Official development blog

Roguelike Celebration 2016, the Experience

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For years I’ve wanted to participate in IRDC, but they’ve always been held in Europe, or as of last year the US East Coast as well. Both destinations are too far away and too expensive for me from here in East Asia, so I definitely paid close attention when news first popped up of a new roguelike event on the West Coast.

Initially the plans for this Roguelike Celebration started out relatively small, however, and as “close” as it was, I couldn’t quite justify the cost in both money and time. It wasn’t until July that the list of attendees started to grow so quickly that I began rethinking my decision to skip it. Even the original creators of Rogue would be there, and Tarn and Zach Adams were coming, too. Clearly this was becoming an opportunity not to be missed, so I contacted the organizers to confirm I could sign up to do a talk (to make the trip extra worthwhile :D) and bought a plane ticket the next day. It helped that my brother lives across the street from the venue, otherwise adding in the costs of accommodation would’ve really pushed the limits of my meager budget since I also needed to arrive several days early to at least somewhat get over the effects of jet lag.

So the stars were apparently aligned and I could finally take part in a roguelike event, and actually the first ever video game-related event I’ve been to.

And the Roguelike Celebration wasn’t just “an event.” As the list of participants snowballed it turned into the largest roguelike gathering in history, one that it felt great to be a part of, and one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had as both a developer and fan of roguelikes. I got to spend time chatting with Tarn and Zach Adams (Dwarf Fortress), Brian Bucklew and Jason Grinblat (Caves of Qud / Sproggiwood), Thomas Biskup (ADOM), Jim Shepherd (Dungeonmans), Brian Walker (Brogue), Santiago Zapata (Ananias and a zillion other roguelikes), Sabouts and Rogueliker (Let’s Players), Gabriel Santos (Stone Story), David Craddock (Dungeon Hacks author) and so many others.

At the end of the day we got a group shot of many of the speakers, devs, and organizers:

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Roguelike Celebration speakers, developers, and organizers. (Click for larger size, or get the full-resolution download here, for all your devious Photoshopping needs. List of those pictured here.)

Not that we took a survey, but it was pretty obvious the average age of the participants (audience and everyone included) was easily in the 30s.

Preparation

Noah Swartz and his co-conspirators did a wonderful job putting everything together over the preceding months, and on the evening of September 16th it was time to check out the venue and prepare it for the next day. This mostly involved moving some tables and chairs around and talking to the volunteers about various tasks to come.

There was no official get-together the evening before, and I wanted to hang out with other roguelike folks if possible, so I planned to wander over there around the time this preparation was likely to happen. Again, it was across the street, so this was quite easy to do :P. Except for the fact that I was also planning to meet up with Sabouts on the way (his hotel was right next door), but the last pic I’d seen of him didn’t involve a big fuzzy beard, so I didn’t recognize him at first and walked right by. (I found him after a few minutes…)

This became a recurring theme at the celebration since many of us had never seen one another (even a picture), and it wasn’t exactly small (~200 people), so even someone that you knew must be there somewhere, was probably not all that easy to find.

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The main room where Track 1 talks were held, as seen the day before. Track 2 talks were in a smaller corner room with bleacher seating, and several hallways connected both of these to the entrance areas, restrooms, etc. Everyone was not in the same area at the same time.

We saw a group of people waiting outside the venue building, and while I recognized Brian from his frequent Twitter pics, he 1) had no idea what I look like and 2) thought I introduced myself as “John” rather than “Josh” (it was somewhat noisy by the roadside). Shortly after that we had to register at the security desk, and then he realized I was the guy he’d been chatting with for a while online :P. So yeah, things like this happened a lot--the next day there were plenty of “oh you’re [insert familiar name here]!” moments.

Prep also involved Britta and others setting up their atmospheric decorations, including a table covered in NetHack scrolls and many other props,

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Roguelike shop?

and walls adorned with posters of giant ASCII characters, or the perfect phrases:

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Mind the stairs.

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On the main entrance/exit.

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Eventbrite generously let us use their offices for a day. (This is not a normal public event space.) Curses on these iceboxes were conveniently removed once all the roguelikers dispersed.

Celebration Day

Even having arrived in the US on Tuesday, come Saturday I was still having problems with jet lag, waking up at 3 AM and just kinda waiting until 6:30 to get up xD. No doubt the excitement also played a part there :D

I headed over as early as I might be able to get in, and hung out inside with Tarn and Zach while attendees started gradually filling up the entryway.

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The Roguelike Celebration is about to begin!

There everyone picked up cool shirts, and speakers even got unique shirts:

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Such an awesome speaker shirt.

Other roguelike items up for grabs included pins and even @ socks!

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Socks of RNG +10 for everyone. And a challenge coin for speakers.

(Designs by Allison Hughes.)

At sign-in everyone got a lanyard ID, but the low-contrast colors and small size did not really serve as an aid to finding people, seemingly appropriate at a roguelike event :P. But whatever, it looks good and is a nice souvenir.

Fortunately in my case I had my Cogmind shirt so it was nice to be walking around and have some people recognize me from that, and of course in terms of speakers we could finally identify who was who after their talk. There were certainly those I’d missed for much of the day and only later found--Thomas Biskup and I said as much when we traded places on stage. So many roguelike people!

Overall organization was great, with talks proceeding on schedule and no big hiccups, no doubt facilitated in part by the professional AV help. I was mostly focused on listening to talks and meeting as many people as possible rather than taking pictures, but do have a few random shots from the process that I can share here.

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Noah kicks it off.

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David Craddock moderating a talk by the creators of Rogue, Michael Toy, Glenn Wichman, and Ken Arnold (left to right). This was the first time they’d all been together in 30 years.

