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[personal profile] kawatan
So the last time I posed here, I said maybe I'd make IRDC NYC happen but wasn't sure.

Long story short: I made it happen, it was exhausting but worthwhile, I learned so much about the value of delegation.

This is how I made an IRDC happen, so that you can do it too. (Consider it a postmortem, but for building a convention instead of a game.)

  1. Convince someone to let you use their space for a few days.
    In my case, the episode of Roguelike Radio after the IRDC Atlanta 2015 episode was an interview with Frank Lantz, who is the director of NYU's Game Design department. (Yes, NYU has a Game Design department. It's part of the art school.) A few months after that, I went to said department for an event, celebrating the completion of their Incubator program for the year. Teams gave short presentations then opened the floor to have the public play their games.

    And so, I saw an opportunity. I got in touch with Frank at the start of 2016, which turned into discussions with other staff at Game Center. By February we were deciding on dates that would work for both me and the facility; by March we had those settled on early August.

    Game Center was extremely generous, offering to use the space for free as long as we didn't interfere with any of their activities. That being said, that wasn't a guarantee. I had as backup ideas various coworking spaces, where I would have had to pay. I was willing to do so if necessary, but I'll admit, it was a boon not to worry about that.

  2. Convince folks to come to the convention and talk about their roguelike experiences, and more folks to come to the convention to listen to those talks.
    I made a free Mailchimp list from the list of people who had voted on a date. The first email I put out was a "call for speakers and demonstrators", and I got a number of volunteers, almost all of whom were at Atlanta last year. Other emails included a Code of Conduct (which I didn't have to invoke, but was great to have on hand) and various reminders.

    E-mail blasts were paired with updates from my Twitter and RogueBasin. I also posted on RogueTemple at least once, as well as /r/roguelikes on Reddit. If I had really put in the effort, I could have also gone onto game-specific forums/chat rooms/Discord, but I think most of the "roguelike community" knew IRDC was happening, at least.

    I still had fewer speakers than Atlanta, so I padded the time in various ways - a later start and an earlier finish, time for "lightning talks" for smaller things to show off and "open play" where people could demonstrate the games they were making. This turned out to be an amazing idea - it meant a lot of space for solving technical issues and organic discussion.

    I also tried a tiny bit to engage with the local independent game community - I went to a public networking event hosted by New York Critic's Circle and mentioned the event, and got on a local "geek event calendar". There's probably more I could have done here - most of the attendees were repeats from Atlanta and not local to New York - but I was running on a bit of a time crunch, and foolishly tried to do this part solo. I highly encourage others to learn from this and get others involved in getting the word out.
  3. Figure out how to get those talks onto the Internet, even for those who aren't at the con.
    One of the biggest features we had in Atlanta was streaming the talks given, which was a huge hit. That was mostly thanks to Eben Howard, as well as an anonymous former editor of Roguelike Radio. They brought multiple laptops, a video splitter, and a whole lot of expertise. I had some experience using OBS from my days streaming, but admittedly not a ton and rather outdated since I had stopped streaming in June 2015. Neither Eben nor the editor were available to come to New York, so I was on my own. (I wish I had done more research on this before the con, which is one of my biggest reasons for making this post - to make this information as public as I can so others can have a jumping off point.)

    I have only one laptop, an ASUS F555LA. I also had a Rock Band microphone (useful for picking up a single person's voice, but not much else), a random Logitech webcam, and an Android tablet and phone. (The tablet and phone were more useful than I thought they'd be - more on that in a bit.)

    Game Center has an impressive setup for presenting within the room, but it's not set up for streaming that presentation to others. There were microphones hooked to a mixer that only provided sound to the speakers in the room, and a setup to connect to the projectors through HDMI. I used the mics they provided for the first part of Saturday but not the rest of the time; the space we ended up using for talks was small enough that most people could be heard regardless.

    So I hooked my laptop to the main presentation setup at the podium and extended my display (so the screen on the laptop was basically a second monitor to the projectors). OBS 'understood' Chrome but not LibreOffice, so I relied on Google Slides in a Chrome window. For one talk I downloaded a PDF and showed that in the Chrome window, which worked fine for static slides but obviously doesn't work with interesting transitions or animations. I connected the Rock Band mic to the laptop, and made people speak into that microphone. (When I was also using Game Center's microphones, I basically hooked them to a lavalier/collar microphone and had them hold the Rock Band mic. Awkward, but workable.)

    So OBS picked up the Chrome window, the Rock Band Mic/In, and 'desktop audio' when audio was playing in the Chrome window. The speaker was up at the podium, using the arrow keys on my laptop to shift from slide to slide. I was in the back with my tablet on Twitch, in chat only mode, moderating the chat. This worked...okay. Not great, and not for everything. Some folks had trouble talking into the RB microphone, and of course, unlike Atlanta, the webcam didn't get much use.

