The One That (Almost) Got Away

This is a story about a typo. It’s about how a typo cost me a lot and nearly cost me everything.

My friends in the convention industry have a term for dealing with the problems and incidents when trying to handle thousands of less-than-ruly otaku. They refer this type of management as “putting out fires.” Over the 10+ years I’ve done programming (only formally for about 6), I’ve had to deal with a lot of fires myself. Panelist no-shows, tech no-shows, audience no-shows, life crises, tech crises, and a whole bunch more. Despite all that, I’ve adapted and adjusted and as long as there was an audience, I ran my event. There’s a sort of subconscious pride in knowing that I’ve kept this “streak” up. I had never really dwelled on it, but I’ve seen what happens when someone is unable to run and it’s not fun for anyone. The panelist is defeated, attendees get discouraged, and a level of trust between the two parties is removed. It’s a blow for both the speaker’s reputation and the con’s reputation. Everything gets lost to the fire.

I just had an encounter with that myself. Knowing that I was doing my Doge Wheel of Fortune at Anime Mini six days after I would return from Japan, I tried to make as much of the game in advance as I could because I knew that I would be in no shape to do anything after 10 days of vacation half a world away.

I had no idea how right I was going to be.

One of the faults of my Wheel program is that I haven’t yet fully accounted for punctuation in puzzles. My game runner had brought this up at a previous con and I had an idea for a fix, but I didn’t really get anywhere, and as things often do, it got back-burnered for other things.

Fast forward to June 2016 and Anime Mini. In the middle of a game, there was an error with a puzzle loading. This was news to me, as I had left the game code untouched, except for a couple of updates for prize values and presentation errors. I also didn’t QC the code as I normally did because I was still too jet-lagged to bother. I stared at piles of code for 15 minutes trying to figure out where the snag was, but I wasn’t finding it. Panic started to set in. If I wasn’t able to fix the issue, I would have no game, no panel. My mind raced figuring out contingency plans, I actually said out loud that I wasn’t sure how I could fix it.

Finally, I realized I should check other parts of the game. They all worked, so it was isolated to the one puzzle. I checked that puzzle’s file and I saw the issue. That punctuation fix I started was still there, not yet undone. I changed it back, and the game ran smoothly after that. My panicked statement had sent 3/4 of the crowd out, but there was still enough to have a good time my three players all won fun gifts, and the game still fit within its hour timeslot.

To date, that is the closest brush with disaster I have ever experienced, yet I was still able to put out the fire.

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