April 7, 2015 richie

GDC or Bust : Part 6 – Postmortem

Below is the sixth and final in a series of posts documenting the final development of Deluxe Turbo Racing 360 for GDC. Due to a crazy schedule we did not roll out posts during GDC, but over the next few weeks we will post up blogs from the trip.

Part 6: Postmortem

With five posts already written and a month since GDC,  I reckon it is time to finally get to GDC itself with a good ol’ fashioned post mortem.


Instead of focusing on Deluxe Turbo Racing 360–our game at Alt.Ctrl.GDC–I will focus on GDC as an event and an opportunity.

What went right




When we applied for Alt.Ctrl.GDC, we had DTR 360 working with two modified Xbox 360 controllers and a prototype control box made out of MDF, an Arduino, tangled wires, and lots of scotch tape. Between applying, and getting confirmation we were in Alt.Ctrl, we got bogged down with the Rules & Play show in Lexington. When we did find out we were in the Alt.Ctrl exhibit, we had a significant amount of work left to do, including: fabricating our final control boxes, fabricating our final board, figuring out how to get everything out there and housed(including us), all on a shoestring budget. With little time and money, we had to make smart decisions.


While our decision making was not perfect, we had a loose hierarchy of importance for everything we needed to do, and attacked them in order to make sure that the necessary items were accomplished in time. To give you an idea of our thought process and value system, here is an edited list of the most important items to get to GDC.


-Fabricate custom control boxes – quality time should be spent on aesthetics and execution of the physical parts, from electronics inside to surface treatment of boxes, even if it ate up some time from prototyping game modes, as project was less about games themselves and more about experience of play


-Finish customizing 360 controllers – slight modifications needed to controllers, could potentially break during customization or after, do it soon to discover any issues, make back ups to plan ahead, get back up parts in case things break or go wrong (which they did)


-Playtest game modes – game modes already working, but should be improved. need to change as DTR comes together to keep every component of experience reinforcing others.


-Time for polish, no excuses! – keep a few days open at the end, even if still busy, to add flair, personality, whatever it is to sand off the edges a bit. Most likely googly eyes and top hats…


There are certainly many more items, but this hopefully illustrates where our priorities were as well as our reasoning.


The major hurdle, as mentioned above, was lack of time and money. While planning and prioritization helped with time, it didn’t help much with money. That is where number two comes in, strong relationships in the community. Over the past four years we have built a relationship with numerous groups around town, from the Chamber of Commerce and Start Up Incubator space to local hacker/DIY groups and school faculty.


Through these relationships, we were incredibly fortunate to have money donated to us from one of the commerce groups in town, which paid for almost the entire trip. This not only made it possible for John and I to go, it also allowed Shea and Amanda, who work closely with us, to join, benefitting us with their help and benefiting them by exposing them to their first GDC.


And last on our list, back up plans! Our post mortem would have only been a list of what went wrong without us having quite a few back up plans. Between rushing to ship out the play surface, to finding out at GDC that the new battery packs we purchased caused the controllers to behave unpredictably, and everything else in between, there were potential disasters at every turn. We planned as best we could, which allowed us to make it through the show successfully. We were able to fix the play surface in San Fran after getting the package delivered in horrible shape, we came up with a plan that kept the controllers charged all day, and on the fly we adjusted the knobs when users would turn them so hard they were unthreading themselves.


With glue sticks, a conveniently placed Target, and our tools hidden under the table, we managed to solve every issue that came up.




What went wrong




As well as we planned and prioritized, we kept falling farther behind in our schedule. We had a great opportunity to cut our control boxes out on a CnC machine, thorough our friend Tom and his connection at the Learning Center, which is an alternative high school in Lexington doing some really great things. However, as these things go, the process of scheduling and cutting took more trips than planned and around 3-4 times as many hours were spent building the decks as I originally estimated.


The delayed control boxes caused a bottleneck, as game testing and user testing was a challenge with the bare bones wire setup we were using in the interim. It also gobbled up time scheduled for other tasks, resulting in rushed decision making on the surface, leading to a rushed shipment and a damaged board on delivery. Other issues came up through a ripple effect of the consumed time, such as our rushing out to purchase more battery packs the day before we left for GDC. We assumed–falsely–that purchasing the same brand and product of battery pack would result in similar results in the controllers. This turned out to be untrue, and we were left to problem solve the issue at GDC the day before setup. Back up plans and good fortune got us out of the jams, but they were close.


The second error we made has little to do with presenting DTR 360, and everything to do with the opportunities available at GDC. With all of our time devoted to DTR being consumed by development, and other projects pulling us in various directions, we spent very little time planning out how to maximize our days in terms of professional and studio development. Looking forward, we need a better plan and schedule for the events of GDC, from parties to go to, professional and/or company goals for the week, as well as trying to line of some key meetings.


We also failed to capitalize on the fact that we had booth real estate at GDC.  We should have taken advantage of the space and had more information available about our studio, which is all the more important now as we are looking for contract work. Lining up meetings or at least a strategy was also a missed opportunity, as we also could really use some connections at some of the key gates; platform developers, distribution outlets, and hardware companies. Even if every attempt at a meeting had failed, it is still a better outcome than no attempt at all.


Last on the list…we didn’t go to many parties! I say that slightly tongue in cheek, as I am highlighting the missed opportunities at networking with other devs, meeting people, forging friendships, and being exposed to novel conversations and experiences.


There is also the whole parties are fun and drinks are free part of this. However, I did not go to many parties–and I imagine this is true for the rest of the team–because we are all fairly reserved people, and parties are a somewhat intimidating and stressful affair for the introverted. It is easy to pass up on these events after a long day, especially when large crowds and constant conversation are sources of exhaustion and stress as well. Generally, after being in a crowd all day, my only thought is to find a quiet place with little to no stimuli, where I can relax and decompress. But there are so many wonderful things to be experienced after the day ends, perhaps more so than any day time events, it is a shame to be at GDC and let it slip by.


I recognize that there are personality traits and dispositions at odds with what I am laying out here. I don’t think the solution is to force anyone, including myself, into too many undesirable situations, although discomfort can be something to grow from as well as suffer from, but at the same time, I can certainly do a better job of recognizing desired outcomes and current obstacles, in order to find a working solution. For me, I imagine less time at the booth and at the expo during the day, then I will have much more energy and willingness to stay out late and be up for different events.


Bonus DLC What Went Right!!!




So I am going to cheat! I usually do 3 right and 3 wrong when I write post mortems for LD games. However, Alt.Ctrl has been another situation where a project fueled by curiosity and play was able to come to fruition and be presented in public, and this last one is quite personal to me.


It is interesting that in the past four years the projects I work on out of sheer curiosity, playfulness, and passion, are the ones that seem to resonate most with others. It turned out to be a good call to spend time hacking on controllers in the off chance that–for curiosities sake–I could get them to “walk”. It is also a very satisfying thing to be recognized for the projects that are developed for the sake of art, or play, or whatever it may be called :)


Thanks to Warren and the SBDC, Kenyon, Taylor, and the students from The Learning Center, and Tom Birge!


Photo Album of the trip can be found here


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