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March 17, 2015 by Matt Tropiano
Tags: Square, Personal

Well, I'm back from my trip to London for EGX, where The Adventures of Square was showcased in the Leftfield Collection from March 12-14. I had an amazing time while I was there, and met a lot of people who were passionate about their games.

I also got to meet up with Jazz Mickle who was basically my guide for the entire day, as well as Jimmy Paddock, his brother Ben Paddock, and BigBrik Games roadie Altazimuth, who were all really helpful in my adventure to England-land.

Pre-EGX

I flew out to the UK on the 9th of March, and landed on the 10th at about 9 o' clock in the morning (England time). Although it was a 7 hour flight, I got 0 hours of sleep, so I was really groggy. I waited in the terminal for Jazz, and took the time to purchase bottled water with England's currency. It wasn't terribly different from buying anything else with cash, though I found myself converting everything to US dollars in my head the whole time. Everything is expensive in London, especially in the airports.

Jazz found me and we quickly went out to find to my hotel. I had to pick up one of those high-tech Oyster Cards that you use to go everywhere in London, which was pretty handy, and rode the subway for a while, then walked to the hotel. We then got some lunch, and I hung out at his place for a bit, crashing on his couch to sleep off my jet lag for like 2 hours. I went back to the hotel later.

I woke up at 6:30 in the morning the following day, waiting for Jazz to get up (turns out he slept in until 2:00pm). Since he wasn't showing up on ye olde Internet Relay Chat, I headed out in search of breakfast, braving the streets of Whitechapel and looking out for Jack the Ripper (a joke that got tired after the first billion times that I heard it). Since I usually got a taylor ham and cheese sandwich in the morning back in New Jersey, I got what I felt the salty, fatty, British equivalent was: a bacon and sausage sandwich on a soft roll. One bite later and my first real bit ("bite," maybe?) of culture shock happened: British bacon SUCKS.

British bacon is not crispy like American bacon, and is basically a saltier slice of ham, which is disappointing. It's probably fried the same way, but man oh man does it have nothing on the crispiness and versatility of American bacon. I will say this, though: it fits well with small, round sandwiches.

Eventually, Jazz woke up, and we went to Tobacco Dock to set up our computer for the venue. The computer we were given was a souped-up PC with a buttload of RAM and an amazing graphics card, like all the other PCs there, but it felt weird that we used it for a Doom Engine game. What a waste!

We then met up with Altazimuth and picked up Jimmy and his brother, and hung out at Jazz's apartment. We picked up some swanky-ass Square business cards for the next day, when EGX started. It was gonna be a crazy three days, and we started speculating about what we'd hear from the public. High up on the list: "Why didn't you use Unity?"

EGX Day One

I woke up at 9:35 am, left my hotel, and walked to Tobacco Dock, which was about 15 minutes away. I stopped at a cafe and bought a coffee and a megaberry muffin. I have no idea what the hell a megaberry is, but it was good. It looked like a cranberry muffin. Maybe cranberries are megaberries? That's a better name for them, anyway.

I arrived at 10-ish for setup. The Tobacco Dock is a large place. It is easy to get lost in its large, cavernous halls, filled with history of trade along the river Thames. I took the opportunity to snap some pics of the place before it was filled with the members of the UK public. I also recorded a demo of Square to play when there wasn't anybody playing the game (which turned out to be not very often).

I also tried out some of the other selected titles in the Leftfield Collection that seemed interesting.

Beacon is a procedurally-generated isometric sci-fi shooter that was fun to explore, but seemed to suffer from some conveyance issues, particularly the hit boxes around enemies, and when the player was taking damage or running out of stamina or reloading. The HUD showed all of that information, but most of those parts critical to player feedback needed to be where the action was happening, and the HUD, screen-wise, was pretty far away. The developers were happy to hear this, as they wanted to use this experience as an opportunity to hear feedback about the game so far. I was happy to oblige.

I also played Convoy, a real-time defense strategy game that, strangely enough, was interesting to play, but not especially suitable for the limited amount of time that I played it, since it was a lot to learn as far as the play mechanics were concerned. The tutorial was necessary to learn the game, which isn't desirable for a promotional environment. Some of the important information in the game was related to the player in text, and not gameplay, but that's a flaw in most strategy games. Maybe I'm just an idiot, I dunno. I'll see if they have a downloadable demo somewhere.

