Tag Archives: Teevee

It’s Not Piracy – It’s Free-to-Play

i don’t want to chime in on this SOPA/PIPA stuff and sound ill-informed, alarmist, and adolescent like many of the current commentators do. (“SOPA is BAD because i can’t pirate movies any more … er … i mean, because it takes away my freedom!“)

Braveheart

Who do you think you are – William Wallace?

The truth is that i Am Not A Lawyer, and neither are you, and that makes us (and most laypeople) incapable of reading and comprehending legislation and bill proposals and legalese. We need our lawyer friends to do that for us, and since lawyers burn money to heat their homes, we have to put up with understanding these proposed bills with second-hand, filtered, and often distorted information.

Old Lady

Obama’s new health care plan will boil elderly people down for craft paste!!

As a lawyer friend of mine put it to me recently, anyone who does possess the skill and interest to read a bill like SOPA also brings with him an agenda, so you need to crank your bullshit filter up to High Alert (those last few were my words, not his. And, charitably, he didn’t charge me for his words.)

POPE-A

i liken the way we’ve heard about SOPA and PIPA to the way medieval peasants experienced the Bible. They were illiterate, and Mass was in Latin, so they relied on the liturgy to be retold to them after church let out, in the town square. As i tell my daughters: whenever you hear anything, think to yourself “Who’s speaking? Why are they saying what they’re saying? And what do they stand to gain or lose by communicating it to me?”

Honest Jon

It may sound like a cynical attitude, but hey – welcome to the postmodern age. (Also: get stuffed, Disney copyright)

A bit of what drives me nuts about the current lay “discourse” on SOPA is the standard weaselly excuses people make to protect their ability to steal media. And i will call it stealing, for now, because that’s what it is … taking for-sale or protected goods without paying for them is called “theft”, or “stealing”. i’m not going to argue that. What i will suggest though, as i did to my lawyer friend, is that people constantly push against the boundaries of law in ways that, once the scale tips, those once prohibited behaviours become legally permissible.

People of Wal Mart

There oughta be a law.

Here’s a short list of things you couldn’t legally do a few years back, and can now do thanks to enough people bumping against the boundaries long and hard enough:

- fellate someone (oral sex was decriminalized in Alaska in 1971. True.)
- marry someone of the same sex (boundaries are still being pushed on this one, as you well know)
- sit at the front of the bus if you’re black
- vote if you’re a woman

(the key difference here is that these laws are all about people, whereas copyright and piracy are about ideas and things … and it’s offensive to many of us that theft of ideas and damage to things can be punished as much as or more severely than damage to people)

With that key distinction made, digital piracy is another example of people pushing up against the limits of law, and in great enough numbers, that the law will eventually have to change to meet the demands and desires of the people. There’s a very interesting parallel between video game consumption and linear media consumption. Games can be pirated just like movies, music and teevee shows can. But the gaming industry is younger and more nimble than “Old Media”, and is constantly exploring new revenue models, because the game industry (perhaps uniquely) realizes it needs to Adapt or Die.

Skate or Die

Adapt or Die! Or Skate!

F2P via P2P

Free-to-play is one of these new-ish revenue models. It evolved out of a situation where players were being forced to pay a high price – $60 for maybe 20 hours of entertainment – with a sight-unseen product. They could only determine its value via reviews, word-of-mouth, and brand affinity. If they spent the cash and didn’t enjoy the game, they were out of pocket and out of luck – there was really no return policy. Their best bet was to hawk the disc at a Buy-And-Sell shop (about which the industry complained bitterly).

But now there’s this free-to-play model. The game is free – anyone can have it, no strings attached, and perhaps the file is shared on a peer-to-peer network. You download it, and you play as much as you like. There’s no risk. If you don’t like the game, you get rid of it and try something else. People can pay extra money for added value: new weapons, different levels, and snazzy hats. The hope of the game developers is that the minority of paying customers will subsidize the game’s development costs. Good games float to the forefront, and the best developers who offer the best value are rewarded with the most money.

