Category Archives: Blog

Poll: Who Deserves an Insta-Fail?

The mid-term exam that i ran yesterday during the college-level Flash course i’m teaching was an absolute slaughter. Limbs flying, computers exploding, babies endangered … just an action-packed mess. It served as the perfect rationale for my recent articles on What’s Wrong with Ontario Colleges (Part 1 and Part 2).

These are the notes for the mid-term that the students followed. They had to build this game:


[SWF]http://www.untoldentertainment.com/blog/files/midTerm/test1_sampleGame.swf, 550, 400[/SWF]

To date, the students have received 20 classes (60 hours) of Flash instruction. i’ve taught 6 of those classes. i haven’t marked the assignments yet, but i have the distinct feeling that very few of the 30+ students, if any, finished with a working “game”.

An End to the No-Fail Generation

i mentioned in another post that these students are the No-Fail Generation. They have been given breaks and second chances left and right. Since they were completely inept at emailing files, at least one teacher took pity on them and would pass around a keydrive for them to upload their finished exams. i decried this as so much spoon-feeding. i was bound and determined to require the students to email me. Here were their instructions:

HANDING IN YOUR MID-TERM EXAM:

Add ALL of your files to a zip archive file. This includes your fla, your swf, your .as files, and your FlashDevelop .as3proj file if you have one. Name the zip file using your first inital and last name.

Example:

My name is Ryan Creighton, so i would name the zip file rcreighton.zip.

Use your own name. DO NOT send me a file called rcreighton.zip.

email the file to profryan ~at~ untoldentertainment ~dot~ com. (i had the actual address available – obscuring it here to foil the spiders.) If you want to be sure it reaches me, add your own email address to the cc (carbon copy) line. If you receive the email, I’ll receive the email.

Failure to email your properly-named zip file to me by the end of class at 6PM will result in a zero grade – no exceptions, no extensions.

Read that last part carefully for me. i wanted a properly-named zip file. That’s all i asked. One simple thing. And screwing that one simple thing up would result in an Insta-Fail, and a loss of 20% of the final class mark.

So! What did i receive in my inbox? A number of students sent me zip files that were called “monsterGame.zip” or “midTermExam.zip”. Those students, i’m resolved to fail. i have to. i will mark their exams and show them the grade they could have earned. But despite the instructions being clearly stated, and despite having spent 20 minutes on how to zip, name, and attach a file to an email in the previous class, i still got monsterGame.zip from some students. If that’s not a fail, i don’t know what is.

Oh – So You’re a Hard-Ass?

No, i’m not a hard-ass. i’m a realist. i want these students to succeed. And if the most careless students want to waste their time and tuition money learning how to follow a simple instruction and send an email attachment, and that’s the ONLY skill they possess when they emerge from college, then at least i’ll have taught those students something.

The LAST thing i want is for these students to embarrass themselves in the workplace by being completely useless, telling everyone “Ryan Creighton taught me Flash!”

Your Opinion Required

My dilemma is what to do with a student like Bob Smith, who emailed me a file called bsmith_monstergame.zip. Technically, Bob Smith did not follow the instructions. i did not receive a file with ONLY his first initial and last name. i got a file with his first initial, last name, an underscore, and some other nonsense that he thought might be helpful.

i haven’t checked all of the files, but i know there are at least three Bob Smiths in the class who messed this up in a similar way. So i open the floor to you, dear readers: knowing that i am going to award a zero grade to students who did not follow the naming convention, what do i do with the students who named the file properly, but appended some extra jazz to the end?

Take the poll and let me know!

[poll id="5"]

And if you’re one of my students and you decide to vote, please identify yourself in the comments! :)

Tutorial: Clickify Your Twitter Feed in Flash

Fwitter

“Fwitter”. Deal with it.

Our Pull Twitter Updates Into Flash tutorials (Part 1 and Part 2) continue to be popular! A few folks were asking how i had taken my Twitter feed and rigged it so that people’s Twitter names and links were clickable. i promised to write tutorials on demand, so here we go.

