April 13, 2008

High School Poet Laureate

I believe that there is no photograph from this year's GDC more accurate and entertaining than this one.

That's Erik Wolpaw and Kim Swift, who showed up at GDC to collect a dozen awards on Wednesday night and give a post-mortem on Friday afternoon. Expectations were low for the Portal post-mortem, or, as I called it -- once, accidentally -- the Portem post-mortal. Those things tend to be pretty non-revelatory, especially for games like Portal and BioShock which had already been thoroughly dissected. Still, we all liked Portal, and Erik Wolpaw would probably say something funny, so we went. Along with a thousand other people.

Expectations were met, and the content of the post-mortem adhered to a predictable and forgettable formula. Wolpaw probably did say something funny but I don't even remember what it was. What I do remember is a thousand people bearing witness to the most awkward presentation -- I'll go out on a limb -- at any GDC, ever. Swift and Wolpaw arbitrarily traded points ("Alright, now Erik's going to talk about...") It didn't really matter who was speaking, because the points in their entirety were right up there on the Powerpoint slides, and they just read them aloud. They struggled with embarrassing audience questions: one guy took three minutes to ask why they had changed the colour of the portals from early proof-of-concept footage, and another reminisced meaninglessly about Narbacular Drop, as if trying to subtly establish his Portal fan credentials as superior to everyone else in the room. Swift and Wolpaw weren't particularly powerful speakers, either. Not that I blame them, especially given the size of their audience.

In fact, I don't blame them for anything. I loved their presentation, albeit for slightly backhanded and patronising reasons. The entire aesthetic was straight out of high school. Sloppy Powerpoint use, stupid questions, over-reliance on notes, hesitant delivery. Not to mention they're both pretty young to begin with. Gabe Newell was probably in the front row grading them. Actually, that's kind of what I'm doing.

Above all, Wolpaw and Swift seemed exactly the kind of pairing that could only possibly come about via random assignment in a high school class. The guy, who's quiet and sort of nerdy, but is weirdly funny and spends the whole project loading the Powerpoint presentation up with Google Image Search results and internet memes his partner is too cool to understand. The girl is much hipper and more sociable, though not as smart in that obsessive-nerd way. She will be at a party this weekend while the guy is playing Starcraft. Separated from their cliques, they both are out of their element in having to deal with the other and would never have otherwise interacted if not for the intervention of Vice-Principal Newell.

It doesn't map exactly. But if you couldn't tell, I really want it to. Because it makes me laugh.

I love that uncomfortable, arrested-development chemistry somehow being transported to this professional, grown-up setting. The protagonists are elevated to superstars at a time when they couldn't be less prepared for success. It feels so wonderfully wrong that more people showed up to this amateur hour than any other GDC session. Portal is a solid game, and that's how they got them in the door, but seeing Swift and Wolpaw hold court to their appreciation society was like a celebration of the cheerfully, unapologetically amateur. It was great.

In closing, I would like to apologise. To everyone.

1 comment:

L.B. Jeffries said...

Ha...nothing makes me cringe quite like a bad public speaker. I see a huge collection of both in grad school, from judges who read the writing off the Powerpoint to Arthur 'The Paper Chase' Miller leaving the crowd hanging on every word. It's not really something that induces anger, not many people have the public mojo and it's not something you always hold against them.

They did a pretty sharp interview with Gamasutra. Maybe they come across better when there isn't such a crowd.