if staying away from the Center, what areas/ hotels are recommended?
Two that I have had the best experience at are Candlewood Suites Indianapolis Airport and Baymont Indy Northeast. The first is a very quick 10-12 min drive to the Gate Ten lots. Baymont can be 20-25 depending on traffic. I always book mine for the next year about two weeks after Gen Con ends. Make sure you book "no payment down" and "free cancellation" and use Trivago throughout the year to see if you can catch better deals. Just some trick of the trade as I travel quite often for work.
My trip in 2003 was spontaneous because I did not know I could go until getting a new job literally the week of the convention, and we stayed at the Homewood Suites Indianapolis-Carmel, which actually felt extremely compatible with pretending to be hobbits at Gen-Con, considering the fireplaces and full-size kitchens!
I can second the airport Candlewood. That's where I stay if I can't stay downtown. Having the full-size fridge and kitchenette is nice. They also have a paid shuttle to and from Gencon; it's $8 one-way per person (since the last time I stayed there), so it's more expensive than splitting a Lyft/cab, but cheaper if you're by yourself. There is also a newish Delta by Marriott hotel by the airport- my friend who is a Marriott person says those are great mid-tier properties.
It's a little further out, but the Staybridge Suites in Carmel is also good. It's inexpensive due to distance, but Carmel is one of the rich suburbs of Indy so it's in a nice area. Kitchenette-style as well, but with free breakfast. They also have free happy-hour and dinner during the week, but I imagine you'll be in the thick of GenCon between 5-7pm.