  4. Consider at least some loot.
    NYU policy meant that everyone would have to sign in at the front desk with the security detail, showing ID; if folks then got a specific sticker of my choosing inside the building, they wouldn't need to show their ID a second time after lunch. So of course, I picked up round @ stickers ($5 for a 20 sticker sheet on Zazzle!) I kind of wish I had picked up two kinds of stickers, to easily differentiate between the two days, but they were still a big hit.

  5. Let the convention happen, and roll with what the RNG gives and takes away.
    So I mentioned the imperfect technical setup: it was really only designed for use with Google Slides and one speaker at a time. I had a big whiteboard available: it had information about the loot, the Wi-Fi password, and a reminder for speakers to repeat the questions asked of them before answering for the sake of the stream/recording. This is a very artificial way of speaking, so compliance wasn't great, but it mostly worked.
    When Sheridan said he had no slides but a bunch of files on his own laptop to show off, I went to the back, tried to balance the webcam on top facing him and the laptop in my lap, and that went...poorly, to say the least.

    Google Slides also messed with the formatting of Mark's slides (and possibly others as well), and the PDF conversion we used for Brian had its limitations too. This is actually why I didn't record/stream the second set of lightning talks - Squirrel's talk included animations that I didn't trust Google Slides to convert properly which wouldn't work on PDF.

    Adam's remote talk deserves its own discussion/apology: we initially had Google Hangouts running in one of the Chrome windows. Then Adam's audio dropped...and he didn't realize it until almost done with his talk. After much stress, we restarted Hangouts, and there was a pile of weird screensharing shenanigans to get it restarted. I think I was streaming the Chrome window with his slides in full screen, and sharing over Hangouts my OBS with Adam, who was speaking based on my shared screen. (It was stressful, to say the least. But people were awesome and patient even as I was getting increasingly frustrated.)

    For Roguelike Radio, we set up three phones to record scattered around the room and did a 'sync clap'. This is all thanks to Brett, who is also offering to merge these recordings together...somewhow, alongside his travel-heavy day job and the other things he does. The man is an incredibly generous machine, and I'm grateful. (Also, between us having dinner together in 2015 and his contributions to IRDC, I think I owe him at least six beers. Probably more. I just want that on the public record.)
    Speaking of the podcast, my earlier decision to pad time so extremely did have a slight downside. To be frank, by late Sunday, people didn't have a ton to talk about. I wish I had solicited questions (from Reddit? RogueTemple?) or otherwise structured things better, and maybe gotten another speaker or two before RLR so that there'd be more content to discuss as a whole.

  6. Figure out how to manage the hunger clocks, even for those on conduct runs.
    My partner was the real hero here - he'd worked near the venue in the past, and finding amazing food in New York is one of his biggest hobbies. So he had a good sense of internal geography and a good palate for the group, which worked out very well. We even found ways to accomodate the variety of food allergies in the group!

    We also did breakfast/snacks alongside the stickers - doughnuts from the always-awesome Doughnut Plant on Saturday, and currant/coconut rolls from Allan's Sunday, plus fast food coffee by the box both days. We had these 'pay-what-you-can', with the suggested price matching the retail price. We didn't quite make our money back, but I'm fine with treating people to local delicacies when they come to my city. (Thanks to Jeremiah for helping with doughnut acquisition!)

  7. Learn from every person who came.
    And here, finally, I'll gush a bit about some of the content of IRDC New York 2016.

    Jason made Markov chains accessible and argued for using them mechanically, which set a theme about procedural lore and storytelling that carried through Mark's procedural dialects and Mitu's karaoke.

    Patrick and Brett talked about AI and pathfinding, which tied to Brian's talk as well; a lot of cool technical discussion, and honest presentation of imperfect implementations. I love that Patrick was willing to present a 'failed' implementation to try to get feedback and learn.

    Sheridan, Brett, Jeremiah, and Adam also used their talks as ways to get feedback on innovative game mechanics which I really appreciate. They brought to the table really cool ideas about the 'edges' of the roguelike space that I'm excited to see more of.

    Thom and Squirrel (and to a degree Brian too) discussed best practices in coding, and about structured thought informing code. Presenting clean code as self-care when in a stressful situation (like game jams!) was honestly really valuable. (That's a big part of why I tried so hard to structure this post, too.)

    I got to play a lot of cool games and mess with a lot of cool procedural tools! That's always satisfying, and something I need to prioritize even outside of IRDC-space.

So. That was fun. I think I need a little time (and far more naps) before running it again, but it was totally worthwhile. I hope this inspires someone to make their own roguelike convention happen!


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