I met many new and interesting people at last week’s GDC Canada in Vancouver. My pick for top seminar session was a tie. Disney’s Howard Donaldson, co-founder of Propaganda Studios , gave a very informative talk about Tax Incentives, a subject which is on the minds of many studio owners these days. As a leader on the BC Interactive Task Force, which was a major force in bringing Game Development Tax Incentives to BC, Howard definitely knew his subject well, and he conveyed the pertinent information in such a way as to invite both a better understanding and further research on this important aspect of today’s game development industry. By the way, Propaganda is hiring .
The other session which I thoroughly enjoyed was given by Zach Hanks , who, forgive the pun, presented a very animated and entertaining seminar. Character Voices – Conceptualization, Casting, Recording, and the Cultural Reference Point covered topics which should be presented at every studio which has voice acting in its games. While covering the many challenges and details of voice acting for games, one of Zach’s main points was that “nothing will disengage your players faster than bad voice acting.” This is very true, and any game developer who doesn’t think so, isn’t paying attention. For example, Arenanet has taken some pretty harsh criticism  from its Guild Wars community for really bad voice-over work, primarily in Guild Wars: Factions (and as a GW player, I have to agree with the criticisms). 
Making your character voices familiar and believable is a huge part of improving the player experience, and even many of today’s blockbuster titles are lacking in the voice-over department. For example – in Mass Effect 2, Bioware missed the mark on how females really talk. The female Shepard character often feels very stilted and hard-toned when she is supposed to be seducing crew members or even when she is supposed to be expressing empathy/sympathy during a scene. There are moments in Dragon Age when I want to rip out my female rogue’s vocal chords – or at least mute her. These moments arrive when she successfully unlocks a chest or door. Her “I’ve done it!” and “Complete” lines drive me batty. There were also times in Assassin’s Creed 2 where the characters spoke too fast in their Renaissance Italian accents, and I didn’t catch what was said. There is usually no rewind for an in-game cinematic (unless one dies and gets to re-live the scene), so audio people, please ensure that your character’s lines are easily understood.
The GDC Canada session Managing Your Love-Hate Relationship with Playtests presented by Ubisoft Quebec Game Lab’s Andree-Anne Boisvert covered such areas as expanding your playtest groups to include non-traditional gamers, and how important that feedback can be. This is particularly applicable for games looking to expand their horizons in finding a home amongst families where there may be many non-traditional core gamers. Is your game truly family-friendly? Will it draw grandparents into the mix? Will they enjoy interacting digitally with their gamer grandchildren or will are they being led to the proverbial slaughter, not enjoying the experience at all? Like game development, your audience is changing almost daily; what is your studio doing to ensure financial success with its market?
I also had a chance to speak with Kay Gruenwoldt about a new school hoping to open in Vancouver this fall. Games Academy Vancouver is currently going through the provincial accreditation programme, and will be finalizing its location once that step is complete. Games Academy has been operating in Europe for ten years, and when the Vancouver campus opens, its new students will have access to an established global community through its international pipeline which will offer an internal support system of peers and fellow students.
Games Academy will focus solely on computer graphics and game development, with instructors who are currently working or have worked in the industry. Mr. Gruenwoldt said that Vancouver was a natural location in campus choice because our local industry is simply a “huge pool of awesomeness.”
Another newcomer to GDC Canada was Edmonton’s SnakeTakes Studios , which is developing a complete brand around an original IP. The End of the Beginning  began as a screenplay, and has since grown to include a game, a comic book series, action figures, merchandise and soundtrack. The End of the Beginning game for the Xbox 360, PC and PlayStation 3 has been in development for about seven months, privately financed by its team of six designers outside of their regular jobs. Set far in the future in a surrealistic world, the premise of the game is a race of very mean aliens who are trying to obliterate those pesky humans. The End of the Beginning, which promises to be a fun-to-play title featuring very combative play in a possibly open-ended franchise, hopes to advance to beta in just a few weeks. This looks like a title we at Village Gamer will most likely enjoy playing, especially if there is as much mayhem and destruction in the game as was talked about at their expo booth.
Overall we had a great time at GDC Canada, and really wouldn’t expect any less. Of course, being a writer, a I would have liked to have seen some sessions on writing, as well as sessions on how studios can better utilize the media in their marketing plans and better prepare their web sites for those in the media who are looking for information about their studios and titles. I believe that GDC Canada could have a bright future if a few things were to happen, such as making it more affordable for the Canadian development community to attend by taking some of the philosophy in play at big box stores – lower prices, go for volume and still meet your profitability marks.
