Sanger's image-building, and hard work, paid off. A 1997 Wired story by Gary Andrew Poole compared Sanger to another hit songwriter: "Michael Jackson has his Neverland Ranch; The Fat Man has El Rancho Gordo, a $900-a-month rented house. Michael has his glove; Fat has his thrift-store handmade Western suits inspired by the late Nudie, Elvis's designer." (Correction: The suits were authentic Nudie originals.) "Michael is into being white, yet he's not; The Fat Man is into being a Texan, yet he's a Jewish guy from Southern California. And they have each sold more than 20 million CDs."
Today, though, you might plausibly suspect The Fat Man has departed the hardcore gaming field. His humongous list of credits includes no recent AAA titles; today's high-flown game music composers, with websites far more polished than his own homespun page, seldom mention as influences either Team Fat or any other early game composer. The audio legacy of gaming's early days survives mainly in that obscure offshoot of the demo scene, chiptunes.
Yet that suspicion is wrong. Sanger, shrewd self-promoter that he is, has promoted himself into a loftier sphere of action. More than a composer, The Fat Man has escalated to conference host and General Expediter of Audio Progress. For 10 years, Sanger, along with Linda Law (Mrs. Fat, in the figurative sense) and friend Teresa Avallone, has hosted the Project Bar-B-Q Annual Interactive Music Conference. Staged each October on a ranch in the hill country west of Sanger's hometown of Austin, Texas - this year's conference took place at the Canyon of the Eagles - Project Bar-B-Q has earned a fine reputation and, through its many workgroup reports, has shaped computer audio development. The conference website lists Bar-B-Q's many successes.
"Teresa Avallone and I dreamed up BBQ as a way to serve the game audio community without having to be too well-behaved about it," Sanger says. "The idea was to put a bunch of very smart guys into an informal, open situation, one that was conducive to warmth and inspiration rather than politics and competition. They could then put their brains together to solve problems that were too big for any individual to solve."
Avallone handles logistics; Linda Law books speakers and formulates topics, and also handles legalities and finances. Sanger himself is MC and raconteur: "I give the welcoming talks, run the roundtable, touch base with everybody during meetings, that sort of thing. I set a mood in which people are ready to do the things they dreamed of when they were kids. I try to personify a spirit of effective idealism."
Sanger believes Project Bar-B-Q has helped establish and strengthen the community of computer audio professionals. "I think a lot of our work has increased value for consumers, and reduced the likelihood of a crash or an incompatibility experience - although we still have a long way to go in that department. It's a humbling experience to realize that Microsoft's new program to certify computer gear as 'High Definition Audio' came directly from BBQ. Nobody ever was in a more powerful position to affect the industry than they are while at the conference.
"I'm proud of having participated in a positive, helpful part of the 'coming of age' of this industry. When I'm sitting around BBQ watching the magic happen with all those great people ... I can't even describe it. I sincerely don't think anything could possibly be better."
Well, we'll see about that. In November of 2006, the Bar-B-Q team initiated a second conference, Project Horseshoe, an invitation-only think-tank for "an elite group of brilliant minds working to positively influence the art and science of game design." As shown by the list of Horseshoe topics proposed ahead of the conference, "Horseshoe is aimed directly at solving game design's toughest problems ... which would lead to better games, a healthier industry, better quality of life, and games that are more helpful to society."