[This special report from Richard Garriott's fund-raiser for The UT Videogame Archive, held the night before the start of Austin GDC, was compiled for GameSetWatch by J., journalist and blogger best known for his Damned Vulpine weblog, and both a previous Gamasutra contributor and a stalwart of the Austin gaming scene.]

- Out under the trees, down by the river, far below the castle's view, they were making history. And, like a moron, I didn't bring my swamp boots.

The Event

Rain or shine, Tuesday's fundraiser on Richard Garriott's property, overlooking Lake Austin on the northwest edge of the city, was going ahead. History was the reason, the kind that could educate the next generation of game enthusiasts and possibly developers, at the brand-new UT Video Game Archive, at the University of Texas-Austin's Center for American History.

It had rained most of the afternoon, enough for event staff to raise tents over most of the grounds down close to the lake. I'd been here before, but the mud hadn't been so deep. But since I didn't have my boots, my nice white Adidas trainers will have to get me through the rest of the week at the Austin Game Developers Conference, stained brown. Still managed to have a good time, though my head's fogged and bullet points are all I'm going to manage from here on out. Apologies for conciseness.

The whole archive idea came about because local leaders approached Don Carleson, Ph.D., executive director of CAH-UT, about nine months ago. He's a political historian, not a gamer, but he immediately saw the utility in having an archive devoted to video games. “As I tell my students,” he told people gathered in Garriott's outdoor “Globe Theater” for the auction, “everything has a history, and everything belongs to history.” With an archive, Carleson said, students can use it to learn about the history of game development, and make new history with their own creations, made better by what they've learned.

Garriott said he was inspired to dive into his own trove of past documents and files from all the games he's made over the years, mostly at Origin Systems, by his friend and former colleague Warren Spector, now of Junction Point Studios, who stepped forward first with the need for “a place to put my stuff.” Technology continues to advance regularly, Garriott said, but game design methods seem stuck. Part of the reason, he said, is that most games don't have useful documentation, of the sort that he called “the Tolkien school” -- with extensive research and background material that the audience will never see. The design bible for Ultima VI, which he and Spector worked on, is probably revolutionary by today's standards, he said. “I'm learning things as I go through my stuff,” Garriott said. “There are things I used to do that I don't do anymore.”

- Spector, called to the stage before the auction, said games industry professionals have an opportunity that those in the movie business didn't have, to preserve their history. “Eighty percent of silent films are gone,” he said, many of them thrown out with the advent of synchronized sound, just like the materials used to make games are often thrown out when the game ships, or alternately, when the development shop goes out of business.

Plans for the archive absolutely include a public presence, said Erin Purdy, assistant director of CAH-UT. First things first: Plans are in the works for how to present it and where it will be housed, and materials are being collected, but they need support in the form of money. Thus, the fundraiser. Tickets to the event, which ranged in price from $75 all the way up to “Platinum” sponsorship of $5,000, were sold in amounts well above the original plan, Purdy said, but there were hors d'oeuvres enough for everyone who showed. She said a final total should be ready by the end of the week.

The Live Auction

Silent auction items were still being tallied at the close of the night's events. The major items were auctioned off on stage by Michael Hanley of National Gavel, who muddled a few pronunciations, but “Akalabeth” and “Kilrathi” would throw most people. They were, including the winning bids:

A bundle of Rock Band, with all four instruments, signed by the crew at Harmonix. $500 (to Gamasutra editor Brandon Boyer, yay!)

Prince Thrakath's Paw, foam rubber prop from Wing Commander the movie, preserved in glass by the Origin Museum. $600.

“Cowboy in the Storm,” a skyline photo of downtown Austin looking from across Lady Bird Johnson Lake with the statue of Stevie Ray Vaughn, taken by former Ion Storm executive and photographer Trey Ratcliff. $800.

Gaming immortality: Arkane Studios, Gearbox, Junction Point, Kingsisle, NCSoft, Pixel Mine and Spacetime Studios would put the winning bidder's name in a game they made. $2,000.

Two tickets to the Tabula Rasa party, thrown by Garriott on his property Sept. 5 (today!). Unlike Tuesday's party, he would let the winning bidders inside his castle. $2,100.

“Games As Art – Evolution of a Design,” a framed piece of the original artwork for the cover of Ultima Underworld, with preliminary sketchwork, by artist Denis Loubet and prepared by the Origin Museum. $3,000.

“Ultima: The Ultimate Collector's Guide,” a compilation of research by Stephen Emond, compiling the history of every Ultima game ever made, and signed by Garriott, Spector, and George “Fatman” Sanger. $1,250.

The Garriott Anthology, a plastic bin full of first-release boxed copies released by Richard Garriott and Origin Systems, including a rare Akalabeth copy. $5,000.

Two tickets to ride in the Zero-G suborbital space plane, of the sort used to train astronauts in low gravity but now privately available as a high-end touristy thing, coming to Austin later this week. $5,000 each, to two winning bidders.

A new-model Dell laptop, to Arkane Studios head Raphael Colantonio for the low price of $20. Hanley played a different game for this item, encouraging anyone interested to give ushers a $20 bill, and then call successive coin tosses. Colantonio won after the fourth toss, and he intends to use his new laptop on a round of showing demos to publishers. “I was short one laptop,” he said.