GenCon 2014

GenCon is billed as the world's biggest gaming convention, and while it may not be as big as DragonCon or San Diego Comicon, it takes over the entire Indiana Convention Center and the function space of several downtown Indianapolis hotels. This year it was held over the weekend of August 14-17, 2014, and as usual it had the whole downtown area swarming with gamers, cosplayers and nerdy people.

Because some communications breakdowns left us thinking we weren't getting our usual assignment running the manga library, we decided to earn our badges by working True Dungeon's local install crew. That meant we started working on Monday, but would have the first three days of the con entirely to ourselves to enjoy.

On Monday we reported to the convention center to work. The first part of the process was to create the structure of the dungeon with pipe and drape, adding corplas and molded plastic wall segments to dress the walls of the various rooms in which the games would be played. By the time we wound up for the evening, we had transformed a cavernous convention-center hall into a maze of chambers and service passages in which two different versions of two games could run.

We then headed home for the evening to try to get some rest before tackling the next day. However, given the heat at home it wasn't exactly easy to accomplish, which meant that Tuesday morning came altogether too early. Especially given that our shift began in the morning, it wasn't pleasant to have to get up and moving.

Tuesday started with the assembly of the last few sections of pipe and drape. Then we began assembling the AV equipment, which was a fascinating study in the implementation of technology, and of fannish humor in the naming conventions. I don't want to reveal any proprietary information, but I think it's safe to say that it involved the repurposing of some very sophisticated electronics for gameplay purposes, equipment that wouldn't even have been available as commercial products a few years ago.

In the process of rigging the speakers that enabled the system to create the sound environment, we discovered that our side of the dungeon had been built wrong. We'd inserted an extra length of pipe and drape in the longest rooms, making it impossible to place the speakers in their designated places. As a result, the supervisory staff had to do a lot of improvising to get a suitable sound environment in those rooms.

Pretty soon they were testing the sound system, and the sound filled the entire hall. One of the two storylines, The Flight of the Zephyr, was a steampunk story, and its sound effects strongly resembled the rumble of a train. Because I was already tired, the rhythmic sound lulled me into a trance state and I really had to fight the tendency to drift off.

We almost missed out on lunch. The organizers had ordered pizza, but it was late and we got so involved in our work that we never heard that it had arrived. By the time we came out to check what was happening, there were only a few pieces left. At least we didn't get left with nothing and have to choose between going hungry and having to buy our own food, which once happened at a dead dog party where the headcount of people eating was grossly incorrect.

Once we got the electronics arranged (other than a couple of very complex puzzles that required the organization's technical people to set up), we got tasked with dressing the sets. We were given several huge bins of artificial vegetation with which to cover and conceal the structural elements that would destroy the illusion of a magical world. The biggest trick was to arrange the plastic and silk leaves, flowers and mushrooms so they looked like they were actually sprouting from the walls, and didn't themselves create a worse distraction.

On the way home, we stopped at Subway to get some food .By the time we got home, I was really tired, but I still had to do laundry. I was very glad to get that done and be able to get at least some sleep.

On Wednesday we headed back downtown to finish the True Dungeon build. By this point we were at the point where we just needed to tie off a bunch of details, most of which needed a decision from the permanent staff.

As a result, we spent a good part of the time around lunch just sitting around waiting for some very technical aspects of the puzzles to be fixed. At least this time we didn't have the problems with lunch. There were plenty of pizzas, so many they wound up with food left over. My husband also took advantage of this downtime to pick up the event tickets for his games.

In the afternoon they finally got things finalized and sent us through to playtest the storyscapes. We did find a few things that could be problems, which enabled the builders to fix things before paying players came through.

Afterward, we headed home and I got some stuff done. This way I wouldn't have to worry about giving up a day of the con to take care of it.

On Thursday we got up and headed downtown. We wanted to save on parking, so I dropped my husband off at the convention center, then parked in one of the neighborhoods. By the time I walked back to the convention center, he'd already gotten through the line to pick up his swag bag and coupon book. We ate lunch, then headed over to the dealers' room to take a look around. Because I was starting the con tired, I found the crowd overwhelming and had to fight to get through.

In the afternoon, my husband had a game scheduled, so I decided to head over to anime alley in the Westin. My plan was to enjoy the quiet of the manga library for a while and maybe get some work done on my con report or even Holovideo. However, I was so tired I literally fell asleep sitting up.

