Origins 2007 Report

I’m finally back home from Comic-Con and a family vacation in the UP, and I’m already two convention reports behind. So, let’s hit this one hard and fast.

I missed the last two Origins due to deadlines and other details. At last year’s Gen Con, my pal Sean Fannon (who was with GAMA at the time) asked me why I hadn’t been around, and I glibly replied, “No one ever asks me.” This year, GAMA invited me out as a guest of honor, and I happily accepted.

Unfortunately, set-up day for Origins was July 4, which is a big day with my family. Not wanting to miss the fireworks my wife, mother, and kids, I asked if it would be all right if I showed up on Thursday, July 5, instead. Trey Reilly at GAMA graciously allowed for this.

I got up on the morning of the 5th, planning to head out by noon. Instead, I tackled a short editing job for a computer game company, which needed to be done right away. I figured it would be better to get it out of the way than hope I’d find some time to work on it once I arrived in Columbus.

Unfortunately, the day dragged on, and I ended up leaving Beloit about 3 PM. The drive takes about 7 hours, but I lost an hour due to time-zone changes, so I got into town about midnight.

After checking in at the Drury Inn, I strolled over to the Big Bar on 2 at the Hyatt, the unofficial industry rallying point. I ran into a number of friends there, including fellow guest of honor Dave Williams. Formerly with AEG, Dave’s now part of Red 5 Studios, plotting to take over the world with the next great MMO.

Dave hit me with the 10 Days of Fame theory. In short, in the gaming industry, no matter how famous you are, it only counts for about 10 days per year. These days occur only when you’re at conventions, after which you slip into obscurity for the other 50+ weeks of the year.

“Famous in the gaming industry” is, of course, oxymoronic. Still, Dave’s theory (which may have originated with someone else, as I recall) smacks of truth. It’s one of the great things about conventions. While they’re fantastic fun and a great way to get jazzed about the rest of your year, their fleeting nature makes it hard for anyone with even a single toe on the ground to get a swelled head about any such fame.

July 6

The next morning, I got up and grabbed breakfast with the private chef Origins provided for the guests of honor. Stunning, but true, the con provided three squares a day by means of an excellent cook who’d set up shop in the Drury’s atrium. I took advantage of this as often as I could.

After the exhibit hall opened, I wandered around the floor a bit. The lack of large publishers struck me hard. Of all the top-tier publishers, only Pokémon had a booth. Others had an official presence through partners or via tournaments, but roaming around without any chance of bumping into a booth from Wizards, WizKids, Upper Deck, Games Workshop, etc., gave the floor a surreal feel. Still, it meant I had lots of chances to see what everyone else in the industry is up to.

At 2 PM, I joined Lew Pulsipher (designer of Brittania, among other things) for “Getting Started in Game Design.” Lew reminded me that he’d actually sat in on a freelancing seminar of mine three years before, despite the fact he’d been first published long before I entered the industry. We hit it off well and did, I thought, a fine job of playing off each other. Lew is slow and steady, and I’m a bit more energetic (“hyper” as he called it), which made for a good mix.

At 5 PM, I held my traditional “Freelancing 101” seminar. Many people showed up and asked lots of great questions. Mostly I let the audience steer such seminars, as it seems pointless for me to lecture people and hope that I hit upon the issues they want to discuss. I’ve never seen a crowd run out of things to ask.

After the seminar, I grabbed dinner from the show’s private chef, then wandered back to the Big Bar on 2. I ended up spending the rest of the night there catching up with old friends until the place closed down around 2 AM.

July 7

I skip breakfast and just make it to my 10 AM panel, a reprisal of “Getting Started in Game Design” with Lew. Unfortunately, although the panel is two hours long I have to bow out after a single hour, as I have another panel at 11 AM.

I slip into “A Novel Approach to RPG Campaigns” just in time and join my old friend Aaron Allston behind the table. Once again, Aaron had a better feel for the structure of what he wants to say here, and I’m just chipping in outside shots and rebounds whenever I see an open basket.

