This page contains all entries posted to GAMBIT in May 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.
April 2009 is the previous archive.
June 2009 is the next archive.
Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.
Peanuts: The Game
Last winter, I participated in the GAMBIT Video Game Adaptation Workshop. After a short lecture on transmedia adaptation, participants were broken up into two teams and given the task of creating a game based on an existing IP (intellectual property) within a couple of hours.
Originally, my team's ideas were vague. We knew we wanted to create a game based on the Peanuts comic strip by Charles M. Schulz, but were having problems honing in on what aspect of that universe to focus on. Our initial idea was to have a series of mini-games, but this solution seemed to just multiply the amount of games we needed to make. We decided to focus on a mini-game that reflected the psychological struggle between Lucy and Charlie Brown. For those not familiar with the comic, Lucy runs a psychiatric advice stand. Charlie Brown comes to Lucy for advice and usually ends up getting insulted and ridiculed.
The game is card-based, and only the hearts and spaces of the deck are used. The hearts represent positive, or happy, points, while the spades signify negative, or sad, points. The higher the face value of the card, the greater the emotion that the card represents. In the game, one person takes on the role of Lucy and the other of Charlie Brown. Lucy's goal is to make Charlie Brown as miserable as possible. Charlie Brown's goal is to stand strong and not end up an emotional wreck.
At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt 5 cards. A round begins by each player choosing one of the cards in their hand and placing it facedown in front of them. These cards represent the conversation between Charlie Brown and Lucy. Both players turn their card over. Whoever has the card with the higher face value is winning the round. Let us assume that Lucy has the higher card. The emotion that she is able to place into her words overpowers the strength of Charlie Brown's words. Charlie Brown now has the option of bringing up a counterpoint that has more emotion behind it than any statement previously presented that round, i.e. placing down another card with a higher face value than Lucy's. If Charlie Brown takes advantage of this opportunity, he becomes the current winner of the round. Lucy has the option of countering this counter-argument to regain her position as winner. The round continues in this manner until no one can, or wants to, present a stronger argument. Let us assume that Lucy wins this round. She gathers the cards that have been played and places them in her emotion pile. This pile represents her current emotional status. If the sum of all of the face values of the spades is higher than that of the hearts, then she is sad. If the opposite is the case, then she is happy. If the numbers are equal, then she is in a neutral state. The same is true for Charlie Brown and his emotion pile. Both players draw cards until they have 5 again and another round begins.
The game continues until the players cannot draw cards so that each has the same number of cards in his or her hand. When everyone has run out of cards, both players' emotion piles are summed. Whoever is happier wins the game.
One of the challenges of creating this game was to make the experience of playing as Lucy and Charlie Brown distinct, while making sure there was no clear advantage to being one of the characters as opposed to the other. For example, it would make sense to have the winner of the game hinge purely on Charlie Brown's emotion pile. If Charlie Brown is unhappy then Lucy must be happy about his misery. If he is happy, then Lucy must be upset that she was not able to mess with his psyche. However, we felt that this placed an unfair burden on Charlie Brown's player. The differences between playing as one of the two characters arise when a tie occurs. If there is a tie at the beginning of a round, then Charlie Brown is considered the winning character. This aspect of the game allows Lucy to present a counter-statement. Lucy wants to make Charlie Brown sad, so she doesn't want him winning the conversation. If there is a tie at the end of the game, then Charlie Brown wins. Lucy can't stand having Charlie Brown be as happy as she is, but Charlie Brown is content with the position.
I was genuinely shocked when we did a test-play of this game during the workshop. When we were coming up with the rules, the game felt too simple. There was too much that went into luck and not enough into strategy. However, as I watched others play, I realized that a lot of the fun of the game came not from the technical aspect, but the emotional one. It was about trying to read your opponent's next move and act accordingly. The challenge that this task presented was enough to entertain the players. Choosing the card that they could play provided enough control over the game for them to feel like they had a say in who won the round, even though luck was probably the greatest factor. However, the players still seemed to realize the level of luck involved, so every small victory was something to celebrate. I believe that this level of emotion as opposed to strategy was key to tying in the game with the comic strip. Perhaps this is a direction more games should go in: less strategy, more emotion.
