Category Archives: Blog

Untold Entertainment Alive at Five

We’ve reached our fifth year of operations at Untold Entertainment! All the hoorays!

Untold Entertainment turns Five

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.

Ponycorns Aftershocks

Ponycorns at Maker Faire

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.

Sid Meier

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.

GamesByKids.com

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.

Scratch

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:

Service Work

Untold Entertainment continued its fantastic track record of service work for the kids’ teevee and advertising industries.

Spladder

Spladder

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

A Lotta Dessert

In October, TVOntario launched A Lotta Dessert, a game we developed that teaches simple patterning to preschoolers.

Summer in Smallywood

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

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!

Cake Artist

Cake Artist

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

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.

Secret Location

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

Spellirium

Spellirium

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.

Project Overboard

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:

  1. i didn’t have enough momentum (read: hot stinky cash) to grow the company.
  2. i had extra desk space.
  3. Ontario colleges do an absolutely terrible job preparing young people to work in the video game industry.
  4. 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.

ontarioInteractive.com

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.

Looking Ahead

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.

Why Kickstarter Scares the Crap Out of Me

If i had a dime for everyone who suggested i set up a Kickstarter campaign for Spellirium, our upcoming graphic adventure/word puzzle mash-up game, i wouldn’t need to start a Kickstarter campaign. Because i’d have a lot of dimes. Dimes from those people i just mentioned.

i got all the coins

Anyone remember THIS? Eh? … no? Okay.

But aside from the relative inconvenience of starting a Kickstarter campaign when you’re Canadian (the process involves befriending and placing your complete trust in an American. What is this – Fantasyland??), i am very wary of crowdsourcing funding for my games. To understand why, i have to take you aaaaall the way back to 1985. Codpieces were the height of fashion, Gorbachev was in the White House, and an eight-year-old Ryan Terence Creighton (née Bagley … honestly) was wearing a bank teller’s visor.

visor

Awwww yeah. Time for some muhfuggin’ BIDNESS.

i was wearing the visor because that’s what people wear when they handle money (and they live in the 1920′s). And i was about to handle a lot of money.

There Goes the Neighbourhood

i got it in my head that i would write a book – an adventure story about two kids who discover a mysterious egg that hatches into a baby dragon, which they have to care for and keep hidden from their parents. i was so positive that this was a Great Idea™ that i decided to raise money for the endeavour through pre-sales. So i put on my green visor and loaded some scrap paper into my clipboard, because clipboards also have something to do with collecting money. But i wasn’t sure what, exactly.

i began canvassing the neighbourhood, pitching my prospective product to neighbours i’d never met. i explained that i’d be selling the book piecemeal for 25 cents a chapter, and that there would be around 30 chapters. Those neighbours who were quick with math figured out that the book would cost over seven dollars, which in 1985 money was, like, a thousand bucks, based on their reactions. So some neighbours bought one chapter, some bought three chapters, and one or two folks went all-in for the whole book.

suckers

i collected the loose change in a large plastic bag, being very careful to record the relevant details of the transaction. i knew it had something to do with writing down who gave me money, but i hadn’t quite figured out how street addresses worked, so i think i wrote down stuff like “Smith. 1 Chapter. Green Fence.” and “Jenkins. 2 Chapters. Has a dog.”

In Which My Mother Has Another Baby

When i arrived home i was hot and tired and sweaty, but i considered the day a success. My single-parent mother came through the front door and, beaming, i held up an enormous plastic bag filled with coins.

Mom freaked.

“Where did you get all that MONEY, Ryan??” she demanded. i told her all about my brilliant pre-sales plan, and showed her how successful i’d been. She took a look at my clipboard and gasped in horror. “How are you going to give people a book if you don’t know where they live??” i … i didn’t know.

She demanded to see the actual book i was selling. “But … there’s no book, Mom” i said. “i collected all this money on the promise of writing a book.” That’s when Mom confiscated my hard-earned coins, sat me down at the kitchen table, and though i wouldn’t be able to get the product to most of the people on the list (it’s possible she knew how to find “Thompson. 1 chapter. Black sports car in driveway”), she made damn sure that i knuckled down and wrote the first chapter of that book.

