Tag Archives: Kahoots

Ponycorns Storm IndieCade 2011! Yaaaaaay!!

The news is out: the IndieCade 2011 jurors made their choices from a list of over 400 hopefuls and have put together a knock-out lineup of finalists for the festival this year, and Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure made the grade!

Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure

It’s an honour just to be nomerated.

I’ll be flying out to the event in Culver City California next month to bring sunshine, love, and high-pitched screaming to a state famous for its short days and dreary cloud cover. While there, i’ll be able to try out some of the year’s most talked-about indie titles, and i’ll get to hang out with an absolutely stellar group of independent game developers, many of whom i’ll likely have regrettable and unfortunate sex with. i’m creeping all their Facebook photos right now, trying to weed out the ugly ones.

Phil Fish of Fez

Let’s try hair down, glasses off. And lose the fez.

Also in the running are Toronto’s Capy/SuperBrothers with Sword & Sworcery, who developed the game directly across the hall from the Untold offices under our meddling eye. And you may not yet have heard of BigPants or their selected stereoscopic game The Depths to Which I Sink, but that’s another Toronto game by none other than Jim and emilie McGinley, co-founders of the weekend-long TOJam event where Cassie and i developed Ponycorns. Finally, Gamercamp co-founder Jaime Woo had his “real” game Gargoyles selected to be part of the expo.

Jaime Woo

i think *somebody’s* been testing out the Photoshop SexyFace Filter.

And it won’t just be Toronto finalists attending – there’s a whole gaggle of us from the TDot flying out, including Mathew Kumar, the indie journalist behind EXP, Shawn McGrath, who’s currently building the trippy PS3 game Dyad, and indie dev Michael Todd, who gets a front row seat to my orgiastic debauchery because we’re splitting a hotel room. This just further solidifies Toronto’s reputation as the hub of indie game development in North America, and perhaps the world.

Toronto Indies

While i’d love to bring Cassie to the event, one of the drawbacks to being an indie is that you’re constantly down at the blood bank trying to sap enough haemoglobin to make rent. i could get her a plane ticket, but then of course i wouldn’t be able to act up at IndieCade, so i’d have to bring her mom … and if i brought Cheryl, i’d have to buy a ticket for Cassie’s little sister … and if you’ve ever seen our family pack for a 2-day stay at Grandma’s, you’d know that we couldn’t stop there – we’d have to charter our own cargo plane to transport all the “necessities” that two little girls require so that the day doesn’t devolve into a competition to see who can shriek the loudest. In short, i don’t have the means.

Ask Me About Loom™

While i’ll be happy to talk Ponycorns and its upcoming Japanese translation, i feel the game has about as much press and attention as any indie title will ever get. As IndieCade fast approaches, we’re working hard on playable demos of our upcoming games, Putty Crime: On the Trail of the Foxy Badger, a puzzle game modeled entirely in clay, and Spellirium, a post-apocalyptic word puzzle adventure game.

Putty Crime: On the Trail of the Foxy Badger

Putty Crime: on the Trail of the Foxy Badger

Spellirium

Spellirium

See you at IndieCade!

Untold Entertainment Goes Forth


Untold Entertainment Goes Forth

When Untold Entertainment Inc. turned three last year, we were reeling from the fallout of the global economic collapse. It’s been a slow, difficult recovery, and we still have a lot of work left to do, but i’m happy to say we’ve nosed out of the tailspin. This was a landmark year for Untold; we are poised to have an absolutely incredible fifth year going forward. If last year was our Empire, this year is our Jedi. Bring on the Ewoks, baby.

Ewok

Yub nub, motherf*cker.

Here’s a look at the Year That Was.

2010

August

Last fiscal ended on a dark note. We were struggling through Spellirium, our post-apocalyptic puzzle adventure game, as various production problems saw the budget sapped with very little to show for our efforts. The year ahead had us planning to complete service projects in the hope that we’d bank enough margin to continue working on the game.


Spellirium

September

My book was published! Unity 3D Game Development by Example: A Beginner’s Guide is a great introduction to game development, computer programming, and Unity 3D itself, which is a super-powerful game engine for creating on a wide variety of platforms. Thanks to you all for buying a copy, or for recommending the book to your friends.