(Peanuts, Charlie Brown, Lucy Van Pelt and representations of the characters are copyright United Feature Syndicate, Inc. and appear here for educational, non-commercial purposes only. For more information on Peanuts and Charles M. Schulz, please visit snoopy.com or the Charles M. Schulz Museum.)
MIT Enterprise Forum Salutes Henry Jenkins on June 16th
If you're in the Boston area and are a friend of GAMBIT, Comparative Media Studies or GAMBIT Co-PI and CMS Co-Director Henry Jenkins, you're invited to come help send Henry off to USC in style. From 6-8 PM on June 16th at the new Microsoft Cambridge offices, the MIT Enterprise Forum New England Games and Interactive Entertainment SIG is hosting "A Salute to Henry Jenkins: The End of an Era at MIT". The complete details are as follows:
A Salute to Henry Jenkins: The End of an Era at MIT
Games & Interactive Entertainment SIG
Date: Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Time: 6:00 - 8:00 pm
Location: Microsoft, One Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA 02139
One Memorial Drive is located on the Red Line at the Kendall Square/ MIT MBTA Stop. Driving directions and additional details can be found here: DIRECTIONS
Join the MIT Enterprise Forum New England Games and Interactive Entertainment SIG (NE Games SIG) for an evening celebrating and honoring Henry Jenkins.
For more than 16 years, Henry Jenkins has graced the halls of MIT and shaped the New England games industry as we know it. An avid advocate of games culture, Henry has helped to build a deeply collaborative and creative community as Co-Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities at MIT. At the forefront of understanding the effects of participatory media, like video games, on society, politics and culture, Henry is a renowned industry figure and accomplished author/editor of twelve books.
It has now come time for Henry to seek warmer pastures as he departs MIT for the University of Southern California.
Join the NE Games SIG for this early summer networking event in Henry's honor. Take part in saluting Henry Jenkins with his friends, closest colleagues and your industry peers. The night will be filled with fond farewells and warm memories as we share a collective toast, reflect on his work at MIT and wish him all the best in the road ahead.
We hope to see you there!
Bionic Commando: Old School in Disguise.
I broke down and finally decided to get Bionic Commando last Sunday. I'm really glad I did. The game isn't without problems, but honestly: what is wrong with the critics? It's not bad at all. I'm finding it a hell of a lot of fun, frankly. I could barely pull myself away from it Monday and played it almost the whole day.
The only way I can explain the reviews is that people were expecting something else. They were expecting something across between Gears of War and Spider-Man 2, and what they got was... well... what they got was a 3D version of Bionic Commando. God forbid there'd be a game you actually have to get good at before you begin to feel really empowered. Being a bionic badass is not easy, I'm sorry. It takes some skill and practice, but once you get the hang of it (pun intended) you feel all the more satisfied because it was you who performed that amazing stunt.
I only really began to master the arm last night, and it was immensely satisfying to intentionally execute a complex strategy that required absurd acrobatics. It was the part where you fight your first flying machine, which looks like some weird futuristic hover-bot. I realized that my arm--which was capable of smashing the robot to pieces--couldn't reach it, and my other weapons were useless. I noticed that it was hovering high above and in the center between four connecting catwalks. I knew the only way to get to it was to back flip off one catwalk away from it, spin around in the air, and use the momentum to slingshot myself around the catwalk and up directly into reach the machine. Everything went smoothly and for a moment I felt like a ballet dancer--albeit a muscular one with a rocket launcher--gliding in zero-gravity.
Yes, the radiation zones are a little annoying... although not nearly as annoying as the reviews suggest. Yes, the story is goofy... but no less goofy than the original (although the dialed-up macho-ness is moderately aggravating). But seriously, overall Bionic Commando is a very satisfying experience, with design elements noticeably derived from the classic original. Of all the criticisms levied against it, I am especially baffled by the common complaint of it being "linear". Unless you were expecting GTA, it's not linear. It basically follows the same format as the original game of progressing through levels, finding hacking points, weapon drops, etc. The levels have a progression, but they are hardly linear in the strategic sense. The way you approach new enemies are always improvisational, and there are very few obvious paths in the platforming. I would say it has big, wide-open levels that progress along a loose "path" confined by some constraints. I actually prefer this, because it allows for more focused level design, more meaningful level architecture. It's not the random free-for-all you'd find in a GTA-style world. I like the idea that I have a specific problem, like 10 soldiers on the top of a building, and I just have to deal with it using whatever I can find in one square city block. The mechanics and affordances feel perfectly balanced and suited to environments of this scope. It's all intentionally designed this way and it works.
