Guys: forget one-pagers and business cards and booth space and being friendly on Twitter. The greatest money i’ve ever spent trying to promote a game at a conference like GDC this week is this absurdly gigantic Ask Me About Spellirium button, which i have to securely pin through ALL of my shirts, or else it will drag on the floor and peel me out of my clothes:
It also affects the tides.
Everyone here at GDC is asking me about Spellirium because of this astonishingly huge button. Even if they don’t CARE about the game, and they just want to make FUN of my inappropriately grandiose button, their sarcastic japes actually open the door for me to tell them about Spellirium. Damn their mockery – my message still gets heard.
My audaciously enormous button serves an important secondary function: it is a reference to a character in The Secret of Monkey Island who wears a button that says “Ask me about LOOM”.
(i always thought that guy looked a lot like Ron Howard’s brother)
Spellirium is unabashedly inspired by LOOM, and anyone who gets the reference and points it out to me has just identified himself as someone familiar with point n’ click graphic adventure games. That person is now a prequalified lead, with the upsettingly gigantic button having done all of the work for me.
It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.
i’m heading out to GDC tomorrow. Here’s what Untold Enertainment is up to in San Francisco:
Fact or Fiction Panel at FGS
i really have to wonder if the Flash Gaming Summit will be around next year? They’re calling it FGS, and distancing themselves from the word “Flash” much like Kentucky Fried Chicken tried to bury the word “fried” by re-christening themselves KFC. The difference between Flash and saturated fat is that one is a gross gloppy mess that can stop your heart and end your life prematurely, and the other is saturated fat.
To that end, i’m moderating a panel called Fact or Fiction? with a dream line-up of panelists, to have a rapid-fire opinionated discussion about the FUD surrounding the high-level game and app development world. We’ll be poaching the elephant in the room with very first slide, which asks “Fact or Fiction? Flash is Dead”, and we’ll keep going from there. Joining me are my esteemed colleagues:
John Fox, GM, Games.com
Ben Garney, Chief Engineer, The Engine Company (Loom, Pushbutton Engine)
Pany Haritatos, VP of Mobile, Kongregate
Matt Rix, Founder, Magicule (Trainyard)
Scott Walker, Partner & Head of Production, Ninja Kiwi (Bloons, SAS: Zombie Assault)
The panel is Sunday at 5:30. i hope to see you there!
Education Panel at PAX East
If you read your program and lined up for hours to see me speak and to sign your boobs at PAX East this year, sorry to disappoint you! There was a mix-up. The inestimable Steve Swink of Enemy Airship will be speaking instead. Although, if you think the charismatic and chiselled fellow at the front of the room who does CrossFit five times a day is actually me, so much the better.
Steve Swink, the game industry’s answer to Viagra™.
Spellirium at GDC Play – Even for Women
i’ll be demoing Spellirium the OMDC GDC Play booth Tuesday from 10-1! This is the new alpha build that will become available very shortly (look for an exciting announcement on April 9th). Spellirium is the game that three years ago, the casual games portals told me women were “too stupid to play“. Guess what? i made the game anyway. i’ll be at GDC assuring women (and men) that they are, indeed, smart enough to play Spellirium. i’m sure that will come as a relief to all involved.
Last September, Untold Entertainment took on an intern named Mike Doucet. Mike was a recent graduate from a private Ontario college who needed to escape the work/experience purgatory in which so many graduates find themselves. After coming under fire for our nefarious practice of helping graduates, i put some new parameters around Mike’s involvement with Untold.
My friend Jason accused me of bringing Mike (left) on-board because he looks like a young Ron Gilbert. Guilty as charged. (Mike doesn’t see the resemblance.)
Within a short time at the studio, Mike had formed a small, separate game dev team called YoyoBolo Games. Mike took a producer role, while Jonathan Phillips would create art assets and Ryan Roth would take on music and voiceover duties (including casting, recording and editing). Programmer Amir Ashtiani would handle scripting in UGAGS (the Untold Entertainment Adventure Game System), which the team would license from Untold.
i tasked the team with building a short point n’ click graphic adventure game and releasing it by Christmas; in exchange for the use of the Untold offices, mentorship from me, and a discount on a UGAGS license, YoyoBolo would give Untold Entertainment first right of refusal to publish their game. YoyoBolo would keep their copyright and IP.
The team decided to release their game for free, to avoid the complications that money might bring. (i counselled them that as a first-time team releasing a mobile adventure game, money wouldn’t enter into it anyway :) The end goal was for YoyoBolo to have the experience of creating, releasing and marketing a complete game from start to finish, so that the team members would have a polished portfolio piece they could show off to prospective employers.
The experiment worked, and the team completed the game by the second week of December!
