Untold Entertainment Alive at Five
We’ve reached our fifth year of operations at Untold Entertainment! All the hoorays!
In last year’s milestone post, i made some predictions about what the coming year would hold:
Untold Entertainment’s fifth year will be filled with low-life panda bears, daily word puzzles, gamesByKids, and more great articles about game development and education, peppered with rude jokes and stolen LOLcat pictures.
Let’s look back at the Year That Was to remind ourselves why i should never take up fortune telling as a second career.
Hot off the rampant success of Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure on the web, we had just released the game on the iPad and the BlackBerry Playbook. Since then, RIM’s business has imploded, and no one’s really heard much from Apple (can someone please check in on them? i’m worried).
i told the story of Ponycorns at the 100th Flash User Group meeting. My presentation was calle Ponycorns: Ride the Lightning, and was very well received. The talk was so-titled because it was about how i tried to harness the initial buzz and excitement around the game and spin it into an even bigger success, but then it dawned on me that “ride the lightning” was a euphemism for living wild and then dying in the electric chair. Maybe not the most apt title.
So when i was asked to speak at the 2011 Screens Festival, i revised the talk and titled it “Ponycorns: Catching Lightning in a Jar”. If you’ve played the game (or not), that title makes a lot more sense. i was encouraged by the response at Screens, and submitted the talk and the game to various conferences.
We were honoured as a finalist for Indicade 2011, which we attended in September. While there, i pitched our upcoming game Spellirium to a small, interested audience.
March saw me delivering Ponycorns and the Price of Popularity at the Flash Gaming Summit in San Francisco, and Ponycorns: Catching Lightning in a Jar the very next day at the Game Developers Conference. At FGS, i revealed all of the financials for the project, including the cost of merchandising and marketing. All told, Ponycorns has cost Untold Entertainment roughly $7000, but it’s a small price to pay for the notoriety it brought.
Cassie and i were named among Backbone Magazine’s Top 15 Canadians in Digital Technology, alongside Sid Meier, the developer of Sim City. Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure was featured in Buttonless, a book about iOS games.
Watchoo talkin’ bout, Creighton?
Ponycorns was a finalist for a Mochi award and two Canadian Videogame Awards earlier this year. The game was exhibited by the Digital Game Museum at Maker Faire.
We continue to ship Ponycorns merchandise – T-shirts, buttons and limited-edition plushies – to fans worldwide.
The follow-up to Ponycorns is a site called gamesByKids.com. Announced last year in an interview with the CBC, the site is still in development. It will be a resource for parents and educators to learn about video game design so that they can sit down with a child and make a game together.
Before i launch the site, i want to make sure i’m actually a subject matter expert. i need to know what kids at different age and ability levels can actually do with the software. To that end, i taught a six week course in Scratch, a free visual programming language, to grade three students at an elementary school. Earlier this year, i visited another school and volunteered a few weeks to another class of grade threes. Next week, i’ll be facilitating a video game camp for 10-14-year-olds at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
All Kids Love Blog
The Untold Entertainment Blog remains one of the most active and engaging blogs in the industry. Here are some post highlights from the past year:
- Welcome to the Untold Entertainment Offices – Gamezebo.com takes a look at our cozy digs in downtown Toronto.
- Know Your N’Audience – On the importance of knowing who you’re not marketing to.
- 5 Cardinal Sins of Children’s Entertainment – Inside Oscar’s can, the Man in the Yellow Hat gets named, and other assorted sacrilege
- Fettering Facebook: Should We Put a Cap on Capitalism? – Raising the spectre of spending limits in freemium/free-to-play games
- Dumber than Advertised: 5 Half-Baked Technologies that Failed to Deliver – Segway not included.
- Flash to iOS: A Step-by-Step Tutorial – Intrepid intern Sina outlines, in gory detail, the process of bringing a Flash game to the iPad/iPod/iPhone using a Windows PC and free software.
- Movember 2011 – My facial hair creation for wang cancer awareness was called “Balls on Chin”.
- If Miyamoto Went Indie … – Twitter musings over what would happen if the Zelda and Mario creator quit his job at Nintendo.
