All posts by Fletcher

A former New Yorker, now in the Midwest - raising 2 boys and trying to break into game / VR development before I get too old and curmudgeonly to care about anything other than where my cane is...

Return of the expo

or: How I spent my weekend

So – now that I’m back, rested, exhausted from all the catch up work, stressed from the up coming holiday season and prepping for the next one; I can properly relate the adventures of GDEX/Origins.

I had started prep week with the usual busy work; getting my expo gear out of the closet, gently washing my ‘Booper’ t-shirts, hastily ordering new stickers since my stock was low – and being dismayed to find my new banner had gotten wrinkled from being in a closet for a year and a half. Helpful suggestions included letting it warm up gently in the sun, ironing it or using a hairdryer to warm it up.

I opted for the sun, cause there was no way in hell I’d trust myself with ANY heat source near vinyl.

ah, the good old days, where my $#!+ wasn’t wrinkled

I got my various bits of expo gear gathered in the dining room, commandeering the expansive table to spread it all out and make sure I wasn’t missing any connectors, cables or other important techy bits to demo my game and settled down to a little TV with the missus and check my email.

Finally! The organizer had been apologizing for the lack of load-in info and the few messages in the ‘ol inbox looked like he finally got it. it looked kinda the same as always, where the loading platforms were, check in times and when to show up Thursday.

Wait… Thursday??

Tomorrow? I was expecting a Friday check in as we’d done the past years. $#!+. Panic started creeping in – I was not relieved of parental duties until Friday noon, because the wife had scheduled a little time from work to go pick up the kids after school. Thursday was my eldest 11th birthday. Thursday was a day earlier than my stickers were supposed to arrive,

Just sitting there… waiting for me

So I spent an absolutely panicked Thursday morning grabbing my PC, Laptop, all the aforementioned gear, cramming it in the wife’s car, grabbing the kids from school, having a rushed 11th birthday for my eldest (I always seem to have a expo on his birthday- the guilt over THAT could fill a novel) and drive like a maniac to Columbus and get my booth set up.

Only to discover that I’d left my power cable for my monitor sitting on the desk back home. $#!+.

Quick text to my bro-in-law (whose couch and ale I’d be helping myself to none too soon) and he offered his nice curved 35″ monitor. A lovely piece of equipment that I could see any number of bad things happening to and I would have to reimburse him for – so I asked if he had anything else. Which turned out to be a 19″ ancient flat panel from 2004. So, I spent the rest of the evening driving around some small town Ohio looking for a big box store that might actually carry a VGA to HDMI converter, praying that it’d be open and doubly praying that it would actually *WORK*. Wal-Mart had one, probably over priced – I could only hope that it worked in the morning.

My booth, in all its glory…
…and the view from my side

Friday and I’m running a bit behind because every fast food joint seems to have a line around the block – I get to the expo with 10 minutes before the doors open and wend my way through the throng of eager expo attendees. Quick setup the monitor loaned by the excellent bro-in-law and fire it up- it worked! The gates opened and I raced to set up the rest of my booth; feeling like I was losing precious demo time.

Annnnd it didn’t matter. I got set up, ran a quick playthrough to make certain no glitches were waiting for me, downed a gulp of coffee and stood by my booth ready to show my game proudly. And waited.

No one seemed to be the slightest bit interested in my game.

After a quick consult with y neighboring devs, we all quickly came to the same conclusion: there wasn’t a lot of crossover between tabletop gamers and video gamers. We did get the odd player here and there, but this was nothing like the regular video game expos where I’d have 3 and 4 kids lined up, waiting for a turn to explore my little hand crafted VR adventure. I spent the day mostly people watching, talking with the other VR booths and wandering around, observing the tabletop expo – it was HUGE, like a dozen times bigger than the GDEX or MakerX shows I’ve shown at.