It was a shame that Vancouver Digital Week did not pair up with GDC Canada this year, because the abundance of sessions and events in 2009 made the event that much bigger. It was promised during the Canadian Videogame Awards that all of the events would be held over one week again in 2011, and I truly hope that this comes to fruition. While it’s generally understood that GDC San Francisco is the flagship event, I feel it is of utmost importance to have quality development events in Canada for those who may not have the funds to travel around the continent to attend such conferences. While the east coast has MiGS, INplay and DIGS London to name but a few, it is essential that the west coast build on its events such as the Game Design Expo, SPARK and GDC Canada as annual events. As a person with event management in my past, I can appreciate the amount of time and hard work which goes into producing such large conferences, and while I in no way wish to belittle the efforts of those behind the scenes at any of these Canadian conferences, it is simply my wish that each of these events grows to its full potential through the continued co-operation and support from government, industry, associations, schools and of course, the trench-workers.
The Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television  is pleased to announce that five Digital Media categories will be introduced for the 25th Annual Gemini Awards . The new awards will honour both cross-platform projects, developed to enhance enjoyment of a television program or series, and original productions, the first broadcast of which is intended for a medium other than television. Additionally, a Gemini Special Award – Outstanding Technical Achievement Award in Digital Media – has been added.
A corresponding Digital Media membership branch has been added to the Academy’s Television division. Members of this branch will vote for related categories in the Gemini awards and les Prix Gémeaux, depending on the member’s language.
“We are very excited to recognize and celebrate the achievements of craftspeople in the field of digital media,” says Sara Morton, CEO of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television. “The film and television industries are continually evolving, as is the Academy. The addition of the Digital Media Awards, as well as the introduction of the Digital Media membership branch, illustrate our ongoing commitment to representing and recognizing the work of our colleagues across the country.”
The following categories are currently accepting submissions for the 25th Annual Gemini Awards:
Best Cross-Platform Project – Fiction
Best Cross-Platform Project – Non-Fiction
Best Cross-Platform Project – Children’s and Youth
Best Original Program or Series produced for Digital Media – Fiction
Best Original Program or Series produced for Digital Media – Non-Fiction
Submission deadline: Tuesday May 18.
Applications for the Outstanding Technical Achievement Award in Digital Media will be accepted until Thursday July 15.
Vancouver artist Camilla d’Errico , one of the leading ladies in the urban, pop art and comics scenes, has teamed up with the original pop and underground culture clothing store, Hot Topic , to launch 3 bold and colorful Helmetgirls ™ designs on fitted t-shirts.
“I truly feel that my art should be available for everyone who enjoys it. I create art out of a passion to share it with people, and my first fans and customers were actually teen and tween girls. These shirts are for them, their big sisters and even their Moms!” says Camilla. “I get so much fan mail about my Helmetgirls™, so they were perfect candidates for the line. They are inspired by everything that shaped me: comics, anime and manga, and cartoons.”
Best known as just, “Camilla”, this outgoing artist, illustrator and character creator has a natural artistic versatility that allowed her to make waves in the fine art world, to create a name for herself in the comic and graphic novel industry, and to selectively disseminate her beautiful artwork commercially through merchandise, clothing and accessories.
“Camilla’s designs are gorgeous. Her manga influence is noticeable but not overpowering. There are people who instantly recognized the images as being Camilla’s, and others who immediately fell in love with them”, says Mike Mattox, CEO of licensee All Pacific Apparel Ltd .
“Helmetgirls™ are my original characters so it has been fun to bring to them to life with bold colors in this line”, continues Camilla, “Good fit, beautiful prints with a touch of varnish, and high quality garment ensure that the final product best represents me and my art. We really focused on quality when designing and making these. I’m thrilled with the results.”
T-shirts are the new canvas for many artists, and the perfect vehicle for spreading their art. Wearable art is a term that has been coined, and many urban artists have been creating t-shirts showcasing their art. Camilla concludes, “Hot Topic’s soul is underground, cult, comic, music and pop culture, which made them the perfect retailer to in which launch Helmetgirls™ clothing.”
The three Helmetgirls™ designs are now in Hot Topic stores across the US, and online. With her fans alerted through various social media channels, these t-shirts are already being snapped up, quickly making the artist’s series a fan favorite.
Check out IUGO Mobile Entertainment’s  new trailer for their iPad titles:
Anyone who has ever had a family member or friend in a hospital knows just how stressful and time consuming it is to provide updates or other information to your circle of friends and family. With the launch of a new iPhone tool called howsthepatient , it will now be possible to update everyone who is important right from your phone, instantly. You can choose who you want to communicate with, share health alerts, send pictures, and provide hospital locations and visiting hours and other updates.
