Untold Entertainment: The Joy of Six

Six years ago today, a tiny, mewling company called Untold Entertainment came wriggling out of its mother’s womb.

It’s a boy.

As with my earlier anniversary posts, i like to start by taking a look back at the predictions i made about how this year would go:

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.

There’s a quote that escapes me … something along the lines of “if you don’t have a plan, that’s exactly what you’ll accomplish.” gamesByKids.com is still under construction. Spellirium remains in development. i’m farther from my dream of working with a small, dedicated team than i’ll ever be, but that might not be a bad thing. Read on!

Math Castle

Last summer, we rebooted an educational game called Math Maze for TVOntario. TVO gave us full reign to improve on the original game. The result was Math Castle, a medieval take on the original game’s snakes n’ ladders structure, which launched on Android and iOS.

Before Untold Entertainment.

After Untold Entertainment.

Ponycorns at TEDx

The ultimate capper to the fantastic response we received for Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure was being invited to speak at TEDx Toronto, a regional incarnation of the popular Technology/Education/Demolition conference (or whatever that stands for). As long as i live (or until i develop Alzheimer’s), i will never forget the moment that i held my little six-year-old daughter’s hand, working out the tummy butterflies together before we walked onstage in front of 1200 people to tell the story of our game.



The TEDx talk was also a great opportunity for me to appeal for better tech education in public schools here in Ontario, and throughout Canada. i spent the rest of the fall continuing to volunteer teaching Scratch and computer programming to grade three students at different elementary schools, and at the Toronto International Film Festival Summer Camp. GamesByKids.com, the culmination of these efforts, remains very much a dream project for Untold.

Gisèle and the Letter Tree

Continuing our work with TVOntario, we developed a children’s eBook for mobile devices based on TVO’s script and designs. Gisèle and the Letter Tree tells the story of the letter R that goes missing from the alphabet. The reader helps Gisèle, the host of TVO’s on-air preschool block, track down the AWOL letter.

Spoiler alert: Polkaroo.

Cap’n Crunch

From November to January, i worked the worst crunch of my life. i was just as eager to satisfy our government funders’ requirements for Spellirium as they were to get Untold Entertainment off their books. What it took was a solid three months of unbelievable pressure. A typical day went like this:

  • Wake up at 10-11. Grab the laptop computer next to my bed and begin working (from bed).
  • Continue working through lunch, as my long-suffering wife feeds me through a tube.
  • Work work work. Tube dinner.
  • Work work work work work. Sometimes i would change up the scenery by moving from my bed to the dining room table.
  • Back in bed between 2-3am.
  • Wake up. Repeat.
  • Continue at this pace for three months.

And after all that, i don’t even know kung fu.

My record was ten days in January without ever leaving the house … not exactly something to brag about. But i was determined to throw whatever cash, time, and effort that was required to get the game in a playable state. i hired seven freelancers – most of them special effects animators – to tool up different shots for the game that would give it more polish and visual pizazz, which enabled me to cut a great trailer for the game.



The end result was that at the end of January, the OMDC determined that Spellirium had met the requirements of the IDM fund, and they closed out our account.

But at what cost? At what terrible cost??

With a Little Help From My Friends

i emerged from the horrible Crunch Cave looking like a shipwreck survivor, with a long beard and scraggly hair that had a bird living in it. Untold Entertainment is almost entirely bootstrapped, and was built to survive and thrive on a service work model, but we were still in the midst of a deep recession.

… Did we win?

There was potential revenue tied up in Spellirium, if i could only finish it. So to save my skin, i decided to crowdsource funding to complete the game.

It took about a month to prepare everything for the independent crowdfunding campaign that launched in April, with help from folks like local composer Robby Duguay, who stepped in to help shoot and cut the campaign video. Untold volunteer Mike Doucet cheered us on as we worked through the crunch, and provided a much-needed second pair of eyes on the script. Robby continued to lend the assist by capturing footage for the YouTube promotional campaign called Spellirium Minute; with his help, the help of videographer Paul Stachniak, and a loaner Oculus Rift from Mike Sandercock at Get Set Games, we produced 22 Spellirium making-of videos for fans of the project.

Thanks so much, fellas! Your help has been invaluable.