Unity 3D Game Development By Example

Fall

We launched Jinx 3: Escape from Area Fitty-Two on YTV.com. Jinx 3 was the first game to use UGAGS, the Untold Graphic Adventure Game System. It supported multiple playable characters, an inventory system, a subtitle system, game variable control, and a “puppet” guidance system, which enables the developer to write commands to build in-game cutscenes. Jinx 3 was the first UGAGS game we developed, but the second one to launch, after Heads.

Jinx 3: Escape from Area Fitty-Two

i spoke about UGAGS at Gamercamp Level 2.0, a Toronto convention celebrating the joy of video games.

October saw the publication of a now-infamous article about the Vortex Game Development Competition, where the previous year’s winners were revealed to have never worked on the winning game.

i experimented with a feature called Linkbait Tuesdays, where i used the Linkbait Generator to spit out randomized titles for blog posts. It wasn’t much appreciated by my readership, and didn’t appreciably increase blog traffic, so i killed the feature.

On Hallowe’en, we launched our second free games portal called ZombieGameWorld.com. If you know the song about the old woman who swallowed the fly, you’ll understand our challenge with these portals. We built WordGameWorld.com in order to attract a word game-playing audience, so that we could control the site’s ad inventory and find an audience for Spellirium. When the site suffered from flagging traffic, i decided to build a network of game portals; ZombieGameWorld.com was ostensibly created to help drive traffic to WordGameWorld.com, which should drive traffic to Spellirium.

Old lady who swallowed a fly

She swallowed the spider to catch the fly. i don’t know why she swallowed the fly. i guess she’ll die?

To round out the fall, i grew a beard to win hockey tickets, despite not enjoying hockey. i spoke at an interactiveontario luncheon. And i wrote an article for Mochiland.com on the disgraceful refusal by contracting companies to credit their Flash game developers.

Ryan Henson Creighton's epic moustache

Why wouldn’t you want your game to be associated with this guy?

Winter

As the cold weather set in, i took a position at a private college teaching Unity 3D game development. i had hoped for a better experience than i had at Hervé Velasquez School for the Digitally Inclined, but no such luck: halfway through the course, which was dubbed Programming II (the students had supposedly been taught Flash/Actionscript for four months prior to my arrival), i had to dial everything back and re-teach programming basics to them. And by basics, i mean stuff like “What does the ‘=’ symbol do?” and “What is a variable?”

name

What … is your NAME?

The class was only eight students, but i had no fewer than two of those students’ parents call or email me to ask why little Billy was getting low grades on tests. YaRly.

In this, i further proved the thesis in my contentious What’s Wrong with Ontario Colleges articles (Part 1 and Part 2). Helicopter parenting and failure aversion have created a generation of non-functional kids, which i later dubbed The Most Useless Generation. My diagnosis is that many college undergrads have escaped high school without ever understanding How to Be a Student (an article i wrote while teaching last winter, which i’ve only just posted now that i’ve put some distance between myself and the situation).

In the interest of helping young people be more successful, i offered My Prescription for (More) Successful Students, which my students all ignored, and i wrote a serious of articles called Understanding Programming to explain programming basics, which my students also ignored. Oh well. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but sometimes you just have a retarded horse.

retarded horse

2011

Spring

In 2011, we launched an exciting blog series called Pimp My Portal, detailing our struggles to drive traffic to ZombieGameWorld.com and WordGameWorld.com. The hook here was The World’s Most Meager Marketing Budget, a pot of just $100 that i spent on Fiverr.com to buy testimonial videos to promote the site, the rationale being that search loves video. The Old Lady who Swallowed the Fly reared her ugly head again, as i found that i had no audience to watch the videos to go to the portal to go to the OTHER portal to find out about Spellirium. The Pimp My Portal series is ongoing.

Around this time, we were commissioned by The Centre for Skills Development and Training to produce a series of games to help teach workplace skills to 15-30-year-olds. The resulting game, Summer in Smallywood, enabled us to make a number of improvements to UGAGS, including auto-save, debug tools, navigation meshes, saved game profiles, and threaded conversations. We’re looking forward to working further with The Centre in the coming year to expand our educational gaming experience.

Summer in Smallywood by Untold Entertainment

In March, i admit i was feeling a little bit desperate and squirrely. Work was trickling into the shop in fits and starts, and i was really wondering whether renewing our lease would be wise. Wild-eyed and hungry at GDC, i was overcome with the need to let the world know i am here, like the tiny Whos living on a speck on a clover stalk, who ultimately issue a resounding YOPP! to show the jungle animals that they exist (and to keep from getting boiled in beezlenut oil).