I slip back to the Drury for a quick lunch. Afterward, Aaron and I meet again, along with my pal Will Hindmarch, for “Super Popular.” This panel concentrates on how the rise in popularity of superheroes may cause the genre to change. Of course, no one knows the answer to such questions, but we spitball some decent hypotheses as best we can.

After that I wander about the exhibit hall for a while. I spend at least an hour chatting in front of the booth shared by insane gaming geniuses Jared Sorensen and Luke Crane. It seems to be a vortex for good conversations, pulling in Ken Hite, Paul Tevis, James Ernest, and countless more.

Eventually I head back to my room to get changed for the Origins Awards, at which I’ve been asked to present an award. My category is Best Non-Fiction Publication, and I toss out the suggested script to muse out loud for a moment about how wonderful it is to work in an industry that has non-fiction awards for books about dragons. Not-so-coincidentally, perhaps, Dragon Magazine wins.

For me, highlights of the night include having a drink with Peter Adkison and his father Gary, who’d shown up to play games with his son all weekend; seeing Shane Hensley accept the award for Best RPG Supplement for Deadlands Reloaded; and listening to Captain Lou Zocchi give one of his hilarious spiels.

After the awards ceremony, I forgo the post-awards party to grab dinner with Pete Fenlon, Lisa Stevens, and Vic Wertz. I’ve known all three for years, and Lisa and Vic are a couple, but Pete’s not met them much beyond a handshake before. We end up at a wine and tapas bar called the Burgundy Room, where we shoot the breeze for hours.

As we wrap up, I realize that we’re alone in the place. Like slipping too close to the speed of light, the conversation has caused time to speed up for the world while we failed to notice. It’s after 2 PM, and we’ve been there for around five hours.

Despite this, I pop by the Big Bar on 2. Last call was a while ago, but Sean Fannon finds me and drags me over to a nearby hotel for an after-party at which we try to play one of my favorite games, Fluxx. We have too many people involved, though, and too many conversations and drinks interrupting the flow, so we give up sometime after 4 AM.

Sean realizes that driving home to his place in Columbus is hopeless now, so I offer him the spare bed in my room. He somehow ends up with a bottle and a couple of friends (including Sean Preston, who I’d met at Gen Con last year) who join us for a morningcap until near 5 AM.

July 8

I get up in time to pack up, check out, and get my bags to my car. Then I roll back to the hall for a banquet the convention holds for the guests of honor and the hall of famers who made it to the show. Aaron Allston and Alan Moon both officially accept their Hall of Fame trophies after testimonies from their Mike Stackpole and Mike Gray, respectively, and we all enjoy a decent meal.

I sit with a crew that includes Mike Gray, Jolly Blackburn, Anthony Gallela, Trey Reilly, Frank Chadwick, Larry Elmore, Duke Siefried, and Rick Loomis. When Trey asks what keeps everyone coming back to Origins, everyone responds: “To see our friends.”

As I’ve mentioned many times before, the summer cons are going to your favorite summer camp year after year. You get to see great friends that you only hang out with two or three times a year, and you get to play games with them. Not a bad deal at all.

As I’m standing in line for food, four of the guys from Reactor 88 Studios show up: Darren Orange, Joe Martin, Zachary Laoutides, and Lucas (whose last name escapes me at the moment). After the banquet, we reconvene, and I show them around the convention. It’s mid-afternoon on Sunday by now, which means the place is just about to roll up the carpets, but it’s still an eye-opening experience for them.

At 4 PM, I join Aaron Allston, Will Hindmarch, Lisa Stevens, Dave Williams, and more for the “Future of the Gaming Industry Panel.” None of us can say for sure what the gaming industry might look like in the future, but the consensus is that it will take a new form that none of us can predict, much as it has done a number of times in the past.

Afterward, I grab a quick bite with the Reactor 88 guys. While on the floor, we managed to bump into Rennie Araucto of Gen Con, who pointed them toward Derek Guder, the director of Gen Con’s film program. Darren and Joe have arranged to be able to show some footage from the Brave New World pilot, along with a “making of” documentary, at Gen Con. I’ll get you details for that as soon as I have them.

Then I jump into my car and head home, back to reality and far from whatever fame I might have found.