Introducing Free-to-Watch

Now, think about people who pirate movies, and check this out:

Free-to-watch is one of these new-ish revenue models. It evolved out of a situation where audiences were being forced to pay a high price – $20 for maybe 2 hours of entertainment – with a sight-unseen product. They could only determine its value via reviews, word-of-mouth, and brand affinity. If they spent the cash and didn’t enjoy the movie, they were out of pocket and out of luck – there was really no return policy. Their best bet was to hawk the DVD at a Buy-And-Sell shop.

But now there’s this free-to-watch model. The movie is free – anyone can have it, no strings attached, and perhaps the file is shared on a peer-to-peer network. You download it, and you watch it as much as you like. There’s no risk. If you don’t like the movie, you get rid of it and try something else. People can pay extra money for added value: the big-screen theatre experience, film festival premiers with actors and directors in attendance, 3D glasses, DVD extras, and a physical product that they can touch and display on a shelf. The hope of the film-makers is that the minority of paying customers will subsidize the movie’s development costs. Good movies float to the forefront, and the best film-makers who offer the best value are rewarded with the most money.

The Patty Duke Show

Oh yes they’re couuusins, identical couuusins …

If movie studios were less entrenched and more willing to try new things like the game industry does, it’s possible that this whole concept of piracy would fly out the window. Laws would be changed, and “piracy” would be seen for what it really is: the agile, forward-thinking film industry’s experiment with their pioneering free-to-watch monetization model.

Netflix Slouches Toward Canada to be Born

It never used to be this way. Canada, the friendly and primarily Englsih-speaking neighbour to the North of the USA, used to get all the same stuff that they got stateside, at roughly the same time. Movies would be released on the same weekend, Canadian stations would broadcast big teevee shows on the same night, and all was right with the world.

The Beachcombers

If it weren’t for American teevee, we’d be stuck watching The Beachcombers.

Lately, though, this wonderful system has been falling apart. It became personal when the hotly-anticipated video game Rock Band was delayed a number of months in Canada – ostensibly so that the company could produce the bilingual French and English print materials. (i never bought that excuse … the game was published by EA, who have had ample experience writing French and English game manuals over the years). CTV, the primary Canadian carrier of American teevee for the masses, started pre-empting and re-scheduling certain top-tier shows like LOST, because they’d ordered hit shows from two competing American networks. Geo-blocking is rampant; Canadians can’t access Comedy Central, we can’t watch Hulu, and we don’t have TiVO. And the biggest cultural carrot that’s been dangled in front of our noses for years has been Netflix.

Netflix Canada

Netflix: its coming was prophesied.

Netflix is a video rental service that charges a flat monthly fee, and provides subscribers access to a library of DVDs. More recently, they’ve added a video streaming service. As this service has been rolled out to numerous gadgets and gizmos that we Canadians own (iPods/iPhones, Xbox 360′s, PS3′s, Wiis), and the Yanks have made a huge fuss over it, we’ve been positively salivating at the prospect of the service coming to the Great White North.

Well, Netflix is here now. And what do we have, after the long wait? Imagine if, for just eight dollars, you could watch any movie – ANY MOVIE YOU WANTED – from that discount DVD bin next to the cash register at Home Hardware. ANY MOVIE. You’d just have to pay Rogers or Bell the extra fifty bucks a month to increase your bandwidth cap, and this world of Earthly pleasures would open up to you.

Ice Twisters

Ice Twisters: just one of the New Arrivals you can enjoy with your new Netflix Canada membership. It’s about tornadoes that are made of ice. According to the synopsis, they “precipitate nothing but trouble.” i didn’t write that.