The game that I was looking the most forward to, though, was a one-dimensional "dungeon crawler" game called Line Wobbler by Robin Baumgarten, which was, surprisingly, a lot of fun! The visual interface was a strip of multicolor LED lights that made up the 1D world, and the controller was a shoe tree spring, with triangle-wave sound being played through a speaker. They were hooked up to an Arduino unit that controlled the whole thing. The player and the hazards in the tiny world were pretty well conveyed despite the medium, and I didn't even need to read the placard placed near the game that said what was what. If you ever have the chance to play it, do it!

The venue officially opened at about 11am, and the public came pouring in. All sorts of people played Square, from young children to young adults to seasoned gamers to other game developers and journalists. Some people didn't put on the headphones as they played, which kinda irked Jimmy and I, as we did music composition and sound design, respectively, but we didn't want to intervene with their experience. But no matter who they were or how they played (one kid was crouching everywhere like it was Call of Duty), all of them said the same thing: The Adventures of Square was FUN. And really, that's all we really wanted in the end, because that is the most important thing.

The first day wasn't a super "talk-to-devs-and-the-press" day. I met the Gaming Faster Than Light! guy, who made a review of Square months ago, and Jazz introduced me to the great Rami Ismail of Vlambeer, one my favorite game companies. He was a lot taller in person than I expected him to be. I didn't want to prattle on about how much I like his design principles or his work ethic, because he looked pretty jet-lagged and I didn't want to bother him. That dude is a fucking machine, though, and is a major source of inspiration for me as a budding developer.

Later on, I, rather unexpectedly, met William Pugh of Galactic Cafe (The Stanley Parable) while he was waiting in line for entering the BAFTA awards going on that evening (Jazz introduced me - I had no idea who he was at the time). He had an impressive head of hair that looked unmaintained, but fit his personality perfectly. I told him that he definitely seemed like a guy who totally helped make The Stanley Parable. He seemed to agree.

I had originally intended to conduct a Doom Radio show about our experiences on the first day, but we were all way too tired to do anything except get dinner, hang out, and sleep. The next day was going to be even busier.

EGX Day Two

Day two wasn't an especially crazy or eventful day, but a lot still happened. I arrived early again to record two more demos and to disable the tutorial map, which I hoped that I convinced Jimmy was unnecessary, especially since the first level taught most of the play mechanics.

A young kid who couldn't have been more than 15 or 16 commented that Square "was like Doom!" He had no idea how right he was or how happy that made me feel and how filled with hope I had for the coming generations of gamers everywhere. Jimmy overheard another person slag Square off as a RESKINNED Doom, and I became cynical again. Jerks.

I had decided to eat at one of the booth-tents that was set up at the venue. I got some kind of chicken curry dish, and realized that nearly everything that I ate since I had arrived in England was either Indian or Middle-Eastern. That was all well and good, as I had heard of the reputation of English cuisine, but it didn't bode well for my colon later (or the toilet or series of toilets that I'd be using, for that matter).

One of the writers from Rock, Paper, Shotgun played Square today. He seemed to really like it. I hope he writes an article about it, or at least mentions it in an article about the venue. We could use all the exposure that we can get, and they seem like guys that like classic-gameplay games.

Jimmy and I also got an interview set up by freelance writer Andi Hamilton of the Midnight Resistance Podcast, who wanted to hear from us about Doom Engine development, and eventually wanted to submit the article to PC Gamer. Should be fun, whenever that gets scheduled.

After the venue, we all went to the Hotline Miami 2 launch party at the Loading Bar in Dalston. I saw Rami (now very well-rested), William, and two of the developers from the team making Titan Souls, Mark Foster and David Fenn. I tried to get Jimmy and Ben to have a drink, but they decided to pass. They left after a couple of hours. I, however, got sloshed with Jazz. One thing to note for Americans: they had Amstel Beer on tap. Not Amstel Light, Amstel Beer. I KNEW "light beer" was an American perversion! Beer of the evening: Meantime London Lager.