Cousin-in-law and super cool daughter, 2 of my biggest fans

Saturday went a lot better, felt more like the usual crowd, and certainly more families- but still didn’t have the rush and hum of GDEX. I did get some vistors, my bro-in-law and his son used my passes to wander the floor and play some games (and bought some too) and generally geeked out over the offerings of dice, swords, steampunk goggles and many, many boardgames for sale.

I also got a visit fromt he awesome Brian Skeel, a composer who I’ve worked with and who made the epic win / fail fanfares I use in my games, both light and whimsical compositions based on some singing my lil’ art director did; very reminiscent of the old Looney Toons short phrases.

My 1st award. Ever.

The highlight of the day came at the end, when the floor closed and we game devs piled into a small conference room, and announced winners of various game dev categories. I was floored when they called my little game for the Best in Music & Sound. I never got awards, ever – growing up I wasn’t good at academics OR athletics and to actually win something was a triumph I’ll not soon forget.

Sunday was bittersweet. Its a shorter day, so the exhaustion from the previous 3 days was tolerable, knowing I’d be able to sit my butt down for a long drive home. I got to spend a bit more time wandering the floor and wondered what I could do to make my display pop more (and without breaking the bank with huge monitors or banners) I heard of a expo closer to home – the Cleveland Gaming Classic, and I promised myself that I’d look into it – showing my game is thrilling and the more eyes I can get on it the better.

Slowly the day came to an end and I packed up my gear, a bit sad that it was over, but also happy that the pandemic hadn’t completely ended events like this. I drove home to find the kids outside playing, the wife sitting on the glider on the front porch and I showed the family my new trophy. And as my weekend came to an end, I smiled – knowing that I picked up a few new fans.

those who can, do. those who can’t, do podcasts

So as I count down the microseconds until the kids are back in school (and dreading that Delta variant will close everything up again) I’ve been doing a lot of interviews online lately.

First up:

I love the fireside chat format – especially when my energy plays off the person I’m talking to. I have to admit, I was super tired and had a couple of ales which carbo-wired me, so I feel like I came off as a totally spastic geek. I could feel myself collapse after this was over and the camera turned off.

The next one was neat because it was filmed *IN* VR! I was fortunate because this was my 3rd or 4th time in Spatial Ape and right up until this interview, I’d crash or overheat my Quest and have massive stuttering issues. Having got a new 5ghz router (hopefully) put these issues to rest, the interview went smoothly and because I was wearing a HMD, I wasn’t imbibing as much as the other interview.

Wish these were real. And I had a lot more of them.

The next one I can’t discuss much – I will say it was with a major VR platform and they offered me $75 Amazon credit to spout off about my half-assed approach to game dev and life in general. By far one of my faves, cause I got paid for it.

Lastly, a chat with 2 local fellas about being a stay at home dad. I did talk about the game a bit, but I also got to talk about things that affect and shape how my game was brought about, how its shaped and where it might be going. Its a podcast by two local dads, and it really touched me with a sense of community:

plus I got to relay the harrowing tale of my 2nd child’s birth, right on the steps to the kitchen:

If I ever get down about this past year – I shuold remind myself I’ve been published in a magazine, a book, more interviews than I can remember and in VR. Despite the life altering consequences of Covid-19, I’ve been able to get a lot done. And hopefully more is in the future.

‘We ain’t got no innocence’

So, in a vain attempt to NOT use the cliched ‘School’s Out For Summer’ lyric, I just googled the song and picked one at random. Weird how a song written for anarchy and rebellion is now a trope for shows like The Simpsons.

So, yes – school is out until September- and after the year we just had, its feels like we just went back into lockdown with the wife working from home, kids bored out of their skulls and me running around dealing with 2 constantly hungry small people, a wife who needs tech support and a cat that wants nothing more than to be outside, going Rambo on every living thing she sees.

On a completely unrelated note; I just brewed 5 gallons of beer yesterday.

5 gallons of dunkleweizen, anyone?