Clickify Your Twitter Feed in Flash

Here’s the process in pseudo-code:

  1. Take the chunk of text and split it up into individual words
  2. With each word, figure out if it starts with “@” or “http:”
  3. If it does, wrap it in html tags
  4. Re-assemble the string
  5. Set the re-constituted string as your dynamic text field’s htmlText property

So, let’s start with a simple chunk of Tweet text:

“Hey everyone – @untoldent’s blog is INCREDIBLE! http://bit.ly/cXX06r”

Note: this is just a tweet i pulled at random from the Twittersphere. It could have been anything. But my blog is usually a trending topic at any given time of the day.

We’ve got two things we want to make clickable: @untoldent, which should link to untoldent’s Twitter user page, and http://bit.ly/cXX06r, which should take us to that webpage.

Splitting the String

The String class has a built-in method called split. It takes an argument that lets us carve a string up, and the resulting fragments are put into an array.

So, for example, if we have a comma-delimited string:

var fraggles:String = "Gobo,Mokey,Wimbley,Boober,Red";

we can split it using the comma as a separator. The resulting fragments are returned as an array.

var fraggles:String = "Gobo,Mokey,Wimbley,Boober,Red";
var aFraggles:Array = fraggles.split(","); // use the comma to split up the string

trace(aFraggles.length) // 5
trace(aFraggles[2]); // Wimbley
trace(aFraggles[4]); // Red

So in the case of our Twitter string, we want to split it up into individual words. The thing that separates one word from another is the space character. So let’s use space as an argument to split up that string:

var aWords:Array = twitterString.split(" "); // use the space character to split up the string

Note: the split method is slow, so use it sparingly. There’s not a lot going on in our Twitter reader, so we can get away with it.

Now let’s loop through each element in the aWords array – each word in the Twitter post – and determine if it’s a Twitter username (which starts with “@”), or a URL (which starts with “http:”). We’ll create an empty string to hold our final output, and run each word through a separate method.

var finalString:String = ""; // Create a new string to hold our final output
var len:int = aWords.length; // store the length of the aWords array to speed up our loop

// Loop through all of the words in our tweet:
for(var i:int = 0; i

Note: We're storing the length of aWords in a variable, instead of saying i

Obviously, what's missing is the all-important checkWord() method. Let's build that next.

The checkWord() Method

Our checkWord() method is going to do this, in pseudo-code:

  1. Accept a word
  2. If the word starts with "@" or "http:", wrap it in href tags and return the string
  3. Otherwise, just return exactly what was passed in

To check if a string contains a certain other string, use the String.indexOf() method. indexOf() will return the place in the string where the other string first appears.

For example, let's find the indexOf the capital letter "W" in the string "NSFW":

var str:String = "NSFW";
trace(str.indexOf("W")); // 3

The answer is 3, because "W" is at index 3 in the string. (Remember that strings and arrays are 0-based - the first element is at index 0, the second element is at index 1, and so on.)

If the thing you're looking for can't be found anywhere in the string, the indexOf() method will return an index of -1:

var str:String = "NSFW";
trace(str.indexOf("pictures of adorable kittens")); // -1

Substring

The last thing you need to know how to do is to grab just a piece of a string. This is because the twitter name comes through with an @ symbol at the front, for example @untoldent. But we need to link to http://www.twitter.com/untoldent. Notice there's no "@" in that URL.

We need to extract just the username from the string, without the "@". We can use the String.substr (substring) method to do that.

The way String.substr() works is that you pass it a start point and an end point, and it rips that section out of the string and returns it.

So, check it out:

var str:String = "manboobs";
trace(str.substr(3,7))); // boobs

The letter at index 3 of "manboobs" is "b". (Remember - we start counting at zero.) We rip the section out up to index 7, which is that last letter, "s". So what's returned are the letters from index 3 to index 7 - "boobs".

If you want to rip out a chunk of your string from a certain index point to the last letter in the string, you can use the String.length property.

var str:String = "manboobs";
trace(str.substr(3,str.length))); // boobs

If you're on high alert and paying really close attention, you'll notice that str.length takes us one index point past the end of our string. ("manboobs" is 8 characters long, and there IS no letter at index 8.) Flash just ignores us if we try to grab more of the string than actually exists. So technically, this is also valid:

var str:String = "manboobs";
trace(str.substr(3,5000))); // boobs

Armed with this knowledge, we can build our checkWord() method.

