Yesterday I went down to check out some of the goings-on at Casual Connect Seattle , and once again it was a huge event – evidence that the casual gaming market has grown, and continues to grow, exponentially. The conference is also a reminder about the many corners of today’s culture that casual gaming is spreading its influence into, and I noted many new companies who were attending Casual Connect for the first time. The only real downer this year was not related to the conference itself – when I went out to my car to drop off some of the materials I had picked up, I noticed that someone had removed the magnetic yellow ribbon showing my support for our armed forces from the tailgate. I feel that this was an act of total disrespect to not only our Canadian troops, but also to the United States’ closest ally. Karma will get the person responsible for the small theft, I’m sure. I hope that such a trite act made their day. Thank you to Scott though, who picked up a new magnet for me from our local Royal Canadian Legion on his way home from work.
I would like to personally thank Victoria Hayes, Neil Swain and Duane Robson from our federal Trade Commissioner Service  for the opportunity to finally meet many of the developers from eastern Canada whom I had previously only known through email, twitter and Facebook. A special shout-out to my twitter buddy Sasha, who toils daily at the creative studios of marblemedia , and to another twitter friend, Rob Anderson, a.k.a. the “head cheese” at New Brunswick’s Noise2Signal . I also had the chance to chat briefly with Dan Kratt, Senior Designer at Ph03nix New Media /Big Stack Studios , creators of my current match 3 addiction, Sigma  for the iPhone.
Many thanks to the government and association representatives from Ontario, Quebec and of course BC for their support and interest in what we’re trying to accomplish here at Village Gamer. The social gathering at the Canadian Consulate was great. It was great to catch up with Cerebral Vortex  President Keith Makse, whom I met at last year’s Casual Connect. By the way, if you’re in the Toronto area, Cerebral Vortex is hiring, and if you’re a fan of word games, grab their iPhone game Word Burst  from the App Store.
Once again the Casual Connect team has offered a top-notch venue for the global casual gaming industry to share experience and find new opportunity. If you are a Canadian casual game studio and didn’t attend this year’s event in Seattle, may I suggest that you put it on your conference schedule for 2011. Of course, a day trip to Seattle and no internet access means that I am now a day behind in what’s been going on north of the 49th, and there’s plenty going on across this vast country of ours.
I got a sneak peek at how things are going with Untold Entertainment’s  new word puzzler Spellirium . I can safely say that what I saw looks very polished, colourful and high quality – much nicer than the mock-ups I’ve been playing through with each iteration’s beta test interface. What I saw of the more finished product makes me all the more impatient for another high-quality word game to challenge my word-making abilities.
One other thing I did learn while visiting with Sandy Spangler and Murray McCarron from A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games  – the WipeOut game recently released by Activision was – you guessed it, developed by A.C.R.O.N.Y.M., an apparently little-known fact as there was no mention of the studio in Activision’s game launch press release. I received that email, but as you all know, we are a Canadian content site, and as I received no reply from Activision to my question of where the game was developed, the news went unannounced on this site. 
Rated E by the ESRB, Wipeout: The Game for Nintendo DSTM and WiiTM is based on the Endemol USA produced hit TV show Wipeout. Wipeout: The Game features the contestant demolishing Dreadmill to the fan-favorite Big Balls, pitting friends and family against each other in the world’s largest, messiest, and most hilarious obstacle course out there.
“When developing the game our goal was to capture all the elements that people love about the hilarious reality ABC show, and to above all make it fun,” said David Oxford, Activision Publishing. “So far, we’ve been overwhelmed by the response from fans, who clearly can’t wait to step up to the challenge of the obstacle course.”
Furthering the complete Wipeout experience that fans have become accustomed to is the inclusion of witty commentary provided by the show’s hosts John Anderson, John Henson and co-host Jill Wagner. In Wipeout: The Game, up to four players can battle against each other in the game’s many challenges. As they compete for the ultimate win, players will get down and dirty with their opponents as they hurl objects and insults with the game’s signature Trash Talk Generator. 
Capcom  and Blue Castle Games  would like to invite you, the internet traveler, to Fortune City, Nevada  – the city of zombified fun and setting for Dead Rising 2. Fortune City has plenty to offer in the way of world-class hotels,dining, entertainment, gambling and more. It’s important that you check out all of the amenities offered at area hotels, because we all know how important it is to have a ready supply of Zombrex and bullets.
The Canada Media Fund  has released its 2010-2011 funding decisions for the Aboriginal Program  (PDF) and the Francophone Minority Program  (first closing date, PDF), which are part of the Convergent Stream. As stated on the CMF site, the decisions and funding commitments posted on the website are preliminary, as all requests must undergo a contracting process. Funding is not final until contracts are signed. An updated list will be published once contracting is complete. 
Magmic  has released its lastest iPhone puzzler. Abyss  is a strategic game that requires you to slide coloured pieces around the playing surface and then navigate pearl orbs from point to point. Available in the iTunes App Store  for $1.99, the simple concept of Abyss tests your strategy, problem solving skills and reaction times by increasing the difficulty of each level as you progress. You can compete against yourself or a friend via the scoreboards – just remember that the faster you complete each level, the more points you receive and the higher up the ladder you will climb. Abyss also features unlimited levels and has several different theme and sound options.