Horton

A game dev’s a game dev, no matter how small.

To that end, i pulled some shenanigans at the conference, which came to be known as the famous GDC Coin Stunt. The resulting press on most major online games sites greased the wheels for what was to be our greatest victory yet.

i have all the coins shirt

Over the years, we’ve found it so difficult to drive enough steady Flash game development work that we haven’t been able to bank enough time or enough money to do our own thing. To date, the only chance we seem to get is TOJam, an annual weekend-long Toronto game jam, during which we always produce a complete and original game. Indeed, nearly every title in the Original Games section of our portfolio is a TOJam game, completed in one weekend by me alone.

This year, we used UGAGS to create Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure. i worked on the game with my 5-year-old daughter Cassandra. It was no accident that i was wearing my “I have all the coins” T-Shirt in the TOJam group photo this year. After the game went live, it went viral, initially being featured on many of the same sites that covered the coin stunt. In the few months since its launch, the ponycorns game has gone on to become an international sensation (i just granted an interview to a Japanese newspaper this week!).

Cassie and Daddy

[photo by Brendan Lynch]

With the ponycorns game, we took a very important step to improving our viability as a dev studio by launching the game on the Apple iPad and the BlackBerry Playbook. On the third day of its launch week, Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure was featured by Apple in its New & Noteworthy section.

Ponycorns also drove us to develop our first alternate revenue stream based on our original IP. We launched the Untold Booty merchandise store with a number of different ponycorns-based SKUs, and have been very happy with the results.

Throughout the year, i remained active with the IGDA Toronto Chapter, organizing some well-received events including the speed dating-style Game.Set.Match, the Open Mic Night rant session, Straight Outta TOJam: Pint-sized Postmortems, and the Fund in the Sun workshop.

IGDA Toronto Chapter posters

Through the spring, we developed a great puzzle/platformer game called Spladder, which currently runs on a number of kids’ broadcaster sites – YTV.com. TVO.org and CBBC.co.uk among them.

We launched a new games portal called TowerDefenseGameWorld.com and filled it with free tower defense games, because it’s difficult to prove a theory about a network of games portals lending each other traffic if you only have two portals. We also gave a major upgrade to ZombieGameWorld.com by expanding it to feature zombie games and goodies on other platforms.

i know an old lady who swallowed a horse. She’s dead, of course.

Summer. Future.

We’ve come full circle. Spellirium remains unfinished, but we’re finally spending time on it again. We poked Kahoots with a stick to see if it was still twitching. Thankfully, it is! We’ve made some creative changes to it to spare a fellow indie game dev company some unpleasant legal strife; look forward to a Kahoots-related announcement in the coming months.

i’m writing the 3.x update to my Unity 3D book, which will be ready shortly (send me an email and i’ll add you to our notification list when the update is released).

Going forward, our plan is to leverage the success of the ponycorns game to make major in-roads into game development and education for kids (see our article on CBC.ca). i’m preparing a pilot project with Cassie’s elementary school this fall. We’re preparing the unstoppable UGAGS engine for a business-to-business, and then consumer, release – expect it to have a kid-friendly interface. We’re polling people for their interest in an iPhone/iPod version of the game (send us an email!). i’ll be delivering my conference session Ponycorns: Lightning in a Jar at the Screens festival this fall, and at other conventions throughout the year. Ponycorns is being translated into Japanese in anticipation of the Sense of Wonder Night at the Tokyo Games Show.

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. Thanks so much for your support, everyone! i’m really looking forward to writing an amazing recap next year.

5 outrageous frauds involving mustaches

As a writing exercise, i’m using the Linkbait Generator to create titles for my blog posts. It’s LinkBait Tuesdays! Please enjoy responsibly.

1. Hitler Has Escaped and is Disguised as Sigmund Freud

Hitler in disguise

Heil, Professor von Fakenbeard

According to Wikipedia’s Diguise entry, the United States secret service circulated a Wanted poster throughout Germany in 1945, depicting a newly made-over Adolph Hitler. The fear was that Hitler may escape capture or defeat by the Allies, and was one haircut away from getting away scott free. It’s amazing how much more like a bitter, angry college professor he looks with that altered mustache and haircut, rather than the … you know … mass murderer of millions of people.

