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PoRtaL2 - how it was

Tamás (left) and Ranko (right), in Tamás' apartment on Friday

I spent the last weekend in Budapest, on the second PoRtaL convention. If you've been following this blog or our local scene, you might remember that I was one of the organizers of the first PoRtaL convention last year, together with Ana Rajner and Božo Špoljarić. It was the first such event in region, and we decided it would be awesome if it became a traveling convention across several countries, like Knutepunkt is. The Hungarian team of Obreczán Tamás and Mesterházi Sándor stepped in eagerly and enthusiastically to create the second PoRtaL convention, and joined by Kinde Anna they did an awesome job out of it (note about names: Hungarians typically write family names first and given names second, so I'm also writing them in this order).

Sándor was already there when we arrived

Five of us traveled from Croatia. I traveled with Miroslav aka Siro, Lovro and Pavle, who are in leadership of Ognjeni Mač, and Ranko, a new player who started larping one month ago. We arrived on Friday evening, where we met Tamás and his wife Zsófia who would become our hosts for the event (and they were awesome and wonderful hosts, so if you're reading this - thank you!). We couchsurfed at their place - together with the two awesome Polish larpers, Dominik aka Dracan and Zofia aka Zula, and Sándor who's not from Budapest but from the city of Veszprém. There was no program for Friday evening, but we hanged out in the apartment together with two more Polish larpers (Boruta and Linka) and an Italian larper (Andrea Marmugi) who were sleeping elsewhere. Zsófia made us an awesome dinner and breakfast next morning.

Entrance to the convention venue

We arrived at the location, which was a school at the crossing of Mexikói and Korong streets in Budapest's XIV district, close to the city park and Puskás Ferenc Stadium, an hour before the convention was supposed to open where we mingled around before the presentations started, meeting new people. The start was delayed for about an hour due to connectivity issues - the first on program were several short larp presentations, which were supposed to be 3-minute presentations but they ended up a lot longer. The working language was English for the entirety of the convention.

The stage being prepared

I was the first presenter, and I opened with The Elder Scrolls Chronicles presentation, and continued with Terra Nova and Camarilla Agram presentations (you can see them by clicking on links). It was followed by a presentation of Sindeon fantasy camp for children (although they will do an adult game too) by Petka Szilvia, a Bulgarian STALKER larp presented by Angelina Ilieva, Budapest by Night presentation by Libertiny Gergely and it ended with Sándor's presentations about the next Chronicles of Demgard event - Expedition to Arnbjörg - and a spin-off and sequel of Izgon larps, called Exile: Legacy (I also linked to it on the main Izgon site). During Sandor's presentation, convention streaming finally started to work.

Dracan on the stage

After a short break during which I managed to exchange a few words with Hungarian Vampire larpers Fodor and Gergely, it was time for the longer presentations which were not about singular larps but instead about various larp scenes. Angelina opened up with a presentation about the larp in the Southeastern Europe. It was an invitation to discussion, as well as several examples given from Bulgarian larp. I continued with my presentation about the history of Croatian larp (watch it here - see companion graph here), and tried to explain how it led to our current scene and larp design choices. It was followed by Dracan's presentation about Polish larp, which gave a very inspiring overview of the scene.

Dracan (left), Alexander (mid) and me

It was time for a lunch break - which I took with Alexander from Austria, and several other people. We were looking for some chinese restaurant, led by the simple logic "those who go first probably know where we're going", but in the end we didn't find it so we had a lunch in the local Burger King. We came back to the Andrea's lively and fun presentation about Italian larp scene, also touching on subjects as "sheep and beer". That presentation was originally scheduled before the lunch break, but it was postponed due to the convention starting late and it replaced Sándor's workshop about basic metatechniques - which was cut from the program due to scheduling and due to the fact that a part of its' content was covered by other program items.

Sindeon gear on display

It was followed by my Ars Amandi workshop, which was quite successful - and more people took part in it than on previous workshops that I ran (on last year's PoRtaL and SFeraKon). After the workshop we had some interesting discussions, in which Polish players presented several similar options that they used - a similar technique to Ars Amandi but which used head scratching/massage/petting, using a red garter to represent virginity, and clips on clothes to represent how far are they comfortable with being undressed in certain scenes. During that time, Sindeon was having a demonstration of their ring-based non-contact fighting system and an explanation of how their camps were organized.

After another short break, it was time for the interdisciplinary block: about gamification and gaming in education, presented by a three researchers which were not from the larping community (Fromann Richárd, Lippai Edit and Damsa Andrei), in three separate presentations. It was professional and very well thought out and researched, and it convinced me that gamification can make education fun - but it also made me think if it could be dangerous by rewarding patterns that we wouldn't like rewarded. Definitely a broad subject. Once they ended, we had some interesting discussions about larp (mostly about funding) for about an hour before we had to leave the convention for the day.

