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.
Thank you to everyone who has donated to Cassie’s education fund. The donations were placed in a registered education savings plan for her, and we’ll continue to make lump sum contributions as donations come in.
Now in grade one, Cassie is reading and spelling quite well. This new literacy has opened up a world of interests for her. She dove into Pokémon manga books that she found at the school library, and then launched into a campaign in Pokémon Ruby after discovering and dusting off my old GameBoy Advance SP in the closet. She has no idea they made a Pokémon teevee show, so she’ll totally flip when i show her the Pokémon TV App i downloaded for her today!
Uh … how ’bout putting these headphones on, sweetie?
Ain’t No Party Like a Robot Party
Last year when Cassie turned six, she asked us to throw her a robot party. The room was strewn with cardboard boxes which her guests could decorate with all kinds of craft supplies – markers, stickers, pipe cleaners and streamers. The party culminated in a robot parade as all the kids showed off their robot costumes. (FUN FACT: Cassie’s robot birthday party was the inspiration for her robot transformation in her TEDx talk last fall.)
i hope this dial turns down the adorable.
This year, i’m really excited to give Cassie an Arduino Uno starter kit so that we can make actual robots together. An Arduino is a microcontroller – the brain of a robot. You can hook it up to your computer and use free software to tell it to do things. Then you plug all kinds of gizmos into the brain, called “shields”, which enable the robot brain to receive input (from microphones, light sensors, barometers, etc) and then output electricity to other attachments (lights, LCD screens, motors, speakers). i can’t wait to spend more daddy/daughter time with Cassie as we work through the guidebook and figure it all out together.
It’s like fishing tackle, but for NYERDS!
i’ve read a lot of material about getting more women involved in the game industry and science & tech in general. Women should absolutely be involved, and of course, they should earn the same amount of money as their male counterparts. i’m always showing my daughters things like the Forbes Top Jobs for 2013 list, on which math and computer science skills feature heavily. But i don’t think that we can all just wish it into being, or snap our fingers (or stamp our feet!) to make it happen right away.
As a career-aged woman today, you can’t exactly read that Forbes list and think “instead of being an office manager/bank teller/teacher, i’m going to make a lateral move to become an information security analyst! Let me just update my resumé … ?” By the time you’ve graduated from University with a major in Cultural Studies and a minor in Linguistics (and this goes for men and women alike), you’re in a difficult place. Not impossible, but very very difficult.
My firm belief is that women in tech is an attainable future goal, not a present one. It’s a change that will take a generation to really happen – not a quick fix we can force by retraining adults for a couple of years. Let’s face it: learning everything you need to know about math is a long, slow burn. Today’s parents need to actively sow those seeds with their young daughters if that’s the kind of change they want to see. We need to make a conscious effort to explore math and scientific reasoning with our little girls! We need to stoke their natural curiosity and wonder before the world Barbies it out of them.
“Form a hypothesis about whether you smell pretty enough, little girls! *giggle*”
So! Cardboard robot party last year, actual robot present this year, and Ponycorns for all!
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.
i feel incredibly honoured to have been asked to give a talk at the upcoming TEDxToronto conference.
The fun hook here is that TEDxToronto crew has also asked my 6-year-old daughter Cassandra to take the stage with me, to talk about the game we made together and the work that has grown from it.
i’ll admit i’m somewhat nervous about giving a talk with a little kid. The last time the spotlight was on Cassie (at 7 in the morning on live national television) things went a little sideways. But she’s a year older now. Cassie is precocious and talkative as ever. She has absolutely steeped herself in video games, to the point where she has vivid dreams about them. She woke up this morning and showed me the real-world game she had drawn out on stacks of paper in crayon when she was supposed to be in her room sleeping. She couldn’t wait to get to daycamp to show her friends how to play it. It involves frogs.
My KID Knows More About Technology Than *I* Do!
The follow-up to Ponycorns for Untold Entertainment is a site called GamesByKids.com, which is actively under development. It’s meant to help bridge the gap between children’s passion for games and technology, and grown-ups’ fear or lack of understanding of the same. Grown-ups are responsible for teaching our kids, at home and at school, about how all this marvelous technology works … but because they themselves feel overwhelmed, i worry that kids aren’t receiving the training they need to excel in a knowledge-based (as opposed to manufacturing-based) working world.
That’s what Cassie and i are planning to share at TEDxToronto in October: we want to encourage grown-ups to take the wheel and get messy with technology, taking kids by the hand and leading the charge into a wondrous sea of unknown buttons and features and functions and doo-dads.
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:
You can target Apple’s iOS devices with Flash as your development platform.
You can develop Flash content for Apple devices for free, without even purchasing Flash.
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.
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
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.