So, I think with no immediate relief in sight- I may have to revert back to old habits; namely getting up at 5:30 in the AM if I want ANY shot of getting dev work done. And that is only achievable with the strictest of discipline, exercise, getting proper rest and avoiding sheer quantities of alcohol – like the 5 gallons of ale I just made.

I can use this time to get other things done – like how my compulsion to write out the entire plot of Booper longhand, can easily be worked on while the kids are bashing each other with Wii controllers or sitting outside with the cat as she patiently waits for the chipmunks to chase each other all over the back yard before she drops in like a certain cheery Jedi exclaiming, ‘Hello there!’

Waiting for lunch to arrive

Despite all these distractions – I am working. I’m looking at a way of using the player as a UI tool – so having Booper jump on a button to start the game – or jump in a hole to exit – I just need to work out the designs and how reactive it should be:

Guess I’ll ponder it while I’m out back, sweeping up the mulberries which stain my driveway a lovely deep shade of purple…

“La La La – I can’t hear you!’

After going through Demo Day for Launch Pad (and getting more than a little bummed about not getting a dev grant) I’ve decided to throw myself back into working on my game – which has been neglected for far too long. Marketing might not pay off immediately, but jumping into something created by my own 2 hands pays off now

Except when you try to work, your wife – who is also working from home – gets slammed with an absolute Suez Canal sized shipping container of work. I felt just as stuck as that boat. Can’t concentrate on tutorials with her constant zoom calls, can’t focus on what I’m working on because she often need beverages because she is non-stop talking all day long and I still have a house, decimated by two rampaging boys to clean up.

Not to mention the cat always wants food / attention / go outside.

I need to drown out the noise. I can’t focus otherwise

Hence- noise cancelling headphones. They’ve been a godsend when I just need to focus. I’ve been so distracted by things that any moment of quiet gives me the ability to get something done – which these days, is priceless.

The other big thing that was a boost, was the release of this book.

I had done an informal interview with Todd over Twitter – and initially he thought this would just be a blog entry. But then he’d ask a question. And then another. And I’d go off on tangents (a huge part of my chapter is focused on my time in NYC and post 9-11 life) – and suddenly he says that he’s making it into a book. And so he did.

Last year I was honored to illustrate the cover of a book – this year I have a whole chapter in one. Next year?? Either a whole book about me; or I gotta write one.

Year of quarantine

The banner photo for this piece is from a year ago, when it was officially announced we’d be staying at home, the kids would stop going to school and we were all uncertain as to what the future might bring; so we neighbors all gathered for an impromptu beers and hang out session, enjoying just one last hang out.

(it wasn’t until I previewed it that I realized the image was posting upside down, but I thought I’d leave it as a way of illustrating what this past year has been like.)

This was the last of a crazy season of pitches, presentations and lectures, I’m thrilled to get a small amount of exposure across the pond, and it was a lot of fun. I credit my 11th grade Speech & Presentations teacher Mrs. Collins for my ability to keep my presentations on focus, clear and (hopefully) with a minimum of filler words.

It was also the first time I got paid for a speaking gig – could totally get behind having money thrown at me for spouting off to a captive audience. I think I’d do a monologue style like Spalding Gray:

Considering I’m probably not the best example case for how to be a solo dev, I think I could get more traction by telling amusing anecdotes about having a neurotic housecat or that time my kid projectile $#!+ on the curtains.

Or I could tell of the year of the pandemic; how I was set to be interviewed on the radio, or about to show my demo to the largest audience yet at the Cleveland Int’l Film Festival – and how having those things yanked away because of lockdowns just wrecked me. I went months not looking at my game, or doing anything other than doomscrolling social media and drinking more than I should have.

It wasn’t until September and getting into the Oculus launch Pad program that got me turned around and focused again, and I’ve been going at a decent clip since. Now that the vax is right around the corner and the kids are going back to school, maybe I can get back to cranking on my game with a little more regularity.

