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GDX ’09: Day One Talks

April 26, 2009

GDX Coverage provided for Applied Game Design by Nate Berna

To continue my coverage of GDX, here’s my thoughts on all the talks I attended on day one of the conference. Day two is up next.

Presentation One: “Machinima Thesis Presentation” by Jim Sidlesky

This was my first presentation of the day and it was marred by two unfortunate circumstances, completely out of Jim’s control. The first being that during his entire speech, the computer console displaying “Four for Adventure” had it’s music playing really loud; and the second being that many people were wandering up and down the stairs making a commotion. One of these passer-bys happened to stop at “Four for Adventure,” seemingly completely oblivious that a presentation was underway ten feet over in the same room. So not only could we hear it’s music, but a non-stop stream of charmingly throwback SFX, which in the context of the presentation became incredibly distracting. Fortunately, Jim was able to do an admirable job presenting his thesis information. He argued that Machinima has ties to post modern-art and that it is an exciting new-media art form. And while I completely disagree, his points were compelling and the videos he showed were entertaining, even if they didn’t do a great job backing up his arguments. Overall due to the auditory distractions and nature of the speech, this subject could have worked much better as a round-table discussion.

Presentation Two: “Duchamp, Pollock, Rohrer: Games as the Next Avant-garde” by Ian Schreiber.

Ironically, this presentation exhibited some of the exact same examples of post-modern art that I had just seen down below at the previous talk. However, Ian’s talk was much larger in scope and covered a ton of ground including a brief recap of 20th century art, art criticism, and correlating many aspects of modern art to how perceive and design games. He brought up and responded to the age-old question of games as art, and decided that it had been settled long ago by famous modern art critics. I appreciated the fact that he mentioned this fact, especially because it does a good job of putting the argument to rest. Games are becoming more critically and widely accepted as important cultural and creative works, and it’s pointless to return to this argument over and over again. Its irrelevant and outdated at this point. While I sided with him there, I couldn’t help but disagree about his analysis of Braid. I thought describing the story as surreal, the game mechanics as Dynamism, and the visuals as impressionistic, and saying that all those elements together create something “that looks like art but isn’t art” is doing a great disservice to the game. While I see his point, I personally believe the elements create a sort of harmony of dissonance that is most certainly art. But I’ll save that discussion for the sake of brevity.

Presentation Three: “Dynamic Composition of Color for Concept Art” by Mia Paluzzi

I made my way back down stairs for this presentation by a SCAD sequential professor who has done work between both the game design and comics medium. To my pleasant surprised, all the auditory issues that plagued the previous session in this room had been dealt with. Unfortunately, the professor had suffered the misfortune of her lap top biting the dust earlier in the day, which meant no live demo. What we got instead, considering the technical difficulties, was an excellent makeshift presentation of the entire process from concept to research to execution. While I didn’t learn any new tricks with Photoshop, it was really interesting to see a professional’s process from start to finish. The way she mixed and matched tools and techniques to create an effective and smooth workflow was really valuable. Also, like many other presenters would inform us, she told us that she lucked into the industry by knowing the right people at the right time. Networking is important, friends!

Presentation Four: “Bones of my Bones and Flesh of my Flesh: The Genesis of Ms. Pac-Man” by Ian Bogost

Back upstairs, I was treated with a presentation that gave me a deeper understanding of Ms. Pac Man than I ever thought possible (much less necessary.) Ian gave his talk with a manner of speaking that conveyed great understanding and deep passion for his subject, which made the whole thing easier to digest for me, and more engaging. He began with a primer on coin-op machine history and then quickly delved into some deep theology behind the life and times of Ms. Pac-man. I thought at first the title of the talk was a bit over the top for such a charming history of one of gaming’s icons, but I was quickly proven wrong, and the title was quickly justified as Ian delved into some heady comparisons and connections between the Pac-Man family and the first book of the old testament. It was stunningly complex and well thought out, and backed up by a strangely appealing love for the subject matter, made for a much more thorough and interesting history than you could ever find about the subject on Wikipedia or Gamespot. If anything held the speech back is that it felt somewhat out of place at GDX, and not so much geared to art and design students. Looking back, however, it added some really off-beat and much-needed variety to the composition of the event.

Keynote, and Final Presentation: “Game Sound: If I Hear That One More Time…” by George Sanger

The keynote of the first day was something completely unexpected and excellent thanks to the incredibly strange yet infectiously upbeat personality of George Sanger. Unfortunately there wasn’t much info about him in the pamphlet, and the introduction was too brief to be very informative. On top of that, there was a pillar directly blocking my view of this eccentric man as he spoke. In other words, this guy was pretty much a complete mystery to me other than that I knew he had worked on a truckload of titles. It wasn’t until I googled him after the keynote that I learned he had worked on a whole mess of games that I had played growing up, which immediately led to a private geeking out in my chair. The presentation itself was a rousing manifesto on believing in your own creative vision and taking risks to do things that you love and that challenge you. While his speech was often unclear or confusing, it always seemed to connect into meaningful and often funny statements. It was a great way to end the day on a really strong note. It also gave way to probably the most quotable phrase of the conference “Sometimes you just gotta put your dick on the anvil.” True that, Fat Man.

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