Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure, the weekend-long game i co-authored with my five-year-old daughter Cassandra, has proven to be noteworthy, but not awardworthy. After being an Indiecade finalist and a Mochis nominee, Ponycorns has suffered two more awards show defeats.
Last night at the Canadian Videogame Awards, in addition to losing the Best New Character award to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Ponycorns was bested by Margaritaville Online for the best Casual/Social Game prize. Margaritaville Online is a Facebook game based on the debaucherous, alcohol-soaked lifestyle of professional hobo-minstrel Jimmy Buffet (not to be confused with multi-billionaire investor Warren Buffet, a mistake can’t be the first to have made).
Only ONE of these men made his fortune singing about piña coladas. Can you guess which one?
The Margaritaville developers Exploding Barrel Games showed incredible grace and poise by taking the stage to accept their award, and opening their blazers to reveal “i friggin’ love Ponycorns shirts” (get yours in the Untold Store!) The shout-out was much appreciated, and was the best possible way to not win an award.
It was a very heart-warming gesture. Of course, since these are clearly bootlegged Ponycorns T-shirts, we have duly sent Exploding Barrel Games a notice of copyright infringement insisting on the removal of the shirts from their bodies forthwith.
The 2011 Canadian Videogame Awards show airs on City TV and G4TVCanada on April 28th and 29th.
We’re tickled to announce that Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure is a finalist for TWO categories in the Canadian Videogame Awards!
Ponycorns has placed in the following categories:
Best Social/Casual Game
Best New Character (Sissy)
With the launch of Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure on the Apple iPad and Blackberry Playbook last June, 5-year-old Cassandra Creighton became the world’s youngest commercial game developer. Ponycorns became a viral hit and has won fans worldwide with its hand-drawn crayon art, voiceover, characters and puzzle design by the imaginative kindergartener. Ponycorns players have donated generously to Cassie’s college education fund, and have flocked to the Untold Store to pick up Ponycorn swag. Cassie continues to dream up new game designs with mixed media design documents that incorporate crayons, markers, glue, buttons, and feathers.
The Canadian Videogame Awards ceremony takes place on Saturday, April 21st, 2012.
In 2010, Canada overtook the UK as the world’s third-largest video game developer, thanks in large part to an ecosystem of government grants and tax breaks. This support has angered some critics who see it as wasteful government spending, but smart people know which way the wind blows: since we don’t manufacture things any more, it’s in wealthy countries’ best interest to stimulate industries with well-educated and highly-paid knowledge workers who pay a lot of taxes and generally raise the property value of the entire nation.
Nerds: good for the economy.
The UK’s recently-announced 2012 budget makes new allowances for animation and video game tax breaks – a move clearly made to help the United Kingdom regain its foothold and, possibly, the coveted third place spot. But the Brits have another ace in the hole that i think puts them in a better position to leave Canada in the dust in a few decades: Scratch.
Scratch is a programming language from the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It’s designed for kids, but it’s primarily a learning tool, and has seen use in first-year Computer Science programs. Scratch allows you to snap together LEGO-like blocks of code (computer instructions) to control graphics, sounds, and interactivity. (Indeed, the man who led the development team behind Scratch, Mitchel Resnick, also built the original programmable bricks that eventually became the foundation of the LEGO Mindstorms robotics sets.)
You can upload your creations to the Scratch website, along with the millions of projects that are already there. Best of all, you can download anyone else’s Scratch project and take it apart, remixing any of the project’s code, sounds or assets into your own file. Scratch is free, and it runs on Mac, PC and Linux computers.
i’ve said, time and again, that i believe kids should be taught how to program computers from a very young age. It’s looking more and more like the children of developed nations will exclusively use computers as their primary windows into the worlds of work and pleasure, and i’d rather see a generation of people who can make computers work for them, rather than a terrifying dystopia where the machines themselves gain more and more control (see Apple) until we’re just banally pushing a single button like George Jetson, unable to harness the amazing power and possibility these machines provide. The more kids learn to tinker with machines and write computer code, the less likely we are to flip the script on this master/slave relationship between humans and machines.
(If that all sounds a bit dire, talk to any mechanic who used to tinker with cars prior to 2000. You can’t tinker with cars any longer, because their systems are controlled by computerized instead of mechanical processes. If we don’t keep up, we get left in the dust.)