Or maybe spend more time with the wife who is working from home and taking more walks around the neighborhood…

Unchained, and ya hit the ground runnin’

Sorry, I’m a sucker for Van Halen lyrics…

So, only an month and a half into the new year and I’m JUST getting around to making a blog post – but I swear I’ve had good reasons! Let’s work backwards:

Me, doing my best simian impression

I just did an interview with a podcast called BandanaGames, and it was a blast; looking at the rough cut, I’m this animated, geeky spaz – but its nice to see my enthusiasm carries over, and I do believe – its infectious. We talked about everything under the sun and 40 minutes blew past before I knew it. I could have talked longer.

Pitching BIG

2 days before that – I submitted my Oculus launch Pad demo (fingers crossed!) hoping for that sweet sweet dev grant money. I checked with the other local dev who was in the program and she’s not even trying for it! Guess that means one less person I’m competing against, but I feel bad that she missed an opportunity.

The above screenshot is from The Big Indie Pitch – a ‘speed dating’ style of pitching games to industry types; mostly for feedback, but there was a cash prize for the winner. I feel honored that I got an honorable mention, along with a twitter pal who is an amazing indie games advocate. I did get some amazing feedback and energy – but pitching to 5 groups of two judges each was exhausting. It also taught me that not everyone will be excited about my game and I need to adjust my tactics when I encounter folks who are less than enthused.

1st article about the game!

I also had an article published in VR Trends magazine! Now, granted, I wrote the article and furnished the screenshots and contributed to the Patreon – but still! I’m in a magazine!

Marketing reports? What, am I becoming a business??

I also had a marketing consultation meeting with a UK based team that specializes in indie games called Game If you Are, a special courtesy given to select Oculus Launch Pad members. They looked over my logo, pitch deck and short descriptions and gave a LOT of great feedback, in addition to reminding me that I’m not just trying to sell to kids, but more importantly their parents.

So, all told, 2021 has been an amazing year. And its not even halfway through February. I also have a mini lecture next month with the Tinderbox PlayAway Games Festival, and they’re going to do a separate interview next week, and I’m in talks with a programmer who’d really like to join the Booper team. I just hope I can keep this streak rolling.

Season of thanks

With all that’s been going on in the world, its tough to see the high points with any clarity.

As its been pointed out, time is elastic. Its been a Groundhog’s Day year where every day seems to loop back into the next, yet somehow – here we are with the holidays upon us and facing a New Year, new administration; and with promising results from the big pharma industries, perhaps the promise of a return to normal.

My dev work had been slowed by a slew of marketing and promotional activities that seemed to hit all at once. The Youngstown Business Incubator announced a Virtual Pitch competition with a prize of $5000 and while my chances are slim, it was a great opportunity to see just how quickly I could mobilize a ‘get out the vote’ campaign of my own. I did daily reminders on my soc med accounts and got a lot of positive feedback from a few posts made on reddit.

waiting…

Right on the heels of that, I got a comment on Twitter that blew me away:

woo hoo!

VR Trend saw a post where I mentioned my game and saw a gif and sent me that message – so suddenly I needed to put together a 300-500 word article, 5 images of my game and a logo. All for an issue that should be coming out next month.

Right on top of that, I got a reminder that Unity for Humanity was looking for pitch submissions and needed a pitch deck, budget AND a timeline – all of which I never had attempted before – so in addition to all my daily dadly duties, I was furiously researching / making / begging for crits on a pitch deck.

names hidden so they aren’t inundated with crit requests

AND on top of that – I get an email out of the blue asking if I wanted to be a part of the newest Big Indie Pitch. Which was happening in 4 days.

Sadly, I just had to turn down that one, as I had zero prep time for it – but the contact was understanding and very graciously offered me a guaranteed spot at the one in February; which I jumped on and now have a little time to practice both my demo skills (which I haven’t used since last February) and sharpen my pitch deck even further.

Now I just gotta wrap up my vertical slice for Oculus Launch Pad before then.