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Nicholas Feinberg talks about weeding out boring optimal play, among other topics, in the context of DCSS.

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Jim Shepard covers the importance and methods behind maintaining a focused tone throughout a game.

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Tarn and Zach Adams pack the room when talking about their early games and inspirations.

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Thomas Biskup giving an overview of ADOM’s complete development history, from beginning to today.

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Brian Walker analyzes approaches for creating good gameplay.

All the talks were streamed live (with around 200 online viewers), and later uploaded to YouTube here. Check them out!

My own talk is here. Also, my slides themselves are actually accessible online as well if you just want to look at pretty pictures rather than watch my ugly mug and listen to that voice--I, for one, refuse to listen xD

I was unbelievably nervous, but apparently I felt it a good bit more than it came through, at least according to what others tell me… My mind was almost totally blank as I talked, which felt extremely odd, and I didn’t even reference any of my notes.

It was actually my first ever talk, and I learned a lot in doing it, so I’m pretty sure I could do a much better job next time! Reflecting on it, I should’ve done fewer slides about a slightly tighter topic, and gone a bit more in depth about each part, since the need to fit so many slides into 30 minutes contributed to my nervous rush. That could’ve also left some time for Q&A, which would be more fun and makes sense for a live event. I’m so used to writing long articles and packing in everything I can, heh.

Still, I’ve never been good at talking to crowds unless it’s completely spontaneous, otherwise I tend to put so much thought and planning into it that I end up paralyzing myself. Ack :P

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Blathering on about something. (Photo courtesy of Santiago.)

The best part of the talk was where I didn’t have to talk at all, and just showed Cogmind’s [now old but still pretty representative] trailer to demonstrate the value of audio, and that went over quite well. I also later heard that the Twitch stream chat got quite active while I presented.

In terms of other content, I took my originally planned talk topic (innovation in roguelikes) and tacked it onto the end of my newer “becoming a developer” topic, giving it an ever-increasing weight until they were about even and essentially became two full talks in one. (I.e. far too much to properly cover.) As important as innovations are, I’ve never shared the full story behind how I became a developer, and knew it could be inspiring considering my non-professional background, so I really wanted to describe that process. Certainly since the talk I’ve heard from quite a few people who have been inspired to make a roguelike, so that much is a success.

That said, either topic would’ve been much better in isolation where I’d have time to provide more explanations, like those found in the notes which I ignored :)

Other results from my talk include several interview requests, and selling about 12 copies of Cogmind that day (much better than the average day, which is like 2). In fact, according to friends in the audience, several people at my talk bought Cogmind while I was talking, which I thought was pretty neat (and unexpected). I also heard that some people who would like to use it learned about my REXPaint tool via the talk, so that was good.

After Party

We ended up having to leave the venue earlier than scheduled. 8pm became 7pm, and 7pm became “let’s try and shift people towards the doors around 6:15 because everyone will stop every few feet to chat” (yes, we did :P). So no time to really play roguelikes or talk much right there after the event ended, but there was an after party at the Thirsty Bear, a bar with a sufficiently RPG-sounding name.

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We took over one of the larger upstairs spaces.

Unfortunately a number of people had to retire for the evening, but we still had a good turnout at maybe a few dozen. There the majority stayed for at least a couple hours of meandering conversations, and I really enjoyed talking to Thomas (ADOM), Brian (Brogue), Santiago (Ananias) and others.

But it wasn’t entirely roguelike talk. Meeting in person is great for allowing conversations to drift through all manner of related subjects, and they did. On that note, everyone I met throughout the entire event was of course wonderful, as can generally be expected in the roguelike community.

I wasn’t on social media all day since I don’t use a phone (thus being away from my computer thrusts me back to the days of 90s communication), but there was apparently quite a flurry of online activity throughout the event, and it was fun to browse that the next day. Among the discoveries:

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Garret Voorhees did some speaker sketches :)

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I brought a shirt for Jeremy Mitchell because the Cogmind logo was changed to its current ASCII form in 2015 at his suggestion. Many thanks for that.

The End?

Is this only the first of many Roguelike Celebrations? Everyone sure hopes so. Whether you’re a player or developer, I highly recommend participating in the future if possible. It’s just so much fun, and an excellent learning experience, to be around so many other people with a shared interest that many of us rarely (if ever) get to share with our everyday IRL friends.

Sure you can still watch the videos, but that misses out on the all the little interactions and conversations that play out through the day. Getting to know existing roguelike internet friends on a somewhat more personal level is also neat.

Many thanks to Noah, Britta, Asheesh, and Allison for putting it together, and Eventbrite for hosting it. Several considerations for next time:

  • The earlier in advance the date and location can be set and announced, the more likely people will be able to attend, especially those of us who are further away.
  • The intermittent notifications/announcements prior to the event could be posted to a news section of the website to see how preparations are progressing, rather than only by email, since a lot of people miss mass emails for whatever reason. (I know I never even received the last one sent out before the Celebration--wasn’t found in spam or anywhere, but I heard from someone else that it existed and what it said.)
  • Depending on the potential turnout, a two-day event would be more appropriate (based on the size this year) so it’s not so rushed and leaves more time for talk and play aside from the talks themselves.

Keep celebrating those roguelikes!

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2 Comments

  1. Posted September 21, 2016 at 3:20 am | Permalink

    I envy you! It must have been fantastic feeling to be surrounded with so many rl fans. It was impossible for me to attend this event, but I will definitely go to IRDC here in Europe.

    • Kyzrati
      Posted September 21, 2016 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      Hey at least you get to go to IRDC! Every year I consider it but it’s always too far away and expensive xD. This was definitely the best, though… I’d still like to meet everyone in Europe, one day, but at least Thomas made it this time :)

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