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Artemis at Starcon 2013, 13-14 July (Russia, Saint-Petersburg)

posted Jul 15, 2013 09:34:32 by Hissatsu
Hardly "news" and more of an after-action report, seeing as everything about conventions and events is placed in "News" section, I decided this subforum is still the place to go.

Preamble:

So, unlike you lucky americans, here in Russia the convention scene is very much undeveloped - so far we have ONE sci-fi convention going once a year, and not even in the capitol city of our country. And can you believe it, when I posted a topic about "lets gather and play this cool game Artemis where you can play your own spaceship bridge" on the main Star Trek fan forum of the country (trekker.ru), I had ZERO replies in a year. Nevertheless, this time me and my wife, we decided we'll try to ignite the interest in this awesome game in Russia.

Therefore, 13 and 14 July 2013, on "Starcon", the one and only Russian sci-fi (and all sorts alternate realities) convention, there was a modest setup dedicated to letting visitors play a game they've never seen before: "Artemis, Spaceship Bridge Simulator".


To boldly go where no man has gone before...


Preparations:

We had no resources, no funding, no prior convention experience, and no people really enthusiastic to do this with us. Still, as a (stereo)typical russians, we delved into the problem head on. With the help of this forum we kinda figured out how will we introduce complete newbies to the game, I made a cheatsheet and introduction text to each of the roles, and we made some cheap DIY press-walls out of planks and duct tape. Had to rent notebooks as I don't own 6, managed to get a projector to use for free on my workplace, and had to buy a screen because renting it would cost relatively the same. At least convention provided us with some tables and chairs for free.

Our total cost was ~200$ for renting 4 notebooks, ~70$ for projector screen, ~35$ for ethernet cables and ~60$ for press wall components, or 375$ total. Was it worth it?


One thing we were not hesitant to spend the budget on was handsome booth babes
(nah, kidding, they're actually friends of ours)


Execution:

I must say, I never expected it would be SO awesome. Despite technical difficulties with WiFi we had on day 1, despite convention being loud and very hard to communicate even when we seated people very close to each other, despite one notebook dying on us in the middle of the day (good thing I had a backup ready), despite the fact that we had to get up early after getting to bed late, and had to spend all day barely having time to rest or even eat, it was awesome. You could definetly feel how much people really craved for the experience we introduced to them - even those crews that didn't progress far or didn't understand much of the gameplay mechanics still had an awesome time playing the game. We had many crews getting really excited and involved, and I was really happy to see how much joy there was all around. Numerous people thanked us and shared their excitement, and inquired about the game - I hope we will see new Russian players joining our community.


One of the most emotional and excited team we've got during the whole event


We had 2 to 3 friends stick with us at the booth, who were mildly knowledgeable about the game or outright not knowledgeable of it at all, but they tried to help, and did help a bit. Still, the booth was mostly ran by 2 people plus a person who watched after our belongings.


Unidentified Lifeform on board!


For the second day of the convention, I was able to setup the "Star Trek TMP Realism" mod, and it seems that public liked that even more (I dunno how it would end up in your country, maybe you'd have lawyers in your face immediately demaning bribes and fines and stuff and confiscating your equipment). We had more casualties (in that mod there are many ships that you cannot go head-on against because of very powerful frontal beam) but people definetly enjoyed flying the iconic ship they love from the movies.


Constitution class starship of the Federation


We didn't have anything fancy or aestetically cool - having to work with generic chairs and tables, I tried to setup the bridge to resemble the configuration of the USS Enterprise: Helms and Comms in the front, Capitain in the middle, Engineer-Science-Weapons behind in a semicircle. However, since there was so much noise, capitain had to turn around constantly to communicate, and we had to switch the setup to have the capitain sitting next to the science officer in the back row. Actually, that looked very nice in my opinion, and the whole construction kinda resembled some kind of a ship cockpit. To tell you the truth, when a person approached me and told me he's willing to build a bridge for this game for the next convention, recreating all stations and stuff, and is going to try to find funding for it, I immediately thought that it would be more benefitial to put that effort and funding into getting two or three bridges running, even if they'd be plain tables and chairs, rather than have one bridge that is very decorated. People seemed to have so much fun even without any decoration in place.


