Attention, Joan Rivers. Heads up to the E! Network. Pay attention, producers of the upcoming Academy Awards pre-show. I am about to show you how to do a Red Carpet right. Because everything is better with video games.
Last week, I consented to perform what I believe is the lowest act of journalism practiced in America. I agreed to work a spot on a red carpet. I had agreed to stand on the non-carpeted side of a red velvet rope and grab my five minutes with each person who traipsed down the carpet.
I said yes, but I vowed I would not be a cliche.
I would not ask people what they were wearing. I would not ask inane questions about how it felt to be nominated, nor would I flatter anyone by telling them how good they looked.
Some of these pitfalls were not hard to avoid, because my red carpet was the red carpet for the Interactive Achievement Awards. A video game awards show. My kind of people would be walking down this aisle, video game people, people who might not have much to brag about what they're wearing.
On Thursday night, at the Red Rock Casino before the 13th iteration of these awards, I took my position, sandwiched between Wired's Chris Kohler and freelancer John Gaudiosi, standing about midway down the length of velvet rope on top of a piece of paper marked "Kotaku.com."
I had my DS with me, because I wasn't going to ask these people many questions, not if I could help it. No, I was going to play a video game with these people, a who's who of video game designers. Each designer would get one try to play before moving on.
My game would be Scribblenauts. It was almost chess, which I figured I could play one side of, allowing these world's finest designers each a turn to contribute a move to the opposing side. But chess is not really a video game. Neither, technically, is the menu screen of Scribblenauts — a virtually blank canvas upon which any concrete nouns you type into the system will -poof!- be rendered on that screen. But Scribblenauts would at least allow me to do something quick and easily comprehensible with these designers.
Each developer would give me a word, contributing their noun-turned-virtual-object/being to the menu-screen landscape of the game. What strange menagerie would these people make?
What would a session of a game played by a dozen or more of the world's best gamemakers in rapid succession be like?
1) Denny Thorley
First up was the tall, bald Denny Thorley, president of Day 1 Studios and a day one guinea pig for my experiment. I explained the concept and ventured into the start screen of Scribblenauts, which was populated just by a boy named Maxwell, some land and a blue sky. Thorley requested a "football." And so it was that a football appeared next to the boy. That was it. I ushered Thorley along so he could answer someone else's questions. I was done with him.
2) Don Daglow
Next was a white-haired fixture of these video game red carpets, the affable Don Daglow. He is credited with making the first baseball video game and was one of the first Intellivision programmers. This gaming veteran eyed my experiment and requested a "car." A car appeared, as inanimate as the football. Slow start. But, Daglow said, he would tell me the story of this game: "They are going on a big long drive, a drive to the football game!" (Like a drive to the end zone, get it?)
3) David Adams and Tim Campbell
Two of the guys who run Vigil Games were next. They had just released Darksiders and, perhaps because I was beginning to doubt the entertainment value of my experiment, I actually asked these guys questions. That was a whole other kind of silliness. I think these guys had played Scribblenauts before, because when it came time to play, they asked me to summon Cthulhu. The winged, bipedal Lovecraftian monster appeared and began waving its clawed hands at Maxwell. The Darksiders guys had just made my experiment interesting.
4) Randy Pitchford
I knew of Randy Pitchford's absurdly high Xbox Live gamerscore. I had seen his company's forest of arcade machines. This next man, owner of development studio Gearbox Software, makers of Borderlands and other games, was a gamer. Randy is a jovial man and for a reason I would not fully understand until the next day, he just about jumped out of his shoes exhorting me to add to this Scribblenauts scene: "George Washington! He won't tell a lie!"
The next day, Pitchford would end his talk at the DICE gaming summit, of which the awards are a part, by pondering the portrait of Washington that appears on the dollar bill, a notable merging of artistic and commercial success.
George Washington was less successful in Scribblenauts. Cthulhu annihilated America's first President.
5) Richard Garriott
The man who made one of the most important massively multiplayer games as well as enough money to launch himself to space on a Russian rocket, Richard Garriott, was next. He asked for, surprise, a "rocket." A tiny one appeared and clunked to the ground. Kind of a downer. But at least Cthulhu didn't crush it.
6) Ted Price
Ted Price runs Insomniac Games. The man plays. And whatever he asked for was so exciting that I forgot to write it down. I bet Cthulhu killed it, whatever it was.
