Category Archives: Blog

Ponycorns Storm IndieCade 2011! Yaaaaaay!!

The news is out: the IndieCade 2011 jurors made their choices from a list of over 400 hopefuls and have put together a knock-out lineup of finalists for the festival this year, and Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure made the grade!

Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure

It’s an honour just to be nomerated.

I’ll be flying out to the event in Culver City California next month to bring sunshine, love, and high-pitched screaming to a state famous for its short days and dreary cloud cover. While there, i’ll be able to try out some of the year’s most talked-about indie titles, and i’ll get to hang out with an absolutely stellar group of independent game developers, many of whom i’ll likely have regrettable and unfortunate sex with. i’m creeping all their Facebook photos right now, trying to weed out the ugly ones.

Phil Fish of Fez

Let’s try hair down, glasses off. And lose the fez.

Also in the running are Toronto’s Capy/SuperBrothers with Sword & Sworcery, who developed the game directly across the hall from the Untold offices under our meddling eye. And you may not yet have heard of BigPants or their selected stereoscopic game The Depths to Which I Sink, but that’s another Toronto game by none other than Jim and emilie McGinley, co-founders of the weekend-long TOJam event where Cassie and i developed Ponycorns. Finally, Gamercamp co-founder Jaime Woo had his “real” game Gargoyles selected to be part of the expo.

Jaime Woo

i think *somebody’s* been testing out the Photoshop SexyFace Filter.

And it won’t just be Toronto finalists attending – there’s a whole gaggle of us from the TDot flying out, including Mathew Kumar, the indie journalist behind EXP, Shawn McGrath, who’s currently building the trippy PS3 game Dyad, and indie dev Michael Todd, who gets a front row seat to my orgiastic debauchery because we’re splitting a hotel room. This just further solidifies Toronto’s reputation as the hub of indie game development in North America, and perhaps the world.

Toronto Indies

While i’d love to bring Cassie to the event, one of the drawbacks to being an indie is that you’re constantly down at the blood bank trying to sap enough haemoglobin to make rent. i could get her a plane ticket, but then of course i wouldn’t be able to act up at IndieCade, so i’d have to bring her mom … and if i brought Cheryl, i’d have to buy a ticket for Cassie’s little sister … and if you’ve ever seen our family pack for a 2-day stay at Grandma’s, you’d know that we couldn’t stop there – we’d have to charter our own cargo plane to transport all the “necessities” that two little girls require so that the day doesn’t devolve into a competition to see who can shriek the loudest. In short, i don’t have the means.

Ask Me About Loomâ„¢

While i’ll be happy to talk Ponycorns and its upcoming Japanese translation, i feel the game has about as much press and attention as any indie title will ever get. As IndieCade fast approaches, we’re working hard on playable demos of our upcoming games, Putty Crime: On the Trail of the Foxy Badger, a puzzle game modeled entirely in clay, and Spellirium, a post-apocalyptic word puzzle adventure game.

Putty Crime: On the Trail of the Foxy Badger

Putty Crime: on the Trail of the Foxy Badger

Spellirium

Spellirium

See you at IndieCade!

TIFF Nexus Difference Engine

Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure received a mention off the top of this Torontoist article about the Difference Engine, which is a component of TIFF Nexus. Nexus is the umbrella name for all the stuff the Toronto International Film Festival does that’s not pure film. The Difference Engine is an initiative headed up by Jim Munroe (of Everybody Dies fame) and Mare Sheppard (part of the Metanet team behind the ninja game N+). The idea was this:

  1. Ain’t no ladies in the games industry.
  2. If there were, i wonder what kinds of games they’d make?
  3. Let’s find out.

Mare is a lady, so her involvement is understandable. Jim Munroe, however, is definitely NOT a lady, as evidenced by the following diagram:

Jim M

Nothing escapes the probing journalistic eye of Untold Entertainment.

Jim is involved because of his work on the Artsy Games Incubator, a somewhat similar concept, where he led a group of non-programmers on an odyssey of game creation. One of the interesting things i learned when talking to Jim and crew about the Difference Engine: Ladies Edition is that it’s important to have only ladies in the room, because men – even only one man (see above) – can skew the dynamic in the room and tilt the power balance. Weird, huh?

