Thursday, February 21, 2008

GDC: The demo from hell; triumph in the booth

If you wonder why I haven't been posting, it's because of the Game Developers' Conference I've been doing. Tuesday night we had a huge press demo, and it was a colossal disaster, to put it mildly.

The wireless headsets that the AV people used ran in the same frequency as our Emotiv Epoc headset. In an empty room, they didn't put out much power, but with the room full they had to boost their output and completely drowned out our stuff. So it looked like our technology didn't work, when in fact our brand new brain-computer interface technology worked fine, it was the old 2.4 GHz wireless stuff that got knocked out.

By the time it was my turn to go on, it was clear things were going terribly wrong. I had to go on stage in front of 125 journalists and 100 gaming industry luminaries and talk about our game, knowing that the headset probably wouldn't work (by this time we knew the headset wasn't functioning, but not why). I stalled desperately for time, hoping that we could resolve the problem, not knowing that backstage they had already given up. When it became obvious that no one was going to come from backstage with a functioning headset to save my sorry, stranded ass, I launched into a desperate improvisation, describing to the audience what they would see if our headset were working. I apologized profusely. I played for sympathy. I invited people to come to our booth and try it for themselves. I made fun of my situation. I hammed it up as best I could.

Here's what Joystiq had to say about the debacle:
"Can we do it without the headset?" Nam whispered into his mic from off-stage. ["No!" I replied, but for some God-awful reason had to go on anyway] Producer Zachary Drake had hopped up to demonstrate the game, developed in partnership with Demiurge Studios. (Each headset will ship with this tech demo, call it: Emotiv's 'Wii Sports.')
"Welcome to demo hell, folks!" Drake grinned, clutching a wireless Xbox 360 controller. Drake began navigating through the game, a "cloud-top temple," pausing at certain points, asking us to imagine what would occur had he been wearing the neuro-headset, twisting and stretching his face into hypothetical game commands. What irony! He chased off a swarm of glowing demon spirits, lifted a giant boulder and transformed the sky from serene green to a "brilliant orange" -- all in our minds!
He forgot to mention my clever invocation of the narrator at the beginning of Shakespeare's Henry V, who asks the audience:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth;
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
I didn't know the exact quote, but I knew about what the narrator says at the beginning. Basically, since I was forced to talk of things they wouldn't see, I had to ask the audience to pretend they were seeing stuff. I tried to describe things as vividly as I could, but I felt like I was making hand-shadow puppets and utterly talking out of my ass. I wanted nothing more than to run far, far away. It was a performer's absolute worst nightmare. It was probably one of the most hellish experiences I have ever undergone.

Ironically, I got more positive comments on my brief presentation that disastrous night than on just about anything I've ever done. People were still coming up to me today during the convention and congratulating me. I think the absolute impossibility of my situation was quite clear to everyone, so I actually got a good deal of sympathy.

It was a small bit of consolation when I heard that Microsoft had the exact same problem with their wireless controllers during their keynote address today.

On a more positive note, our demos in the booth went extremely well (except during the few brief times when the 2.4 GHz frequency got overwhelmed again). How ironic that we couldn't get it to work ourselves, but the next day we got it to work on complete novices who had never been in the Emotiv Epoc headset before! People left amazed, and convinced that it works. The demo I've slaving over with Demiurge for the past six weeks seemed to be a great way to show off the headset, and everyone concluded that the day was a great success.

Other Emotiv Systems coverage featuring yours truly:
I'm sure more news accounts of "Black Tuesday" will be appearing. We managed to drag 125 journalists there or something. But we should also be getting some great coverage from CNET and 60 Minutes and others who came to the booth today and had some great experiences.

What a crazy couple of days it has been.


Blogger Niko said...

Wow! Sounds intense, but like you made the best of it. I liked your invocation of Henry V. I want to come to check out your booth and emotiv games (when the frequency isn't jammed).

11:02 AM, February 21, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oy, sorry you had to go through that, but it sounds like you did the best anyone could do under those circumstances.

On another note, it's a joy to be reading something in German that is not designed to cause my brain to crash. The academic register of the German language is just insanely awful.

2:33 PM, February 21, 2008  
Anonymous Miguel said...

No such thing as bad press! It looks to me like most commenters actually took away the fact that you have some really cool technology and I'd speculate that it made a huge impression.

(You know, when I try to explain it to people, the prospect of making silly-looking faces whilst trying to exert wizard powers is a huge selling point that makes me want to play and see my friends play.)

I use a lot of the equipment that was screwing with your systems for work I do, and unfortunately, in any crowded environment, there is tons of interference.

1:13 AM, February 25, 2008  

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