Demicon is an amazing Science Fiction and Fantasy convention hosted in Des Moines, IA every spring. We’ve had a vendor table at the con since 2014. This year we wanted to do something different and put in a request to host a room party. When Demicon announced they had to go virtual, they offered us the opportunity to host a virtual room party.
Demicon parties are legendary. The hotel blocks off one wing of the top floor, and by request even removes furniture from the rooms. Party hosts will either plan something fun, like karaoke, or decorate the room based on a theme. Brass Gears decorates a room to look like a steampunk dirigible. The Royal Manticoran Navy, a fan club dedicated to David Weber’s works, has a room. My original plan was to bring a virtual reality headset, an Oculus Quest, to Demicon. The idea tied in nicely with my new book, Entriss Online, and it would be something unique to share.
Crossing the Streams
Virtual room parties are basically a Zoom meeting with drunk people. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but I really miss the real thing. I decided to cross the streams and attempt both a virtual room party on Zoom and a virtual reality party at home. My goal was to give it that feel of an actual room party.
I invited a small group of friends over so it would feel like a real room party. The plan was for everyone at my house to join the Zoom call from their cell phones and use their own headset to communicate. I also wanted to share what we were doing on camera and stream the virtual reality games we played.
There were five things I wanted to stream on zoom.
Security camera video from the kitchen
Security camera video from the family room
Live video from an old iPhone in the family room
Oculus Quest gaming stream
A video promoting my book
Zoom is great for meetings and showing video from your computer or cell phone camera. It’s not really set up for streaming games, videos, or live security camera video unless you share what’s on your screen. The problem with that is when you share something, and become a presenter, that takes over everyone’s view.
I didn’t want the security cameras, the Oculus stream, or even my book ad, to be a presenter. That meant everything they needed to be logged in and viewed like cameras. To do this, I used OBS and the virtual camera plugin on four different computers. I set up the first and second computer to stream the security IP cameras. My mac mini streamed a running ad of the book blurb for Entriss Online. The fourth computer streamed Oculus gameplay using a Chromecast device plugged into.
We did a brief dry run a week before the con, and everything seemed to work fine. I had three cameras streaming to Zoom, including one in the kitchen and two in the adjoining family room. My virtual reality headsets were also streaming to Zoom, and everyone could hear me fine through my earbuds. Unfortunately, the actual party didn’t go quite as smoothly as I had hoped.
The party started at 7:00 and by 7:15 there were already technical issues. The kitchen camera kept crashing, and the Oculus gaming stream often disconnected mid-game. One of the family room cameras streamed slower than the other, so anyone on the Zoom call saw an odd delay.
Can you hear me now?
Audio was a disaster. Our earphones were too sensitive. When I spoke, everyone on Zoom could hear me through others’ earphones too, creating an echo. Every time I walked into the kitchen, my Powerbeats Pro wireless earbuds would transfer to the Mac Mini in the basement and disconnect me from the call. I eventually tried using a boom microphone and speakers, but the boom mic was too sensitive and it created an echo, too.
Too Much Going On
The party at my house, the virtual room party on Zoom, and technology issues split my focus. I spent too much time trying to keep my Frankenstein taped together. Everyone at home offered to help, but it would have taken longer to explain what I needed. It left me distracted, and a little exhausted. Really though, what party doesn’t leave you exhausted?
Still A Great Party
The party at home went great! Cristi dressed up as Marc from Entriss Online, Angie wore her Bombshell Wonder Woman costume, and Sarah was Raven from Teen Titans. They looked amazing! Sarah took over as bartender while Cristi and I took turns visiting with Demicon friends. The conversations were brief, like they would be at a room party. The visits were also heartfelt, because we miss seeing everyone in person.
A Taste of Demicon
We had a special treat from our friend Cindy. She surprised everyone by wearing The Royal Manticoran Navy uniform and leading us through a Roll Pod toast. It tasted like Demicon, and it was delicious.
Worth the Effort
As my wife said, it was ambitious. While it didn’t go as planned, I had fun and learned a lot. I already know what I’d change if we had to do it again, but hopefully the next Demicon is live and we get to see our friends in person.