I want to thank PDXLAN for letting me hangout with them and Matt Conwell for answering my questions about one of the coolest geek events in Portland.
jdodson: PDXLAN has passionate community around it. From it’s early years to what it is now, how do you look at how things have evolved?
Matt Conwell: I am proud the way the community has evolved. From early on in 2004 we started doing charity-minded activities. The community really latched on to that and has taken it further than I could ever have imagined. What surprises me most about the community is the range of attendees that we have. Our average age is 32 years old - much higher than other LAN Parties. Most people hear "gamers" and they think teens and college age. Our jobs are all over the board. From microprocessor engineers to stay at home moms - our community is diverse.
The decade of running an event has given my wife and me a way to positively grow a community and shape it into what it is today. Our sponsors often comment about just how unique PDXLAN is.
jdodson: Any games come to mind that have dominated PDXLAN this year?
Matt Conwell: Really - gaming isn't just one game anymore. Typically there is a game in each genre that dominates. In the MOBA space it is League of Legends. In the FPS space it is Battlefield 4. The RTS space is still dominated by Starcraft 2, and the MMO space is dominated by World of Warcraft. At PDXLAN there is always someone playing the game you like - the hard part is finding them. :)
jdodson: We talked a bit about the network setup for this years PDXLAN. I wonder if you could describe it for everyone?
Matt Conwell: Our network has gone through many iterations over the past 12 years. Currently we use a 1GB fiber connection from Xfinity as our internet backbone. We use a class B range as a bridge of a class C will just mess up in game browsers. From the Internet gateway we go to the core switch (Cisco 48 Port GB w/management). From the core we go via 1GB to each table of 24 people. Each table switch is a DLink 24+2 managed switch. (24 ports x 100MB / 2 ports x 1GB)
We haven't upgraded the network to full GB for a reason. Most tables pull 250mb/s consistent. Spikes take it up to about double that. It would take 10 users at full 100mb to saturate the line to the core. If we were able to give everyone GB without upgrading the line to the core, one person could saturate the line. A lot of file sharing takes place. While we could drop WFS at the core and kill file sharing - we've elected to just keep it a 1:10 ratio. There is talk about upgrading to a 10GB core and 1GB to the attendee with 10GB lines to the core - but no staff member has won the lotto yet. :)
Two other cool things about the network are SNORT and Captive Portal. We run SNORT on the PfSense box to drop and ban internal IP addresses from the gateway found to be torrenting. We don't want the LAN's bandwidth soaked up downloading all those Linux ISO's. We also run captive portal at the LAN. When an attendee arrives they input their personal password when their browser first loads to gain access to the Internet. That password ties their DHCP IP address to their name, and seat number.
jdodson: As I was touring the event I noticed a lot of beefy PC’s and displays. All these rigs come with some hefty power requirements, how do you manage to not blow a circuit breaker every hour?
Matt Conwell: We have the same power setup that we did 12 years ago. We put 6 computers on a 20 Amp circuit. Over the past decade we've lost CRT's and gained more efficient LCD or OLED monitors that take 1/4 of the power. Additionally processing power per watt has greatly improved. Systems today take the same power - but they just do a whole lot more with it.
We do have restrictions in place. We ask that attendees not have a power supply of over 650W per seat. If they need more, buy two seats. In reality all we care about is the constant draw of a power supply. Most systems don't use a constant draw of 600W - and if they do... they can afford two seats :)
jdodson: Certain types of traditional media outlets have some very negative views of gaming culture as being hyper violent and in some ways a contributing factor in events like school shootings. How do you look at these kinds of negative stereotypes about gaming culture?
Matt Conwell: In the 1950's it was music. In the 1970's and 80's it was Television. In the 1990's it was movies. Today, people blame games. One reason we do so much for charity is to gain awareness that gamers make a huge difference in the world. The PC-gaming market is an enigma in the marketing world because there are so many types of people in the demographic. Salary range is $0-infinity, Age range is 6 to 95. Education level is Kindergarten to PhD. Geographic location is Earth. Over 80% of people are considered "gamers" by the media. To the media a gamer is anyone that plays a phone, tablet, console, or PC Game. As a clinical Psychologist once put it to me: "It is more clinically relevant if a person does not play a video game, than if they do." Food for thought.
jdodson: For you, what game hooked you into the LAN scene originally?
Matt Conwell: My first "LAN" was a two person LAN in 1996 with my roommate playing Warcraft 2. From there it went to Starcraft in 1998 and CounterStrike in 1999. My first real LAN was in 1999 in the George Fox Computer Science Lab. CounterStrike may have affected my grades at the time....
jdodson: What games have you been playing lately?
Matt Conwell: I have really been loving Minecraft. If you like logic and Legos, stay away from this game. Other games I currently play are Diablo 3, Starcraft 2, Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare (a FPS version of PvZ), and I dabble in World of Warcraft from time to time. Games that stand out to me over the last decade are "Sid Meir Railroads!" and "Orcs Must Die!" - two PC games that are amazing - but got little press at the time.
jdodson: LAN events have changed over the years and as such I remember when Counter-Strike 1.6 required a constant connection to Steam. This was a major hassle for many LAN events at the time as fast Internet connections were not as common. Curious how the shift in technology has impacted PDXLAN over the years?
Matt Conwell: Oh man. When Steam came out and started forcing online only play - it was a headache. At the time we load balanced 10 cable modems into an aggregate Internet connection. Because of this a packet could leave one modem, and then the response could come back in another. It was weird. We dealt with it mainly by increasing the Internet connection (So thankful for Comcast!).
I think game developers have to start doing more of this as a result of the rampant piracy that is out there. It's sometimes hard to deal with technically - but from a business perspective I get it.
jdodson: What was the last movie you saw? Do you recommend it?
Matt Conwell: Lucy. I'd give it a B- as it had a good premise and Scarlett Jo-Hansen, but the last part of the movie got strange. In my household movies are rated as "Theater" "Rental" or "Meh" - this moive gains a "Rental" from my wife and I.
jdodson: You recently completed your first year of PDXAGE a tabletop gaming event in Portland. Curious how the event went and if your approached changed from PDXLAN?
Matt Conwell: The event went better than expected. Starting off in a new space is hard - getting the word out about the event is the hardest. PDXAGE stands for "Portland Analog Gaming Event" where as PDXLAN is Portland LAN.
PDXAGE leveraged the experience we had in PDXLAN for sure - but it also helped us build out some mad scheduling skills. I really have seen the increase in table top gaming the past few years - I think this event has a lot of potential. It's also a heck of a lot easier to set up than PDXLAN in terms of Power and Networking :)