Sometimes I had to go out and pull people in, but most of the time, there was a line. My favorite customer by far was this kid:
He jumped right in and played like a pro. The mother (recording video) was super supportive and excited.
At past expos, I dropped players into a bespoke demo level that skipped a lot of story and jumped straight into the tutorial. In December, I revamped the "real" first level (called "Rain") to be more like the demo level. If your game can't entertain people in two minutes at an expo, what's going to keep them playing if they buy the game?
After the gallery hop, I checked my Git logs. "Rain" was present in the game without a major overhaul for the past two years. I rebuilt every other level. Time to throw Rain in the trash.
For something that has received constant attention and iteration for two years, I was surprised how quickly I replaced it. Here's Rain 2.0:
It accomplishes all the same goals, teaches the same mechanics, and introduces the same (optional) story elements, but it's much more simple, streamlined, and just fun.
Rain 1.0 was the first level I ever made. At that stage I didn't entirely know what the game was. I had no level design vocabulary. I didn't even know how big the level should be or where it fit into the overall experience. I patched those details in later.
For Rain 2.0, I knew every goal from the start. I made decisions easily by asking which option best fit those goals. For once, my design tasks aligned in the correct order. As a result, I replaced two years of iteration in a single long work day.
Of course it's not perfect. Playtesting and iteration will reveal potential improvements, but it's already miles ahead of the old level. As a side note, here's a fun glitch I discovered during the redesign: