Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Rampant Games at Salt Lake Comic Con – Random Thoughts

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 8, 2014

JayGameNBook1This weekend, Rampant Games was at Salt Lake Comic Con, showing an early alpha build of Frayed Knights 2: The Khan of Wrath. We’d created a special demo particularly for for convention. The idea was to have an adventure that players could experience in about 5 minutes of playing that would give them a taste of the game and the combat system. We also passed out cards with discount codes for the previous game in the series, Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh Daon. It has now been 24 hours since it ended, and I’m still collecting my thoughts, though I did take quite a few notes. I’m trying to distill the whole experience into the most valuable take-aways now.

But in the mean time, I thought I’d just compile a few random thoughts and experiences from the show in no particular order for your entertainment and possible edification:

I learned that this kind of event is really a two-person job. My wife had the other exhibitor pass, and she occasionally brought me something to eat or watched over my kiosk while I took a bathroom break, but she was only there for part of the time on Thursday and Friday, and she didn’t really know how to play the game, either. So I soloed it, and I think it hurt things. Also – that meant only the tiniest of breaks. That meant up to 9.5 hours straight of being fully “on”, rarely able to sit for more than 60 seconds at a time, talking people through the demo until my voice was completely hoarse. Plus a half an hour to an hour before the show setting up, preparing a new build, watching over things, and around a half-an-hour to an hour after the show dealing with last-minute visitors, cleaning up, putting stuff away, and trying to record notes.

It was exhausting, and this was all on top of six weeks or so of pretty breakneck development efforts to get things going. But…. it was a memorable experience! I learned a lot.


As you can see in the image to the left, there are SOME challenges to demoing games at Comic Con you might not get at PAX or E3…


I got 500 special cards made for Comic Con, with a metallic finish and a time-limited discount code on the back for Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon. I love the card, but in retrospect I printed too many.  I gave out less than 200, I think. Better too many than too few, I guess.


I brought hand sanitizer and a package of wet-wipes used as napkins when I hastily wolfed down something to eat, or to wipe down the game controller. I was feeling a little self-conscious about wiping down the game controller after every few users. I didn’t want to wipe it down right after they were done, because I didn’t want them to get offended that I might be singling THEM out as having really germ-laden hands (although in a few cases, yes, I was). But I didn’t want my controller to be a contributor to Con Crud (TM), so I did what I could.

At one point I was really worried if I was being overly zealous in my efforts. Then I saw a young man walk by who had played my game a couple of hours earlier. He had a finger buried almost to the first knuckle in his nose.

I continued my efforts to wipe down the controller as often as I could.


While some players did it by accident, many players were quick to dismiss the dialogs & story bits as quickly as they came up, in an effort to get straight to the “action” — of turn based combat. On at least two occasions, they asked where their weapons were. Obviously, they were FPS players unfamiliar with the genre. I tried not to take their dismissal of the story elements as an indictment of my game in particular, but young gamers at a big convention looking for a quick gaming fix. A lot of them were boys in their early teens or pre-teens, and they seemed to be expecting Shooty McDudebro. They didn’t often seem enthusiastic when they walked away.

I was talking to a fellow game dev Josh Sutphin at our booth the following morning – who had a very successful showing of his SHMUP, Legacy of the Elder Star. He laughed and agreed that it was a genre thing. “This role-playing game would be so much better if it didn’t have all this story getting in the way of the action” is something we have a tough time imagining a genre fan saying. Taking home the idea that story is bad and to be kept as minimal as possible would be the wrong take-away. (And a lot of people genuinely seemed to enjoy the dialogs, even repeating them out loud in their own interpretation of character voices, and laughing).

Nevertheless, interrupting the flow of the game for a non-interactive “cut scene” (which my dialogs sort of act as, I agree) is definitely an issue, and something I need to think about. Even when you see people play and can ask questions, neither you nor they might be able to answer exactly what they want / like / expected / disliked about the game, so it can be a challenge to draw the right conclusions.


There were a lot of aspects of showing a game on a crowded expo floor full of geeky sights and sounds that might not apply to the real marketplace. If anything, it was probably an environment more like arcades I grew up in (so I guess the “Utah Games Guild Arcade” was aptly named). The games that showed the best were bright, clear, easy-to-understand, action-packed, and flashy. They drew attention to themselves by the moment-to-moment gameplay, and were easy to “get” even with a short attention span (which describes me well when I’m on the expo floor as an attendee).

However, while these are virtues of certain styles of games that wouldn’t directly translate to others, that doesn’t mean there aren’t broader lessons that can’t be gleaned and applied. Civilization V has a great deal more “curb appeal” than its predecessors, and not necessarily to the detriment of gameplay. (And I’m going to leave that particular argument alone…) And that appeal isn’t limited to drawing attention at trade shows. Just as we learned that different background music could completely change the “feel” and tension of an action sequence, the cosmetics and context within a game can totally improve the emotional appeal without single change to the mechanics. Although that’s not to dismiss the need to tune mechanics to the perfect “feel,” too….


