Here we are, 4 days after the end of the Austin Games Conference. 4 days after the conference I swore I would live blog, swore that I would record every experience in that deft, witty format that only I could.
There was no way I could've made it more painfully obvious that this was my first real conference, was there?
Now that I've had time to regroup, read over my notes, and now that I've (in order of importance) updated my blog network, played Shadow of the Colossus and Blitz: The League, and spent quality time my fiancee, it's time to relay to the world exactly where $145 + Hotel/Food, 12 hours of driving, and a deep need to be part of an industry you have no experience in will get you when you show up to a Video Game Conference.
Please note that there are many parts of this trip report that have nothing to do with gaming. However, in the interest of keeping somewhat on topic in my own blog, I will do my best to work as many gaming buzzwords into the appropriate areas as possible.
Tuesday, October 25th - Day 0
Having arrived home roughly 12 hours before from San Jose, California, I was rearing and ready to get out of Oklahoma again as quickly as possible. After throwing my 2 bags and my fiancee's 14 bags in the car, we head off. An hour into the trip, we realize we have no iPod.
Now, for those of you who are not aware, what lies between Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and Austin, Texas is, well, not much. At all. No landmarks. No plants. No ELEVATION. Just flat. Pure, unadulterated, simple, flat. Combine that with NPR stations that have ranges that cover maybe an hour of driving in that trip, and you're stuck with AM talk radio or country the rest of the way.
Due to this, I now know that the US is being absorbed into Mystery Babylon.
Next time I need a plot for a apocalyptic RPG, the FIRST place I am going is Southern US AM talk radio. Plots are SO much more convincing when you know there are some people out there that actually believe them.
Both my fiancee and I being complete consumer whores, we took what ended up being a 45 minute total off-route trip to eat at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant. We had seen the commerical on cable television multiple times, and the thoughts of non-linear multiple-path burger decision chains (There's 36 burgers on the menu) piqued our interest enough that we felt we must playtest at the only location in the tri-state area.
I would compare the meal to the Capcom approach to video games. The opener (Fried Buffalo Chicken Wontons) set us up much like an opening FMV to a Capcom game; Hot and full of everything that looks to make a meal worth it. However, it fizzled out in the middle, with major control problems (god damn, those were some big ass burgers) combined with mediocre quality plaguing the meal. However, it ended strong with a Double White Chocolcate Coffee Freezie Thingy That I Can't Remember The Name Of, which can only be described as having enough sugar to quality as liquified meth smoothie and thus be a scheduled narcotic. We had no problems staying up through the rest of the boring, boring drive.
Got to hotel, checked in, went to sleep, not knowing that the next day would be full of DOOM.
And by DOOM, I mean promise and opportunity.
Wednesday, October 26th - Day 1
Woke up early, ready to start the day. Put on my networkin' boots and networkin' face, and set off on my way to the Conference Center.
Little did I realize, my hotel was a mile away from said conference center. Networkin' boots soon became MUST NOT CRY FROM FOOT PAIN boots. For all the pain, I was looking very, very sexy.
The Sex In Games talk, which I was there for, didn't happen until 4:30pm, so I had a day's worth of conference sessions to enjoy.
I had two tracks to choose from, the Game Writer's Conference or the Women's Games Conference. I found myself hopping between the two.
Talk 1 - Gaming the Narrative - Game Writer's Conference
By Marc Laidlaw, Valve
Wow. Valve. Half Life. When I think writing, I think Half Life. Mainly, the start to the first game, riding into the Black Mesa Research Facility on the tram and talking to the scientists. I didn't know how much of this was designers, how much of this was writers, and how much of this was just the hand of god guiding the team to make PURE UNADULTERATED AWESOME, but if anyone involved was going to speak, I was going to listen.
Writing is something I've been trying to work on lately. Judging by hit counts and compliments from strangers, I seem to be doing quite well at exposition. Fictional/character writing is something I'd like to work on, though, as writing the Great American Novel/Video Game will probably need to involve some of that.
Mark's talk pointed out quite a few of the things that, as a gamer, I probably subconciously pick up but don't really notice. Replacing item handoffs with plot points. Seemingly useless "performances" that actually inhance the game immersion. Looking at this from the perspective of the person trying to create it instead of the person trying to unlock it is very revealing.