I'm sort of fascinated by games like Bionic Commando, games that on the surface seem like they are following the lead of modern triple-A games but in fact hold secret allegiance to their classic roots. I think it is similar to ExciteTruck in this way. ExciteTruck was also a game that critics seemed lukewarm to, but I thought it was fantastic. To look at it and even to play it for a bit it seems like it has very little in common with its NES-era original. But after a while, the more you play it, the more you realize that, as a system, it is really expressing the same experiential concepts as ExciteBike. ExciteBike was all about managing your engine heat so that you can jump as spectacularly as possible in order to get ahead of other racers. Guess what? That's exactly what ExciteTruck is about. Once I realized that I saw the game for what it was: a marvelous update of a classic game that shrewdly targets and preserves certain key aspects of the original game experience. This is also a good description of what Bionic Commando does.
It is interesting to think what it means to update a classic game, as a design problem. It seems like many developers express their fan-love for a classic game through mechanics, even more-so than through story and visual aesthetic. Bionic Commando, of course, has a "modern" visual aesthetic targeted at today's market. The hero is badass by the standards of 2009, not 1988, and the world is full of brown tones and brooding characters. But under all this Bionic Commando does its damnedest to make you feel like the original game did 21 years ago. It's all about precision swinging, near-death drops from absurd heights, and surprising enemies from behind only to leap off into nowhere for a daring escape as you reach for something--anything--to save you from falling. Unlike Spider-Man 2, in which falling is not very deadly, Bionic Commando is about making you fear the ground. Rad Spencer is a super hero of sorts, but one who's far more mortal than Spider-Man. One missed swing and its over. "Death defying" is a term often used when describing game experiences, but it seldom means anything in the literal sense. Mistakes in Spider-Man 2 are not fatal, so the player isn't really defying death. In Bionic Commando they are... and that gives the experience a certain thrilling edge that more forgiving games lack.
Apparently I'm not the only one who feels this way about Bionic Commando. If you want a really excellent review of the game, try this. I think the reviewer sums it up well when he says:
Bionic Commando improves when you do, and you've got little choice but to improve. It's one of a startlingly few games out there which drives a real wedge between newcomers and seasoned players - not because the latter have levelled up a thousand times, or bought a cannon that fires electrified African Elephants, but because their skills have actually developed through practice, allowing them to soar and tumble through Ascension City's architectural thorn bush with an ease that is entirely self-made.
Be Attitude For Gains
Radiant Silvergun was one of the last games released for Sega's ill-fated Saturn. The game is a vertically scrolling shooter (or "shmup") and is considered one of, if not the, best games in the genre ever made. Its high acclaim combined with a limited, Japan-only release has made the game exceedingly rare, with copies on eBay going for upwards of $300 USD. Reasons for its status vary: the graphics, gameplay and soundtrack are all extremely impressive even eleven years after it was released.
"Be Attitude For Gains" is one of the more famous bits of Engrish in the game, displayed with advice for defeating each boss or miniboss.
What often goes overlooked, and what makes Radiant Silvergun special, is the parallel between the narrative and how the game is played (this post assumes familiarity with the plot and basic mechanics, check Wikipedia and the full plot translation at Silver Translations to get caught up). Just as the story is about an endless cycle, the gameplay encourages the player to enact out a similar cycle through several mechanisms.
The first is genre convention: shmups are typically designed to be played through over and over again, with the assumption that the player will be continually trying to improve his or her score. As a result the games are usually quite short; Radiant Silvergun can be finished in around ninety minutes.
The second is the leveling system: using a weapon to earn points causes it to gain levels, increasing the damage it inflicts. When the player runs out of lives or finishes the game they have the option to save their game, which in actuality only saves the weapon level. A new game can then be started from the save file, so the player begins the game with stronger weapons. This encourages continually using the same save file: playing the game, saving, starting over from that point, and so on. Each time the player does this the game gets slightly easier because the player's weapons are more powerful.
