Archmage Rises First Demo Impressions from CGDC

Archmage Rises is not just better than I expected, it is better than I had hoped.
— Neal, first player

We were thrilled to put Archmage Rises playable demo on display for the first time to the public Jul 14-16.  

Perhaps thrilled is the wrong word.  SCARED TO DEATH might convey it better.

We designed our booth in preparation for GenCon Aug 4-7.  It features:

  • 3 playing stations, running Alienware X51's with 24" monitors
  • A 42" TV running a demo/speed painting/game overview loop. Each segment is 5 minutes long before breaking into something else.  For a total run time of 45 mins.
  • 3 giant game boxes (24"x36" or 60cmx100cm): one for IBM, Mac, and C64.  Yes the last one generates a lot of questions. :-)
  • A photo banner where you can stick your face in and have your picture as the Archmage!
  • Nic and I wore custom Archmage Rises T-Shirts.

It took about 37hrs work over 3 months to plan out the 10'x10' (3mx3m) space.  Figuring out what to get, and then to order the appropriate pieces and ship them to Nic's house.  From there we could take the stuff to the show and set it up.  

But we had one problem.  Our demo didn't work.

See, with all the work going into the booth, and then launching the greenlight campaign, the actual playable demo (really, the whole point) kept getting starved for attention.  We had something working but it wasn't any fun.

On the day before the show, we spent 4.5 hours setting up the booth with the help of 6 people!

In the last week leading up to the show we worked super hard long hours on polishing the demo.  The booth Expo goes live at 6pm on Thursday.  Yet Thursday at noon I was still building the SYSTEM for the tutorials, nevermind writing the actual tutorials that would allow a new player to play.

4pm... 5pm... no dinner, still writing and testing the tutorials.  Nic was updating sound effects to the latest and James the musician was making sound effects.  This is soooo not how this is supposed to be done!

6pm and the demo doesn't work.  Our booth sits silent:

6pm came and went, nothing to show.

At 6:47pm the tutorials worked successfully.  Then we had to copy the game to a usb stick (2 gb) and start installing it on the Alienware machines.  

One of the machines didn't work.  The video card was messed up.  Oops, guess we should have tested them ahead of time!  

But by 7pm we had the game running on two machines and were fixing the third.  Nic commented that this may not have been altogether bad: there were only 25 booths, so by the time we got ours up and running everyone had already seen the other booths and we were the big exciting "reveal" at 7pm. 

People flooded in:

You can see that middle computer doing window updates to try and fix it! :-)

We got that third system up and running within about 20 minutes after some driver updates.

Actual people were playing Archmage Rises!  It was happening!  Feeback was positive.

There, of course, were some bugs we missed in our flurry of trying to get the demo done.  The worst was if you finished a Noble's quest but had exhausted all the time he/she had for you through personal conversation, you couldn't turn in the quest.  And for some reason the passage of time (weeks, months) wouldn't refresh their available talk time.  So effectively you couldn't turn in your quest... which was kinda the point of the whole demo.  OOPS!  

But even with the bugs, people really dug the game.  This is not a game people look at for 2 minutes, say "neat" and then move on.  This is something people connect with deep in their gut.  I had numerous half-hour conversations with fans who just couldn't believe the freedom the game offered: like having a realistic marriage AND having kids AND watching them grow up.

Our first Archmage cosplayer!  I was in total shock someone would dress up as the Archmage!

Finally, we had to pack the whole thing into a crate for shipping off to the next show.  Fortunately our custom crate was perfectly sized.  It took an hour to pack it all right, but everything fit inside!


Some big take aways:

  • People don't read the tutorial.  Even when it is super short, in your face, single sentences.  Even when it is broken up and context sensitive.  And then they would get stuck because they didn't know how to do what we told them in the tutorial.  I have no idea how to solve this.
  • People didn't seem to care much about doing what they were supposed to.  Like talk to the noble and get a quest.  They liked just exploring around town and talking politics and relationships with the NPCs.  Most of this stuff was bare bones as all our time went into the noble quest and combat system.
  • When people died and then started a new character in a new world, they suddenly "got it".  When the people in the first town were entirely different with different personalities and portraits, they were hooked.  I'm not sure how to convey this any other way.

As every GM knows: No game plan survives contact with the players!