Tag: Notacon

The End of an Era

This weekend, April 10-13, 2014, will be Notacon 11. The last Notacon, apparently.

The first Notacon I attended was Notacon 2. I was less than impressed, as it seemed like the most poorly organized event that I had ever gone to. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was because the event was not put together by professional event planners, but by a bunch of geeks who were no older than me, who didn’t see any reason why they couldn’t do something they thought would be cool. But in those first years, the execution wasn’t quite at the level of the vision yet.

There were printed schedules for when talks and presentations were to be given, but due to last minute changes no one was where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be. I missed talks that I had wanted to see, and saw things that I had no interest in. Speakers’ presentation slides were projected onto bed sheets that were strung up in an improvised manner. If they had a microphone, maybe it worked but as likely as not it was low on batteries or cut in and out throughout the talk. I didn’t know anyone there, and no one seemed to be friendly or inviting. I tried to chat with geeks playing with legos and soldering irons, but no one seemed very interested in getting to know me, or talking about what they were working on.

So that was my first and last Notacon, until Notacon 6. A friend I knew from the interent, named aestetix, who I’d never met IRL declared in a blog post that he needed a ride from the airport so he could deliver his talk, and he offered to get whoever helped him in for free. I’d long admired his thinking and writing, and took him up on the offer. By then, Notacon had matured into a well run conference, with interesting talk topics and personalities. Drew Curtis from Fark.com presented that year, as did Jason Scott of Textfiles.com and the BBS Documentary, Archive Team, and the Internet Archive. And Mitch Altman, of Cornfield Electronics and TV-B-Gone, and a young comic book artist named Ed Piskor, who was working on a 4-part graphic novel on hackers called Wizzywig, and would later go on to create a definitive history of hip hop and rap music, Hip Hop Family Tree. Among the attendees was Emmanuel Goldstein, whom I had read about years ago in connection with the legendary 2600. I was afraid to walk up to him and say hello, but I was impressed that he was there, and amazed that I knew people who knew him.

I went every year after that, and made friends with a lot of people there. Aestetix introduced me to Paul and Jodie Schneider, Notacon’s primary organizers, and I met many others there for the first time who would become friends, acquaintances, and professional contacts. Most significantly, for me, I met a neurohacker I met at Notacon 6 named ne0nra1n, who was very friendly and made me feel welcome as a newcomer to this space, and corresponded with me after that weekend, giving me encouragement to present a talk myself. At the time I didn’t think I had anything that I was good enough at or knowledgeable enough about to make an interesting talk, and the amount of work that I felt I’d need to prepare something even barely adequate frightened me. My first presentation proposal, a talk on intellectual property and copyright reform, wasn’t accepted for Notacon 7. I felt secretly relieved.

But ne0nra1n’s encouragement changed my life. As a result of Notacon, I started this web site, not yet knowing what it would be. I participated in the founding of the Makers’ Alliance hackerspace in Cleveland, and through my involvement there, first encountered the Cleveland Game Devs, and became heavily involved with them in 2010. This helped me to rediscover my enthusiasm for programming and game development, which I’d put aside for many years.

I delivered my first presentation at Notacon 8, “How I (FINALLY) Made My First Videogame”. I put a lot of work into it, which was only possible because I’d just lost my job two weeks before, and that allowed me to pour 14-18 hours/day into working on finishing that first game, and to preparations more directly related to the talk itself.

I worked on the game and the talk I would give about how I had made it, right up until the last minute, and while I knew my topic and what I wanted to say, I hadn’t had time to rehearse, and no real idea if I’d fill the hour slot I had, or go over. But my prepared material fit the hour almost perfectly, and I received many compliments from attendees — this completely exceeded my expectations.

Presenting was a great experience. I was transformed that day. When I went to bed that night, it all hit me at once: I had done it. I had grown up to be the person who I had dreamed of being since I was little: a videogame designer. It was something I’d given up on when I became an adult, and I had tried to forget about for years, but I never had found anything to replace the passion I’d had for that dream, and life felt unfulfilling as a result. But, because of that chance interaction with ne0nra1n at Notacon 6, in two years I had become the person who I had always wanted to be.

Talking about that journey in front of a room full of people, had made it real in a way that it hadn’t been before. I felt, at last, like I had arrived, and I had a place where I belonged.

Notacon 9 Game Maker: Crash Course presentation materials for your consumption

Game Maker: Crash Course materials are online, open to the public on Google Docs.

Here’s what you get:

Presentation slides. Be sure to read the notes, there is actual information. More than would fit into the talk itself!

Space Invaders Kit. All you need is Game Maker installed and you can build it yourself! A great way to get started. Includes:

  • starter project file,
  • final project file,
  • final project .exe build,
  • sprite images,
  • sound files.
  • step-by-step instructions for how to do it!
  • project specification document — a good way to start out any project is to document what you want it to be. Follow this as a template for your own designs!

