Last week I had the pleasure of traveling to Bogotá, Colombia, to attend and present at Campus Party Colombia 2011, a fantastic industry event that evolved out of LAN parties. The place was packed with thousands (tens of thousands?) of gamers, most of whom stayed up all night playing multiplayer games and then sleeping in tents provided by the event. It's like a summer camp for gamers! In the past few years, though, they've been adding on game development features, with the government and Colombian companies trying to spur some interest among young people in building games. I assume they realize (correctly) that a strong interest in making videogames will lead to a flowering of many related industries, including many that are good for business.
I could write a book about my adventures, but I'll just stick to the highlights. Two were getting to see Captain Crunch (John Draper) and Nolan Bushnell. I didn't get to meet CC, but did hear him speak (he sounds like Dennis Hopper). Somebody asked him what he thought about Anonymous, and he replied with something very witty: "Anonymous? I've heard of them. That means they're not good hackers." Haha!
I also got to meet Nolan Bushnell, though I don't think he was feeling well (or maybe he was just paranoid). Apparently he flew in just for his talk and was flying out immediately afterward. I somehow managed to shake his hand, and he remembered who I was from my involvement with Gameplay Forever, but he wasn't in the mood to chat. It's kind of odd considering how his talk was mostly motivational, the old "back in my day I had nothing but got filthy rich and by God if you got the cajones you can do it too" kind of thing. It would've been nice if he'd stuck around and helped judge the campus jam contests (more on that later), but I guess time is money and all. He seems to think the future is "haptic" and "augmented reality," oh, and robots. Lots and lots of robots. C'mon, Nolan, didn't you learn anything from Chuck E. Cheese? I'll say one thing for him, though, he's got a great voice--a deep, sonorous one that really makes anything he says sound profound. Did you know he had 8 kids? No wonder he's interested in new ventures; that'd put a strain even on a millionaire!
Probably my favorite event was the Campus Jam, which is an event in which teams of guys compete to make a game in three days. I was one of the judges along with Kristof Berg (creator of Game Seeds), David Arcila, and some other folks from the Campus Party. I was really amazed at how the games turned out; at least two were nearly commercial quality! We had a hard time picking the winner; one of the games looked really fantastic (sort of like Darwinia), but the gameplay wasn't as fun as the other, which was a four-player arena-type shooter in the style of Smash TV. The latter was undoubtedly the most fun, though not as original in concept as the former. In any case, even the "worst" game was impressive considering the time constraints and lack of "professionals" on the teams.
Indeed, I'm so impressed by the Campus Jam that I'm thinking of trying something like it at SCSU when I go back. Towards that end, I intend to learn some basic game development programs like Unity and Stencyl and such, so even people who have no training or experience can have the thrill of making a game. I think that's a very liberating experience for anyone, particularly kids who don't have a lot of confidence.
Still, as fun as the Campus Party was, the real thrill for me and Elizabeth was getting to explore the city. David is the nicest guy I've ever met. He ran himself ragged trying to make sure that the two of us (and Kristof) had a great time, and his knowledge of the local culture was amazing. I've posted lots of pictures on Facebook if you're interested. I really enjoyed going up Monserrate by aerial tramway. At the top was the most amazing view of the city you'll ever see, and a beautiful church to boot! Then there was all the authentic cuisine...Mmm, ajiaco! David made sure we got to try lots and lots of Colombian foods, many of which consisted of fruits I'd never heard of and all manner of sausages and soups. I even got to sample some of the local brew at the Beer House Factory! However, in Colombia I found myself more interested in the coffee than the beer.
The only negative part of the whole trip was the insane lines at the airports getting into and out of Colombia. We had to stand in line for two and a half hours to get through customs! I don't know why the line was moving so damn slow, but I hope they can get that worked out. I really feel sorry for people who had to go to the bathroom and lose their place!
If we do ever get to go back (or visit another country), I will definitely spend some time with Rosetta Stone learning the language. Most people seemed to understand basic English, but it would've been chaos without David there to translate for us. I studied Spanish in high school and college, but it's a joke. Indeed, I feel that I should write the university and demand my money back for those wasted hours, all of which (of course) were required. I probably learned more Spanish in those five days in Colombia than I did in years of Spanish classes! You can tell I'm a real noob to travel, because it never occurred to me that our cell phones wouldn't work in Colombia! D'oh! I knew we were in trouble when we landed and I had no connection or even WIFI. I'm not sure frequent travelers do; maybe buy one of those prepaid cell phones?
Hopefully, my presentation will be available soon at the Campus Party website. I'll be sure to let you know when I find it. Again, though, I wish to thank David, Mauricio, Vanessa, and everyone else who made this experience so amazing. I hope we'll meet again!