Category Archives: Blog

How Not to Run a Design Competition

My inbox is filling up with the same email every other day from DIG London. “DIG” stands for “Digital Interactive Gaming”, while London is a Southern Ontario town. The DIG London group is running two separate rackets – a conference, and a design competition.

DIG London

(looks like someone forgot to apply the “talent” filter in Photoshop)

Hit up their site for an exercise in vagueness. After staring at the web page for a good long time, here’s what i’ve figured out:

  1. There is a competition with cash prizes.
  2. You must enter individually as either an artist or a programmer.
  3. You’ll have one week to complete the project.

Aaaaand … that’s about it. What are you expected to build? No idea. Using which programming language or drawing software? No clue. What proficiency level is required? Dunno. Will/where will the final submissions be showcased? Shrug.

From the site:

This competition was created to allow industry professionals, students and others to show off their gaming art and programming skills.. Digital game industry professional will judge all submissions and help us award great prizes including cash!

“Digital game industry professional” ? Is that like “Annual Gift-Giving Man” ?

Elsewhere:

“…we expect that the projects will take between 2 and 4 days to complete depending on the project.”

“Depending on the project”? Do the organizers even know what the projects are? Or are they just taking orders from different companies for a bunch of stuff that needs building and sending it out to people in the guise of a contest? It reeks to me of those “logo competitions” that i rail against.

Or maybe i’m just cranky, and it’s a perfectly above-board, enjoyable competition promoted with a terrible website. If anyone out there holds the keys to the mystery, please let me know.

Untold Entertainment Goes for the Gold

We worked very dilligently to complete our application for the new Screen-Based Content Initiative from the Ontario Government. As i mentioned earlier, Captain Ontario drummed up two million dollars to fund not a final project, but a development toward a final project. This is great news, because often times, getting that ball rolling is the most difficult part.

The Ontario Media Development Corporation, who are reviewing the apps and doling out the money, have been dropping hints along the way that this fund will be “very competitive”. Eligible candidates include those companies who need the funds to develop screen-based content (ie film, television, interactive, video games, radio [when said radio is behind a window], screen door manufacturers, olympic athletes subjected to drug screenings and silk screen T-shirt artists), as well as just about anyone else in the provice running a fairly regular pulse.

When i walked into the OMDC office, i really hoped to see enormous towers of folders, boxes and bind-o-files looming in impossibly-piled stacks, their twisted silhouettes blotting out the sun, their stratospheric summits encircled by seagulls. Alas, no. Instead, i walked into a fairly calm and organized office.

Then i was greeted by Application Checker Lady, who thrust out her oak staff and blocked my path. She deigned to ask me a series of two questions before our application would pass muster. Answer them correctly, and she would spirit the app away to her treasure hold. Get the questions wrong, and she would … i dunno. Eat my face or somesuch.

Her questions were these:

ONE! Does your submission contain four separate copies?

“Y-yes!” i stammered.

TWO! Are the copies collated??

This last gave me pause. Were the copies “collated”? i knew what the word meant, but hadn’t i just answered that yes, there were four separate copies? Did she assume that i had shuffled all of the pages together and left it for the Corporation to sort out?

Or was this some kind of trick question, upon which the fate of our application hinged?

Like a fool, i grunted “W-what do you mean ‘collated’??”

Application Checker Lady was not impressed. “Separated and bound together in their proper order”, she said firmly.

“Uh … yes! Yes they are!” i said.

Application Checker Lady nodded curtly and turned on her heel. i was safe.

On my way back to the office, i tried to brainstorm other question combinations that would have thrown me off in a similar manner:

ONE! Do you live in a house?
TWO! Do you live in a home??

i dunno. At any rate, i’m disappointed that i didn’t get a chance to glimpse the mysterious Chamber of Wonders where all of the funding applications were being stored. i’m picturing the piles of gold you see shored up around sleeping dragons in airbrushed high fantasy artwork, but probably only because the app we submitted was for a high fantasy-themed game.

High fantasy with, naturally, a twist.