EVEN WEIRDER is this photo from the article, where we can clearly see Jim, who is a man, in the room with the ladies. What i love about this photo is that the unshaven man-legs on the right likely belong to Jim, it actually looks he’s poking his head through that little cubby hole at the other end of the room, spying on the proceedings (perhaps because someone put a “GIRLZ ONLY” sign on the door?).

Jim M

i’m in ur Nexus, creepin’ ur ladygames

The other TIFF Nexus events this year include the Peripherals Intiative, which pairs game developers up with hardware hackers, and another mash-up involving “sequential artists”, as comic book folks sometimes call themselves just to make me giggle. Nexus kicked off last night at a swanky TIFF Bell Lightbox rooftop party in the midst of the film festival. Untold Entertainment was there. The tiny yorkshire pudding appetizers were to die for.

Ryan on the Run

i was thrilled to record a Reviews on the Run segment for Electric Playground last year. The segment didn’t get aired until the following summer – if you’re wondering why i don’t have any burn scars and still have both my arms in this clip, that’s why.



i still stand by my recommendation! Sword & Poker is a fun little toilet game in the spirit of Puzzle Quest and our own upcoming game Spellirium, in that it marries a casual game mechanic with some ideas from core games – in this case, RPGs and their hit points, levels, spells, etc. The mechanic itself isn’t actually poker, but a clever little puzzle game that uses the concept of poker hands for scoring. This game got me through many poops. Try it out, or buy the sequel!

Welcome to the Untold Entertainment Offices

We were honoured when respected causal games site Gamezebo decided to include us in their “cribs” series, asking us to take pictures of the Untold offices in downtown Toronto – presumably so they could case the joint and send someone in to steal our expensives.

Untold Entertainment Office

Nice try, fellas – we’re broke!

Check out our shrine to classic LucasArts adventure games, our fabulous social media pillows, and the industry’s most unfortunate plantlife in Gamezebo Cribs: Untold Entertainment Edition.

Where It’s At

What the article doesn’t mention is that the Untold offices are situated in a very special building. Untold is directly across the hall from Capybara Games, who recently hosted and teamed up with Craig D. Adams (AKA Superbrothers) to create the iOS hit Sword and Sworcery EP. Untold occasionally shares space with world-traveled indie dev Michael Todd, creator of such arty fare as Broken Brothers and Silent Skies. Two levels up on the sixth floor in the same building is Jon Mak’s Queasy Games. You’ll remember Jon’s Everyday Shooter; Queasy is hard at work on Sound Shapes for the Playstation Vita.

So if you want to wipe out a lot of Toronto indie talent, send your angry anthrax-laced letters to our building. But better yet, if you’d like to be involved in the perfect storm of creative energy swirling around downtown TO, give Untold Entertainment a call to partner with us on your next exciting project.

Dear Lady Gamers: What Do You Want From Me?

i was about to begin this article by saying “all my life, i’ve tried to make sense of the opposite sex”, but it sounded too trite and cliche. The truth is, i think – i honestly do think – that i have a pretty good grasp of women. i grew up the only child of a single-parent mom, and have lived a pretty estrogen-infused existence. i know what it is to toll paint. i have stenciled. i’ve knitted. i’ve made a macrame owl. These are things i can not unlearn.

Macrame Owl

Or unsee.

A very interesting conversation very nearly broke out on Facebook today, when i made the wild claim that our upcoming game, Spellirium, is for the ladies, and that i think “chicks’ll dig it”. The game was designed from the ground up to be female-friendly, in ways i will enumerate shortly. But something was eating at me: recently, when i made that same claim to a colleague, he said “Women will enjoy it, eh? Why? Does it have any romance in it?”

The blood drained from my face a little. We’re still not too late in the game to pivot, but no, Spellirium does not actually have a romantic thread running through it, nor does it have a female lead. i wondered: would these two shortcomings doom it? Would women not be interested in my game because the lead character is a young white male who doesn’t romance it up at any point in the story?

Fabio

Help me, Fabio. You’re my only hope.

