Hey y’all, Shempi here to talk about our month, and wow what a crazy month it’s been. The team had the chance to pitch our game at the MassDigi Game Challenge in February. We were awarded runner up in the College Alpha/Near Release category! Congrats to the category winners Obio and BareHand, and extra congrats to Small Squares for the Grand Prize win for May’s Journey, an adventure/puzzle game that teaches programming fundamentals. Overall it was a really fun experience where we got lots of valuable feedback and a ton of people loving our game! If you’re in or around the Boston area, definitely check it out next year. The real reason I’m writing this post is to talk about the BCEmachine, though, so let’s get into that.
You’re probably wondering, what’s a BCEmachine? The BCEmachine was our mobile “booth” at PAX East 2017. I built a costume to wear at PAX that turned me into a walking, functional arcade cabinet minotaur thing. It was pretty awesome. In the following section, I’m going to explain why we did it, how I built it, and the experience of taking it to PAX.
You can say your game is fun as much as you want, but that doesn’t help you sell your game. We’re at a point with B.C.E. where we’ve found the fun. That’s supposed to be the hard part I guess, but really the hard part is getting it out there and convincing people it’s something worth paying attention to. After all, even if I tell you we’ve found the fun, that doesn’t mean a whole lot coming from me, the developer. In comes marketing, PR, and other exposure. It’s really not quite as simple as a couple of Facebook ads. I wish it were. I won’t claim to know much about marketing, but I know enough to say that it costs a great deal to get somebody to engage in your product in any way.
Bringing your game to a festival or convention is a great way to get people engaged. Blue Drop Games is based in Boston which just so happens to house the biggest (non-trade show) game convention in the US, PAX East, so we set out to bring B.C.E. there. First we tried applying for space at the IndieMegabooth which we didn’t get. Then we tried to win the Grand Prize space from MassDigi at the Game Challenge which, as I mentioned above, we didn’t do. We had no exhibiting space at PAX but with a tentative Summer release, we needed to get B.C.E. out there…
The idea originally came from something Rich Gallup from Disruptor Beam said to us in passing about “just going for it” and setting up in the expo hall. We laughed that off and didn’t think much of it at the time, but later that night I got to thinking about it again. If there was a way to stay mobile while exhibiting the game, then Rich’s far fetched suggestion might not be so far fetched after all.
Thus the BCEmachine was born! The goal of this project was to smuggle B.C.E. into PAX East. Cue the Mission Impossible music. In order to do so, we had to have a mobile setup to prevent suspicion and fire code violations. Furthermore, we needed to have a reason for being at PAX. If we just walked in holding a bunch of demoing equipment, people would start to ask questions like, “Where’s your Exhibitor badge?” Luckily for us, PAX East is known for its monumental cosplay, which would provide the perfect cover story. That’s where the arcade cabinet came into play.
That was the plan. Cosplay as a mobile arcade cabinet, waltz into PAX East, and exhibit our game guerrilla style. If it sounds a little crazy, that’s because it probably was, especially with only a week and a half until the expo. Better get to it then!
The first step was planning the build. This was my first big DIY project of any kind, so I really had to do a lot of planning in order to get it right. Even then, there are some weaknesses I’ll go over at the end of this section. I used SketchUp to plan the build. It was my first time really using SketchUp but I’m familiar with Maya and Max and other 3D tools, so it didn’t take long to figure out. SketchUp is great because I was able to pull the measurements right out of it, which helped in ordering and cutting the materials. I’m sure there are a hundred other tools that do the same thing, but SketchUp is free and easy so that’s what I picked.
The biggest challenge in planning the BCEmachine was how to actually run the game. I needed to balance weight with power needed to run the un-optimized B.C.E. I initially toyed around with using a mini PC build but that was quickly tossed out because powering it wasn’t feasible. The next idea used a laptop with a USB-powered monitor because I wasn’t happy with using a 15” display (I was having trouble figuring out placement of the laptop so that the screen would be centered). Finally, by phoning a friend, I figured out how to fit a laptop screen in the middle of the arcade “window,” so I settled on using a 17” gaming laptop. Power would still be an issue but this was the best combination of aesthetic, power, and weight.
Here’s a breakdown of all of the supplies needed to build the machine with their approximate prices:
$1275 HP Omen 17-W253DX Gaming Laptop (bought and returned to Best Buy within 15 days…sorry Best Buy, they call it Indie for a reason)
$100 48”x96”x.394” Coroplast sheets x 2 (arcade cabinet shell)
$91 PVC and fittings (skeleton rig inside)
$69 Home Depot delivery fee (I don’t have access to a car that can transport the over-sized materials)
$20 McGroovy’s box rivets (securing coroplast to coroplast)
$165 Poster Printing (marquee and outer designs)
$26 Duct Tape (both black and white…a LOT)
$15 Spray Adhesive (adhering the poster prints to the coroplast
$4 Panty Hose (so that I could see while wearing the BCEmachine)
Total Price (approximate): $490 not including the laptop which was returned. Not bad for a PAX booth if you ask me.
Once all the parts arrived, it took exactly one week to build. Here’s how I did it.