The brainchild of Susan Weisbarth, howsthepatient was developed by Due North Communications , one of Canada’s leading independent advertising agencies and Isobar , one of the world’s largest digital marketing networks. howsthepatient was designed to help people cope with information sharing about medical situations and is available at the iTunes Store  for $1.99 (US).
“Just like Isaac Newton’s apple, it was a bump to the head that sparked this idea,” explains howsthepatient CEO Susan Weisbarth. “I got an emergency call that my 75 year-old mother was being rushed to the hospital with stroke symptoms. Fortunately, all that happened was that she fell and hurt her head. As she was recovering in the hospital and I was inundated with calls and e-mails from concerned friends and family, I thought there had to be a better way of keeping people posted when they are worried about a loved one.”
The howsthepatient on app is simple to set up by moving names from your existing contact list and regular updates can be sent exclusively to that group, unlike the less personal selection of friends and associates that might be part of Facebook or Twitter group. Once the recipients receive their first update, they can also use the app to source other information such as the location of the hospital or to facilitate the delivery of flowers or cards.
Although howsthepatient was developed as an iphone app the selected contacts can receive updates via e-mail on other PDAs such as RIM’s Blackberry devices or on personal computers.
* Discreet Networking – Connect only with your selected circle of family and friends
* Instant and Efficient Communication – From a single touch point share information and updates in real time
* Controlled Communication – Manage the information sent to and received from family and friends. Choose your communication status by leaving open or selecting “do not contact us at this time.”
* Aggregated Contacts – Choose contacts directly from your iphone and import them in to howsthepatient.
* Integration with Facebook and Twitter – You have the option of further sharing your information with other social networks.
* Google Map Search – Easily and quickly find the hospital location and address to assist in visits and the delivery of flowers or gifts.
* Emergency Hotlines – Save emergency numbers into your account for easy access.
* Instant Photo Sharing – Allows you to share photos with your contact group.
As a 50-something former co-owner of a family business, Weisbarth is not your usual app developer. However, her mother’s hospitalization prompted her to find a better way to pre-empt an uncomfortable number of messages, e-mails and calls enquiring about her mother’s status.
“Typically the voice of the family is the woman of the household who believes they are the ‘town crier’ for their family or circle of friends, and although this app could be used to selectively communicate with other groups such as soccer moms or other community organizations, I felt that the most necessary and stressful communication occurred when a loved one was in the hospital. It’s easy to use and adaptable to any situation whether that is a medical emergency or a celebratory event such as the birth of a new baby,” said Weisbarth.
Scotiabank  and Rogers Canada have teamed up to launch Home Experts , a dynamic online consumer resource linking Canadians to some of the country’s leading authorities in household design, renovations and financing. The website launch includes a contest with four $5,000 prizes to help Canadians pay down their mortgage faster, add to their down payment, or finance home renovations. The Home Experts Contest runs until July 15, 2010. 
“Scotiabank is excited to partner with Rogers Canada  to complement Canadians’ pursuit of their dream homes with a social media solution that provides expert opinion on anything to do with homes,” said Robin Hibberd, Executive Vice-President, Retail Products and Services, Canadian Banking, Scotiabank. “With Home Experts, current and future homeowners, investors and renovators, will get the information and insight they need to protect and grow their most important assets.”
Visitors to the Home Experts website can view videos on various topics from a panel of experts, including home renovations expert Jim Caruk, decor expert Karen Sealy and home financing expert Deren Hasip. Mr. Caruk is a judge on Mike Holmes’ HGTV show the Handyman Superstar Challenge and host of HGTVs Real Renos. Ms. Sealy is a regular decor expert on CityTV’s national CityLine show. Mr. Hasip is a District Sales Manager, at Scotiabank.
Through a series of bi-weekly podcasts, the experts will share insights on topics such as: how to stage your home for a faster sale; how to find the right contractor to renovate your home; how to find the right real estate agent; how to get the right mortgage; what to look for in investment properties; and environmentally friendly building techniques.
“At Scotiabank, our commitment is to provide our customers with the products and services they need to meet their individual financial needs,” said John Webster, Head, Real Estate Secured Lending and Scotia Mortgage Authority, Scotiabank. “Our first objective is to provide our customers with the best value for the financial services we provide.”
The Home Experts website also includes a Scotiabank Total Equity Plan calculator, as well as affordability and mortgage payment calculators, plus a variety of self-help articles aimed at boosting customers’ confidence in their financing and saving strategies.
“Canadians are looking for ways to cut costs and put more money back into their pockets and Scotiabank can help Canadians save hundreds, even thousands of dollars a year,” added Mr. Webster. “Scotiabank is making it easier for customers to become homeowners and meet their ongoing mortgage needs by offering a full package of innovative home-ownership solutions.”