Supreme Netdown

i haven’t counted the number of movies on the Netflix Canada service, but i think it’s roughly twelve. Twelve movies, and i’ve already seen three of them. The movies are grouped into pretty granular categories, with a LOT of repeats between genre listings. Let’s take a look at the Netflix Canada offering of “Classic Sci-Fi & Fantasy” movies. But before we do, quick: what are the top ten Classic Sci Fi & Fantasy movies that come to your mind? i hope you could name ten, because Netflix Canada only offers seven. Seven movies. And classic, they ain’t:

  • Mad Max (no Road Warrior, no Beyond Thunderdome)
  • Godzilla’s Revenge (no original Godzilla, which has an IMDB rating of 7.3, to Revenge‘s 4.0)
  • Ghidora: The Three Headed Monster (i’m no monster movie fan, but where’s Gamera? Mothra?)
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • Silent Running
  • Red Planet Mars
  • King of the Rocket Men

Did you perhaps think of Metropolis, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or THEM? Or did you conjure up more recent classics like Blade Runner, Alien, Willow, The Abyss, or Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Well tough nuts. They don’t have ‘em.

BONUS: Can i get an American subscriber to list the movies in this category on American Stream Instantly Netflix? Kthx.

The Last Starfighter

The “Classic” moniker is admittedly subjective. i was hoping for an education in science fiction film. Instead, i searched in vain to find that they didn’t carry TRON, The Last Starfighter, Flight of the Navigator, Explorers, or SpaceCamp.

The Hits Just Keep On Failing to Come

Netflix Canada’s twenty-two selections in the pure “Fantasy” section include stinkers like The Golden Child, Bewtiched (the Will Ferrell bomb), Cool World (??), and the Uwe Boll schlockbuster In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale.

“Cult Comedies” (thirteen movies in total) has a few decent picks like The ‘Burbs, Being John Malkovich and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but really stretches the category with Teen Wolf (which is also inexplicably found in “Teen Horror”) and Big Top Pee Wee. No Election, no Rushmore, no Living in Oblivion, Ghost World, The Big Lebowski, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Heathers, Very Bad Things, or any other cult comedy I can think of.

(You’ll find Jeff Dunham and Joe Rogan in the Stand-up Comedy section, incidentally, which also stretches the genre category beyond its reasonable limits)

Netflix Canada Comedy New Arrivals

Yay! Look what’s just arrived in Comedy. i think i’ve only heard of TWO of those movies, and i rather wish i hadn’t.

Flame On

i’ve complained about it a bunch on Twitter, so i think i should just post this last rant and shaddup about it. Here goes: Netflix Canada perfectly recreates the depressing feeling you get when you go to a Blockbuster Video store closing to buy some discounted DVDs and the place has been picked over, and all that’s left are twelve copies of Jim Carrey’s The Number 23. You try to convince yourself that your wife will really like the romcom Picture Perfect (starring Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Bacon), or that $6.99 is a small price to pay for all the fun your kids will have watching the animated feature film The Missing Lynx, with the voice talents of … no, seriously – WTF? The Missing Lynx? What the hell is that? MetaCritic and Rotten Tomatoes don’t even have entries for it, and the IMDB folks put it at a 5.6. Based on my viewing preferences (i spent an hour or so rating movies on the Netflix site – movies that Netflix Canada doesn’t even have in its library), Netflix itself thinks that i’ll rate The Missing Lynx at about a 2.4/5.

The Missing Lynx

Remember when this came out in theatres OR went straight to video? Neither do i.

My American friends to the South speak of a land flowing with milk and honey – of a Netflix that has absolutely everything you could ever want to watch, streamed to every digital device you own short of your pocket watch. Now either the Yanks have a peculiar predilection for bargain bin trash, or we hosers are, once again, gettin’ hosed.

TENure

IMPORTANT: What’s that ungodly sound coming through my speakers/headphones? Scroll midway down the post and find the Flash piece called Bouncing Baby Boys. Then click on the bouncing ball to stop the sound effect. Then pop back up here and keep reading.