2. Keeping a Stiff Upper Lip During the Zombie Apocalypse

YouTube user SimCal demonstrates the cheat code in Plants Vs. Zombies that gives all the zombies mustaches:



3. Former Con Man Helps the FBI Catch a Crook

Wired Magazine tells the tale of a former con man who ratted on a young hacker interested in defrauding automated teller machines. The FBI stepped in and, with the help of a fake mustache and the alias “Leo”, were able to catch the crook red-handed.

4. Hair Transplant Goes Horribly Wrong

As payback for some past pranks, this YouTube user fashions a mustache from his short n’ curlies and convinces his girlfriend to wear it.



5. Tiny Clay Hooligans Terrorize Fake England

Serendipitously, this randomly-generated headline dovetails nicely into one of our original projects. Kahoots is a fun crime-themed puzzle game modeled entirely in clay, in which tiny mustachioed villains commit modestly heinous acts.



Is there an outrageous mustache fraud i missed? It’s very likely. Let me know in the comments section!

Thoughts on Practical Tips for Independent Game Development

For at least a decade, all my game development endeavors had one thing in common: none of them were ever finished.

With these words, indie game developer Jacob A. Stevens established himself as my soulmate, and endeared himself to my heart forever. From this point forward, i will be there to peer into his kitchen through the shrubbery outside his house, as if locked in a trance.

That is to say, i can’t recommend Jacob’s Gamedev.net article Practical Tips for Independent Game Development highly enough. Our experiences and opinions are so common, i have to wonder if he actually dug through my trash and assumed my identity to write the piece.

Hang on a tick …

Alright, i’ve just looked out my kitchen window and have discovered that Jacob is actually peering through my shrubbery at me. i’ve waved to indicate that he can come inside, but i think he just wants to watch. Oo-er, missus. Soul mates indeed.

Peeping Tom Kitteh

Jacob drops so many truth bombs throughout the article that i believe he should be arrested and tried for truth crimes. Here are a few salient points that stood out while i read:

Build the Game, Not the Infrastructure

It’s easy to get distracted by tasks that don’t directly contribute to the final product, like building tools and editors. Hardcode the levels.

i’ve spoken to many a fledgling game developer who’s said “our engine is 75% complete!” Good for you. How’s your game doing? We technically-minded perfectionists (myself included) are often so caught up in making pretty, slick tools that by the time we burn out on a project, we haven’t actually produced something a person can play. It’s far better to have something tiny, playable and rough around the edges than a slick level editor that you abandoned at 75%.

Are You Sure You’re Cut Out For This?

Lots of people think they want to make games.

To quote Jack Black, “i’ve got sour news for you, Jack. It’s not that easy. Are you willing to make the commitment to rock-hard tasty abs WASHER-BOARD STYLE, glistening in the sun??” The classic fable of the little red hen comes to mind – everyone wants to play games, and everyone wants to have made games, but very few people are actually equipped to deal with the mental and physical anguish involved in making games. At the end of the day, most of us are ducks, cats and pigs, rather than little red hens.

“Who will help me code the user interface?”
“Not i,” said the practically everybody.

Just because you enjoy eating ice cream, doesn’t mean you’d enjoy working for minimum wage in an ice cream factory! Try on game development in small doses, and decide – really decide – whether you want to play games, or make them.

Self-Propulsion

In trying to find the right people to partner up with, even if those people have never made a game before, Jacob says:

The key is to look for demonstrated self-motivation.

We have a saying in our family: the drive is the talent. None of us are particularly good artists, musicians, programmers, businessmen, jugglers or bow-hunters, but we do possess a heaping helping of drive, or ambition. That drive is what possesses us to go ahead and learn bow-hunting when it’s called for. And though we may not emerge the world’s best bow-hunters on the other side, at the end of the day we got it done. We’re like those characters in Heroes who can absorb other superheroes’ abilities. Or we’re like the writers of Heroes who re-trained to become accountants just to escape their jobs on that show, because it friggin’ stinks.

Heroes Sucks

Fo realz, Heroes writers. Please go do something constructive with your lives.

When i got my first job in the games industry, i was hired for my drive. It certainly wasn’t for my artistic or programming talent – i had neither. And i had never made a game before in my life. But there’s a lot to be said for motivation. i don’t know if this is an ingrained quality in a person, or whether it can be practiced and improved upon. Either way, i’d be more likely to partner with, say, a decent and motivated artist than a fantastic artist who was somewhat of a slouch.

