Insight from Expos
Over the last couple weeks, I brought Arms of Telos to a couple events. I had already been brainstorming some ways I might be able to show Arms of Telos at events like PAX -- for a lot of indies, they're a great source for exposure and marketing that I'd like to be able to take advantage of in the future.
Essentially, the challenge is that Arms of Telos is designed for 5v5 and as an indie, it's very unlikely I'll be able to have a booth that offers a true experience that reflects the actual game. I go into more detail about these challenges in the forum thread I linked above.
Perhaps unlike other first person shooters, I'm really building Arms of Telos specifically for 5v5 CTF. In its current state, this is less obvious -- there's only a modest selection of weapons/equipment and the meta is still relatively simple. So a lot of people assume the game would scale to different player counts like other games do. As the game continues to expand, I expect the result of my focus on 5v5 CTF to become more obvious and as you scale the player count down or up, the further it will compromise the experience. When you design a game to work with multiple player counts (1v1, 2v2, 5v5, 10v10, etc), as most first person shooters do, you're almost certainly going to make compromises in the game design to facilitate that flexibility -- that compromise is what I want to avoid. I think it's pretty much understood that if you take a MOBA and reduce it to 1v1, it would be a severely compromised experience and not be an accurate representation of the game -- I'm aiming for a similar expectation for Arms of Telos and I think the result will be a much more focused and rewarding experience that isn't often found in the first person shooter genre. So I'm especially sensitive to showing the game in these compromised environments and setting the right expectations early on.
As you can see from the thread, I built a checkpoint-based race Challenge Mode that the player would be able to do alone and learn the movement system. For the booths, I brought two computers and networked them together with both of them running the game. This way, I could be on the other computer in the game with them and help demonstrate how to do things -- this idea might have sounded cooler on paper and I don't think it was a game changer in terms of being a good way to teach the game. But having two computers also meant if there were two people who wanted to fool around in 1v1, they could -- and that's what people generally did when they came to play as a pair. I had a third monitor that would be looping gameplay from a real match so they could see how the game actually plays in a real setting, but I don't think it was enough -- I still had people asking if it was a racing game and for the most part, the only way they'd walk away with a good idea of how the game actually played was if I explained it myself. I'd much rather let them play the real game in the intended 5v5 CTF setup.
So moving forward, I will probably continue to refine this limited booth experience, but I'll focus on trying to show the game at events where I can have a real match (events with BYOC LANs, events where they can provide enough machines, etc).
It's also worth talking about audiences. Let's Play Expo was a general gaming expo with a Smash tournament on the side. EGLDallas10k was a multi-game tournament (fighting games and Call of Duty). In both cases, they were primarily console gamers. As someone who has pretty much always played games on both PC and console, I was surprised by how many people struggled with even the most basic keyboard and mouse controls. I sort of expected that sort of thing at Let's Play, which skewed younger -- but it was no better at EGLDallas10k despite most of them being competitive gamers. Console gamers aren't my core demographic, but it's still interesting to see how they perceive Arms of Telos. I am still interested in trying this 2-PC booth setup at a PC-centric event to see how much of a difference it makes.
There's all sorts of reasons to do events like these, but a couple bonuses that stod out to me were youtuber coverage and future event opportunities. These were small events and there wasn't much of a media presence, but in the age of youtubers, even small events have people that can help spread the word (like this and this). These events can also be great networking. If I hadn't gone to Let's Play Expo, I wouldn't have had the chance to show at EGLDallas10k. And at EGLDallas10k, I met somebody involved in an event next month and started a dialog with them about maybe showing there too. You also get to meet other developers and vendors. If you have the opportunity to show at an event, don't neglect these things.
Challenge mode, moving forward
Challenge mode started as an experiment for expos, but I think the potential is stronger for teaching the game to new players who've just bought it and other things. Because there's such a strong emphasis on movement, a race mode feels natural and it's a lot of fun to improve your times. And while other games have defrag modes, they're usually very much removed of the context of a real match. Instead of creating distinct maps (surf maps in CS, defrag in quake, etc), I can build challenges into the actual Arms of Telos maps because those maps are already designed to accomodate this sort of thing (though I should note, there's currently only one map for now). This first challenge I made (see video above) simulates a flag run (from your third flagstand to the enemy's second flagstand). So these challenges will generally have more direct benefit to your skills in a real Arms of Telos match.
I also think I can create smaller challenges that teach specific maneuvers -- a way to gradually introduce new players to the different layers of the movement system (which is currently the steepest learning curve in the game). I'll try to have a basic set of tutorial challenges ready for the first public launch.
Later, I want to expand the challenge system into other areas. I want to let players do the challenges online in a similar setup that Trackmania uses (no way to interact with other players, but you see them doing the challenge alongside you). This could be an interesting activity to do during intermission between matches. I'll be exploring non-racing challenges and I'd also like to connect all challenges to leaderboards and support recorded ghosts -- this could be leveraged as a crowdsourced guide system to help players further refine their skills.
Some extra advice for expos
I asked twitter for advice on transporting equipment to/from the expos. For less than I would have spent on that GearGrip thing they suggested, I got a dolly and it was a life saver. Definitely worth it if you are doing expos you can drive to -- if you're flying, it's probably not going to fly with you but the GearGrip would help there.
Another tip -- bring something to cover your booth. Most of these events will offer some kind of security, but as an added precaution it's a good idea to cover it when you close it for the night -- that way, it's easier for others to spot somebody snooping around where they shouldn't be. I brought back my work PC tower every night though -- too risky for me. And for the iMac, I had a security cable that kept it tied to the table.
I also had the third monitor set up on a plastic drawer thing (facing the back of the booth where only I would be). I had food and other stuff in that drawer and it was super convenient to have that storage.
Hope that was interesting to you. Let me know what you think!