I spent the entire last two months preparing for E3, which was an awesome lead-up to readying Black Annex for PAXAus.
Knowing that Black Annex would be playable by the general public at PAXAus in a massive booth, I took a very rough build to E3 and let about ten people play it there with no guidance (I just silently stood behind them to find out what guidance I need to build into the game and get it ready for PAX).
E3 was great. It was super fun and absolutely massive, I met some amazing people there. I spent time talking to Joystiq, RockPaperShotgun, GhostRobo, Fullscreen Arcade, BeefJack, and Random Assault Podcast. Among all that, I also got a chance to just explore E3, see lots of awesome games, and also be amazed by my first time in the USA.
But that was all to prepare for PAXAus. So I made a single mission for Black Annex that was *fairly* hard, but also do-able with a few brute-force attempts, and built a short (somewhat confusing) tutorial into the start of the game. I had a team of five people including myself to help run the booth (@manfightdragon, @honeycommbe, @urbanneurosis, @takorii, and @davomagnifico). I had sent out about 200 emails a month before PAX, each individually written and catered to each person inviting them to stop by the booth and meet me to check out Black Annex. I was fully booked all 3 days to be in interviews, so I knew I’d need people at the booth the whole time for me.
In the lead-up to PAXAus, while I was preparing the demo and talking to media, @honeycommbe was preparing the booth. We would have a trestle table with two desktop PCs (actually an iMac and a laptop hooked into a KVM), and one press-only demo unit (a laptop on a bar table). We also had a small cabinet, and five seats. We brought two A1 posters with our own art, three rice-bubbles boxes that we put printed sheets over to create fake “Big box” Black Annex retail boxes, glass jars filled with mints which we had written our twitter handles on (using food dye), about 1500 button/pins, of which there were 6 different styles in two fishbowls at the booth. We also brought business cards in holders.
We packed a car and drove to PAXAus. I arrived Wednesday in the expo hall (PAX begins Friday). I took all the bulky items in and set them up. I wasn’t allowed to hook up the electrics until they’d been “Tagged”. I ran into Jerry (from Penny Arcade Co.) and got a very excited photo with him after giving him a run-through of Black Annex. I left things for the night and got some sleep.
The next morning, I wandered back into the expo hall, still with one day to go before the actual show, hooked all the electronics up and made sure everything was sound. After a lot of work, preparation and meditation, we were ready for the media and the public to come and play Black Annex for the first time. (Sidenote: I’m pretty sure the entire “we have to test and tag your cables!” thing never happened). I didn’t want to leave, but I had a VIP event to go to where press people would be mulling around, so we headed over there.
The next morning we arrived about two hours before the media would be allowed in (which happens one hour before the public are allowed in). We chatted with other exhibitors, and waited. I expected a huge flood of media to enter, but it was only a very small group of people scattered around. All the media people who came by in the first hour knew who I was, and a few sat down to play Black Annex and have a chat. They all seemed fairly happy.
Eventually, time passed and the public came in. The public was a massive crowd, and after about 30 minutes, the Black Annex booth was absolutely packed with lines for both demo units. It stayed that way for the entire expo. People found game-breaking bugs and we realized that we needed to manually re-start the game every time people walked away from it (when the public sit down to play a demo game, they don’t esc->new game, they just start playing.). The response was fantastic, most of all from the press-people who wandered by. There was a huge mix of people who had heard of the game, and people who had no idea what it was. I spent all my time between booked interviews and ad-hoc interviews. There wasn’t really any down-time at all. Having five people at the booth was definitely necessary.
So I took an alpha build of Black Annex to PAXAus as one of six people chosen to be in the indie showcase. I had an enormously positive response from the media and the public. I got to meet a lot of new media I’d never met before, and got to finally get face-to-face with many I already knew well.
It was an immensely important event for Black Annex, and it’s caused a massive boost for the game’s position online now. I’ll be pushing out a lot more information about “What PAX meant for Black Annex” over the course of this month and as time goes on. There’s a lot to be said, and I’m really glad it’s all done now.