The Fat Man gives more than 60 boxes!

On August 26, the UT Videogame Archive visited George Sanger’s North Austin studio, where we acquired over 60 boxes of The Fat Man’s archival materials. After George and I finally finished packing up the UT van, there was hardly room for me in the driver’s seat!

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With such a sizable donation, it should come as no surprise that we acquired a wide range of materials that document several phases of The Fat Man’s life and career. Most importantly, the materials in this donation (as seen in the blue boxes at right) documents Sanger’s work and progress through various videogame audio assignments. These boxes contain audio recordings at various stages of the game audio composition process, as well as correspondence with the client developers, musical notation, game demos, contracts, and other files. The recordings come in several different formats: CDs, DAT tapes, ADAT files on S-VHS tapes, cassette tapes, and reel-to-reel tapes, among others. Some of the games documented in these boxes included The 7th Guest, “information warfare” training games developed by the Air Force Information Warfare Center, NASCAR RacingTanarusU.S. Navy Fighters ’97. The boxes also include unreleased recordings made for Microsoft,TrilobyteTed Shred, and the television producers of King of the Hill.

Besides the documentation covering The Fat Man’s audio work, the donation also contained personal files (one such box intriguingly labeled “Early & Pre-Fat Man”), files and soundcards from Fat Labs (Team Fat’s non-commercial venture aimed at standardizing soundcard technology), albums and unreleased tracks recorded by Team Fat, documents produced during the first two Project BBQ meetings, press clippings, publicity materials, and even some film reels that Sanger produced while a USC film student.
The sheer amount of this particular donation has been a great gift from The Fat Man to the UT Videogame Archive, but even more encouraging is the quality of the material. With The Fat Man’s audio work files, in particular, researchers will be able to study the game audio creation process at a high level of detail. And many of the auxilliary activities that go along with that creation process will be observable as well in the records.

Archivist’s Statement

Since December it has been my privilege to work as the archivist for the UT Videogame Archive here at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.  I’ve been busy collecting materials for the archive, organizing and creating inventories of those materials, meeting with donors and interested researchers, all the while learning more and more about videogames, their history, the documentation that tells their stories, and the communities that surround themselves with games.

As archivist, I’ve helped establish fourteen collections, including collections for the three videogame professionals who have made this archive a reality: Richard “Lord British” GarriottWarren Spector, and George “Fat Man” Sanger.  Richard donated a copy of his first game, Akalabeth, as well as design documents from the Ultima series, and other documentation from his days at Origin, while George has transferred several boxes of material that include rare game prototypes (notably one for Son of M.U.L.E.), an early product proposal for Wing Commander, and scores of other records documenting the Fat Man’s music career in games.

Warren has donated a large corpus of materials that covers his days at paper-based game companies such as TSR and Steve Jackson Games, to his work at Origin on such games as Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss and Wings of Glory,through his award-winning (and sometimes tumultuous) tenure at Ion Storm, where he designed two Deus Ex games and produced a game in the Thief series.  The materials thus far in the Warren Spector Papers include design documents, fascinating correspondence, press clippings, fiscal budgets and other internal studio documents, clue books for games Warren produced, game conference presentations, over 100 games, 6 gaming consoles, and even school assignments from his childhood in New York City. However, these three collections in particular will see more and more materials added to their inventories as Garriott, Spector, and Sanger transfer their records to the archive.

Elsewhere, the UT Videogame Archive has acquired a wide range of materials from various sources such as videogame marketing professionals, working game programmers, paper-based game veteran Steve Jackson, game journalists, magazine collectors, and even a UT doctoral student who happened to have some NES instruction booklets lying around his home.  Besides these fascinating booklets, I have picked up dozens of Atari 8-bit games on 5.25″ floppy disks (including Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Zaxxon), several PC games and console cartridges, games published by Steve Jackson that were later made into videogames, a collection of over 170 gaming magazines, a few pieces of gaming hardware, gaming posters, unique point-of-purchase promotional materials, and an array of game-related artifacts.

But again, this is all just the beginning.  We are in the thick of building this archive, and we truly appreciate all donation offers.  We would love to be able to accept all offers on the spot, but, due to certain considerations, it may not be possible to accept materials as soon as they are offered.  However, I am eager to meet or correspond with anyone interested in donating not only game software and hardware, but also documents, art, digital records, promotional materials, and business records related to all things videogame.  The archive is also seeking not only materials from game designers and producers, but also documentation related to gamers, gameplay, and advocacy organizations related to the videogame industry.