I met an old friend / coworker at the NinjaBee side of the booth on the second day. We’d had no idea that we’d been working right behind each other, with only some tables between us, for a whole day. Things were just THAT BUSY. For all of us.

Sadly, I had friends, family, fellow authors from Xchyler Publishing, fellow indies, etc. come by to visit me at the booth, and we could never talk for more than a few seconds before someone would grab the controller and need my attention.


I hadn’t put an “attract mode” in Frayed Knights 2 for the demo. In retrospect, I don’t think it would have done anything to attract more visitors to my little kiosk – things were busier than I could handle in the first place – but it might have attracted more of the “right” kind of player, or at least helped prepare interested players for the game they were about to play. There’s something to be said for setting expectations. Especially for the ones expecting an indie version of Call of Duty…


One of my frequent comments about the show – as someone who attended the previous Salt Lake Comic Con and the SLCC “Fan Xperience” convention six months ago – was that I didn’t feel like I was “at” the Con. The con was something that happened around me, but I wasn’t really a part of it. I saw a handful of booths (mostly before the expo floor opened), and saw some bits of swag from other places, but for three days my world rarely extended far beyond my little kiosk. People mentioned all the panels, celebrities, booths, and fun stuff going on. But except for fighting crowds on my way to the restroom, or the awesome costumes that surrounded me, I missed it. Ah, well.


I really liked being part of the big Arcade, although I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time networking with my fellow devs as I think I expected. I got to know my immediate neighbors a bit better – the awesome folks from Deli Interactive, and Lyle Cox of Mount Olympus Games. But otherwise – we were all so slammed that we had to fight to get any time to play each others’ games.

What I did see impressed me, though. We’ve got some amazing talent here in the Salt Lake City area. I knew this from our Utah Indie Nights, but seeing it all on display with banners, posters, and polished demos (as far as I was able to see / play) really drove home the point.


Besides an attract mode, I wished I’d made the game more self-explanatory, and helped it pitch itself to players and potential players. Really, anything that would help me be more hands-off so I wouldn’t have to devote my full attention to a player … and even leave the booth for a few minutes and feel confident that people could pick up the game and play it and have fun without my assistance … would have made a HUGE difference. I guess I neglected that part to focus on other things because I knew that I’d be there to help people through it… not realizing that I was chaining myself to my kiosk by that decision.



Will I do it again?

Maybe. There were things I think I did pretty well with under the circumstances (especially the 5-minute adventure), and some things I realized I could have done better, and would do differently in the future. There are things I could do better to “monetize” the experience, to do a better job of making the whole thing pay for itself and not draining my shoestring marketing budget so hard.

Going with a group booth was definitely the way to go. That made things a lot cheaper, and I think having the whole booth out there, open on three sides full of displays and different games, really helped attract attention and traffic.

The biggest value from the experience was watching real people playing my game, seeing what worked and didn’t work, and then hearing some of their feedback, enthusiasm, and suggestions. While there are probably cheaper ways of obtaining that kind of information, it was a great cross-section of skill and interest level, this was very, very important.

SLCC 2014 Handout (Front)


SLCC 2014 Handout (Back)

Filed Under: Frayed Knights, Game Development - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

  • Dave Toulouse said,

    I’m exhausted just reading about your experience! so I can’t even begin to imagine how it would go for me.

    Of course it doesn’t help that I hate crowds and that when I have to speak for a long time I have the impression of being silly for repeating myself so frequently.

    Anyway, nice to read about how it went there. Thanks for sharing!

  • Cuthalion said,

    Glad it went pretty well!

  • Craig Stern said,

    Random and assorted thoughts:

    1) People at cons have a *lot* they want to see and do and limited time in which to do it, so they feel pressured to “get the gist” of the games they’re playing quickly. Heck, even *I’ve* been known to skip story parts under those conditions, and I’m someone who makes videos reading out RPG character dialog in silly voices for fun! I wouldn’t read too much into it.

    2) You should try going to a convention properly focused on games–you’ll reach a lot more (and much more enthusiastic) people than you will at a comic con. I speak from experience. At PAX Prime 2013, I gave away 1,000 business cards, ran out, and had to resort to having people hand-write their email addresses on legal pads.

    3) Definitely yes on the “make the game self-explanatory” part. By my third con, I’d gotten Telepath Tactics to the point where I could confidently leave the booth in the hands of people who’d never even played it before, only leaving them with tidbits like the game’s targeted platforms and expected release date. That’ll free you up to do things like network, eat lunch, and not-pee-in-your-own-pants.

  • notk said,

    How’s the mac version of the first game coming along?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Does it still say that it’s coming somewhere? (When I had to rebuild the site, some old stuff found its way back in). The Mac version was canceled. The person who was handling the port found that the engine was too old & clunky & he was having a nightmare trying to get it to run on modern Macs. So… it didn’t happen. One more reason why I switched to Unity.