It starts with putting all of our information on the cloud …
The Livingston-and-Hope of a Nation
Finding that in two short years, the UK had slipped from #3 to #6 in world video game development rankings, the UK’s Minister for Culture commissioned a report from Ian Livingston (President of Edios) and Alex Hope (Co-Founder of Double Negative, an effects shop) last year to figure out what was going on and how to fix it. The resulting findings determined that the problem was seated squarely in (mis)education:
Twelve percent is a lousy number. And i defy Ontario to run a similar report on its schools and get a better score. As anemic as the UK’s placement rate is, anecdotally, i guarantee you it’s far worse here in Ontario. i can’t vouch for the rest of the country, but what we have here in this province is a system akin to jacking a wounded football player up on painkillers so he can finish the game. Eventually, the torn hamstring of a weak education system will bring us down, and Canada will feel its cushy #3 position slipping just as the UK recently has.
And then the UK will do a touchdown dance or something. i dunno … my metaphor doesn’t cross the pond all that gracefully.
Half of Livingston and Hope’s twenty recommendations pertain to elementary-level schools, the first among them being
Bring computer science into the National Curriculum as an essential discipline.
We have no such concept here. i’ve spoken with a number of companies who are developing material for the Prometheus Smartboards that are present in many of the Toronto District School Board’s classrooms, who have told me that they’ve met with resistance from parents and educators if they mistakenly called any of their projects “games”. There’s a sensitivity to the word “game” here that suggests games are an anathema to learning – that somehow games are preventing kids from getting a good education. You need to trojan-horse your way into many schools by using terms like “interactive storytelling” and “interactive digital media” to fly under the anti-game sentiment radar.
It’s a um … interactive physics simulation with a protagonist from the skilled trades that explores the Quiller-Couch conflict of man vs. nature.
Conversely, here’s what the Livingston-Hope Report says:
Recommendation 3: Use video games and visual effects to draw in greater numbers of young people to computer science and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Among the learning languages and toolsets the report recommends for schools is MIT’s Scratch. Get ’em while they’re young – don’t wait until they’ve graduated high school. Ontario’s colleges do a great job of using video games to draw in great numbers of young people, but to what end? Our strategy is more akin to Honest John luring Pinocchio to Pleasure Island so the boy can smash windows and smoke cigars and make 3D models in Maya with impunity. But we wind up with the same result: a big pile of jackasses who are only fit to work in the salt mines.
We thought we were going to call the shots on the next Splinter Cell game for UbiSoft! Hee-HAW!
Will the UK regain its #3 video game industry position two decades from now by investing in education? It’s possible. But i think the UK’s efforts should serve as a cue to Canada to investigate its own education system to ensure that the video game economy we’ve nurtured through funding and tax credits isn’t just serum flowing through an IV meant to keep the patient alive, while we fail to feed the patient or change his bedpan … or show any care or concern over whether the patient will one day leave the hospital and walk on his own.
Canada needs its own Livingston-Hope report, with a commitment to act on its findings. The Ministry of Education in Ontario in particular should take a hard look at schools’ programs and success rates, and start denying accreditation to diploma mills in both private and public colleges. The Minstry should audit the use of technology in elementary schools, rather than the existence of it. (You can put a Smartboard in a classroom, but you can’t make it drink.)
The good news is that we’re taking some steps in the right direction. The joint OCAD/U of T program, which pairs the University of Toronto’s game programmers with the Ontario College of Art’s artists, is having its second annual student showcase soon. The game developers from UOIT (the University of Ontario Institute of Technology) a few towns over are once again joining forces to present their games as well, along with students from Seneca College, Humber College, and the Hervé Velasquez School for the Digitally Inclined. Eventually, i would like to see ALL of the schools in the region combine their graduate shows into one big event, which could double as a job fair and a one-stop shop for Ontario (and even national and international) companies seeking to hire new talent. This show means we’re almost there!
In April, the TIFF Nexus group is holding a New Media Literacies conference to try to get kids and educators who give damn about this stuff to meet up and learn from each other. There are lots of great components to this day, including panels and talks from developers, funders and researches. The highlight of the day (for me, because i’m teaching it :) will be a hands-on Scratch workshop geared at introducing the tool to teachers so they can bring it back to their classrooms or kids’ groups and start mucking around with it right away. (TDSB teachers: did i mention that Scratch is on the Board’s approved list of software, and that getting it installed in YOUR lab/classroom/library is just a phonecall away?? Run, don’t walk!)
The UK might be feeling the sting of losing a leading position in the video games industry, but with the recent incentives announcement and the education recommendations in the Livingston-Hope Report, they’re on the right track to building a sound infrastructure. i worry that Canada, generally (and Ontario specifically) is building a house of cards that’s only one election away from pulling funding and seeing it all topple over.
The incentives and funding the country and its provinces have offered are an important component to accelerating Canada’s lead in the industry, but education is a crucial pillar that is being largely overlooked here. i firmly believe that the first step to investing in the future is sitting down at a computer with an eight-year-old, and showing that kid how to make a cartoon cat walk across a computer using a snap-together code loop in Scratch.