In celebration of the launch of Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, all Future Shop  outlets across Canada (except in Sudbury and Quebec) will be hosting “Midnight Madness” events this month. Gaming enthusiasts are invited to visit their local Future Shop stores on the eve of the release date to obtain their copies of the game at midnight on Monday, July 26, 2010. The first 20 people in each line will receive a free gaming headset; the first 50 people will receive a Starcraft II hat and poster. Future Shop is also offering a free copy of Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty to any gamers who trade in two used games from from Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3 or Xbox 360.
The Unity  development team is holding its 4th annual dev conference Unite 2010  this November 10-12 at the historic Marché Bonsecours in Montreal, immediately following the Montreal International Game Summit . As at the previous Unite conferences, it’ll be three hard-core intense days of learning to get the most out of Unity as well as being exposed to (and getting to hang out with) some of the coolest people in the Unity world. Early Bird tickets ($300.00) are available until September 10, with the regular ticket price of $400.00 kicking in on September 11th. But that’s not all – Unite and MiGS have partnered up to offer a special price category for those who want to attend both conferences. If you purchase both of your tickets now through the Unite 2010 registration page , attending Unite 2010 and MiGS will cost $750.00.
The official release dates for Klei Entertainment’s  highly anticipated downloadable action game Shank , have been announced. Shank will be available for download on August 24 for PlayStation®Network ($14.99) and August 25 for Xbox LIVE® Arcade (1200 MS Points). Shank blends classic side-scrolling action gameplay and unique stylized 2D art direction with a revenge story penned by award-winning game writer Marianne Krawczyk.
“We committed ourselves completely during the development of Shank and it’s been extremely gratifying to see the support we’ve received from the gaming community and press,” said Jamie Cheng, CEO of Klei Entertainment. “Watching people play and seeing them smile; it’s fantastic to see them latch onto the things we love most about Shank — the art, the story and of course the gameplay.”
Shank tells a classic story of gangland betrayal through a mature, pulp-fiction lens. Gamers will play as Shank, getting their hands bloody as they uncover the secrets behind Shank’s past and the reasons he is hell-bent on revenge. With a deep and intuitive combat system, players unleash a tremendous number of creative combinations as they take down the waves of enemies standing in their path. Shank also features a special co-operative mission, designed to be played with a friend locally, which tells the backstory to frame the revenge plot. This prequel mission allows players to play as Shank or his partner-in-crime Falcone, with deadly double-team moves and gameplay that encourages teamwork.
Continuing on an EA Canada theme, it appears that the company’s studios are cranking up the development heat just a bit.
Bioware  has just announced some very sparse details about the next DLC expansion for Mass Effect 2 , Lair of the Shadow Broker. When Commander Shepard “died” two years ago, Liara T’Soni fought in a desperate struggle against the Shadow Broker to recover her former Commander. Now that Shepard is back, Liara and Shepard will be out to even the score – and that’s all we know so far. Definitely very sparse details – no estimated release date or whether this DLC will be free for Cerberus Network gamers or if it will cost extra.
EA Sports ™ has been very busy forming new partnerships and announcing new titles. Earlier today Electronic Arts announced its new partnership with Barclays Premier League , which will see EA Sports become the Official Sports Technology Partner of the Premier League and the extension of their current Electronic Game License.
Under the partnership, EA Sports will expand its current relationship with fans of the Barclays Premier League with exclusive enhanced experiences and even greater authenticity inside of EA Sports Football products. EA Sports branding will be featured on all live on-screen broadcasts of Barclays Premier League fixtures, and EA Sports will work with broadcasters to develop enhancements for match day broadcast analysis and increased fan interaction. EA Sports will also sponsor the Player Performance Index and will explore new ways to utilize more in depth Barclays Premier League statistics than ever before in future iterations of EA Sports Football products.
As the most watched domestic football competition in the world, the Barclays Premier League delivers tremendous global exposure and direct access to one of the most passionate football audiences in the world,” said Matt Bilbey, Vice President of Football, EA Sports. “Partnering with the Premier League further establishes EA Sports and its FIFA franchise  as the ultimate, authentic football gaming experience. We look forward to adding further in-game authenticity with the direct access to the Player Performance Index as well as releasing new ways to leverage our technology to enhance the fans enjoyment of Barclays Premier League football on and beyond match day each week.”
In the exclusive role as Official Sports Technology Partner of the Premier League, EA Sports will explore new ways to leverage actual match and performance data to deliver improved interactive football experiences that match the complexity, finesse and excitement of a real world football match. Examples include:
The EA Sports Player Performance Index: EA Sports will sponsor the Premier League Player Performance Index that will soon expand to include new performance data that will now account for time and distance measurements. This will allow for detailed statistics such as the speed at which a shot is hit, the force of a ball as a keeper makes a key save, the height of a jump, the speed at which a penalty is struck and more. This technology will be introduced at all Premier League club stadia this season. EA Sports will have direct access to the Player Performance Index to further extend the authenticity and depth of its football franchises including EA Sports FIFA in future versions.