Angry mom

Angry moms: nature’s perfect bonerkillers.

So i did. i worked for, like, a whole half hour, until my hand cramped. The first chapter ended with the kids discovering the egg. i clearly remember the amazing dialogue i had written for the characters as they gazed on in wonder at the mysterious orb:

“What is it, Jenny?” asked Clark.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know.

This was all in the Days Before Mom Could Afford a Computer, so i wrote and illustrated the thing by hand using pencil crayons. i finished the first chapter – two whole pages – pleased as punch with myself, and presented it to my mom with an “i told you so” air. “Great work,” she said flatly. “Now how are you going to do 27 more copies?”

This was also in the Days Before Colour Photocopies Were Available to Regular Human Beings. My hand was sore, my pencil crayons were worn to nubs, and my money had been confiscated. Tomorrow was a new day, and i had to face it with a product i could not deliver to people whose money i had already collected.

OUYA

OYA?

What the Ancient 80′s Can Teach Us About Today

Flash forward to now. Codpieces are still in fashion (i find them quite fetching, anyway), and everyone i know is urging me to venture back out into the streets with my bank visor and my clipboard, knocking on the doors of unknown neighbours and asking them for money for an as-yet incomplete project. The sting of letting those people down, my mother’s consternation, and the abject guilt of collecting money and not delivering linger with me, and i can’t yet bring myself to do it. i’m not saying i won’t ever start a Kickstarter campaign, but it might take a few hours talking to a bearded man while lying on a couch to work up the courage to try pre-sales again.

visor

Tell me about your mother … flipping shit when you tried to pre-sell that non-existent chapter book.

And for those of you would-be backers: beware of little kids in visors asking you for money for products that may never materialize. Sure, the clipboards they hold may lull you into a false sense of security (because clipboards, after all, all the hallmark of a pro). But whatever you do, just make sure they’re writing down your address correctly.

Untold Entertainment at Casual Connect Seattle 2012

The kind folks at the Flash Gaming Summit have invited me to speak at Casual Connect in Seattle. My topic is AS3/AIR to iOS in 157 Easy Steps. During the talk, i’ll be clearing up a few misconceptions. My hitlist of shocking revelations is as follows:

  1. You can target Apple’s iOS devices with Flash as your development platform.
  2. You can develop Flash content for Apple devices for free, without even purchasing Flash.
  3. You can do all of this without even owning a Mac (except for the very last step of the process).

The talk goes on to back up these wild claims. Attendees will leave with knowledge of the process of porting Flash content to iOS and Android using FlashDevelop, an open source Actionscript IDE.

If you’re attending Casual Connect, you’ll be thrilled to hear that Untold Entertainment will have the playable demo of Spellirium to show, as well as the alpha version of Head of the Gorgon, a charitable game which we’re publishing for developer Project Overboard.

About Spellirium

Spellirium

Spellirium

Spellirium is a point n’ click graphic adventure game, in the style of LucasArts classics like The Secret of Monkey Island. This genre is mashed up with the word puzzle genre, so Spellirium has players spelling words to defeat monsters and to discover secrets. The game takes place in a gorgeously rendered “trashpunk” world, where the world is rebuilt from the discarded garbage of the 21st century.

(Spellirium) just shot to the top of my “can’t wait to play” list. – Gamezebo.com

beyond gorgeous … gloriously grim and quirky. – JayIsGames.com

About Head of the Gorgon

Head of the Gorgon

Head of the Gorgon

This is a retelling of the myth of Perseus, the hero of Greek mythology who slew Medusa the gorgon, a snake-haired monster whose mere gaze could turn a man to stone. The game is refreshingly told in the style of ancient Grecian pottery. It’s a short, simple adventure that’s fully voiced by professional actors and comedians, with a dramatic orchestral score and sharp, funny dialogue. All proceeds from sales of the game will send at-risk Toronto youth to computer camp.

