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The Year Was 2019 (Part 1): From Coast to Coast

Updated: May 29

Hey everybody; Jay here! It has been WAY too long since we’ve done a blog post. The last couple were sporadic and, being honest, if it weren’t for Chris (one of our wonderful interns) we probably wouldn’t have even had the last two at all, either. The long and short of it is that we’ve been SUPER busy working on Collapsus and other things. That being said, we have something like half a year of blog content we never even covered, so here’s what we’re going to do. In the immortal style of John and Hank Green… this blog comes to you in three parts.


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That’s right. As I sit here, I’m typing out 3 whole blog posts to you wonderful people and I’ll be uploading them one after another for the next 3 weeks. These past 6 months have been CRAZY, so it’s going to be structured like this: Before the Hamilton Games Festival, The Festival itself gets one all on its own, and then after that we’re covering the post-festival events! Without further ado, it’s juice and jam time (sorry RebelTaxi)!


We go ALL the way back to May with PiviP. PiviP is a great up-and-coming eSports event by our friends at AllMid. It’s an interesting premise, too. The whole thing is basically “eSports take over King’s Island”. For those of you who don’t know what King’s Island is, it’s a big ol’ theme park, very similar to Cedar Point, Six Flags, Knott’s Berry Farm, or Busch Gardens (half of those are even owned by the same parent company). We got there really early, before the park was even open. One of the trippiest things was that we had to drive through the park just to get to Festhaus (the venue where PiviP was being held). Seriously, it is super weird to drive through a theme park before it opens, especially one that you have been frequenting since you were a child.


Driving through King’s Island on the way to PiviP while the park was still closed
Driving through King’s Island on the way to PiviP while the park was still closed


Driving through King’s Island on the way to PiviP while the park was still closed


We got all set up alongside a few other indie developers and our friends at Extra Life Cincinnati. It was a blast! They had a big old main stage full of all manner of eSports competitors, though the Smash Bros is what really caught my interest. Not much to be said beyond that. Oh wait, don’t let me forget the special guest: Markiplier! That’s right; the biggest gaming YouTuber was at the same event as us. Not too surprising; he is from Cincinnati, after all! You should have heard the fans scream! We wanted to hand him a copy of Collapsus, but he was WAY too swamped.


Adam showing off the Collapsus booth at PivIP! We’re right next to Extra Life Cincinnati!
Adam showing off the Collapsus booth at PivIP! We’re right next to Extra Life Cincinnati!


Adam showing off the Collapsus booth at PivIP! We’re right next to Extra Life Cincinnati!


After that we ended up needing to wait for the whole park to be closed down before we could drive the car back in and load out (everyone else was able to get their stuff and go before us, but this was with our new, fancier setup, so it required the car). That being said though, the park staff were instructed to treat PiviP people as if they were staff; so we spent a lot of the time hanging out with staff members we knew, and riding rides in the middle of the night alongside the National Roller Coaster Club (who had a special night there as well). Riding rides with the moon shining bright ahead and virtually no one in the park: simply priceless!


Pros at PiviP playing Smash Bros!
Pros at PiviP playing Smash Bros!


Pros at PiviP playing Smash Bros!


Next up was the Columbus Arts Festival. Our buddies over at GDEX worked in cooperation with the City of Columbus to bring the “Columbus Arts Festival VR Tent presented by White Castle” to just outside of COSI. It’s funny because the first couple GDEXs we went to (well, one OGDE, because they ended up changing their name) were at COSI. Same thing with Game Masters: the Exhibition when we showcased at that, as well as COSI After Dark: Game Night. It was like going back home.


The Columbus Arts Festival VR tent presented by White Castle
The Columbus Arts Festival VR tent presented by White Castle


The Columbus Arts Festival VR tent presented by White Castle


It was pretty freeing, actually; being in a big tent outdoors. Because of our fancy new setup, we had twice the booth space as normal… and boy, did we need it! All in all, there wasn’t too too much to say about this one, but I did score a purple sporran to go with the purple kilt I picked up at PAX East. I wish there was more to say. For an event that was so family-oriented (rather than “gamer” or “developer” oriented), the crowd really knew what was up. Not a lot of confused parents wondering “why video games?” like you get at a lot of these. I chalk that up to the GDEX crew. They’re always really good at ironing out those kinds of hiccups.


