Category Archives: Blog

Indie Showcase Caps a Packed Week in Toronto

Last weekend, as the capper to the busiest week in Toronto Indie Games History, i hit up the innocuously-named Indie Showcase. The event was organized by Alex Bethke, a former Flash developer for Ganz who left his job at Cryptologic to build the indie start-up Golden Gear Inc.

Alex told me that his friend had a great “studio space”, and he wanted to throw the event there. For some reason, my brain parsed that as “gallery space”. i was wrong – the event was actually held in a dude’s studio apartment. After a week of attending events at the swanky Carlu, the OCAD Great Hall, the TIFF Filmmakers’ Lounge, and the new Ubi Soft studio, it marked a profound change of pace. i stepped onto the astro-turfed, slightly ramshackle balcony strewn with mismatched patio furniture and random power tools and happily declared, “now THIS is indie.”

Indie Showcase

The crowd stands enthralled during a presentation, while About a Blob by Drinkbox Studios plays on a teevee nearby.

The event housed two points of interest: a number of indie games were demoed on various machines around the apartment, and four indie developers gave short presentations. The event never quite lived up to its promise of “projecting games on a 40-foot wall” (rather more like a 6-foot bedsheet), but Alex bought everyone free beer. If you like beer, that’s got to count for something.

i thought the presentations were mercifully short – more like informational snacks – and was happy that they covered a variety of topics. Here were the speakers and their topics:

  • Robert Segal from Get Set Games talked about the phenomenal success of their new game, Mega Jump, and the path they took to achieve 5 million downloads.
  • Nathon Gunn of Social Game Universe and Bitcasters talked about IGAPI, a cross-promotional toolbar that helps indie developers increase their games’ visibility.
  • Ryan Henson Creighton of Untold Entertainment (that’s me!) talked about the advantages of developing games with Unity 3D, and shamelessly plugged his new book, Unity 3D Game Development by Example.
  • Michael Todd gave a theoretical talk about art games, and the emotional imprint a developer leaves on his game during a short development cycle.

Indie Showcase

Rob Segal calmly explains how he could buy the whole place and everyone in it.

i thought the event was a good low-key wind-down to a preposterously packed week. Unlike the other events i mentioned, the atmosphere here felt very supportive, tight-knit and communal. We were mere moments from breaking into a round of Kumbaya, for real.

Were you there? Did you enjoy the Indie Showcase? Did you despise it? Let me know by leaving a comment!

OCAD START Show Marks Latest Bandwagon Bid to Co-Opt Games

One of the events i attended in my whirlwind week of video game-related shindigs was START, a week-long exhibit of indie video games at OCAD, the Ontario College of Art and Design. START rotated through a selection of possibly “arty” games (though settling on a definition of arty games is still an exercise in intellectual wanking). About an hour before i attended the gala opening last Thursday night, i was surprised to find that my TOJam 5 game Heads was one of the games being exhibited.

Untold Entertainment's Heads

Hey, kids – it’s Heads!

Is Heads art? It’s got kind of a different art style, and it’s a little weird. Does being different and weird make something art? Does it matter? Do we care?

One of Us

Those are my reactions whenever the topic of Games as Art crops up. i don’t care. And i especially didn’t care to hear the evening’s two panelists on the OCAD side expound over the history of pop culture in art, and the legitimacy of video games as an art form. It smacked, once again, of another industry trying to claim video games as its own. The teevee folks in town are doing it, the film folks are paying attention … i half expect the pulp and paper industry to take note soon. i feel like a broken record by pointing out, again, that the interactive entertainment industry is not an also-ran or a tack-on marketing tool for other creative industries.

Talking Heads

OCAD START

The two panelists from indie gamedom, Ben Rivers and Jim Munroe, held their own for the latter part of the discussion, when the moderator’s questions became coherent. The topic of the “Toronto style” of indie games was mentioned. Ben rejected the idea, and said that if anything, Toronto indie games reflected the personalities of their creators. (Moreso than indie games from other cities? i’m not convinced.)

Jim Munroe said that the Toronto community is very warm and welcoming, and that there are no cliques. It was an interesting thing for him to say – i was just talking to someone at the Ubi Soft party who complained that the scene was very cliquey. It’s hard to see that view when you’re deep in the clique, i suppose. But barring a few certain folks in our community who act like they’re too cool for school, i think what’s at play is that programmer types are shy and introverted. It’s very easy to mistake introversion for snobbery.

