Monday, July 30, 2012

Star Talk: the Commentary Track

I'm trying something new: annotating a podcast I was a guest on. Read along with this Star Talk podcast all about the science of video games, and as Will Wright, me Eugene Mirman, and host Neil DeGrasse Tyson gap about stuff I'll let you in on the behind-the-scenes stuff. Each paragraph marked with a timestamp, so you can follow it.

0:016: Neil recorded that Audible bit in advance: he doesn't have to say it every show.

0:025: They didn't play this in the studio, which I was really bummed about. I actually listen to Star Talk, so I really wanted to hear the Beasties.

1:08: They didn't play any of the intro/outro music either: that's added in postproduction. This isn't just to punish me will less good music, it's so the voices are recorded cleanly, and the intro/outro songs can be chopped up and played however they need to fit.

1:20: On second thought, I really didn't mind not having to hear Pac-Man Fever again.

1:37: Things sounds a bit different than usual, because we're not in a radio studio. We're in a TV studio: video of this will be on the Nerdist YouTube channel and possibly even TV. The set was brand new: a scale replica of Saturn that was from Neil's own planetarium was over his shoulder. (Hmm: maybe I didn't need to say that Saturn wasn't to a 1:1 scale.)

2:15: If a joke falls flat in a podcast, does it make a sound?

3: 05: First actual question, but it's one I've answered often enough so I'm confident I won't screw up any dates or facts. Neil will throw curveballs aplenty during these interviews, so he's nice enough to start me off with a softball pitch.

4:29: Before I knew this was going to be on the Tee Vee, I wrote down notes, just in case I got questions about, say 1961 technology. I can't use them now, since people will see, but the act of remembering the salient facts and writing them down made them stick in my head. Same thing happened to me in school.

4:35: Mirman on fire with the moon-landing jokes. Neil explained before taping that he was the play-by-play man and Eugene the color commentary guy, leaving me the #3 man in the booth. My job wasn't to be smart or funny, since two immensely qualified people were taking care of those two skills. I like to think I succeeded in bringing neither humor nor knowledge to the podcast.

5:28: "We win. Astrophysicists win." -- Neil Degrasse Tyson.

5:39: "Don't talk to me about random starfields." -- Neil again, on fire.

6:00: I flubbed a follow-up answer about starfield declinations, and the producers were nice enough to, as Dave Coulier used to say, (Mimes scissor-cutting with fingers).

6:15: I just dropped used no-sound-in-a-vacuum to win an argument, giving me the Encyclopedia Brown prize.

7:07: If Eugene wants to play a game where you steal things from people... But it let me talk about the Magnavox Odyssey.

7:58: Anyone out there who doubted that Neil loved Astreroids, doubt no more.

8:06: I am still stunned that Eugene referenced the Vectrex, the Tom Bombadil of video game systems.

8:55: Me being a douche. Neil calling me on being a douche.

9:05: Technically it's "Sims," not just "Sim," but you could make a retconning argument that Neil was referred to Will Wright's entire Sim- ouvre.

9:45: The best thing about Tron: Legacy is the Daft Punk soundtrack: what you're hearing is their song Derezzed.

10:55: I will hold the line that my joke about the sequel to SimAnt being SimUncle is funny.

11:25: Neil works with a clipboard of questions and relevant facts. He recorded both parts of this interview in one day, and followed that up with two more podcasts, same day. And the day after that he interviewed GZA and Alan Rickman, although not at the same time. Imagine trying to do all of that while still succeeding wildly at being the amiable host who just happens to know everything in the universe about the universe. He had a lot going on, but you'd never once think from watching him it was difficult.

12:00: We all looked to stage left, which was where plain old $12 computer speakers were playing the interview clips. That audio was just so we'd know what the clips said. What you're hearing is, of course, the actual clip, not the tinny version we heard. BTW, I would happily sign up for a weekly podcast of just Neil and Will Wright talking shop about the sciences.

14:01: "All they notice is guns and shooting and loud explosions." I was really scared that I'd get this question, but Will Wright gave maybe the definitive answer that a shooter is more than just shooting.

15:50 Inside my head I was going "uh...um..." when Neil asked me what ludology was. Hey I know what to do, which has only fallen flat twice before: a joke!

16:30: You can't imagine how excited Neil gets when he finds out he can bring Star Trek into this conversation. No fake fanboying here.

17:18: What I'm going to say here is lovingly stolen from John Lanchester, who wrote about the GTA series and Red Dead Redemption in Slate.

18:18: Hey, we had a good talk about Missile Command, but it's missing. Maybe it's later. I hope they didn't cut it out.

19:35: I knew my trivia about Tetris being brought up into space by cosmonauts would come in handy one day!

19:45: Eugene is a Russian-American, so his Communism dig has quite a bit of grounding.

20:35: I keep thinking about Conker's Bad Fur Day when people mention the full title of the Super Mario book. Even while being a Nintendo geek, I'm drawn to deeper and geekier levels of Nintendo geekdom. It's sad.

21:00: For those who haven't played Sims, Eugene's joking about one of the only ways to kill a Sim: build a wall around the door of their bathroom, so they can't reach their food.

22:30: Aha! SimAnt is back!

22:40: Ludology and now myrmecology: we're learning some strange words today.

24:50: Now we get into the meat of the processing-power discussion. Me, holding all my notes about physics engines. Uh-oh.

25:10: I get some 1998-era Geek Cred points for mentioning Beowulf clusters.

25:38: AGAIN Eugene outgeeks me, slyly referencing a quasi-true rumor that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy PlayStation 2s because they were supercomputers. The truth was that "supercomputers" were banned from being imported to Iraq way back when, but then technology caught up so much that a mere PS2's guts counted as a "supercomputer."

26:05: Jeff has found the hidden passageway from processing power to physics engines!

26:50: What I said wasn't "robot" but "Lobot." Empire, yo.

27:31: "Everything I know is pre-1991."

28:40: Will Wright does a mean Simlish. Even though he pronounces "gibberish" with a hard G.

30:05: I keep waiting for Will Wright to say something, anything, that's not fascinating. It never happens.

30:10: Hold you tongue and say "apple" if you want to know what beeped-out word Will Wright said.

31:25: I do love this Beowulf system.

31:45: As soon as he said "facial expressions," I knew I had to bring up LA Noire.

32:40: Found a way to pile a purposeful Populous reference on top of an accidental Civilization reference.

33:15: What is the processing power needed to process a processing power question?

33:30: "Thanks, Neil, I'll just take over your sentence for you."

34:45: Here's that Xbox tech demo I was talking about. Remember: this was state-of-the-art over a decade ago. I may...may...have said this was a Nintendo demo instead of a Microsoft demo.

36:14: No geek can let a statement that begins "With X..." without completing it Spider-Man style.

36:55: In downtime between takes, I ask a production guy if he's played any games recently. He gets quiet for a moment. "I hurt myself and was in disability for six weeks," he said. "I played 341 hours of Skyrim." I took that as a yes.

37:50: As cool as the Skyrim cheese-wheel thing was, I think it'd make a great Mythbusters episode to see if it would work in real life.

38:50: Still wondering about the holy grail of computer rendering. I think I should have gone with a game that could make you cry, which is kind of a sidestep answer, but the one I normally hear.

Stay tuned for the second part, coming soon!