InterFace Conference

A new game conference begins in Troy, Michigan.

Less than two weeks after eventually getting home from SIC 2007, I departed (in the same vehicle) for a new, single day, game conference that was only a couple hour drive from here. The InterFaces Conference, as it was called, was presented by the local International Academy of Design & Technology (IADT Detroit) at a local community center.

Instead of attending the conference itself, which was geared toward students looking for a career in the game industry, I chose just to help man the IGDA (International Game Developers Association) table for the afternoon shift. (Here is the photographic evidence.)

The conference drew an impressive number of attendees, reportedly over 200, for a first-time event. The secret, it turns out, is that attendance was required of all IADT students, so that was probably 90% of the crowd, with instructors, presenters, and exhibitors making up much of the rest. Nevertheless, there appeared to be a great deal of enthusiasm and I heard nothing negative at all.

After the conference, the IGDA chapter meeting took place at the IADT Detroit campus. Unfortunately, the directions (given by one who will not be named here) stretched the short half mile trip to about 8 miles. It could have been longer, but I got suspicious about the instructions as I was leaving Troy, the home city of both the departure and destination points. (Not one, but two incorrect turns took me in exactly the opposite direction of that intended.)

The meeting featured a presentation on professional Xbox Live development by Cris Boyer of Variant Interactive, a (or, rather, the) game publisher located in Michigan. It was certainly an enlightening talk, providing some general guidelines for approaching development for the Xbox 360 console, starting with the Xbox Developer Programs link. He also gave some very specific information, such as a direct contact name at Microsoft and the price of the dev kit for approved developers. Frankly, it was inspiring to know that this is realistically within the reach of an accomplished independent game company.

Unfortunately, upon returning to my vehicle, I discovered that the right front tire had gone completely flat and, adding insult to injury, the special lug wrench required to free the spare tire had been removed from the van. After considerable inconvenience (after 8pm on a weekend), I finally got onto a temporary spare that would get me back home, but not much further. I arrived back at the office early Sunday morning.

Two conferences, two breakdowns; I can hardly wait for the next one.

SIC 2007 Diary, Day Last

The conference ends and the long journey home begins.

Sunday got underway early in the morning under less than ideal circumstances. Apparently, there was a reunion of the Taipei American School in the conference hotel while we were there. The first sign of trouble (or fun, your choice) was that a notice was posted in the elevators to inform TAS guests that mooning from the glass elevator and streaking through the lobby were not going to be tolerated. Well, it seems that they closed the bars and held an afterparty in a room across the hall from mine. It was very noisy and did not get shut down (by hotel management) until after 3:30am.

It would have been nice to have a little more sleep before departing for the return trip, but it was not really to be. Fortunately, I had no urgent appointments, so I could take my time getting home. The morning “breakfast” was a haze, and most conference attendees had already left by then. I loaded up the van and got underway before noon, emerging from the parking garage into bright sunshine and 75 degree (F) temperatures.

Before I left the parking lot, though, I made a final stop to say goodbye to Martha Seward of Freelance Works, who does marketing/distribution work with our products from Goodsol Development and has helped get Pretty Good MahJongg (http://www.goodmj.com) some of the recognition it has achieved.

On the road, I was surprisingly alert, and I managed to find some excellent radio stations in Eastern Colorado to make the time pass more quickly. One was playing a rebroadcast of an old American Top 40 show, with Casey Kasem, and he played Please Come To Boston by Dave Loggins, which includes not only the title line, referring to SIC 2008, but also the line, “Denver ain’t your kind of town“, seemingly in reference to the conference just ended. Weird.

I was in Kansas and stopped at the Welcome Center around 2:30 in afternoon. I picked up a state map and the woman at the counter commented that it takes 7 hours to drive across it on I-70. “It’s a long state,” she said. Little did she know how right she was…

Three hours later, I took a short detour to Wilson State Park (in Kansas, not the Wilson State Park in Michigan, just a couple hours North of here). It is located, along with several other parks and nature areas, on the shore of Wilson Reservoir/Lake, which was created by the damming of the Saline River. I discovered it by accident on the way back from California in 1994, and I was seeking to refresh my memory. As I remembered, this area puts paid to any notions of Kansas being nothing but flatland and cornfields.

