Flash Game Summit 2011 - One Post To Rule Them All
A lot of people talk about Flash Game Summit, but very few people actually know what it is, or how great of an event it is. Flash Game Summit is a conference for any and all related to the flash games industry. This includes sponsors, developers, game website owners, musicians, artists, investors, and more. The conference gets everyone together, and discusses how the industry is doing, and where it’s going. At Flash Game Summit you’ll meet famous developers, owners of your favorite gaming websites, and plenty more.
Flash Game Summit 2011 was a blast, and with FGS 2012 just around the corner, I think it’s appropriate that I finally get around to doing a recap on Flash Game Summit 2011. I’ve talked about parts of the event in forums, or told people how great it was in a chat room, but I’ve never actually documented my entire trip. I’ve found posts about it on other sites, but none of them seemed complete, or really showed how much fun could be had. My goal here is to once and for all explain to any and all how great Flash Game Summit can be. This an extremely long write up of my trip to Flash Game Summit, or FGS, but I assure you you’ll find it informal, entertaining, and a bit of everything else.
Day 1 – Kicking Things Off
At the time of the trip last year, TheVillageBlacksmith and myself were partners and had saved up for our trip to FGS together. On the day of the trip, we got up early, and headed to the Burlington International Airport. After many hours of flying, a couple snotty remarks about how ugly New Jersey is from above, and a round of “Try and drink your drinks while turbulence is fucking insane ™ “, we landed in SFO. Neither of us had been outside of a relatively small city by ourselves, so being in San Francisco was quite the adventure. After a few horribly serviced phone calls, we eventually found our way out of the airport, and onto the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit, AKA the subway). We took it all the way up to Oakland, and met our friend JJ Wallace who had offered us a place to crash for our first night in the city. I had talked to him plenty on FGL, but never saw a picture of him, so I was quite surprised to see that he didn’t look like the character Budnick from Salute Your Shorts on Nickelodeon. Don’t ask why I had that imagery of him, I can’t explain it if I tried.
After a few minutes of greetings, and a quick house tour, we did what any self-respecting person would do when they started a vacation, we drank. We began with some wine because that’s all we thought was around, but quickly discovered a bottle of tequila. We lined up some lemons, got out the salt, and did who knows how many drinks. I’ll note that Andrew (TheVillageBlacksmith) passed on the Tequila, and that the rest of the night gets pretty foggy beyond this point. Before I go on, let me also note that I can generally hold my liquor quite well, however, I’d only had tequila one time prior to this night, I was pumped to be in California, and you know how the sayings go. Three things are for certain from that point on. 1, I got carried away with excitement and shots, and lost all count to the point of blacking out. 2, I did indeed wake up on a couch not knowing what happened, and there were minor traces of vomit on the floor below me. 3, I had a lot of fun regardless of what happened. There’s a few rumors surrounding that night about me pissing on the floor in the living room, but with the leaky roof at the time, and the fact that while inspecting said puddle in the morning it was absolutely clear and had no scent, I’m calling BS on that and saying it never happened. Things might have gotten a bit out of control, but it was definitely a hell of a way to kick off a sweet vacation, I have no regrets.
*Disclaimer – I’ve only been that drunk a few times in my life, and I completely blame the tequila.*
Day 2 – Pint Night
We drove into San Francisco pretty early, and were heading towards Hotel Whitcomb to meet up with everyone else. I was having a blast simply walking the streets since I’d never been in a city so big, aside from NYC at night, for about an hour while waiting for a greyhound bus. When we arrived, we got our room keys, and settled into the hotel. This next part is a true story, and I took a picture of it because it was that awesome, to me at least. Any self-respecting game developer knows the significance of the number 255. Well, guess what room number Andrew and I had? Yeah, I agree, awesome.
After settling into the hotel room, we headed towards “Lefty” o’ Doul’s, for some lunch, just outside Union Square. Not everyone had landed in the city yet, so the crowd was a bit small, but we had Greg From Kongregate, Ben Lowrey (owner of Playtomic), JJ, Andrew, myself, and a few others. After lounging at lunch for awhile, we eventually made our way over to Zeitgeist ( an awesome Beer Garden) for Pint Night, which was arranged by JJ. This is where the real fun began. I’m generally a mixed drink or shots kind of guy myself, but I give beer a chance now and again. JJ convinced me to try some of the California local brews, such as Anchor Steam, and something I can’t recall by name with a banana after-taste, and to my surprise, I actually liked them. I had a mix drink or two in there somewhere, but for the most part, I partook in the spirit of drinking beer at the beer garden. The neat part about the bar, was that it had both an inside, and an outside. The outside had a grill, a line of large picnic tables, and a pretty secluded and relaxed feel to the area. The greatest part about this bar to me, was that it was active at around 6 or 7 PM, something that just doesn’t happen in a small or medium sized city. Burlington, where I’m from, doesn’t get active until around 9 or 10 PM, which only leaves a few hours of actual fun. In California, I was buzzed and having a blast around 10, and was absolutely amazed that I had another 4 more hours to go.