It Begins

i spoke to some students the Toronto chapter IGDA meeting two weeks ago, and it brought back what a terrible struggle it was to bridge the gap between education and career. Last night, i read this obnoxious sob story by Alistair Jones who just wants to realize his dream: to become a video game designer/writer, except without having to do all that hard stuff like programming or drawing. The article is very very long, so i’ll pull a few choice quotes to sum it up for you:

Boo hoo hoo. Life is hard. Waaaahhh wahhh. Violin music. Why won’t anyone give me a job despite my complete lack of ability? Sob sob sob. Colleges are trying to ruin my life. Why does everyone hate me? It must be the world’s problem, not mine. Sniffle sob. Please give me a job in games, because i’m great at playing games.

Like the students at the IGDA meeting, Alistair makes some bad assumptions that are holding him, and many students, back:

  1. An interest in gaming as a hobby has some bearing on my ability to succeed as a game developer.
  2. Someone will hire me straight out of school (or while i’m in school) as a game designer/writer.
  3. Since i trained in x/y/z, the world owes me a living in that field.
  4. i don’t have to be an expert in any one thing … i can dabble in all aspects of game production and design, and land a job.

Reading Alistair’s article and talking to the guys at the IGDA meeting was painful, because it brought to mind my own struggle, and reminded me that i made the same bad assumptions. i had a lousy time in college, like Alistair, and i moaned about it like a little bitch, like Alistair, with badly-composed prose, like Alistair. i hate Alistair. i hate his article. i see too much of myself in it, and it embarrasses me. But through certain twists of fate, i somehow made it … and perhaps, as he matures and hunkers down and does what needs doing, Alistair will make it too.

Making It

As of this month, i became a ten-year veteran of the video game industry. Ten years ago, in April 2000, i accepted a job at Corus Entertainment making video games for the website of their kids’ station, YTV. (YTV is like the Canadian version of Nickelodeon.)

YTV circa 1999

YTV is famous for its (then) live interstitials hosted by PJs (program jockeys, a take on MTV’s VJs/Video Jockeys). Pictured here, PJ Fresh Phil, who many people still ask me about. Yes, i’ve met him. Yes, he’s still preposterously hip.

And as long as i’m bragging, i want to be clear: i’m not talking about ten years in the industry doing industry-related things, like pushing a mop at a video game studio, or making games in my mom’s basement for a few years. i’ve racked up ten solid years of personally designing and creating actual video games in exchange for money. i’m not positive that the story of how that happened could happen again today, but in case it helps any of you, here it is.

Art School Drop-Out

Coming out of high school, i had not taken art. This was due to a conflict with the Performing Arts program which had eaten up all of my electives. i was a drama major, a budding playwright, and had starred in a few musicals by the time i had graduated. i didn’t take computer courses either, except in my final year. The final project for the senior-level course was a video game. While the course was programming-centric, and i had none of the prerequisites, i slipped in by making the case that game development was multi-disciplinary, and that i should be able to take the course as an artist/animator.

So leaving high school, i had no fine arts training and i had muscled my way into one computers course, with no programming knowledge. Naturally, i decided i wanted to be a computer animator.

Toy Story

Toy Story, released a year earlier, had a big impact on my decision.

i applied to the province’s most prestigious art college, and was accepted into their Art Fundamentals survey course (“art is fun for mentals!” as the students called it). The computer animation program was a post-grad course, and the Animation and Illustration programs were filled with actual talented artists. A month before classes started, they offered me a spot in the Illustration program, because someone wasn’t able to pay his tuition, and i was next in line on their ranked list of portfolios. i took the slot. After four months of growing keenly aware that i was out-leagued by far, far better talent, i dropped out.

Lesson: If you’re in over your head, best to admit it early and switch tracks while the damage is minimal.

Community College (or: When Does the Hurting Stop?)

i slid over to another college almost immediately, and took their computer animation program. This was NOT a prestigious school by any means. Clueless teachers proudly plastered the walls with plagiarized student assignments. The classes were filled with international students who didn’t speak English, and ate up the instructors’ time asking them to slowly, clearly explain rudimentary instructions (“Click file … SAVE. No – not ‘shave’ …. “) i had a lousy time.

