Monday, October 10, 2011

How to boost confidence

Or, what I did over Columbus Day Weekend. As I mentioned last time, I was at a convention from Friday through Sunday, and a very enjoyable convention it was too. The organiser is a guy I know, and he works hard to make things go well. This convention, his first full-blown convention as organiser, was no exception, and he did very well. Frankly, I think he got more right than people who've been doing it for years.

Among the things he got right: game sign-ups. There was a good long submission period, and then a good long period of waiting while everyone got to look at who was running what and when, which  let people plan. Then, and this is the important part, the sign-ups were opened in a first-come-first-served format. The general pattern in the Bay Area is for games to be done as a shuffler, wherein you make your selections and you might get into a game or not. This leads to stress, and uncertainty, which make things less fun. Knowing what you're playing in before the con is a LOT easier to deal with. Then, there was a lot of communication, which meant lots of promotion of pickup games (and that was a popular option), and reminders of interesting events such as what passed for a seminar track this year. Normally, there are seminars at conventions, and they cover many subjects. I tend to be a seminar person at shuffled cons, because they don't require signups and the associated stress, which means I enjoy myself more. As an added bonus, I learn things from luminaries such as Kenneth Hite, Ryan Macklin, Leonard Balsera, and others. At Big Bad Con, the seminar track was a late-night thing involving sitting in the bar, in a tight group of geeks, and getting Ryan Macklin and Lenny Balsera (two of the mouthiest men in the games industry) started on game design. People kept them lubricated, asked them pertinent questions, and one person wound up somewhat of a focus because she pitched her concept, and had her gameplay torn to pieces. On the other hand, she got a huge amount of good advice, suggestions for media to look into, and I suspect we'll see a very good game come out of it. I certainly hope so; her core concept is interesting enough that there were several people in the group wanting to play the game. I'm pretty sure Ryan Macklin was one of them. The whole atmosphere of the con was friendly; it being tiny compared to the "major" cons helped with that, but everyone there was determined to make it good. One of my room-mates for the con was volunteering; when he was bumped from that at one point, he was disappointed.

And, of course, I ran my game. That was Saturday afternoon, and, well, I wound up a net two players short (which was OK) after three of the signups didn't show, and one person crashed, and then character choices led to my one planned challenge having to go by the board before we even started. This meant I was improvising from minute one, and I had a four hour slot. I also had my silly principle of "I will run this game standing up" to contend with, since I didn't want to be hopping up and down constantly, nor did I want to be hidden by my "screen" of a couple pages of notes and the character sheets for the characters chosen (since I'd gotten organised and actually printed out two copies of each character I'd made...), and so I was distinctly glad I'd elected to wear hiking boots. I managed, despite running blind and for complete strangers, to create a reasonably well put-together storyline, and the players gave me enough material and ideas for another two games in the same series. This is looking likely to become a long runner; at every con I attend, I can be reasonably certain of having a couple of these games I can run, and getting enough new material for some more of them. When I asked my players to be gentle with their feedback forms after the game, they were astounded that I'd just finished running my first ever con game. Heck, my third time ever running ANY game, although I didn't tell them that.

Unfortunately, there were some niggles with the con. Food was... well, it was decent enough, but I'm not sure it was worth the price being asked. Next year, I'll see if I can't get hold of something MRE-like to cut costs. I didn't really have a good way to let people know that I had two open seats, since there wasn't really a way to drop games. And despite the excellent communication, many people were somewhat out of touch because there was no wifi in the con building and many of us were unable to get cellular data inside. I found that a mere three feet from the door, I was getting full speed HSPA (what my phone calls 4G, although really it's 3.5 at best), whereas inside, where I got signal at all it was a degraded EDGE signal. Voice was fine, as was SMS, but data was reliably absent. The one location I could get data signal, I didn't need or want it, as I was busy running a game!

Overall, though, this was one of the best convention experiences I've had, and has made me very excited for next year's Big Bad Con 2. Even though Ryan Macklin is moving to Seattle and Lenny Balsera is reportedly moving to Texas, so the seminar track will probably be quieter, more sober, and considerably less foul-mouthed.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, it was good to get to talk with you, though it was brief. I was hoping to talk more, but on Sunday I was pretty tired and had gamer-tunnel vision.

    To be fair, BBC never intended to have a seminar track. I just emailed Sean with "So you know, I'm going to tell people I'm going to be in the bar on 10p Saturday with Lenny to talk about game design. You're warned." He responded with "You want that on the official schedule?" I said "sure; I'm more likely to keep drinking if you do."

    It's typical for a play-con to have no seminars (and no dealers' room -- again, another friend of Sean's talking with him about trying something). Things like Go Play NW and similar models are 100% play. I tend to like those because they are pretty chill, and I take off at least one session to eat and enjoy company.

    Hope to see you at the MiniCons or other events before I flee for the north!

    - Ryan


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