- It’s Not Piracy – It’s Free-To-Play – Examining the parallels between microtransaction-supported games, and stealing shit.
- It’s Not an Educational Game – A rant explaining the vast difference between a educational games and quizzes (hint: it’s “teaching”).
- E for Everyone or N for Niche? – Is it better to bank on a broad audience, or to go all-in on a specific target? Untold Entertainment investigates.
- Manufacturing Alexes: The Secret of Indie Game Success – How do you engineer a rabid fan? No – seriously. How?
- Double Fine’s Kickstarter Windfall: Will Patronage Supplant Traditional Game Publishing? – My game development heroes rake in 3 million bucks in crowdfunding. Was it an anomaly, or has the game changed?
- Five Graphic Adventure Game Goofs (and How to Fix Them) – PUT bad game design IN garbage
- The 5 Funniest Moments in Graphic Adventure Games – Sadly, the rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle is criminally overlooked.
- The Six Most Infamous Puzzles In Adventure Game History – Putting the “grr” in “graphic adventure”
- Could Scratch be the Key to Maintaining Canada’s Video Game Lead over the UK? – In the game industry, the Brits are getting left in the dust. But they’ve got a blue shell.
- Fatherhood in the Age of Games – Parents, teach your kids to program.
- Stocking Your Office with Human Props – Step One: Stuff 30 pairs of pants and shirts with hay …
- Why Kickstarter Scares the Crap Out of Me – The downside of being an over-eager entrepreneur at age 8.
Untold Entertainment continued its fantastic track record of service work for the kids’ teevee and advertising industries.
At the height of summer, we completed the puzzle platform game Spladder to support marblemedia’s Splatalot, a kids’ teevee program that mimics those insane Japanese obstacle course game shows like Most Extreme Elimination Challenge.
A Lotta Dessert
In October, TVOntario launched A Lotta Dessert, a game we developed that teaches simple patterning to preschoolers.
Summer in Smallywood
The Centre for Skills Development and Training were so pleased with Summer in Smallywood that they returned to us requesting three big upgrades. The game is now localized in Canadian French, completely voiced over in English, and playable on the iPad.
Man vs. Beast
Award-winning ad agency Target Marketing commissioned us to build an extremely silly fighting game to promote Newfoundland Travel and Tourism’s hunting and fishing campaign. Under any other circumstances, our company policy against violence in video games would have precluded us from taking the job, but the concept called for a guy punching out a moose. AND a giant fish. It was impossible to say no. Impossible, i tell you!
Presumably pleased as punch with A Lotta Dessert, TVOntario returned to commission us to build Cake Artist. It’s a game for their school-aged audience, which helps kids practice following instructions, and ties into Ontario’s visual arts curriculum. Players learn about hue and value while decorating cakes for jolly customers.
Samsung Galaxy Note
Working from ad agency Cheil Canada’s designs, we wired up the Samsung Galaxy Note minisite in the hectic week before launch! The site simulates some of the Note’s unique features; visitors can doodle on the screen with the stylus and upload the resulting image to Facebook. They can clip and modify artwork from the phone, and tweet their friends about their excitement over the biggie-sized phone.
Samsung Galaxy Note
Secret Location made use of our consultation services and research capabilities. True to their company’s name, those projects are so secret that i can’t even talk about them. But i always enjoy working with the wonderful Secret Location team, whatever the project.
Spellirium, our graphic adventure/word puzzle mash-up game which you’ll totally love, saw a flurry of activity in Q4 2011. New monsters, new environments, and even some early video of the game in action surfaced through February. When we’re not delivering best-in-class game development services to our clients, we’re hard at work building out the ruined trashpunk world and surprising storyline that will make Spellirium a game to remember.
One of this year’s best designer diary articles about Spellirium is Spellirium Then and Now, which tracks our progress from the concept stage to the absolutely gorgeous final artwork.
Eager to outdo myself after last year’s Ponycornucopia at TOJam, i gathered some industry pals together, and they helped me assemble the largest game jam team in history for Project Overboard. The resulting game, Head of the Gorgon, is currently in alpha. Proceeds from the game will send at-risk Toronto youth to computer/technology camp for the summer. To date, the project has already sent six kids to camp thanks to some donations from our sponsors and some early supportive fans.
