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AICon 2011 Summary (Part 3 of 3)


OK, so. Part 3. These are my thoughts on some of the convention's rough edges. Reading this is even more optional than part 2. If you disagree, that's cool. If you agree, that's also cool. If you want to discuss, then shoot me an email (also, sorry to anyone who tried to use the email link in part 2 - I totally wrote the wrong address >_<  ).

I've already posted some of this on the AICon forums, but I want to elaborate a bit now that I've had some more time to think. I have no interest in being gratuitously negative here - my hope is that these sorts of comments will lead to a better understanding of some areas that might benefit from attention.

I'm not going to be saying things like "You guys totally should have had AV coverage of every room in the cafeteria area so that people could see what was going on when they had to duck away," or "Shigeru Miyamoto should have totally been there signing Ponyo posters," or "Why wasn't there a costume design workshop?" because those sorts of things are obvious, and if there were the resources available to get those sorts of thing done, I have no doubt that they would have been done.

Over all, the convention was a good experience and I had fun, and in the big scheme of things, any event of this type that achieves that is a complete success.

Artwork Competition

People interested in entering the art competitions had to fill out a card, find some blutack and stick their submission up on a wall. The submission cards asked for artist's name, age, the category they were entering in, and the medium that the artwork was done in. This was nice in its freeformness, but it felt a but unsupervised (for the most part), and I overheard a few people who were sounding a little uncertain about where to put things and what to write down. It could have been interesting to see sections of the wall allocated to specific categories. I imagine that this would have assisted the judges when it came to sorting, and certainly would have made viewing a bit easier.

I'd written a(n unnecessarily long) description of my submission a few days beforehand and though I didn't mind so much about not being able to waste everybody's time with my writing, I was disappointed not to be able to read a title or description or any hint of context that could have accompanied the other artists' work. I expect that this would have made judging a little bit harder (which is probably why I won ^_^ ). It also would have been nice to have a web address field for any attendees who wanted to see more of an artists work/touch base with/stalk them.

The blutack situation became a bit messy after all of the submissions were taken down for judging. To stop things getting lost, the submission cards had been stuck to the corresponding piece of art, which in theory was a good idea, but in practice meant that any pencil work effectively had a spot that had been erased, and (to my surprise) anything printed with water based inks seemed to have had some of the dyes leached out. I also spotted a torn corner or two when the Giant Pile of Artwork was being pulled apart after the awards ceremony. Perhaps a display folder could be used to store the smaller pieces (I'm pretty sure that all but five were under A4), and perhaps blutacking the submission cards to the back of the artwork would be a good way to go.

Having an area with tables, paper, pens, pencils and markers was absolutely awesome. It was a little cramped from time to time when people would crowd around a friend to talk to them whilst they worked, but I don't know that there were any better locations in the venue. Based on the reactions during the awards ceremony, it seemed as though a large number of people hadn't visited the Artists' Corner, and so hadn't seen the 'gallery' of submissions. Given that there were probably around fifty pieces, that's really disappointing. I'd have loved to have seen the submitted artwork displayed in the main foyer, at the back of the main theatre, or even over near the canteen. Yes it was nice to see some inspiration whilst drawing in the Artists' Corner, but there was some fantastic stuff there that didn't get to see much light.

One final note on the artwork stuff: there were a couple of submissions that didn't conform to the conditions of entry. Now, I'm really glad that I got to see these pieces, but I can't help but wonder whether or not we'd have seen more impressive works from some of the other entrants if the rules had've been different. Some of these non-conforming submissions received an honourable mention. I would empathise with any artist who felt that this was unfair.

Cosplay Competition

The cosplay competition seemed to suffer a lot of technical problems (but was otherwise great), which ranged from not having the digital needed on hand for the slideshow, to not being aware of specific mobility requirements of entrants (thankfully there were no wheelchair bound cosplayers). The MCs seemed slow to react to the problems and engage the audience, and whilst this wasn't a problem because the audience itself was good natured, it's still worth mentioning as it was something that could be improved through better planning. Rehearsals and backup scripts are a great way to help MCs build chemistry and handle problems. I'd be surprised if there wasn't a backstage ramp or lift available, but if not, ramps aren't too tricky to build, and would really be beneficial. It also could be worthwhile to, when putting the competition details out, request that any cosplayers with specific mobility requirements email in some details of what they may need.


