Tag Archives: Toronto

No Quarters Required at the Nuit Blanche Arcadian Renaissance

Deciding whether to attend the Arcadian Renaissance event during Nuit Blanche this past Saturday night/Sunday morning was difficult for me. On the one hand, i am a Hand Eye Society member, some of my Toronto indie friends had video games in the show, and my company sponsored one of the cabinets. On the other hand, i love sitting on the couch and going to bed at a godly hour, and they were airing a new episode of So You Think You Can Quilt Canada. In the end, i decided to trek out to the new Bell Lightbox building and risk getting my face peeled off by poltergeists to check out the event.

Nuit Blanche 2010

The streets of the city were clogged with drunk young people looking for a good time. Oh, and art.

TIFF Bell Lightbox

The Lightbox itself was a surprisingly happenin’ joint. i took this picture sitting on the shoulder of the StayPuft Marshmallow Man.

Arcadian Renaissance Cabinets

The arcade cabinets were an impressive feat of engineering. That sweet baby at the far end is coming to live in the Untold offices.

Arcadian Renaissance Projection

It’s hard to convey the scale of this without a wide angle lens, but one projector beamed Co-Op Cottage Defense on the one-story-tall atrium wall. It looked great!

Arcadian Renaissance Nidhogg crowd

The Nidhogg tournament began at midnight. The game had the crowd enthralled and titillated. One dude in this picture actually has an erection, but i tastefully cropped it out of the shot. In entirely unrelated news, see if you can spot Untold’s intern Cale somewhere in the photo.

Arcadian Renaissance Nidhogg

Yes, Nidhogg is my essential cinema. Thank you for asking.

Arcadian Renaissance Nidhogg

(although, Ernest Goes to Camp was pretty good too.)

Update

Mark Rabo of Gamercamp shot this fantastic piece at the event. Among the video’s revelations: Ryan is badly in need of a shave and a haricut.


Arcadian Renaissance from Mark Rabo on Vimeo.

New Toronto Café Has a Board Game Collection to Die For

Last night, i had the pleasure of patronizing a new café here in Toronto called Snakes & Lattes, which augments the usual triple-foam overpriced fancy coffee fare with an enormous wall packed with board games.

The café is on Bloor Street West of Bathurst, quite nearby Honest Ed’s and the Pizza Pizza joint frequented by Scott Pilgrim and pals in the movie. i showed up on their second night of operation to find the place packed with people of (nearly) all ages. i’m not sure i spotted anyone over 45, but there was a surprising number of young teens and children in the place. Seeing children in Toronto is like sighting leprechauns – they’re so rare that you think you may have chanced upon some mythical creature that you need to catch up and strangle for its gold. (Unfortunately, despite my enthusiastic strangling, these kids were flat broke.)

Snakes & Lattes Tuesday night crowd

The Snakes & Lattes Tuesday night crowd

i saddled up to the counter and ordered a hot cup of jasmine green tea, the perfect choice having just cycled through 30 degree heat with high humidity (i didn’t notice that they had cold pop until much later). The tea tasted awful, which is less a criticism of the café, and more a criticism of tea … the stuff is supposed to boost my metabolism, but it tastes as if i’m licking a tree.

For the first little while, i stood like a dope holding my mug. The joint was so packed, i couldn’t find a place to sit all by my lonesome, so i wandered by the absolutely enormous collection of board games and perused the titles.

Snakes & Lattes game collection

i struggle for the right words to describe Snakes & Lattes’ games collection; the term “boner-inducing” comes to mind. This is about half of the café’s library.

This place has everything, from classic strategy games like chess, checkers and go, to well-known stand-bys like Monopoly (in many different flavours), all the way up to the kind of games i enjoy – European board games like Settlers of Catan (which is like Monopoly, except it doesn’t blow ass). The more “serious” Euro games sat on the shelves, in and amongst the well-known titles, lying in wait for some unsuspecting patron to say “Let’s try Agricola!” or “I wonder if Power Grid is any fun?” It’s a sly strategy of a clever pusher, like lacing cupcakes with smack.

i was pleasantly surprised to see a number of games i’d completely forgotten about, but which brought about a flood of nostalgia, including the two “toy” games 13 Dead End Drive from the 90’s, and Fireball Island from the 80’s, both of which got played while i was there.

Snakes & Lattes Fireball Island

Seeing Fireball island made me want to slap on a pair of ALF underoos and drop the needle on a Jem and the Holograms record.

Eventually, i accosted a couple at their table. They were playing Lost Cities, a two-player game that’s found its way to Xbox Live Arcade. i insinuated myself into their game, so i suppose the first game i played at Snakes and Lattes was “cockblocking”. Once they’d finished playing and i’d successfully killed the mood with my sweat-swathed face, now completely overheated from the bike ride and the tree-licking, we cracked open a copy of Ticket to Ride, another table-to-Xbox conversion.

Snakes & Lattes Ticket to Ride

Note:no relation to the Beatles song, except that everyone hums it when they’re about to play.

The evening progressed delightfully from there. i ordered a gingerale and cooled down, while we laid track across a tabletop approximation of industrial America. The café officially closes at 11 PM on weeknights, but we didn’t clear out until closer to midnight. If you pay the shop a visit, be sure to leave enough time to finish your game. The good-natured owner, a friendly Frenchman named Ben, tolerated us and our suggestions for new games (despite his already killer collection), but it was apparent that his girlfriend and business partner Aurelia was tired and overworked from an apparently exhausting opening. i hope she lasts the week!

Snakes & Lattes Ben and Aurelia

(Between us, i think she’s a goner)

Ben will likely get very tired of people suggesting games he doesn’t have on offer. i found out that he doesn’t like expansions, which is a shame because some games only become playable with their expansions. Ticket to Ride Europe, for example, fixes a number of problems with the original game. When asked if he’d consider selling board games as well, Ben said he’d think about it.

i can see the fervor over Snakes and Lattes dying down as the café moves past the positive press surrounding its opening, but i hope it will develop a loyal enough fanbase to stay open through the bitterly cold winter months here in Toronto. i very much enjoyed my visit, and am excited about making a return trip.

To show your online love, you can Like the Snakes & Lattes Facebook page, or follow @snakesandlattes on Twitter.

Toronto Fan Expo 2010: State of the Toronto Game Industry Panel

i felt really honoured to be invited to speak on a panel at the Toronto Fan Expo this weekend alongside a number of other local industry pros. i couldn’t attend the event as a non-cosplayer, so my wife Cheryl whipped up a little something to satisfy my desperate desire for attention, and my business need to extend the Untold Entertainment brand in ridiculous ways:

Ryan Creighton's red monster hat

The panel was moderated by Jason MacIsaac of Electric Playground fame, late himself of a small Ontario game studio from the Niagara region called Cerebral Vortex Games.

Fan Expo State of the Game Industry Panel

My fellow guests on the panel were (from right):

  • Ian Kelso, head of interactiveontario
  • Leslie Phord-Toy, a producer at UbiSoft’s new Toronto Studio
  • Ryan MacLean, formerly of Pseudo Interactive and a founder of Drinkbox Studios (also both the second Mac and the second Ryan on the panel)
  • Philippe McNally, from Longbow Digital Arts, who recently released their PC RTS Hegemony: Philip of Macedon

Fan Expo Line-up

i was thrilled to see that the line-up for the talk was substantial. A Fan Expo staff member asked us if we were okay with people sitting on the floor when we ran out of seats. Of course, Ubi Soft was the big draw, as many of the audience members wanted to know how to get a job there working on their favourite triple-A console franchises. i made a point to mention that UbiSoft also developed the Nintendo DS Babiez/Petz/Horsez games, as well as a number of cash-in movie licenses that have failed to pull in the same acclaim as their more well-known blockbusters.

i’m doing my best to end this (apparently prevalent) notion that working in the video game industry is the ultimate fulfillment of this masturbatory Tom Hanks in BIG fantasy everyone has. Bills gotta get paid, and you may be asked to (gasp!) work on something you don’t like, such as a (shock!) video-heavy bank website instructing visitors on the various retirement products available to them (as we did last year).

Ian Kelso

Most people were delighted to see Ian, who they mistakenly thought was cosplaying as either Lex Luthor, Professor Xavier, Kratos, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, John Locke from LOST, or as a member of the Blue Man Group after a bath.

