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GDC 2007: Into the Vortex Page Two

The universe is infinitely big, and completely mind bending. Gabez investigates!

Back in the web developer’s alcove, Jake showed me the ultra powerful Telltale tool that they use to make the games. It’s apparently very simple to use, and works a little like Flash. The white-house interior was loaded up with a couple of clicks, and Jake panned around like a mad man, showing off all the different angles. The camera disappeared into Sam’s hat, then flipped around and settled in a corner of the room. Click click. Max was started on a walking animation, moving around as Jake dragged the mouse cursor.

“You hate games, right?” he asked me. “Well, whatever. There’s this musical number in episode four, and I helped choreograph it. Took about a week... but it was fun.”

Jake Rodkin, hard at work (artist's impression). Jake Rodkin, hard at work. (Artist's impression).

“Can you make people talk in slow-motion?” I asked. It wasn’t the most exciting question, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say. “Sure,” said Jake. “I can make anything happen. I don’t do the animations, though. That’s all done out there” (he gestures vaguely to the other side of the office). “In fact, sometimes I reuse animations. Like when this agent is pointing at the sign, it’s just part of his talk animation, cropped and looped.”

I said how much I loved the opening sequences to Sam and Max. “Oh, that was easy,” he said. “Everyone thinks it’s really artistic, but actually it’s crude and simple. All I did was change the textures for the car and Sam and Max to green or blue or whatever in Photoshop. The buildings are from the street, repeated.”

Did someone tell you to make this? “No, actually it was more like me saying: I have this idea, you’re going to let me do it. And they did. But originally I wanted the camera to swoop down like at the start of the LucasArts game. They told me not to make it too similar, though.”

Then Tobacco swivelled in his swivel chair, aiming himself in my direction. “There’s an awards ceremony tomorrow night,” he said, one eyebrow raised. “We could get you in if you like.”

And so a plan to attend GDC was made. All that I needed was three articles written in the last year, and a letter from my editor. I took three of Remi’s articles because I didn’t have my own (“You cannot use airing of grievences”), and edited my name over Remi’s, then printed them off. The letter was slightly harder: Jake assumed the role of editor, but there was the question of making it look professional enough so that the GDC people would think I was a real journalist. “We’re going to have to make a very good letter,” said Jake, casting a critical eye over my shabby appearance.

A fresh Mojo logo had to be made in Photoshop, with Jake dribbling Photoshop effects over it with deft clicks of his mouse. “It’s intentional that the logo looks like the elephant man’s face,” murmured Jake as he worked. At last it was done, printed, and signed. I was ready to enter the world of professional journalism.

WE BUILT THIS CITY...

The greatest lie ever told. The greatest lie ever told.

For those who don’t know, GDC is the Games Developers Conference, and it’s been annually taking place in San Francisco for the last twenty or so years. It has lots of talks for those in the industry, as well as two expo halls full of companies showing off. The first task was to find the bloody thing. I felt a bit like Bone, wandering, lost and alone through the mean streets of a strange new place. In fact, if you ask me, Bone has it bloody easy – at least he had a map.

At last I found the right building, the right escalator and, then, the correct room. A man promptly devoured my articles and letter, exchanging them for an impressive looking press badge and “goody bag” (in fact filled with lots of adverts). I spent a little time wandering around, absorbing the video game culture. There were lots of pale, fidgeting young men with bad standing postures walking around, so I fitted right in.

The one thing I couldn’t work out was: who is all this aimed at? Two expo halls, packed with stuff, but for the life of me I couldn’t work out what they were for. Selling stuff? I couldn’t say. There was one floor devoted to company recruiting new people, though, and I went over to see what it was all about. LucasArts had a booth, so I began talking to one of the workers who was posted there...

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INTERVIEW WITH LUCASARTS
Just for kicks...

Hello. What’s all this about, then?

Just give us your resume.

Um...

Do you have a resume?

No, no I don’t. Can I ask some questions?