We finished off the evening with kebabs. Drunk and eating kebabs? I'm London as fuck, bitch!

EGX Day Three

Today I was reminded of why 30-year-olds shouldn't go out drinking. I awoke with a hangover, acid reflux, and a bad feeling in my bowels, and today was going to be the busiest day of EGX, since it was a Saturday. Uh, oh.

I finished setting up early and headed outside for some fresh air. The line into EGX was packed. I decided to snap a picture of it, because it was an incredible sight. There were a lot of events going on that day, and I guess plenty of people wanted to get there before everybody else. Turns out a lot of other people had that idea, too.

I also started to feel a tingle in my throat and the familiar dry pain of post-nasal drip. I was also oddly craving salty food. God damnit. I was getting a cold. These conventions are a breeding ground for viruses.

Today was the day where cosplayers appeared more frequently. I mean, there were way more people there today, so, on average, there'd be more cosplayers. One of them was promoting a game called Barbara-Ian, dressed up as a low-poly, female-feature-exaggerated pink barbarian (presumably named "Barbara").

There were loads more kids today. A lot of them played Square. Some were accustomed to FPSes, some weren't, but the conclusion remained the same: "FUN." Hell yeah. Some of the kids even mentioned "Doom," which is a little weird coming from people born in this century. Still, better to start them young with a game whose premise is about battling evil geometric shapes.

Throughout most of the event, I felt sometimes that our developer presence influences feedback. Maybe that's why some feedback groups keep the devs away from them (other than crippling social anxiety). But this was an event that advertized "meeting the devs," so what do I know? None of them even knew we were there until we introduced ourselves, so maybe I'm just talking out of my ass. Who were we, anyway?

William passed through Leftfield with one of his friends in tow. He gave me a hug and returned a high-five, and said that he was taking his friend "on an adventure." I didn't think to say, "Why not take an 'adventure with Square?'" and kicked myself the rest of the day for it. Eh, he can always download it later. I know Jazz will probably pester him about it at some point.

For lunch, I ate a pulled pork sandwich at a booth that touted American-style sandwiches and goods. It was completely expected, but I've had better pulled pork sandwiches. Regrettably, I didn't have the opportunity to go to one of those other "American" shops in London. I'm sure it'd be as eye-rolling an experience as having an Australian visit an Outback Steakhouse in the States. I know what I'm doing when Jimmy visits the USA one of these days...

We left early to go to the Loading Bar for the 5th Anniversary of the Loading Bar's opening. I didn't drink as much as last time, as a bad cold was starting to set in. Square was mentioned in a Live Podcast of the Midnight Resistance at the 5th Anniversary event, which was fucking awesome. Thanks, Andi! We ended up rescheduling the interview with Andi later in the month sometime, as everybody was pretty beat by the end. Jazz called me a cab back to the hotel late in the evening. I said my goodbyes, and Jimmy gave me a big hug, as well as Ben, and thanked me for my work on Square. I reminded them that we had a lot left to do.

I got back to my hotel and made myself a cup of tea. I called my parents and double-checked my cab ride reservation. Having Skype credit and an Internet connection is pretty handy when abroad.

EGX Epilogue

I took a cab back to the airport and waited to board my flight. I decided to check my Twitter feed while I waited, and found an article called, "Games You Should Already Own from EGX Rezzed 2015," and it mentioned The Adventures of Square in its list. It used an ancient screenshot findable through Google Image Search and it said that I was the developer, but it was still mentioned. Ehh, that's Games Journalism, for you.

All in all, I had a fantastic experience that I can't wait to do again. Maybe this type of motivation will be the push that I want to get me to start developing games for real. Going back to my boring workplace isn't going to be as good of an experience, but at least it keeps a roof over my head, for now.

Many thanks to Jazz Mickle, James Paddock, Ben Paddock, and roadie Altazimuth for making this one of the best weekends that I've ever had. Extra thanks to the people and developers at EGX, who are a constant source of motivation and inspiration, and to David Hayward, curator of the Leftfield Collection, for choosing The Adventures of Square to be a part of it.

Happy Dooming, everybody.

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