Thursday, April 30, 2009

How Am I, You Ask?

Exhausted. Pleased, excited, pensive, and humbled, too, but exhausted is definitely at the forefront of it all right now.

I'm not sure I can stay awake long enough to write anything of substance tonight. I know I'm behind on my TGC posts, but I cannot say that this surprises me. I was up late almost every night this week preparing various things for the conference, be it tweaking my resume', wrapping up new networking freebies, or printing new business cards. Ask me if I'll ever attend a conference last minute again.

The answer is. . .of course I will. Duh. It's last-minute decisions like these that show you what you're really made of. Impossible deadlines yield extraordinary results. Or, so it's been said.

I started the post concerning Day One's adventures and saved it, so it will actually appear prior to this post once it is finished and published. Just figured I'd tell you guys that.

As it seems I've officially hit the rambling stage, it's time to call it a night. G'night!

UPDATE: Let me clarify this a bit. I would much rather plan ahead and get absolutely everything I can completed before "conference crunch." That would be ideal. For the time being, though, that may not be feasible. Not being familiar with the usual schedule of industry conferences I sometimes don't find out about them until a few weeks prior, and then I have to scramble to get the money together to even register. Only after I complete registration do I feel comfortable finalizing anything with any amount of certainty.

I hope all of that made sense.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tips Gleaned From TGC, Day One

Today was very productive and fun, but now my brain is chock-full of information. I don't think I will make a full post on Day One until Friday. However, I will share with you guys and gals some things I learned today.

1. If you are driving to the conference center, remember to allow time for parking.

Remember my earlier post in which I mentioned that parking downtown was a lot more time-consuming than I thought it would be? You would think that would have been enough to remind me to leave room in my timeline to allow for such snafus. Yeah. . .not so much.

In all fairness, it was my GPS (I call her Bridgit) that caused the bulk of the problem. You see, Bridgit is not a high-end device that gets constant updates on traffic problems and construction zones. She's just a regular, old-fashioned direction-giver. So, when she instructed me to turn right in front of the Marriot City Center and I nearly drove head-long into a chain-link fence, I really shouldn't have been shocked. Thank goodness for good brakes. Apparently, there's construction going on in the area in front of and beside the City Center, requiring that a huge chunk of the street be blocked off. No direct route to get where I needed to be was clearly visible. (And no, ramming through everything to get to my goal a la' Nico Bellick wasn't an option.)

Not being familiar with the location, I had no idea I could drive up two blocks and double back to reach the parking garage directly connected to the City Center. As such, I wound up parking 2-3 blocks away and having to hoof it to the conference in the 80-degree wheather. Between finding another parking garage, searching for a space, making my way to the street below, asking for directions to get past all the construction, and finally getting to the City Center, I was 40 minutes behind schedule and missed my first lecture. I rolled with it, of course, and it turned out to be beneficial to me in the long run, but given that I'm supposed to be one of the people that plans for such problems, it was more than a little embarrassing.

So: If you're not staying at the conference site, pad your timeline for arrival by a minimum of 30 minutes to allow for minor catatrophies like limited parking when planning your daily schedule.

2. If possible, take advantage of pre-registration and
early check-in.

I don't have the final numbers yet, but this first year of the Triangle Game Conference was much larger than anyone anticipated. If I remember correctly from listening to Board members, they were hoping to reach 400 attendees on the outside. In reality, more than 600 people pre-registered, and many more registered on-site when they arrived on Wednesday.

This is HUGE for a first-year conference of any kind. Seriously.

As I said earlier, I took advantage of early check-in while at the TGC Kickoff Party. You see, while this was my first game-industry conference, it isn't my first convention in general. The lines at the registration table at any multi-day meeting are almost always horrendous, and while I do know how to queue up properly I avoid it when I can. Better to just get all of it over with. As it turns out, I was right. Even though I was almost 45 minutes "late," the lines at registration when I walked in were at least 25 people deep at each station, three lines in all.

This may not seem like a big deal, since most people just give their name, grab their gear, and leave, but a goodly number of folks use their face-time at the reg table to ask questions, and even if only half of them do it, that's still roughly 38 people taking more than 5 minutes to get out of the way, and before you know it you've been standing in line for 3 extra hours that you didn't have to. And that's only for the people who pre-registered. It takes even more time to register on-site, so best to avoid all that if you can and save yourself a lot of time and hassle.

To review: Get your registration stuff done before opening day and pick up your packet and badge early if at all possible.

3. Bring pens. LOTS of them.

This isn't something I learned from TGC, but something I tend to do in general. Naturally, having at least one pen in your bag or briefcase is a good idea so that you can write things down in a timely manner, like corrections to the brochure or lecture room changes. This isn't the only reason I'm telling you to bring writing implements, though.