Aside from the volume of submissions, what i was really curious to see were the myriad ways in which people bound their applications. It was a bit of a trick to find just the right combination of plastic presentation folders and clips at Stipples; i wanted to see what everyone else had come up with. The next time i need a file folder, though, i’m going to hit up the OMDC – i can’t imagine how many folders and folios they’ve got cluttering up the place … some probably inlaid with find goldleaf and scented with lilac.

i won’t say what we actually presented until i find out our application status in about three months. This was our first funding application, and we’re a young company, so i realize we’re a long shot. Still, it’s nice to entertain thoughts of going into full production on a high-quality game that’s entirely our own.

Word.

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X08 Underwhelming

xbox360

Bringing eXy back

X08, Microsoft’s holiday preview event for its XBox 360, XBLA and XNA platforms, has come and gone. Overall, the feeling i’m left with is the same feeling i had when i went to the movies recently and saw trailers for remakes of The Day the Earth Stood Still and Death Race (??). It was kind of depressing, sitting there realizing how hard-up for ideas Hollywood must be to be remaking Death Race. i mean, Death Race. Mere font emphasis fails me.

Ditto X08. i wandered the junket floor from kiosk to kiosk, looking for the gotta-have games for Christmas (or, if you’re Jewish, Black History Month) and came up wanting.

Here’s a quick rundown of my impressions, based on up to two minutes of hands-on gameplay in a noisy and distracting environment, completely out of my natural habitat (ie not sitting down):

Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

Old dog, new art.

Easily the biggest disappointment on the floor, the Nuts & Bolts build was incomplete, but not so incomplete as to suggest that its biggest problem will be ironed out by launch. The game is slow. Like, slow as a sloth riding the short bus. It seemed to take forever to march bear and bird from part of the enormous demo level to the next. i tried to explain this away by convincing myself that the levels were built for Nuts & Bolts’s's vehicles. That rationale lasted until i climbed into one of the vehicles, which actually drove like the short bus.

Word is that Rare is bringing the original Banjo Kazooie to XBox Live Arcade to finally deliver on their “Stop n Swop” promise. This would have been much more clever if it was executed on the original N64 cartridge. Daddy hates retcons. i’m trying to contact a representative from Rare to ask if he can go back in time and announce this to me ten years ago when i actually cared.

Castle Crashers

Castle Crashers

Old dog, new tricked-out artwork.

The latest from the guys (guy?) who brought you the ultra-punishing platform shooter Alien Hominid return with this cartoony, medieval beat-up. Like Alien Hominid, it’ll win big points with fans for its art and animation, which definitely set it apart from the pack. It’s too bad i played this game already, back when it was called Double Dragon.

And Bad Dudes.

And Final Fight.

And Double Dragon 2.

And Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III:Turtles in Time.

And Golden Axe.

And The Simpsons Arcade Game.

And et cetera.

Viva Pinata 2: Trouble In Paradise

Viva Pinata 2

i can’t see a difference. Can YOU see a difference?

“Trouble in Paradise,” hmm? Could the “trouble” be that Professor Pester has erased the database storing all of your piñata records so that you have to spend hours upon hours re-collecting all of the same piñatas from the first game, plus about thirty additional characters? Or could the “trouble” be that the developers used this storyline as a justification to re-use all of the models and gameplay from the first game to try to knock a few remaining dollars from you with a stick? A more appropriate title would have been Viva Piñata 2: This Again or Viva Piñata 2: Same Effing Game or Viva Piñata 1: Oops Did We Say 1? We Meant 2, Honest.

A footnote: If you’re choosing the guy to do your Viva Piñata demo, make sure you don’t pick the guy with breath that makes you want to run for the border … especially since he has to spend the entire day extolling the virtues of PUHHHHHUUUHHHH-iñatas in people’s faces.

Infinite Undiscovery

Infinite Undiscovery

Worst Game Title Evar?

i only caught a brief glimpse of this Square-Enix title. It was easily the prettiest game in its aisle of kiosks. It’s, predictably, an RPG, but it has real-time combat, which i’m a big fan of. Battles looked very shiny and chaotic. As long as it doesn’t get too terribly button-mashy, it might be worth checking out. It’s out in a week an a half, so we’ll know soon enough.