Cody Starcher of Multivarious/GDEX with more Junk blocks in Collapsus Battle Mode than we’ve ever seen before!
Cody Starcher of Multivarious/GDEX with more Junk blocks in Collapsus Battle Mode than we’ve ever seen before!


Cody Starcher of Multivarious/GDEX with more Junk blocks in Collapsus Battle Mode than we’ve ever seen before!


Moving right along to A BIG ONE! August saw us at SAAM Arcade. For those of you not in the know, that’s the “Smithsonian American Art Museum Arcade”! As in, THE Smithsonian (insert Tim and Eric “mindblow” GIF here). Not gonna lie, this was the coolest thing I’ve ever done! Like, I’m not going to speak for everyone, but definitely the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I was in Germany and hiked in the Alps last year… and this is still cooler! So how did we get there?


Well, we applied. I know, I know, duh Jay. Seriously though, we just applied. I don’t think I’ve ever been more stressed out about an application before, either. The submission process involved sending off builds of the game and writing a great-big-long essay! Then, there were a couple rounds of judging/curation. It was intense. We’ve had to do things like that for some of the more serious events we’ve gone to, but this felt like holding our collective breaths for months… and we made it!


Lucas at the SAAM Arcade booth
Lucas at the SAAM Arcade booth


Lucas at the SAAM Arcade booth


Like many things Wraith does, too, this was born out of pure unadulterated jealousy. It’s no small secret that if I see one of our dev friends doing something cool, I tell the whole team “We’re doing that.” Probably not the most mature business model, but it’s why we’re on Switch, have so many awards, got on NPR, and are working on an arcade cabinet and a vinyl soundtrack release (among many others). This time it was our friend Jarryd Huntley. He got in a couple years ago and I said “We’re gonna do that.”

We applied last year and did not make the cut. However, there’s probably a good reason for that. Mostly that A.) Collapsus kinda sucked last year (yeah yeah, you all keep saying that we should’ve released it three years ago, but with every new build, all we hear is how glad everyone is that X, Y, or Z new feature or piece of polish was implemented); and B.) because SAAM Arcade (you have no clue how much I just want to call it SAAM like I do in conversation with close friends, but that’s the kind of thing that can get you yelled at by the Smithsonian Institute) has themes!


Our SAAM Arcade booth completely swamped
Our SAAM Arcade booth completely swamped


Our SAAM Arcade booth completely swamped


This year’s theme was “Breaking Barriers”. Loosely what that means is “games by people/featuring characters/catering to audiences consisting of marginalized groups (mostly racial, gender, romantic, sexual, or disabled minorities)”. Since most of us on the team are GRSM folks and most of us are also disabled folks, AND Collapsus has such a focus on accessibility, we were kind of perfect for this theme. However, I will say it is really funny that people automatically assumed that we fit the theme solely because you were breaking physical barriers in Collapsus. That even came up in some pre-event press pieces.


A big ol’ list of games at SAAM Arcade
A big ol’ list of games at SAAM Arcade


A big ol’ list of games at SAAM Arcade


But yeah, this was my first time being in DC (I almost went on a class trip when I was much younger, but didn’t get to go). It was just me and Lucas for this one. Lance is actually from DC, so it’s a shame he wasn’t able to make it. But this stuff happens.


Before the event, us devs got a tour of the National Portrait Gallery by one of the curators after we set up. But the second the event was open to the public, it was about the density of PAX East, but of course almost infinitely smaller. Because of this, not only was it one of the most breathtaking events we’ve ever done, but I can say it was one of the most valuable events we’ve ever done as well. There were so many people who cared about the game so much, and we couldn’t be more thankful.


SAAM Arcade filling up with people wanting to play some awesome, diverse games!
SAAM Arcade filling up with people wanting to play some awesome, diverse games!


SAAM Arcade filling up with people wanting to play some awesome, diverse games!