Chick Magnet

First, a brief primer. Spellirium is a graphic adventure game, which means that the gameplay and the writing go hand-in-hand. It’s set in the future, after a cataclysmic event has left civilization buried under a thousand feet of earth. It tells the story of a young apprentice tailor named Todd living a sheltered life in a society where reading and writing have been outlawed, on pain of death. But Todd and the other tailors have a secret: they’re actually Runekeepers, secret curators of an underground library filled with forbidden writing. A short time after the Runekeepers set off on a mission leaving Todd alone, one of them turns up dead. Brother Todd sets out on a quest to find out why.

Spellirium Runekeeper Cottages

Spellirium was originally designed to be a casual downloadable game, the kind of title that a portal like Big Fish Games might carry. When we were making a case for the game to our funders, we had to demonstrate that Spellirium would be a hit with a female audience, because Big Fish and their ilk cater primarily to older female customers.

Here are the pro-female elements we felt the game had going for it:

  1. It’s story-driven. If we compare games to porn, they say that women prefer story and character development, while men just enjoy visceral close-ups of gnashing genitalia. If Gears of War is analogous to visceral, visual man-porn, something like Spellirium is far more gentle and female-friendly, with a focus on why the pool boy is visiting on that particular day.

    Porn pizza boy

    Did somebody whose boss just fired her under suspicion of corporate espionage order a pizza?

  2. It’s a word game. i’ve actually been warned against admitting this – indeed, Big Fish Games and friends dumped all over Spellirium at Casual Connect two years ago because it’s a word game. Some of the portal reps called it “too cerebral”, and others cautioned that women don’t like to think when they play games – they just want to sit down and zone out (hence 50 different flavours of bubble-popping, jewel-matching and hidden object-finding on those sites).

    But i can’t deny it: Spellirium is all about making words, Scrabble/Boggle-style, to solve puzzles. And my intuition was vindicated when we brought a very early build of the game to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival two years ago; every guy who swung by the booth said “my girlfriend/wife/daughter would really enjoy that”, while every girlfriend/wife/daughter who passed by did a double-take and stopped to check it out. And that’s when it was purely a word game, with no sign of plot or character development in sight.

    Spellirium Alpha

    Women to letter tiles: like moths to a flame.

  3. It’s dark fantasy. Fact: women enjoy this genre. They like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal and Pan’s Labyrinth and City of Ember and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and His Dark Materials and the Spiderwick Chronicles and Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and (perhaps unfortunately) Twilight. Women read those huge 10-book-long fantasy chronicles like Dragonriders of Pern. In particular, i think there’s something about dark fantasy that women prefer over straight-up elf-ridden high fantasy. Women are drawn in by stories that have an air of mystery, seduction, evil, or … for lack of a better word, purple.

Ravenhearst

Quoth the raven, “Enter your credit card number.”

But It’s a Straight-Up Sausage Party

The two main characters in Spellirium are male. One is a young man. The other is a big blue monster. The third member of the group is a woman – a hard woman they call The Hunter, who dresses in the pelts of the animals she kills and skins. She has a big red scar through her left eye, because i was self-conscious about making her too pretty. She’s self-sufficient and vindictive, and is motivated by revenge. She doesn’t take any crap from the main character. i wrote her this way because i wanted a strong female character who isn’t subdued by the boyish charms of the male lead, and who doesn’t succumb to his wily advances, and who will put a bullet up his nose if he tries to come any closer.

Spellirium: The Hunter

Three concept sketches of The Hunter. We went with the one on the left. The blunderbuss was non-negotiable.

Will women like her? i have no idea. Will they still enjoy the game, even though the two leads are male? No clue. Will they be less interested in Spellirium because there’s no love story? i really don’t know. That’s kind of why i’m writing this article. i want to hear from women who play games. Is any of this stuff important to you?

The only other significant female character is The Mystic, who is an old fortune-teller, which i do realize is the female equivalent of the Magic Negro. Part of the fun of Spellirium is that it breaks the fourth wall on a regular basis; any time i (the author) introduce a stock character, Todd and company are going to call me out on it in the game dialogue.

Indie dev Michael Todd introduced me to the Bechdel Test today while we were discussing this. In order to pass the test, your script has to have:

  1. at least two women in it,
  2. Who talk to each other,
  3. About something other than a man.

As currently scripted, Spellirium fails the Bechdel test at point #2. Women: have i fallen out of your good graces, or is there still a chance that you’ll play this game and others like it?

Word.

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