Step 1: Cut the coroplast:
I used the measurements straight from SketchUp. I cut the stuff with box cutter, but it was extremely difficult. I should have used a hacksaw but I borrowed one from a friend and I didn’t have it until it after most of the cutting was done.
Step 2: Construct the arcade cabinet structure:
This part took some figuring out. I bought the McGroovy’s box rivets thinking that I would be able to cut a thin piece of coroplast and bend it, putting a rivet though it and each piece I wanted to fix together, sort of like a hinge. I grossly underestimated the strength of .349” gauge coroplast, though, and wasn’t able to bend it so I had to come up with a hack to make it work. I decided to split a piece of coroplast down the center of the gauge, then whittle off the corrugation, resulting in a pliable piece of plastic that I could use to fix the coroplast pieces together with. Note: whittling off the corrugation was a HUGE pain in the ass and I don’t recommend it, but given my time and budget constraints, I had to work with the materials I had. After all the drilling and riveting, the base structure was done. I had to rivet the 4 flaps of the “window” together in order to get that diagonal bevel effect.
Step 3: Add the see-through mesh and duct tape all seams
Pretty self explanatory. I cut two sections of the pantyhose, stretched them, and taped them to each side of my viewing window. I then used white duct tape to tape all the seams together and cover up the rivets. Looking back, I think the white tape might have looked better than the black tape I used to finish the trim in the end.
Step 4: Cut, build, and secure the PVC frame to the outer shell
I used the SketchUp dimensions to measure the PVC pieces I’d cut with a hacksaw. Once I put the thing together and tried wearing it I realized it was too heavy and some parts didn’t need to be there, so I just removed them. I didn’t use any PVC cement because I didn’t think I needed it. It might have been overkill, but it ended up biting me in the ass on the first day of PAX when the pipe would slip out of the fittings occasionally. The rest of the weekend we had the connections duct taped up and it wasn’t an issue. To secure the PVC to the coroplast shell, I used the same cutting, whittling, riveting technique from before to make bindings.
Step 5: Cut the poster prints and adhere them to the surface of the BCEmachine
This time, instead of measuring everything out carefully using the SketchUp dimensions, I simply traced the outline of the structure. The cuts on the poster paper were pretty error-tolerant since I would have to tape up the seams anyway. I used the spray adhesive to adhere the prints to the surface of the BCEmachine. Something to note when using spray adhesive – when they say “when done, invert the can and spray until only aerosol comes out” they don’t mean when you’re done for the day. They mean after each spray unless you’re not going to wait longer than ~10 seconds. I wish I knew that going into this process, because the nozzle got really clogged up making it much more difficult than it had to be. Finally, once all the pieces were adhered, I taped up all the seams using mostly black duct tape and some white duct tape for the inside seams on the window.
That’s it! Those steps took me a week. If I were to go back and do it again, I could probably shave about $50 off of the price of the build knowing I didn’t need so much PVC + fittings, and maybe finding a cheaper but equally effective solution for the outer design. I would also maybe use more white tape for the trim. I’m still not sold on either black or white, I guess it’s just a preference thing.
Now for the fun part…
The BCEmachine was a smash hit!!! Well, with everybody except for one particular Enforcer. If you’re reading this, Enforcer, sorry for playing cat and mouse like that. I know you were just doing your job, but so was I 🙂 We spent Friday wandering around, confronting unsuspecting victims and having them play B.C.E. on what appeared to be some kind of odd half human/half arcade thing. Towards the end of the day we were told we couldn’t be demoing by that Enforcer I mentioned, so we left the expo and went to the Made in MA after party that we demoed at. The next day we started out strong just like the previous day, playing B.C.E. with awe-struck PAX-goers. It didn’t take long for that same Enforcer to track us down and threaten to kick us out for the rest of the day, though. Instead of playing, we just wandered around the show with the game on the screen, having our pictures taken, taking pictures with attendees, and just having a great time. The Enforcer didn’t like that either, so we finished the day simply showing the pre-game screen. Sunday was spent mostly wandering around without playing. Here are some of the best pictures.
Despite the limits put on us by the PAX Enforcer, the BCEmachine turned heads and drew crowds wherever it went. These are estimations but I would say about 100 people played B.C.E., 1000 photos were taken of the BCEmachine by attendees, 10000 people looked at/took notice of the BCEmachine, and the BCEmachine landed on 2 streams, one of which was dmbrandon’s Twitch Partners Lounge stream with over 800 viewers. On top of that, we had multiple offers for appearances on podcasts, YouTube Let’s Plays, and articles written about us. I’d like to preface this next bit by saying that I’m in no way an authority on marketing value. That being said, a 10×10 space alone (no furnishings, equipment, etc.) at PAX East costs $1500 for the weekend. Considering the total of about $600 we spent on the BCEmachine, Ubers, and food, you don’t have to do much math to see that we did pretty well with the BCEmachine. Hopefully soon I’ll do another (hopefully shorter) write-up trying to quantify the true marketing value of the pictures, impressions, etc. that we made over the PAX weekend. I have a feeling it’s up there in the thousands, but that’s a problem for another day.
Thanks for reading! If you made it this far, congratulations, you have an exceptional attention span. Here’s a picture of Mario playing on the BCEmachine as a reward.