Meanwhile, I have established working relationships with the UT School of Information as a way to find solutions to the constantly-changing challenges of digital archiving and preservation.  In fact, a group of students just completed a semester-long project in which they ensured the long-term preservation of a selection of digital sound files from the Fat Man’s collection, by migrating the files from their unstable original media (CDs, DAT tapes, cassette tapes) to the school’s digital repository.  Ranked #1 by U.S. News & World Report in the area of archives and preservation, the School of Information’s graduate program in archives is on the cutting edge of digital preservation, and we hope to learn from the program’s faculty and students as much as they will learn from the incredible materials that comprise the UT Videogame Archive.

Students Present Projects from Archive

On April 30, two groups of three students each gave presentations on projects they had conducted over the past semester. The projects involved archiving and insuring the preservation of digital audio files in George Sanger’s papers, now housed at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History as part of the UT Videogame Archive. To everyone’s great delight, Sanger was able to attend the student presentations. I picked him up from his studio in North Austin and accompanied him to the School of Information, where the students are pursuing graduate degrees in archives and information science, and where the presentations would take place.

Both groups gave impressive presentations. The first group, which included Robert Gates, Paul Stenis, and Megan Jorgeson, presented their work on archiving files Sanger had collected in his leadership capacity for the GDC Game Demo Music Marathon sessions in 1998 and 1999. The second group, comprised of Amy Armstrong, Caitlin Murray, and Martha Horan, presented their work on audio files from Sanger’s GamePlay Music project. Both groups ingested the files from Sanger’s collection into a digital repository maintained by the School of Information.

The School employs DSpace as their particular repository architecture. Those interested in the projects can view some of the students’ work (though not the actual audio files themselves) at the School’s DSpace repository, where a series for George Sanger has been established. The students’ own reports on the projects are also available there.

Screen-shot of George Sanger Papers homepage at the School of Information's DSpace digital repository. The numbers in brackets near the bottom of the page indicate the number of files preserved in each series.
Screen-shot of George Sanger Papers homepage at the School of Information's DSpace digital repository. The numbers in brackets near the bottom of the page indicate the number of files preserved in each series.

After the presentations were finished, Sanger distributed party favors, which included posters and flyers that were used in the promotion of GamePlay Music, to the entire class. The poster featured a portrait of the Fat Man that was used in one of the portrait galleries in The 7th Guest, a game for which Sanger composed the music.

Sanger also made sure to thank the students for their hard work and professionalism, especially their careful attention to privacy and IP concerns (n.b., that careful attention is why you won’t be able to access the audio files on the school’s digital repository). The Briscoe Center would like to publicly thank the students as well, because their hard work will play a major role in ensuring that Sanger’s digital materials, along with all the digital materials in the UT Videogame Archive, are preserved and accessible in the future.

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.

The Fat Man Donates 7 More Boxes

George “The Fat Man” Sanger made his second donation, which included documents and audio recordings from his time before videogames, to the archive. Most interestingly, many of the materials from this donation document the Fat Man’s transition from a more traditional musician to a musician who could manipulate sound through then-emergent MIDI technology, a transition that served him well as he began creating compositions intended for playback on computers and game consoles.

Elsewhere, his donations so far have included an ultra-rare copy of a test cartridge for the ill-fated Son of M.U.L.E., detailed plans for a state-of-the-art studio home for Sanger and Team Fat (the studio was never built), press clippings of the Fat Man in magazines and newspapers, a collection of game audio demos, audio CDs submitted to his GamePlay Music project, an “Emu” egg given to Sanger by Chris Crawford, and a handful of game audio books and videogames.

Copy of Son of M.U.L.E., donated by George Sanger and now part of the Sanger (George) Papers, UT Videogame Archive. Notice the EA logo in the yellow inset, top left.
Copy of Son of M.U.L.E., donated by George Sanger and now part of the Sanger (George) Papers, UT Videogame Archive. Notice the EA logo in the yellow inset, top left.

Perhaps most interesting from his pre-game days is a collection of open reel audio tapes, some of which Sanger (before the Fat Man persona was born) produced as part of his “Reel Mobile” business venture. Reel Mobile offered a mobile reel-to-reel recording studio for the greater Los Angeles area, and, along with the tapes themselves, Sanger donated clippings of Reel Mobile advertisements placed in local publications and promotional photographs featuring Sanger, cigar in hand, posing next to his stack of mobile recording equipment.

We can only wonder what the Fat Man will donate next. Whatever it will be, we’re always looking forward to our next trip to Fat Studios.