I can't get no sleep
We’ve just got back from Insomnia 60 and let me tell you it was quite an experience.
|Rocket Lolly and Barrington enjoy some missile fun|
Founded in 1999 as a large LAN party, it has subsequently grown into an even larger LAN party with an expo attached. Here you’ll find typical games expo things like stands from hardware manufacturers, VR setups, board games, merchandising, cosplay, YouTubers and, obviously, Indie Games.
We’d been offered a stand in the Indie Zone so that we could demo our next project - Space Krieg - to the public. In truth, it’s far too early to be showing Space Krieg to anyone - it’s only had about a month’s worth of work done on it in total - but we needed to give it a bit of a shakedown in preparation for Nordic Game in May as it has made it to the finals of the pitching competition there.
Getting ready for Insomnia was quite an epic undertaking. Not least of which because we didn’t really have a playable game to show right up until the weekend before we were set to leave. That meant assembling the team and converting the front room into a scene reminiscent of a game jam.
There were a series of issues that needed resolving really early on. Firstly, the game had to be playable over a LAN. It may seem like an obvious thing to state but it’s something to think about as many of the network game options that you’ll find require an internet connection to actually work. I don’t think you can really rely on having internet access at an expo like this, so we had to make sure that everything would work when we plugged it into an offline router.
Secondly, space was at a premium. Our booth was a single table, about 2 metres in length, up against a back board. Into that we had to fit 4 stations, each with a 27” monitor. There’s no way we could have lined them all up, so we went for a vertical solution - 2 rows of 2 monitors, the back ones up on small IKEA stools. Of course that meant there was no room for keyboards or mice so we’d have to write a gamepad interface.
That’s not really a problem - although it generally means a UI re-write - but there was another issue concerning machines. See, we’ve got a couple of Mac Minis here, which we were going to take with us. The show itself was going to provide us with a PC and we were going to borrow another from Rocket Lolly who were going to show off Rocky Horror on tablet and, as such, didn’t need their PC. As we’re #MadeWithUnity, the fact that we were doing a Mac and a PC build was also not a problem.
On the PCs we’d use wired 360 gamepads. These don’t really play nicely with Macs - even with the third-party drivers that are out there - so we resorted to PS4 pads for them. That meant even more UI tinkering to get it to play nice with the button images. But we got it all working in the end, so no biggie.
After that it was a case of throwing in enough spaceships to keep it interesting. Our friends at Henchmen and Goon had graciously offered to help out in that regard, but we ended up with me cobbling some things together in Blender anyway and it all seemed to work out okay. My biggest problem with modelling is the UV unwrapping and texturing side of things so I ended up just doing an ambient occlusion pass on each of the models and leaving it at that. The trick is to make it look cool but still leave the viewer in no doubt that it is just placeholder artwork - otherwise they tend to judge the game as if it were a finished product.
|All of this is mine!|
Insomnia is held at the NEC in Birmingham these days. It’s a four day show - starting on the Friday and finishing on the Monday, in this case, over the Easter weekend. We booked up an apartment hotel room that would be variously filled with different people as they each stepped in to help out on the stand for various days or two.
That meant dropping Willow off at her Mamgu’s… caravan (the house was having work done and so had no bathroom). So Wednesday night was spent at a lovely caravan park in deepest, darkest Worcester. Caravans also don’t have internet so we had to bring the build with us which meant everything had to be in place by Wednesday morning. With some last-minute panics - and the addition of some character art - we got there. Then we just had to hit up IKEA for some bits and bobs for the booth before trekking up to the Malvern Hills. I don’t know how many of you have ever tried scheduling an IKEA trip before something else, but those things almost always throw a timing-based spanner in the works. But we made it. Okay, a little later than planned, but within the window.
Thursday was set up day. We’d been told by the organisers that it was first-come, first-serve on the booths and, having been on the rough end of booth placement before, elected to get there as early as possible. As luck would have it, we were first to arrive and the Indie Zone had already been constructed so we were able to take our pick of the stations and set up. We even managed to call dibs on a couple of others so we’d have Rocket Lolly on one side and the inimitable Quang on the other with some serious prime placement. We duly donned our IKEA hi-vis jackets and got to work.
Eventually we were done. Well, kinda. The build required a server and that wouldn’t arrive until later that night so we’d have to arrive a bit early on the Friday morning to finish setup. It’s fair to say that the build required a spot of last minute fettling to get everything working and there’s nothing quite like the terror of a last-minute fix being required in situ on the show floor. Something to do with IP addresses and server override config files - but it was all sorted before the doors opened to the general public. Just.
Then it was a case of sitting back and seeing how everyone took to it. I say sitting back - I actually mean convincing people to try the game out.
One of the main issues with the game is that it’s quite tricky to explain. Actually, it’s pretty easy to explain, it’s just that, on hearing about it, a lot of people tend to be quite cynical about it and can’t see how it’ll work. That is, until they actually play it or watch someone else playing it. Then they get it within seconds. Suffice to say that a bunch of worries from people prior to this event got scotched straight away and a lot of questions were answered by just seeing it in action.
One woman came up and proclaimed that she didn’t play strategy games. Once she’d actually had a game, she came back the following morning with her other half, sat him down and proceeded to kick his arse. Then she came back the next afternoon with her parents and repeated the process…
|They look very professional, don't they?|
Another couple came up and, while we managed to persuade the bloke to play, his missus stated that she didn’t like space games and refused. By the end of his session, she was asking when the game would be available and how she could buy it. This would be a common theme with plenty of people assuming that it was nearly finished and they could download it very soon. The looks on their faces when we told them how far away it would be before it would be available and how much time we’d actually spent working on it…
We also had other returning players. Some of them started to get quite good at it. So good, in fact, that we were having a lot of trouble taking them down. People began forming teams and developing vendettas. Nothing spurs on a multiplayer game better than a healthy vendetta.
We’d be taking notes all of the time and each night we’d go over them and see if there was any low-hanging fruit that we could address in the morning before the doors opened. I guess that's an advantage of bringing along the actual machines you used to develop the thing on to the show, although I'd also say that that way madness can lie. A bug here, a balancing tweak there. By the 3rd day we were pretty settled and everything was getting quite refined.
Pretty much everyone loved it and the entire experience became very gratifying indeed. We think we’re in pretty good shape for the trip to Malmö. This was a huge morale booster and more than compensated for that one night where the water at the hotel stopped working at the most inopportune moment imaginable...