How I went to PAX East Without a Pass and Ended up Demoing Rift Wars to a Max Capacity Crowd

A little over a month ago, at a recent Boston Virtual Reality Meetup, I met a very talented VR developer named Kelly MacNeill. I asked him, "Hey, would you like to collaborate on a game this month, so we can bring it to next months meetup?" He said yes, and we got to work. We both have other commitments right now, so this was a nights and weekends kind of thing.

I set up a Basecamp site and a PlasticSCM asset server. The idea of the game was simple :

Its like StarFox mixed with Geometry Wars, reimagined for VR.

The next month saw some of the most fruitful collaboration I've ever known. Considering the relatively small amount of time we both put into the project, the output was remarkable. I focused on the procedural level generation, the lighting, and the sound. Kelly created the control rig, all the targeting and collection mechanisms, and the particle effects. Overall, it was a brilliant division of labor.

The combination of Basecamp,PlasticSCM, and Unity makes for an almost frictionless platform for remote collaborative game development.

We completed a fully playable level and called the game Rift Wars. I brought my portable VR rig up to the next Boston Virtual Reality Meetup and people played the game. Success.

Then, last week, I brought it to the most recent Virtual Reality NYC meetup in Manhattan. This time, a lot of people showed up who had never used a Rift and they got to experience our game as their first VR experience. The reponse was overwhelmingly positive. People loved it. Its the kind of game that plays very well in a public setting.

I was so inspired that I went on Ebay and bought a pass for Pax East which had been sold out for a while.

Sunday morning, at 5 AM, I was on the road the Boston, 25 lbs of Alienware 18 on my back and Rift in Hand. I didn't have a pass in hand, and was trusting that the seller did, in fact, leave it for me at the will call booth. Actually, he left it for someone named Kyle Tedesca. I have no idea where he got that name, but his text message to me said, "Don't worry, you won't need ID, just tell them you are picking up a pass for Kyle Tedesca". This was, as they say, a sketchy situation.

I arrived at the venue at 9:15 AM. Even a mile away, I saw hundreds of people streaming out of Boston's subways and heading to the event.

After some doing, I was able to get my pass and walked in to the main hall. About then I realized it was going to be a long day, hauling around about 30 pounds of VR gear, and to add to this difficulty, one of my backpacks straps broke, so I now had all this weight hanging from one shoulder. Time to suck it up and deal with the pain! This is not supposed to be easy.


This turned out not to be easy. This place was so densely packed that I spent the first couple of hours coming to the realization that it might just not be possible to set up an impromptu VR demo on the show floor of one of the busiest gaming expos in the world. I decided that if I didn't find a place soon, I would settle for a place out in the lobby with as much foot traffic as I could find.

But I'll take just one more lap around and see what I can find.

Then, as I was walking through one of the busiest, most central, sections of the floor, I saw it. There was this roped off area with a big folding table at one end. Inside I was this young guy manning a desktop machine and he had a DK1 Rift on the table. People were already lining up to see whatever he was showing. What was this? And what about that empty space on the table next to his Rig?

I approached him and asked, "Hey man, what are you showing?"

He said, "Oh, this is the Rift Coaster demo. I'm not really a deve yet, but I'm just here showing the Rift. I was over in the BYOC (Bring your own Computer) area, but the organizers saw me demoing over there and told me I could set up here. I see you have a Rift too!"

I told him that I've got an original game with me and that I was hoping to find a place to set it up. He said, "Well come on in. In fact, why don't you put your game on USB key and I'll demo it too!" I learned his name was Michael, and I am very grateful for his attitude and his immediate desire to help me.

He didn't need to say another word. Within seconds I was unpacking my gear and setting up. A second line started forming in front of me as people saw another Rift coming out.

Just then, one of the event staff, an enforcer came up to me and, in stead of telling me to get lost, started asking me if there was anything I needed and if I planned on demoing all day, so he would no how to manage the line.

Within minutes, I started letting people play Rift Wars. Also people started gathering behind me to see my screen. As more people walked by, many jumped into the line. Within about 5 minutes, the enforcer came over to me to let me know he was capping the line because it was getting too long.

Kelly showed up a little while later, to find Michael and I deep in the midst of demoing our game to one of the longest lines of people on the floor. Now that I think of it, almost all of the capped lines I saw at the show were for Rift based titles.

One generally needs to do a lot of preparation and to pay a good deal of money to get a booth at Pax. And even then, its a pretty big deal to have a capped line of people waiting to try your game.

What do I learn from this?


There is no way that any of this would have happened if I had been trying to demo a screen based game.

Also, I learned that demoing at Pax is not easy. By then end of the day, I had nearly lost my voice from talking so much. Even so, it was an amazing experience.

The great majority of people who played the game, loved it. The three minute time attack format is perfect for events like this.

One little girl played, and taking the Rift off, she stood up and said, "That...was...INTENNNNNNNSE!!"

That was very cute.