Before I move on to who I met, and how this all relates to the game industry, there’s a small story I’d like to get out of the way. When we first got outside, we went to the table to the far right, near the wall. We met up with a few people from our group there, and started talking. We saw a sign on the wall that said “No Photography”. Naturally, at this point everyone had their cameras and phones out to take a picture of the sign. We had a line up of camera > phone camera > phone camera, each taking a picture of the last. After taking a picture, as seen below, a guy walks up to us. “Out” he says, pointing to the door. We just kind of stare, like a bunch of morons. “OUT”, he says again. We look at each other, dumbfounded, and wonder if this guy is serious. He then says something along the lines of, “You guys have been here 15 minutes and you’re already pulling this kind of shit, what am I supposed to expect from you in a few hours when you’ve all had a few drinks?”. We attempted to tell him we just thought it was funny, but he wasn’t having it. We all start to stand up (about 10 of us at this point), but all do it in a “we weight two tons” kind of way. I let the guy know we had like 30 more people meeting up with us, and that this situation really kind of sucked, and was a misunderstanding (although it wasn’t, we simply took pictures and thought it was hilarious). The guy then bursts out laughing (as well as everyone else in the outside area), and says he got us, and that we can sit back down. This guy was just messing with us, and to this day, I have absolutely no idea if he worked there, or was just a regular to the bar, and I suppose I’ll never know. Either way, this guy gave us both a scare, and a laugh, which was a beautiful contrast of emotions for the night, which had only just begun.
As the night started to pick up, more and more people made their way over to our group. We eventually had a good 30-50 people who were in one way or another related to the game industry, and we were having a blast. This was my first real networking experience, and it was going pretty well. Pretty early on, I met Chris Hughes And Adam Shroeder, co-founders of FGL. I also met Matt Hughes, a game reviewer for FGL, and John Hughes, a reviewer as well, and also the founder of Twune. It was awesome to finally meet the FGL staff after being an active community member and moderator for so many years, and I would say getting to know them a bit more over the trip was definitely one of the highlights as far as networking goes. I also met a ton of other developers, Mochi staff, and so on. It’s here that I finally met Michael Pollack after talking to him so many times in the FGL chat room. You probably know him better as Tasselfoot, the man who does video walkthroughs for Armor Games and many other big name game companies, as well as some game consultant work on the side. During the night Tass had bought Andrew a drink, which then resulted in a pretty funny situation. Andrew was pretty drunk early on, and refused to accept the drink, so he threw $20 at Tass rolled up into a little ball. Tass attempted to return the $20 and say that the drink was on him, but Andrew continued returning it with a toss of the money ball. Eventually, the $20 bill ende dup on a table beside us, on the ground, and then who knows where. I’m not sure if it was ever returned, but be warned, money flies when you try to buy Andrew a drink, or perhaps when Tass buys you a drink. My favorite meeting of the night however, would have to be John West, Founder of Crazy Monkey Games. There’s two reasons this was such a great encounter for me, first off, I had absolutely no idea he was going to be there, secondly, he sponsored my very first game. Before talking to him through email, I had no idea games were worth so much, especially mine, so this guy literally changed my entire perspective. It’s extremely hard to articulate how awesome it is meeting someone whom changed your life many years ago, but I assure you, it was an excellent experience.
The rest of the night was a little less networking related, and a bit more fun. Nearly everyone else had left by midnight or so, and all that remained was myself, JJ, Colin from Mochi Media, and one other awesome Australian guy whom I can’t remember the name of, but will some day. We bought beer after beer, and talked the night away, which seemed to go on forever, but in a good way. We also talked about Mochi, specifically things we thought would make it better, and Colin seemed to be extremely interested in what we had to say. It’s not until around 1AM that JJ started to talk about politics (while approaching drunk), that Colin and the other guy decided to call it quits, which was quite funny to me at the time. Even at this point, JJ and I just weren’t ready to give up the night. We stayed at the beer garden, and ordered beer after beer, talking to anyone and everyone who crossed our paths that looked like fun to converse with. It was at this point that we met the coolest chick of the night, a girl named POZ. While it’s not spelled the same, my drunken mind assumed that two game developers running into a girl named POZ (pronounced pause), was destiny. We talked for a few short minutes, but her guy friends quickly abducted her, which she didn’t seem too happy about. After a few more beers, it was now 2AM, and time to head back to the hotel.
JJ and I had an amazingly fun walk home, and our spirits were exceptionally high. We were drunk, happy, and in an amazing city, doing amazing things. When we got back to the hotel, neither one of us wanted to call it quits, but we didn’t see too many other options. As the elevator doors on our floor opened, this is when fate struck yet again, I spotted a puffy red coat going through a door about 80 feet ahead of us. I yelled “Matt!”, and to my surprise, Matt Hughes turned around, followed by John Hughes. They had just gotten back from doing there own thing with the FGL staff (who left early from the beer garden), and were still wide awake themselves (to some extent). We had just met that night, but we had known each other online for some time, so they invited us in to their room for a few. We went back to JJ’s, grabbed some lemons, and had a couple more drinks back at Matt and John’s room, while talking about our nights. It was an excellent way to get to know them more, and I’m really glad we ran into them
Day 3 – Indie Giving
The first main event of the trip was the Indie Giving event. The indie giving event, is an event held by FlashGameLicense and sponsors, that allows developers to receive an excellent discount on their Flash Game Summit trip by helping out a charity for a day. It includes your Flash Game Summit ticket, a few nights in a hotel, meals for the entire day of the charity event, some free shirts, and other goodies.
We ended up going to a shelter downtown, where we all met up, split into groups, and did various tasks. Before we got started, we were given a Spil Games water bottle (which is pretty clever), some lunch, our awesome shirts, and more. During this time, I also got to see Simon Lachance (from Berzerk Studios) bust out some crazy skills on the piano, which was mildly entertaining. Once we were ready to get to work, we split into 3 groups. One group painted the shelter we were at, another went to a building close by to play bingo with the seniors, and the last group went to a warehouse 15 minutes away to do some heavy lifting and more painting.
