We are so pleased to welcome Greg Bayles to the Craft Lake City staff as Virtual Technology Specialist.
From within the distanced squares of a video conference, Greg shares with us the wild ride of reimagining the Craft Lake City DIY Festival and Holiday Market experiences for a virtual space. He also gives us a glimpse into his side project, a groundbreaking video game called Super Bearded Dragons, “Where drag queens fight over cash tips that rain down from the sky.”
How did you become involved with Craft Lake City?
Angela [Brown, Executive Director] posted online [that she was] looking for people who had tech backgrounds or were video game developers. My friend David Payne tagged me in the post. Angela and I had a quick meet-and-greet to sort of figure out what was going on in each other’s lives. I mentioned to her that I had been working with the Mozilla hubs platform building virtual environments. I pitched the idea of doing a virtual world for the DIY Festival, and that was something that she really latched onto. So, I guess Facebook brought us together. [Greg gives a wry smile.]
Can you tell us more about Mozilla Hubs?
Mozilla hubs is a research arm of [the] Mozilla Corporation—you know, the big Internet Browser people. They are working to create a space where people can do virtual conferencing, meetups or just hang out.
It’s essentially small, 3D virtual worlds that you can go inside of and create or select an avatar to represent you. It has live voice chatting, you can stream videos—if you want to be a panda bear wandering around in a forest, you can totally do that.
The technology is open source and community driven, and [Mozilla was] super helpful in facilitating the festival. The community provided all of the assets that we used to create the rooms. The virtual rooms were generated by other people, and then we adapted them into different shapes and spaces. We leveraged their avatar system to provide customized Craft Lake City staff, volunteer and artisan avatars.
What was the process like, from pitching the idea to launching the 12th Annual Craft Lake City DIY Festival into a virtual version? What were the most memorable moments?
When I pitched the idea, I didn’t know all that much about the technology. I had mostly just been tinkering with it. The next two months were a process of learning what we could and couldn’t do. We conducted experiments and would run tests with a bunch of different people. We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to pull a certain thing off, and then it worked! Or, it didn’t. And we would quickly have to move in a different direction.
I remember at one point Angela had asked me, “Is there any way to change the color of this one object?” And I thought to myself, no—what’s there is there. But, I decided to do a little bit of digging. I realized how simple it was to go into the open source model libraries and add new models; or, change the color of a model and upload that for someone else to use. And so there was this moment of transition from thinking of it as a very closed system to understanding this was a system that I could contribute to. That was a fun, eye-opening moment. It made me feel much more a part of the broader virtual worlds community. That’s definitely a memorable moment for me.
On the first day of the festival, we had so many people coming through that we actually crashed their [Mozilla Hubs’] servers! That was both a funny moment and a proud moment. Initially, I was panicking and thinking, “What are we going to do?” I thought, there’s no way they’re going to answer on a Friday night.
When they found out what an expansive operation we had going on, they were just gobsmacked! They had no idea what to do. They went into one of our areas that had twelve galleries connected. And they said, “Holy cow! This is amazing. This is huge. We can’t believe you built all 12 galleries!”
And we said, “12?? Like, we literally have over 200 galleries that are all linked together.” And then they were even more in awe of it!
They ended up being really responsive and upped the server size, so we were able to get it back up for the remaining days of the festival.
It’s amazing that you have been responsible for not only the technical foundation of the Craft Lake City virtual worlds, but also for designing and building all of the beautiful and elaborate public spaces. How do you balance those competencies?
To be quite honest, I don’t necessarily have all the technical ability, but I’m really good at Googling. I rely on the kindness and generosity of lots of other people [who] have come before me and have encountered these problems before. You learn a ton in the process. But, there are also moments where you’re like, “Am I about to break everything?”
In game development, they say fail fast. Figure out all of the sticking points early on. Fail fast so that you can succeed sooner. I feel like that’s something that I’ve really tried to bring into my life—you know, be brave and take risks. In doing audacious things that you don’t think you’re capable of doing, it usually sorts itself out if you stick with it.
What learnings from the Virtual Craft Lake City DIY Festival have you brought into the virtual meetups that are part of this year’s online Craft Lake City Holiday Market?
We learned quickly during the DIY fest that it’s lonely to sit in a room alone all day long. And so with the holiday market, we decided to put about 15 artisans to a room so they could interact with each other and funnel customers to each other. That’s been, I think, a lot better of an experience for everyone involved. The space feels more populated. It’s fun to see some of the emergent play coming out of those interactions.