After his game was over, we did a little more looking in the dealers' room. Then we headed over to Steak 'n Shake for supper. They were extraordinarily busy and we had to stand for a while before we could be seated. It also meant that our food took longer to be prepared.

However, there was one moment that really made my day. We were standing in line to pay for our meal when another customer noticed the True Dungeon volunteer button on my badge lanyard and asked me about it. I told him that we'd helped build the dungeon, and when they said they'd had a great time, it made all that hard work worth it.

In the evening we headed home and I had to run up to the storage unit to pick up books and get them ready to ship. However, I did get some writing time on Holovideo in there as well.

On Friday we headed back downtown. Because my husband's legs were bothering him, I dropped him off at the convention center and decided to see if the parking lot had raised their rates. They hadn't, so I parked there, which considerably shortened the time to get back to anime alley and reconnect.

We headed over to the dealers' room to do some more looking. We connected with three different companies who'd be a good fit in the dealers' room and got contracts to them. Then my husband had a game he wanted to get to, so I got tasked with getting lunch. However, getting it to him proved much more difficult than I'd anticipated. Even knowing what hall he was in was no help, because there were so many tables it was impossible to scan them for a single person.

In the evening we went to the mall food court to get some supper. We decided to try a Japanese place, but most of their selections seemed more typically Chinese to me.

Then my husband went to his last game of the day, but the GM never showed up. So we headed home and I got the latest book sales ready to ship. I also did a little work on Holovideo.

On Saturday we wanted to get an early start so we could see more of the dealers' room before my husband's first game of the day. However, a couple of friends wanted to catch a ride with us, and the more people you're coordinating, the harder it is to get going on time. We actually ended up leaving even later, so we had to hurry a little more as we looked at the various dealers' booths.

At least getting his lunch to him was easier this time because I knew I needed to get precise directions to the right gaming tables. Then I headed over to anime alley to get some writing done.

When it came time for supper, we discovered that all the restaurants in the whole downtown were flooded with people. There was some kind of event at the stadium which had brought enormous numbers of Colts fans into town, and they knew about the out-of-the-way places out-of-town gamers might not. We finally decided to head over to the mall food court, and since we'd been thinking about the Old Spaghetti Factory, we decided to try Villa Fresh Italian Kitchen. I hadn't been all that impressed with them back at IndyPopCon, but I figured we'd give them another chance. This time they ignored us and wouldn't take our order.

Finally we got so disgusted that we went next door to Charley's Cheese Steak, where we got some pretty good subs. However, the food court was so crowded that we had a terrible time finding a place to sit, and even then the din was so loud we could hardly hear ourselves think.

After supper we headed back to the convention center for my husband's last game. I took it easy and hung out at the anime alley until he got back. Then we headed home for the night, where I dealt with some stuff that needed doing.

On Sunday we pushed a little more to get going, since we had only a limited time to visit the dealers' room before reporting to True Dungeon teardown crew. As it turned out, we got there early and the dealers' room wasn't even open. So we waited for a while, and I worked on my con report.

Once we got into the dealers' room, we visited a few dealers we wanted to make a point of talking to. Then we had to get lunch before reporting to the True Dungeon hall to begin teardown. We were worried about time, especially after we had some trouble reconnecting (my husband went to talk to someone while I went to the mall food court to buy lunch), but we actually arrived early.

Because time was at a premium, we actually started the teardown while the final sessions of all four storylines (puzzle-oriented and combat-oriented versions of both Flight of the Zephyr and The Viper's Pit) were still ongoing. That meant we had to work in semi-darkness and be careful not to tear down anything that was still needed for the ongoing games.

Once the final players were finished with their games, the big lights came on and we could move much faster. We were also able to pick up a lot of small stuff on the floor that we couldn't see while the lighting was at gameplay levels. With everybody working hard, we actually got everything torn down and gathered up ahead of schedule.

Once we'd collected our parking stipends and our special volunteer tokens, we headed back to the parking lot. We could've headed home for supper, but we decided to go to one of the local Chinese restaurants and celebrate the completion of another GenCon.

Copyright 2014 by Leigh Kimmel

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Last updated October 7, 2014.