Wednesday, December 31, 2014

GenCon 2014

This actually happened way back in August, but I haven't had time to write it up properly until today. Hey, my duties as CEO of Bob Canada's BlogWorld keep me busy! Don't give me that look, they do! It's the last day of the year though, so I either write it up today or never, so here goes.
A while back I wrote a post about working on the RARRR!! card game for Ape Games. You can read all about that here.

Sometime around April or May, Kevin Brusky, who I'd worked with closely on the project, emailed me and said he'd be premiering the game at this year's GenCon in Indianapolis. GenCon is the largest annual gaming convention in North America, featuring board, card, role playing and even video games. It's a huge four day event that draws people from all over the world.

Kevin asked if I'd be interested in attending the Ape Games booth at GenCon— as a guest (!). He wanted me to sit in their booth and draw sketches and sign copies of the RARRR!! game for customers. Yikes!

As a sullen loner and recluse, my first reaction was to politely decline. I'm not a celebrity! And I'm not very good at meeting and greeting people. And I definitely couldn't imagine why anyone would ever want my autograph.

I've been to a lot of these types of conventions before, and I've seen many artists and writers sitting forlornly behind their tables, desperately trying to attract the attention of indifferent attendees as they walk by. I didn't want to be one of those people. To quote George Costanza's mom, I was afraid "I'd be sitting there like an idiot without any cake." 

Eventually Kevin somehow talked me into it and I agreed to attend. GenCon lasts for four days; I couldn't be there for the whole time, so I said I'd come Saturday, which I figured would be the busiest day.

I got up at the crack of butt in order to make the four hour trip to Indy. It's a three hour drive plus an unnecessary time zone change, which all adds up to four hours. It's been a lonnnnng time since I've watched the sun rise.

About halfway there I received a series of frantic calls from Kevin. He warned me that the Colts were playing later in the day at Lucas Oil Stadium, just down the street from the Convention Center where GenCon was happening. He said it was gonna be impossible to find a parking spot. I wasn't too worried about it and said, "We'll see."

A bit later he called and said word on the street was there'd be a three to four hour wait just to get in the door of GenCon. He said he'd understand if I didn't want to come after hearing all that.

I was well past halfway there at that point and figured eh, what the heck, I might as well keep going, and said I'd be there as soon as I could.

Apparently the Force was with me. I exited the highway around 10am and drove past the Convention Center. I saw a parking garage with a "vacancy" sign and pulled in. I parked several levels underground and when I emerged back to street level, I saw I was literally across the street from GenCon. Luckeee!

When I walked into the Convention Center, this was the scene that greeted me. Oy gevalt!

My ticket was waiting for me at the Will Call window. I found the proper window, and saw a line stretching down the corridor. I walked and walked and walked some more, passing at least five thousand people before I finally found the end of the line. It was a good three blocks long. That's not an exaggeration either.

Admittedly it looked pretty hopeless. I figured I'd be cooling my heels in that line for at least three hours, just like Kevin feared. Fortunately the line moved amazingly fast. I stood in line for fifteen minutes, twenty tops. Incredible! Those GenCon people are very well organized. Must have something to do with playing games and following rules and all that.

I got my pass and headed for the vendor room. I opened a suitable-looking door and saw this— a room that was at least an acre in size, populated by convention-goers all playing the same game.

Obviously I was in the wrong place. I asked a security guard where the vendor room was, and of course it was on the opposite side of the Convention Center.

As I walked through the Center, I got a sense of just how huge this thing was. There were entire rooms devoted to just video games, or role playing games. Some of the larger game companies even had their own rooms. Plus there was a second floor full of game rooms, and the con even spilled over into the ballrooms of several nearby hotels.

I finally found the vendor room and when I entered saw this. Merciful Thor! It was easily several acres in size.

I was honestly flabbergasted by the sheer scope of the thing. I had no idea there was still this much interest in board, card and role playing games. I figured everyone these days was too busy playing around on the internet or diddling with their phones to actually sit down and play a game. I'm glad to see that's not the case.

I walked around a while until I found the Ape Games booth. I looked for someone who appeared to be in charge, assumed he was Kevin and said, "Well, I made it!" He looked puzzled, obviously having no idea who I was. 

We'd been working on this project together for two years, but through email only. We'd never met in person so he didn't know what I looked like. I introduced myself and he couldn't believe I'd made it there by 10:30. He was expecting me to be stuck in line until 2 or 3 pm.