Update From Ted Price: I asked for the Titanic first because I had just seen David Gallo's awesome talk on ocean exploration (and figured the Titanic would squash Cthulu). But Scribblenauts wouldn't accept it. So then I asked for a cephalopod (again, inspired by Mr. Gallo). And Cthulu killed it in about 2 seconds.
7) That Game Company
Jenova Chen, creator of poetic video game Flower, showed up with his colleagues. I had a gaggle of designers in front of me all at once. Jenova knew a flower wouldn't stand a chance against Cthulhu. He asked for a sandstorm. Not in the game. Snowstorm? A cloud appeared and snowflakes dropped. Briefly, it appeared to calm Cthulhu.
8) Mark Cerny
The legendary designer who has played a hand in everything from Marble Madness and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 to Ratchet & Clank and Uncharted would be receiving the equivalent of a lifetime achievement this night. I was making him play Scribblenauts.
He asked for Clank. Doubtful, I told him. This was not a Sony-made game. So he changed his request and asked for a robot. And wouldn't you know it, the robot that appeared looked like Clank. It wouldn't be Cthulhu that destroyed this robot. It was Jenova Chen's snow. A few snowflakes shorted circuits and the thing blew up.
9) Ron Fish
Next was Ron Fish, who I didn't know well. It was suggested I look him up later. And true enough, I know this man's work. He makes music for lots of video games. Ron told me he'd be bad at this. He asked for a "snowball." A snowball appeared. Nothing else happened.
10) David Crane
The following towering presence, pictured higher up, was David Crane, a co-founder of Activision, the inventor of Pitfall and one of the all-time greats in so many ways.
David Crane didn't know Scribblenauts. But he knows how to play games. I explained the problem of Cthulhu running roughshod. David Crane summoned a T-Rex. The T-Rex fought Cthulhu. The T-Rex killed Cthulhu.
11) Garry Kitchen
David Crane's business partner in new venture AppStar Games, Garry Kitchen followed Crane. He wanted a "pumpkin" and so he got one.
12) Jessica Chobot
IGN reporter Jessica Chobot was walking the carpet. Maybe if you're an attractive reporter you get to do these things. Jessica wanted Siouxsie Sioux, lead signer of Siouxsie and the Banshees. Many spelling attempts later, it didn't work. So she asked for a "goth chick." I typed in "goth girl" and a little girl appeared.
Jessica was thrilled. The T-Rex wasn't and killed the goth girl.
13) Ken Lobb
When you work a red carpet, public relations people help you out by ushering folks to you and whispering a hint about who they are (that second thing doesn't happen if the ushered person is Harrison Ford, I believe). I was told the next person was Doug Lowenstein, longtime president of the Entertainment Software Association. But today, Lowenstein was looking an awful lot like Microsoft and former Nintendo game design exec Ken Lobb. Ken and I chatted about Perfect Dark, a game he's been affiliated with in both his Nintendo and Xbox jobs.
He wanted a pterodactyl. We thought it would fight with the T-Rex. Fate had other plans.
14) Jay Mohr
The comedian and longtime host of the Interactive Achievement Awards, Jay Mohr was next. I asked for a noun. He asked for "terpsichorean," which can mean "dancer." Problem was, Scribblenauts had just frozen. I blamed Jay Mohr. That's what he got for trying to be clever.
We re-booted the game. No luck with "terpsichorean" and Jay was being pulled away. He had to get ready to host. He didn't want to leave. I told him I needed a concrete noun. He wanted to know what that was. Something you can touch, I said.
So he asked for anti-matter. Clever. We got a blob of blackness and Jay walked on.
15) Evan Skolnick
Second to last was Evan Skolnick, lead writer of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. Time was ticking so he made it quick. "Zebra." So I had a Zebra and antimatter.
16) Patrice Desilets and Corey May
And finally we had two of the chief creators of Assassin's Creed II, Desilets and May. Whatever they asked for is lost to memory. What I can tell you is this. It was sucked into the antimatter. So was the zebra. And as they walked away, Scribblenauts was left barren.
And then, the awards show went on. My work at the red carpet was complete. I challenge others who work any red carpets for any awards show to find a way to have more fun or get better journalism accomplished. I don't think it can be done.