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November 6, 2011 3:09 PM   Subscribe

In 1992, influential game designer Chris Crawford left the game industry to further pursue his vision of interactive story telling. But not before giving a little speech at that year's CGDC. Topics include the future of game design, the genesis of art, and slaying dragons.

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

(previously 1, 2)
posted by hellojed (20 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
It is unbelievably fascinating to see what a gaming conference looked like in 1992. Also, you could probably rip Chris' audio out and play out as a talk from 2011.

If there's a silver lining here- and I think it's a huge one- it's that indie gaming is healthier than ever, it's never been more possible for a small developer to compile a game and get it out to a big audience. And I'm not even talking about Minecraft, but stuff like Fez or Desktop Dungeons. To say nothing of the renaissance in board/card/analog games.

So while AAA titles tend to crowd up the major media bandwidth for 'gaming', there's finally an audience and a faculty for smaller creators to get their product out the door and into eager hands. It's kind of a weird thing- Both ends of the spectrum have grown, but the kind of B- games are the ones really getting hit.
posted by GilloD at 3:36 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've emailed Crawford a few times, and actually sometimes gotten a response. He is great.
posted by JHarris at 3:46 PM on November 6, 2011

That's a truly TNG smock he's got going there.
posted by pmcp at 4:11 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Crawford's strategy game Eastern Front was the first time I recall being able and willing to completely visualise entire intricate sequences of future screens. I was dreaming that game for months. It was about as immersive an experience as you could get with early 1980s consumer micro tech. Well, that and Ballblazer.
posted by meehawl at 4:43 PM on November 6, 2011

His manner of speech reminds me of this part of American Tongues (skip to 5:25) and it's really distracting.
posted by Nomyte at 5:30 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Patton Strikes Back was one of the best most fun video games I ever played. (and absolutely deserves a reissue on iPad...)
Balance of Power 1990 was a lot of fun too though less satisfying.

I kind of with Chris Crawford hadn't got sucked into the Storytron stuff, noble cause though it was/is.
posted by Bwithh at 6:09 PM on November 6, 2011

Is Chris Crawford, the brilliant game designer the same Chris Crawford, the Intellectual Ventures patent-troll-tool?
posted by pashdown at 6:21 PM on November 6, 2011

pashdown - based upon some quick googling, it does not appear that's the case (I may be wrong, of course, but I don't think so. And I really hope I'm not wrong that would be a huge disappointment)
posted by symbioid at 7:06 PM on November 6, 2011

His manner of speech reminds me of this part of American Tongues (skip to 5:25) and it's really distracting.

Geek cadence, man. I'm having some serious flashbacks to every poorly-attended Dragon*Con panel I've ever spoken at.
posted by Theodore Sign at 7:12 PM on November 6, 2011

Here's a US PTO search on inventors named Chris Crawford. I think some of these are him, but I don't see an obvious link to Intellectual Ventures.
posted by zippy at 7:13 PM on November 6, 2011

First up - to be fair, Chris Crawford is not a part of Intellectual Ventures - he's someone who sold his patent to Intellectual Ventures, for reasons unknown.

Second up - that patent discussed by NPR - 5771354 - is by Christopher M Crawford. That Crawford has a few other patents, one of which was assigned to Verizon - so, presumably he was working for Verizon in the mid 21st century, which I don't think Storytron Crawford was. Also, the NPR story has Backup Crawford in Clearwater, Florida, whereas Storytron Crawford is to the best of my knowledge still in Oregon.

So, I think two different people.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:15 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you're looking for some background material on Chris Crawford, check out his personal site, Erasmatazz. Into the Night (a conversation with Jason Rohrer, another intelligent, creative gaming eccentric) makes a great follow-up to the Dragon Speech while the essay Sixty, in which he considers the failure of Storytron, tells you a lot about the man on a personal level. The good news is Crawford is about to return to gaming with a new version of Balance of the Planet (which I'm guessing he's using to fund his next attempt at cracking interactive storytelling).

The oddness of his speech is probably due to his hearing difficulties.
posted by Asimo at 8:17 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

(Middle of the 2000s, rather - not the middle of the 21st century. That would be high-quality patent trolling.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:28 PM on November 6, 2011

Jason Rohrer, another intelligent, creative gaming eccentric

urrrrgh. Rohrer as Crawford's heir apparent? I fear games design doomed.