San Francisky? Well how did you get there? Did you walk n’ did you flew?
i’m very, very excited for all the shenanigans i’m about to get up to in the big windy apple that never sleeps – San Francisco – in less than two weeks’ time. Here’s what’s on my plate:
Flash Gaming Summit 2012
This will be my third time at the Flash Gaming Summit, a great niche mini-con that precedes GDC by a day (Sunday March 4th 2012) . Last year, i moderated a panel on game monetization. This year, i have a talk all to myself:
Ponycorns and the Price of Popularity (4PM in the Fisher Room)
For many indie game developers, having a hit viral game sounds like a dream come true. The reality is that, especially in the ad-supported free-to-play Flash marketplace, rampant fame comes at a price. The overnight success of Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure brought with it temporal, financial and emotional costs that were difficult to predict. Ryan Henson Creighton from Untold Entertainment talks about what success actually looks like, and what it’ll cost you. Learn how to prepare for tomorrow’s success today!
i’m pretty sure this is what a Mochi award looks like.
Game Developers Conference 2012
i’m thrilled to be speaking at GDC 2012 during the Independent Games Summit.
Ponycorns: Catching Lightning in a Jar (1:45 PM on Monday)
The ponycorns fanfare could easily have died off within a week, but Untold was determined to make as much noise as possible, given that initial spark. Attendees will learn about launching alternate revenue streams like the ponycorns merchandise store, preparing press kits, attracting mainstream media attention, entering contests, marketing with a non-existent budget, and following up with franchises or brand extensions, all in the name of amplifying initial interest in a project. When many speakers tell their success stories, they essentially talk about how they were struck by lightning. The take-away for the audience is to go out and somehow get struck by lightning too. Indie game developer Untold Entertainment Inc. was struck by lightning when their game Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure went viral, receiving worldwide attention and acclaim – most notably because it was co-developed by a five-year-old girl. In this exciting and surprising session, Ryan Henson Creighton reveals how to turn your game project into a lightning rod to attract success, and how to bottle that surge of success without letting even a single spark escape.
Note that (as per my speaking contract :), this talk is completely different from the one i’m giving at FGS. The GDC talk is about attracting and amplifying attention, while the FGS talk is about what to do with that attention once you’ve got it (and, specifically, how much it’s gonna cost you).
Spellirium Will Be Playable at the GDC 2012 Expo
(Esplanade Ballroom, South Hall – GDC Play Kiosk #K13 – Wednesday from 12pm-3pm)
My final piece of great news is that Spellirium, the little graphic adventure/word puzzle game mash-up that could, will be exhibited during a very brief window Wednesday afternoon on the GDC show floor.
Since the event hasn’t happened yet, i travelled into the future to take this photo for you.
We’re making a really cool graphic adventure / word puzzle mash-up called Spellirium. It totally kicks ass, and it has an amazing post-apocalyptic “trashpunk” aesthetic that looks like this:
Do you want to play this game? Do you want to play this game on Steam?
Untold Entertainment has its first-ever meeting with Steam two weeks from now at GDC (the Game Developers’ conference) and to be honest, we don’t want to blow it. We’re nervous that Steam is going to take one look at our 31 Facebook Likes and 18 Twitter followers and think “hmm … this game that looks like it’s made from garbage is also going to sell like garbage.”
i’d love to get these follower numbers up to a level where the nice folks at Steam are gonna say “Hey! People are actually interested in this game! We’d like to distribute it on our platform.”
Are you interested in Spellirium? Do you realize it’s going to be the greatest graphic adventure/word puzzle hybrid game you’ve ever played? Please help us out:
In return, we’ll roll out a whole development plan to keep you updated on how we’re doing, including special glimpses at character artwork, concepts, background designs, scripts, storyboards, and secrets about Spellirium.
If you want to know more about the game, ask me about it! i’ll answer all of your questions in the comments section, and have posted more detail below. Thanks SO MUCH for your support! We’re working very, very hard to make Spellirium a great game that you’ll enjoy.
– Ryan Henson Creighton
President and Founder of Untold Entertainment Inc.
(and the guy who’s going to delete this post before Steam sees it ;)
More About Spellirium – Read Ahead Only if You Care!
Q: How do the graphic adventure and word puzzle bits interact?
A: Instead of throwing a lot of item-based puzzles at you, Spellirium gives you a Boggle-like grid of letters on the right side of the screen. On the left, you see an enemy or a challenge that you have to solve by spelling words. Every challenge has a different solution.