The program had one interactive course in Director. i really took to it. Lingo, the scripting language, was simple enough to allow me to make button rollovers and responses, which was almost all i needed to make a simple first-person graphic adventure or puzzle game like MYST. So while most other students struggled with Director, i really had a good time with it. Our final assignment in that class was to make a program that had a title screen with five buttons on it. Each of the five buttons would link to a scene demonstrating a different animation type: tweening, mouse-tracking, straight-ahead, motion path, and i forget. i knew the other students would blow off the assignment and animate a bunch of meaningless circles and triangles around the screen (i was right!), so i made something called Bouncing Baby Boys:


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Get Adobe Flash player

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The school ostensibly had a co-op placement program, but like so many schools, they only had three industry contacts which were quickly exhausted. It was up to the students to find their own placements. i found one on my own in the Durham Board of Education (Durham is a district East of Toronto). The school hired me on contract as a technology tutor. i taught junior kindergarten kids how to use a mouse, i taught fourth-grade kids how to use a word processor, and i taught a sixth-grade gifted class how to make animated movies on the computer.

Kindergarten

Today, kids, we’ll learn how to set page margins and right-justify header text.

When that was over, i returned to the college to cut together my demo reel. i purchased a plane ticket and a pass to SIGgraph (Special Interest Group – Computer Graphics), an international conference in Florida where it was rumoured that big studios like Digital Design, Industrial Light and Magic, and PIXAR would hire graduates. i booked the edit room for three days and hastily began cutting my reel together over the weekend – my flight to SIGGraph left Monday. In the middle of that ordeal, the facilities manager kicked me out of the edit suite because i was no longer a student (my co-op placement had ended the week prior). i remember tearfully appealing to the school president in her office to let me finish cutting my reel. She begrudgingly agreed, but warned me that i was never to return to the school. i haven’t. To this day, i’m careful never to mention the name of that school, in case they ever try to claim me as a success story. Karma, friends.

Lesson: don’t take no for an answer, and don’t leave school without a proper portfolio. That portfolio is why you’re paying the money and spending the time.

BJs for Career Advancement: NOT a Myth

SIGGraph was a bust. i managed to weasel my way into a number of parties, including one at the top of the hotel overlooking Walt Disney World, where i spoke to the VP of Disney’s feature animation department. i realized the entire time that i scored a lot of party tickets because the gay men at the conference wanted a piece of my sweet cherry ass. Absolutely true story. (i didn’t give it up though! Let me repeat that fact for absolute clarity: i was then, and remain today, an ass virgin.) Despite meeting with a number of surprisingly high-ranking (and lascivious) people from various studios, i did not land a job at SIGgraph. And despite the header title of this section, i also did not blow anyone to get those tickets.

Gay boy

This is what they actually mean by “stiff competition”.

Lesson: There is always some legendary conference where desirable companies reportedly hire students. GDC has a career fair. i’m sure there are others. Don’t believe the hype. If you’re really that great, you won’t have to leave home to get noticed. And if your portfolio-fu is weak, you’re not getting a job, no matter how well-connected you make yourself. Unless you give up your man-hymen.

Seething at the Ceeb

i had a few misadventures in Toronto trying to find a job. Please understand that my hastily-slapped-together demo reel was HORRIBLE. i wouldn’t have hired me. i had one meeting at the CBC for a job making props for an unfunny show called Royal Canadian Air Farce, which is Canada’s second most toxic by-product next to pulp and paper mill runoff. They wanted signs and posters created with Adobe Illustrator. i showed the producer my hideous demo reel. He suggested i go to school. i told him i’d already been to school. He said i didn’t know how to use Illustrator. i protested that i DID … i was one of the best in my class. But since my portfolio didn’t contain any of my Illustrator pieces, i didn’t get the job. The guy actually said to me “Well, since your portfolio doesn’t have any Illustrator examples, despite what you say, you don’t know how to use Illustrator.” Not “i don’t THINK you know how to use Illustrator” – just “you DON’T know how to use Illustrator.”

Lesson: Tailor your portfolio samples to the job for which you’re applying. Employers can’t take you at your word.

