Ad Astra 2013 post-convention report

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Ah, I promised on Twitter I’d have this up last week, didn’t I? Well, finalizing things for the District 60 spring conference got in the way, sorry. Anyway, here we go with my postmortem on the games department for this year’s Ad Astra convention.

What went well

The video games room! Video games have returned to Ad Astra’s programme this year! The last two years saw a lack of video gaming due to various issues, and years before then only saw a short two-hour gaming session in the anime room. However, we were finally able to get a proper video games room up and running, with a number of consoles, both new and old, available to attendees.

Available to play were: Xbox 360 and Nintendo 64 on the big screen, Sega Master System and Super Nintendo on the first little screen, and Sega Genesis and Turbografx-16 on the second little screen.

Snakes & Lattes. Like last year, Snakes & Lattes hosted the table top games lounge. Their sponsorship and staffing of the room for open gaming hours is incredibly helpful, and gives me the chance to focus on the big picture of games and game-related programming at the convention. A great big thanks to Steve and his S&L crew!

Expanding beyond the game rooms. While minimal this year (see what needs improvement below) we’re starting to see games-related programming expand beyond just the games lounge and VG room. We had two games panels this year, although they weren’t that well attended. Still, it’s a start, and I’m looking forward to establishing more panels on games and gamer culture for future years – not to mention at least one panel related to video game narrative and writing. We could even bring in a gaming guest of honour for next year.

What needs improvement

A late start. Originally I had planned to have things moving back in July. Then it got pushed to September. And even then, I didn’t have a real, written plan that I could share with department staff, the other members of the convention committee, or the board of directors. A written plan for the department would have been able to provide us with guidance for some of the problems we faced leading up to the convention, as well as offer a rationale for expanded programming and departmental budget.

Fortunately, I already have something worked out for 2014, based on the results of this year’s convention. You’re not going to see it (unless you’re on the convention team), but you’ll certainly see the effects of it next April!

Communication. Getting a late start on things was bad enough, but not keeping in frequent, regular contact with the rest of my team also hurt matters, and made it more difficult to make up for a number of scheduling and personnel problems we faced this year. We had a few people who were unable to come out for the whole weekend, one of whom I didn’t even hear from for months until the Saturday of the convention. (He had a damn good reason, though.)

For next year’s convention, I plan to have weekly communication with my team, via email, phone, and/or Skype. This way we should be able to avoid some communication problems, and know about potential roadblocks well enough in advance to be able to work around them.

Batteries (or lack thereof). Oops. Rack this one up to me simply forgetting to stick my huge bunch of batteries into my luggage. The reason this was a problem was because without those batteries, we weren’t able to make use of the Wii in the video games room. We also needed some batteries for the TV remotes, and so had to swap batteries back and forth in order to set up two of the sets we were using. D’oh!

Fun and interesting experiences

This year was the first time I actually sat on some of the panels at Ad Astra, and it was great. I had a panel a day, starting with Friday’s “The Contemporary Troll”, Saturday’s “Hardcore Gamers’ Forum” (which unfortunately nobody came to, I think they were all in the video gaming room), and Sunday’s Game of Thrones panel, “Beyond Winterfell”. I was hoping that we could have a panel on visual novels and interactive fiction as well, but unfortunately nobody else was interested.

I also had an interesting conversation Saturday night in the GOH/panellist green room, that lead to an interesting concept and story idea relating to death and the afterlife. If I ever get around to non-game fiction writing again, I think I could come up with a decent short story off of that conversation!

Summary

Ad Astra 2013 was made of ups and downs for the games department – but mostly ups. Building on this year’s energy, I’m sure that Ad Astra 2014 will be even more awesome!