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Losing my virginity
by Preacher of Brainstorm and Traction

Organizing a demoparty. No big deal, get a space somewhere, set up web access and the big screen, supply beer and that's about it, right? Well, that's what I thought. Here's the story of Icons'07 and how it came to be, from my perspective, and an explanation why I couldn't have been more wrong. I was the main compo organizer, and a general jack of all trades, but I will write this article mostly from the compo organizer perspective, as I had very little to do with other things like getting the partyplace, human resources etc.

How it all started

Ever since the my LAN party with a bunch of friends in the mid Nineties, organizing a demoparty has been on my mind, on a hypothetical level at least. I never gave it any serious thought before Kofeiini (one of the Traction graphicians) told me at a festival that he just might organize a demoparty with Stadia (a Finnish polytechnic) students. It had something to do with their school program, as they needed to organize an event to get marks on a course, and demoparty-like event just fit the bill. Kofeiini, being the leader of the student organization, took on the challenge, and it didn't take a long when he called me and said that the party is actually happening.

Originally, Icons was supposed to be something a bit different, a bit more "crossover" party with also non-scene events, but this was dropped quite late in the process when we realized that being first-timers, we might bite off more than we could chew, and also because we didn't know how well sceners would react to non-sceners being there, and vice versa. I think this decision was correct for this year, but the future editions of Icons might be geared a bit more to the "average" folk as well. For example, there are plans of live concerts and a bit different competitions in the future, but time will tell how that turns out.

Icons party hall (courtesy Ravel ravel@altparty.org, Slengpung)

Making Icons actually happen

To be honest, I never thought the event would actually happen, and I had my doubts all the way to the point when the first people arrived. So far, Kofeiini had done most of the organizing with (getting the partyplace, equipment, security clearances, logicistics..) with the Stadia people, but I was responsible for the competitions, along with Napsa, Waffle, Thoron and Setok, and that meant that I was going to be busy for the whole party. But how busy, I never had the idea, and next year we will have more people on the compo team. Drafting the compo rules had seemed pretty trivial, and at least I wasn't at all prepared for what was to come. It's easy to deceive yourself to the last minute when your real duties start only at the party.

The partyplace was a Stadia department of theatre and arts (or something like that), and it contained studios, props and lots of random things such as rocking chairs, musical instruments and old books lying around. The party starting on Friday, we cleaned most of that up on Thursday, hauled tables and chairs (note: next time, make sure that there are enough of both so you don't have to go raiding totally unrelated classrooms), set up electricity.. all the boring stuff. The place itself was pretty cool and had a sort of an industrial hall-look, which also had a downside that even with a larger amount of visitors than we expected (we expected 100 people, 130 turned up), it seemed a bit empty. There was unfortunately no good place to hang the big screen, so it ended up a rather small screen instead, but the image quality was good and the place was otherwise ideal for a demoparty (we could make noise, shops and other stuff a walking distance away and it was easy to get to even without a car).

The first real problems were encountered early on Friday when the guys from the beamer company came to the partyplace, set up the beamer and then left. We had issues with the beamer, which despite being rather expensive (thank goodness they sponsored us), didn't show most demos we tried correctly at all. We finally traced the problem to a faulty DVI connector on the compo machine Geforce, and by switching the cables around, everything started to work properly. It's funny how the relief of solving the first problem was actually rather big. Do not underestimate the "we can do this!"-feeling, it goes a long way when all else fails.

Natural media entries (courtesy Diamondie maija@writeme.com, Slengpung)

Unfortunately, we also had a bigger problem, one that we didn't manage to solve. We had opted for Partymeister as our solution for both the intranet and the beamslide system. While the intranet worked flawlessly throughout the party, something went very wrong with the beamslides and despite several people trying to get it work over the course of the weekend, we never managed to get it running. Thus, we had to resort to the oldskool "Wordpad with a big, ugly and colourful font"-approach. For most part, this worked well, but it also meant that the people running the compo (that would be mostly me and Napsa and Thoron) had to be extra careful to avoid any kind of mistakes like showing the wrong entry name. Thankfully, despite of some people's not-so-good sense of humour, it all worked quite well.. until the prizegiving.

Facing the worries

The compos themselves worried me a lot. Would anyone submit an entry to a totally new and unproven party? Thankfully, my doubts were proven wrong, and I think we got a very good set of entries in total, along with some outstanding ones. Furthermore, we actually managed to hold both the 64k and 4k competitions, which as a small Finnish party, was quite a surprise. It seems to me that making 4k intros isn't indeed a black art anymore, and with tools developing and released, more coders seem to be more willing to take a shot at it. Our "own" compo, the Natural Media competition, was also a success and had more entries than we dared to hope for.

Being at least somewhat an art school, the Natural Media competition was intended to represent the more "traditional" arts such as pottery, painting and photography. We had no idea what to expect, and in the end the entries varied from photography and installation built around a CPU and an LCD screen to handicraft and Sauli/Jumalauta (the actual person). This is definitely something we will do again next year, with hopefully even more entries. The surprising thing about the Natural Media was that there wasn't a single joke entry. Our fears of leftover saturday hangover food being entered as modern art didn't thankfully materialize.

