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Monday, February 25, 2019

Battle Gem Ponies @MAGFest 2019! (The 1st 4-Day Con Booth)

     This past Magfest certainly was an adventure! Supplies were gathered, 2 friends volunteered to help, and we ran the biggest Battle Gem Ponies booth yet. And for 4 days straight! I thought some folks out there would like to see what that adventure was like so catch a write-up on this indie dev experience below... 

Allow me to tell you the story of how the heck THIS happened...

      So let's start with the feeling of waking up and checking my email to see that my game made it through the first round of submission judgement. Because that's when it became real. I spent so much time worrying that the game wasn't polished enough or feature complete that I couldn't take a step back to realize that to folks who haven't been staring at it for 4 years straight... this looks amazing!

The Pinto Island demo showed off the game concept well enough. I was in a situation where a new demo couldn't be whipped up in a timely manner, so I just ran with the version I released a year ago.

     I immediately started scrolling through bookmarked articles about presenting indie games at trade shows to re-read and make a shopping list fir a Magfest booth in case I get chosen. This is also when I started looking into how most booths look so I could start planning ways to stand out.


I needed a booth like this and could only afford to go about $2,200 in debt for this entire trip.
Needed to make every cent count.

I whipped up this Shopping List to get things started:

$300 All-in-One Computer w/ Monitor (link) - Ended up taking a similar free one my Mom wasn't using.

$85 Android Tablet (link)
$12 Tablet Stand (link)
$10 Table Cloth (link)
$1 Banner Hooks (link)
$20 Chair Covers (link)
$44 Rug (link)
$33 Collapsible Drape Stand (link)
$50 2 Drapes (link)
$33 Double Camp Chair (link)
$25 Duffel Bag  (link)
$300 Pelican Case (link)
$15 Padlocks (link)

Then on VistaPrint & StickerMule I ordered:

$75 Game Banner - 4'x6' (link)

$110 Retractable Screenshot Standee - 34"x81" (link)
$90 Table Runner (link)
$116 50 Sticker Sheets (link)
$70 500 Business Cards (link)

     On top of all that, I eventually booked a hotel room for $180 a night (for Thurs night to Sunday Morning) and 2 round trip plane tickets for $417. Then there was shipping, uber, parking, gas, food, and all those crazy little things (like $6 bottles of milk at the Gaylord) adding up over the weekend.

     Crazy expensive to show up to this thing, right? We're looking at a total of $3,010 for this attempt at getting my name out there! About $1,000 of that was what I was able to save up, the rest was thrown onto a credit card I got specifically to attend this event.

But in the end... It was worth it. For moments like this.
It's magical watching people play my game.
I get to see people's reactions all up close and personal.

And most importantly, I get to see happy & curious kids get excited about the cool looking ponies.
Plus I can see everyone light up key moments and giggle at my greatest dumb jokes.
     A few weeks later I'm told I made it to round 2 and needed to submit a 2 minute gameplay video. So I recorded some gameplay, tossed it up on YouTube, and crossed my fingers...

     All this happened in August-September. So I wouldn't hear back until November 6th and leap with joy once I saw my game was accepted!

My game gets to join this madness! (So very excited for this opportunity)

     I made it to MAGFest!! So I dived straight in and bought everything on my list, including one of those exclusive exhibitor rooms at the Gaylord Hotel where Magfeat is hosted. (The place is famous for being sold out in a matter of minutes every year, the only ones having a decent hope of getting a room are exhibitor guests and staff.)

The Gaylord is a really nice place though.
Omega pricey food, but as long as you plan for it it's worthwhile.

     It took a bit longer to see feedback from the judges, but it was about what I expected. The game is kinda buggy, and ponies have a bad rep with lots of folks, but at its core this game is pretty fun and polished. I can work with that.


     As the big day came closer and closer, and my credit card drained more and more, I got hyped for Battle Gem Ponies and began rehearsing what to say to players attending. Thinking it was important to have quick, thought-out responses to any criticism and confusion I could see coming.

     Once I knew I was confirmed as an Indie Guest, I jumped right into shopping for booth supplies. I needed a carpet, seat covers, a table cloth, and a high quality security case to put it all in.

     Then I needed some promotional stuff like a banner, a pull-out sign, and a table runner with my company's name on it. All professionally printed by Vistaprint, and arriving just in time.

     These Battle Gem Ponies Stickers were a hit! I wanted to have some nice freebies to give away to any excited fans or kids that I could tell would actually put them on stuff and sorta start spreading the word. There's half a hundred of these floating around out there now... (Kept one for myself though.) 

     I also got this sheet from stickermule sent to the hotel since the website said it wouldn't arrive before I had to leave on the 3rd, but actually reacted the destination 7 days early, thus costing a small fee at the pickup spot in the hotel.

[booth doodles]
The plan was to bring one of these booth doodles to life. But also have it all fit within 3 bags for airport travel.