So, as I’m prepping my Thanksgiving dinner (gonna brine a duck here in a little bit) – I must say, I’m thankful for the opportunities even a pandemic will bring. I’m fortunate my family is safe, we’re all together, we haven’t driven each other nuts and there is a little brightness on the horizon. Even if in the meantime I have to rouse myself at 5:30 in the AM and setup a photo workshop in the basement, since the wife & kids have taken over my office:

I have 2400 pages of sketches to scan..

Side Quests

So, with the advent of of my acceptance into the Oculus Launch Pad program and their generosity in providing me with Quest (1) – I’ve been trying to spend as much time seeing how I can port my Rift/ Vive game over to mobile VR.

Lemme tell ya’, it ain’t easy folks.

A common complaint among gamers is ‘how hard is it to make a VR port?’ often echoed by RPG fans who long to play their beloved 200 hour hack-n-slasher standing up, swinging their broadsword while hewing foes left and right… I just had a minor panic attack just thinking about getting that to work in VR.

Finally made it!

I have come to the conclusion that I will slap people upside the head with a freshly caught haddock if they even mention porting games – I nearly burst several blood vessels in trying to port my VR game to ANOTHER VR system. It already HAD VR support built in! Just switching from PC build to Android caused me to have to rebuild dozens of systems that I thought should work with zero problems.

Playmaker? Hello? Why do I have to rebuild FSM’s that work in another project? I’m not changing anything! Why won’t my assets work? Why is Unity asking if I’m missing a reference or an assembly – I ADDED IT, NITZ!

All this time, I’ve been doing this because the launch of Quest 2 might just be a huge explosion of the VR market – since its cheap, easy to lug somewhere to show grandma and the folk at SideQuest make it ridiculously easy to sideload apps to the device. Since I’m doing this whole game dev thing to donate part of the proceeds to autism awareness, I gotta get the proceeds – and that means getting my game in front of as many eyeballs as I can muster.

I finally got it uploaded to SideQuest. yesterday. And already there are a dozen problems with it.

And my poor game languishes off to the back of the room, wondering when I’ll get back to it…

Transitions

So just as I’m making the push to get my game onto the Quest, I noticed my Rift started blacking out. Kiddo #2 had pointed out that there were times this happened when he played Minecraft in VR. I hadn’t really paid attention to it – but it started happening every time I put on the headset.

Start Program gifties

Based on what I’ve found on the interwebs, its the cable that connects the Rift to the PC – a rarified piece of tech that is no longer being made, is impossible to find and even broken ones are sold on eBay for 50+ dollars.

Which is an absolute shame – I was super proud when it was delivered – it was part of the Oculus Start program – designed to give people the ability to create for this amazing new medium, and while I despise the practices of their parent company – Oculus has really been a boon to developers who otherwise could not afford the heft entrance fee.

With their abandoning the Rift line and focusing more on the Quest, Oculus is signaling the end of an era. One I’m not terribly thrilled over; but one I have to accept as the tides are changing. Desktop VR will be more of a specialty – cost prohibitive and bulky. Mobile VR will keep expanding as its cheaper, easier to transport and set up.

So, after researching what was happening – and the lack of solutions, I started asking around in the various game dev outlets that I’m a part of – and in the Oculus Start discord, I got a suggestion to reach out to the Developer Support team, which I did… and I’m now getting a Rift S in a few weeks. Again, Oculus is amazing at taking care of indie devs. I hope the new headset brings as much joy as the old one did.

In another ending – I finished off a tub of gesso I got back in NYC when I worked at Pearl Paint, some 24 or 25 years ago.

it stayed workable for 25 years

Many a painting started from this humble can, some I sold, some I’ve gifted, others languishing away in a closet. Yet another piece of NYC comes to an end. When I got this, I was living in the greatest city in the world, I was hugely into rollerblading, doing a whole host of chemical colorants and learning just how tough the art industry truly is. And how little it paid.

I wish the art I created with this lives on long after I’ve faded from memory.