The resulting title, New School Blues, was partially based on Mike’s experiences as an elementary school teacher, and his desire to create a game to which grade school kids could relate. (Mike wondered why there aren’t more kids’ games that are set in schools? i think he has a very good point.) i made sure that YoyoBolo didn’t stop at simply building the game, but that they went the extra mile to prepare a press kit, a press contact list, and a press release to help market the game. Mike has been maintaining a near-daily developer diary with contributions from the team, which is a great read if you’d like to make video games, and wonder what the experience of a group of first-timers is really like.
(PROTIP: It’s like being lost in the woods at night and hunted by a demonic witch.)
i really want to highlight the team’s artist, Jonathan, who went above and beyond the call of duty by taking over UGAGS scripting on the project to ensure that New School Blues looks and plays as well as it does.
So how did they do? i found the game quite charming, and i thought the team did an excellent job for a first-time collaboration. i happily exercised Untold Entertainment’s option to publish New School Blues. Here’s a gameplay trailer of the first few minutes:
What’s in it for Untold Entertainment? Two wonderful “firsts”: this is the first time we’ve published a game that was developed by another team, and it’s the first time that we’ve licensed our UGAGS engine. So call it a win/win/win all around – the third “win” being you, because you get to play the final game!
i’ve been thrilled to be involved with the Flash Gaming Summit for the past number of years, as a delegate, a moderator, and a speaker. The conference, which conveniently takes place in San Francisco the day before the GDC summits, is filled with people i consider sister sufferers in a very particular (and increasingly beleaguered) pocket of game development.
Flash! / Aaah-aaahh / Saviour of the universe (?)
Many of the FGS delegates are folks who started their careers building web games with (then) Macromedia Flash, and who have come through the fire of learning how to earn a living with the software with help from distributors like MochiMedia, Flash Game License, NewGrounds and and Kongregate, and portal-owning publishers who are willing to pay license fees for the games, hoping that they’ll make it back in ad revenue on their sites. Some of the people you meet at Flash Gaming Summit are the people who have become successful enough to afford a plane ticket to San Francisco which, considering their often humble beginnings, is really saying something. And a good number of the delegates are from studios who evaluated Flash and decided that it was a good technological fit for their platform or business strategy.
It’s not unusual to find industry visionaries like Dan Cook of SpryFox (Triple Town, Leap Day) milling around during the Summit.
This is a time of uncertainty for devs like Untold Entertainment who largely earn their living making games with Adobe Flash. For many of us, the uncertainty is over why there’s so much hype for vastly inferior technologies like HTML5, and why we’re being pressured by the market to adopt far more expensive tools like Unity to do the same work we’re already comfortable and proficient at doing with Flash?
The Flash platform was dealt a major blow when Steve Jobs – for somewhat vindictive business reasons, thinly veiled as technological snobbery – declared that Flash content would not be supported in any iPhone browser, and then dropped the mic and left the stage (in more ways than one). To this day, the myth persists that you can’t develop any content for iOS using Flash. The opposite is in fact true: many devs like Untold are happily wrapping their Flash creations with Adobe AIR and creating successful native apps for Apple’s devices.
In an effort to get down to the bottom of things, i’ll be moderating a panel at FGS this year asking the hard questions: is Adobe Flash worth sticking with, or is it time to jump ship? Cutting through the hype, what are the advantages and disadvantages of competing technologies, and what would it take to transition a shop to start using them? And is it even worth it? What do Adobe’s recent announcements about Actionscript Next and abolishing the “speed tax” reveal about the company’s plans for the platform? All these questions and more will be discussed, in amongst a line-up of talks and panels by some of the biggest players in this corner of game development.
You can complain about the weather, but few things are more unpredictable than a 6-year-old girl. My daughter Cassandra has earned the nickname “Hurricane Cassie” around our home, both for her passionate mood swings, and for her habit of upending the living room to build increasingly elaborate furniture forts.
When it came to the line “My hope is that one day …”, our speaker coach Chris Tindal suggested i add the word “soon”. i couldn’t do it, in good conscience. It feels like we’re light years away from a world in which people are on top of technology to a point where they’re in the driver’s seat, to cop a metaphor from Douglas Rushkoff. It may sound laughable for a grown man to be worrying about the advent of Skynet, the fictional computer network from the Terminator movies that one day suppresses all of humanity, but i really am concerned that we’re headed for a future where we’re controlled by our machines (or, at least, by the corporations that create them).