After an enjoyable break, I filled up the van with gas, reset the trip odometer, and got back onto I-70E for another lengthy stint behind the wheel. And then It happened…

Rounding a curve on the freeway at the legal speed limit of 70MPH, my power steering suddenly (and immediately) failed. This sent me into a physical struggle to keep the van on the road, which I was able to do, and with a great deal of good fortune, I passed a beautiful blue sign: REST AREA – 1 MILE. I managed to wrestle the beast (no easy task, believe me) into the rest area, get it whoa’d down, and actually park decently between the diagonals. It was right there that remaining contents of the cooling system were deposited.

Well, it turns out that the water pump died, casting off its belt, which in turn controls every other belt driven mechanism under the hood, including the power steering (obviously), air conditioning, and alternator. Waiting (too long) for a tow truck, and with no wireless signal available, I opened the laptop and started typing:

Alas, the van threw a belt, or rather, ‘the’ belt, just before reaching Salina, Kansas. The first indication was a loss of power steering, which is not fun at 70 miles per hour. Fortunately, there was a rest area (where I am typing this right now) just a mile down the freeway, so I stopped there. That is where this story must pause, as I do not yet know the outcome, sitting here charging the computer and getting eaten by mosquitoes. A storm is approaching from the direction I am facing (North, more or less) with lightning, so I am cheering on the charger to get past the current 96%, no wait, 97%, before it hits.

Over and out (for now).

SIC 2007 Diary, Day Three

The last full day of the SIC 2007 conference gets underway.

Saturday started slowly (breakfast: none), but built to a grand climax. The day would end with a banquet. However, unlike previous years when there was a lighter schedule for attendees to prepare (in my case, nap) for the award ceremony, this year featured a full complement of sessions. Of these, there were three that caught my interest, so I doubled my session time for the conference.

The first time slot included a session entitled, Your Micro ISV Business. One half was “General business advice”, presented by the always entertaining Phil Schnyder, of askSam Systems. The other half was “Getting things done in your micro-ISV”, by Bob Walsh, of 47 Hats, the man who literally wrote the book on the topic of Micro-ISVs. This whole session contained some good information, though most of it was not new to me. However, Bob recommended the book, Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Getting Things Done, by David Allen, which will probably be a worthwhile read.

The next time slot was a presentation by Gary Elfring, of CD-Ship, and Doug Caviness, of CustomCD.us, on Successful Software Packaging. This was a repeat performance for Gary, who again provided loads of excellent information on packaging options, including little tips such as using a CD mailer for branding/marketing, using the CD itself to cross promote for other products, and adding “Made in U.S.A.” to the packaging (if it was, of course). Honestly, my notes only included the actions I should take, and I neglected to write down the rationale for the last item; I am sure there was a good reason, though.

Over the lunch break, I had decided not to attend the luncheon of the ESC (Educational Software Cooperative), which organization nevertheless deserves a mention here. Instead, I went to lunch at a franchise burrito joint with a number of friends, including fellow ASP Directors, Mitchell Vincent, of K Software, and Brandon Staggs, of StudyLamp Software. The company was excellent, the conversation was not related to software, and my burrito was far tastier than anything either local franchise of the same restaurant creates near home. Fortunately, the session after lunch held less attraction for me, so I could relax and enjoy.

The penultimate time block featured one of the longer-titled sessions, Independent Innovation – The self-funded, sustainable, live-anywhere business, presented by Michael Lehman, the single employee of Microsoft who is paid to actually care about independent developers like us. (He also happens to be quite a nice person.) His talk included several online resources, which I will check out and, if worthy, blog about at a later date. However, he also offered one book recommendation (that I intend to follow), Change or Die, by Alan Deutschman, which is apparently a 241-page elaboration on his Fast Company article of the same name.

I skipped the final session of the day in order to “prepare” for the banquet (even though I buck the trend and do not dress up for the event… much). I also skipped the first quarter hour of the usual 30-45 minute wait before the doors to the banquet hall open. Once the doors did open, the feasting and entertainment commenced in short order.

The Master of Ceremonies was Rob Rosenberger, who was as entertaining as ever. After a short welcome, the food service began. The meal was fairly good, and my neighbor’s dislike of asparagus meant more for me. As attendees were finishing their desserts, the comedian, Willie Ferrell (“no, not Will Ferrell“), began his act, which was mostly improvisation working with (and in) the audience. He even picked on me a little bit when he found out I was from Michigan, having me show exactly where on the palm of my right hand, as we are wont to do in this state (at least, this is, those of us from the Lower Peninsula). All in all, his was a funny act.