Let's Do This Thing

private function checkWord(word:String):String
{
  
   if(word.indexOf("http:") == 0)
   {
         // This word starts with "http:" at index 0 (the beginning of the word)

         // Wrap it in html href (anchor) tags:
         return "" + word + "";
   } else if (word.indexOf("@") == 0) {
         // This word starts with "@" at index 0 (the beginning of the word)
         
         var justTheName:String = word.substr(1, word.length); // Remove the "@" from the username
         // We do this because we need to link to http://www.twitter.com/untoldent (for example),
         // not http://www.twitter.com/@untoldent

         // Wrap it in html href (anchor) tags:
         return "" + word + "";
   } else {
        // There's nothing special about this word.  Return it as-is.
        return word;
   }
}

Note: Did you notice the use of single quotation marks and double quotation marks? You need to wrap you url in quotes, but since we're already using double-quotation marks around our string, we need to use single-quotation marks to wrap the url, or they'll interrupt our string definition and screw things up.

The Money Shot

So far, we've turned this:

"Hey everyone - @untoldent's blog is INCREDIBLE!  http://bit.ly/cXX06r"

into this:

"Hey everyone - @untoldent's blog is INCREDIBLE!  http://bit.ly/cXX06r"

The very last step is to use the htmlText property of your dynamic text box and stuff it with that fancy new string. Assuming you have a dynamic text box called twitterTxt, do this:

twitterTxt.htmlText = finalString;

You'll now have clickable links inside your text field.

Extra Credit

If you're super-astute, you've noticed that this code won't actually work! That's because the Twitter string says "@untoldent's", not "@untoldent". The apostrophe-s is going to screw your code up, because you'll be linking to http://www.twitter.com/untoldent's, which is not a valid URL.

Using what you've learned in this tutorial, can you augment your checkWord() method to detect a "'s" at the end of a Twitter user name and rip it out?

Further Reading

i hope this tutorial was informative and helpful! For more Actionscript and Flash tutorials, thrill to our Flash and Actionscript 911 book.

What’s Wrong with Ontario Colleges? Part 2

This series is called “What’s Wrong with Ontario Colleges?” A number of you have pointed out, on Twitter and elsewhere, that what i’m describing is what’s wrong with all colleges. But now, i want to shine the spotlight on perhaps an unexpected target, and suggest that not only are colleges flawed, but so too are their customers.

Part 2: The Students

In order to discover why Ontario colleges can’t seem to produce workplace-ready graduates for the casual games/rich media content industry, i went deep undercover as a fledgling teacher at a Toronto college that shall remain nameless: Hernando Velasquez School for the Digitally Inclined.

i went to … oh, damn. i just said the name, didn’t i? Unfortunately, the backspace key on my keyboard has been rigged to issue a low-grade electrical shock every time i press it, so i have no choice but to speak to you about this frankly and honestly.

So i completed 200 one-armed push-ups on my knuckles, and then accepted a part-time position at the school. i’m teaching a second-semester Flash course. Owing to my sense of self-preservation, i won’t identify any one student. There’s enough trouble to go around for me to treat the entire student body as one collective asspain. Game Development is the type of program that attracts a certain type of person, and the blame for that is shared by both the institution and its customers.

Everyone Can Get a Job Making Games

Colleges are businesses first and foremost. They need to offer desirable products. The perception is that purchasing their product will provide you with sufficient training to seek and (hopefully) land a position in that field. This is not the stated goal of all colleges, mind you – i remember clearly that when i recommended to Purim College as a member of their advisory panel that they increase their Flash offering to improve their students’ employability, the school’s teacher rep said “oh – we’re not here to get the students jobs. We’re here to facilitate their exploration of their art, of their chosen pursuit.” Yes – that actually happened.

Get out of my education system, you fekkin’ hippies.