One Note

The rest of the evening, like the rest of the exhibit, consisted of playable games projected on walls. i’d be interested to hear if the uninitiated found it interesting; for the rest of us, it seems like every event lately has been quite samey. TOJam Arcade did it, Fan Expo and TCAF did it, the Indie Showcase did it, and the upcoming Arcadian Renaissance exhibit during Nuit Blanche is gonna do it too. It’s super-great to see the Toronto indie star rising. i’m really interested to hear what Joe Public thinks of it all. And what’s the goal? Do we want more people playing Toronto indie games, buying Toronto indie games, or making Toronto indie games? We’ll figure it out, i’m sure. i think the chips are still falling where they may. Let’s let the spaghetti stick to the wall first. With a little more traction, the industry may finally gain its well-deserved reputation for being a separate schtick from film, teevee and pulp & paper.

UPDATE

Peep this clueless Toronto Star piece from Kate Taylor, who apparently missed the week’s goings-on in the city and decided to pen this alarmist piece on the ‘Mericans taking our tax credits (and our white women), and on video games apparently struggling for artistic cred:

Canada’s video game industry is a going concern

The video game is a medium still searching for cultural legitimacy, but neither critics (who tend to review it simply in terms of how well a game plays) nor parents (who bemoan their children’s addiction) are likely to oblige it any time soon.

i’m going to take a wild guess that Kate is either 52 years old, or lazy. Play some games, Kate, Attend some events. Last week was packed with ‘em. Comment on stuff that was made here in Toronto (being that you write for the Toronto Star), instead of highlighting a Vancouver studio. And get those facts straight:

Canadian companies are often being bought by multinationals in a field were there are no restrictions on foreign ownership.

The implication is that there are no restrictions on foreign-owned companies accessing Canadian government funds and tax breaks. i assure you there are. And as for whether video games enjoy cultural legitimacy … when’s the last time you saw a person under 30 buy a newspaper?

I Survived the IN10 CMF Consultation (and all i got was this lousy blog post)

At the urging of a colleague, i attended the CMF consultation in the middle of interactiveontario’s IN10 conference. i didn’t take any pictures, but i found this one on Google Image search that roughly foots the bill:

Paint Drying

Behold: paint drying.

Here are some fast facts:

  • CMF, the Canadian Media Fund, is a $350 million dollar chunk of change announced recently by the Minister of Canadian Heritage.
  • The Fund is administered by Telefilm.
  • The CMF is split into two streams: Convergent (which requires a broadcast license to access), and Experimental. The lion’s share of the funding goes to the Convergent stream.
  • The Fund recently went through its first round, with a second round coming up this fall.

The purpose of the consultation, the second such meeting in as many days, was to discuss the results of the first round, and to ask about how the Fund could better meet the needs of its applicants in the next round. This time out, the Convergent stream did not show a huge clamour for interactive content funding; contrastingly, the Experimental stream was hugely over-subscribed.

Cheap, Accurate Data vs. Costly, Fake Data

One of the answers the CMF was hunting for was how to measure “viewership” for online games, sites and activities. They worried that tools like Google Analytics are untrustworthy, because they are fed their information by the first party. They suggested that they lacked the expertise to understand a tracking tool like GA. They wondered whether something like ComScore or Nielsen, being third parties, would be a better option.

i say that despite its faults, Google Analytics is a much better approach. Companies can directly share their GA data by adding profiles to their accounts. Anyone worth his salt can sniff out whether a company is gaming the system by adding too many calls – all of the data is laid bare. Not only that, but it’s free. Compare that with ComScore/Nielsen, which are 1. not free, 2. based on survey samples instead of real data, and 3. comparatively opaque their data collection methods.

Google Analytics

Seriously – is this hard to understand? It’s like Fisher Price built it.

Equity vs. Security

i mentioned at the consultation that the game studios around town were not thrilled with the CMF’s plan to take up to 50% equity in the IP of approved projects. (i used the term “collective freak-out”, which apparently shook up the proceedings … i guess when the entire room is half-asleep, it doesn’t take much) It makes sense for the Fund to want to recoup, but as one of my colleagues points out, there are other ways for them to guarantee royalty payments without having to take actual legal ownership in the project. i’d love for them to look into this.

The Areas of My Expertise

When i thought about it, i wondered if the Convergent portion of the fund had a lacklustre subscription simply because teevee people, in my experience, are resting on their laurels instead of seeking true partnerships with digital media companies. Digital media is so often seen as a component of teevee – as simply a way for teevee people to feebly extend their brand presence online, rather than as a way to really explore and leverage their IP in an exciting, participatory medium. Perhaps the Convergent folks weren’t pursuing the Fund to the degree that the pure Experimental (interactive-only) folks were, because they themselves couldn’t think of great ideas for digital media? i’ve said it before, and i’ll say it again: if you want great teevee, ask teevee people. If teevee people want great interactive content, they need eat a slice of humble pie and recognize that it is a separate industry with its own experts. People born and bred in the interactive industry are best equipped to create great interactive content.