Half-Remembered Q & A

i admit, i’m having a hard time remembering what went on at the panel. There was a girl in the second row wearing an incredibly distracting Slave Leia costume, so i think most of what i had to say was along the lines of “hummina hummina hummina.” (Slave Leia costumes don’t usually do it for me, but this one was worth strangling your hutt over.)

Toronto Fan Expo 2010 Slave Leia

Alternate Star Wars masturbation euphemism: HAND SOLO.

So the pro reporters will definitely cover the panel better, but here are a few questions and answers that i can recall:

Q:Why develop games in Toronto?
A:Lesley’s answer was no secret – Ubi was attracted by the tax credits and government funding. Ian hinted that interactiveontario and the government are trying to secure at least one more “whale” to move into the province. For the three small developers, the answer was “intertia”. Our families are here, we live here, and for folks like me who have young kids and ties to grandparents, it’s very difficult to seek our fortunes elsewhere. Ian added that the work they’re doing to attract big companies helps heal the brain drain; if Lesley were to leave UbiSoft (for example), he wants enough studio muscle here to retain top talent in the province.

Q:Does your choice of school make you more or less employable?
A:Ryan M seemed to be more impressed by educational pedigree, saying that it was not the only thing he looks for, but that it is an indicator of a qualified applicant. The only “good” Ontario schools mentioned were Waterloo, Sheridan, and University of Toronto. There are many, many schools that aren’t on that short top-of-mind list, including yours. Reflect on that.

i took a few digs at the International Academy of Design and Technology, saying that nearly everyone i’ve known from that school – both students and faculty – bad-mouthed the place (and forgetting that the moderator had been an instructor there – oops). Despite the school’s rock-bottom reputation, i’ve hired two programmers in my stint as a studio owner, and they’ve both been IADT grads. For me, individual excellence beats a school’s bad rep.

flaming torch juggler

i’m not bothered that this guy is an IADT grad. The moment we need a flaming torch juggler, he’s hired.

Q: Why aren’t more studios embedding themselves in schools to cherry-pick the best talent?
A:(no one really weighed in on this, but i gave it a shot at a local community college this year with disastrous results)

Q:How do you get a job in the industry?
A:The panel agreed that portfolios were really important. Ryan M said that demonstrated capability trumps a fancy CV. Philippe liked to see evidence of problem-solving ability. i said i’d much prefer a candidate with a portfolio of a few finished games he’d created himself, rather than a student project he completed with a number of classmates.

Q:Why don’t more companies take interns?
A:The three indies – Philippe, Ryan M and myself – said that interns were a risky proposition for small studios, due to the resources they demand. Leslie said that Ubi takes interns (theirs was in the front row taking pictures), but that the intern would have to have something valuable to commit to the organization.

One thing i didn’t get a chance to say was that people should be very wary of schools that offer internships. Picture it: you’re a college program head, and your school has guaranteed this placement program. You’ve got a few great students, a handful of middling ones, and two or three absolute morons who have barely managed to squeak by. Do you really want your school’s reputation stymied by those guys? Do you really want to risk damaging your relationship with industry by sending them out on a placement? No, you don’t.

duh

Uh … hello, UbiSoft? We have a student who’d like to complete his placement in your shop.

Add to that the fact that there are very few shops in town, compared with the number of schools cranking out game-trained grads (Humber, Waterloo, George Brown, Durham, U of T, UOIT, Ryerson, Trios, Sheridan, Seneca, York, and Max the Mutt off the top of my head). Some schools churn grads as often as every six months. There’s a clear internship supply-and-demand problem here.

That’s why in my personal experience (and from what i’ve heard anecdotally from others), when you enroll at a school that promises a great placement program, they’re lying. It’s often a marketing ploy to get you in the door. You’ll certainly have to complete a placement to earn class marks, but you’ll have to hunt down the placement yourself. When i was a student at Seneca College here in Ontario, the school had two or three placements in industry for their favourite sons, and the rest of us scrambled. One girl got a job at her uncle’s trucking plant. i found an internship on my own at the Durham Board of Education, working in the computer lab with students in junior kindergarten. This was the final program requirement for 3D computer art and animation students.