Both Spellirium and Head of the Gorgon are built on UGAGS, the Untold Graphic Adventure Game System, which powered the company’s break-out hit Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure. Send an email to book a meeting with Untold Entertainment’s president Ryan Henson Creighton at Casual Connect in Seattle: info (att) untoldentertainment (dott) com.

Stocking Your Office with Human Props

One of the biggest challenges of trying to bootstrap a video game studio like Untold Entertainment (in the midst of a global recession, no less), is that prospective clients are drawn to service providers that appear to be able to handle their project in a no-fuss, turnkey fashion. Untold has been passed over for a number of projects because we try to keep our overhead low, which means hiring on an as-needed basis according to our workload.

These days, when someone at a conference asks “Untold Entertainment? How big are you?”, i’m inclined to answer “seven inches, sof.t” i get a little tired of the question. The number of employees you have has no actual bearing on the quality of the work you produce, the speed at which you can turn around a project, or the value you deliver as a service agency. Yet it’s become this quick litmus test of worth whenever men excitedly sniff each other’s butts at conventions.

Dogs sniffing each other's butts

Smells like you’ve had a good year, Pete.

Many clients expect to walk into Untold and see a swarm of expensive employees chewing through money like locusts, waiting to pounce on whatever new project they’re thrown. It seems to be only the studios that can do this – or, better yet, the ones that can fake it – that are able to properly grow.

Use Your Illusion

In the early days of Untold, i met with a man who ran his own studio, who said he wanted to contract me to consult on and design a kids’ virtual world. He said his American clients were due to arrive any week now, and he wanted me to come in and help him sell his studio to them. After many false starts, when the day finally came that the prospective clients were due to arrive, the owner seated me at one of the desks in his small office, and asked me to work on whatever until he brought the clients in. Meanwhile, he met with the clients down the hall in the shared boardroom.

i sat in this guy’s office for three hours before it dawned on me: i wasn’t there to meet with his clients or to help design the game. i was an office prop – a warm body filling a desk to pad out the scene, to make it look like he was running a thriving operation. i packed up my laptop in disgust and stormed out of the place. The guy’s been on my shit list ever since.

Colbert on notice

Stacking the Deck

i spoke to a few colleagues last night who confirmed that office stocking was common practice. One friend said that he worked at an agency that developed teevee commercials, and that also developed series. Clients from the commerical side would be brought in to see the dozens of warm bodies toiling away at their desks, leaving them with the impression that their project was in many, many capable hands, when in reality it was one lonely dude and an intern working on the project – the rest of the employees were contracted for something completely different.

Another colleague told me the story of an animation studio in town that invited a number of fourth year animation students in to do a drawing test, “because they were hiring”. When the students arrived and asked what they were supposed to draw, the employees were evasive and weird about it. They were assigned to what amounted to busy-work. In the midst of this “test”, some company bigwigs brought clients through the area and, indicating the students, said “well, here are our animators…”

i have another colleague who didn’t have an office or employees, but on his website he’d list a number of freelance colleagues as if they were his own salaried employees. It was a little white lie that i believe helped him to grow his company to the point where he does currently have an office and employees.

Snidley Whiplash

Meh heh heh.

Honesty Undoes You

This “fake it til you make it” approach runs counter to the first of Untold’s core principles, “uncompromising honesty”. No, we don’t have an enormous farm full of employees of all stripes and skillsets ready to take on anything you throw at them. And no, i’m not particularly keen on producing a smoke-and-mirrors effect to make it seem like we do.

The Man Behind the Curtain

Sorry – the giant floating head in the middle of the office will be able to answer all of your game development questions.

The fact is that if you want Untold Entertainment to work on your project, we’ll take care of it. We are extremely well connected, and we can assemble the absolute best team for your project needs. Don’t buy it? Check out Project Overboard, where i assembled a team of forty people from a multitude of disciplines to build a game in a single weekend.

Have you ever been used as an office prop? Or do you know other tricks of the trade to make it appear as though you’re running a Fortune 500 company when you’re really running Buck-Ninety-Five Incorporated? Let me know in the comments! Please also indicate your penis size, so that i can properly determine your worth as a human being.