Plus I think he though I looked like this, which has kind of become my online representation. For the record, I don't look quite like that. Yet.

The booth was filled with large cutouts of some of the monsters I'd drawn for the game. It was pretty cool to see my artwork blown up to that size. Luckily the art was all vector, so there was no loss of resolution when it was enlarged that much.

Kevin showed me to a table in the booth and said he wanted me to sign the game boxes for customers and to do sketches of the various monsters.

I was still dubious that anyone would want me to sign or even draw anything for them, and was afraid I'd have to sit there like an idiot all day, which would be awkward for me and Kevin both.

Fortunately that wasn't the case. People bought the RARRR!! game. A lot of them. And many of them wanted me to sign it! I probably signed 25 or 30 copies of it over the course of the day.

They'd buy the game, then sheepishly come over and ask if I'd mind signing it. I'd say sure, but every time I'd be thinking, "Are you sure you want me to sign this? You know I'm not anyone famous, right?" They all seemed quite pleased that they'd met me though.

The booth was maybe 20' by 30' or so, and other than a couple of brief lulls it was packed solid all day. They sell more than just the game I worked on— they probably had 20 other games of various types.

I also sketched some of the monsters from the game as I sat at the table. Honestly it'd been so long since I drew them (two years in some cases) that I forgot exactly what they looked like. Luckily there were several copies of the game on the table, so I could look at them to refresh my memory.

His plan worked, Despite all the flashing lights and eye candy bombarding people everywhere they looked, the sight of a guy simply sitting at a table and drawing attracted people and drew them in. I drew a ton of sketches over the course of the day. In fact I was afraid I was going to run out of paper— the tablet I brought only had 50 sheets in it. I didn't buy a thicker one because I never dreamed I'd need it.

I drew a bunch of sketches for kids that bought the game. They were all suitably impressed because they're kids and they don't know from famous people. I tried to talk to the kids as I drew, so we didn't just sit there in silence. I'm not used to talking while I'm drawing, so that was new. 

One father was there with his little girl and he said she liked the game art so much she'd started drawing (I guess they saw the art online?). That was nice to hear, that I'd inspired a budding young artist.

Oddly enough some of the adults were just as impressed with the sketches as the kids, which surprised me. One lady stopped to watch, and said she just wanted to watch a "real" artist draw. When I was done I asked if she wanted the sketch, and she about flipped her lid, saying I'd "made her day" by giving it to her. She must have been having a really boring day.

At one point a family with two little boys came in to demo the game. The boys were about six or seven and looked like they might have been twins. Kevin walked the whole family through the game, and then they played it for about an hour. The boys looked so happy as they played the game. They were smiling and laughing and whooping it up when they'd score a point or whatever was happening.

Then they came over to my table and their mom said they liked the game so much they bought a copy with their own money, and wanted to know if I'd sign it for them. I signed their game and gave each one a sketch. It did my cynical, black heart good to see something I worked on give someone so much happiness. I generally don't get a lot of feedback on my work, so it was nice to see that people really do like it.

I got up and one point to get a quick snack and walked around the vendor room to see what was going on. I only made it about halfway through before I gave up, realizing it would take all day to look at everything. 

Again, I am amazed at the sheer amount of games, gaming supplies and game related items that exist. I had no idea gaming was still so popular. Kevin said there are about a thousand new board & card games released every year. Incredible!

People came to GenCon from all over too. One man and his little boy said they drove NINE hours to be there. Another said he was from Washington D.C. Oy! I thought my three hour drive was bad!

The con lasts for four days, and Kevin said the vast majority of people attend every day. I can see why. There's no way you could see everything or do it justice in just one day. I saw maybe 10% of it. If that.

I also have newfound respect for people and celebrities who man the booths at shows like these. It's exhausting! All I did was sit in a chair and draw all day, but I was worn out by 5 o'clock. Kevin was on his third day of the show! I don't know how he did it.

It was fun though. Much more fun than I thought it would be, and I'm glad I agreed to go.

The vendor room closed at five (although the rest of the show went on until midnight). Since we'd never really "met" until that day, Kevin suggested we go out to eat so we could have a chance to talk. The aforementioned Colts game had just finished, so the area was packed full of rowdy fans walking down the middle of the streets. We eventually made it to a pretty good pizza place and had a nice dinner.

I headed back to beautiful downtown Evansville and got home around 11pm my time, and flopped into bed. I was worn out. So ended my first experience as a convention "celebrity."

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