Notacon 9

Notacon 9 weekend is over.

I gave my Game Maker Crash Course talk, which went well. I livecoded Space Invaders using Game Maker 8.1. This was my first-ever livecoding talk, and let me tell you, it’s not easy to talk intelligibly while coding!

I was really anxious about screwing the talk up the night before, but when I got into it I was able to keep my mental focus in both the talk and in the code, and got through enough of it in 90 minutes that I felt like I’d gotten most of the fundamentals across, and took Q&A at that point. The talk went much better than my first go at it at my sneak preview/dress rehearsal, which means the March 10 rehearsal did it’s job admirably — but there was still a lot of things that I glossed over and didn’t explain as fully as I’d intended in my notes and slides.

But I think that actually worked out better (it was more an ad lib to go off script than an error), because I ended up just sticking to the immediate project and didn’t digress into confusing subjunctive sidebars about all the other things one might possibly do in Game Maker with a given type of resource, Event, or Action. I only flubbed a couple times (apart from the intentional errors that I made to demonstrate how the process of building up a project iteratively really looks — building and testing incremental bits of progress toward the final project), and recovered gracefully and kept the talk moving, and I didn’t end up needing my detailed outline notes at all. I’m not sure how well the audio got picked up by the microphone, as I could not really hear myself over the monitors at all while I was speaking, but it will be interesting to see if they can do anything in post-processing to salvage the video.

One of the best things at Notacon this year, and possibly one of the best all time things at Notacon, was the Artemis Starship Bridge Simulator workshop led by Mike Substelny and Tom Robertson. I was very happy that they came to their first Notacon in a roundabout way because of me. When I was working on my proposal for A Game Any Game, I approached Mike and asked him if he would like to help me out with a Game Maker workshop for the weekend. Mike was the instructor who led the intro to game design class at Lorain County Community College, which is what finally got me back into game design and programming, and I thought it would be a lot of fun to work together on a project like this with him. He declined at first, but after thinking about it some more decided to submit his own proposal with Tom, and that’s how that happened. I love seeing my enthusiasm for community events bring in more people and their energy for the things that they are enthusiastic about.

I saw a lot of friends this year, and by that I don’t mean the usual hacker scene personalities; I mean local people who I’ve known for years, but never had seen at Notacon before. Even though I always felt many of them would be into it and enjoy the talks and activities, and many of them were friends or friends of friends with people who went each year. I’m not sure whether my talking about how great it is to be there for the past three years had any influence or not, but it doesn’t really matter.

However, this year’s event was quite a bit smaller than past years, overall. I’m not sure why that is, and it makes me wonder. The same good feelings were there, about being at a great party with brilliant people, and actually in some ways maybe they were stronger than past years, the luminaries and bigger personalities who were missing gave the event a more down to earth and sedate tone and I think maybe allowed those who were there to embiggen themselves a bit to fill out the empty space more than they might have otherwise. I felt like there was something missing for much of the weekend, so many people who’ve been coming for years who weren’t there this year.

A Game Any Game was not as successful as I had hoped, but ever since I submitted the proposal to do it, I had this feeling that it would be difficult to attract participants when there’s so much else to do all weekend long. We had a few people come to the table we were at, to talk and get the software from me, and build a little start of something. And any amount of that to me counts as win. I hadn’t planned on making a game myself, as I’d wanted to be available to help others with their questions as they got acclimated to Game Maker, but with the lack of participants, I ended up working on a game and completed it just before the event ended.

It really isn’t much of a game, in fact it’s really pretty broken in some ways, and the code, if you look at it, it quite rough. As I worked on it, I had the feeling I used to get from drawing margin doodles while sitting around waiting for inspiration to grab me. It was less an attempt at designing something good, and more an experiment, to stretch my legs a bit and do something I hadn’t done with Game Maker before, and so I chose to do a game that used mouse controls. Doing the controls was a little tricky, mainly because I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted, and I’m not certain that the approach I ended up with is the best, and probably it isn’t, but for the purposes of exploring the mouse functions and doing something with them, it was a good experience. I only spent maybe a total of four hours over the weekend seriously engrossed in building it, and much of the rest of the time I was working on it, it was an aimless, design-less exercise.

So, enough excuse-making, I think I’ve adequately established that this is probably not worth playing, but for posterity I’ll have the .gm81 file water if anyone wants to look at the code, build it, play it, or mess around with it. I don’t plan to develop it further.

I’m planning on getting back into MUST!GET!EGG! in the next week after Ludum Dare. For those who I met this weekend who might be reading this, that will be a more inspired creation and should be a decent game by the time I finish it.

Notacon 9: A Game, Any Game

Notacon is an annual technology conference held in Cleveland, Ohio that I have been going to for the last few years. This year’s conference, Notacon 9 runs from April 12-15, 2012.