It goes back toward what Darius Kazemi said about making yourself memorable.
I've lost count of how many times I have endeared myself to someone for being Jenny-on-the-spot and having exactly what they needed at exactly the right time. Most everyone loses track of their pens, so even if they had one at the beginning of the day they'll mostly have misplaced it at one point or another. Having extra pens in your arsenal means that when someone needs a pen, you can offer one up and let them keep it. When they ask, "Are you sure I can keep it?" you can say with certainty, "Sure, I've got a spare." They'll remember you as their savior AND as prepared for anything.

If you want to take it even further, have pens made with a condensed version of your business card printed on them. That way, people will REALLY remember you when they steal appropriate are gifted your pen.

Reader's Digest version: The pen can be just as mighty as the business card. Speaking of which. . .

4: Have some sort of business card organizer handy.

There's nothing worse than losing the business card of someone you had a great conversation with. Rolodex, Buxton, and many other companies make handy little wallets of different sizes, colors and capacities to help you with this issue. You may think you will never have this problem, but how many times have you lost track of a phone number scribbled on a piece of paper or a spare $5 bill because you pulled something out of your pocket and that crucial item fell on the floor, unbeknownst to you? For me, that has happened more times than I'd like to remember.

The other advantage of a business card wallet is making the giver feel like you take their "gift" seriously. You're not just idly shoving it in your back pocket or in your purse or bag, which can give off the perception that you really don't care about the card or who it represents. By sliding their card into it's own slot in your organizer, you are saying to them, "Look, I'm giving you the same level of consideration I give other people I take seriously."

To recap: Card wallets are a good idea. (Coincidentally, as of 4/27/09, Office Max has several different of Rolodex business card wallets on clearance. You should go see what they have.)

There are many other tips I have bouncing around in my head, but I feel this is enough for now. A lot too much information to process from the last few days, so I need a rest. (I'm sure you folks do, too.)

TGC Kickoff Party

The kickoff party went fairly well from where I was standing. Er, sitting. It was fun, and a lot less formal than I feared it would be.

I arrived at Buckhead Saloon at 7:15 due to parking issues, but it wasn't a big deal. I got in line to pick up my conference bag and name lanyard, then proceeded into the bar.

As with most "free" parties, beer and wine were free, but liquor was not. Needing a stiff drink to calm down my hyperdrive (I was understandably excited), I said to heck with it and started a tab. Opting for a Midori sour, I sat at the bar, taking in the sights and sounds. It was unbelievably loud in there, but that could just be me. I haven't been to a club or bar in more than a year. Anyway, I didn't immediately see anyone I knew at the meeting, so I looked over my conference packet, noting that while the bag contained a map of the Expo Hall, there wasn't a map outlining the layout of the conference center. Curious. . .

By that time, my drink was gone and I ordered a glass of white zinfandel, since it was free. Here's a tip: If you're a big fan of wine, DON'T order it at an industry event unless the place has an upscale dress-code. The free wine at an event held in your typical bar runs from distinctly average to incredibly awful. This one was average, so I consider myself fortunate. If you have to stick with the freebies (which most of us games-biz newbies do), go with the beer.

Right as I started getting a little bummed that I hadn't successfully struck up a conversation with anyone, I spied another wine drinker amongst the sea of beer enthusiasts. I quickly walked up to the bar under the guise of ordering more wine and started talking about our wine choices. Her name is Alicia and as it turns out, she's not an industry person, but tagged along to the with a pair of her friends, Gabriel and Tobias. I believe they are students at one of our local schools, but I can't be certain because Tobias bought a round of tequila shots for the four of us and things got a little fuzzy for the next hour. Another tip: If you aren't sure you can hold your liquor, DON'T do this. Or at the very least, don't drain your wine glass afterward. Which reminds me, I owe someone a drink. . .

By that time my buddy Marq from Red Storm came up to the bar and things really got rolling. We swapped the usual weekly update, and he began pointing out people I needed to know, like Dana Cowley, the head of our local IGDA chapter, and some people who work for Wake Tech and Wound up getting my picture taken (by one of the people, I think) and then the actual introductions began.

Marq introduced me to Caroline Moore, a composer from Virginia that he met at GDC, and she introduced me to a handful of students she knew at the meeting. Mark Rubianes, Charles Scott-Spain, and A.J. (No explanation of the initials was given on A.J.'s nametag, sorry.) All really cool people, all whom I hope to meet up with tomorrow at TGC.

I stayed out far too late for my own good, but it was lots of fun and I managed not to make a complete fool of myself. I'm pretty sure that's because I avoided being roped into playing Rock Band on the big screen in the game room, but still. Not looking dumb + still having fun = Really Good Thing.

Tomorrow, I'll bring you an update on the first day of the Triangle Game Conference, and my tips for successfully navigating an industry conference. See you then. ;)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Professionalism for the Brain-Dead

The caffeine has yet to hit my bloodstream, so we'll see how far I get before this devolves into something awkward.

As I said in my previous post, every industry out there may have similarities to other fields, but should be treated like a separate, individual animal with it's own unique quirks and qualities. That's all well and good, but what happens if you're in a situation where you have no clue what to expect?