Rock Band 2

Rock Band 2

Do want

i can hardly criticize Viva Piñata 2 for offering up more of the same and in the same entry, start gushing over Rock Band 2. Aside from it being far awesomer than the Guitar Hero series, which is for meth addicts and people who download animal porn, Rock Band 2 offers up roughly the same number of innovations as Viva Piñata 2.

Piñata has local and Live multiplayer co-op. Rock Band 2 has local co-op (as before) and Live World Tour (story) mode.

Piñata has a free-play level where you can print piñata cards from their online community database and scan them into your game using the console’s camera, without going through the hassle of catching them the “legitimate” way. Likewise, Rock Band 2 has a “no fail” mode so that when grandma comes over for a visit, she can still rock out with you instead of flunking simple songs on “Easy” vocals within the first fifteen seconds.

Despite this, the reason why Rock Band 2 is exciting and Viva Piñata 2 is not, is that Rock Band 2 allows you to bring all your downloaded songs and (for a nominal fee) the songs on the first game’s disc, in addition to giving you an entire disc’s worth of new songs. Viva Piñata 2 gives you essentially the same content as the first game, plus 30 new animals. It’s (very) roughly the equivalent of buying Rock Band 2 with all the same songs as the first game burned on the disc, with a handful of extras thrown in, and some nonsense story about how your millions of fans were struck with amnesia at the same time, and they want you to re-play all of your songs again.

i’m beginning to think “Rare” describes the probability of seeing a good game come out of that developer.

The bottom line is this: a friend of mine grabbed a copy of Rock Band from the US last year around thanksgiving, because the title was grossly delayed up here, and i have not stopped playing it all year. No other game in my library boasts that kind of staying power. Rock Band 2 presents an automatic, robotic, walk-to-the-store-and-plunk-down-cash-like-the-Manchurian-candidate situation for me.

Gears of War 2

Gears of War 2

I LOVE TO KILL TIHNGS WITH SHARP THINGS AND KILL

Friggin’ awesome. You’ve got this gun? That shoots bullets? And the bullets are tiny chainsaws? And they go in the locust horde’s mouths and, like, explode them from the inside? And it’s awesum! And your screen is, like covered in blood. My mom won’t let me play it but i played it over at my friend Timmy’s house even thow its’ not out yet because Timmy’s dad works for Microsoft and Nintendo and all them and he gets games urly.

One day, someone will have to explain to me why the word we chose to describe this kind of content is “mature”.

Pimp My Game Update: Mind the Mindjolt Jolt

It’s been a few short days since friendly neighbourhood Bob Ippolito from MochiAds clued me in to the rev share service’s opt-in distribution tactic. This offering sees developers uploading their games to the site, which are then offered to portal owners so that their games are automagically distributed to anyone who wants them. It’s a lot like putting a plate of muffins stuffed with lit cherry bombs in the park, and listening for the sounds of exploding squirrels.

Proviso: that’s not something i’ve ever actually done.

Curiously, you can’t upload the same MochiAds-enabled file to participate. You have to embed a different piece of code into a “clean” version of your game, otherwise you find this message in your inbox:

Dear Ryan Henson Creighton,

The MochiAds Quality Assurance team has reviewed “Two by Two” for distribution and found aspects of the game which do not meet the MochiAds Program Policies.

Reason:

Stuck at “Loading” screen. Loader apparently not compatible with version control (and not necessary, version control guarantees the content is fully loaded when it begins). See https://www.mochiads.com/community/forum/topic/old-news-but___/47191#47191 for the latest tips for using version control

Please visit the link below to review the reasoning from our QA team.

https://www.mochiads.com/dev/game_hosting/two-by-two

Kind regards,

The MochiAds Team
support THE_AT_SYMBOL mochiads.com

Drat. i understand the problem – i just don’t have time to fuss with it at the moment, because we are closing up shop for vacation next week.

HOWEVER …

There IS some breaking news in the Pimp My Game saga that’s just too good to ignore:

WE BROKE THE ONE DOLLAR MARK!!!
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