The talk reminded me of the "New Games Journalism" genre that's been all cool with the hip kids lately, though unlike most of the overly flowery, VERY overly long jumble that plagues the genre at the moment, I really liked this.
Talk 2 - The Language of Games - Game Writer's Conference
By Hal Barwood, Finite Arts
Game writing from a film writer's perspective. Seeing I knew little about either, I could sort of see the ties he was trying to make, but I think I've got a lot more reading up to do before I really get it.
However, managing to call the Final Fantasy series "Cluttered" and First Person Shooters "Cheap" is definitely a way to get a room's attention. It's amazing what you can get away with when you
- Are right
- Have written a LucasArts game from back when LucasArts Games were worthy of being in the Lourve
Seeing that I was staying in the "Indie Game Developer" hotel (cheap and a mile away), I was also on the "Indie Game Developer" diet, meaning I got a hotel room with a kitchenette and planned on picking up cheapo stuff at the grocery store. I stomped (as that's the only thing you could do in the aforementioned boots) back to the hotel and sat down, only to get an email asking me to cover the Women In Games conference. Which was starting up again in 15 minutes. Stompstompstomp I go straight back to the convention center, stopping to get a sandwich on the way, which I eat as quietly as possible while in
Talk 3 - Team Building : How a Diverse Team Makes a Big Impact - Women's Games Conference
I got in about half way through this talk, long enough to see Jeb Haven's speak about diversity in teams. Unfortunatly between having to eat thru what parts of the session I saw then running back out to check email to figure out exactly what I'm supposed to be covering, I didn't get to take any notes. However, I remember it being a good sandwich. I mean, talk. Good talk.
Talk 4 - Alternate Reality Gaming (ARGs) - Game Writer's Conference
By Maureen McHugh, 4ORTY FREAKING 2WO FREAKING ENTERTAINMENT
The Beast (which spawned what is now 4orty 2wo), ilovebees, Last Call Poker, Hex168 etc...
Sure, I work on immersive environment hardware, but ARGs make ALL environments the game. Sure, you need technology to play them since there's such a massive amount of information over a massive area to be processed, but EVERY ENVIRONMENT IS THE GAME. There's no way to reproduce this using just technology. It is the next step.
And my god, it is HOT.
The talk was given by Maureen McHugh, who was part of the ilovebees team. The style... Well, imagine that Garrison Keeler has turned both evil and psychic, and has decided to get into your head and turn your world into an insanely weird Lake Wobegon. Records every minute of it, laughs, then shows up at a game conference and relays the wonderful experiences of torturing players lives in that dry, witty tone.
The talk contained an overview of how ARGs are initially produced, how they change as they are played (since the game can be redeveloped in real time with play events), and what lessons had been learned throughout games that were finished.
I counted at least 14 different kinds of awesome during this talk.
Talk 5 - Sex In Games - Women's Games Conference
By Brenda Brathwaite, IGDA Sex In Games SIG
with cameo by Kyle Machulis, the amazing man with no sense of shame.
(NSFW LINK) Also known as "How to simultaniously start and ruin your career in the game industry". (Already covered this over on Slashdong, click the link to check it out, but, once again, NOT SAFE FOR WORK)
Evening - Assimilation
Walking out of the talk with my Box o' Horrible Goodies, I stopped to absolute fawn over Maureen McHugh as I saw her walking down the hall. As I overflowed with copious accolades for speaking on a subject I have not the creativity nor the motivation to ever hope to work in, a ring of Dinner Plan Forming People surrounded us. Somehow, Box o' Horrible Goodies ended up strewn across the floor with me giving a impromptu instant replay of my part of the Sex In Games speech, and then suddenly I was on my way to a restaurant (far, far away), surrounded by these new and interesting "IGDA Writers SIG" people.
Apparently the IGDA has other SIGs covering things not involving Sex! I was as shocked as I'm sure all of my readers currently are.
After a yummy dinner of chocolate (mole) enchiladas, beer, and meeting nice new people, I finally had a clique to hang out with for the conference. A posse. A gang. Together, we would claim couches in the Attendee's lounge in the name of writing, and look at Andy Walsh weird when he would say something so absolutely, painfully British that every girl in the room would instantly attach themselves to him.
I began this conference as an engineer, with no formal writing skills whatsoever.
Now, I was an engineer who knew some writers. Truly, I had grown.