Sunday, March 11, 2001

Frog's WestWorld

Just up Congress Street, Frog Design held its annual classic, always the most extravagant and amusing bash. The line outside was half a block long, but people didn't mind as long as the drizzling rain was kept at bay. I passed the time (and the line) by taking advantage of the amusement outside. A real, live Texas Longhorn was standing patiently while his cowboys corralled folks to come on up and have their picture taken with him. Of course I couldn't resist, so I hopped right on top while he snorted and shook his five-foot-long head (including horns). Whoa there! Snap! And I'm off! "That'll be $10, please." Ah yes, in true New York style, nothing's free, and all the best tourist attractions have their price. I didn't mind - he was a dashing Longhorn!

The theme this year, SXSWestWorld, was much tamer than the last, "Circus of the Bizarre," but it was just as well thought out and planned exquisitely to the nines. Outside, greeting guests and making sure all the cowboys and girls were of age, Frog Operations Manager Vicky Faith oversaw operations in her cowgirl hat, chaps and bandanna. The 2nd floor was transformed into old Westworld. In rough, raw concrete space I found mismatched chandeliers and sheets hung on rope with stills of classic Western movies projected on them. The light breezes created by fans animated the faces and actions of these heroes to create a moving-image sensation. Onstage in the back, a honky-tonk western rock band played, while Satan's Cheerleaders acted as the backup group - singing, cheering and gyrating to the melody. Up front by the windows facing Congress, were promises of Armadillo races.

Upstairs on the 5th floor, Frog's main offices, was futuristic Westworld. Frog's-branded, cardboard-covered walls and soft sisal carpeting felt cocoon-like as it directed guests softly into various rooms. The main room, now devoid of all desks, chairs and office items, had a less alternative honky-tonk band. Water, beer, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish and pretzels were the light sustenance of choice for the night. IGS's Jon Lebowsky and I caught up on how life in Boulder and made promises to catch up during the Conference on World Affairs, where I'll be speaking in April.'s Will Kreth was just arriving with some friends, and before leaving I got to meet our one-time Denver contributor, Greg Wetterman.

One room was control central with a full computer system, a la 1950s mainframes with spinning disks and flashing lights. Along another counter were monitors that displayed the status of Delos, Gunslinger Feedback, Frog Feedback, Monitor Feedback and other stats of operations related to the "Westworld Power System."

I chatted with Frog Electrical Engineer Manager Larry Cotton and Media Director Craig Negoescu, who explained the elements behind this year's theme. Based on Michael Creighton's 1973 film "Westworld," which was a high-tech theme park where "nothing can go wrong," there were three "worlds" you could visit: RomanWorld, MedievalWorld and WestWorld. He pointed out that Frog's mainframe, which posted various statements, just flashed "Nothing can go wrong." We stood next to a NASA space suit and looked into another room, where Bender, the robot from Fox's TV show "Futurama" blinked at the people peering in. Built initially as a Halloween costume, the outfit features eyes and a mouth that are all midi-controlled. Meanwhile in the conference rooms, guests could play an entirely networked tournament game of "Unreal" - entirely retrofitted with a Western theme set in downtown Austin!