Tormod's picture

Thoughts on the Extra Life 2017 marathon and beyond

Howdy! Things have been super busy for us lately, what with more marathon research, starting the onboarding process for Ms. EoN, and.. what's that? We finally produced our first official ZHP charity marathon? Heck yeah, we did! Inspired by all the preparations we've been making for our larger 2018 endeavor, we decided to turn my home's stream room into the site of a 26-hour marathon that started at the zero-hour of 3 November (clever, huh?). In the end, we had six participants playing a smattering of games, including some actual speedruns, for a total of $1095 in charitable donations to Extra Life! Now, initially we only planned to do single-screen games, but as scope creep is wont to do, we had several late what-ifs that ended up shaping the direction of the marathon. While single-screen things would've been fine on their own, we got to thinking about cooperative randomizers and how much prep that would require. Turns out $800 in SD2SNES cartridges, a handful of SD cards, four SNES Minis (no, not the SNES Classic Edition - these are the late-model Super Nintendos without the eject button!), a bunch of electronics components, and several hours of Nova's time to solder RGB bypass amps into the SNES Minis made a The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past four-player cooperative randomizer happen, and despite the large difference in skill levels, things turned out! Multiple PVMs and consoles made that happen, but with the help of an Extron Crosspoint BNC matrix, we were able to span video from any number of consoles to any number of connected displays, which really made things like our Super Mario World Chinese Demake "run" work out a lot better than huddling around a single 14" screen. As we already had the PVMs and some assorted audio equipment from 2018 marathon acquisitions, we decided to push ourselves to do something a little more unique (and chaotic), and we think that things turned out for the most part!

The event itself was long, but the effort spent on organizing and preparing for it was weeks and weeks longer. As none of us had produced a charity marathon before, we had the complexity of getting people to participate (it's a large time commitment to be occupied for an entire weekend!), making an official schedule, churning out messages on social media, and rallying interest for the cause, never mind the technical requirements of making sure OBS was functioning (it's black magic, I swear), all of our consoles running properly through OSSCs and into video capture devices, making aesthetically-pleasing stream layouts, and all sorts of other little details. Granted, with having learned how to do most of that now, future events will be FAR easier to prepare for, but given that this was our first attempt, it was a huge undertaking, especially given that we'd only given ourselves the better part of a month to really prepare for it.

Not everything was kittens and rainbows, as I'm sure will surprise no one:  my business Internet line got a bit flaky on a handful of occasions throughout the stream, we forgot to make local recordings of quite a few games, OBS decided to be weird about console video input quality on several occasions, and we had some audio balancing issues. Twice during the stream we had the threat of trolls trying to get obscene content onto the stream, but we were fortunate enough not to use any overlays that would relay interactions from the audience (good or bad, I suppose). We went into the marathon without first having tested all the PVMs, but they fortunately worked with minimal tweaking. Our cabling didn't arrive until two days before the marathon. The HD TV we used for PC games developed some serious burn-in, but it fortunately didn't impact any of the games we played on it. Some of us were so tired we were starting to feel nauseous.

BUT! Despite the stress and unknowns and goof ups and everything else, the six of us (sometimes seven with Nova hanging around!) all had a good time, ate a lot of good food, and raised more than double the team goal for the charity. In the end, we had 26 hours of entertaining content, peppered with interaction from chat that made the time fly by.

Will we do it again? Heck yeah, but on top of that, I want to do more 'event streams' more often. Maybe not for charity, and maybe not with as grand a scope as we have for the 2018 marathon (or even what we did for Extra Life), but getting a bunch of people together in the same place to play some vidja games is always a good time, even if we get a bit salty. Coming up in 2018, a handful of us will be getting hype from AGDQ, but the end of January marks our annual Wintereenmas gaming holiday celebration, and we're considering streaming something over the weekend of 26 January. It's not 100% set in stone yet, and we definitely won't be streaming overnight again, but it's something to keep an eye out for as we get through the holidays. Our research and hardware acquisition continues for the 2018 marathon project, and while we still have lots to do, I'm still optimistic about the future of things.

If you had a chance to drop by the Extra Life 2017 marathon, consider leaving a comment about how you think things went, maybe including some suggestions for the future if you can think of any! It was our first marathon, and we aspire to produce many more, learning as we go.