The ongoing discussion - we're all in circle, pictured sitting across me (L to R): Zula, Boruta, Saman and Siro

Budapest has great night life

We got back to the Tamás' and Zsófia's apartment where we were once again treated with a nice dinner, and afterwards we took cabs to the center of Budapest where we met other people - more Hungarians, other Poles, and Andrea. It was a great night out. Drinks in Budapest are cheap compared to Zagreb, and there was a bottle of a nice polish vodka that they brought along. We shared stories, experience, cultural stuff, and what we do. We returned to the apartment in the late hours, and slept for a few hours before we woke up, were treated with another awesome breakfast, and went off for another day at the convention.

It started with a Skype-based teleconference. First person speaking was Yaraslau I. Kot from Belarus, and he introduced the main speaker of the presentation: Sergii Khylevych from Kiev, Ukraine (we didn't talk about the current crisis there, except for a brief mention). The presentation was interesting - it explained a classification and categorization system of larps, which mostly applied to the Ukrainian larp and a lot of things there were quite different. He explained the lack of Ukrainian larp on Facebook by saying most of it is on the social network ВКонтакте (mainly in Russian). Unfortunately, it was often kard to understand Sergii - his accent was quite hard (the patchy connection certainly didn't help).

The next presentation was a lone game presentation that was way longer than the one done day earlier in introductions - Pongrácz Tibor aka Saman presented a game called New Storm (which is actually organized by Tamás). The presentation basically caused shock and uproar: "Why haven't you told anyone about this before?", people demanded. It was new and innovative. It's a rather unique game which combines several approaches: forum play, ARG and milsim. While milsim parts were often very much like airsoft, it was the ARG part that drew in most of the attention due to its' use of spy hardware: GPS trackers, surveillance, electronic countermeasures etc. It was sophisticated, and very hardcore at moments, and it generated a lot of interest - and afterwards people asked a lot of questions and checked some hardware used in larp.

Players using Ball of Yarn

Once it was done, I collected some people interested in playing Star Trek: Tethys (as well as a few onlookers, because onlookers were allowed in this game). This time, players were really not too familiar with Star Trek - and it made me realize how much that specific game relies on the in-universe knowledge. Unlike previous times when I ran the larp, I pulled out my phone and played with a Star Trek sound app as players made certain actions (though there was sometimes lag, and my battery was on the edge of being drained).

Scene during the play

In-character, players decided they discovered a Dominion mine in a cave they were trapped in, they escaped in time but their ship was being taken over. To be continued. I got some interesting suggestions - since I designed a game for a more TV experience, I was suggested to use the soundtrack (which is rarely used in Croatian larps), to use an intro and outro scene (possibly with some credits), and - since I was calling time at times usually reserved for commercial breaks to help with pacing - perhaps actually put in actual commercial breaks. That would be very interesting to see.

A selfie with Zula (left) and Andrea (right), taken by Andrea

Tethys took a bit longer than expected, so we missed the lunch break. The final block consisted of Zula's presentation about workshops which was quite interesting - one of the parts I found to be most interesting and useful is a PEGI-like labeling they use for larps, with cute but informative graphics. Several workshops were demonstrated, including the method for remembering character names by passing an object and repeating previous names and a trust fall exercise.

I took a short break (and a power nap) to get rested for the long trip back home, but in the meanwhile two more presentations went along - larping on Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), which - from what I heard later - mentioned an interesting system with player name cards which contained some codes, and players with certain abilities were given the meaning of what those codes meant (e.g. being able to perceive something others couldn't). After that, the school we were playing in had a presentation about people with disabilities and the relevance of storytelling and role-playing in their education.

A classic pose with the Lumina Cornu golem eating my head

A few more videos were played (e.g. by the Lumina Cornu group) but overall the convention was done by 5 PM. We went out for lunch and started the drive home to Zagreb...

Overall impressions: very positive. Our hosts have been awesome. Comparing the second convention with the first one, there have been some major changes. This one had a more professional organization - the first PoRtaL convention had been officially announced with certainty only 2 weeks before it happened, compared to two months for the second one - in addition, the presentation room has been more upscale, there was plenty of printed and promo materials (which basically came out of organizers' pockets, as the entrance was kept free), and there were some great technical solutions including online streaming that we didn't have the last time. We wouldn't mind paying or donating some money :) Probably connected to that, there were also more guests who do awesome stuff back home. Content-wise, this PoRtaL was shorter - from two and a half days to a day and a half - but that duration was very convenient for us who traveled. Also, the presentation time was shorter, making presentations more focused. The content changed a bit - there was much more emphasis on interdisciplinary content and larp theory than the last time, and less focus on chamber larps and workshops. There was one discussion and no panels. There was one program track and fewer clashes than last year. It felt more focused. I'd call it a total success.

Thanks to everyone who was there this weekend, I had great fun, met some incredible people, and learned a couple of new things along the way, and I heard the same from my traveling companions and a lot of other people. I'm looking forward to the next year's PoRtaL - wherever it might be :)

And thank you very much for reading this blog, hope you're finding it informative :)


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