Gorgon is not an Untold Entertainment game – the dev team is Project Overboard (of which i am the lead developer), and Untold is taking publishing duties. It felt more honest to structure it that way, rather than subtly suggesting that those 38 people were all Untold employees.
A wonderful side benefit from Project Overboard, though, is that i’m now able to prove that i can ramp up a large team very quickly – a fact that some prospective clients have doubted when i tell them that Untold is (for now) just one guy. One very well-connected guy …
Social Media Juggernaut
i continue to win Twitter. This year, i passed the 3000 followers mark, which is a healthy indicator of my personal worth as a human being. More appropriately, it means that i can tweet at any time about a company who’s doing something stupid or infuriating, and that company’s intern who runs their Twitter account will reply immediately with a very nervous and clumsy attempt at brand control. #cokeKillsChildren
The Untold Internship Program
i haven’t made much mention of this in past year-in-review articles, but now that it’s a thing, it deserves a write-up. The Untold Internship Program was born out a need to address a few problems:
- i didn’t have enough momentum (read: hot stinky cash) to grow the company.
- i had extra desk space.
- Ontario colleges do an absolutely terrible job preparing young people to work in the video game industry.
- Oh snap.
A few people recommended i downsize Untold by losing the office and somehow continue operations from my tiny condo, where there are wide-eyed young children asking me if i can come and play with them every five minutes. No … thank you, but no. It’s very important to me to have an office so that i don’t lose the opportunity to build that tidy five person shop i’ve always dreamed of.
So instead, i began taking interns a few years ago. Many of the distracting side projects Untold has undertaken in recent years have been built on the backs of hard-working, well-worn interns. The interns were responsible for feeding content into our three web portals WordGameWorld, ZombieGameWorld, and TowerDefenseGameWorld, which together average about 1 unique visitor per month (although that’s mathematically impossible). Interns have supplied content for ontarioInteractive.com (see below). They have worked on an unreleased non-Spellirium word game. They have watered the plants. They have failed, repeatedly, to fix the coffee machine.
i’d like to use this space to personally thank and name all of the Untold Interns that have … oh, look – i’m running out of space.
Why build games when there are so many shiny objects to chase? A few years back, i tried keeping an events calendar to track all of the amazing goings-on in the interactive industry, but no one thought to look to us for that. i gave it another shot recently with an entirely separate site called ontarioInteractive.com. The site aims to list all of the interactive digital media companies in Ontario, places them on a map, and sorts them by city. So if you’re a student and you have no idea which game companies actually operate in Ontario, a quick filter on the site will reveal this Hidden Knowledge. The site also lists past and future industry events so that you can get involved in the community.
There have been other sites that tried to do similar things, but they eventually fell by the wayside. Even the website for Interactive Ontario, the trade association that should be running a resource like this, lists companies that are now defunct, or that have been shut down for a number of years (!). The key advantage to our site is that visitors can upload their own events and company profiles, and the site nags them every 6 months to keep those profiles up-to-date. If a profile isn’t confirmed, it gets deleted. This means that everyone listed on the site is guaranteed to have existed within a six month window.
So by all means – please add your IDM events and profiles to the site. Let us know if this resource is useful to you, and we’ll make a commitment to maintain it over the coming year.
What will our sixth year hold for Untold Entertainment? i’m so bad at these predictions that i feel like a fraud for even trying. In the short term, we’re building a suite of three games for a Canadian broadcaster that i can’t wait to show you. We’re committed to finishing Spellirium before the end of 2012 (fingers crossed for the Mayan apocalypse). i hope to make gamesByKids.com a reality next year.
As for the remains of 2013, the future is less clear. The vision i have in my mind is, and has always been, of a company of about five employees – two artists, a programmer, and a producer/project manager/administrator – all working together harmoniously to produce top-notch humorous video games that players adore, with a white picket fence and a bird bath on the lawn. i can’t clearly see the path from here to there at all, but i’m reasonably assured it has something to do with robbing a bank.
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