After the comedian, and a short break, came the real purpose of the evening, the presentation of the 2007 Shareware Industry Awards. As mentioned previously, our game, Pretty Good MahJongg, was nominated in the ‘Best Non-Action Game’ category. In fact, there were four authors at our table that had products nominated for an SIA (in four different categories), so there was some anticipation…

The first presentations made were the People’s Choice Awards, which do not have nominees announced, so there can be surprises. Dan Hite won the ‘Best Vertical Market Program or Utility’ for his Auction Sentry Deluxe, a program for eBay auction tracking and bidding/sniping. This was not a huge surprise, as this product was one of three SIA nominees in the ‘Best Hobby or Personal Interest’ category. One surprise was that no People’s Choice Award was given in any game category. Bummer. A bigger surprise, and a better story, was that Brandon Staggs, who decided not to attend the banquet, won the People’s Choice Award for ‘Best Hobby or Personal Interest’, in absentia, for his SwordSearcher Bible Software.

After that, the Shareware Industry Award winners, voted on by our fellow shareware authors, were announced. Alas, Dan (just to my left) did not win an SIA to match his previous award, but Terry Jepson (to my immediate right) did win for ‘Best Educational Program or Game’ with his WISCO Word Power. Our fortunes were good (between two other award winners), too, so our table garnered 3 awards on the evening, although the one I “accepted” had actually already been sent to Springfield for Goodsol Development. (You can be certain that I will post more about our SIA later.)

The rest of the evening was something of a blur, and it seemed that most conference attendees retired early, so I followed suit.

SIC 2007 Diary, Day Two

The second day of sessions at the Software Industry Conference begins.

Again, I awoke reasonably early, despite having a late night (i.e., early morning) that included a little bit of beer. Alas, again I also found no omelets or other tasty breakfast goodies, so I instead reflected on the night before. After closing down the reception, I had drinks with Mitchell Vincent, of K Software, and Ryan Smyth, of Renegade Minds, who had again flown in from South Korea to attend SIC.

During the evening, I ran into another attendee who represented herself as an/the owner of [Swedish company], the makers of [product name withheld], a very well-known anti-spyware product that I happened to use. I mentioned that I had noticed some issues (specifically, failure to process messages and responsively update the window during scans) that could be fixed to improve the software, offered in the spirit of constructive criticism. The response was so defensive, an absolute refusal to accept that there could be something wrong and implication that I did not know what I was talking about, that it immediately felt like an argument; I was, frankly, astounded. Color me unimpressed…

Anyway, the sessions of the day did not hold much draw for me, for various reasons from “been there, done that” to “not yet applicable”. I did, of course, attend the ASP luncheon, which was decently attended and worthwhile, if just for the company around the table. That event, like much of the day, was spent schmoozing with other shareware industry professionals. This is the true purpose of this (or any) conference.

The one session that I did attend today, and had looked forward to, was Effective Software Design, given by Nick Bradbury of Bradbury Software. This was a different take on practical software design topics by another experienced software designer, in the same general category as my presentation from last year, but a completely different approach to the subject. I enjoyed the talk but, personally, did not find that elusive golden nugget or pearl of wisdom in it. The main takeaway point was really in the description given in the (online) schedule: Simplicity ain’t so “simple”.

The activities for the evening were Exhibit Night, complete with food, and a reception following, featuring a chocolate fountain. The SIAF used the same (effective) method for getting attendees to visit all booths: filling a provided map with rubber stamps from each exhibitor entered one into a prize drawing. In the middle of this process, I agreed to sit down for a quick video interview (as did a couple dozen other authors) with Michael Lehman, of Microsoft, to be shown on MSDN Channel 9.

The highlight of Exhibit Night was, surprisingly, the food. In particular, the Swedish meatballs were excellent. I usually find myself doing too much networking to eat much at these, but I made a point of taking some time to enjoy these as well as the roast. The story (well, rumor) was that the hotel had no recipe for Swedish meatballs, so Michael “Doc” Callahan actually provided instruction for the cooks. True or not, they were certainly tasty.