Next there is the chain system: every enemy ship is colored red, blue, or yellow. For every three ships destroyed of the same color the player earns bonus points. The bonus awarded increases with the number of chains, which in turn levels the weapons faster. This encourages the player to practice levels in order to learn how to chain most effectively, leading to more replays. There is also the "secret" chain, earned by destroying one red, one blue, then one yellow, and then continued by destroying groups of three yellows. This type of chain earns many more points than regular chains but is much harder to accomplish.
Finally there are two types of hidden bonuses spread throughout the game: Merry the dog and "weapon" bonuses. Merry is located in various points throughout the entire game, and can only be found by using the lock-on homing weapon. The weapon will target Merry, revealing him or her and awarding bonus points; there is no other way to find Merry. The "weapon" bonuses are also spread throughout the game; by using the correct weapon at the right time the player is awarded a "weapon" bonus. Both of these bonus types are left to the player to discover.
Normally we might say that all of these mechanics are included to increase replay value. On one level this is true of Radiant Silvergun, but there is an ulterior motive: by playing the game over and over again the player is enacting out the same type of cyclical existence presented in the narrative. Doris Rusch calls this "fictional alignment": the player experiences the endless, unbreakable cycle just as the characters do (from personal correspondence / forthcoming research).
It is this alignment that makes Radiant Silvergun so brilliant. By designing to maximize replay value, Treasure has created a game where the player wants the cycle to continue, further emphasizing the inevitably of the outcome. This is a spin on the classic adage of creative writing: show, don't tell. When the player realizes the parallel it is all the more powerful an experience because he or she was implicated in it from the beginning.
Shmups and similar arcade-style games are often derided for their emphasis on memorization and repetition, and have largely gone out of style. Radiant Silvergun shows how even an outdated form can create a compelling gameplay experience, suggesting that such an achievement might be possible for other classic game designs.
Warren Spector, Hideo Kojima, and Player Choice.
Warren Spector doesn't update his blog often, which is why I was surprised to discover he had actually written about Hideo Kojima's GDC 2009 keynote a while back. He says:
In describing his creative process, Kojima talked about identifying a problem (e.g., Get a Character Over That Wall) and then coming up with a bunch of ways the problem could be solved. Eventually, he settles on the coolest solution and executes that solution. I was dumbstruck that he goes to the trouble of thinking up all those answers but then limits the player to only one. In other words, the concept of choice belongs to developers, in Kojima's world, not to players!
I was at the keynote as well, and this is a wild misrepresentation of what Kojima said. The metaphor of "getting over walls", which Kojima used as a visual aid to his talk, was an illustration of his development process, not his game design philosophy. The talk was strictly about how he and his team approach production challenges. Kojima didn't even mention his personal theories of player agency, let alone explain them.
Spector's willingness to misread Kojima this way concerns me, because it is indicative of the way Kojima is often misread by Western game designers. It makes me wonder whether the people who pick on him for his supposed crimes against interactivity have ever spent a decent amount of time with his games. Spector goes on to say:
My thinking is, if you're only going to offer players one way to solve a problem, well, for starters, maybe you really want to make a movie... But, if you're going to go to the trouble of thinking up a bunch of ways to "get over the wall," as he put it, why not attach some consequences to different wall-climbing approaches and let players in on the fun?
Why not indeed? Kojima must have asked himself the same question, since there are about about a dozen ways to tackle any given problem in Metal Gear, with Snake Eater and Portable Ops offering the player especially rich possibilities. These two games are on par with the dizzying emergent complexity found in Thief and Hitman, which puts them among the best stealth games ever made in my opinion.
I am seriously beginning to think that very few of Kojima's critics have actually played his games in any significant capacity. (And by "significant capacity" I don't meaning having played MGS1 11 years ago when everyone else did. I meaning having played and finished at least a handful of the other dozen or so games he's made over the course of his career.) Kojima's got lots of problems, but choice-driven emergent dynamics isn't one of them. If criticism of Kojima's work were a little more informed we might be having useful discussions about his virtues and vices as a game designer instead of taking cheap shots.
Have Adventure Games Forgotten the A in MDA?