But Hernando Velasquez School for the Digitally Inclined is a different story. They proudly proclaim in their literature that 90% of their grads get jobs within the first six months of graduating. Note that they don’t say 90% of their grads get jobs in the industry for which HVSD trained them. They just claim that the students were employed within six months. Now, really, since we all need to get a job doing something, this is actually an alarming stat: Hernando Velasquez is tacitly admitting that 6 months after graduating, 10% of their graduates are either unemployed or dead.

(i suppose a few could be idle rich, but it takes the bite out of my punchline.)

So the college is under pressure to put together an attractive offering in its course calendar. Nothing’s hotter than a job in the oft-heralded video game industry, so colleges across the province (country, world) are now purporting to train students in the video game industry.

Who Applies?

Now, let’s assemble a profile of the average teenaged male in high school to whom this offering might appeal. He’s tall. He’s gawky. He plays video games all the time. He masturbates to the underwear pages in the Sears fliers. He’s not bright enough to be a doctor, or he’d apply for in pre-med. He’s not bright enough to go to University at all, in fact. Ontario high schools are usually streamed, and it’s generally accepted that kids in the upper stream go on to University, and kids who take the lower general-level courses wind up in either college or prison. This is not by rule, but by reputation.

ima make gaymezzors when iz grow’d up!!

So this college-bound gamer has two options to him: he can enroll in the college’s programming course, or he can take their video game development program. Programming likely has grade 12 math prerequisites, and he’s not nearly smart enough for that. The video game program is an art program. So is this guy a fabulous artist? Probably not, or else he’d be taking a fine arts program somewhere. So he’s a gawky, hairy-palmed male gamer with perhaps no remarkable drawing skills and no great ambitions to use his grey matter in post-secondary education. This – THIS is the student who enrolls in the game development course at XYZ college. And THIS is the only type of kid who gets a shot at learning Flash, because we’re not teaching Flash very much in University, and we’re likely glossing over it in college-level programming.

And THIS explains why most of the Flash shops i know are trying to hire, with no luck. As i mentioned in the previous post, it’s a ten-year-old problem.

The No-Fail Generation

There’s another important thing to understand about our game dev program applicant. He hearkens from a generation of kids who, as of the late 1990′s, were unable to fail. It’s true: changes to the high school curriculum brought about by the Ministry of Education forbade teachers from flunking grade nine students. No matter how truant, lazy, or downright dumb a student was, he would sail on straight through the ninth grade. In my experience working as a part-time youth pastor at my church, i found there are even more cracks for these kids to slip through. i’ve known more than a few kids who should be failing, should be held back, but are repeatedly promoted to the next grade by an education system that doesn’t want to bruise their egos. Anecdotally, my friend who works at a major Canadian chain of retailers for young people tells me that when these kids get part-time jobs, screw up, and get fired, it’s an absolute shock to the system. They’ve never failed.

Me fail Burger King? That’s unpossible!

i was invited by colleagues of mine to lecture at a game development program at Blunder College here in Ontario. The course outcome was to complete a Flash game. The class was divided into two groups of about eight students. The students had four months to collectively complete a flip n’ match memory game in Flash. And they were struggling.

Let me just punctuate that for you: it wasn’t one game per student. It was eight students working as a team to complete one game.

They were taking the typical college-level token Flash Actionscript 3 course along side their game dev course, and were swearing a blue streak at what they called an impossible task. A game, they said? A full game in four months with only eight people?? They told me it couldn’t be done.

i told them that for an experienced solo Flash developer, a flip n’ match memory game was the work of a single afternoon. They didn’t believe me. So for the next three hours, i sat down and walked them through the process of building the game from scratch. Along the way, i pointed out all kinds of programming shortcuts they could take, dropped sparkling gems of advice that would speed up their workflow, and built a functioning flip n’ match game before their very eyes.

Or it would have been before their very eyes, if any of them had been watching. For the most part, they futzed around on their computers with other projects, chatted to their friends on Windows Messenger, or surfed the underwear pages of the online Sears catalogue.

One particularly slimy student who had been glued to Facebook for the entire lecture slithered up to me after class and held out his keydrive. Like a greasy lounge lizard trying to pick up a chick in a low-rent bar, he said “Yyyyyeah, uh … do you suppose i could just … put that finished game on my kkkeydrive?”

i had two words for him. The second word was “you”.