Sure.

About games?

Oh, no, we’re not authorised for that.

Oh, okay. So. LucasArts animation. That’s in Singapore, right?

Yeah. You want to work there?

Not really. Why are you recruiting?

Because we’re expanding... looking for new people.

But why are you doing that?

Because we’re... LucasArts. We’re a games company. We make games.

Ah, so you’re recruiting people to work on a new game?

Are you trying to interview me?

No. But thanks for the information.

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INTERVIEW WITH A TRAMP ON THE WAY TO GDC, THURSDAY
Completely accidental.

Hello. My friend told me that you’ve been to London?

Hehe yeah, that’s about right?

Did you like it?

Yeah, it was summer of 73, I think, I saw... hey, look at this! (He began stroking the side of a building.)

Very nice. Shiny. Made out of brass, I daresay.

Yeah, hey, if I could chip it off...

Yes, you could melt it down into coins, perhaps.

Yeah! A blow-torch... Nice and quiet... (he begins mumbling)

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INTERVIEW WITH GDC LADY, MAIN EXPO HALL
She looked like she might be my friend.

Excuse me: do you know where Telltale games are?

Tit-tat?

Telltale.

Tall teal?

Telltale.

Oh, Telltale, I’m sorry dear.

It’s my accent—

No, your accent's charming, pumpkin. Let’s see here: no, Telltale aren’t listed. Do you have a contact you can phone?

Oh, yes, I suppose I could... hmm. Busy here, isn’t it?

Oh yes. I’ve been doing this for twelve years, and this is the busiest year by far… E3 really helped us.

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INTERVIEW WITH JAKE RODKIN, SEEDY ALLEYWAY
"You fail at interviewing"

What, in your opinion, is the secret of a happy life?

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What’s the next big thing for the games industry?

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Is there a God? If so, how do you explain all the bad things in the world?

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THE AWARDS

Some guy with long hair kept winning, and he made all these jokes speeches that had the audience guffawing into their knees. Funny thing is, I saw him running down the road later that night, crying.

I was originally sitting in the front row, but I had to move far back when Jake arrived (“We failed to get good seats,” he said). When I was at the front, though, I was pretty near the people who were nominated for the awards. Telltale had their own table, and I think Miyamoto was around somewhere; he got an award, anyway. Also, the man who invented Tetris won an award for inventing Tetris. I was tempted to sneak up behind him and lick his ear. Whilst I was waiting, some guy came up to his friends, panting in excitement, saying: “Oh my God! I just shook Tim Schafer’s hand!”

It wasn’t a bad view at the back, though. I was in between Jake and a guy called Daniel, who told me that he designed the skeletons for characters. He lived in Berkely.

Thumb The man who invented Tetris.

I forget most of the award show, except that Sam & Max popped up with some neat video spots. It was cool to see them playing to such a large audience. I later found out that the dialogue had been co-written by Heather and Jake, by which I mean Heather wrote it, and Jake got one gag in. Still, it was a good gag. I forget what it is, but I laughed. It was very funny.

By-and-by, Tim Schafer came on, which was, I think, the highlight of the evening (after the Sam & Max shorts). He made some funny comments about a pantheon being a mix between a panther and a lion, and hosted part of the awards. Telltale were nominated for both audio (Great Cow Race) and writing (Sam & Max: Culture Shock), but didn’t win anything. Still, well done for the nominations; lovely stuff.

The awards ended suddenly, and everyone got up to leave. I shuffled around in a confused daze, ending up near the Telltale team. Emily and Doug were talking about some Steve Purcell art that someone was carrying in their car. I then left the building and met Chris Remo. It was awkward because neither of us knew who the other was.

"You know... Gabez!" said Jake. "From the Internet!"

"Actually, I’m from England." I said. "And... books."

A big thank ya to Telltale games for letting me disrupt their office for an afternoon. Special thanks to Emily, Jake and Doug who showed me around and gave me all the information I needed.

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