Here's what the desk looked like overnight.
And this stayed on the table all day. Lets people take the game on the GO! 

     There was also a fee for printing up a QR sheet last minute. But its all fine, because now that I have all this stuff, for future conventions I just gotta worry about carrying all this stuff through airports or paying a huge sum to have it shipped for me. Maybe even team up with other Orlando indies to split the cost and ship our stuff together.

     And speaking of other indies, I couldn't believe how many names I recognized! There were folks I met at Orlando Overdrive, teams I spoke to at the last Magfest, and devs from the Indienomicon group I follow (but still have yet to attend).


     Seeing my game listed among the others was an honor. Filled me with vibrating butterflies for real just thinking about the possibility of people wandering the exhibit hall, coming across mine, and thinking it's one of the coolest games there. 

Now this bag was downright eeeeviiilll...
Deceptively heavy, and containing all my precious small things and collapsibles.
     As far as the actual travelling and setup goes though... It was intense. Carrying that rug through airports and dragging armfulls of luggage and materials through the convention halls with just 2 people was no joke. Murder on our poor limbs! 

     I can absolutely see the benefit of having more team members or volunteers onboard if I were to do a setup any larger than this for PAX. For this one I had one helper travelling with me and another to cover for emergency potty breaks or to give me a chance to wander the indie hall for a short while. 

     Jamming them into tiny uber cars was also an intense game of Tetris, but we made it work. And luckily the big case had wheels so it was easy enough to pack up the electronics each night and carry them back to the hotel room after showfloor hours. (Though I'd really like to try setting up a self-sustaining 24 hour booth next time...)

Pretty proud of how the setup turned out.

I kept drawing crowds and really shoulda had a camera running somewhere to
capture all those special little moments I was caught up in and didn't record.
     The booth itself was beautiful, comfy, and welcoming. Just wish I had time to wander around and talk to the other indies there. I tried to attend all the various after-hours meetups but could never find everyone. It drove me nuts! 

At least I was able to find some old college friends and talk to the indies next to my booth. 
Here's my faveorite gamedev pal, Nenekiri!

     There were some surprising moments of star-struckness too. A handful of people I followed online for years came up to the BGP booth to praise the game and talk about potential collaboration (super validating since it was their offers, not mine).

     Some hands were shook, business cards were exchanged, and proposals were tossed out for the future. (But a couple of those peeps are going to have to be top secret til further notice.) I love networking and lining cool things up for Yotes Games. There are so many opportunities waiting for me if I could just wrap up development and focus on launch hype.     

Saw a page for MY game on the Magfest website and sorta felt like I made it to the bigtime.
The potential to be an indie game that real people (that I get to see with my own eyes) will get hyped about.
     My marketing goals for this event (to justify the expense) was to acquire hardcore fans who will keep in touch and follow the game's development. 

     The real experiment going on here was to gauge interest in this game. Is there actually an audience out there beyond the most concentrated brony hubs on the planet? I know that anyone who's interested in Pokemon (so basically everyone under 30) is very likely to enjoy Battle Gem Ponies as well, but I wanted to test that theory. 

     How many ex-bronies are still out there feeling nostalgic about the MLP aesthetic? How many pokemon fans would give this a try and think it compares favorably? Just how big is the percentage of gamers that will turn their noses at anything even loosely related to the brony fandom? Can my game stand up to copycat criticisms? Can people look past the bugs and see a part of my vision?

     All things I wanted to know by the end of the trip and I think I got my answers. The fans are out there and this game would do well if I get it in front of them in a complete state. 

     The game's development is fascinating enough to warrant cultivating a community before release, so YouTube marketing might do wonders for me. Gamers having a bad connotation with bronies will turn their noses but a majority of them will let their walls down after a quick elevator-pitch explanation of what the game is actually like. 

     And the demo speaks for itself. Anyone can see the love being put into this and knows its way beyond any copycat scheme or niche fanbase inside joke.

     I got to see all kinds of people playing my game and walking past the booth. Small kids picked up the concept pretty quickly (as if they played Pokemon before), older people were curious and fascinated with the presentation value (often mentioning how their kids would probably love it), and folks around my age varied from 'clearly a brony' to 'skeptical gamer dragged along by girlfriend' and I was able to get a smile out of just about each and every one.

     Maybe it was my little injections of humor or the surprising quality of the product itself that did all that. But I've lost count of how many times I've heard variations of "I'm not a brony, but this looks really cool." So no matter what, I'm going to have to face the hump of getting people to realize you don't have to know everything about MLP to get into this game. But people do seem to come around after an introduction.

     As far as difficulty goes, a concise tutorial and gradual ramp up in the beginning should be all it takes to get players in a competitive/strategist mindset. People grasped the concept pretty quickly and I could see the difference between veteran players, curious ones, button mashers, and those who carefully comb over instructions.