He was lucky to escape the room without any poo-flinging.

Playing Games vs. Making Games

This week, i arrived early to teach class. The group has another class before mine in the neighbouring room. That room was blasting with machine gun fire, swearing, and the stench of gym class. All of the students were in there playing games. i wondered where the teacher was. One of the students told me he was a no-show. So, of course, that’s how they decided to spend those three hours – playing games.

Every time there’s the briefest pause during my class when i go to help a flailing student, the monitors light up with Team Fortress 2 and Quake and online web games. So a few weeks ago, i dropped this truth-bomb on them:

Listen, everyone. i know you probably go home to Chatham or Barrie or wherever it is you’re from and brag to your dumb buddies that you play games at school all day, but that’s not why you’re here. You’re in a game development program, not a game playing program. You’re a different breed of person now. You’re behind the scenes, not in front of them. You’re a creator, not a consumer.

It’s like you’re trying to get a job in a cake factory. Cakes are fun and enjoyable and people like to eat them, but a factory job is a factory job like any other. You don’t get a cake factory job to sit around and eat cakes all day. Turn the games off. It’s time to put some blood, sweat and tears into learning how to make cakes.

The cake: with a little actual effort, it’s no lie.

Email: The Insurmountable Challenge

i had to write a mid-term exam for the students. When i asked him to show me the ropes, the guy who teaches the same course to three other classes imparted some advice: the best thing to do, if i want to make sure i get all of their finished tests, is to pass around a keydrive. Whenever a student finishes his exam, you pass him the keydrive and he puts his files on it. i asked why the students couldn’t just email their files. He said that when you ask the students to email their completed exam files to you, there are problems. They type your email address incorrectly, they send you shortcut files as attachments, and they forget to include files.

And my response? Forget it. Not on my watch.

If you can’t competently email an attachment with your name on it, you’re not only going to fail my course, but you’re going to fail life in modern Western civilization. To make sure that everyone knew the score, i told the students in no uncertain terms that i expected a zip file containing their completed exam files with their first initial and last name emailed to me at the correct address. Then i would go down the class list and start checking off names. If i didn’t receive their file, they’d flat-out fail the test.

There’s one exception:

No – i’m just yanking your chain. There are NO exceptions. No email, no mark.

So we actually took 15-20 minutes out of the class to learn how to right-click a folder, add it to a zip file, and attach it to an email. It was embarrassing. i was embarrased.

At break, one of the students piped up to tell me that in another class, their teacher had asked for the same thing – zip files with students’ names on them. He provided a sample naming convention – the teacher’s name was Gord Smith, so he wrote gsmith.zip on the whiteboard as the example.

And what do you think happened? Dear friends, his inbox filled up with multiple files called gsmith.zip.

The Chain of Irresponsibility

i don’t actually blame this all on the students. Somewhere, someone let them down. If these kids don’t know how to use email, it’s not the Colleges’ fault. That burden is squarely on the high schools. So in conclusion, the problem with Ontario Colleges is not the students, but the high schools.

Problem solved.

EXCEPT that i recently had dinner with a high school English teacher. She has to administer the grade 10 standardized testing to her class. In order for her school to score highly on the testing (and it does), she is encouraged by her department head to hand out IEPs – Individualized Education Plans – to students left, right and center. It’s a loophole. With an IEP, any student who wants an extra hour on the standardized test, gets an extra hour on the standardized test. (Make no mistake – the department head can and should be fired for this.)

So the English teacher is no longer able to teach high school English. She has to teach to the standardized test. If you’ve seen the excellent HBO series The Wire, the same shenanigans went down in that show. The burden of standardized testing put on the high schools is the Ministry’s fault.

So the problem with Ontario Colleges, conclusively, is the Ministry of Education.

Please direct all calls and emails to Minister of Education Leona Dombrowsky.

BUT … what about the fact that these teachers are at the mercy of the students’ parents? Everyone in high school gets a passing grade these days, and that’s largely because if you try to give a student less than a passing grade, you find yourself on the phone having to justify your decision to the kid’s parent. i have many friends who are teachers, and the stories they tell about parental interference could curdle your milk. The CBC recently ran a documentary about these people called Hyper Parents & Coddled Kids. You can watch it on their site for free. It talks about, among other things, parents who call up their kids’ places of employment to negotiate their pay raises.