My group ended up going to the bingo session, which was a lot more entertaining than you’d think. This is where I actually got to sit down and talk to Dave form Hybrid Mind Studios for a bit, which was nice since we’ve been visiting each other’s wordpresss for quite awhile. The most interesting part of this part of the day, is that one of the seniors who was sitting next to us, was actually a programmer back in his youth. He talked to us about Pascal, Visual Basic, and so on. It was quite interesting to see someone at his age understand what we did, and to be able to actually talk to him about everything. As far as the actual bingo game goes, it was definitely clear that we brought a wave of happiness into the room, mostly due to Anya Combs (from Addicting Games) totally getting into her job of reading off the numbers.
After we had all met up, said goodbye to the shelter, and headed out, it was just about time for dinner. The indie giving package said it included all meals for the day of the event, but I had no idea that such a minor detail would be a such a treat. We ended up going to #1 Main Street for dinner, which was a very nice looking restaurant. To my surprise, we didn’t sit down once we got in, we went all the way back and formed a line. After a minute or so, two large doors swung open, and a man started taking our coats for us, super classy. We then entered an enormous room with some incredible architecture to boot. In front of us were many tables already set up very beautifully, an open bar with staff waiting for our requests, and two buffet-style tables lined with food. I’ll let this be known right now, I love tacos, I really do. I love them so much that I don’t care if they’re home-made, from Taco Bell, or from a fancy restaurant, they’ll taste amazing to me either way. When I first saw tacos as part of what was for dinner, I got pretty excited. At first I thought it was a pretty cheap move to throw into an event that looked so classy, but my god was I wrong. Those tacos, those were the best tacos on the planet. I can with almost absolute certainty, tell you that you’ve never eaten a better taco. In addition to those, I had multiple cheese burger sliders of various flavors, fries, and even a sundae of sorts that was composed of meat that fell apart when touched, potatoes, gravy, and more. During this awesome dinner, I also met Daniel Davis, Mary Knouse, got to know David Carney better (DVG Music), Nathaniel Chambers of Bubble Pipe Media, and more; all while washing down dinner with some excellent beer and wine. Simply put, this was one of the best dinners I’ve ever had.
All in all, it was a fantastic charity event, that was both enjoyable because we had fun, and because we helped those in need. I highly suggest you consider going this route if you head out to Flash Game Summit, it really can’t be beat. For more detailed information on the indie giving event, check out the official Indie Giving Website.
Day 4 – Flash Game Summit
Now comes the fun part, February 27th, the day of the conference. We woke up early, and actually felt amazing, despite the lack of sleep (this seemed to be a common occurrence when drinking and being busy / excited all day). The actual center where the conference was being held was about 10 minutes outside the city, so we used our Yellow Cab taxi cards (part of the indie giving package), and grabbed ourselves a taxi over that way. The building was pretty huge, and had a really neat look to it. Upon entering, there were signs that welcomed us to Flash Game Summit 2011, and at the end of a long hall, we reached a check in station where all of our swag was waiting. We signed in, grabbed our name tags, shirts, pins that said what our role was (developer, artist, etc), a raffle ticket (yeah!), and our swag bag filled with plenty more. The bag had a lot of mini magazines related to Flash Game Summit and game development in it, a schedule for all of the events, FGL branded chewing gum, a really nice cloth for cleaning screens and things of that nature, and a bunch of other neat stuff.
After signing in and collecting our goods, we were free to walk around for a bit and wait for things to pick up. I walked around to get a feel of the area, and was enjoying myself already. In the center of the main area, there was a collection of sculptures with paintings around them, all game related and pretty awesome looking. Upon further investigation, they were all of popular games, and were on sale by the developers of the games.
The architecture of the building was rather impressive, and I must say that I really liked the layout. The area we were in consisted of two floors, both extremely large. There was an enormous deck, a few large rooms big enough to hold a dinner party, and a few small auditoriums. The architecture from the outside of the building was particularly unique as well, and was rather impressive to look at. It was nice to see such a green area just outside the city, since I live in Vermont, and I’m used to seeing that kind of thing.
Once more people had arrived, it was nearing time for the welcoming ceremony. We headed upstairs to the auditorium, and took our seats while waiting for the show to start. There was a lot of topics covered, but I definitely recall Stage 3D being showcased to us (I believe this was the first public showing), and I thought that was pretty impressive. They went over the growth of the industry, where it’s going, etc. Aside from the revealings of new technology, it was all pretty generic, but it was exciting and interesting nonetheless. At the end of the show, they had us pull out our raffle tickets, and they began drawing numbers. This part gets pretty awesome, and there’s really no way to hide it, so I’ll just say it. After about 5 or 6 people had their tickets called in front of me, mine finally got called. I went up on stage, and received a fancy looking folder. When I got back to my seat, I opened it up, and saw that I had won a free license of Flash CS5. I personally don’t use the Flash IDE anymore, I’m a FlashDevelop kind of guy, but I was happy I had won either way, since I knew the license had some good value (I later sold it on the Mochi / FGL forums for $550). After finishing off a few more drawings for winners of the raffle, the welcoming ceremony came to an end. When I returned to the main hall, the place was buzzing with activity.
The rest of the day consisted of a ton of networking, watching some guest speaker shows, and consuming great food and drinks. I personally saw Andy Moore talk about SteamBirds, watched some information on Stage 3D and what was being developed on it, and a few other panels. I spent a lot of the time simply networking out in the main hall, since I knew I could watch all of the guest speaker shows online at a later date, but I’d not be able to simply sit down and talk with so many amazing people later on. During this time, I met Lars from King.com, Sasha Mackinnon from Bit Battalion, Andy Moore from Radial Games, Alison Huffman from Kongregate, Thomas Griffen from Aethos Games, Jillian from MindJolt, talked a lot more with Anya Combs from Addicting Games, talked with all of the FGL staff a lot, ran into some business contacts from Hooked Media Group, and met many other people that I simply can’t remember off the top of my head. All in all, this was basically the holy grail of networking, so if you do attend, I suggest you consider passing up some of the guest speakers if the hall seems to be active, as I said, you can simply watch them online later.