The prize drawing was actually pretty amusing. Randomness requires seemingly non-random events to occur on occasion, and this time (by chance) prizes went to at least one family member of each entered SIAF board member, as well as to most ASP leaders in attendance. This include me; I won a copy of SureThing CD/DVD Labeler Deluxe 5.0, thanks to Jim Mayall and MicroVision Development. (This was particularly welcome, as I had just had to purchase a LightScribe DVD writer before leaving, and had bought a disc printer just prior, and this software will handle both.) Of course, the relatively small conference size, and still fewer drawing participants, combined with a reasonably large number of prizes meant that odds of winning were pretty good.

Immediately following was a reception, hosted by TrialPay, which featured a flowing chocolate fountain, along with ice cream and various other items, such as pretzel rods, on which said chocolate could be poured, as well as a few extra goodies such as cheesecake. (My personal dessert intake was minimal, having stuffed myself with meatballs earlier.) The other feature of this reception was the Magic 8-ball-esque toys given away, blue and about the size and texture of a stress relief ball. I ended up with two of them and, yes, I heard the inevitable jokes on the way to my hotel room.

Will there be another SIC diary posting soon? PROSPECT GOOD

SIC 2007 Diary, Day One

The Software Industry Conference gets underway in earnest.

After a good, and much needed, night of sleep, I awoke reasonably early, thanks primarily to a two hour time difference between Denver and home. Although I do not regularly eat breakfast, I made a point of going to the lobby to see what the conference had to offer. Alas, there were apparently no sponsors for breakfasts this year, so the spread was the standard “continental breakfast” provided free at almost every roadside motel (although I am sure that the SIAF got nicked good for it). Lacking the tasty omelets of years past, I decided not to eat.

Instead of breakfast, I decided to visit and check out the hospitality suite for the ASP (Association of Shareware Professionals), since I am on the Board of Directors. It was nice to have a place to sit down and relax, and this was the first time I saw the new ASP “20th Anniversary” T-shirts, as well as the cool USB rechargeable flashlight giveaways. A decision had been made to forgo the usual booth at exhibit night in favor of this room, and I was suitably impressed. (The food there was almost the same as upstairs, too.)

Unlike previous years, the SIC 2007 schedule did not include any “must see” sessions, and even among the ones that looked interesting, I did not have any conflicts (with two desirable sessions running at any given time). This is not to say that there was nothing worthwhile, however. I was looking forward to hearing from Bob Walsh, of 47 Hats, and David Intersimone (a.k.a., “DavidI”) of CodeGear (nee Borland), who were both attending/speaking for the first time, as well as several repeat speakers who are always entertaining and informative.

The first session I attended was Blogging for Your Business, presented by Bob Walsh. If his name sounds familiar (other than from the previous paragraph), it is probably due to his excellent book, Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality. This session, though, he was speaking about good blogging practices, another topic on which he has “written the book” recently. The main takeaway points of this talk, for me, were that one should write on consistent topics and post regularly, two guidelines that I violate liberally here. A couple of tips given were to write news roundups and have a few “timeless” (i.e., not time critical) articles written in advance. One of the last comments, during Q&A, was that a blog author should not regularly put pictures of his cats on his blog (“for instance”); some of us had a good idea from whence that example was drawn.

As a bonus, Bob gave out copies of his new blogging book, Clear Blogging: How People Are Changing the World and How You Can Join Them, to a few worthy attendees. One of the recipients was Ben Weintraub, of Merit Software, with whom I was sitting and who was kind enough to pass the book on to me. I plan to review it in a future posting (even if the book tells me not to do so). Thanks, again, Ben.

I skipped all of the sessions in the middle of the day, spending most of my time hanging out in the ASP hospitality suite, where we had a leadership meeting during lunchtime. Later, I went to the session by David Intersimone, Native Code Application Development – Tools for ISV(s)/MicroISV(s). It was a knowledgeable presentation, but, alas, not terribly enlightening for me (being experienced with development tools). The primary point was that there is definitely a place for native code development and that CodeGear, at least, was not going to abandon us real programmers entirely for .NET anytime soon.

The evening reception, as usual, was hosted by Digital River, who seem to be renaming their e-commerce solutions to DR globalDirect, not that this changes any of their questionable practices or is even reflected on the web site yet (suggesting the relative importance of smaller ISVs in their long term plans). The more significant news, though, is they they do learn, albeit slowly; after two years of ridiculously loud music, this reception almost allowed people to actually talk to each other. The one mistake, however, was that the county fair-themed events included “ring the bell”, so every few seconds there was a loud crash of a hammer (almost never followed by a bell sound).

As the reception ended, some activity moved into the hotel bar…