I’d heard a lot about IndieCade over the last year, so I made a point to submit the Choosatron in hopes to experience it myself. They actually ended up taking the Choosatron sent for judging to E3 for people to enjoy, and it was later accepted into the festival! I arrived a full day early so I could spend time with a close friend, get settled into my AirBnB, buy a few groceries, and watch animal shows on Netflix. Then began my first day, which was actually IndieXchange, a business oriented meetup before IndieCade began.
I didn’t know what I was getting into, but then I hadn’t signed up for anything at IndieXchange, just wanted to see what it was all about. I met two of the organizers, Kelly and Juan, not long after it began and they fell in love with the Choosatron (of which I had one on my person). I fell in love with them of course, because they were supremely genuine and kind people. They got me in the ‘speed dating’ for game projects called Game Tasting. I never like to say no to opportunities! My friend Eryn from San Diego came with me to help with all things Choosatron. I learned my lesson from GDC, NEVER GO ALONE.
It was a good, familiar setup. About five tracks of panels going on ranging from VR, to Publishing with Sony, Intel reps, learning how to Market Yourself, and so on. In the larger open space was Game Tasting, filled with those tall round tables for people to congregate at, but each had a number, and each game had close to two hours to hang out and show off their game to anyone interested.
Choosatron had the third and last shift, right after my friend Rusty and his Astro Duel game (which is EXCELLENT local multiplayer fun). We setup and I fell into the groove explaining what it was, the writing platform (which I was actually showing off for the first time), it’s implications for writers, kids, education, and all that. The response was extremely positive, and the cycle of smiling faces walking away with long strips of black speckled paper fluttering behind went on.
They selected Choosatron as a Best Of project and to stick around. This turned two hours into…five I think? Oh no complaints! I got a LOT of play with a lot of people, and that’s why I went in the first place, but it definitely felt like GDC, and we were getting really tired. Eryn was amazing, listening to my pitch over and over, incorporating the things she learned into her own pitch when I was busy or running off to the bathroom / get water / food.
The highlight was after the mayor of Culver City spoke at the event, talking about how much she loved having the festival there, and trying to convince us all to move there and have babies. Got a little weird at the end, but she saved it by telling us all they were getting fiber installed. YES. Anyway, Kelly and Juan (being awesome) made a point to bring her by the Choosatron. I’ll back up to mention that we had run out of paper since I didn’t expect to have a table. I wasn’t going to go back and get any, but K & J fought us to run out and get more, so Eryn (also being awesome) went out and did. The mayor came by (no paper still), and we showed her an earlier play as I explained all the lovely things about the project. She was about to walk away when Eryn, like a shining knight, burst in with rolls of the thermal gold. At the last possible moment we were able to let her play (which I got on video!) and get a true reaction to the Choosatron. It was a pretty wonderful moment.
It wound down, we met up with Bronson and Saleem of KO-OP Mode (and others), and ultimately ended up at Glitch City to game dev hangouts! Jaime and Ryan of Max Gentlemen were there whom I got to stay with and befriend in Chicago recently for Bit Bash, and even more friends came out of the woodwork! It was the perfect start to all this madness.
IndieCade – Day 1
The Choosatron didn’t have a slot to set up on the first day, which I’ll explain more in day two, but I always had a battery-powered one with me to demo for people. This was the day to wander and try as many other games as possible, while constantly reuniting with many of the wonderful friends I’ve made in this community over the last year. I also finally got to meet a few folks in person, and it is always a pleasure to put faces to names.
Eryn and I began our day at the Nintendo tent, because it was the first tent visible after a long, hot walk. There was a new eSport style game in the vein of Joust, which I quite enjoyed once they changed the game to a more skill based mode than the first play. I’d always wondered why no one took the Joust mechanic and played with it, as it maintains a top billing on my list of favorite arcade classics.
Then I noticed the Shantae game by WayForward and got really excited, because the team had been in touch with me during my Choosatron Kickstarter, Adam Tierney specifically, to offer to write a story for it. We got to know each other a bit online, and they sent me some fantastic DuckTales posters and the like when I mentioned I was a big fan of it (and by extension them for doing the HD upgrade). I tweeted at Adam to see if he was there, but instead their Creative Director Matt Bozon was there! We got to know each other, he got to play the Choosatron (as well as his son on day two!), and it turns out he used to live in Minnesota not far off from myself. A pretty fun start!
Most of the day was a blur of friends and catching up on the latest wonderfully weird in the gaming world, and spreading the joy of interactive stories, and I finally spotted Anna Anthropy in person, who wrote one of my favorite Choosatron stories, A Very Very VERY Scary House. She looked startled when I yelled her name and made her come over to meet people, but hopefully it was nice to hear how much everyone has loved her story.