Once the evening started to kick in, staff moved the giant sculptures and paintings out of the main room, and got the place set up for a party. They dimmed the lights, brought out dinner, set up some music, and shined some sweet looking lights and logos on the walls. Dinner consisted of all you can eat wings, sliders, and other goodies, as well as an open bar (beer and wine). The networking continued, drinks were consumed, and everyone loosened up more than they already were.
While the party wasn’t entirely done at the conference hall, things were clearly moving elsewhere. I was in the middle of a conversation with Jillian from Mindjolt, when everyone I had been hanging out with was leaving the building to head to the Kongregate offices. I quickly ended the conversation, grabbed a business card, and ran after the group. We walked a few blocks, looking for a bus stop, and after about 15 minutes or so, finally found one outside a small dive bar. We had been waiting there no more than 10 minutes for the bus, when a black car pulled up, and John Cooney (jmtb02) stepped out of the crowd and got in. He took a couple people with him, laughed a bit, and took off. We were all pretty entertained by the fact that he had ordered a company ride instead of waiting for the bus, and had a good laugh over it. Minutes later, a black limo pulls up and Dan McNeely (CEO of Armor Games) steps forward and gets in. He took a large group with him as well. At this point, I was pretty buzzed, and laughing my ass off at the concept of these guys not riding the bus, and leaving in such classy fashion. The rest of us waited outside the bar at the bus stop, eagerly awaiting the fun to be had at the Kongregate offices (I’m not in this photo, or many, because I took them all).
We got off at our stop, and had to walk just a few more blocks to get to the offices. At this point, I was buzzed, and having an excellent time. Outside the building was an awesome monument of pixel looking guys, which I believe wasn’t directly related to Kongregate, but was a great touch either way. Alison brought us into the building with her magical card key, and activated the elevator. Once we were inside, I was feeling pretty VIP, and was eager to have a look around at the office. It was pretty big, had a lot of open space, and definitely made me feel at home. We had all the beer, wine, and liquor we needed in the kitchen, and enough good company to talk our heads off for hours. It’s actually here that I first got to talk with Dan McNeely, which was an awesome experience. He sponsored my last released game Pixel Purge, and I had heard numerous times from various sources that he was just an all around great guy. He definitely lived up to his reputation, and talking with him was a highlight of the trip.
At this point, I had worked my way around the Kongregate crowd, and was texting Jillian from Mindjolt. She had a group down at the “W”, which was right near the office, so I left to head down there and check out what was going on. When I got there, I had no idea that there was an official party going on, but it was looking pretty awesome. The “W” was a very classy bar, so much so that I had been warned earlier in the week by some developers that it was a popular hang out, but expensive. When I got there, I found Jillian by the couches, and told her that the party looked great. She told me there was an open bar, but that I would need a bracelet. Unfortunately, they weren’t giving out bracelets anymore, but since Jillian was hosting the party, she made me a deal. If I could fit her already closed bracelet over my wrist, I could keep it. I still have no idea how I managed to do it, but somehow my desire to have free drinks gave me the strength and skills to get that tiny thing over my wrist. I ordered a few kamikaze drinks and shots, and continued the journey of an excellent night. Here I spent most of my time with the FGL staff, such as Eric and Brian, but I also met up with Anya again, and invited some of the people from the Kongregate party to come down. Once the party settled down, I ordered myself and Brian one more kamikaze shot. To elaborate on how classy / expensive this place was, the shots were $14, each; good thing I had that bracelet for the majority of the party.
Once the party died down at the “W”, we followed our instincts and decided to go to yet another bar. At this point, it was Andrew, JJ, Thomas (Aethos Games), Greg (FGL), Merlin (FGL), John (FGL / Twune) and Matt (FGL). I’m going to say right now, the group listed above, they’re champions. All of the parties throughout the night were open bars. The FGL after party, Kongregate offices, The “W”, and now this. It was well passed midnight, and we had been drinking all day, but we kept on going. We walked for awhile, and eventually came to the location of a bar that was supposed to be pretty sweet. Unfortunately, it was closed, so we had to come up with a new plan. We weren’t about to go back to the hotel, so we found the location of another bar. Outside the closed bar, a homeless man was trying to sell some sort of giant action figure (about a foot tall) that lit up if you pressed his back. I had no idea who this figure was, but I liked it, so I exchanged all the change in my pocket for it (a dollar or so). The man was extremely happy, and so was I, because I had an unknown action figure that could light up, and that was more than amusing at the time.