The type of school you really want to attend is one that has high entrance standards, and that fails students early and often. There are very few that do this, but i heard an apocryphal tale that Sheriden will refuse to graduate a 4th-year student with a weak portfolio/art thesis presentation. (Note that Sheridan was on the panel’s very short list of prestigious schools.)

Fan Expo State of the Video Game Industry panel

Ryan M covers his mouth in horror as Ryan C tells Lesley a particularly upsetting fart joke.

Q:How do you choose the right school?
A:Most of the panelists were too political to answer frankly. i don’t toe the same line, because i feel that many of the schools in this province – particularly the community colleges – are doing the industry and their customers a great disservice, and should be held accountable. i warned against schools with very new programs (which is most of them), because they often work out the kinks at the expense of their initial student intakes. i also took issue with schools whose teachers have very tenuous connections to industry. i was speaking to a colleague of mine not long ago, who suggested that every two years, the colleges should kick their instructors back out into industry to ensure they’re keeping their skills up to date.

Ian mentioned that organizations like io in other countries have partnered with (bullied?) schools into an arrangement where the trade association has to approve its course offering in order for the school to earn a passing grade from industry. As a prospective student, you just look up which schools the association recommends, and apply there. i like that idea, but i worry it’s prone to abuse in the name of politics and playing nice.

Party On and Be Excellent to Each Other

Bill & Ted

If there was one main takeaway from the conversation, it was to focus on personal excellence. The very best stand out, while everyone else falls to the wayside, as in all things. You wanna make games? Then the barrier to entry is so low, as Jason said and as Ian reminded us, that you should already be making games. Don’t wait on UbiSoft or some small indie shop to give you your big break. There’s a golden opportunity for you right here, right now that didn’t exist when the rest of us were getting our start.

The panelists spoke about a number of groups, technologies and resources. Here’s a non-exhaustive list:

Groups

  • Hand Eye Society Where Toronto’s indie developers meet.
  • IGDA Toronto Chapter This group places more emphasis on professional development than the HES.
  • Artsy Games Incubator Artists who want to make games, but have no programming ability, get together to … make games! Closely tied to Jim Munroe’s efforts at the HES.
  • TOJam The Toronto Indie Game Jam, an annual event where the city’s pros and hopefuls get together over one weekend to make games. A fantastic event.
  • FlashInTO The Toronto Flash user group.

Technologies

  • Unity 3D Create 3D video games in the browser, with a (comparatively) low learning curve.
  • Adobe Flash A relatively inexpensive program for creating 2D and quasi-3D browser games. Lots of books and tutorials – join our ranks of over two million developers!
  • Game Maker A free game creation tool, and the favourite of many indies.
  • Scratch An easy-to-grasp game creation tool from MIT
  • UDK The consumer version of the Unreal Engine. i don’t recommend this one because of its eventual high cost (despite an initially free download)

Resources

  • Unity by Example, a book written by me that is coming out very shortly. It’s a great resource for new game developers that teaches you how to make small, simple games, and how to approach your game dev career so that you don’t give up on it. Send an email to info [the at symbol] untoldentertainment.com and i’ll send you a note once it’s available.
  • MochiMedia, Kongregate, FlashGameLicense, HeyZap Four places (of MANY) to distribute and monetize games you create with Flash.
  • Wooglie A unity game portal.
  • TIGSource The de facto site for indies.
  • Pimp My Game Our own series on making money (or not) with Flash games. Includes tons of sites that spill the beans about the financials on their games.

Were you at the panel? Do you have anything to add? Was there anything you wanted to ask that you didn’t get a chance to ask? Leave me a comment and we’ll have a great discussion.

Thanks to dendritejungle and Jason MacIsaac for the pics!

Toronto Fan Expo 2010 Non-Cosplayers Gallery

i’m speaking on a panel Sunday at 12:30 at the Toronto Fan Expo, on the topic of video game development in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). i stopped by today to pick up my badge and to get the lay of the land.

There were plenty of people in costumes, and that’s fine. But you only ever see pictures of people who are dressed up, and you rarely get to see images of the people walking around beside those people. These are the people who hold the cosplayers’ stuff – who adjust their straps and re-adhere the little foam skulls to their papier maché battle axes … the people who help tuck all their bulging bits back into their belaboured spandex confines.