Four of us did get to play Grow together, a wonderful board game with an incredible aesthetic. It was Robin Arnott, his girlfriend Aviva Pinchas, Eryn, and myself. Alexander Bruce watched on, trying to twist how we played with carefully placed comments, and of course his hobby of people ultra-literal about everything. What a fantastically weird character he is…
I managed to win the game, but it was really close, and the depth of the gameplay through simple and approachable rules made it a win for all of us. Another round could have easily gone to anyone else after the first learning curve.
As evening started rolling around we clumped into various groups to decide a dinner spot before heading to the Sony party. One of my new favorite people was Nika Harper, a high energy woman who you can’t help but have fun around. I was quite flattered at how excited she got about the Choosatron, maybe superfan #2 behind Adriel!
Speaking of, Rami and Adriel finally appeared, so extra hugs were distributed. Rami, with his keen eye, spotted one food establishment with nary a soul in it, after we had wandered by packed restaurants. After a set of decent sub sandwiches, we headed to the Sony party, got inside with a minimum of fuss, and I smiled at the open, and well-stocked bar.
It was a very different crowd in this party, with higher-ups, many of the speakers, and generally well established folks in the industry rubbing elbows. Of course I still had a Choosatron with me and brought it out. Frankly, it’s the best business card I’ve ever had, and gives me a reason to talk to people instead of sitting in the corner drinking. Adam Boyes, the Vice President of Publisher and Developer Relations and IndieCade keynote speaker, loved the Choosatron!
He loved it so much that when I mentioned pre-orders, he just handed over cash to make sure he didn’t forget. After a stunned moment, I took another sip of beer and chatted away. It’s funny meeting people like this with a project that can’t use their help in a direct way. It actually takes off a lot of pressure, as I have nothing to lose, it’s just fun. We’ll see what happens when I have something that CAN be published, but hopefully I’ll have already done most of the foot work. I also met Dave Lang, President of Iron Galaxy. This was a tall man, with a voice that probably hits the resonant frequency of large objects. He was a brazen, hilarious person that had a funny way of asserting answers to questions you never asked.
As things wound down, a bunch of us had dropped our various backpacks and luggage in a pile, standing around it like a bunch of horse-drawn carriages protecting our camp. I remember having a long conversation trying to help a random developer figure out if his game about beards was racist / sexist or not. He was a nice guy, heart in the right place, but weirdly fixated on certain issues that didn’t seem to come into play with his concept, and maybe that’s what he needed to hear. I hope he figured out what he needed and is on his way! A few delicious Bulleit Rye Manhattans, a few beers, and it was time to call it a night.
IndieCade – Day 2
The first time-slot for the Choosatron was day two, 4 – 6pm. The Choosatron placed in the Table Games group, which I didn’t agree with, mostly for practical reasons but also philosophical. Some of the practical being that this category is for the creators to walk players through their game, explaining the rules, mediating when there are questions…you know, things you need for board games. This is of course unnecessary with the Choosatron. The second issue is that as a result of the first, instead of a permanent setup for play it was put into time slots, so I couldn’t just put out the Choosatrons, and check in here and there. The last, and most practical, is that who would think to wire the Table Games area with power? Other than me, no one evidently. I have a few criticisms on how IndieCade seems to handle game makers in general, and not just myself and I intend on providing them constructive feedback. Thankfully most come down to lacking information when it would have been the most helpful, which is a very solvable problem, especially if game makers help them define the issues. I also want to take a moment to say how much I LIKE IndieCade, their mission, and how fun it is from the perspective of an attendee.
We started out a bit slower on day two, heading to the Firehouse to meet Saleem for lunch, and catch up with my excellent friend Colleen Macklin, whom I met in Gotland, Sweden as another speaker. She had spoken on day one, which I’m still kicking myself for missing, but at least I got to see her, and meet her friend Renee. Huge hugs, rapid chatter catching up, and finally promises to collaborate on something together before goodbyes.
Saleem, Eryn, and myself headed across the street to a great fried chicken place, and ate away the hangovers. I got to know Bronson particularly well during Fantastic Arcade a few weeks ago, and it seems this trip I’ve gotten the same pleasure with Saleem. I really love this guy. KO-OP Mode is a group I’d be trying to worm my way into if I lived in Montreal, but even from afar, I plan on making them work with me somehow.