At this point, we ordered two cabs and ventured to our new bar location. The “bouncer” was an old man probably over 60, who had a giant long grey beard, I immediately thought of Gandolf from Lord of the Rings. I reached for my pocket to pull out my camera and take some pictures of the place to document this section of the night, and my heart skipped a beat. My camera wasn’t in my pocket, and I had no backpack on, it was just gone. I was immediately upset for two reasons, first the camera was new, it was a Pentax Optio W90 (underwater camera, 12 MP, etc), the second, it had every picture from the entire trip, I hadn’t backed up anything yet. I can suffer the loss of a $300 camera, losing the pictures from a trip that was one of the best times of my life just sucked. I went inside the bar and told the guys what happened, and they all could see I was feeling like shit. They offered to hook me up with a drink, but I said I was going to go outside and look around, and let off some steam. I called the taxi company to see if I dropped the camera in the back seat, but I was too drunk to tell them the taxi number, where I was, time, and all that, so that didn’t do me any good. This is where things get nuts, the bearded bouncer walked up to me, and showed me my camera. He said, “is this the camera you lost?”. I instantly lit up with excitement and said every positively reinforcing profane word I could think of. He told me that a guy had picked up the camera on the side of the street in front of the bar, and that he (the bouncer) had heard me mentioning losing a camera. He asked the guy if he could buy it off him for $20, and it worked. The guy gave me the camera, and simply requested I give him $20 in return, since that’s what he gave the guy. Now I know that there’s a 99% chance that there was never a guy, or $20 spent on retrieving my camera, but I was insanely happy and gladly gave the man $20 for returning my night to a state of awesome. Apparently, the camera had slipped out of my pocket when I exited the cab, and landed on the side of the road. Regardless of what happened, I was back to a state of bliss, and returned to the inside of the bar. Inside, the guys were drinking, and a live band was playing. I barely remember the band at all, I just know that one of the members had a keytar. JJ and I drank a few IPA’s, and didn’t want to go, but the place was closing up and it was time to head back to the hotel. Overall, I would say that the final bar was definitely the weakest point of the night, and trip, but it barely put a dent in the fun we had. Besides, the contrast in happiness from losing my camera then finding it was awesome, can’t have too much positive or it starts to feel weak.
We ordered taxis again and finally headed back to the hotel. We decided to hang outside the front of the hotel and chat with a few other people who were out there. There was a small group of ladies talking just a few feet away from us, and we ended up merging groups and talking to them for awhile. Among them were Marissa and Christine, they were from Texas and on vacation for Christine’s birthday. We talked to them for awhile, but people eventually started heading to bed. Marissa ended up staying with us, and we took a trip to her room to grab a bottle of liquor to continue the night. We had roof access from our hotel room (Mine and Andrew’s), so we opened our window and all climbed out there. It wasn’t anything dangerous since there was a tall wall at the edge of the roof (waist high, otherwise not a great idea for drunk people). It was probably around 3 AM at this point, and all who remained was JJ, Andrew, Myself, Thomas, and Marissa who had just joined us. We got to know her better, finished off the rest of the drinks and eventually headed back inside to call it a night.
Those 24 hours were probably the most compact, event-filled hours of my entire life. I had never met so many people, drank so much, went so many places, and had that much fun in my entire life. We had drank at the Flash Game Summit after party, the Kongregate office, the “W”, the dive bar, and then the roof of our hotel. It was an absolute marathon, and I’m genuinely impressed with how well we all held our liquor (as well as beer and wine). I learned a lot, met a lot of great people, and was having the time of my life. It truly was an amazing day and I’ll never forget it.
Day 5 – The Ocean and Kongregate GDC Party
I woke up on day 5 expecting to be destroyed from the night before, but magically, California wouldn’t allow me to feel down, and I woke up feeling amazing. There were only two things we had planned for the day, move from Hotel Whitcomb to a hostel, and the Kongregate GDC party at the Harlot. The party was actually pretty VIP, you had to have an invite, or be with someone who could add people to the list, so I felt pretty good about being invited to that. Andrew and I got our invites from having high ranking games on Kongregate, which is a pretty badass way to earn your way into a party. The party wasn’t until 7PM, so all we had to do was move to the hostel, then find something to do with our day.
As I said, we weren’t feeling like crap from the drinking fest the night before, but we definitely needed to get some food in us. JJ guided us to Lori’s Diner, which was a good 30 minute walk, but when you’re in such an amazing city, time really does fly and you don’t mind the walk at all. The diner was one of those 50′s styled diners and I guess it’s actually pretty famous. The inside had a lot of neon lights, wire frame cars hanging, classic booths, and a lot of other 50′s touches. They had jukeboxes at the booths themselves, and you could pay right there to queue up a song (someone there loved Micheal Jackson, we heard a lot of that). We all ordered up some giant breakfasts meals and talked about what we were going to do for the day. JJ, Andrew, Ben, and myself, had decided to visit the ocean, since we had most of the day off, and it wasn’t too far away. All we had to do before we could head out was grab our stuff from the Hotel Whitcomb, and move it to our new lodging over at the Adelaide Hostel.
The Adelaide was the first hostel I had ever stayed at (or been to for that matter), and I thought it was exceptionally nice for a hostel. The Adelaide itself consisted of a small network of buildings, which were all located just a few minutes away from Union Square. They had dorm rooms, doubles, and more. Andrew and I opted for a double, which was basically a very small hotel room. The building we were in was very stylish, and the elevator was one of those old fashioned ones that fit one or two people, and had the cage that you had to manually close. The room itself was small, but rather nice. It had a small bathroom, TV, and all the basics. It was nothing fancy, but it was cozy, which wasn’t a problem for me. I personally see no point in paying for an amazing room when you’re on a vacation, all of the awesomeness is outside your room, not in it. I simply needed a place to crash, shower, and store my things, and this tiny (but nice) hostel room did the trick.
Once we were settled in at the hostel, we headed out to begin our trip to the ocean. I had been to the Atlantic down in Florida, but I’d never seen the Pacific. We walked downtown to the MUNI station, and waited for that to come. The MUNI is a second rail system that heads out towards the ocean, and a few other areas. We rode for about 45 minutes, then got off a few miles from the ocean in a small chinatown area. We grabbed a small lunch here, and walked back to a MUNI stop. We hopped back on, and road it to the end of the line. There was a nice looking coffee shop at the foot of the hill by the MUNI stop, and a long bike path that seemed to span the entire coast (the ocean wasn’t in view yet, there was a small hill in the way). We walked down the street, across the bike path, and up a small sandy hill that hinted the ocean was near.
