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Road to SXSW - Unpredictable

This year, Yomi's Gate was nominated in the South by Southwest Gaming Awards. I'll be showcasing the game at the festival from March 13th through March 15th 2015. Between now and then, I'll be writing a series of articles discussing the game, where it came from, how it was made, and the kinds of challenges I've encountered along the way. This is one of those articles.

Week One: Why Yomi's Gate? - An article about why I'm making this game and not something else. 

Week Two: The Shape of Things - Insights into how I go about creating pieces for Yomi's Gate. 

Week Three: Making the Map - Words about how I made the map and the prototile, modular board for Yomi's Gate.

Week Four: On Ideas and Creativity - Where I address the question, "How did you come up with the idea for Yomi's Gate?"

1:15am, Saturday March 7th. Six days until SXSW starts. Six days until Yomi's Gate comes out. 

I was supposed to leave for Austin sometime on Sunday. It's a 26 hour drive from the Philadelphia suburbs. Flying would have been too expensive, given the need to ship heavy, heavy copies of the board game I'm showcasing, so I'm loading up my car and driving. I was going to leave on Sunday, travel for 10 hours until a waypoint in Kentucky, and then travel the remaining 16 hours on Monday. 

Instead, I just turned the laser off for the day a few minutes ago. It's been running since about 9:30am. It was running all day yesterday, too, and all day Wednesday and most of the day on Monday. Tuesday was largely lost to picking up the sheets of acrylic that would become the first copies of Yomi's Gate. 

Sometime Wednesday night, I realized that parts of my game weren't cutting cleanly. Thursday morning, I cut another copy and found that the problem was still persisting. The laser would go through most of the acrylic, but it wouldn't go clean through the other side. This makes pieces tremendously difficult, if not sometimes impossible, to pop out. When you do get them out, they have this vicious, almost serrated edge to them and are in many cases unusable. 

So Thursday I sent out a frantic email to Epilog, the makers of my laser. Luckily I got a quick response and they recommended I check my table alignment inside the machine. This ended up being the problem; The front-right corner of my table was about 1/4" higher than the other three. That means that as cuts get closer to that corner, they become more and more unfocused. When you only have about 1/4" of focal tolerance to work with and you're already slightly unfocusing the beam so that pieces can stand up instead of leaning over, 1/4" is the difference between a clean cut and fighting tooth and nail to punch a piece out from a sheet of acrylic. 

This is where I should mention that it takes about 90 minutes to engrave and cut a single set of boards and armies. Acrylic is also fairly expensive. 

To fix the table alignment, I needed a 3/32" alan wrench. At this point in my life, I have a veritable arsenal of niche tools. I've got a dremel and tons of attachments. I have a set of screwdrivers that could assemble or disassemble just about anything. I have a multi-attachment torx screwdriver that I've used for computers, gaming machines, and all kinds of different small projects. 

I did not have a 3/32" alan wrench. 

Also, a blizzard was happening all day on Thursday. By the time I realized I needed a 3/32" alan wrench in order to fix my machine and continue working on this game that's releasing in less than a week now, it had snowed about 8" and it was still coming down hard. 

But really, what was I supposed to do? Not fix my laser?

So I walked in a blizzard to buy a $0.69 tool. I also picked up a steel file so I could maybe doctor up at least some of the map tiles. 

Both of those things were a success. The laser worked on the first try after I made the appropriate adjustments. The file was also suitable for fixing up the damaged map tiles.

Still, the point is that this happened. There's no way I could have known in advance that there was going to be a problem. Most of what I cut is in the top-left corner of my machine, while full copies of my game are done across the entire table. How could I have predicted that I would need to halt all progress on production, drop everything I was working on while the laser was running, and walk in the middle of a blizzard to the local hardware shop for a highly specific tool I didn't even know I didn't own? 

I won't have physical instructions with me at SXSW and I probably won't be leaving on Sunday now. This is just the way it goes. Stuff happens, there's no way to know what's going to happen and when it's going to surprise you, and you just have to be ready to roll with it. Working on your own is simply unpredictable.