There was a lot more standing around not being sure what to do. I’d played most of the games, though found some great ones I hadn’t, and I had all the stuff for the Choosatron table hanging on me like an anchor. I was also stressed out as IndieCade had misplaced the Choosatron I sent for judging, and it had become quite clear they wouldn’t find it before my time-slot. It also didn’t help that despite reminding them on day one that I would need power at my table, it hadn’t happened, and it took more pressure to make it so. There were some missteps in how they handled it, and some weird frustration and attitude on their part towards us, despite each problem being entirely in their court. We did talk it over, and I explained my issues including the way Eryn was treated when trying to find out the status of the lost unit. They were very apologetic and worked to immediately correct the issues, and gave us all the help we needed to finally setup and start presenting the Choosatron. I just wish we couldn’t gotten to that place sooner.
We had our table, sadly one Choosatron short, but the couple of hours went by quickly and people had a great time. I definitely met some interesting people I hope to stay in touch with. After our time, we broke it down, packed up, they found the Choosatron (frustrating timing, but better than never) and headed back to the AirBnB to drop it all off. There was a little time before Night Games started so I cleaned myself up a bit and had a wonderful lay down before hitting the streets once again and returning to a completely transformed space. Night Games had begun…
The area had completely transformed by the time we returned. I found lots of friends quickly, most of whom seemed much more relaxed in the cool night air, with dance music pumping and LEDs flashing. ROCKETS ROCKETS ROCKETS was played in the background at the stage which went particularly well with the DJ.
We ran into Nika while also find a wonderfully weird tongue simulator game, so Nika and I gave it a try! It took a little while, but we managed to accomplish this…
I visited a large LED edged triangle that supposedly reacted to a headband reading your brainwaves. Well, it isn’t that I doubt that it was reading brainwaves, I just couldn’t find any correlation between the LEDs and anything I was thinking or feeling. Looked pretty though.
There were special chairs you could sit in where you’d place your hands on two convex discs which read your heartbeat. Above was a red light that would pulse along with your heartbeat. It was actually quiet relaxing. I think there is definitely something worthwhile to exposing patterns and information of our own bodies, if only to explore our own reactions to it.
I finally got to play Classroom Aquatic (on the Oculus). It is a hilarious concept, where you play the part of a dolphin in an aquatic high school, and your dolphin teacher announces a pop quiz. Using the motion capabilities of the Oculus, you are meant to look around, and cheat off the papers of other dolphin students. You have three erasers you can throw at other students to get them to sit up and show more of their worksheets, but the teacher can catch you throwing or even looking and put a check on the board. Five minutes for ten questions! I managed to get a ten out of ten at 4:36, so felt pretty good about it. I hope they are able to expand the game as planned. It is fantastically quirky and clever.
The folks from Push Me, Pull You made up their own game where you get a bunch of stickers, and run around trying to put them on each other without them noticing. It was absurdly childish and fun. 🙂
After Night Games concluded, I was dying of hunger so convinced a large crowd to follow me to In-N-Out Burger to feed. Most people were planning to head out to a party in Venice, but Bronson, Eryn, and myself were too tired for heading that far out, and opted to buy a case of beer and walk to Glitch City, which was full of plenty of great people. We goofed off for a while, then headed off to sleep.
IndieCade – Day 3
It was a slow start I’ll admit. I slept in, and didn’t head to IndieCade until about one pm, and the Choosatron Table Games slot was at two. On the way we ran into Rusty and friends, so turned heel to enjoy some Indian food for lunch. It was wonderful. Then we manned the table for a few hours, with THREE Choosatrons (yay!), wrapped up, and relaxed a bit.
I headed to the Firehouse where the nominated and winning games were setup to check out whatever I’d missed. It ended up being the place to say a few of the first goodbyes, and Jacob of PMPY even gave me his Barfcade t-shirt since it didn’t fit him. Even better, he had cut off the sleeves (cutoffs are his style), which made it even more fun!
After saying farewell to the likes of Bronson, Saleem, and Eryn, I ran into Ryan and Jamie who invited me to get ramen. I got really excited so rushed back to my place to drop off all the Choosatron stuff, cleanup, and change into my new cutoff! Back to the tens, and a large crowd of us went out into the night to find ramen. There were so many of us that we ended up splitting between multiple ramen places, and as a result I got to know Cassandra, an awesome woman working on a really cool sounding ghost story piece! She also pointed out some interesting potential interactive fiction writing opportunities. It was really fun.
After all that, everyone went to the IndieCade after party. Just about everyone was there, and I drank some wonderful 17 year whiskey by the magnanimous Brian Kwek. It was a great close to the event, getting a last chance to chat and bond with amazingly talented people. Not to mention Lincoln Rami.
I can’t wait until next time.