Upon reaching the top of the hill, we saw what I would describe as a truly breathtaking scene. The beach in Florida was tiny compared to this one, and the view wasn’t nearly as amazing. The beach alone was enormous, and the mountains off in the distance looked incredible. The water went on forever, and the sun seemed to be ten times bigger than I’d ever seen it before. Unlike the resort pampered beaches of Florida, this beach actually had the natural effects of the ocean on it. There were sand dollars everywhere, I saw a jellyfish on shore, and their were seagulls flying above. There was a man on a three-wheeler of sorts with a para-shoot attached cruising down the beach at pretty high speeds, he definitely looked like he was having fun. The entire shore was lined with cement barricades with some pretty neat graffiti on them, most likely meant for blocking high tide from reaching land. I attempted to take pictures of the view, but none of them did it justice, it really is something you just need to see. The pictures came out great, they just simply can’t capture that much of a view.
After walking the ocean for about an hour, we walked back up to the street down towards the other end. This brought us to a rather nature filled area that ran parallel with the long bike path, but it was in the woods. The path had a lot of really awesome looking trees, huge black crows, and some friendly older guys drinking some beers on a park bench. The entire area was really tranquil, and it amazed me that the ocean and such a beautiful area could exist so close to such an amazing city, the contrast was simply unbelievable. We stopped into the coffee shop for a moment or two, then waited for the MUNI to head back down our way. At this point it was getting pretty late, and we had just enough time to go back to the hostel and prepare for the Kongregate GDC party.
We arrived back at the hostel, and began preparations for the party. I was pretty psyched about it, both because the company there was to be awesome, and because I had specifically packed my orange suit that I wear on special occasions. The suit is extremely close to that of which can be found in one of the greatest movies of all time, Dumb and Dumber. I took a shower, brushed my teeth, and suited up. We left the hostel, and headed down to the Harlot, which was right below the Kongregate offices we had already visited the night before.
We were greeted at the door by a small line of people, and a not so small bouncer. He checked the list for our names, and let us in, I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel like a total badass at this point. Upon entering, we saw a classy looking room and a nice crowd of people. To the left of us was a good sized bar with staff ready to serve, and straight ahead was a giant projection of the Kongregate logo, as well as a bunch of really nice looking furniture. Above the bar was a second story with a balcony looking over the first floor. We all grabbed a drink and began our networking voyage. I didn’t know most of the people here since the party was GDC (Game Developer Conference) oriented, and not Flash Game Summit related, but I was fine with that, I don’t like limiting myself to just the flash games industry.
We talked with a lot of people, but the first and most memorable, was a man who’s name I’ll leave anonymous, who worked for Adobe in mobile development. He asked why I was wearing a bright orange suit, and I simply told him it was my special occasions / business suit, then he complimented my taste and we carried on with our conversation. Something neat about this guy, is that he actually shares the name with a historical figure that’s quite popular around my home town. This definitely gave us something to talk about for a few minutes, and made the conversation stand out a bit. He then told us about what he does at Adobe, and asked us about what we did. We told him we were developers for the flash platform, and listed some of our works. He asked us if we were getting into mobile, and we showed him our ancient phones that weren’t remotely capable of running flash player. At this point, he verbally gave us his email address (we were pretty drunk, but I remembered!), and told us to email him when we got back home, and that he would send us each a free Droid X to develop on. Long story short, that’s where I got my sweet Droid X from Adobe.
Somewhere around here, Andrew decided he wasn’t having too good of a time, and he decided to take off, but I was having a great time, so I stayed. It was then that I met someone who worked in the mobile department at Sony, and got to try an Xperia Play before they were even out. I assume he thought it was good marketing to have the awesome guy in an orange suit walk around playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out on the new phone, and he was probably right seeing as I was showing a lot of people. This lead me to a conversation with Sasha MacKinnon from Bit Battalion about great NES games. He was a huge fan of MegaMan, which lead me to explain to him the awesomeness that is Shatterhand. Shatterhand is a very underrated and relatively unknown NES game that in my opinion, does everything MegaMan did, but better. Sasha seemed pretty excited to hear about this new game, which reminds me, I need to check and see if he ever got around to playing that.
I met a lot more people that night, far too many to list in fact. Once the party hours were over, the staff started pushing us to the door (a bit quickly in fact, Kongregate staff wasn’t too happy about that), and we were left outside to figure out where to take the party. Since we now had a smaller group, Alison and Greg kindly let us take the party back up to the Kongregate office. When we entered the office, I was immediately faced with a live action game of Angry Birds. There was a giant elastic material of some sort stretched between two objects for the launcher, a stack of empty water cooler containers, and a few Angry Birds bird plushie for us to launch. It wasn’t the most effective setup, but it was definitely fun to try, and the concept was great enough to make us smile. We hung out here for a few more hours, had a couple more drinks, and talked the night away. All and all, it was an excellent party and after party, and a great conclusion to the fifth day.
Day 6 – A Bit of Tourism
Day six was the first day we were actually lacking any concrete plans. Some of the FGL guys had mentioned doing a bit or tourism for the day, since many of us hadn’t been to San Francisco before. I had been dying to actually explore the city. I was having a great time going to all these events, but I had been longing to go off and see the rest of what San Francisco had to offer. Andrew, JJ, and myself got in contact with Steve (from FGL) and his friend Terry, and we had decided to all group up and tour the city.
We walked through the downtown area, and headed to our first destination, China Town. Neither Andrew or myself had ever been to a China Town, so us being moderately interested in Asian culture (or greater in Andrew’s situation) made this stop quite awesome. The buildings were all extremely cool to look at because of their architecture, and the entire style of the area was exactly what I expected. There were tons of shops, outdoor vendors, and the colors resembled exactly what I had seen in a load martial arts movies. We stopped into various shops, saw some really neat stuff, and even bought a few things. After walking the China Town strip, we stopped into a small eatery at the very end of the town. It was quite the odd shop, half ice cream and frozen yogurt, half popcorn chicken. The colors inside were very odd and bright, and the whole place definitely had a unique feel to it.