With the Games Room situated adjacent to the Artists' Corner, we got a fairly prolonged glimpse, and it looked like everybody who was in there was having a great time. There were sofas pulled up to consoles lined around the walls, and some sort of dance game platform off to one side. Unfortunately, getting in was a problem. A lot of people were crowding in the doorways (I think because of placement of some of the consoles), and the noise coming out was, whilst not deafening, certainly not inviting.

I appreciate that different people have different levels of industrial deafness and understand that my sharp hearing and sensitive ears are a curse (which is why I generally avoid concerts - my head rang for days after seeing Weird Al live, and the actual performance caused me physical pain), and whilst I don't believe that this was loud enough to cause any lasting damage to anybody outside the Games Room, I did worry a little for the people in there.

We also kept an eye out for a StarCraft 2 tournament which was mentioned in the programme guide. Obviously I wouldn't have been able to compete, but I would have enjoyed watching a couple of matches. I later found out on the AICon forums that it was cancelled due to technical difficulties and replaced by a Streetfighter 4 tournament, which whilst not of interest to me, was probably a good save. Unfortunately, we didn't hear about the change and spent a couple of hours loitering around (and probably further crowding up the doorways >_< ).

Something we could really have used at LCA was a central notice board. As organisers, we didn't have much way of communicating with the 700+ conference attendees/speakers/volunteers en masse aside from the IRC channel (too transient, and not used by everybody) and the website (which we didn't give enough attention to either). When poos hit fans (as they invariably do), you always have to make spur of the moment decisions to deal with the situation, and most people are capable of working their way around problems. The trouble comes when you have to communicate the new plan to the rest of your team and other effected people, and I've seen a lot of situations where brilliant workarounds have failed because either nobody else knew about it, or the author of the new Cunning Plan had to spend all their time chasing down people instead of Getting Things Done. A centralised place where information on changes/new plans/even existing stuff that you want to draw attention to is a great thing to have (providing you let everyone know it's there and can convince your team to keep an eye on it as well).

I notice right now, looking at my map that there was in fact an information desk in the foyer (which would be very out of the way unless you were leaving). Given that I was ignored several times when I tried to grab the attention of the person behind that desk from less than two metres away when nobody else was around, I still think that a more central, readable notice board would have been a sweet thing to have.


Having not been to AICon when it was held at the University, I can't really comment much on the new venue. I suspect that some desire for independence and recognition as a more Professional Event were probably key factors, and I often wonder if things like that are red herrings. Based on the spaces we used at the same University for LCA, I would have expected that space wouldn't be a problem. There's parking at the Uni, and it's pretty accessible. There's also the potential benefit of bringing communities into contact with the educational infrastructure and feeding back into the cultural awareness of the University itself, and the "more use justifies better facilities" argument, but that's certainly an aside.

The DEC felt pretty good for the Auction Room, Traders Hall and Main Theatre, but the Games Room, Artists' Corner and Screening Room all felt a bit like they'd been squirrelled away (I didn't find any nuts though). I honestly can't think of a better layout with the space available, and since there were so many art submissions and people in the Games Room, and a Good Time Had By All, I don't think it would be worth doing much other than having a few "Have you seen?" signs spread around the other areas.

Internets! How many people knew there were free internets? I didn't until the second day. It totally would have been sweet to have had that info in the programme booklet (if it was and I missed it, then it totally needed more prominence >_< ). I would have had photos up for the cosplay competition within an hour and done some live blogging, as, I expect, would have many others, which could have generated a bit more online buzz and probably would have given attendees a better understanding of what stuff they hadn't yet seen or had missed out on (were there enough commas in that sentence? No? Then, if I may, allow me to add not one, not two, but four more!).


This part is tricky for me because I can see that the plan was a bit bigger than what we got to see, and that it would have been a nightmare to execute, so first up: congratulations to all of the organisers and participants on attempting and for the most part pulling off the Aiko's deranged mind theme.