The problem is clearly soccer moms.

In … Conclusion?

i’ve traced the problem with Ontario Colleges through the institution to the students, back to the high schools, up to the Ministry of Education, and back around to the kids’ parents, who demand it be that way in the first place. These parents, to have teenaged kids, were likely born some time in the 60′s. So my penultimate conclusion is that the problem with Ontario Colleges is children of the 60′s.

Because i’m a lousy researcher, the trail runs cold there. If you want to take up the torch, i welcome you to it. Here’s where we left off: what the Hell is wrong with children of the 60′s, and are THEY the reason that nobody in Toronto knows how to make games in Flash?

Discuss.

What’s Wrong with Ontario Colleges? Part 1

Ubi Soft, a very large video game company from the People’s Republic of French, is opening a studio in Ontario. A year before i heard the announcement, i attended an interactiveontario event called GameON: Finance, which focuses on the money stuff in the video game industry. The conference was attended by reps from the various Ontario colleges that ran, or planned to run, video game curriculum. Numerous times during the conference, i heard the same ego stroke: Ontario has such wonderful colleges and such an amazing output of students ready to work in the industry.

“Wank”, indeed.

Hearing this made me feel icky – kinda like when you play with your belly button too much. My own personal experience, in the Ontario college system as a student, around the Ontario college system as an employer, and through the Ontario college system as an industry advisor, is that the system is not good. A little bird told me that as they were planning to come to Ontario, Ubi Soft conducted a study to determine the quality of Ontario education as it pertains to the video game industry. Their findings? Also not good. It’s nice to be vindicated, if only through hearsay.

Briefly, these are my Monet-like impressions from my various flirtations with Ontario academia:

As a Student

i took a compressed, shotgun course in 3D art and animation in a windowless strip mall in North York, a Toronto suburb. Entrance requirements were a laugh (something about drawing that turtle or the pirate from the As-Seen-on-TV cartooning course.) Plagiarism was rampant, and the instructors were too careless/clueless to mete out the appropriate punishment. The school had a co-op placement program, but only enough connections to place three students – the rest of us were on our own. One girl took a placement at her uncle’s trucking company. i took my placement at an elementary school.

A week after my placement ended, i returned to the campus to use the editing equipment to cut my demo reel so that i could apply for work. i had plane tickets to Florida to attend the SIGGraph convention the following week; rumour had it there was a 3D animation job fair at the show. Halfway through my edit, the school kicked me out of the editing room because i was no longer a student. i remember tearfully begging the campus president to let me finish the reel, which she begrudgingly allowed.

That marked the last time i shed a tear for THAT place.

As an Employer

While i was working at a broadcaster as a video game developer (more through pure luck than ability, in the early days), it became apparent from around 2003 onward that Flash developers were in high demand. i watched as the managers tried,and failed, to find well-qualified vector artists and Actionscript programmers to fill full-time positions in the Interactive department. Job searches would go on for months, and would incorporate job sites like Monster, as well as headhunters large and small.

When i started my own company, Untold Entertainment, many years later, the situation hadn’t changed. The question was raised: why aren’t Ontario colleges pumping out any grads who are able to use Flash in a production environment?

As an Advisor

i happily accepted various invitations to sit on the advisory panels for colleges who were either currently running, or thinking about running, video game-related programs. There is a government mandate stating that colleges and Universities must receive the blessings and buy-in of a certain number of industry representatives before they can create, or continue, a program. i have advised Sherry & Dan’s College, Purim College, Blunder College and the HervĂ© Velasquez School for the Digitally Inclined, some more intimately and actively than others.

“Intimate and Active 4″, my new DVD, is coming out this fall

Most of these colleges are running art-centric courses where the students learn to use 2D and 3D software to create game assets. Some schools teach level design. Many use Unreal Engine. Most schools have, as the final program output, an Unreal Engine walk-through of a first-person shooter level. All of these levels look exactly the same. They all take place in a dank dungeon, and the character always holds an implausible gun.