After walking passed China Town, we ended up walking through Little Italy. As you can probably guess, this was a small Italian portion of the city, which was quite the change from both the heart of the city, and China Town. There were a few small locally owned convenient stores, a lot of hills, and things were pretty green for being in the city. There was a large park area to our left, and some enormous buildings under construction that looked to be some sort of church (viewing these on Google Maps now shoes them to be an enormous completed church). We continued walking through, and then arrived at the edge of Little Italy, looking down at pier 39.
We walked down the hill towards the pier, all admiring the view ahead of us. We could see the pier, a lot of beautiful landscape, and Alcatraz. As we approached, we could see a lot of neat looking trees, and started to hear the sounds of the pier. We walked down the pier a bit, and entered the Whipeout Bar and Grill. Here Steve bought us all lunch, and a “bucket” of beer, thanks again Steve! After lunch, we walked down the pier, and caught a nice view of Alcatraz. Off to the side there was a very talented man playing an electric violin, and it could be heard quite far down the pier. We took a couple of pictures in front of Alcatraz, talked about possibly going there the next day, then finished walking down the strip.
I had been texting people throughout the day that I met from the night before, attempting to find my way into some GDC parties, and to my luck, I happened to find one just as we were leaving the pier. Angelique, whom I had met the Kongregate party, had informed me of a party downtown, so we headed that way. I don’t remember who exactly was sponsoring the party, but I believe it was someone related to OpenFeint, because they had a huge presence there. The party was held in a sort of side room to some restaurant / club that I don’t recall the name of, but it was pretty cool that we had our own area. Ben Lowrey had met up with us, and joined the party for a number of free drinks, and a lot of talk about the future of mobile gaming. As the party died down, we eventually moved into the main area that wasn’t reserved for our party. They had more food laid out here, and there were a lot of people socializing. JJ decided to play a few games of ping pong, and I must say, damn is he good. I laughed at the fact that Ben Lowrey was an Australian eating shrimp on a stick, and we all put down a few of those, as well as some cheeseburger sliders (apparently the unofficial snack of San Francisco parties, so it seemed). At this point, someone in charge came over and asked us to see our wrist bands, and we told them we didn’t have any, and that we were with the OpenFeint group. They informed us that this was a private Dolby Digital Event, and that we would unfortunately have to go. I wasn’t really intimidated by this at all, in fact, I thought it was awesome that we had accidentally crashed a Dolby Digital party. If anyone from Dolby Digital is reading this, thanks for the free shrimp, it was delicious.
Day 7 - Alcatraz
A few days earlier, Luke (FGL staff member) had mentioned going to Alcatraz on one of our down days. As it turned out, day 7 just so happened to be one of those days. We got in contact with Luke and Steve as soon we woke up, and confirmed that Luke had bought our tickets in advance. We gave JJ a call and had him meet us up at the room. After numerous delays for unknown reasons, JJ finally showed up. We took off towards the bus stop, then headed down towards the pier for our second time this trip. It was raining quite a bit, but today was luckily the only day of the trip that the weather was kind of crappy, and it actually contributed quite well to the mood of Alcatraz.
Once we arrived at the pier, we walked over to the start of the tour and met up with everyone else. We had Steve, Luke, Johnathan, Brian, Merlin, Eric, JJ, Andrew, Myself, and a few others, basically the vast majority of the FGL crew and more. We all got our tickets out, and got on board the boat. We took our seats, and set off for the island that would be all of our homes if SOPA were to ever pass (not directly, but because of the rioting I would take part of once my favorite sites, or own, came under fire). The boat ride there was pretty quick, it didn’t take more than ten or twenty minutes, just enough time to check out the interior of the boat, grab a snack, and get pumped to check out the prison of all prisons.
When we landed on the island, we all grouped up for the orientation speech. They explained the various ways to take the tour, and we all decided to take the audio tour. We headed to the right, and walked up a series of long winding hills. There were a lot of really neat looking buildings on either side of us most of the way up. Most of them were quite eroded, but still stood well and preserved the original look. As we continued our hike up to the top of the island, hill after hill, we passed numerous enormous seagulls. I don’t know if the government gave them special food to eat prisoners who tried to escape, or if prison food leftovers were toxic, but these guys were huge. After hiking for about 10 minutes, we finally arrived at the start of the tour.
Here is where we grabbed our headsets, and filed through the doors to take the actual tour. The first room was the showers for the new arrivals, and I must say, hot water was probably the least of their worries. We continued on and heard stories about various famous escape attempts, saw original art from inmates, saw cracks in the ground from where grenades had been dropped in through the roof during an all out escape attempt, and many other neat things. The architecture was exceptionally interesting throughout the building, and I found myself taking a ton of pictures outside. We saw various cells that were left as they were since last used, and some of them even had artwork hanging from the original artists. There wasn’t any clear view of San Francisco from inside the jail, but there were a few tiny windows that offered a small glimpse to those who were lucky enough to have a view. I can imagine that this was quite teasing, but potentially gave quite the thrill to those who could see. From the same area, we were told you could also pick up on scents from the city that blew in, that must have driven inmates insane at times. We ended up visiting every nook and cranny of the prison, and I must say, I actually expected the tour to be slightly tacky, but in all honesty it was pretty decent, I enjoyed myself.