You never know if a person roleplaying a vulcan is having fun, though. No emotions...


Conclusion:

Looking back, now that we have experience running an Artemis booth, we have understanding how we could better organise the whole event. We should have had someone instruct and brief people on their stations before it is their time to play the game, so that they could get into the game immediately when previous team finished. The way it was, people were just standing there waiting for their game, or wandering around convention, and then we had to instruct them and give them to try stuff out for about 5 minutes out of their 40 minute playtime - this could be avoided if they would be thoroughly briefed before.

Manuals and cheat sheets that we prepared were a little bit off focus - I tried to convey all the basic information about the console in the format of one A4 page, information like what allocating energy to each system does for engineering, or what weapons and options are there available for weapons, or what control options there are for helms. However, I should have instead just told them what to do - like, tell helms that he sets a course by clicking with a mouse and goes to warp by pressing numbers 1-4, tell engineering to put 250/8 to beams, maneuver, warp or front shields when appropriate, tell weapons to fire homings one after another for single targets, and fire ecm -> nuke on fleets, while using manual mode to shoot down maneuver if we're trying to get behind the enemy, or weapons if we're dealing with him head on, and so on. Since I tried to explain much basic information, people were often using that information wrongly - like, helms tried to navigate all by keyboard and struggled to turn to required headings, or engineering getting all messed up and overheating the ship, or weapons firing multiple ecms on one target and at point blank range.

Setting up the stations in any formation where capitain is not behind everybody would not be a good idea for a newbie crew - even if there would be no noise interference, newbie capitain had hard time tracking in his head where which of his players is sitting, and had to constantly turn around, trying to remember to whom does he speak in order to get a heading or prepare the nuke. Also, getting a capitain who is willing to actually speak a lot and get people involved was very important - when capitain was mute and slow to take a desicion, there was way less enjoyment obviously by everybody, and especially comms. Generally, correctly choosing the capitain was the most important part in ensuring the newbie team will have good time playing.

Difficulty setting 2 proved to be the best for newbies, because on 3 and above damage from enemy weapons and abundance of elites was already too high for some crews, and made games last too long, and on 1 there was just not enough targets to shoot at. Both Very Interesting and Barren settings are not suitable for newbie teams - Barren is really plain and boring, and Very Interesting has too many friendly ships and debris compared to the amount of enemy ships on difficulty level 2, which makes it stick out that there are not enough enemies.

Including the preparation time of about 2 to 4 minutes, a 40 minute total game session seemed to be really enough - we didn't have a single team not complete a mission in that time. The only time we had to ask people to go to let next team play is when they either won too fast or lost too fast and we've launched another mission for them.

Signing people up in advance was definetly a good idea - too bad we didn't start doing it from day 1. There is however a problem of signing people up too far ahead - people would get lost, forget they wanted to play, or just get involved somewhere else or go home, so you couldn't really rely on them to come.

Every day started with us having no visitors for about half an hour, with only so few people inquiring, because a bunch of seats and tables are not very attractive, and even Attract Mode mission didn't help much. However, after we'd get a single crew rolling, we would never have a vacant bridge until the very end of the day, EVER. And no, this was not tied to the amount of visitors on the ground - there was no big visible increase of the amount of people on the convention between first and two following games, it was just the fact that people noticed someone's having fun and came to see what's up, countrary to people saw a bunch of vacant tables and chairs, and not even coming close because there's nothing there of interest. Therefore, it is very important to have at least 5 people on the booth, because you absolutely HAVE to have booth staff playing the game from the minute convention opens in order to get the public interested, and have one person on standby to greet the public and tell them about the game. Maybe sending out our volounteers to walk around the convention offering people to play could help too, but we didn't have time to think of a good speech and make flyers they could hang out (and then again, after first game started, we'd never be in need of players again).