I'm afraid that this is going to sound more critical and nitpicky than what I've just written (which is sad, because as I just said, it's a great idea and what we got to see was also great). It's also probably going to come across as more or less the exact opposite of what I said I'd do at the beginning of this post. Feel free to skip this bit and move onto the summary if you like.

The idea is really compelling, and bookending the con with some live theatre was a nice touch. I may have missed a lot of stuff (if I did, then my bad), but it didn't feel like the setting of the convention taking place within Aiko's mind carried beyond those two interludes. And seriously, if there was a bunch of additional stuff that expanded and elaborated all of this, email me and let me know, because I totally missed it.

The convention booklet mentions some sort of mind machine, but I don't recall that being mentioned in the opening narrative (though I could have been distracted by the questionable Scottish accent which I assumed would become some sort of recurring thing, but was never heard from again, and so in retrospect seems fairly gratuitous). The booklet also talks about Judge Blah being in hiding, and probably responsible for Aiko's condition, but since I spotted him around the place and saw him hosting the Tentacles and Mechs event, that didn't really seem to carry so well.

New characters were introduced during the finale that I hadn't seen before, which, for me, interrupted the flow and inhibited my suspension of disbelief. As I mentioned previously, there seemed to be some confusion as to whether or not the theatre part was over, and (for me at least) there was no feeling of closure, or even ending. It felt a bit like a crossfade to Blah receiving his gifts.

I also didn't catch on that Aiko was meant to be performing evil acts (it's mentioned briefly in the booklet under the Scavenger Hunt description (which was appears to be a placeholder - I expected to hear more information during the opening ceremony, but there wasn't anything, and I've been reading people asking on the forums if it actually happened).


Now, at the end of the day, not one of the above (aside from the thing with the art competition rules) is critical, and I don't believe that any of them tipped the event experience from good to bad.

I'd like to say that we could consider them as Room For Improvement and move on, but there's a bit of an undercurrent that ties all the elements together. As an outsider who wasn't involved with the organisation or execution of the event, I really only have my observations and hunches to guide me, so I could be well off the mark, but it seems to me that everything I've mentioned so far is the result of the two most common problems that plague events of all types:

The first part is a problem that isn't really compatable in the environment we work with here in the state - there just aren't that many people, and the portion of the population who've got the right balance of Enthusiasm, Availability and Skill generally aren't quite enough to cover everything. You can mitigate this through good management and solid, clear planning, but the real key is to know when to cut back ideas to match resources.

Some examples of how a lack of resources appeared to effect the convention would be the lack of testing for SC2 (I understand the technical difficulties were related to internet connectivity, which should have been identifiable through pre-event testing) and the art competition's layout/execution, which felt very last minute (I overheard one of the judges saying he'd been roped in on the day).

The second part is something I've seen time and time again. People get tasks assigned to them and are able to focus and get things done, but have no real understanding of how their work fits in with everybody else's. Having this sort of approach is fine if nothing changes or goes wrong, but in my experience, that is never, ever the case, and it's important to have enough bigger picture awareness so that roles can expand and contract to handle the voids that appear when somebody becomes unavailable or something takes more resources than originally expected. That kind of redundancy is critical to having a robust product at the end of your planning phase. Good rule of thumb: budget on having a quarter of your team come down with a coma and magically recovering after the event (no need to take them out permanently). Are everybody's roles documented well enough that everybody would be able to know what wasn't being done? Too often I've seen events organised where one or two (usually inseparable) people at the top are the only ones with any understanding of how everything meshes together. What happens if they get hit by a bus? Single points of failure like that, particularly at the top, are in no way a good thing - that kind of situation leads to unnecessary pressure on individuals and creates risk that can and should be mitigated.

An example of how a lack of communication/awareness seemed to effect the convention would be the confusion that seemed to happen during the closing ceremony. I don't have any other specific examples, but I believe that most of the items mentioned above would have been positively effected by greater communication of what was and wasn't happening.

In closing, I'm hopeful for the future of AICon. It'll be great to see where things go from here.

If you're one of those people who experiences time in reverse, you should read part 2 and part 1 before you reach the point where I haven't written them yet.

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Date Posted:
 9th March 2011
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