I like adventure games. I'm referring specifically to the traditional point-and-click graphical adventures. The first one I played was Torin's Passage way back in elementary school. It was the funniest game I had ever played and had the most sophisticated plot (but keep in mind that the next closest was probably Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time). Torin's Passage was developed by Sierra and written by Al Lowe of Leisure Suit Larry fame. As a simpler and more accessible variant of the typical adventure games, it was perfect for a kid new to adventure games. There were no verbs to select, generally straightforward puzzles, and even an in-game hint system. What really drew me in were the elaborately animated characters, full voice-overs, and hilarious dialogue. The world of Torin's Passage was a twisted fairy tale that was light-hearted with an underlying dark edge. I fondly remember the mountain-top guru with a yiddish accent, the slapstick shapeshifting of Torin's pet Boogle, and the emotional revelations during the final encounter. The intriguing characters and plot-twists made me begin to realize that actual stories could be told through games.
But what do I remember of the puzzles and various interactions? There was the hill where I had to hunt way too long for just the right blade of grass to click. There was a frustrating sound puzzle whose solution seemed arbitrary. There was a puzzle where I had to give a bag of rosin to a man with a violin without any prompting, and I didn't know what rosin was. To remind myself of any other puzzles, I had to look at an online walkthrough. In typical adventure game fashion, most situations boil down to clicking on the right objects and using the right inventory items. And in typical adventure game fashion, the actual playing of the game is a whole lot less memorable then the non-interactive writing and art. I never think "Oh man, it was so cool when I clicked on the shovel and then on the wall and a secret passage opened! I'm so good at this!"
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of memorable in puzzles in other games. The Secret of Monkey Island's insult battle springs to mind. Then again, that was a break from the standard mechanics. Hearing people talk about the lack of new adventure games, they frequently say they miss the complex stories, the humor, the interesting situations. Who misses the actual interactions? Are the point-and-click mechanics merely the most convenient method to tell the story? I'm sure many readers would take issue with my assumptions (or even better, are yelling indignantly at their monitors), but bear with me: We're getting to the good stuff.
The MDA framework for analyzing games has been gaining recognition and is featured in the annual GDC Game Design Workshop. MDA gives us a lens to see the relationship between players and game mechanics. Mechanics are rules and low-level processes that govern the game. Dynamics are the behaviors that emerge due to the mechanics. Aesthetics are the emotional responses the player experiences as a result of the dynamics. It's important to note that "aesthetics" in the context of MDA are solely based on mechanics and interactions, as opposed to art, music, writing, etc. Here we find one of the shortcomings of MDA. It must be understood that MDA only accounts for one facet of "fun." That being said, the fun that arises from mechanics and dynamics is certainly vital. This interactivity distinguishes games from all other media.
Let us consider how the MDA framework may shed some light on adventure games. Typical point-and-click adventure games have one of two sets of primary mechanics: either the player must select a verb before clicking on an object, or the game assumes a verb depending on context. The challenge is similar in both cases, involving discovering what to click and in what order. The resulting dynamics involve logical reasoning, recalling an earlier clue, or frequently trial and error. Think about the aesthetics that follow. The player is proud of themselves for coming up with the right solution. There is a sense of discovery as they find new objects or learn new information. While we can come up with more types of "fun" for this, notice how the non-mechanical elements of the game still are central to these aesthetics. Discovery is much more exciting when the object is visually interesting or important to the narrative. Puzzles (using the primary point-and-click mechanic) rely on the narrative and context. Abstracting an adventure game by removing art and story could still be an interesting puzzle, but much less appealing. In fact, would you be able to tell the difference between adventure games?
Adventure games seem to have been astonishingly stagnant in terms of mechanics. The interface for selecting verbs has changed, but adventure games released in the last few years function the same as they did 15 years ago. From a purely mechanical standpoint there is more difference between Super Mario Brothers 3 (1988) and Super Mario World (1990), or Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998) and Majora's Mask (2000), than there is between The Secret of Monkey Island (1990) and the Sam & Max Save the World (2006). Adventure games are almost less of a genre than a single game with different stories and puzzles. But it's the emphasis on story and puzzles that frequently set point-and-click adventures apart.
