OK, I’ve wasted enough time sleeping, time to write a bit about Gencon. The convention itself ended on Sunday, but I was back here in Finland late on Tuesday, after which I’ve pretty much spent the days sleeping well for a change. I did manage to mail all the ordered copies of Zombie Cinema and Solar System, though. But, Gencon: was it fun? Who’d I meet? Did we sell? Anything else?
Travel and logistics
Generally speaking our plan was simple:
- Get to Chicago by plane on Monday.
- Camp out in Ron’s basement through Tuesday, compiling Zombie Cinema into complete sets.
- Travel to Indianapolis on Wednesday, set up the Forge booth and meet people.
- Pick up Solar System from our hotel, where it would be shipped by the printer a couple of days in advance.
- Do the “Forge booth experience” as instructed in the great chapterbooks of the movement from Thursday to Sunday, inclusive.
- On the side, buy everything that looks good and isn’t nailed down, so as to sell it for insane profits in Finland.
- Return to Chicago on Monday, fly to Finland, fulfill any orders that have come up meanwhile, inventory the loot, write product description for our Finnish webstore/game reference and die from exhaustion.
The execution of this plan fell on me and my brothers-in-arms, Jari and Markku. Overall I can’t fault the plan or the execution – we did everything on the list. But it’s the little things that make this sort of thing so memorable and don’t really enamor me to travel. For example:
- Our logistics department (read: Markku) proved that they’re about as smart as NASA, getting mixed up with imperial vs. metric values and buying only one third of the tape we needed to compile Zombie Cinema. This, combined with a slighly over-optimistic estimation of working speed, meant that we still had half of the game packaging undone on Wednesday. We ultimately ended up doing the rest of the work at the convention. Or, as karmic justice would have it, Markku did.
- On Wednesday, we managed to spend six hours driving from Chicago to Indianapolis. I understand that this is normally a three-hour drive, but creative use of the GPS-mapping system allowed us to avoid the actual highway between the cities for a surprisingly long time.
- When we finally got to our hotel, the Solar System had not yet come in. Or that’s what we thought at first, but after two days of waiting and ultimately communicating with the courier service, the truth was revealed: the hotel was undergoing a renovation, and apparently one of the renovating workmen had received the 15 boxes of books without telling the hotel staff, only to store them somewhere where the staff didn’t even know of their existence. I can only surmise that they had some sort of renovation closet somewhere and the person in question thought that the boxes included some stuff for the renovation.
- I caught a slight flue in the middle of the convention. This wouldn’t be at all remarkable normally, but a convention of this sort is just about the most demanding that the culture industry ever gets. Doing 16 hours of talking, socializing and thinking per day isn’t as fun as it could be if your throat hurts and nose runs.
- We really bought just about as many books as we could physically fit in our bags for the return trip without going over the weight limits. In practice this meant that we spend something like four hours packing the bags all told. And a third of the stuff is still with Jari in the US (he continued his trip into a vacation).
So that’s the sort of trip it was.
The truth about America
I’d never been to USA before. I’m just about the worst person to ask for travelogue material, but here’s what I noticed:
- The country is strained and the peace is artificial. People are scared, and I guess they have some reason: guards are everywhere, grifters rule the streets and the city planning seems to be done with the goal of making people go insane quickly. To pick a term, I’d characterize the country as several degrees more chaotic than any place in Europe that I’ve visited.
- The travel arrangements are very zany. At places the overall building style and such resembled Finland a lot, except for one little detail – there are no sidewalks or light traffic lanes anywhere except the immediate downtown areas, which is more than a little weird. Likewise, I’m surprised at the number of toll booths along the highways – somehow I’d thought that that sort of technology would simply be outdated by now, even if the notion of private highway weren’t.
- The food culture is very familiar, coming from Finland. I guess it might be because we eat Americanized food here in Finland nowadays, or something like that. Like everywhere, the quality depends on where you eat: Ron grills some excellent meat, while Dunkin’ Donuts are rather unremarkable and Taco Bell food is outright awful. Part of the fun in being in the US was eating at all these iconic restaurants – and I can easily see why the majority of them are just icons in Europe, instead of international chains…
- The service culture is more outgoing and motivated than Finland. Probably has something to do with the practice of tipping. Interestingly enough, however, this does not mean that the service is good; rather, it means that the service is only good when you are in situations that are ritualized into service tasks. What this means in practice is that, for example, you might have to wait in line several times in a fast-food restaurant, first to order and then to get the food – I couldn’t imagine something like this going over here in Finland.
As you can see, the reason I’m a bad source for travelogues is my penchant for excess narrativizing – I’m sure that in reality USA is just a country like any other, even if an individual will by necessity see it through his own, limited viewpoint. Another reason is that my contact with America was fleeting, really – I just ate and slept there, really, spending most of my time at Gencon.
The event was surprisingly routine for me, overall. It was like a larger version of Ropecon, actually. The only difference seemed to be that fact that commercial activity is encouraged in all its forms, so there is a much wider array of commercially backed programming than there is in Ropecon. The company that just sells stuff behind a table is an exception among the majority who is trying to make a lasting impression by entertaining the convention audience. So very positive, overall.
The reader probably already knows the basic gist of what we do at the Forge booth and so on and so forth, so I’ll just point out some significant things I experienced at the convention:
- The people you know well from the Internet are often not the most interesting ones in practice. We pretty much just exhanged greetings with Matt Snyder, for example, even while I have plenty of respect for his work. Meanwhile, I ended up spending an inordinate amount of time chatting with Epediah Ravachol, the creator of Dread – he’s just as smart live as he is in his game.
- There’s a metric buttload of games out there that needed to be brought back to Finland for the local connosseurs – I think I’m roughly doubling the number of games in our retail oeuvre. Surprisingly, however, not many of these games are from outside the Forge nimbus – The Forge booth, IPR catalogue, Design Matters and Playcollective pretty much make up the list of games I opted to take back for retail. The exceptions comprise under 5% of the load. Part of that, though, is the fact that at least three games we’d have been willing to retail were not available for that sort of thing at Gencon. Four, actually – Key 20 was not there, so I couldn’t get New Gods of Mankind.
- Zombie Cinema was easy to demonstrate, and I fear I spent a bit too much time doing just that as the ropers kept pushing new and interested people at me. It sold a bit under 50 copies, all told. Solar System, on the other hand, I left almost alone – I think I gave not one demo of that for a real audience during the convention. Despite that, the game sold roughly the same as Zombie Cinema on its own merits. It’s a much slower product in all ways, so I’ll be interested in seeing when the first online reactions come in.
That’s not a long list, and overall the convention proper was pretty calm for me. I got to play 3:16 just like everybody else, and the rumors of its excellence are not overdone.
I’m still in the process of reviewing our game loot. Will probably be for the rest of the week, considering that we have like 30 games I’d never read before the convention. I need to read those and review them for our Finnish website.
After I get that done, I’ll write some zombie-related content for our Zombie Cinema website – I need to put in some context-sensitive articles for different types of players, all the better to make the game understandable.