Google Analytics

Is this the last video game you played? Seek help.

To that end, the other part of my long-winded question was this: if i’m a teevee prodco, how to i find interactive companies to partner with? Is there a list somewhere, or … ?

A lot of shrugging and lost looks filled the room. Someone weakly offered “well, you come to conferences like this one, and …” But “NO!”, i countered. The province’s great indie game companies don’t attend these conferences. There are many companies who would make great partners – actual partners, not merely people to execute your half-baked vision – but you don’t know about them, because you’re not in the industry. (Again, let me stress that there are two different industries here – teevee and interactive. One is not a subset of the other.) It left me with the sense that we could really use a nation-wide directory, or some kind of speed dating service kind of like Game Connection, except closer to home (and without the four thousand dollar price tag).

Google Analytics

(i also wouldn’t mind ditching the creepy-ass logo)

In Summary?

Anyway, those are my thoughts – scattershot as they are. i didn’t apply for the first round of funding, and i won’t apply as long as the over-reaching equity requirement is in place. i know i’m not alone in that.

If you’re a prodco looking to partner (truly partner) with an interactive agency, give me a call! There are many of us, and if Untold Entertainment isn’t a good fit, i’m very glad to introduce you to one of the many other fantastic studios here in town.

Netflix Slouches Toward Canada to be Born

It never used to be this way. Canada, the friendly and primarily Englsih-speaking neighbour to the North of the USA, used to get all the same stuff that they got stateside, at roughly the same time. Movies would be released on the same weekend, Canadian stations would broadcast big teevee shows on the same night, and all was right with the world.

The Beachcombers

If it weren’t for American teevee, we’d be stuck watching The Beachcombers.

Lately, though, this wonderful system has been falling apart. It became personal when the hotly-anticipated video game Rock Band was delayed a number of months in Canada – ostensibly so that the company could produce the bilingual French and English print materials. (i never bought that excuse … the game was published by EA, who have had ample experience writing French and English game manuals over the years). CTV, the primary Canadian carrier of American teevee for the masses, started pre-empting and re-scheduling certain top-tier shows like LOST, because they’d ordered hit shows from two competing American networks. Geo-blocking is rampant; Canadians can’t access Comedy Central, we can’t watch Hulu, and we don’t have TiVO. And the biggest cultural carrot that’s been dangled in front of our noses for years has been Netflix.

Netflix Canada

Netflix: its coming was prophesied.

Netflix is a video rental service that charges a flat monthly fee, and provides subscribers access to a library of DVDs. More recently, they’ve added a video streaming service. As this service has been rolled out to numerous gadgets and gizmos that we Canadians own (iPods/iPhones, Xbox 360′s, PS3′s, Wiis), and the Yanks have made a huge fuss over it, we’ve been positively salivating at the prospect of the service coming to the Great White North.

Well, Netflix is here now. And what do we have, after the long wait? Imagine if, for just eight dollars, you could watch any movie – ANY MOVIE YOU WANTED – from that discount DVD bin next to the cash register at Home Hardware. ANY MOVIE. You’d just have to pay Rogers or Bell the extra fifty bucks a month to increase your bandwidth cap, and this world of Earthly pleasures would open up to you.

Ice Twisters

Ice Twisters: just one of the New Arrivals you can enjoy with your new Netflix Canada membership. It’s about tornadoes that are made of ice. According to the synopsis, they “precipitate nothing but trouble.” i didn’t write that.

Supreme Netdown

i haven’t counted the number of movies on the Netflix Canada service, but i think it’s roughly twelve. Twelve movies, and i’ve already seen three of them. The movies are grouped into pretty granular categories, with a LOT of repeats between genre listings. Let’s take a look at the Netflix Canada offering of “Classic Sci-Fi & Fantasy” movies. But before we do, quick: what are the top ten Classic Sci Fi & Fantasy movies that come to your mind? i hope you could name ten, because Netflix Canada only offers seven. Seven movies. And classic, they ain’t:

  • Mad Max (no Road Warrior, no Beyond Thunderdome)
  • Godzilla’s Revenge (no original Godzilla, which has an IMDB rating of 7.3, to Revenge‘s 4.0)
  • Ghidora: The Three Headed Monster (i’m no monster movie fan, but where’s Gamera? Mothra?)
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • Silent Running
  • Red Planet Mars
  • King of the Rocket Men

Did you perhaps think of Metropolis, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or THEM? Or did you conjure up more recent classics like Blade Runner, Alien, Willow, The Abyss, or Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Well tough nuts. They don’t have ‘em.