Is it just me, or is anyone else getting unbelievably tired of this gritty industrial aesthetic? (level by Simon Halliday)

If Flash is on any curriculum in this province, you’ll find it in one of these art-centric programs. Flash is being taught in one or two courses to primarily console- and first-person shooter-obsessed high school grads who aren’t interested in programming, and who just want to model robo-babes with huge bazookas in 3D Studio MAX. The trouble is that there is a marked scarcity of robo-babe-modelling jobs in this province, or in any other. By my count, Ontario is pumping out a few hundred grads from these programs every four months.

Artists and Code Seldom Mix

Artists don’t take kindly to learning code. People who want to code go into Computer Science programs and take programming courses. And since Flash is largely derided in “real” programming circles as being a baby program, or not a “serious” programming pursuit, by and large it’s not being taught to programmers. It’s taught to artists in one or two courses, and they could care less about it. They mostly just want to survive the Flash course with a passing mark and move on to the fun visual stuff.

“Math,” quoth Barbie, “is hard.”

My recommendation to Ontario colleges is to teach more Flash – to seriously teach it, rather than tacking it on as an afterthought or relegating it an anomalous blip in the program. Granted as a veteran Flash developer, i’m biased, but my rationale is sound:

  • If you teach kids to be a cog in a wheel, there need to be enough wheels to support that. Since there simply aren’t enough wheels – console studios – to go around in Ontario (or in the entire country for that matter), the fundamental fabric of these college programs is flawed.
  • Upon leaving school, wheel cogs require a large-ish organization of specially-skilled practitioners in order to function. A 3D modeler can’t do much with his 3D models unless there’s a group of skilled C++ or C# programmers and lighters and riggers and texture artists and producers and project managers to utilize his work.
  • People trained properly in a high-level program like Flash, which combines artwork, animation, sound and code, can operate and even thrive as a 1- or 2-man operation. They can complete projects, take contracts, and earn money.
  • Currently, there is a high demand for Flash developers. This demand has only increased with the popularity of social games on Facebook, which are most often built in Flash. The demand for Flash developers has seldom cooled in the ten years i’ve been making games in this industry. If Ontario colleges had tapped into that vein, they would have been pumping out useful graduates for a decade or more by now.
  • Flash is food. That’s the message i repeat time and again to Ontario colleges. But they don’t listen.

Know Your Place

i sat on a Purim College advisory panel discussion, laying out this case for them. i pleaded with them to increase the prevalence of Flash in their program, and even suggested it become a separate stream (so that they could compare the vocational viability of 3D grads vs. Flash/rich media grads). The response from Purim, and other colleges, was that since Flash accounts for such a small segment of the video game industry, their Flash offering would likewise be proportionately small.

But here’s the deal, Ontario: you do not represent the whole of the video game industry. Like Flash and the 2D web game/rich media scene, you too represent a small portion of the industry. We do not have the investor culture of Silicon Valley, so it’s quite difficult to raise the capital required to build huge-budget console games here. It’s not nearly as difficult to turn Ontario into the go-to province for Flash-based social gaming. We could truly train people in programs like Flash and pump out focused, skilled developers. We could turn the ship around in a matter of a few years, and have a much higher success rate for our grads. Will Flash still be viable in a few years? i think so. And if not Flash, other high-level software will be – software that combines art, animation, sound and code. Programs like Scratch, GameMaker, and Unity3D might fit the bill.

Teaching college students to be a cog in a wheel that doesn’t exist in your province is begging poor outcomes for Ontario: under/unemployment, brain drain, and bubble-bursting due to market saturation. How much longer will Ontario colleges be able to lure people to video game programs as the province fills up with unemployed would-be 3D game artists?

Ontario’s colleges are teaching students how to operate the engines in the lower deck of a large commercial fishing boat that brings in net-fulls of tuna with each million-dollar catch. Instead. they should be giving students a fishing rod. Flash is that fishing rod.

Prof Like Me

In the next chapter of this saga, i go undercover as a college instructor to find out what’s wrong with the Ontario college system from the inside. Get excited: i’ll probably be wearing a fake moustache.