In another instance, a guy went so far as to show me around the office and introduce me to the employees as someone who was going to start working there soon. He never called me back.

Lesson: Be consistent, follow up, and hold people to their promises. And unless there’s ink on a contract, there’s no such thing as a sure thing.

At a complete loss, i took a few more jobs with the Board of Education. The second job was teaching kids how to make games and mousetrap cars at a technology summer camp. The third was as an on-site technician for TVOntario’s Virtual Classroom project. i did that for a year.

Lesson: Inertia! Don’t be surprised if your first real job continues from the job you took as your college co-op placement. This means you should try your damndest to make your co-op placement as good as possible.

Old teacher

Objects in education tend to stay in education.

Rock Bottom

i was two years out of computer animation school, and i had nothing to show for it but some experience running an NES emulator during recess to distract two elementary school kids with rage issues from beating up the other kids on the playground. i had a number of near-misses, including one freelance job at City TV (a local Toronto teevee station). My college education had not panned out. i decided to admit defeat and try for a University degree. i enrolled at Trent University, and majored in Cultural Studies for one year, paying tuition with the money i’d made at the Board of Education, and my ongoing job as a clerk at a video rental store in my home town. The boss there kept his Adult section stocked with some disproportionately freaky stuff (in spite of the mostly sexually vanilla population), and screened most of it himself in his office in the basement. He was constantly on my case about my clothes not fitting properly – i had gained a ton of weight in college. This, friends – this was the low point for me. This is when i would have written my Alistair-style sob story on Gamasutra.

Lesson: Don’t write an Alistair-style sob story on Gamasutra. You’re low enough already.

Summer came. i had finished my intro courses in University. Since i had already conceded defeat and had taken the status quo measure of attending University, i figured i’d further submit to mundanity and get a summer job planting evergreen trees in a deforested chunk of Northern Ontario. i had heard it was soulless, back-breaking work, plagued with sunburns and black flies. With utter abandon, i started searching the online job site Monster.ca.

Tree Planting

How i (Almost) Spent My Summer Vacation

The Turning Point

That’s where i found it: a job posting for a game developer. i couldn’t believe my eyes. Could NOT believe them. Monster.ca was in its infancy, and was mostly packed with data-entry jobs and jobs selling knives door-to-door. There was never anything like THIS on that site. An actual game developer position. i freaked out.

Monster

Never settle. Take the best damned door-to-door knife sales position you can find.

The job was to use Macromedia Flash to create video games for YTV.com, a kids website. i spent my teen years watching a lot of YTV, and was smitten with their (then) purple, orange and green colour palette. This was too good to be true. A game developer at YTV. i was going insane.

i wrote a cover letter to them. A spazmodic one. An INSANE cover letter. i packed it with as much enthusiasm and passion as i could muster. It was an absolutely deranged cover letter. i attached my resume, and told them i had a demo reel. (You couldn’t run video online then like you could now, so people had to view your demo reel in person. Today, of course, you MUST put your stuff online, or it will likely cost you the interview). Within the week, YTV called me in for an interview.

Lesson: If the job is really, really important to you, it’s alright to show it. Geek out about it. Don’t send a static, staid letter. Do NOT send your form cover letter. Every employer wants to hire someone who really, REALLY wants to work there. Don’t be afraid to go off-book and fly your freak flag a little.

i brought my friend along he day of the interview, and we went shopping for suitable interview clothes that fit my more considerable stature. This was YTV, so i chose an orange T under a loud Hawaiian shirt, a pair of cargo shorts and some sandals. i must have looked like a cartoon character. And really, that was the point.

Lesson: Dress appropriately for your job interview.

Poochie

This is an actual photo of me from March 2000.

i showed them my demo reel at the interview. They weren’t impressed. No one was. It was a terrible reel. They asked me what my favourite show on YTV was. i had my answer ready: Nanalan’. This impressed them.

Lesson: Research the company before the interview.