Even on a relatively small convention, we had more people willing to play than we could serve. Would be awesome if we could get two bridges going - we could have more people play at the same time, or even give them some cooperative missions, with comms communicating via walkie-talkie or some voicechat software. But then again - where do we get the funds to rent PCs and projectors? Dillema...

Finaly, photos and videos from the convention:

- Photos of the booth and people playing
http://imgur.com/a/KFTpI

- Photos of the convention itself and booth crew
http://imgur.com/a/2fUtQ

- Videos of people playing (in Russian, obviously)
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzcZjkrVBTvLUllPe6iS9QZB5T2Tb8yAb
[Last edited Jul 16, 2013 19:31:53]
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9 replies
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SergeBeaumont said Jul 15, 2013 11:39:16
Hissatsu, kudos to you for going where no one has gone before... :-)

Awesome post, I loved reading it. It was also very informative, great tips at the end.

Na zdarovje!
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Mike_Substelny said Jul 15, 2013 15:30:12
That was a great story. Thank you for sharing, Hissatsu.
"Damn the torpedoes! Four bells, Captain Drayton!"

(Likely actual words of Admiral David Farragut, USN, at the battle of Mobile Bay. Four bells was the signal for the engine room to make full steam ahead).
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Charlie said Jul 16, 2013 00:31:23
Looks like a kick ass time!
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ThomRobertson said Jul 16, 2013 19:01:09
Your experience mirrors my own. Nothing is as attractive as people playing Artemis, a loud room sux, a gregarious captain is best, people need to learn by doing, and there's nothing better than seeing the joy people get from playing.
Creator of Artemis
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niranth01 said Jul 17, 2013 18:50:26
So, would it be worthwhile to either bring friends to fill a bridge early or make the first run free?
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JanxJelantru said Jul 17, 2013 19:31:16
Sounds like it worked out overall.

Building a "fancy" bridge may be ambitious, but if you had it, it would help sell the game as people would see it and come to investigate.

Isolating your bridge to a room instead of being on the main floor might help the players, though it may hinder people from finding your booth.

I would try to consolidate the "how to" into a video you can run when you bring each new crew in, or that loops on a display outside of the game area. This way, people can watch how to play while they wait for their turn. Saves time, and your voice from having to repeat the same litany. It would be really cool if the Project Draco folks could assemble some stuff from their set and actors.

I would also streamline further what you want to teach new players. They don't need ECMs, or they can figure it out. They need need to know how to load a torpedo and fire it, and how to shoot the lasers. They need to know how to repair the ship, and re-arrange energy (without overloading). They need to know how to request a dock or surrender. They need to know how to scan a ship and get a heading. They need to know how to turn the ship and get it moving. Keep it simple.

While the event is fresh in your mind, meet with your team and list out the problems you had and things that worked. List out the things you want to prepare and guesstimate what time and resources you'll need.

Then, take a break, and come back in a month and work on the list. Odds are good, you only need a few months to prepare, so you don't need to burn yourself out on it by rushing on things now, that you don't need until a year from now.

I would work on getting your own equipment for laptops and networking (we talked about networking in other threads). Spending your year to aquire hardware is probably a good investment. I'm assuming you can get older laptop gear over in Russia with some ease. New laptops can be bought here in the states for $300. Old ones should be nearly free. Wipe them and set them up to just run the game. Renting might work out, depends on what you paid.

I definitely agree with putting your idle staff in the game in the morning. Get that ship flying to attract attention right away, and have your staff relinquish positions when people come in.

While tempting, I would stay away from multi-bridge until at least year 3. You learned a lot in Year 1, and you can reinforce and improve the experience in your second year. Year 3 is when you'll be more prepared for an even larger event, and probably have made contacts who want to help run it.