Btw, I doubt that the patent troll Crawford is the same as the games designer Crawford. the vibe of the personalities don't match and the games Crawford lives in rural southern Oregon, not metropolitan eastern Florida like the troll Crawford.
posted by Bwithh at 9:37 PM on November 6, 2011

I have never been able to give Chris Crawford a fair assessment because his grandiosity is overwhelming, and his single-minded pursuit of interactivity as the only necessary or even desirable characteristic of video gaming strikes me as naive. I wish I could have experienced his earlier work without having poisoned my attitude toward him over his adversarial arguments against interactive fiction.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 10:21 PM on November 6, 2011

...If there's a silver linin but stuff like Fez or Desktop Dungeons. To say nothing of the renaissance in board/card/analog games...

For a second there I thought from reading that, that Fez has been released.

But it has not, and now you have made me feel sad.
posted by St. Sorryass at 12:46 AM on November 7, 2011

Hmm, I feel an analogy coming on - it's a bit malformed right now but I'll try and work it through to see if it collapses.

Watching the video with Crawford and Rohrer made me think that video games seem to have reached a maturity where there is an anti-establishment. You could argue for ages, pointlessly about art and video games but the fact that there seem to be a significant amount of people within the form (I'm not saying industry because perhaps the people who are questioning it the most aren't really part of it) that are questioning it seems to suggest a kind of level of self awareness and level of complexity that it is now such a massive pot of culture that unpicking it, theorising about it and deconstructing it is at least equivalent to the early stages of film studies or something like that.

Anyway, playing the Cactus game that was posted yesterday made me think of it like this:

Doom == Black Sabbath
Original gritty metal, counter culture.

Doom to now == Stadium Rock
Doom has been so emulated and everything has been stacked back on top of it. That current mainstream games could be seen as very sophisticated imitations, adding more pomp, less grit, less sincerity on to the pile. The model was perfected. Maybe Halo is Aerosmith?

Indie games == Punk
The kind of new wave of indie games seems to have a few camps, lots seem to be reactions or atleast alternatives to the type of games created under the studio model, partly because 1000 artists are too expensive. Equivalent to punk wiping the slate of all the overblown prog of the 70's.

Cactus, the Pirate Kart, Messhof == Sex Pistols
Buy the cheapest guitar you can find and lets start a band. (Ok, perhaps the sex pistols were more manufactured than that... maybe the Ramones are a better example of this?? I don't know enough about US punk.) There's a definite nihilism present in a lot of those games...

James Rohrer (and others trying to make gaming a meaningful experience)== The Clash
Buy the cheapest guitar you can find and lets start changing the way people think.


So it leaves me thinking that maybe pre-doom was a mixture of blues (text adventures), one hit wonder pop (arcade games), skiffle (the kind of acornsoft era, pre studios) and maybe Elite as the Stones... wait no Elite is definitely Prog, arrrgh. And there the analogy collapses under it's own weight.

Anyway, what I have learnt from this exercise is 1) never extend a metaphor beyond a sentence, 2) I don't know enough about either subjects to make a comparison, 3) maybe my point was whether these games are brilliant or not that they are still important because they show that computer games as a whole are out of their infancy, 4) I really need to draw that massive timeline on my wall that I have been meaning to for some time so I can sort out the chronology of everything. EVERYTHING.
posted by pmcp at 1:44 AM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't compare Jason Rohrer to The Clash because that would mean Passage is his London Calling. If people are still playing Passage after 30 years, I'll eat my hat (concept should be accompanied by execution).
posted by ersatz at 7:50 AM on November 7, 2011

ersatz, true - I found passage really annoying but perhaps in sentiment... and I like to believe there's better coming from him.
posted by pmcp at 8:53 AM on November 7, 2011

All I know about Chris was what I learned in three days at Atari Sunnyvale in April or May, 1981, when my co-worker and I were brought to speed on de re Atari, and the 400/800, which was near release then. It was great fun.
posted by nj_subgenius at 6:21 PM on November 7, 2011

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