The music compos were a bit long (running for 14 songs for the dance music, and 17 songs for the listening one), but I decided not to pre-select any of the songs out, because the quality to my (amateur) ears was pretty good, and there weren't way too many entries. If we get any more songs next year, that may have to be reconsidered, but the arrangement worked out pretty well this year. The only problem was that we had to run the competitions manually, which meant sitting on the computer and trying not to click the wrong file in Winamp, and someone else sitting on the computer connected to the beamer and scrolling down the entries in wordpad. This sound simple, but in reality it was quite exhausting, and I don't recommend it to anyone.

The 4k intro competition was the big one.. would we be able to hold it or not? We decided that three entries is the minimum, unless the quality was absolutely spectacular, and for a long while we had only the two java entries.. until I was sitting on very, very early Saturday morning and got the Unknown Artists intro by e-mail. We could hold the 4k compo as well! We even had a fourth entry, but it didn't work on the compo machine. It wasn't really good though, and it'll probably be released as Jumalauta at some party in the future.

And then the demo competition. Wow. When I was preselecting the demos, I tried to put them in a good order. Not the usual "bad ones in the beginning, boring ones in the middle and the good ones in the end", but in an order that would somehow make sense. I watched most of the entries through, but because time was running out, I only had time to watch the Farbrausch demo for about two minutes or so. Even then, it was a no-brainer to put it as the last entry. It divides opinion, but it was also the highlight of the party. Every single drunk Finn was absolutely still and quiet, and when the demo ended, the crowd exploded into cheers. I liked the majority of the other demos as well, and even Jumalauta made a good entry. My own demo, on the other hand, refused to work on the compo machine. I still don't know why. I didn't want to hook up the projector to my own computer, so I just promptly disqualified it to save the trouble. Prerogative of the organizer.

After the compos were over, a huge wave of relief washed over me. No (major) technical problems, no delays (except for the democompo), and entries that will be remembered after the party as well. I celebrated this with having a beer, after which I basically collapsed, and slept for six precious hours on the orga room couch. I don't think I've ever slept on anything as soft before, or after. I really needed the sleep, as I was getting irritable and had to consume copious amounts of energy drinks just to be able to stay on my feet. However, the worst was still to come. The prizegiving, which turned out to be the low point of the party.

Post-competition phase

We were all tired, and we hadn't really prepared. We had reserved stuff (shirts, t-shirt printing colors, sponsor stuff) as prizes, but hadn't really made a plan on how to distribute them between the winners. For this we had a very good reason, which was something like "we don't know if we get any decent entries at all, so let's watch the entries and then decide how it goes". Stupid, I know. We were all very tired and couldn't really think straight, so we improvised quickly something and left it at that. The ceremony itself included (luckily few) people getting wrong prizes, people miscommunicating seriously and the announcer mixing up the entry numbers with placings (the wordpad was hardly informative.. with a beamer system, this would've been avoided totally. This left a really sour taste in my mouth, and I would like to again apologize here to all the (hopefully few) people who were disappointed. Come knock on my shoulder at a party and I promise to buy you a drink of your choice.

And then it was over. After the ceremony, the place emptied _really_ fast. I've never seen anything like it, people just vanished, and we realized that we still had a long day ahead of us. The amount of leftover drinks was staggering. We had a large bucket where we poured the leftover drinks, and I think they totalled something like 50 litres. Other items we found were clothing, sausages and other random food items, network cables, CDs and boatloads of trash. Cleaning that up took a while, and with some of the promised help never arriving, it was hours before the place was in a decent condition, after which we had to haul all the furniture back where it belonged. Arriving home exhausted, I quickly checked pouet and then crashed onto the bed. Happy.

Cheering the compo(courtesy Leia, Slengpung)

What is a demoparty, from the organizer point of view? Lack of sleep, calling people on the phone to get their missing compo entries, running around looking for scissors, being pissed about the fact that you don't have time to talk with your friends since you need to do X, Y and Z, exhaustion, talking to the police, improvising makeshift solutions for things you never believed would come up, trying to make software work, getting pizza, hauling beer crates, drinking enough Battery to kill an elephant, sleeping on a concrete floor, cleaning up puke, fucking stuff up and learning from it, pulling Cat 5, realizing you don't have this or that even though you should.. and oh yeah, shitloads of fun, at least afterwards. I might be a bit funny in the head, since even though I swore off organizing anything ever again on Monday morning after the party, I am already waiting for the next time.

Lessons learned

- Think ahead in advance. Think think think!

- Pay attention to unconventional hardware platforms. Both the scene.org DS demo and the mobile 4k entries suffered a lot from our crappy handling of the video camera and didn't look at all like they should have. - Share responsibility: It's very noble and brave to do a lot of work, but having duties you can't reorganize when needed (like running a compo) will be more stressful than you think. Everyone should have a backup. - Sleep. Do sleep. - If you want any peace and/or quiet while you are doing something, place your computer in a place where it doesn't look like the info desk. You'll make new friends, but getting stuff done is difficult.

- Plan for the after party as well. It is NOT fun to realize that half of the people who promised to come clean up stuff after the party will never come. - Don't assume that just because it's February and freezing outside, people don't want to barbecue. - Don't run out of beer.

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