If there were enough conventions and interest, I'd suggest creating the ArtemisExperience convention event. That's where you mimic the TrueDungeon folks who made a live D&D dungeon, and build your bridge, load it on a trailer and set it up at conventions across the country and charge $20 a turn.

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Hissatsu said Jul 19, 2013 08:39:35
2 JanxJelantru
Thanks for detailed suggestions.

Trailer idea is especially cool indeed. I dunno if there's enough interest in this game yet, however, to make that. You see, so far in cities where 5 and 8 million people live, we can't get a SINGLE crew together. I bet you have constant crews running in way smaller cities in America. That's how undeveloped it is here. I'm telling you, I'd LOVE to do something like that, and I have money and skills I believe, but there's just no way it will work, unless I'm misinformed...

Conventions too - there is one yearly sci-fi convention in whole Russia. Frigging ONE! For a country of 140 million people. There is also "Everycon" - a convention for "all sorts of fandoms" (then again, Starcon also "invites foreign universes" so you have anime and medieval cosplay on a sci-fi con). It, however, will happen in a very compact space, where we won't be able to set up a bridge. There's also "AVA Expo" which is more of a cosplay event. Dunno if Artemis fits there at all, but I guess I'll ask. That's it. Therefore, even if equipment cheap (so far I didn't find a place where I can buy used laptops cheaper than 200$, or 100$ for one with no battery), there seems to be little point in acquiring it because we'll be barely able to use it! I mean, once, twice a year?...

I'm really at a loss, as to how do I introduce Artemis to a larger audience to get a fandom going, so that we could have at least one crew doing regular games in a 5+ million city. So, far, I really don't know how to get people playing it.

In my opinion, this really comes down to Artemis being a very wierd game, in a sense that its a computer game that works like a tabletop game but you need a notebook to play it. That's what I said when guys wanted to Greenlit it - Artemis is NOT for people who enjoy computer games, because it doesn't play like one. Playing it like a multiplayer coop game is "okayish" but is not even remotely close to the true experience it is designed for. It's designed for playing in one room - like a tabletop game, with people more focused on talking to each other than playing the game itself - and unlike tabletop game, you need everybody to have a laptop (while for tabletop you only need one guy to have a game). This makes it kinda hard to get people into the game, because if you go to gamers to promote it, this isn't the experience they generally want, and if you go to tabletop gamers to promote it, you need to get them interested in playing a computer game first, so that they can find out this game is actually an experience they like.

PS: niranth01, btw, we didn't charge any money for it. Do you actually charge money for it at cons?
[Last edited Jul 19, 2013 08:48:01]
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JanxJelantru said Jul 19, 2013 20:04:13
I've already dropped the Tutorial Video bug in the Project Draco guys' ears. Sounds like they like it and may do it. That means once they make it, you can use it. Let the internet help everybody out.


Russia's definitely a different country. Sorry it's harder to get things going over there. I would approach college gaming and sci-fi groups as the most direct way to reach the demographic. I don't think getting all of Russia hooked on it is a task one guy can do by himself, but I suspect you can affect your local region and that'll get other folks to spread the word.

I'm not sure how Minecraft did it, it seems You Tube really played a big part. If Artemis could get more/better exposure and word of mouth, that could help. I found out about Artemis, because I was on my annual gaming road trip, with a friend who moved out of town. During the drive, I mentioned how it would be cool if there were a game that let us each take on a position on the Enterprise. And he told us about a game he found called Artemis that did just that.

That's just how hard it is to make that connection with players and the game. If I hadn't of talked about the idea of the game, he would never have brought it up.

I think to recruit players, you need to approach each group with a different summary of the game appropriate to the group of people your talking to.

"COOP Lan Party where the players work together to run the star ship"
"role play the positions on a star ship with computer resolution of ship mechanics"

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