From the archives celebrates the good and bad of my journey in software development. It's a chance to dredge up hundreds of hours of older work. Some I am proud of, some not. But it's with self reflection that we get to understand how far we have come.
Lessons Learnt From My First AVCon (2015)
It has been a few weeks since AVCon and I think I am finally able to sit down and reflect on my experience there as an exhibitor this year. Overall the event was a huge success for me as a developer to see the public’s reaction to my games as well as to help validate just how far I’ve come in the last 12 months. That being said AVCon is a lot of hard work! Trust me, it is definitely more hard work than I had anticipated, I spent almost the entire week leading up to the event tweaking my game to make sure users got the best possible experience. This included making sure the demos could not accidentally be exited out of, that the game would automatically reset if I was stuck in conversation, getting both themes for the game running and dealing with the perils of upgrading your development environment and accidentally breaking all of your plugins. This didn’t include packing and organising all the items required for both tables as well preparing ways to show off the few media related items we had with us and the miscellaneous activities involved with organising a group of people to man the tables for the weekend. Oh and then of course making handmade bonbonnieres for my wedding in the evenings. I know that doesn’t count, it isn’t AVCon related but it didn’t help and I want to whinge about it.
It was because of all this work and my over-enthusiasm for the convention that I became really burnt out over the course of the weekend. I am a super passionate developer and I really hope that came through with the crowd and although I somehow managed to keep enough energy to get through the two days the effects of being so energized for 48 hours made for a long week of recovery. But if anything this has definitely re-energized me to keep making games. I realize that this can not always be my focus, particularly this year where my Honours study is extremely important. Doing well at my studies ensures that I have the best possible options moving forward but even with that being said I have learned that I need to prioritize some of my time to make games, because I enjoy it, and most of all it makes me better at what I want to do professionally.
With AVCon now already a fading memory shrinking behind the ever growing number of items on my university to-do list what are some of the things I thought worked well and didn’t work well for me this year?
What Worked Well
- Being Prepared - I hope this is an obvious one for everyone reading at home. Though to be honest it sounded like a lot of other developers I spoke to really had to rush to get things ready on time. Although my studies are in full swing taking a week off to be rushed (doing something other than study) but have everything packed and ready to go Thursday night made the rest of the weekend run smoothly.
- Bringing Backups – I was probably over-prepared, as someone to used to LAN regularly I am acutely aware of the plethora of hardware and software issues that can arise from running a computer all weekend. As a result I had spare cables for just about everything, back up power boards, back up game builds and back up standees for signs. I even had two sets of screwdrivers, compressed air in a can and screen cleaner….you know, just in case.
- Being Active – I made a conscious effort to be on the public’s side of my table the whole event. It is easy to want to take a break for 5 minutes and hide behind the table but that’s not where the fun part of game development is. Games are an inherently collaborative experience between the developer and the player and the interactions they make with the game are what fascinate me the most. Being able to see these interactions was what I enjoyed the most. Being active also lead to meeting a great deal of extremely interesting people who I otherwise may have missed if I wasn’t out there putting myself on the line. From the organisers of PAX Aus, local school teachers, PhD candidates and even a local TV crew from Melbourne these were the conversations that will stick with me for the rest of the year.
- Night Activities – It is easy to fall into the trap of going home and resting your weary bones after a long day of showing your wares. Even more so when you don’t really know anybody you’re exhibiting with well. Thankfully I met some very personable developers from Paperbox Studios in Melbourne who were interested in making the most of their time here. I also had a friend and fellow developer do his best to integrate me into some of the dinners over the weekend which really helped me meet new people. It is both extremely humbling and exciting to sit across the table from such talented developers and people that have made a living doing something I’ve aspired to for so long. Their willingness to be inclusive and have someone new around gave me a second wind every evening and kept me up till late in the night when I talked to my fiancee about all the cool conversations I had when we got home.
- Asking for Help – I was smart enough to ask my fiancee Aleks and a good friend Matt to come out and help me man the booth over the weekend. Although I probably could have done it on my own having extra hands to pick up the slack and make sure everyone who sat down had someone there helping them with the game, and the unique device, left my mind at ease over the weekend. Plus it is really fun the share the experience with others.
- Getting Feedback – A sure fire way to make sure I get better as a developer is to learn to ask for and then take critical feedback on my games. I think this stack of feedback forms from the event is a good stepping stone to achieving that very skill.
What Didn't Work So Well
- Bringing Backups – I know, I just said that worked well. However there is something I should stress to everyone. If you are going to bring spares test them first! I brought along a second monitor to have two set ups of the same game running on one of my tables. To be honest I thought it was odd that I had a spare monitor but didn’t think much of it. When I un-boxed it and plugged it in I noticed a massive green line down the middle of the monitor where one of the sub-pixel drivers had died. Now I remember why it was a spare…. Thankfully I was able to scrounge up a second one and the show went on.
- Business Cards (or more importantly the lack thereof) – As a student who wasn’t actually trying to promote a commercial product I truly felt that there was no point in promoting myself. I was there purely for the game and didn’t think about the personal benefit that I could have achieved from simply having some self promotion material. Although to be fair I made sure I got contact information from everyone and promptly got in contact with everyone the following Monday. It seems to have been just as effective as giving out my details, maybe more-so because I had the opportunity to engage in the initial conversation but it did make me look a little unorganised.
- More Posters, Bigger Posters – Not really knowing what I was in for I opted for a series of smaller less obtrusive A4 sized posters. Being surrounded by monolithic pull up banners and screen surrounding posters made us shrink into the side lines a little bit.
- Glass water bottles are silly – Someone (who definitely wasn’t me…fine I’ll tell you it was Aleks) for some reason had a glass water bottle wrapped up with our stuff. Trying to get to some spares I lifted the lid of the spares box open and the glass water bottle smashed when it fell off. I quickly cleaned it up and in the process decided it would be appropriate to cut my finger open. Please people…just use plastic, it may be bad for the environment but it is better for my clumsiness.
I think that is about everything, I’m sure I could write another few pages about my experiences but I have a 15 page report and a thesis to finish so I might save the rest of my typing abilities for those instead.
I’d like to thank everyone who helped make my AVCon experience possible who are, in no particular order:
- Loius (and the IGR staff)
- All the fabulous developers I met
- And to anyone else who helped that deserves to be thanked by name - even though my brain is a little tired right now.
I hope all the other developers had, or felt that they had, as much of a successful showing as I did and I look forward to meeting as many of you as I can in the future. Below are just a few shots from the event that I have seen and that have come out well. I still have a bunch to go through on the camera but I have pictures of people playing my games, it totally happened!
Another "From the Archives" that fills me with joy. I always tell people I love games and that I'd like to continue working in games and games adjacent fields. It can be hard to remember that though when life gets in the way and other priorities take hold. I love looking back not only at the lessons I learned from this experience but also the passion I had for these projects. Interestingly I still make some of these mistakes, like always forgetting to make sure I am stocked up on business cards!
What was your first event like? Let me know on Twitter!