Once we were done with Alcatraz, we began our search for something fun to do on our final night in San Francisco. Of all the places to go, and especially all the places to eat, we magically came to the conclusion that Denny’s was the up and coming place of the century. Here we met up with Alison from Kongregate, and a few others. We ordered up some food, and I expected the rest of the night to be pretty low-key. To my amazement, we weren’t done yet, and it was by pure chance that this changed. Sitting just a few tables from us, was Andy Moore and friends. They walked over to us when they noticed who we were, and we caught up on what we had all been doing the last days, with a side topic of how underwhelming GDC was unless you had the really expensive pass. It turned out, Andy had some board games with him, and was up for hanging out. Alison had the keys to the Kongregate office, so she suggested we open it back up and hang out there. The idea sounded great, so we headed to the office for what would be my third and final time of the trip.
We arrived at the office, and Alison used her keys to open up the front door, and activate the elevator. When we go in the office, I noticed something new, a previously blank wall, now had a giant letter “K” on it, which looked awesome. Over by Greg’s desk, a once peaceful monitor had suffered a severe attack from sticky notes, the culprit was no other than John Cooney, better known as jmtb02 to the internet. After admiring the new and wonderful “K” on the wall, and laughing at Greg’s desk a bit, we went to a back room that I hadn’t explored during the previous two parties. There was a large table, and a decent amount of space. Andy took off his backpack, and pulled out the entertainment for the night, The Resistance. I had never played, let alone heard of this social board / card game, but I was about to learn how awesome it was. The game has you randomly select a card from the pile (one for each person playing), and assigns you to either the resistance, or the imperial spies. At the very beginning of the game, everyone closes their eyes, then you sound for just the spies to open their eyes, then they close their eyes, then everyone opens their eyes. This makes it so that all the spies know who they are, but nobody else knows who anyone is. The game is basically a really awesome social bluffing / convincing match to find out who the spies are. There’s a lot more to the game, but I don’t really want to explain it all. It’s one of the best board/card games I’ve ever played though, so check it out if you’re into that kind of thing. We had a lot of fun over a couple drinks (water for me at this point, too many days of drinking in a row) laughed, got excited, and accused each other of being spies for hours. It was nearing the end of the night, and the end of the trip, so we closed up the office and headed home.
Day 8 – Heading Home
Today was the final day, and we would soon be going home. We woke up early, cleaned the room, packed our stuff, and headed down to the lobby of the Adelaide’s main building. Andrew had come down with something nasty (which hit me like a bomb a week later), and was feeling absolutely horrible. When we arrived at the lobby, we sat down with Ben and David on the couches, and counted the minutes until our departure. The mood was a bit dull for my taste, since everyone was either on a laptop, sick, or both, so I was dying to get out and walk the streets for a bit. Ben has a serious addiction to salt and vinegar chips, or (chippies) as he calls them, so in a somewhat mocking form, he paid me a few dollars to go pick him up a bag. I would gladly accept a few bucks to do what I was already going to do (get outside), so I took him up on his mocking offer. I stepped outside into the sunny streets once again, and walked a few blocks to find the man some chips. Despite one stores being sold out of them (probably by Ben’s doing), it didn’t take me long to find another and get him a large bag. I grabbed a snack for myself with the money he paid me, and headed back to the hostel lobby. Aside from the newly added crunching sounds from Ben’s chips and my own snack, not much was going on in the lobby, so I decided to head back out to the streets for one final walk around to really take everything in.
I walked around Union Square, Market Street, and many other places I had walked through numerous times, but always in a rush. I checked out the downtown Gamestop, since I hadn’t been in one that belonged to anything other than a small city or town. I observed the various retro buses, mass amount of diversity in the crowds, and the overall positive mood that everyone had; I was definitely going to miss it. After my walk down Market Street, I headed back up towards union square to meet Anya for a drink at the Gold Dust Lounge. I was only there a few minutes before she showed up. We sat down towards the entrance, and each ordered our drinks. I had a martini myself, and Anya had something slightly less girly, which she gladly took the opportunity to comment on. We talked a bit more about what Addicting Games was looking for in games, so that I would have a proper idea of what to pitch them, and then shifted over to our personal lives and just relaxed a bit. It was nice having one last drink with her after seeing her so many times, and it was a great conclusion to our meeting each other. After we said our goodbyes, I walked back up to union square and soaked up some sun, continuing my admiration of the city, my trip, and everything else. On my way out of the park and back to the hostel, I grabbed a picture with one of the street performers as a memento, and I’m pretty sure I picked the best one.
From here on out, it was strictly a journey home. Outside the hostel we said goodbye to Ben and David, and headed downtown with our luggage to begin our journey home. One BART trip, and 2 planes later, we were back in Burlington Vermont. I was sad to leave such an amazing city, but I must admit one week was the perfect amount of time for me to start getting homesick. I didn’t necessarily miss home, just the people. I could honestly live in San Francisco for the rest of my life if I had the right company (and funds), but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Regardless of missing the city, I definitely missed my girlfriend Verena, and I had a lot of stories I wanted to share with my friends and family. Overall, it was the best trip of my life thus far, and I truly did have an amazing time.
If you made it this far, congratulations, you just went through over 10,000 words of my memories, which isn’t an easy thing to survive. I did an amazing amount of networking on this trip, and met a ton of extremely great people. I can’t possibly cover every connection that was beneficial to my career as a game developer, but I assure you there were far more than I listed. I met sponsors, developers, CEO’s, investors, people who worked for companies who make what we do possible, and much more. While a lot of what I mentioned is parties, drinking, and fun, there really was an equal or greater amount of learning, and networking. I sincerely hope my story helped convince you to go to Flash Game Summit, or at the very least visit California. Below is some more information on the official trip, so check it out if you’re looking to go.