They asked me if i knew Flash. i didn’t – i knew Director. BUT, the week of the interview, i had downloaded the free 30-day trial of Flash. i completed the 10 tutorials that shipped with the software. i took all the graphics and animations from the Bouncing Babies piece from my college Director course two years earlier, and recreated it in Flash. i showed it to them. It got me the job.

Lesson: Show the employer exactly what they’re looking for.

i remember the phone call vividly. i remember exactly what i said to the woman who hired me. Through elation and tears of joy, i managed “THANK YOU. Thank you SO much. You’ve changed my life.

Programming by the Seat of My Pants

And that’s how i found myself, on day one of my first job in the game development industry ten years ago, sitting at a desk with my own computer, my own phone, and a contract for a $40k annual salary (which, adjusted for inflation, is like a $41k salary). This was at the peak of the dot com collapse. My official title was “Game Developer”. i had not made a single game in all my life. The first day on the job, the producer asked me to create a game for a financial client who wanted kids to learn the value of saving. i built on what i already knew how to do, and built this, my first-ever professionally-produced video game:


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Get Adobe Flash player

[/kml_flashembed]

The goal is to flip all the coins to “heads”. When you flip a coin, all of the coins in the same row and column are flipped. The game has three difficulty levels with three different animated endings. Art, animation, voice-over and sound effects were all by me, with (i think) a deadline of one week.

i learned on the job. i expanded my skillset with every game they asked me to make. i leaned heavily on the expertise of the more experienced game developer there, and barraged him with questions. He was very patient. He told me later that of all the applicants for the job, i was the only one even remotely qualified, as unqualified as i was. No one else showed them any work that was youthful, kiddy and cartoony. No one else showed the same amount of promise or potential.

Lesson: Be in the right place at the right time, and be very, very lucky.

Peter Parker

Wanna be a superhero? Just get bit by a radioactive spider. How hard is that?

Ten Years After

i built over fifty Flash games at Corus for YTV, Treehouse TV (their preschool brand), WNetwork (their women’s brand), and corporate side-projects like The Big Rip collection of kids’ virtual worlds. i have created games for blind children, and games for deaf children. Ten years since landing that first real industry job, i own my own game development studio. i meet people like those two guys wanting to be hired as game designers/writers, and i read articles like Alistair’s, and i wince. It’s a familiar angst. i knew then, and i affirm now, that to get into this industry, you need to be a skilled at one of two things: art or programming. It’s very unusual to skip the queue, so don’t hold out hope. Instead, devote yourself to being useful or talented at something.

Lesson: Is this really your dream? Do you REALLY want to get into this industry? Then stop whining, stop playing World of Warcraft, and stop cooking up new and impossibly large game designs for RPGs and MMOs. Stop mistaking your notebook full of game ideas with actual completed game projects. Stop confusing game playing with game development. Stop equating your knowledge of games with some mystical birthright creating games.

Nerd

i can name every boss character in every Zelda game. That’s a useful skill. Hire me.

Instead, devote yourself completely to doing whatever it bloody well takes to succeed: that means starting small, and finishing something – then starting slightly larger, and finishing something else. You may not have the luxury of doing that on someone else’s dime as a salaried employee, but i guarantee you won’t get where you’re going unless you translate angst into action.

Don’t Call Me Digital

i was sitting in the industry consultation session held by Telefilm Canada, a federal corporation tasked with, among other things, dispensing cash to the country’s audiovisual industry, including teevee, film, and interactive content producers. Telefilm is restructuring its fund and calling it the Canadian Media Fund (CMF). One side of the fund gives money to teevee producers who put their content on at least one other platform (the Internatz, mobile devices, VR goggles – whatever). Telefilm has cooked up the detestable term “Experimental” to describe the side of the fund that is not teevee-dependent, which may include video games. Thankfully, enough industry folks urged them that “Experimental” was a terrible term and it’s being changed.

Moira Fenkleheimer

What’s in a name? Ask Moira Fenkleheimer.

