I did a quick there-and-back-again single day trip to Gen Con last Saturday. [1] It was successful in terms of being a simple "scouting trip" to get a feel for the Con. I did fail to remember to bring business cards, so not a total success, and while I enjoyed myself I am still not quite certain if I would attend Gen Con again.

After taking possibly too many hours to wander the Convention Center to gather my bearings, then the Exhibit Hall, and finally to figure out the way event tickets worked for even things like "pick-up games", I did manage to play a couple of games that were new to me. I also watched about an hour of Artemis Bridge Simulator, because it is awesome. (Unfortunately I didn't have an opportunity to play Artemis given the group nature of it and the strict gameplay schedule for it.)

First I played a game in the FATE system. (The specific setting was based on a comic called Atomic Robo, which I admit I'm unfamiliar with but sounds interesting.) I didn't think I had played a FATE game prior to that, but some of the rules had that sort of vaguely hazy deja vu that comes from either having played it before intoxicated and/or exhausted, or at least recognizing so many of FATE's concepts used in different not-quite-FATE systems.

I also participated in my first game of Microscope, which had been on my radar for some time, but this was the first opportunity I've had to try it. As a game it certainly played to many of my interests, and I'm curious to try it with more of an "end game" in mind: Microscope seems like it would be most interesting when played as the opening round of a collaborative writing session or leading into some more traditional RPG campaign utilizing the world building from the Microscope round.

I did run into a couple of friends and I even talked briefly about my plans for the game design I've codenamed Popcorn Vigilante [2] to both friends and strangers (new friends!) alike. I particularly enjoyed the lightbulb reactions from a couple of the guys I played Microscope with as they began to pick up where I was going with the idea.

As much fun as I had, however, I can't help but feel that Gen Con didn't quite feel like it was what I want from a Con as a player. I'm not yet sure it would be worth the expense to go again next year. Essentially Gen Con felt too big, and too organized for what I find that I seek in a gaming convention. I'm somewhat burnt out on Con panels in general. Mostly what I'm interested in doing is in joining a combination of random and strange pick-up groups to play games I might never have an opportunity to play, or at least be introduced to, outside of a Con, and also "nearly" pick-up games with friends and/or GMs that I admire.

Both games I played were after discovering a small couple of rooms labeled simply "Games On Demand". This was the closest I found to what I was looking for, and yet mostly due to Gen Con over-organization still did not quite feel as fun as I would have liked. Due to compartmentalization of Gen Con, Games on Demand was focused almost solely on RPGs, so it wasn't the all-encompassing game buffet LFG I would have most preferred. Additionally, the way it needed to be scheduled due to a combination of need to work around so many people's busy event schedules and a need for the group to "pay for" even its presently modest event space within the larger structure of Gen Con by requiring event tickets (like everything else I encountered), caused it to require most games to stick to a rather strict two hour play session. In my experience, most RPGs are rather constrained and need to be played essentially abridged in a two hour play session.

Essentially, I saw Gen Con as something of a throw-back school MMO lacking proper LFG search tools. Admittedly, some of this was my own fault: I intentionally didn't take the time to figure out the event tickets system [4] until I was actually there. Also, I was informed by at least one person that most of the "real" pick up games happen outside of the Convention proper and in the after-hours at the various hotels. Clearly in making a day trip without staying in a hotel I missed out on all such interactions.

The technology to build a more interesting, more ad hoc, more powerful LFG search tool for something like Gen Con certainly exists, and its possibly even something that I could have a hand in building. Were it to be used, that would certainly make the trip more worthwhile for me. I guess the other thing that would make the trip more worthwhile is if I myself had a game to demo or sell by the time the next Gen Con rolls around...

[1]Four hours of driving. Thanks to finding a garage with open charging stations not too far from the Convention Center, it was an amazing 80 electric mile day. Plus I accumulated more than 15k steps and 7 miles of walking.
[2]I've been debating how much to specifically blog about my progress on design documents for Popcorn Vigilante. To be honest, a lot of it was designed over the years here on my blog and it shouldn't be hard to find hints and origin stories for it. [3] The most interesting thing about it is more that I've long seen the key parts of it as "sub-systems" of games out of scope for me to build (alone or even with a small team), and a few months ago I stumbled upon the necessary inversion in thinking and potentially profitable platform to make Popcorn Vigilante reasonable. Plus that's when the codename came to me, and projects typically aren't real for me until they have a cool codename. (Admittedly I've had many "projects" that were nothing but a cool codename, but shut up.) Currently I've got a couple hundred words into one of my favorite design documents ever, a prototype for the character name generator (which I consider important), and am currently debating what cloud platform I want to use to actually build it on. Maybe if I get some actual coding started I'll blog more about what Popcorn Vigilante is and wants to be.
[3]It's also obliquely important to the game design that in turn became my short story Princesses of Planetary Peace, which I'm still years later trying to figure out how, when, and where to publish.
[4]Event tickets add an extra layer of forced "micro-transactions" over an already hefty badge price that I'm also particularly unimpressed with. I realize it is a scarcity management tool and real money economics are clearly easy enough to use for that, but I can't help but wonder if there might be better approaches, possibly by going back to the MMO analogy and finding some sort of useful non-RMT game currencies.