Saturday 25 February 2017

The Maiden Voyage

Paul talks about GEEK 2017 - Bullion's first expo...

Back to reality, exhausted but satisfied from our fifth year at GEEK - a festival of gaming culture held in the tired but re-awakening English seaside town of Margate. GEEK is unlike other expos that we have presented at - with the emphasis more on the fun of participation and creation, the event has a stronger family-oriented theme than something like PAX or EGX. With LARP and cosplay, model-making and arts and crafts, pinball and video games new and old, there's something for everyone. GEEK is a family, and it shows in the love everyone has for what they are doing - from the Pac-Man ghost logo for the event, prominently displayed in bedroom windows, to installing Mario Kart in dodgem cars, this is clearly an event arranged by our kind of people.

The Indie Zone was placed directly inside the main entrance. This I feel was a mixed blessing. The prominence was great - rather than being tucked away in a corner, the indie games were right there as people arrived. This showed a great deal of trust and belief on the part of the organisers for which we are truly grateful, and spoke to the theme of GEEK being as much about the fun of making games as playing them. It meant that everyone came past us at some point and knew where to find us when they wanted another go. But there were drawbacks. Once people were past us, they might not return until they were leaving - tired and perhaps not in the mood for playtesting; so we'd need to be on ouir A-game when doors opened, and things would get rather quiet by mid-afternoon whereas in previous years it would be madcap until end of day. Standing on a hard floor all day near the open doors in February made for a chilly and tiring experience. The brightly lit corridor lacked the classic arcade feel of the dingy grunginess of the old Winter Gardens venue - our screens somehow not as enticing in the new environment. It felt off somehow to be so separated from the classic, retro and modern video games which were oddly divorced from the main action, hidden away in a separate hall that meant visitors had to walk outside through the closed-up Dreamland park to reach. I found myself acting as unofficial steward for the event, directing disappointed people towards what for many is the main draw of GEEK. Let's hope this didn't put too many visitors off for next year. I anticipate better signage or a change of layout in 2018.

GEEK was the first outing for Leda Entertainment's latest game Bullion, and the first event for our new teammates Matthew (art) and Ben (sound). Nothing beats watching the joy spread on the faces of people playing a game you created, but seeing Matthew and Ben's reactions to that - the enthusiasm with which they interacted with the public, and their delight at people enjoying their hard work - came a close second. It was great to see that the lessons we learned with Bopscotch - bright, loud, colourful, silly rather than gory - carried across to Bullion. It was rewarding to be placed 3rd in the "best Indie" public vote with Bullion at just its pre-Alpha stage, compared against released titles.

It’s not just about gauging the reception of the game with the public, though. Watching others play, you see things - bugs and features - you might not otherwise notice when you play your own game. The controller has 2 joysticks and a D-pad, which do I use? The sword is in his right hand, so clearly it's the controller's right shoulder button to swing it, yeah? Standing back and being an observer shows affords you the head-space to discover the things you thought were obvious but aren't. During the first day alone, we covered the back of our pop-stand with bugs we'd not spotted ourselves, and aimprovements suggested by the public or that came to us watching others play. The feedback we received was unanimously positive, and it was heartening that nobody put down a controller and walked away mid-game.

A highlight of GEEK this year for me was the incredible camaraderie between the Indie developers. In past years we might have looked on eachothers' games, had a brief chat about our journey and maybe played for a few minutes. This year, as well as that, we not only had banter on the trade floor, but we booked out a local restaurant for an evening of great conversation and fellowship.

GEEK was again an overwhelmingly positive experience, and I can’t wait to return in 2018.

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