That’s the thing with basically all the games (I say “basically” because we didn’t get around to all of them), but every one we did see was absolutely packed, and there’s a very good reason for that: these were top-notch games by traditionally underrepresented voices in our industry. These were some of the most interesting, personal, experimental games I’ve played in a while. I’m not going to talk about any of them in particular; otherwise I’ll be here this entire blog post just gushing. But I will say I did cry a few times. Seriously, go find a list of these amazing projects and developers and follow them!

Lastly on the subject of SAAM Arcade, I gotta say a huge shout-out to Tanya DePass, director of “I Need Diverse Games”, who was the keynote speaker at SAAM Arcade. She’s been an amazing voice for diversity in our industry, and a really awesome internet friend (I really wish whenever we are at the same events, we weren’t so busy because we have to actually hang out at some point).


Lucas and I had a GREAT time at SAAM Arcade!
Lucas and I had a GREAT time at SAAM Arcade!


Lucas and I had a GREAT time at SAAM Arcade!


So, um, yeah. That was on August 4th in Washington, DC. Later, on August 27th, we would be in Anaheim, California for a very different type of event: GameDaily Connect (formerly Casual Connect). We were there because we had been made finalists for Indie Prize!


I’ve been wanting to land something with Indie Prize for awhile. Correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as indies are concerned, the three big awards in our industry are IGF at the top, followed by Indiecade, and then shortly after, Indie Prize. Now, it could be argued that the VGAs or even a BAFTA are more “important” from a certain perspective; but I’m talking strictly “indie game awards”. So when we were named finalists for Indie Prize, it blew my mind. Even if it would mean gathering the resources to fly to DC, and then flying all the way to California, so be it.


Chris and I showing off Collapsus at Game Daily Connect
Chris and I showing off Collapsus at Game Daily Connect


Chris and I showing off Collapsus at Game Daily Connect


When we got there, though, it was a little… different. Don’t get me wrong; being there was a huge honor (we didn’t win, by the way). It was at the Disneyland Hotel, which was, of course, amazing; and we also met some great new friends. I guess the problem is more one of whiplash, if anything.

See, GameDaily Connect, while it had a lot of us indies, was more a business conference than anything else. Tickets for non-Indie Prize people (our tickets and booth were free) were $250. Yeah. Not a booth. Just the regular, standard admission. What this meant was, almost everyone who was there was trying to sell something. Lots of publishers, people selling ad packages, games services, all of that. A lot of them were kind of pushy about it, too. I got into a few debates with publishers and ads people for the fact that Collapsus didn’t have ads or in-app purchases. I actually got into a discussion with a team member from a very large social media company (I’m not going to say which company, but it’s a product you may deal with every day) who literally called me “arrogant” for the fact that I said that Collapsus didn’t really need ads. It was one of those “We have millions of active users. Why do you think you know better than them?”-type things. After all that, he did vote for us for crowd favorite, however. It was all very bizarre. They even had this focus when it came to their talks. One of them was completely dedicated to the “fact” that loot boxes aren’t gambling. I’m sure there are people who got a lot out of the show, but it really wasn’t our scene.


We did meet a lot of great people at Game Daily Connect
We did meet a lot of great people at Game Daily Connect


We did meet a lot of great people at Game Daily Connect


We’ve gone from a free, public-facing, “games as art” exhibit at the Smithsonian on the east coast to an expensive, industry-exclusive, “games as business” conference at Disneyland on the west coast. It was like night and day. I don’t want to make a judgement call, but SAAM Arcade was definitely more our speed.

We DID get to meet Tommy Tallarico, though, which was freakin’ incredible!


IT’S TOMMY TALLARICO, SON!
IT’S TOMMY TALLARICO, SON!


IT’S TOMMY TALLARICO, SON!


So folks, you probably know what’s coming next if you’ve been following us. We do about 15 events a year, big and small; this time we’re helping run one! Next blog post: The Hamilton Games Festival!

#smithsonian #PiviP #indieprize #event #columbusartsfestival #collapsus #gamedailyconnect #News #saamarcade