EA Sports Team of the Week: Available online , the Premier League and EA Sports will publish the EA Sports Team of the Week. The team will be based on ratings from the EA Sports Player Performance Index after each round of the Barclays Premier League and will be integrated into EA Sports Football games.
Barclays Premier League Broadcast Branding: EA Sports branding will appear on-screen, linked with live match statistics, during all Barclays Premier League broadcasts in the UK and overseas.
Barclays Premier League Match Broadcast Enhancements: Using EA Sports graphics, animations and interactive technology combined with real-time, real world data feeds, EA will work with broadcasters toward enhancements for match day broadcast analysis that will bring football fans closer and deeper into the action direct from their sofa.
Premier League Director of Sales & Marketing, Richard Masters, said: “We are extremely pleased that EA Sports has had the foresight to enter into this exciting new partnership that will connect with Barclays Premier League fans in new and inventive ways. Fans have a thirst for statistics and information and that is something that the Premier League, working with EA Sports, will provide to a level not seen before in professional football.”
The EA Sports Active team over at the Burnaby campus is very busy as well. They’ve been developing EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp  for the Wii™, a football-based training program that put users right into the football drills and conditioning workouts of an NFL training camp. Developed in collaboration with NFL strength and conditioning coaches, users will experience the thrill of competition while challenging friends and family in authentic NFL football drills. EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp with Total Body Tracking uses the included heart rate monitor and wireless motion tracking to provide a challenging workout and help deliver measurable results. It will link to the EA Sports Active online hub where users can share training results and challenge others to beat their personal best, as well as track progress toward specific fitness goals. (Internet connection and EA account required.) EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp brings the real NFL training camp experience right into the living room, and will be available at retailers on November 16.
“EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp delivers an authentic NFL experience that is fun and engaging, while providing a challenging workout,” says Andrew Wilson, Senior Vice President, Worldwide Development, EA Sports. “It exemplifies our commitment to both NFL football and the fitness space, as well as delivering new experiences for new audiences.”
EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp includes over 70 drills and challenges designed to improve strength, power and conditioning, as well as reaction skills, agility and first step quickness, which are key areas NFL players focus on. Users can choose their favorite team, step into a stadium and train alongside their favorite players.
The EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp virtual coach will encourage users through the drills and challenges for additional motivation, and to take it to the next level, users can participate in the NFL Combine 60 Day Challenge. To enhance the competitive experience, users can get their game on in multi-player mode where they can go head-to-head in NFL training camp drills, including the QB Window Challenge and Field Goal Challenge, or with an online connected console, users can compare personal stats with friends and challenge them to beat their best results. In addition, as part of the NFL’s commitment to youth health and fitness, kids and families can choose special NFL Play 60 drills and exercises specially designed for them.
“We’re excited to be collaborating with EA Sports on the development of EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp,” says Ray Anderson, NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations. “EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp delivers a fantastic new and authentic experience for NFL fans, allowing them to train like the pros and compete against their friends, family, and other fans across the globe.”
EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp joins the EA Sports Active 2 suite of interactive fitness products that focus on improving muscular strength, endurance and flexibility, as well as improving cardio. EA Sports Active 2 is in development for a number of platforms including the PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system, Kinect™ for Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, Wii and iPod touch®. 
Not to be outdone, the EA Sports Fight Night team is developing the latest iteration of the long-running Fight Night  franchise, entitled Fight Night Champion, at EA Canada in Vancouver. Fight Night Champion will set a new standard in sports videogames by delivering the most dynamic simulation fighting experience to date, pushing visual boundaries and redefining the single player journey for the category.
The EA Sports Fight Night franchise has consistently delivered one of the best sports experiences with each iteration”, said Andrew Wilson, Senior Vice President, Worldwide Development, EA Sports. “EA Sports Fight Night Round 4 was a genre defining game, and led the way as the industry transitioned to physics-based sports games. EA Sports Fight Night Champion will again forge new ground and deliver a sports experience unlike anything seen in the genre to date.”
Fight Night Champion will break the mold of what is expected in a single-player sports game. Players will be introduced to an entirely new way to step between the ropes and experience the drama, emotion, excitement and tragedy of world championship boxing.
Featuring a refined physics-based animation system that incorporates improved locomotion, punching and stamina mechanics, Fight Night Champion will enable users to move, attack and dodge with the speed and power of the best champions, contenders and pretenders in the world of boxing. In addition, an all-new control scheme, dubbed Full Spectrum Punch Control, will deliver the most realistic punching system ever seen in a simulation fighting game, while still delivering an accessible experience that will make Fight Night Champion the most user-friendly title in the franchise’s history. Fight Night Champion will set a new standard for visual presentation with the most realistic boxer-likeness to date, fluid animations and damage that truly conveys the brutality of the sport of boxing. Fight Night Champion will be available in 2011 for the Xbox 360™ and the PlayStation®3 and has not yet been rated by the ESRB.