The UT Videogame Archive at AGDC 2008

Sure, it’s been over a year since the Austin Game Developers Conference (AGDC) took place in September 2008, but that’s no reason why we shouldn’t now talk about all the fun we had there, right?

Held at the Austin Convention Center from September 15-17, and organized by the same people who put together the big GDC in San Francisco every year, AGDC offered a less frenetic venue and more focused program for game developers all over the world. Attendees could also visit the trade show to view new games, products, and services. Within this sleek commercial bonanza, the UT Videogame Archive set up a modest exhibit booth, with the primary goal of showcasing some select materials and explaining the archive’s purpose and mission.

Two conference-goers play the Brown Box at the UT Videogame Archive exhibit booth. Photo courtesy of Omar L. Gallaga and Austin360.com.
Two conference-goers play the Brown Box at the UT Videogame Archive exhibit booth. Photo courtesy of Omar L. Gallaga and Austin360.com.

Interested conference-goers also lingered around the booth to view some of the interesting items on display. A series of Warren Spector’s design documents from Deus Ex caught many gamers’ eyes. Chris Crawford himself was pleased to see original issues of his Journal of Computer Game Design periodical (and boy, was it our pleasure to meet Crawford, too!) A Mythic game developer was happy to see an original demo reel of Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss, one of his all-time favorites, playing on my laptop. Naturally, the demo was created before the game shipped and consequently it sells the game’s highlights point by point, as if that were necessary now. A copy of George “The Fat Man” Sanger’s first composition, “March of the Penguins” (written for Thin Ice), and several examples of full-color concept artwork also garnered an ever-shifting crowd. One gamer even mused about his memories of M.U.L.E. upon seeing the image of the archive’s Son of M.U.L.E. prototype cartridge, hardly aware that it was the unfinished sequel that touched off his reverie.

And if all this activity wasn’t enough, I managed to meet a few game developers, industry folks, and collectors who expressed interest in the possibility of arranging donations of vidoegame-related materials to the UT Videogame Archive. Without naming any names, it would be safe to say that some acquisitions will result from these initial meetings.

All in all, the conference was a successful event for the UT Videogame Archive. We met many conference attendees interested in learning about the archive, talked to possible collection donors, made our presence known to a few media outlets! None of this would have been possible without the generous hospitality of the AGDC organizers, Think Services– a big thanks to them for finding us a spot on the trade show floor. Also, things would not have gone as smooth were it not for the help of one of the archive’s strongest supporters, Bill Bottorf. With the archive surrounded by such good people, it could be nothing but a success.

Let’s Welcome some Newcomers: Kelley, Walton and Vogel

Since this past summer, the UT Videogame Archive has continued to acquire new collection donations as we spread the word about the archive throughout the game developer community and the public at large. Three new donations have us particularly excited about the archive’s future, and they come from three high profile developers: Heather Kelley, Gordon Walton, and Rich Vogel.

Heather Kelley has worked for Human Code, Ion Storm Austin, and Ubisoft, among others. She began her career working on interactive toys such as Redbeard’s Pirate Quest and notable games such as Thief: Deadly Shadows and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, but recently Kelley has established herself as an educator, advocate, and practitioner of experimental and non-traditional games. Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center offered Kelley her first teacing position in 2008. She has also consulted for the Hexagram Institute for Research, co-founded the Kokoromi Collective (http://www.kokoromi.org/), and chaired the Art of Play conference. At Champlain College, she currently leads a group of students designing a game that aims to persuasively present and model alternatives to violence against women.

Kelley’s donation to the archive consisted primarily of documentation of the development of Redbeard’s Pirate Quest, including design documentation, builds and various components of the computer-generated portion of the toy, as well as video of play testing sessions with children. The donation also included notes, artwork, and design documents from her work as level designer on Thief: Deadly Shadows as well as other files related to her development of games for girls and women.

The archive’s presence at the 2008 Austin Game Developers Conference put us in touch with BioWare Austin’s two veterans of online game development, Gordon Walton and Rich Vogel.

First, on November 3, 2008, the archive acquired over 6 boxes of files from Gordon Walton. These files included alphabetically arranged reference files that document Walton’s interest (or just plain curiosity) in conducting business with a myriad of videogame-related companies. Most of these files date to the early and mid-1990s when Walton owned and operated Alliance Interactive, a publisher and software developer specializing in military-style simulation and strategy games like Harpoon Classic ’97. But scattered throughout this donation (which also includes design documentation, correspondence, post-mortems, and advertising/marketing materials) are records from Walton’s work with Digital Illusions, Kesmai, Origin, Maxis (these latter two, of course, being Electronic Arts companies), and Sony Online Entertainment. A particularly intriguing document stood out from the rest: a lengthy design document for Wing Commander Online: Privateer, dated 1999.

Most recently, Walton and Rich Vogel made simultaneous donations in late February. Walton’s second donation to the archive featured several complete sets of audio recordings from GDC sessions, dating as far back as 1999. Vogel, on the other hand, primarily donated a hefty-sized collection of Game Developer Magazine and PC Gamer issues, among other titles. These magazines, though, are “just the tip of the iceberg” to quote Vogel. We look forward to seeing what materials may come from his days at Origin and Sony Online.

Let’s all welcome the archive’s new donors and thank them for helping preserve videogame history!