For the DIY Festival, I was trying to make these amazing, awe-inspiring spaces and it took a ton of time. But, one of the things that I realized just from interacting with people inside of DIY Festival is that even simple things are impressive at that scale and in the virtual environment.
So, for the Holiday Market, I limited myself on how much time I would spend on each room. I kept them simple and unified in their vision. Penguin world just has penguins, and that is the sole focus of the room. I feel like this provides space for other people to sort of populate the worlds with their own values and with their own stories.
I think that is a really important transition, honestly. I still love building these big, brutalist, crazy, sculptural buildings, you know? It’s a lot of fun. But at the same time, I think it’s more important to really highlight the artisans themselves and to let their work shine.
In addition to your full-time “day job” at the University of Utah, your critical role as Virtual Technology Specialist for Craft Lake City and teaching classes at the U, you’re also solo developing an independent video game. Can you tell us more about your game? And, whether or not you ever sleep?
I probably sleep like 5 hours a night—something like that.
My game is called Super Bearded Dragons.
It is a fighting video game where drag queens fight over cash tips that rain down from the sky. The idea is generated from the fact that so many video games have a sense of performative masculinity. You know—big buff guy with a big gun goes around, like, killing aliens or whatever. It’s so rooted in spectacle. I wanted to kind of flip that on its head, and instead say, “OK, well, all the characters in this game are going to be drag queens, and they’re all going to be silly and goofy, and it’s going to be equally performative” But, it’s performative femininity and performative silliness; just trying to take things a lot less seriously than then you find in a lot of games.
I started developing it about two and a half years ago and have just been working nights and weekends. It started out as a tiny little project. In early 2019, I submitted it to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Arcade, [which is] a big annual event where they invite like, 10 to 12 developers to showcase their work. I didn’t really think I would get accepted. But, sure enough, I got to go to DC in May 2019 and showcase it there. It was an amazing experience. They had something like 25,000 people come through the museum over the course of two days.
There were tons of people who were excited about it and so that was really the first moment where I was like, OK, I can really take this to completion. There’s a desire for this. There are people who want to see more games like this.
Initially, I had imposter syndrome, thinking like, oh, I don’t know what I’m doing; I’m self taught. The odds are stacked against me: This is a weird game, it’s a niche market. But, having that little bit of validation from the Smithsonian American Art Museum was super helpful. I said, OK, well, I guess I am an artist if I’ve showcased at the Smithsonian. And, I guess I am a game developer, if there are people who want to buy my game.
The game itself is really dedicated to showcasing the talents and struggles of non-dominant groups from the gay community, especially … You know—the queer spectrum as a whole. It highlights the stories of Black drag queens and trans drag queens and nonbinary queens. It has the first playable drag king in video game history! So, even though it’s a little thing, it feels like a big step at the same time.
A lot of the characters are inspired by real people who I’ve met. The levels that you’re fighting on are inspired by lots of historical queer landmarks or locations. There’s a bathhouse from Bangkok that I turned into sort of this little outdoor pool level. It’s been a fun way for me to pay homage to a lot of the queer activists that have gone before me, the drag queens who have inspired me and to the queer people who are creating queer spaces.
What stage are you at in development? What’s next?
I recently launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, and that’s going well so far. I’m coming up on about one and a half weeks until the end of the campaign, and I’m just raising funds to be able to try to finish it as quickly as I can. I’ve been working solo on it, but I would love to be able to hire some animators and some musicians and composers and stuff like that to be able to really make the game shine.
Whether it gets funded or not, I’m going to continue working on the game and just keep working on it until it’s ready to release. My tentative planned release date is for Pride Month [June] of 2021.
I have to be patient with myself and just say, you know you’re one person and you have a lot on your plate and your best is enough. One of the things that I tell my students is that many 1% days will stack up a lot faster than a few 100% days.
And so, I really just try to work on my game every single day. You know, even if it’s only for five minutes, it means that I’m putting some thought into it. I know that as long as I’m consistently working on it, it’ll get closer to the finish line every single day.
Thank you Greg! Craft Lake City is thrilled to have such a talented and tech savvy expert added to the team!
Experience the unique virtual winter wonderland Greg has created during the live virtual meetup during the Online Craft Lake City Holiday Market on Fri., Nov., 20th from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Join us for the next virtual meetup for the Online Holiday Market Fri., Nov., 20th from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.