“Consume” is a Con to U and Me
Forget heady theoretical thinking. Here’s how this stuff plays out in everyday life: just yesterday, our Cisco Linksys router stopped pulling an IP address from our modem, after some repairmen were working on the lines outside. We called Cisco, and after a series of rather invasive and unnecessary questions (eg “At which store did you buy the router?”), the overseas support agent told us the device was too old to troubleshoot (we’d bought it two years ago). He gave us two options: we either buy a new router, or we pay for support – the cost of which is equal to the price of a new router.
Hmm. Sounds like a fair shake to me!
In turn, i gave the Cisco support agent two options: he can take ten minutes to troubleshoot the perfectly functional device and prevent it from going into a landfill, or i could mention the incident to my thousands of Twitter followers and blog readers. He said there was nothing he could do. i asked him to escalate my support request to his supervisor. He put me on hold. The call disconnected.
And here we are.
This poor customer service anecdote has been about Cisco. Please shop accordingly.
The Geeks Shall Inherit
What does Cisco’s lousy customer support have to do with helping kids to become creators, not consumers? While many are predicting the collapse of the middle class well within our lifetime, not much is being said about the emergence of a new class – a technological elite class. This is a class of people who are wise to the machinations of corporations and their methods of control. These aren’t people who know how to use software -these are people who know how to write software. They aren’t people who buy hardware. They’re people who build hardware. They’re the programmers, hackers, makers and NERDS who can see the Matrix for what it is, and the world could use a lot more of them.
The way we increase this class of people is by teaching kids how to control computers. Not how to use computers – how to control them.
Think back to the pre-1990’s, if you’re of sufficient years. When you bought a car, you used to be tasked with the care and maintenance of that machine. Keep it gassed up, well-oiled and clean. And if a part broke down, you could either bring the car into the shop, or buy the part and replace it yourself.
Cars today are black boxes. Many of their systems are computer-controlled, and without the expensive diagnostic equipment and know-how, people are at a loss as to how to repair them. We have no choice but to bring our cars back to the dealership. Auto repair used to be a common hobby, like gardening. Today, modern cars can’t be easily tinkered with. By and large, the corporations that design and build the machines are the only people who have access to their guts.
Far From the Tree
The first six drafts of our TEDx talk were far more critical of Apple. i’ve owned many gadgets in my life, but with Apple, never before had i paid so much for a device that died so quickly. Two years into owning a 2nd generation iPod touch, which ran me close to $500, the battery died. The device was built so that i could not simply open it and replace the battery myself (as i’ve done with every other piece of battery-powered technology i had owned throughout my lifetime).
Dead man walking.
When i brought the device back to an Apple Store (as i was programmed by them to do), the “genius” there said in a very patronizing tone “Well, the batteries in these devices ARE consumable.” Since the warranty had expired, they said i could pay them eighty dollars for a new one. i said there was nothing wrong with the original device – it just needed a new battery. Could they just charge me eighty bucks for a battery replacement, and give me my original device back?
My perfectly functional Nintendo Entertainment System, purchased in 1987.
Gotta Fix ‘Em All
Cassie has been playing an iPad game called Mino Monsters, which is heavily inspired by Pokémon. It’s a freemium game, and a bad implementation of the model. That means that Cassie has to wait a prescribed number of hours to heal her monsters after battling. So i thought “nuts to that”, and charged up an old GameBoy Advance so that she could play an actual Pokémon game. i described it to her like Wilford Brimley describes the alien planet in Cocoon: “You can collect HUNDREDS of monsters, you don’t have to wait to heal them, you never get old, and you never die.”
Unfortunately, the battery in the game cartridge had died. Cassie could still play Pokémon Ruby, but the special timed events would no longer run.
A drained Pokémon Ruby cartridge, manufactured sixteen years after the NES pictured above. The NES’s battery-reliant cartridges still function.
i could easily have saved time and money by throwing the game cartridge in the garbage. But don’t you see? THAT’S HOW THEY WIN. A little more consumption, a little more waste, until one day we’re scavenging for food and supplies in the landfills we created while the slave-master machines soak up their energy from an exploded sun.
Today, i throw out a functional game cartridge. Tomorrow, Skynet.
So instead, i damn well got a tiny screwdriver capable of loosening the proprietary tri-head screw that Nintendo doesn’t want me to open, and i used a soldering iron to melt off the metal strips that metallurgically (and unnecessarily) bonded the battery to the circuit board. Then i bought a replacement battery at an electronics supply store and used electrician’s tape to hook it up to the game. i hammered it all back together with thumbtacks and spit, and when i turned the game came on, the “depleted battery” message was gone.
When i was finished, i stood dominant over the device with my fists raised to the sky and bellowed my terrifying man-ape alpha male father-of-the-year YAWP. Machines may one day rule my life, but i’ll be God-damned if i’m going to lose the first skirmish to Pokémon.