Over the last weekend, the yearly AdventureX convention in London grew up. It’s been running for the last few years, and I’ve always meant to but never actually managed to get down to it. This year though saw it raise money via Kickstarter to properly support itself, fill the halls at Goldsmiths College in London, and make itself an essential note on the calendar for anyone interested in adventure games, interactive fiction or other narrative driven stuff. What stood out for me wasn’t the talks though, but the general atmosphere. I’ve never been to a friendlier conference, or one with less ego on display. Everyone was there for the exact same reason – to celebrate this wonderful, crazy, goofy little genre we love so much.
In particular, while I can’t say for sure that it never happened, I know I never saw many people sitting or standing on their own for long. It was especially good to hear from fellow social anxiety sufferers that they’d felt welcomed and able to talk to people at this one more than most. And for anyone wondering – yes, despite what it might look like, I have crippling social anxiety. The only way I can handle these events is to treat them, to some degree, as a performance, since I don’t have a problem with stage-fright. After that, it’s a case of holding onto the thrashing dragon’s tail and trying not to let go. But it really doesn’t take much for that to happen, and it inevitably leads to a crash and a bad case of the shakes and painful memory flashes once finished.
I bring this up mostly to say: trust me, I know exactly what it’s like to feel alone in a group. This however is one of the rare times I feel comfortable saying if you did find yourself supporting a wall, that it’s worth trying again next year and just maybe moving a little closer to a group or starting a conversation with the person next to you, because I genuinely haven’t seen a more welcoming, willing to engage audience in a very long time. I really hope that continues to be the case, and the event itself sticks to its egalitarian principles rather than handing out ‘Developer’ wrist-bands or other stuff of that ilk. It shouldn’t matter. I liked that it didn’t seem to.
Certainly, from my perspective, every conversation was a pleasure, from folks who knew my stuff to folk who had no idea who I was, to the exhibitors on display, to the guy from a company I won’t name who introduced himself with “Just so you know, I always thought you were the devil,” in reference to a one-star review of one of his games from years ago. Luckily that led to a really fun, vibrant conversation and I think we patched things up pretty well. It was great to see a lot of old friends and finally meet up with some Twitter contacts, from Wadjet Eye’s Dave Gilbert to the Back Seat Designers to some cool folks I’ve worked with but never actually met.
Just as much though, it was awesome to meet new people and embrace the lack of ego as folks casually talked about what they did – everyone from Georgina of Hanako Games to Rebecca, who mentioned being a former BioWare writer, before casually revealing that she wrote my second favourite of the class stories – the Sith Inquisitor. For my own side, it was awesome to hear how many people really loved Sunless Sea, Crap Shoot and last year’s videos.
If I had to pick one specific highlight though, it would have to be the event’s capper, a performance of The Dark Room. As I had to mumble to him afterwards, I’ve been a fan since the original YouTube game and wanted to see the live show for ages. It was absolutely worth the wait. Making it even more fun was that I was with a group who’d never heard of it and had no idea what to expect of this crazed Knightmare meets Zork mash-up, starring a deranged cyberpunk Arthas. Every last second was brilliance, from the technical glitches to the improv insults to the weird audience moments like the guy who didn’t quite seem to get that he wasn’t the current player. If you get the chance to see the show, I don’t just recommend it – I insist. It’s the only time when an entire audience screaming “YA DIE! YA DIE! YA DIE! YA DIE!” can somehow have a genuine warmth to it. Especially in a room of hardcore adventure geeks.
(Unrelated, I’d love to know what happens if a player follows the web version’s winning path. I mean, I’m sure what follows is a chorus of “YA DIE! YA DIE! YA DIE! YA DIE!”, since there’s no way a performer as genre-savvy as Robertson is going to let that go unanswered, but still, the contempt his character must have for anyone who dared do homework…)
Anyway. I also had a few things on this weekend – a talk on the art of humour in games, an interview with Rhianna Pratchett, and a panel about writing about games. I think they went okay, but I don’t really know. To judge from my memory, they were mostly spent going ‘um’, ‘uh’, and babbling incoherently. However, people have told me they enjoyed them, so… fingers crossed they weren’t just being polite? As I said, I don’t mind performance, but I’m not very experienced when it comes to giving structured talks and syncing things up with PowerPoint and trying to keep an eye on a clock and trying to read a room and adding in stuff on the fly based on reactions and all that, which I hope didn’t get in the way too much.
(The only fuck-up of note that I do bitterly remember and regret was a question about working within a style. I launched confidently into a personal example, of how Failbetter Games likes to tell its writers to aim for “Peake, not Pratchett” – not as a quality thing, by any means, but a general pointer to be more the self-aware, tongue-in-cheek style of something like Gormenghast. Only to immediately forget who the other author whose name with P was, and end up mumbling something like “Don’t write like Pratchett.” As if there’s a single writer in the universe who wouldn’t be blessed with that ability, and I wouldn’t desperately love to find anyone who fit the bill. Still, at least it wasn’t almost immediately after interviewing Rhianna, with her sitting in the audience and… oh, no, wait. Both of those things. Shit, shit, shit… Uh. Sorry!)
Anyway, people seemed to like it, though I’m not sure you can trust them since they were all naked at the time. Most impolite, if you ask me. Just for fun, and in case anyone is interested, I’ve uploaded my original slides and final script, minus some off-the-cuff interludes.
With or without my babbling though, I think a great time was had by all. If I had one twitch of ‘this is unfortunate’, and it’s not one I think there’s much to be done about, it’s that adventure games and demo floors aren’t a great mix. I wouldn’t get rid of the exhibitors or anything, but it’s impossible to get in the mood and focus when you’ve got people pushing past and the designer themselves watching for reactions and you’ve just bounced from a horror game to a comedy and so on… every game that I played was a case of “I look forward to playing this, but… at home.” Particular ones that caught my interest though were the gorgeous noir Lamplight City, the Gilliam-animated Lancelot’s Hangover, the patriotic joy of Her Majesty’s Spiffing, horror comedy Waldemar The Warlock. Also, let it be known that I want an entire game based on Lily, the awesome child adventurer from The Little Acre. So incredibly adorable.
Oh, and next year definitely needs more adventure game cosplay.
In short, the whole event was I think a triumphant success, from the organisers putting together an amazing show, to the visitors diving in and making the most of having a couple of days to geek out over this wonderful yet goofy little genre of endless potential that we love so much. Can’t wait for next year’s, whether I’m involved with any of the stage stuff or not.
And now… to bed. Because I think I may actually collapse with exhaustion.