     Over the weekend I had a total of 5 people able to win the toughest battle in the demo. There's an Old Man in the City Hall with a well-balanced level 64 team meant to stomp players and encourage them to go southward to gain experience. 

     I spent the weekend sitting at the booth (well, mostly standing since I rarely went 2 minutes without another guest stopping by to play) and I got to talk with people, explaining the game and watching their reactions and choices carefully.

     When the time came to pack up and go home, I felt satisfied. booth tear-down was a lot quicker than setup and not much was lost/broken/stolen aside from some wet business cards and the torn up QR Code sheet. 

     Got what I came for, and came up with ideas to do even more next time around. I'm more fired up than ever to get the final version of this game out to the people I met out there in D.C.

     And that there was the cliffnotes version of my first indie booth at Magfest. A great learning experience I'll likely never forget.

     So I guess I'll end this with a little text blurb of the sentences I found myself repeating a lot on the showfloor. I guess you'd call this the verbal tutorial/elevator pitch for Battle Gem Ponies. A good thing to have rehearsed if I ever bring more folks along to run the booth with me at events like this.



     So this here is my love letter to Pokémon and My Little Pony. An evolution of a Pokémon Fan Game idea I had as a high schooler finally realized about 10 years later. 

     It’s the culmination of all the things I’ve wished Pokémon games would implement.

So... What’s Different About This?

     This game takes the rock/paper/scissors aspect of Pokemon and cranks it up to 11. 

You can switch out ponies and attack on the same turn, but doing so makes you go last.

     The roster is balanced in such a way that every pony serves a combat purpose, so you can stand a chance with any combination of your favorites if you customize them for the situation.

Combat Basics

     It's 3 vs 3 combat where you command a pony that can shape-shift Ben 10 style into a number of collected pony forms.

          Each pony has a Light, Heavy, Status, and Tutor slot for moves. These 4 slots force players to think about a pony's moveset in a more strategic way. You an't just have your 4 strongest moves attached in hopes of brute forcing your way through every match. 

     Heavy moves are more powerful but can only be used a few times per match. Status moves buff stats and inflict maladies instead of doing direct damage. And Tutor moves are only ever ones a your pony can't learn naturally, encouraging you to teach it a trick opponents can't easily predict.

Story & Lore

     Ponies get their mysterious powers from the gemstones that are usually located on their chests. These gemstones allow ponies to use a variety of supernatural abilities, and with the aid of human technology, transform into various pony-like creatures.

     People and ponies have gotten along since ancient times, and everyone has a chance of meeting a pony and having an instant connection with it called a bond, marking a pony and tamer to be lifelong partners. 

     But trouble starts brewing when a someone puts out an invention that can brainwash wild ponies and force them to obey whoever captures them. There's a growing rift between those thinking ponies are animals to be tamed and controlled vs those thinking people should show more respect for these super powerful wonders of nature. 

     Who knows what kind of calamity could come from someone with malicious intent gaining control over one of the dormant Legendary Alicorns responsible for apocalyptic natural disasters in years long past...

Accessibility Examples

     The game handles all the memorization and calculations then presents that information to you in a clear and concise way, so you get to focus on the fun part. The strategy. The mind games. And learning what these ponies can do.

     When you attack, you see what percentage of health is taken off (or added to) the target. The moves with dual elemental classes come with a chart you can bring up in the middle of battle that highlights what its strong or weak against so that you don't have to re-read and compare elements on a giant chart to keep up.

     Hidden stats called Bonus Values can be shifted around at will in the central hubs if the game. There's no need to grind for hours on end to get the customized pony of your dreams. 

     When you need a rock smashed or water surfed over you can pull out a key item to do it or use a pony that's simply physically able to do so. Water ponies can swim, ponies with claws can slice trees down, and so on.

     This is all designed around making the competitive aspect of RPGs like Pokemon more accessible and eliminate all the frustrating grindy bits that pad things out too much (in my opinion). By the end of the Adventure Mode, players should be capable of taking their skills online. (But that feature likely won't be around at launch...)


     I'm making this game with the Unity Engine with help on the musical side of things coming from instrumental masterminds E^2 and Bluco. It's the culmination of everything I learned since first picking up Java in 10th grade to try to learn how to make my own video game. 

    Yotes Games became an established 'thing' in 2013 when I first started blogging about development on a daily/weekly basis. Then became an official company in 2018 after the release of multiple games of the various app stores, namely my previous brony-themed RPG, Unicorn Training.

     It's been a long 4 years since I started BGP and I'm in for at least one more. I'll be posting monthly updates on the project as well as getting a YouTube Channel started with weekly content exploring different aspects about the game and its development. 

Now, if you're sold on this idea so far, I say Welcome Aboard!

     Glad to find anyone who's even nearly as excited as me to play this thing. And if you wanna play pieces of it sooner than anyone else, feel free to join the Patreon Squad for perks like that as well as a chance to cameo in the game.

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