost time figure prominently in EFF’s early activities.

With all of this history swirling around Steve Jackson Games, we are pleased to consider this first acquisition as the start of a long-lasting relationship. We’ll be sure to post news of further donations from Jackson in the future.

Warren Spector Donates 20 Boxes

Another of the archive’s first donors made his first donation on March 18, as Warren Spector generously handed over twenty boxes of documents, games, hardware, and artifacts to the archive. The donation included 14 linear feet of documents spanning Spector’s career from his days at Steve Jackson Games to his tenure at Ion Storm’s Austin studio, roughly a fifteen-year period. Spector also gave the archive’s library of games and hardware a big jolt by donating over 100 videogames and 5 console systems (with all their assorted peripherals included).

Some of the more fascinating documentation include a series of design documents for a game Spector then called “Shooter” — later, this game concept evolved into the much-beloved Deus Ex. There are also copious amounts of Spector’s correspondence, notebooks, and marked-up design documents that all show Spector’s intense design process at work, as well as the colleagues and associates that helped him hone his vision.

Then there’s the juvenilia. Part of Spector’s donation included files his mother kept in New York City, where Spector was raised. Aside from revealing many interesting facts (such as Spector’s participation in his school’s Glee Club), many of the schoolwork files document Spector’s early and profound fascination with motion pictures and storytelling in general. It’s no wonder, after discovering that Spector took film courses at Horace Mann School and focused on film studies at Northwestern University, that Spector chose to pursue graduate work in film at the University of Texas at Austin.

And once he arrived in Austin, well, that’s where it gets really interesting. We’ll have to leave it to another time to finish that story, because first we need to arrange and describe the materials to make them accessible for research. Besides, it will take months to thoroughly examine everything he donated this time around.