There has been plenty of evolution in adventure game mechanics, it just has occurred in other genres. Survival horror games frequently have puzzles requiring item acquisition and usage, but that mechanic is usually paired with real-time combat. Action-adventure games like the Zelda series have adapted similar elements. Role-playing games feature fully animated sequences with spoken dialogue. Each of these genres use elements of adventure games in conjunction with other sets of mechanics that form the primary interactions. I'm currently playing through The Longest Journey, and while I'm very invested in the story and am amazed by the visuals, the game mechanics just feel old. Point-and-click adventure games haven't faded away by accident, though the proud few continue to be some of the most humorous games available. They still have a place in the game industry, but it's like listening to vinyl records. Records have their own charm and many people would argue that their sound has more personality than CDs. Once in awhile I get a kick out of listening to my parents' old Beatles album, but I have 6500 songs on my computer that I can play instantaneously. There is still a market for albums to be released on vinyl, but it is a niche market that shows little signs of changing.
Foundations of Digital Games
Last week, Jesper Juul and I attended the Foundations of Digital Games conference. This is a conference on a Disney Cruise ship. Yes, you heard me right, on a Disney Cruise ship. It's not a bad idea if you think about it. Why network in a bar when you can network on the beach? And as the attendees kept pointing out, we're all trapped on the same boat. Plenty of time to ask your questions, right?
Yes and no, as it turns out. Cruise ships are HUGE. Thank goodness Jesper and I were in rooms next to each other or we may not have seen each other for the entire trip. Also, Internet and cell phone usage was very expensive, making meeting up with people rather cumbersome. Twitter was non-existent, and just walking around and finding other attendees wasn't as easy as one would hope. Still, dinner turned out to be a good time to network. There were FDG tables set aside, so you could walk in and be seated next to other attendees. I was also assigned a roommate, Amber Settle, a computer science professor from DePaul. Excellent person. Well worth sharing a drink and conversation with.
In terms of presentations, I found them very hit and miss. The diversity of the conference meant that there were often slots that had nothing of personal research interest to me, and what few there were seemed to conflict with each other. Not that I minded, after all the jacuzzi beckoned, but it did make me feel slightly guilty in terms of going on company time. There were a few gems, though.
Christina Strong from UC Santa Cruz discussed her work on conversation tools for game writers. Since I've been working on conversation games recently, this was particularly germane. Her particular work was creating a tool for Telltale Games to allow NPCs to make small talk. Writers would write phrases and comments for the characters to say, tagging with keywords as needed. The tool then used ConceptNet (go MIT!) to create more connections, so conversations would spring up based around related topics. For example, a conversation that started out about chili could then lead to Mexican food which could then lead to Mexico which could then lead to the beach and so on and so forth. The conversations would evolve over time. Cool stuff. Sadly, she implemented her system for Telltale's internal writing tool, so the rest of us can't see it, but neat ideas all the same. Also, I couldn't find a current website for Christina, but here's her old Georgia Tech webpage.
Damián Isla, a new addition to the Boston games community though not to the games industry in general, gave a surprisingly accessible talk about artificial intelligence tools. I very much liked his comparison between AI and method acting, suggesting that a good tool might follow the format of a theatrical rehearsal. The AI is the actor and the designer is the director. The AI has an initial set of instructions in terms of character and motivations, then does the best it can. The designer can then stop a scene at any time and correct behavior, which is then incorporated into the AI's character.
Shannon Duvall from Elon University had an intriguing poster about creating a games class that actually contained a video game style economy. Coins were earned by students who could then use them to buy extra credit, more time for an assignment, or other perks. They also could barter with each other, which she said was the more common, so less experienced students could purchase time from senior students to help them. I found this part very intriguing. It seems it creates a situation where students can specialize and market their skills to other teams. Also students would more commonly float between teams, spreading knowledge and expertise. I didn't get a chance to speak with Shannon so never heard the punch line of whether it worked or not, but I'm psyched that experiments like this are being done.
And finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my own presentation, Easy to Use and Incredibly Difficult: On the Mythical Border between Interface and Gameplay, co-authored with Jesper Juul. The gist is that there's an instinct that good games have simple user interfaces but difficult gameplay. We argue that this idea doesn't always hold, both because it's hard to find a clear line between interface and gameplay and because good games can also have difficulty in the interface. The presentation went well, if I do say so myself, and we got lots of compliments after it. Some asked me if we were going to keep going with the idea, but it's such a simple idea, I'm not sure what more there is to say.
So, was I glad I went? Yes. I got to meet some cool people and had a lovely time away from the office. Will I go next year? Not sure. We'll see if I get a paper in.