The LTE Bridge took a nice ride up into the mountains of north Georgia to visit Chattanooga, TN, home of Con Nooga, on Feb 23-25.
A bit of background: The Con Nooga staff met me at MomoCon 2017 last summer, and while there we talked shop. Todd Patton invited us to consider making the jaunt up to Chattanooga in February 2018. A few months later, we solidified some plans and committed to a full convention-scale bridge in its own private-ish area. Convention volunteers would be available to help set up, to “herd the cats” for a while mid-con, and… that’s about it. Everything else was on our plate.
Con Nooga isn’t huge: it’s fan-driven, has no major Hollywood celebs, and was much more of a chill vibe than Dragon Con.
There were a lot of convention firsts for us:
- First time I’d be without my wife Jessica: she had just barely recovered from a multi-day migraine attack and was in no condition to attend. I felt only “half there” and rightly so--as I often tell folks, I’m the “bits” of the operation, and Jessica is the “brains”! As a drama instructor by trade, she has written a detailed “production guide” for our events. That guide has saved me from so many fumbles...
- First time I’ve had volunteers/friends of the family travel out of state to help at a con. Fortunately, I can report that we’re still friends!
- First time we’ve had our new wide-throw projector and 100” screen deployed at the same time.
- First time we’ve negotiated a “minimum revenue” clause in our pricing. Basically, the agreement was “we’ll do it for $X, and the convention will make up the difference if the ticket revenue is less than $X.” This seems like common sense if you’re running a business! I’m gradually moving from Artemis as a hobby to Bridge as a service! (BaaS?) Pricing was $5 per seat, but each 3-day badge holder could get 1 free ticket if they stopped by our table first instead of registering online.
- First time we’ve used FareHarbor.com for registration and sales tracking. FareHarbor is great, with apologies to BrownPaperTickets.com our former vendor.
- And… first time to put v2.7 through its paces.
Day 0: The Night Before + Minor Panic.
Short version: I was the only person in the house capable of moving all the gear into the car Thursday night.
And I found that the DMX cues created in my previous server Artemis install didn’t survive the double-upgrade of both the Artemis Bridge Tools/DMX Editor + a fresh installation of Artemis 2.7. Argh!
Day 1: Some Assembly Required.
This is one of the easiest load-ins we’ve had. Con Nooga is at the Chattanooga Convention Center, which is just one exit off the expressway. As in, when you get to the end of the exit ramp, you are literally 100 feet from the front door of the convention center to the left, and directly across the street is the hotel.
Traffic behaved during that Atlanta-to-Chattanooga drive; within 2.5 hours I was fully Chik-Fil-A’d and caffeinated, and parked in front of the room where the bridge would be happening by 10:00am. Of course, planning such a thing is easy when you have a Google Street View of the room where you’ll be running the event.
Check this: https://goo.gl/maps/sMSeVALRkDA2
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No fewer than 4 volunteers showed up to help move stuff out of the car (yes, no van yet), assemble the portable screen, move tables and chairs, and set up. THANK YOU CON NOOGA VOLUNTEERS!
By 12:00 noon, 30 minutes to show time--and after reconstructing basic DMX cues--we looked like this:
Next, thanks to 3M Command Strips, I deployed signage created for us by a dear friend who had us run an event at Bob Jones University. He made over a dozen bits of signage, which we will re-use for a LONG time!
I took a few minutes to change into uniform, fetch lunch because the food trucks (!!!) were up and running…
And ran a looping Artemis “commercial” video I found on YouTube a year or two ago…
Now… we wait!
Literally, because no one stopped by until 2PM! We did end up with customers though, and had some very skilled crews!
A couple of the fighter jockeys brought their own theme music.
Total bridge load was only about 30%. We ran 5 missions but had schedule times for a total of 14. Kinda disappointed, but this was buffered by the pre-negotiated minimum revenue…
Halfway through the afternoon, one of the Fighter laptops deadlocked (dead drive). I swapped in a spare mid-mission and no one except the single fighter pilot even knew anything went awry.
Day 2: Business Picks Up.
18 missions available, and we booked 11, for a total mission load of 60%. And we were booked solid from 4pm to midnight! Word was getting out, and we had some repeat customers.
It was on this much busier day that the repeatable-but-no-longer-predictable Artemis.exe server crash started to happen. Fortunately, by cracking a joke about Windows gaming--and by having a very geeky crowd who was quite understanding and sympathetic--we could quickly relaunch the server, reconfigure, and let the crew have the rest of their allotted time.
In other words, there were no refunds due to the problems with the server, but it was a bit inconvenient.
Due to having to clear out the entire convention center before 1AM, we stopped our missions at midnight and were able to sleep a reasonable number of hours Saturday night. Not being a party animal has its benefits!
Day 3: Last Hurrah and Home We Go.
6 missions available, 5 of them booked solid. The only mission we didn’t run was 9:30AM, but the 2 who signed up actually DID show up! We moved them to another slot. Note to self: starting anything before 10AM on convention day 2+ is kinda silly!
Here is one of our more eager crews indicating what they liked most at Con Nooga...
There were a few seats left, so I carried one of our Artemis signs around and literally flagged down enough people to fill up the last bridge positions. “Don’t leave Con Nooga without seeing what some have actually called the BEST THING THEY DID at Con Nooga!” Shameless. And effective!
We had mixed feelings on Sunday. We were happy to be booked completely once everyone woke up, but sadly it was obvious the crowds were dwindling. All good sci-fi conventions must come to an end!
I took a chance and didn’t reset the server all morning. Big mistake. On the last mission of the day, the server crashed at the mid-way point. I put on the corny anti-Windows humor as I frantically re-launched and reconfigured the server--with a Pirate ship! The crew quickly got into the spirit of trying to play both sides as they were denied docking until they proved their loyalty by killing some Kraliens, then proceeded to loot and destroy everything they could before their time ran out.
Here’s their summary on the game; now keep in mind this was the VERY LAST thing they did at the ‘con…
We began teardown, somewhat leisurely; just me, one friend from back home, and my daughter (no con staff this time--they were QUITE busy elsewhere!). An hour or two later we were headed back to metro Atlanta. Too tired to haul everything upstairs, I unloaded the entire contents of the LTE Bridge shuttle (my Ford Fusion) into the garage. Most of it is still there as I write this.
We’re hoping to be asked back to Con Nooga next year. I think we have a better handle on the mission times, and the vibe is more down home and relaxed than most cons. Part of it may have something to do with the fact that it’s a smaller convention, and not the city-eating behemoth Dragon Con has become.
So far as v2.7 is concerned: the server seems a bit less stable than 2.6. We had at least 4 server crashes this weekend. But the new features were definitely a plus on our bridge events:
- Probes save SO much time when you’re on a mission clock!
- The red alert screen effect looks great in a darkened room.
- What little we did with the Pirate faction seemed well received. This warrants a bit more research on my part, and may become our “advanced” mission type.
- The torpedo popup selector helps reduce screen clutter a good amount.
- The Science screen updates for a more clear “Direction” and “Distance” readout were a big help too.
We didn’t have any v2.7 client crashes. Most of the time if there was a server crash, we went ahead and restarted the clients anyway for safety’s sake.
I’m going to post my thoughts on v2.7 server crashes in the Development thread; maybe it’ll provide some hints as to what’s going on.
Overall, a very positive experience, and we're hoping for a good repeat next year!