Clockwise from front: Mike Doucet, Paul Stachniak, Robby “The Doogs” Duguay, and the guy who did the voice of the cop in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

i dedicated myself to spending all of April promoting the campaign – 30 straight days of doing pure marketing. i have learned many, many things through this process, which i hope to share with you next year – perhaps at GDC.

Passing the Hat

The net result so far is that Spellirium has raised $10k. It’s become a case of out of the frying pan, into the fire: when the government was the stakeholder in the project, i owed the game to someone and did not have the resources to finish it. Our ideal fundraising target for Spellirium was between $30-50k. The $10k only served to bang out the dent left by the Terrible Terrible Crunch, and i find myself once again owing the game to someone, without the requisite resources to finish it!

‘Speck i’ll go back to ridin’ dem rails?

With adequate funding, we could have gone full-bore on Spellirium and finished it for a Q3-Q4 2013 release. As it stands, we’re back in that familiar boat of having to cook up creative ways to creep steadily forward with the game at a customary snail’s pace. But that’s fitting: Untold Entertainment is a creative company! If anyone can see a project like this through to completion, it’s us.

i want to sincerely thank our fans, colleagues and well-wishers for your support of Spellirium so far – particularly superfan Christine Laskowski (AKA AnimeCanuck), whose support has bowled me over. We’ve had help from volunteer community managers Eric Weiss (@Harry_Houdini) and Justin Arthur. Big thanks to Jaimie V for tracking down so many bugs, and to Tom MacDevitt for taking a lead on the testing efforts. Keep the faith! We’re as excited about Spellirium as ever. We can’t wait to exhibit the game at ConBravo, GamerCamp, Word on the Street, PAX Prime and beyond!

Mooser

TELETOON launched Adult Swim Canada last year, and commissioned Untold to create a number of games for the new website. The first of these was Mooser, a new take on an old classic. Your goal in Mooser is to crash into the cars and push the burning wreckage into the river, to create a floating bridge across to the lovely Ms. Mooser.

Art and music by TELETOON, game design and programming by Untold Entertainment.

Look for more Untold-developed games to launch on Adult Swim Canada in the coming months.

The Remains of the Year

We recently completed development on a Unity game for a convergent company, based on an upcoming comedic kids’ animated series. We also consulted on ten “gamisodes” for The Amazing Race Canada, which will debut on the show website as each episode airs. We spent the summer plugging away at Spellirium, addressing the bugs that our faithful fans ferreted out, and revising the gameplay systems that i developed in a dank, dark cave for too long without benefit of playtesting.

In July, YouTube celebrity PewDiePie posted a Let’s Play video of Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure. The video has been viewed 1.8 million times, and has introduced the game to a new group of fans, reigniting sales of the iPad version and adorable Ponycorns merchandise, and inspiring more fan art. Thanks, PewDiePie!

The Wild Blue Yonder

And now, the scariest part of these posts, in which i make predictions about the next year for Untold Entertainment that Future Me will laugh about in our seventh anniversary post.

Untold Entertainment is getting leaner. i’ve spent the last few years filling our office space with interns and co-op students, working towards that dream of hiring a steady internal team. But i’m now learning to embrace the agility that solo development affords me; at any time, i can ramp up a team as a project requires. Sometimes, as with Mooser, we needed a team of two. Math Castle took a team of four. And last year’s Project Overboard scaled up very quickly to a team of forty for a single weekend of development. Spellirium’s credits list keeps growing, filled with the names of numerous talented people leaving their mark on the project.

Pictured: everyone who’s ever worked on Spellirium to date.

Before this time next year, i want to see Spellirium through a successful Kickstarter campaign, now that the service will soon be available in Canada. i want to see the launch of Putty Crime, our clay-animated mobile puzzle game, which has languished too long due to trademark issues. The renewed interest in Ponycorns reminds me to develop a version for the iPhone, to appease the growing list of fans who have signed our mailing list. And above all, i would like to see a rebranded and repositioned Untold Entertainment, playing to the strengths of our creative consultation – a differentiating skill that has languished through so many projects where we’ve simply been hired to technically execute others’ creative visions.

i’d like to change the perception that Untold Entertainment merely a vendor of technical solutions – a shop of code monkeys. Untold Entertainment is a house of creative genius.

Here’s to one more year!

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