Sometimes, you might have to make words with certain coloured tiles (GREEN words defeat the green creature). Or in certain directions (spell a word from left to right to move a character from left to right in a maze). Or maybe the words themselves matter (spell FIRE, FLAMES or INFERNO to torch something). Sometimes, you’re not allowed to move the tiles around, and you have to make words based on what the grid gives you. Other times, you may have to make words with double letters (to defeat twin creatures), or spell palindromes (to defeat a two-headed foe), or find rhyming words (to crack the code on riddle etched in a mysterious stone).
In this challenge, each brick in the wall corresponds to a letter tile in the grid. Spelling a five-letter word at the top-left eliminates the five top-left bricks in the matching area of the wall. The goal is to knock out all of the bricks to escape the area.
You’ll walk around beautifully-drawn scenes, just like in a graphic adventure game. The game has a great story. You talk to characters, pick up items, and travel around the map … but every significant interaction boils down to a neat puzzle-within-a-puzzle where you spell words to succeed.
Q:So it’s educational, right? It’s a game for kids?
A:Well, kids don’t really enjoy word games very much. And there’s a difference between a game that’s educational because it teaches you something, and a game like Spellirium that requires you to be educated to really enjoy it. If you liked the idea of a mash-up game like Puzzle Quest, but grew tired after your 8000th game of match-3, you’ll like the variety that Spellirium offers. It’s a great game for old-school graphic adventure fans, and for people who enjoy games like Scrabble, Boggle, Words with Friends, Scramble, Text Twist, Wurdle, Spelltower, Scrabulous, Bookworm Adventure, and Puzzlejuice. If you like doing the newspaper crossword, or if you like games that demand more from your brain than from your muscles, you’ll rather enjoy Spellirium.
If you have a pulse and a pocketbook, you’ll enjoy Spellirium.
Q:You mentioned a great story? i’ve heard that claim before.
A:So have we! In fact, we’re so disillusioned by lacklustre game stories that we set out to write one that doesn’t suck. Here it is:
Spellirium takes place in the future, after a mysterious apocalyptic event that left the world buried. The survivors can have “modern” technology, as long as they can dig it up … but with no gas, electricity, or enriched uranium, they can’t do much with what they find. So they build houses with it. They use cars as walls, and satellite dishes as spittoons. This gives the game its neat-o “trashpunk” aesthetic, and it’s why parts of the world look like they’re medieval. The survivors have been busted back to the Dark Ages.
“Ruins” in Spellirium are actually buried skyscrapers.
Their biggest problem is that all forms of reading and writing are outlawed. If you dig something up with writing on it, you have to scrape/scratch/burn the letters off, or your findage will be confiscated and you’ll be put to death. You can’t write on anything, or even invent a new form of writing. You can’t even communicate with pictograms, because that’s a form of writing. So the people are technologically poor, and bound to stay that way.
You play a young tailor named Todd who’s holed up in a cloistered community with four men who call themselves the “Runekeepers” – a secret society that curates an underground library filled with junk with writing on it. When the Runekeepers leave on a mysterious mission and one of them turns up dead, Todd discovers a mysterious device that affects reality when he uses it to spell words. Todd teams up with an oddball clan of adventurers including a big blue monster, a hard-edged hunter, and a foppish bard. Together, they set out to find the missing Runekeepers and to save them from danger.
Q: Sounds pretty serious?
A: Humour is a hallmark of everything we do at Untold Entertainment. Spellirium is wry and witty. Just as the Monkey Island series is very dark thematically and graphically but is betrayed by a great sense of humour, Spellirium is similarly a dark fantasy game infused with sly, winking writing.
Q: This is your big chance. Anything else i should know about? A: Spellirium is a feature-rich game with a lot of wild ideas. Here’s a feature list of stuff we haven’t talked much about (but we will on the Facebook/Twitter accounts that you’re about to click on! :)
build, collect and track over fifty thousand words in an unlockable Dictionary
gather non-biodegradable landfill items and craft them into power-ups
buy new items using collected words as your currency
battle a variety of creatures, and store their info in your Bestiary
scavenge different items from creatures by bribing, scaring, or defeating them
learn special spells like ZAP and DELUGE to electrify or drown your enemies
share your best words on Twitter, and add your Twitter pals’ words to your Dictionary
discover the shocking secret that holds the Land in thrall
An early Bestiary concept.
Q: Where’s the trailer?
A: We’re building out the story as we go – “shooting in sequence”, as the film term goes. That means we don’t have enough footage to make it appear as though the game takes place beyond the same three locations! We’re also trying to get the rights to a certain song to use in the trailer.
In the meantime, we have a few short, soundless video clips. This is probably the most informative one:
Thanks SO MUCH for all your support! We’re looking forward to showing you tons of great new stuff about Spellirium, and we hope you like us enough to make an impression on the folks at Steam!