I spoke last year at Notacon 8, and enjoyed it so much that this year I’m putting together another presentation, a crash course in Game Maker, AND organizing an event for the weekend, called A Game, Any Game. A Game, Any Game will be a 72 hour sprint to develop a working video game.

I took a little inspiration from Ludum Dare and Global Game Jam, and a little from the fact that too many of the people I’ve met through the Cleveland Game Developers meetup still have not built a finished game. I want to give everyone who participates the opportunity to get past that milestone in a weekend, and feel that sense of accomplishment that makes you feel so good.

As its name implies, A Game, Any Game is intended to be very open-ended. We’re aiming to provide a venue and encouragement, and just enough structure to give participants the traction they need to create a game in under 72-hours. It is not a competition; the idea is simply to make a game, any game, and get it completed in the 72 hours we have during the conference. Participants are encouraged to use any and all tools that they have at their disposal to make their game, and if they have never done anything like it before, they’re invited to attend my talk, Game Maker Crash Course. People can choose to work on whatever ideas they feel like working on, but if they need some help brainstorming, I’m going to come up with something to help seed the clouds.

For me, it’s going to be really interesting to see how many participants we can attract, and how many finished games we can produce. This is the first time in a long time that I’ve tried to organize something like this, and I think the key to it being successful will be promoting the event effectively to get people interested in doing it, and then making their experience great.

I think I have more ideas on how to make the experience (hopefully) great than I do on how to promote. Aside from blogging about it here, tweeting my fingers off, and telling everyone I know, what else can I do? I’m asking anyone who’s reading this to spread the word. Tell anyone you know who might be interested about Notacon and the A Game, Any Game event. If you use Twitter, the hash tag #n9agame will be used for any business related to A Game, Any Game. You can follow my tweets as well @csanyk.

“How I (FINALLY) Made My First Video Game” Notacon 8

The talk went very well. Several people I didn’t know came up to me afterward and said that it was inspiring, which means a lot to me. I tend to discount compliments from friends, which perhaps I shouldn’t, but I always throw out data that might be subject to bias.

I am posting my presentation slides here, for anyone who would like to download and read my notes. The talk was videotaped (do camcorders still use tape? No, I think we need a new word), and will be available on the Notacon.org archive once they have time to process everything. I’ll post a link when they do; might be a few weeks or months.

How I (FINALLY) Made My First Video Game – Notcon 8 2011-04-15

Edit: The videos that were embedded in the original powerpoint appear in this version of it as single frame placeholders. For the actual videos, I have them up on YouTube:

Development Stages

Builds 0.20 – 0.22 montage


It’s been too long since I last updated the site. I’ve been busy.

In addition to my usual projects at work, I’ve been taking a course on Linux System Administration, which has been going well. On top of that, work sent me and the other developers on our team to a continuing education program offered through Cleveland State University, so that we can all receive a certification in web development. Mostly this has been review for me, but I’ve been able to learn a bit more in some areas.

Also, I’ve gotten involved with Makers’ Alliance, a 501.c3 nonprofit startup whose mission is to provide a hackerspace for the greater Cleveland area. If you have any negative connotations from hearing the word “hacker”, please don’t. We are not the kind of hackers who go breaking into systems we don’t own without permission, although we may take things we do own apart and figure out how to make them better.

The organization is almost a year old, and we’re really just getting started. We are trying to find funding and a permanent location for our operation.

I just finished a project to create a course for teaching Cascading Style Sheets, which I will be presenting on 4.30.10 at our temporary location, the former Brunswick Flower Shop at 10550 Carnegie Ave., Cleveland, OH 44106. I’ve given the course the title Streetwise CSS, and it is intended to be an intermediate level class geared toward learning CSS for the real world. I am hosting a live example code page on this site, and the powerpoint slides from the lecture component of the course as well, if anyone’s interested.

I’ve also been spending the second Tuesday of every month attending .NET SIG meetings, hosted by Bennett Adelson in Independene, OH, in an effort to network with other professionals and keep up to date on Microsoft’s developer tools.

Last weekend, I attended Notacon 7, and had a great time attending many interesting presentations, and got to meet a lot of great new people and see a few old friends as well. Makers’ Alliance had a presence at the convention, hosting and setting up the open hacking room, where people could learn soldering, buy and assemble small project kits, and learn about circuits and electrical components. I didn’t get much sleep but I had a lot of fun.

In the next few weeks I am looking to get deeper into C# and am planning to revisit my DomeWrinklesCurl project, to implement a few features that I have on my project roadmap.

On May 8, I’m planning on spending part of my day at the CCAG show, which is always a lot of fun. I love seeing all the old hardware and the chance to play a few classic games or pick up a few for my collection.