So while i sat in the session, which was quite full of mostly teevee industry folks (and a small but extremely vocal and TERRIBLY worried-looking group of documentary filmmakers), i heard the word “digital” thrown around to describe what we do here at Untold Entertainment. The suggestion came up more than once that the “Experimental” stream, the one that was not concerned with teevee, be renamed the “Digital” stream. “Balls to that”, i say. Here’s why:

You Crazy Kids With Your “Rock n’ Roll” and Your “Hyperlinks”

The consultation really got me thinking about nomenclature. i see the term “digital” being thrown around all the time to describe what we do. The people using this term are mostly my parents’ age – baby boomers who have evolved from calling the computer mouse a “whatsit”, and are in positions of power at various places. These folks comprise the Old Guard of the entertainment industry. They’ve wrapped their minds around all this “new media” stuff to the point where they’ve siezed upon a catch-all term for any kind of content that wasn’t around when they were watching Howdy Doody on their 6-inch teevee screens in their costume chaps: digital. They must be so pleased with themselves.

Howdy Doody

Crimony. And they say the FUTURE is scary …

The Messenger is Not the Medium

The trouble with the catch-all term “digital” is that it doesn’t do a damned thing to differentiate between linear, one-way communication like radio and teevee (phone-in shows excepted), and true interactive content that you find in video games and on websites. “Digital” describes a method for delivering content – breaking the material down into discernable ones and zeroes (“digits”) and pushing those numbers through a pipe (cable, phone line, airwave) to the end user, where the numbers are translated back into pictures and sound. “Digital” is the evolution of “analog”. “Psycom” may be the evolution of “digital” for all we know – content transmitted directly to your brain. It STILL doesn’t help us describe the type of content that is reaching the end user.

It’s as if you were trying to differentiate between horses and cars, so you choose the term “commuting”. But then in many parts of the world, people start riding horses to work. Suddenly your term does nothing to differentiate the two concepts, because it described a method of consuming the thing, instead of describing the thing itself.

Nicotine Gum

“Nicotine delivery system” does not differentiate between harmful cigarettes and helpful gum.

Oh No He Di’in’t

So don’t call me digital. Teevee is digital, and i deplore the comparison. Teevee is also unidirectional, dumb, and on death’s door. And that’s fair – i’m sure teevee people resented being lumped in with radio, while radio didn’t appreciate being mentioned in the same breath as … i dunno. The Pony Express? At any rate, it’s all fruit, but when we lump teevee in with interactive, we’re comparing apples to pictures of apples.

Call me “interactive”. i feel it’s the best term that differentiates linear content from the amazing things we’re doing to involve and engage our audiences. If you’re part of the old guard and you’re clinging to your burning, sinking teevee ship with a tear in your eye, and you’d like to keep calling anything that follows teevee “digital”, be my guest. i promise we won’t put any Playboxes or X-Stations in your retirement home.

Building a Coffin for Nielsen

MMO-focussed site Massively is also covering the smacktalk coming from Corey Bridges, founder of Multiverse.

A while back someone said that it would take at least a $1 billion dollar super project to take on World of Warcraft. But maybe, as it was with the Roman Empire, the wolves at Blizzard’s gate will be countless smaller tribes made up of the so-called unwashed hordes.

There’s something very appealing about talk like this. It’s the “root for the underdog” spirit in me that really yearns for this kind of turnaround. It also doesn’t hurt that i happen to be the very underdog Bridges describes – a self-funded start-up with MMO ambitions. Of course, his talk should all be taken with a grain of salt, being that Multiverse is a MMO-building platform targeted at those same small teams to whom Bridges makes these promises.

Bringing Down the Old Guard

Mine

For part of Bridges’ talk at SXSW08, he mentioned how technology is chipping away at the root of the film and music industry power structure. i’ve had that conversation many times in the past few years, and in posts like To the Victor, the Eyeballs. The trouble that many of us young bucks face is that so many Old Guard media moguls are entrenched in antiquated ways of doing business, and have been getting so fat on those tried-and-tested methods for so long. The industry can only move forward with the help of two people: Mr. Retirement and Mr. That Guy Just Got Hit by a Bus.

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