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September 1, 2009

A Moment To Pause and Catch My Breath

Well, that was a bit longer hiatus than I was expecting, but there you have it. It was quite a July and August. Mixed in with an impossible workload, particularly in August, was a couple of vacations (including an awesome backpacking trip to Yosemite National Park, which required more preparation than I had expected) and a big deadline. Yeah, that deadline. It's amazing, particularly without having children, how easily free time can get sucked away before you realize it. So just about every spare minute I could find was spent working on my presentation, which has left very little time for any Vespers work recently.

I've given a lot of scientific talks and lectures before, and it's pretty rare to have to prepare my talk well in advance. On only a handful of occasions can I remember having to turn in my slides before I gave the talk, which (given my nature) means that I can and do work on the slides right up until the talk itself. Not so in this case, which I can understand for a conference like this. They wanted the slides just under a month before the talk, which is great in theory (they have the slides in hand, the talk is basically done well in advance) but painful in practice. Juggling a stressful time at work with vacation preparations (and vacation itself), along with finishing up my presentation before the deadline, was, in hindsight, a less than ideal experience for me.

But I will readily admit, despite it being completely against my nature, it's great to have my slides done at this point, with just some minor tweaking left to do. At the same time, though, I'm growing a little uneasy. With all of the talks and lectures I've given in the past, I'm very comfortable presenting material in front of a crowd – but nothing in the past really compares to this. To give a good talk, I think it's important not just to know your topic, but to also know how to present your topic. For me, science is straightforward. Interactive fiction, not so much. Although there are many people out there in the IF community that know this topic far better, I believe I have enough of a handle on it to be informative to those less familiar with the field. But I suspect lecturing about IF is probably similar in many ways to lecturing about literature, and the skillset for presenting material like that is largely different than for presenting scientific research.

For instance, particularly challenging for me is how to present and discuss specific examples of major points. It's one thing to discuss "games that incorporate meaningful choice" as a topic, but another to relate that to a specific game – at least without reviewing large portions of game transcripts and spoilering the hell out of it (while also boring the audience to tears). It's also tough to review specific examples with an audience this size. IF doesn't lend itself well to screenshots or brief demo movies. There's no bar graph to slap up on the screen and describe in detail.

In the end, I'll mostly discuss techniques and strategies from a fairly birds-eye view, and discuss specific game examples briefly without presenting too much detail. I think that should suffice, and if I do a good job of reviewing IF and showing some of its unique aspects, I'll hopefully arouse enough interest and curiosity to get people to try some of the games I'll be discussing to see for themselves how those techniques are implemented, and if they work for them.

The games I'll be discussing, to various degrees (some I only briefly mention, others I spend a little more time on), include Eric Eve's Blighted Isle, Adam Cadre's Varicella, Aaron Reed's Blue Lacuna, Emily Short's Galatea, the multi-author Alabaster, VIctor Gijsbers's The Baron, and Michael Gentry's Anchorhead. And by the way, the more time I spend with Blue Lacuna, the more I am struck by how massive and impressive that piece is.

I thought it would be tough to come up with 60 minutes worth of material, but (as is usually the case) I'm now wondering how I could possibly fit all of this material into "only" 60 minutes. I generally aim for one slide per minute, but the final number is actually 70 slides. That's too many, although there are at least a dozen slides in there that are quick intros, nothing more. I'll practice, and it should be okay.

By the way, in case you were wondering where a talk about IF might place on the Great Anticipation Scale at the GDC, a quick look at the schedule might offer some insight.



That's me, scheduled in the morning at the same time as the Wednesday Keynote Address.

Ah well. It's about MMO's anyway – and seriously, who cares about those these days?

4 comments:

Victor Gijsbers said...

Rubes, will you be making the slides public after the talk? It would be very interesting to see them. :)

El Clérigo Urbatain said...

I think you could add "Slouching Towards Bedlam" to that list. It is a perfect game for that topic, because you could explain its mechanic, fascinating the public without give spoilers. For me, it is the perfect example of moral choice in games.

Rubes said...

Sure, I'd be happy to make the slides public. Unless the talk bombs, then I'm tossing them out for good!

Slouching is a good one, yes. I probably should have included that one. I'll see if there's a chance to slip it in for a bit, but I'll have to see.

Aaron A. Reed said...

I'm glad people are still spelunking through the depths of Blue Lacuna! ;) If you have any behind-the-scenes / tech questions that might help with the presentation, let me know. Have a great time at GDC and keep bearing the SLC IF torch! (Just arrived in Santa Cruz this morning...)