Here, then, is my gallery of non-cosplayers: the unsung actual heroes of any comic book convention.

Toronto Fan Expo Non-Cosplayer

Name: Doug

Dressed as: that guy who works the weekend shift at Subway

Toronto Fan Expo Non-Cosplayer

Name: Laura

Dressed as: girl who runs bi-monthly knitting classes at the community centre

Toronto Fan Expo Non-Cosplayer

Name: Mike

Dressed as: dude who borrowed your Magnum P.I. DVD box set and never gave it back

Toronto Fan Expo Non-Cosplayer

Name: Theresa

Dressed as: that girl in your neighbourhood who ate a beetle that one time when you were in the fourth grade

Toronto Fan Expo Non-Cosplayer

Name: Steve

Dressed as: some guy who f*ckin’ LOVES Yogen Früz

Sucked Back Into the Vortex

The Vortex Game Conference & Competition, an (increasingly) annual event, has launched its promotional campaign. i’ve been an entrant in the event twice now, and a very vocal critic of it for a number of years. One of my colleagues said it best: “You criticize because you care, Ryan.”

And i do! i want Toronto to have a really first-rate, world-renowned game design competition, but Vortex falls so far short of its potential that its participants, speakers and volunteer staff come out scathed every year.

Some of the problems plaguing the event in the past have included an impossibly short six week development time frame from funding approval to event date, lack of interest/commitment from industry (as the competition demanded too much commitment), and an outrageously imbalanced judging process that would make Middle East elections officers blush.

Here’s hoping that this year’s event improves on past transgressions. These are the changes i noticed from touring the new website:

Site’s Set High

Vortex Competition Website

The new Vortex website has much higher production values than in previous years. The design is far brighter and more Web 2.0-looking than the black and pink (??!) morass it once was, but the old design lingers in the occasional corner badge and logo treatment. It’s easier to find crucial information, like dates and prices, on the new site.

DIG Didn’t Get Buried

DIG London

The Vortex site now partners with DIG (Digital Interactive Gaming), a mostly student-focused conference in London Ontario. Last year, presumably due to the six week ramp-up, the Vortex event was scheduled right on top of DIG, and the two events had to fight for speakers and attendance. It’s heart-breaking to see that happen – i’m very glad that this year, the two events are not only co-existing, but cross-promoting. The Vortex semi-finals take place in London at DIG this year; semi-finalists will be ferried for free to the event in a special Vortex shuttle (read: the organizer’s car ;)

The Calendar is Roomier

Last year’s competition clumped three days back-to-back at a rather nice venue near the train tracks, just East of Parkdale – the former site of Mildred Pierce, across the street from Famous People Players (that’s the one where mentally challenged performers put on a black light show – i recommend a visit!) The event felt like a bit of a death march – partly due to some incredibly dull speakers and drab presentations by entrants – so i’m not suprised that Vortex is parceled off into four separate dates, spread out across four months and (technically) two years, on into February 2011. (The site says “ONE room, FOUR days”, because “ONE room FOUR days THREE months TWO years” makes it sound like a sentencing hearing.) i hope this will make it easier for the organizers to source speakers and to get the kind of commitment they need, now that the ask is a little more bearable.

Likely owing to organizer Sari Ruda’s TIFF ties, this year’s event takes place at the new Bell Lightbox building (which may or may not be haunted by the souls of dead Irish immigrants who fled the potato famine, and on whose graves the building was constructed).

Inflation

Canadian One Dollar Bill

The fees are jacked, to the tune of a 135% increase for industry entrants, and a 65% hike for students and individual industry team members. There is a multi-tiered pricing schedule (perhaps too multi-tiered?) that enables participants to experience the event’s three big dates a la carte, or as a complete package. Despite whatever lofty goals the organizers put to this event, it’s no secret that Vortex intends to earn money from its participants. i’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but let’s just call a spade a spade. Even at $235, Vortex is a great deal less expensive and contains potentially more (and certainly more game-focused) content than, say, an interactiveontario event like IN10 ($695!!), their recent INPlay conference ($899!!), or the amount of power required for the DeLorean to travel through time (1.21 jiggawatts!!).

