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  • MAGFest 2019: A Student Dev's Experience

    - Jake Carfagno
  • Burning Sky Games had a great start to the new year at the Music and Gaming Festival (MAGFest)! Our team kept a booth running for three days straight, allowing guests to play Runaway at any time of day (or night). It proved an incredible experience and one we hope to do again next year. Here's what stood out to our rookie team the most.

    1. Don't come alone!

    If you're going to a short event, you might be able to get away with manning the booth yourself. I know I have, and it's usually not too bad. But MAGFest is not a short event. It's 3 days (72 hours to be exact) during which your game could be running. Sure, you only need someone at your booth for 21 hours of that, but that's still a long time.

    And with as much as there is to do at MAGFest (checking out other games, exploring the art vendor space, networking, and parties, just to name a few things), you won't want to just sit at your booth the whole time. You'll tire yourself out, so your whole schedule will just be "Wake up. Watch the booth. Go to bed. Repeat," and that's not good. Bring at least one other person. We had a team of four, which also allowed us to engage more groups and take turns to save our voices.

    2. It's not just a booth. It's a booth presence.

    You can get by with just the basics - a computer, a screen, and some controllers - but that won't attract people to your booth. You're battling against all the other teams there for guests' attention, and you're only going to win if you go big.

    We were constrained by both a budget and whatever I could bring on the train alone to get there, so we didn't have a lot. But we still brought a tablecloth, a couple of standing vinyl banners, a 23" monitor, desktop speakers, and a bunch of postcards and business cards.

    We kept things rather simple, not having the capacity for extra chairs much less a couch. But once we got there, we picked up some markers, sticky notes, and a board to create a makeshift graffiti wall, just as a little something to set ourselves apart and give the guests a way to engage with us and our game. This gave our booth more verticality and brighter colors too. We know have some great goals to increase our booth presence, such as a nice start screen for the game with an attract loop, and a second machine running the game so that more people could play at once.

    3. Keep your game running the full 24 hours.

    They give you the option, so you should use it. And believe me, the guests will too. It can be scary since you're leaving all your equipment unattended, so just make sure to take proper precautions. We bought two Kensington locks to secure our laptop and monitor. If you're unsure whether your device is compatible, just CTRL+F in the instruction manual for "Kensington", "security", or "lock." You can usually also find mention of it on the product's website under Features or Specifications.

    We also bought some cable traps, but it turns out the Kensington locks would not fit through, so we didn't get to use them. We also like to use wireless controllers when possible, but this time we chose some AmazonBasics Xbox One Wired controllers. They're cheap so you can get a lot, they don't have to be charged, and Windows supports them right out of the box. Not to mention, they're not nice enough to be worth stealing. Just make sure that, when you lock down your computer, you also disable the shortcut to open the Windows 10 Xbox app by pressing the Xbox button. Someone did that overnight at our booth, preventing people from playing the game until I discovered it the next morning.

    We also did a bunch of things to make sure no one could tamper with the computer itself, like disabling the keyboard and mouse input. We used BlueLife KeyFreeze for this, and it worked perfectly. I found this Batch script online that ensured Runaway would open again if it crashed. I put a shortcut to that and KeyFreeze in the startup folder of a non-admin user account. When I logged in to that account, it would automatically launch Runaway and lock down the keyboard. Then all I had to do to update the game was re-enable the keyboard, sign out and into my admin account, and copy over the game's files. Sign back into the demo user, and we're good to go again.

    We left a piece of paper out each night labelled "Bug Reports/Suggestions", and that also came in handy. We got plenty of feedback and a couple of leads for hunting down bugs. Special shout-out to one person who not only wrote that they clipped through the wall but even drew a picture and detailed each setting they had. If that doesn't make you want to fix the bug, then I don't know what will!

    And for the record, we are using Unity for Runaway, not GameMaker.


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