U Ay-yi-yi

A common misconception is that a great game starts with a great idea. StarCraft, Zelda, and Resident Evil are genius games because their creators painstakingly refined the details of the games until they were virtually flawless.

My opinion here may be due to the current struggles we’re facing with our games, but in my up-to-the-minute opinion, the very best strategy is this: start with a game concept so small, you figure there’s no possible way it could possibly stand on its own as a complete game. Then build it – that’s the easy part. Then go build the UI – the buttons, the title screen, the win and lose conditions, the log in, the sign-up, the high scores, the level selection screen, the error messages, the credits and the modal dialogues. If you fail anywhere, that’s where it’s gonna happen. You can always go back later and expand the game idea, but bear this in mind: 10% of the work is building the game, while 90% of the work is building everything surrounding the game.

World of Warcraft UI Design Nightmare

There’s a reason “Game UI Designer” is an entirely distinct profession.

i can tell whether i’m going to enjoy a free online game within the first three seconds. If care and attention have been paid to the intro logos, the title screen and the Play button, i know i’m in good hands. But if i see an unincluded font outline on that Play button, or an amateurish load bar, i don’t stick around long.

If you put together a complete game, with all the fixings that i mentioned above (registration and high scores are optional, of course), then you can go back and start building out your game’s features. In fact, if i were to teach game development to students, i’d be tempted to have them start with the front-of-house donut, and work in the actual gameplay once all that jazz was in place. Your appetite for feature creep will be a LOT lower once you consider all the UI you’ll need to support it.

Why Haven’t You Launched Any Games?

Case in point: both of our original games in our development queue, Kahoots™ and Interrupting Cow Trivia have been finished for months. We haven’t worked on the Kahoots™ gameplay since about February. This whole time, we’ve been programming the dozens of dialogue pop-ups and screens that facilitate the gameplay. And we just released a first look at ICT‘s graphics and theme yesterday – now we’re faced with the grim task of doodling up the scads of checkboxes, input fields, windows, prompts, scrollbars and messages that comprise the game’s visuals.

So you want to be a solo indie game dev? Start out by testing your passion for being an indie UI designer, and see where that takes you!

Enter the Cow

You doubted us. You’ve been following our posts about Interrupting Cow Trivia, our fun online real-time multiplayer trivia game, and in each one we’ve teased the fact that the game will, eventually, contain a cow. We launched the alpha version of the game with no graphics, no cow. And your confidence in us faltered.

Well, oh ye of little faith – feast thine eyes on THIS!

Interrupting Cow

Moo-yah! (That’s like “boo-yah”, except cow-style, because we needed to make an early 00′s slang term even more lame than it already is)

We Need Your Help

Many months ago, we commissioned character artist Kelly Conley to draw a cow for our game. His only direction was to “draw a retarded cow”. After many revisions of cow facial expressions that ranged from inane to confused, and from bewildered to aloof, he finally nailed that elusive retarded cow look that everyone wants but no one can have.

We’ve been sitting on this cow design the whole time, wondering whether or not the world was ready for it – wondering whether society was willing to accept such a free-wheeling but intellectually-challenged bovine. So after much deliberation (and a desperate need for new content now that we’re writing daily posts), we decided to leave the deciding up to you.

If you feel passionately either way about this cow, please indicate on our poll whether you hold this cow character design to be totally Awesome, or udderly N’Awsome:

[poll id="4"]

As with our previous poll about fake British town names for Kahoots™, your feedback could decide whether this cow becomes the unfortunate face of Interrupting Cow Trivia, or whether it’s back to the (literal) drawing board.

Not Your Father’s Cow?

And if you have played the game but don’t really like it, we don’t really care what you think! Go show the cow to someone who’s into trivia games … your dad, for instance. Yes – please show this cow to your 40+ year old father and ask him what he thinks, because we have a hunch he’s our target audience. You can go back to your tower-defending and zombie-shotgunning once you ask dear old dad to answer our cow poll.

(note: be sure you possess the strength to pry your laptop from your father’s white-knuckled death grip once he starts playing Interrupting Cow Trivia and gets hopelessly hooked, ’cause that’s gonna happen.)

Moo.


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