BONUS: Can i get an American subscriber to list the movies in this category on American Stream Instantly Netflix? Kthx.

The Last Starfighter

The “Classic” moniker is admittedly subjective. i was hoping for an education in science fiction film. Instead, i searched in vain to find that they didn’t carry TRON, The Last Starfighter, Flight of the Navigator, Explorers, or SpaceCamp.

The Hits Just Keep On Failing to Come

Netflix Canada’s twenty-two selections in the pure “Fantasy” section include stinkers like The Golden Child, Bewtiched (the Will Ferrell bomb), Cool World (??), and the Uwe Boll schlockbuster In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale.

“Cult Comedies” (thirteen movies in total) has a few decent picks like The ‘Burbs, Being John Malkovich and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but really stretches the category with Teen Wolf (which is also inexplicably found in “Teen Horror”) and Big Top Pee Wee. No Election, no Rushmore, no Living in Oblivion, Ghost World, The Big Lebowski, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Heathers, Very Bad Things, or any other cult comedy I can think of.

(You’ll find Jeff Dunham and Joe Rogan in the Stand-up Comedy section, incidentally, which also stretches the genre category beyond its reasonable limits)

Netflix Canada Comedy New Arrivals

Yay! Look what’s just arrived in Comedy. i think i’ve only heard of TWO of those movies, and i rather wish i hadn’t.

Flame On

i’ve complained about it a bunch on Twitter, so i think i should just post this last rant and shaddup about it. Here goes: Netflix Canada perfectly recreates the depressing feeling you get when you go to a Blockbuster Video store closing to buy some discounted DVDs and the place has been picked over, and all that’s left are twelve copies of Jim Carrey’s The Number 23. You try to convince yourself that your wife will really like the romcom Picture Perfect (starring Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Bacon), or that $6.99 is a small price to pay for all the fun your kids will have watching the animated feature film The Missing Lynx, with the voice talents of … no, seriously – WTF? The Missing Lynx? What the hell is that? MetaCritic and Rotten Tomatoes don’t even have entries for it, and the IMDB folks put it at a 5.6. Based on my viewing preferences (i spent an hour or so rating movies on the Netflix site – movies that Netflix Canada doesn’t even have in its library), Netflix itself thinks that i’ll rate The Missing Lynx at about a 2.4/5.

The Missing Lynx

Remember when this came out in theatres OR went straight to video? Neither do i.

My American friends to the South speak of a land flowing with milk and honey – of a Netflix that has absolutely everything you could ever want to watch, streamed to every digital device you own short of your pocket watch. Now either the Yanks have a peculiar predilection for bargain bin trash, or we hosers are, once again, gettin’ hosed.

5 life lessons learned from hippies

As a writing exercise, i’m using the Linkbait Generator to create titles for my blog posts. It’s LinkBait Tuesdays! Please enjoy responsibly.

Make Quotes, Not War

While not all strictly hippies, here are five famous figures from the time period When Hippies Roamed the Earth, with an inspirational quotation attributed to each.

1. William S. Burroughs

William S. Burroughs

The author of Naked Lunch and one of the key figures in the Beat Generation shared his thoughts on sharing:

(1) Never give anything away for nothing. (2) Never give more than you have to give (always catch the buyer hungry and always make him wait). (3) Always take everything back if you possibly can.

note: i found this quote for free on the Internet. Suck on that, Burroughs.

2. George Carlin

George Carlin

The stand-up comic who expounded on the Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television had this to say:

Always do whatever’s next.

and then:

Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things.

3. Timothy Leary

Timothy Leary

The outspoken advocate for psychedelic drugs has some advice for the ladies:

Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.

4. Wavy Gravy

Wavy Gravy

This Woodstock emcee and lifelong clown offers a fitting observation:

Laughter is the valve on the pressure cooker of life. Either you laugh and suffer, or you got your beans or brains on the ceiling.

5. Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem

The leader of the Women’s Liberation Movement tells it like it is:

Childbirth is more admirable than conquest, more amazing than self-defense, and as courageous as either one.

Treacly sentiment from a generation that failed to live up to its promise, or words to live by even to this day? Have hippies taught you anything? Let us know by leaving a comment below!