Lest anyone get the wrong impression let me begin by saying that there were several people at world's in Berlin who did far more work than I. Most of them should be known to anyone who attended, but in particular I'd like to to mention Daniel, our overworked sound tech and Chrissi who took on far more than his share of the shitty thankless jobs no one else wanted.
Although most of the big decisions were made by someone else I made it to a lot of the planning meetings, put in my feedback and at the very least got a very interesting view into the process of planning and carrying out an event of this size. I'd like to say that we enjoyed every minute of it, but to be honest the actual week of world's turned out to be more stress than I think any of us had imagined. Additionally although we planned a phenomenal amount of things, a lot still ended up being decided on the day, for better or worse. A lot worked out that could have gone very wrong and of course many things did go wrong, although I think most of them weren't really noticed by the players. There's a great deal that I could talk about and probably will at some point, but to start with I'd like to write about the things I was directly involved with.
Although I had a lot of little jobs, my direct responsibilities were pretty limited. I collected music and I wrote the software we used for live scoring during the finals. The reason I did the later is because at a lot of tournaments, to be brutally honest, I feel that no one is learning anything. Organizers keep making the same mistakes, but in new ways. I've seen many things done very well and then at the next tournament they do it poorly again. It all leaves me with the impression that everyone is starting from scratch each time and not learning anything from their predecessors. I like to think that my main contribution to the planning phase was pointing out good solutions I'd seen before, but how who knows how much of a help I really was. However one thing that I see far to often is the chaos that's caused by paper judging slips.
I think we did a good job of it this year, but it's a lot of work to prepare them and then collect and put them back into computer and then there's the many times as a judge myself I frantically had to hand copy a list of players' names because someone forgot to print the judging sheets or someone scratched or was moved to a new pool at the last minute. At world's 2002 in San Francisco each judge had a laptop and scores were shown automatically on the big screen. When I saw it, it seemed so logical I couldn't believe it had taken so long for someone to do it, but then by next year it was gone again. So, since no one else was trying to do it I volunteered to develop the system myself.
At first we were thinking of running the whole tournament on my software, then just using it for recording freestyle scores and finally, when we had trouble organizing enough laptops for the whole week it was decided to just use it for the final. In deep retrospect I can say that running a tournament the size of worlds on untested software is probably not the best idea, but this chain of decisions had the effect that leading up to the final we still had never tried out the software at an actual tournament.
I am not a professional programmer and although a couple people responded to my pleas for help in the end I wrote the whole system myself from scratch. Because I'm not a professional programmer although the first version of the software worked, it also contained several poor design choices. My only option was to rewrite some core parts of the program and restructure it. Finally, only days before the tournament it was suggested that we could use it to score net and that the format of the output should be changed. This and my other responsibilities meant that I spent a great deal of world's sitting in front of a computer. When the info desk told people to come and see me, they never said "go find Andrew," but more usually, "look for the guy typing on the funny looking laptop."
Only on Wednesday was I able to finally sit down with Viktor, our graphic designer and get a final format for the output. On Thursday I sat down with Matthias on what was nominally supposed to be a day off for us both for what ended up being the whole day and programmed the templates to display the scores. When Paul came up and told us Damian had just hit the best routine he'd ever seen and that Vasek had hit super-duper fly in his routine I realized that if the whole thing didn't work Matthias would murder me.
The next day the video mixing equipment arrived and we realized that the template resolution was wrong (I won't name names, but it wasn't my fault). Also since we couldn't get the system to accept an S-Video signal, going into the final day we still hadn't tested my software with any of the video equipment.
On the final day, in compressed order: One of our camera men called in sick, we couldn't get a router to network the computers so I brought mine from home and found out that my predecessor had changed the firmware leaving it useless and had to run to the store to buy one. Our video tech Marat still couldn't get the mixer to recognize an S-Video signal, couldn't activate video-out on his computer anyway and couldn't get a video signal from any of our cameras. The tech from Arena Berlin came by about every half an hour begging for a signal, any signal so he could test the projector. At 13:20, 40 minutes before the nominal start time we still hadn't produced an actual signal and I had been told twice at various times that chroma keying wouldn't work after all, which is how we had designed the templates. Then chroma keying would work, but we had to switch from 16:9 to 4:3 leaving the templates still wrong. Finally after the first net game was already underway, we got a signal, but only in green. Eventually it was color and our friendly internet tech showed to set up the live stream. As we continued to fight with and swear at the system he told us around an hour after we'd gone live and 30 people were watching, long before the announced start time, that because audio wasn't working yet he'd been streaming out voices as picked up by his mic.
Much later we got chroma keying working and were able to overlay scores on top of the live video from net. People in the arena probably barely noticed it, but hopefully everyone watching the stream appreciated it. But mostly for us it was a system test to see if verything was working for freestyle and it scared the hell out of me. We kept getting short lags from the server, anywhere from 3 to 30 seconds, and if we got that with only two computers logged in I didn't want to imagine the problems with 6 judges and a director logged in.
For the rest of net we sorted out the last problems, I ran backstage to get something to eat while I still could and ran back down before freestyle started. Between then I sat down with the judges to show them the system since we hadn't had time for a proper meeting before. Finally it was time for the women's final, the judges logged in, the first player came out, did her routine and left and the judges set to work, when the first score appeared on screen I cracked a beer. The rest is a blur. After Vasek finished and the last score was in we had the complete results within a second. There was a small formatting error when exporting to Excel but otherwise it worked perfectly. Shortly thereafter I was drinking vodka straight from the bottle.
At the after party, in Max's words, it was like someone had let the air out of the balloon. We were supposed to have the award ceremony directly afterwards, but after a week of stress everyone just let loose. I had barely played the whole week and decided I needed to shred, so still drunk I changed into shorts and stepped into a circle. For half an hour I couldn't get more than 3 contacts, but eventually I sweated out some of the alcohol and made a half decent session of it. The award ceremony didn't happen till close to 4, which was our one big failing, unfortunately we just couldn't quite keep it together till the end.
The next day most of us recollected for tear-down (I was 2 hours late) and spent a full day stumbling around like zombies not getting a whole lot done. Over the week some nerves got shot, some tempers short and I personally was probably a little rude to some people, for which I apologize, but in general I think we kept it together quite well, still managed to have some fun and in the end accomplished something quite special. For the most part though I can only guess what it was like. During the final, instead of watching the player right in front of me I spent most of my time watching the screen and monitoring my software to see if anything was going wrong and that was the week for me, I heard about things happening but saw very little of it myself. So for everyone who was there and everyone who saw the webcast of the final I'd love to hear your experience.
Thanks for reading,