FUN FACT: Last i checked, Vortex is a registered charity. That’s right – you don’t actually have to cure diseased orphans or nurse roadkill dolphins back to health to call yourself a charity in Canada.

Ryan Henson Creighton

Please give generously to the “Ryan Needs a Colonoscopy” fund.

It remains to be seen whether the price hike will scare students away. i felt last year that one big improvement would be to cull the entrants far more mercilessly, to avoid these drawn-out days where groups of ten college students would cluster around the podium mic, not saying anything, while their ordained leader would mumble something incoherently about the year-end project they (barely) completed.

i’m not saying that students shouldn’t be involved, but i think there must be a better way to help train and inform mediocre presenters during the boot camp phase of the event. i’m picturing something like an interactive presentation workshop (rather than a podium sermon) where participants get to stand up and practice their public speaking skills in front of the group. We did something like that two years ago with the feds when they ran a GDC preparedness seminar. It was a video conference between Toronto and Montreal delegates, and we were each asked to give our “elevator pitch” – a one-minute spiel on ourselves and our companies in case we met Rich Investor von Jinglepants travelling between the 4th and 18th floors or whatever.

Clarity

The Vortex Competition has vastly improved its stated intent. Here’s what the main page of the site said last year (i’m recounting this from memory, mind you, because i couldn’t find an archived copy of the site):

Hey, kids! Do you love to FRAG N00BS with your BFG on your PS3 while GETTING CRUNK?? Do you have a GREAT GAME IDEA that came to you while you were HUFFING GYM SOCKS? Super! Give us $100 to enter our game design competition and you could win $2000 and an Xbox 360! Daaaaaaaaamn, son!

In stark contrast, here’s how the site frames this year’s competition (emphasis mine):

Enter with your submission for a game concept or prototype. It will be reviewed by the stellar Vortex industry panel from whom you’ll receive feedback. Some of you will then get the opportunity to actually pitch your concept or prototype at the Vortex competition. The Vortex Conference and Competition is the only place in Canada where emerging game designers and developers can present their concepts to an outstanding line up of international industry honchos, financiers and venture capitalists in the hope of winning the competition and along the way getting their creation to market. Think a kinder, gentler “Dragon’s Den” with massive networking opportunities and prizing, coupled with industry sessions and coaching from the most successful entrepreneurs in Canada.

“A kinder, gentler ‘Dragon’s Den'”. That’s the key, folks. That’s what Vortex was supposed to be all along, and only now is it being made crystal clear. Gone is the phrase “game design competition” from the site. That’s because Vortex isn’t a game design competition. It’s much more about the bidness of games. Successful entrants and presenters will have their entire gameplan worked out, from timeline and budgeting, to development and marketing costs, to actual marketing and launch specifics. This is a presentation of a game concept as a business proposition. If you’ve ever applied for one of Canada’s content funds, or pitched a game to an investor like a VC, angel, or the Bank of Mom, you’ll know that the actual game idea is only one component in the complex machinery of your proposal. i’m very glad to see that the intent of the event is being made more clear, and i hope word spreads about what’s expected of entrants.

Final Words of Warning

Am i going to enter this year? i’m actually amazed Vortex hasn’t shown up at my office with a pipe bomb by this point. i’m not their favourite person. If i enter, i’ll likely be burning my $235 entrance fee, because it sounds like they’ll be culling their entrants. And man, they’re probably itching to “cull” me.

Hitman Bathtub

OHAI! You say Vortex sent you? Sure – i’d LOVE some toast!

Take a quick look at their Privacy Policy, where they admit they’ll share your personal details to “like-minded organizations” and possibly hit you up for money. If you’re not cool with that, make sure to opt out, and to wait their two business days (!!) to be removed from the list.

Finally, i find it amusing that Vortex claims to be “only place in Canada where [you] can [present your game] in the hope of winning the competition”. So … Vortex is the only place in Canada where you can win the Vortex competition? That’s most likely true.

However awkwardly written, the sentiment that Vortex is the only place in Canada where you have access to industry “honchos, financiers and venture capitalists” is a bit off the mark. Thankfully, there are a LOT of great game-related events going on in this country. Here are just a few (and i’ve highlighted those that are free to participants):

Go forth and game!