AAAAAAAAAND I’m BACK!

So, to start with Not Dead Design’s Not Dead Designer is still NOT DEAD! I know, truly remarkable! Despite going through a full week of being well and truly outside my comfort zone I got through it, and I would like to think with a few more friends on the other side!

My week started with GCAP (Games Connect Asia Pacific), which is the Australian equivalent of GDC. And following the rules of Australian equivalent of x thing that exists in America; GCAP is much smaller than the American version, but personally I see that as a plus as too many people can be too overwhelming. But that said, this year’s GCAP WAS HUUUUGE! I went a few years back as a student when I had no clue what I was doing, and the attendance this year was at least two times larger.

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I had a pretty good time at GCAP, I made some cool new friends. Watched some really informative talks on a whole bunch of stuff. This year I was gravitating towards the business/marketing panels the most because of me wanting to learn how to best promote Kana Quest. And I feel as though I got my moneys worth out of the conference which I don’t know I did the last time I went. That’s not a statement of the quality of the conference last time, but just me saying that I didn’t know how to utilize the knowledge I received last time. I also saw one talk given by one of my old university lecturers. Though the most memorable talk was probably the one given by Rami Ismal from Vlambeer and Teddy Dief. Here’s a video clip from it. I think you can figure out why it was so memorable.

Fortunately I only made a complete ass of myself one during the whole time at GCAP. Which is always nice. Oh and I got invited to go get dumplings after the second day of GCAP with a bunch of other cool folk. So that was awesome.

Then Thursday arrived. And I had to bump into the convention center. Walking into that hall and seeing my game art next to so many other amazing games was so much more amazing that I could have ever hoped it to be. It just felt incredible. And that was before I had my TV, my tablets, my signs, my merch, my lights. I’m pretty sure I had a big goofy grin on my face the whole time.

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Well I did until my hire company was late turning up. A full two hours late. Everything was fine to be honest, but I’m the sort of person who will always assume I’ve messed something up. So the whole time I was certain that I fallen for a scam, or that I mis-typed my bank details. One unfortunate result of the rental folk being late was that I couldn’t go out and buy some small supplies for my booth. So by the time they did turn up I was running a bit behind schedule and that resulted in me missing the Freeplay Parallels exhibition that evening, which was sad because there were some games there that I really wanted to see in action. Wayward Strand, and Unnamed Goose Game were the two I really wanted to see, but couldn’t so that was disappointing.

But then before I knew it, it was Friday and PAX was upon me. PAX opened for press at 9:00 am for press. I got to meet quite a few really cool media folk, including Meghann O’Neill who writes for PCPP (PC Power Play). I mention her specifically because I used to read PCPP regularly and her opinion pieces were basically the first critical thought applied to games I was ever exposed to. And basically got me thinking critically about games myself. Which in term resulted in me wanting to make games. So getting to meet her was really exciting.

So I should probably talk about my set up at PAX real quick. So at AVCon (my first Con experience) I was really disappointed in my presentation, and resolved to improve it for PAX. Which I think I did. Well it does help that the base set up for the PAX indie pods look pretty great to begin with. But there were a few big things I changed that had a really positive impact I think. Firstly the game was running on three tablets that I hired out, not just my personal laptop and a friend’s personal laptop. Secondly I bought some LED strip lights ahead of the convention which just looked great. Thirdly, I had a big TV screen that passersby could see some prerecorded footage of the game. I felt this was a really good setup. Finally I had a version of the logo in English as well as the Japanese logo so people knew what the game was called without knowing Japanese. I feel this setup was so much better than what I had at AVCon. It was more inviting, people could tell what the game was about easier, and it attracted attention more effectively.

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I also want to talk about the people who were helping me exhibit. Lise, Chris, Katie, Luke and Reuben. Without question I could not have done PAX without all their help. It was so incredible having a team of people I could rely on to help out and man the booth when I got too tired. I want to specifically thank Lise for taking control of my social media for the weekend. I just want to thank all of them so much, because they are all so amazing and so lovely.

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(Ok soppy stuff over now)

Lol psych! I also want to thank my amazing sister Phoebe for making all of our merch. She hand made every single plushie, and every single t-shirt. She worked so hard. One the first day of PAX we sold out of all our plushies and we had to ask her to make more. And you know what she did? She worked till the wee hours of the morning to allow us to have more plushies to sell the following day. She worked so hard. I cannot thank her enough.

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Ok, now the soppy stuff is actually over, where was I? Oh yeah, Friday and the show floor has just been opened to the public. Something you don’t immediately realize about PAX is how when the flood gates open, not much happens at first. You would think suddenly there’s a sea of people. But its a bit more gradual you have a few stray people walking through and bit by bit more and more people find themselves in the indie section and before you know there a crowd of people watching your game and all three tablets are taken. In fact at times I thought I should have gotten a fourth tablet as there was that many people. In terms of how busy we were, we were surprisingly busy. We were never empty, we always seemed to have at least one or two people playing at all times. We were not as busy as RUMU the game next to us but then again, their game is about a sentient roomba sooooo, its kinda hard to compete.

In terms of the response from the players, it was really good. There were a lot of folk who were legitimately disappointed they couldn’t buy the game there and then. People loved the art style, and they liked the concept. Also the elevator pitch consistently sorta caught people a little off guard in a good way (The elevator pitch is : A puzzle game that’s a cross between Dominoes and a Match-3 game… but it teaches you how to read Japanese). I think giving people the first bit which is kinda unremarkable and then hitting them with the sucker punch of “but it teaches you Japanese” consistently got a lot of people really interested. Another really good piece of feedback actually came from a very small group of players: Native Japanese speakers. I had three native speakers of Japanese (that I personally talked to) come and play the game. And all three could sit down and play the game and enjoy playing the game despite knowing all their Hiragana already. This is really important because it means that the game aspect of Kana Quest is fundamentally a fun game. This has been a fundamental design goal for me from day one.

On the negative side of feedback, quite a few people were a bit disappointed there were no plans for Kanji, vocabulary or grammar in the game. Which I understand completely, but none of those things will work within the game framework itself. This is a very clear drawback to the approach to the design I have taken. I get to have a fun game, and it teaches a very important skill, but anything beyond the scope of that skill is basically impossible to implement in a way that doesn’t break the game. The other piece of feedback was that the actual logo needs a bit more work. While the color scheme looks good and works great, the actual logo doesn’t read very well. So I will likely be doing some more work on my branding in the near future.

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Another thing that happened at PAX was we ran a “win a free copy of the game when it comes out competition”. Basically to participate all folk had to do was draw their own Kana tile face and give me their e-mail and the 5 designs that I liked to most would win. People really liked this, we got a load of entries and it was pretty fun choosing the best designs. Once I chose the winners I animated them as if they were going to be added into the game as I thought it would be cool to see their work come to life. You can see the five winning designs below.

And I think that just about sums up everything that happened at PAX this year. It was an incredible experience and I look forward to doing it all again next year. Anyway thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week!

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