I received an email from my local IGDA chapter inviting me to a pre-conference kickoff party at Buckhead Saloon Tuesday night. Mostly with the goal of securing my conference passes early, I accepted. Of course, many game industry professionals and other local IGDA members will be there. Being ever the social butterfly, this piqued my interest. However, this isn't just any old party: it will be my first official industry-related event, and the idea of making an idiot out of myself while I'm there scares me half to death.

I have never been to such an event that I wasn't in charge of. I have almost no idea how such events work from the attendee side of things. What's the dress code? What do I talk about? What are the "rules" for handing out business cards? Should I eat before I go so I don't get distracted? My industry contacts are currently incommunicado (understandably so, given that we're less than 24 hours away from TGC), so I'm flying blind here. What's a girl to do?

Naturally, I turned to the Internet God (Google) for answers.

Given that this convention is in its inaugural year, searching for TGC-specific advice is a no-go. Searching for "GDC etiquette" yielded many hits, but articles like this one, while amusing, aren't exactly helpful.

This little gem written by Darius Kazemi, on the other hand, is quite helpful. Even four years after he wrote it, people still point to it (and his business card) as an example of what to do when networking in the games industry.

The gist of all these articles: Keep it simple, be distinctive, and for goodness' sake, wear comfortable shoes. This doesn't help me for the kickoff party, per se, but it helps in general. I guess I'll just have to go with my gut: nice jeans, clean, white sneakers and a printed t-shirt.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Introductions Are So Passe. . .

But, short of parading every teacher, friend, and ex-boyfriend I've ever had out on stage for a homespun version of "This Is Your Life," how else are people supposed to get to know me?

So, an intro I shall write.

My name is Amanda, I'm 28 years old, and I live in a barn in the middle of North Carolina.

For the last five years, I have been a professional soapmaker. It happened quite unexpectedly, as I had a 0-4 losing streak with lasting jobs post-college and I needed something to do when I wasn't pounding the pavement looking for work. I made my first batch of soap, sold it to my mother and a few friends, and a thriving sole-proprietorship was born. Between making product, editing my website and Etsy store, and traveling to craft festivals, I was a very busy little entrepreneur.

Unbeknownst to me, I was slowing becoming more and more like my mother (oh, the horror) and her sensitivity to fragrances and scents, natural and synthetic alike, began to manifest itself in me. Around Christmas 2008, the allergies REALLY started kicking into high gear. Between the physical demand of making every product I sell from scratch AND doping up on Allegra 180 and Sudafed every day, I burned out. Fast. I knew that I couldn't be a soapmaker forever. So, I began looking into a career change.

The problem was figuring out just what I wanted to do with myself. When I wasn't scouring cyberspace looking for ideas or filling orders for my website, I played video games. I have a PS2, a DS, a PSP, and an Xbox 360. Plenty of things to keep me busy. I'm something of an eclectic gamer (more on that later), but for the most part I play action-adventure titles. I have two pet peeves when it comes to games: Shoddy plotlines and clunky game interfaces. About the eight-millionth time I got frustrated while playing KoTOR II and Assasin's Creed, I was hit with a revelation: I can't code worth a darn, but writing I can do. Why get mad about crappy video games when I could just write something better?

I have always had a cursory interest in the game development field but given my lack of programming expertise, I settled for a part-time position in game testing and left it at that. Of course, one cannot live on ramen and Dr. Pepper alone, and that was pretty much all I could buy with the money I was making testing games for Merscom here in Chapel Hill. I needed more information on the local game development scene, so I did what comes naturally: I talked to EVERYONE I knew to see if anyone had a clue as to what I was talking about. Eventually, the Universe threw me a bone: It turned out that one of my associates (we'll call him M) worked for Red Storm Games. M gave me his email address after a particularly stirring post-GDC conversation about jumping puzzles and quick-time events and said, "Start firing questions at me, and I'll do everything I can to help you get started. You can do this, if you really, truly want to, but you'll have to work harder because you're a different kind of nerd."

I'm paraphrasing, of course, but you get the idea. As a result of M's advice, I joined the International Game Developer's Association, which turns out to be a lot less daunting that it appears. (That, and their dues rates are a lot more reasonable than the ones over at the Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild.) And this week, I'll be attending the inaugural Triangle Game Conference here in North Carolina instead of vacationing in Myrtle Beach. (The fact that Myrtle Beach is currently ON FIRE has absolutely nothing do with this decision. No, really, it doesn't.)

So, I begin this blog three days before TGC with the hopes of documenting my adventure in the days ahead. I figured this was as good a place to start as any. I haven't been to a conference or convention in about six years, and that was the Southeastern Theatre Conference in Mobile, AL. While I have an idea of what to expect, I think each industry's conventions are their own kind of animal and should be treated as such.

If nothing else, this should be good for laughs. ;)