1st February 2011

Oh UBB What A Tangled Web You Are

The User Based Billing debate is gaining momentum across the country, and has taken over this morning’s research, reading and writing time, which with having to do double-duty at my day job for the next two weeks, is putting a huge dent in how much content I can process while still maintaining what little bit of sanity I still possess. I’d like to write much, much more – but time constraints are not very forgiving when one is being pulled in a dozen different directions which constantly conflict with the whole parent-work-life-relaxation balance equation. It’s not just game developers who suffer from that affliction.

As sites like Anti UBB appear and high profile talk shows on the radio and television news casts are rife with people on both sides of the UBB debate stating their opinions, it is clear that Canadians are getting fed up with constant hits to their pocketbook and CRTC decisions.

Is it somewhat ironic that as this debate heats up, CBC issues a press release outlining the changes coming to the CBCpublic broadcaster, and included in this five year plan outline is an increased digital offering, which Canadians will have to think twice about consuming because that other “public agency” the CRTC says we have to stop clogging up the internet and not use it so much – or pay highly inflated fees to go over our allotment.

According to the press release, CBC’s Everyone Every Way plan is about the future of public broadcasting in Canada. It’s about transformation in the midst of a technological revolution, and about evolving alongside a changing country. It’s a strategy that binds CBC and Radio-Canada around common priorities which also respects the reality that execution of the strategy needs to be tailored to the uniqueness of their respective markets.

Over the next five years, CBC/Radio-Canada will strengthen its commitment to original, innovative, high-quality Canadian content. We will also commit to airing at least 10 signature events per year in English and in French — events like Live Right Now and Concert inaugural de la nouvelle salle de concert de Montréal avec l’OSM — which bring Canadians together in large numbers, are delivered on multiple platforms, and have a meaningful impact on participants and viewers alike.

CBC will be looking to expand its regional footprint, launching new radio stations, introducing new local websites and services, and increasing regional news and programming. Radio-Canada will enhance its presence in regional life by producing engaging local programming that can then be used for broadcast nationally, by delivering more local and regional news, and by providing more local French-language content on regional websites, especially those outside of Quebec. In an evolving digital and on-demand world, CBC/Radio-Canada will continue its leadership in new platforms and digital services, doubling its investment over the next five years.

“The way forward will be about seizing the tremendous opportunity we have before us to truly change our relationship with Canadians on a national, community and personal level,” says Lacroix. “We can’t be all things to all people, but we can and must in some way be something for, and mean something to every Canadian. Everyone, Every way is our commitment to Canadians, and it’s the measure by which we want to be judged. We will meet their expectations. Nothing less.”

CBC/Radio-Canada will deliver on this commitment in four ways: by creating and delivering original and innovative, quality Canadian content; by reflecting and drawing together all Canadians; by actively engaging with audiences; and, by being cost-effective and accountable. To evaluate progress, we have developed metrics to track and assess our performance by service and genre against the strategy twice per year.

The federal Liberal party has come out with their own take on the issue, saying that they have been paying attention and take the side of the Canadian buying public – and asking for the public’s support to defeat the Conservatives in a future election. Today’s Liberal statement has garnered praise from open mediacitizen engagement group OpenMedia.ca, the organization behind the rapidly growing Stop The Meter petition – and comes one day after the OpenMedia group noted in a press release yesterday that the Liberals and Conservatives had been rather quiet on the issue.

Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement did issue a comment late last evening, with a statement of support for “competition, innovation, and consumers” in general, but OpenMedia.ca holds that Canadians will not be happy until they have access to Internet services free of metering.

Steve Anderson, OpenMedia.ca’s national coordinator responded to Minister Clement’s statement by saying that “Clement is going to have to do more than ask the CRTC to do some tinkering with UBB pricing. He must either overturn all the CRTC rulings that force pricing schemes on Big Telecom’s independent competitors, or at minimum have the CRTC revisit the entire premise of forced UBB pricing.”

In regards to today’s Liberal statement, Anderson said that “We’re elated by this move by the Liberals. Over the last few months, supporters of Stop The Meter came together as citizens, and today they fundamentally influenced federal politics. This is a groundbreaking example of the power of the online discourse and organization, and why we must protect the open, public Internet.”

OpenMedia.ca is pleased that the Liberals have learned from the 220,000 people who have so far taken part in the campaign to “stop the meter on Internet use”, and reverse the CRTC decision that allows usage-based billing to monopolize the system for pricing the Internet. Led by Rodriquez and Industry and Technology Critic Marc Garneau, the Liberal Party has now become the second major federal party to officially condemn Internet metering.

“Liberals believe in more internet competition, not less,” said Liberal Heritage Critic Pablo Rodriquez in a statement released today, seemingly echoing the words on OpenMedia.ca’s homepage: “Canadians want more Internet, not less”.

Digital Affairs Critic Charlie Angus expressed the NDP’s opposition to the pricing regime in a press release on January 20th, stating that ““We’ve seen this all before with cell phones. Allowing the Internet Service Providers to ding you every time you download is a rip-off. Canada is already falling behind other countries in terms of choice, accessibility and pricing for the Internet. The large ISP-broadcast entities now have a tool for squashing their main competitors – both in internet and video services, and we need clear rules that put consumers first.”

Dr. Michael Geist has also weighed in on the UBB issue, stating on his site that “despite the obvious anger over the issue, there remains a considerable amount of misinformation about what has happened and uncertainty about just what to do about it. This post attempts to unpack the issue, by discussing two related but not identical concerns – the recent CRTC UBB decision and the broader use of bandwidth caps by virtually all large Canadian ISPs.”

Dr. Geist looks at both sides of the issue, and offers his thoughts on options for a solution to what is promising to become a heated, and weighted battle for Canadians as they watch the Telcos seemingly take on the stance of the playground bully in the neighbourhood sandbox. (those are my words, not Dr. Geist’s.) celsius games SSDnet

Is this tongue-in-cheek look at the UBB issue, created by Colin Walsh of Celsius Game Studio going to be the  future for our digital developers as they attempt to create products for global consumers? At least his latest game, Red Nova, didn’t use a ton of bandwidth when I bought it for my iPod Touch.

A related issue for ourselves is the fact that we have long wanted to move our dedicated server account from an American data centre to one in Canada, in part because we’re tired of dealing with the fluctuating exchange rates and the “foreign currency fees” charged by our credit card company, but also because we’d like to be supporting business north of the 49th. Unfortunately, while the actual server plans available in Canada are somewhat reasonable even though they may lack some of the perks we get with SoftLayer, the bandwidth allowances and charges have always caused us to put on the brakes. We have looked at many options, including building a server and upgrading to business internet so that we would be permitted to run it from our home office, but again, bandwidth charges and licensing for all of the software we use is cost-prohibitive. With our plans for the expansion and re-branding of Village Gamer, we either have to take a more serious look at selling advertising space or find other ways to monetize the site without compromising our impartiality or the perception of said impartiality.

I also have to be cautious about the trailers and other large files we download and then upload either to our server or to places like our YouTube channel, because now every byte counts. We’ve probably come close to hitting our cap a few times,  and now that Shaw has quietly reduced our bandwidth cap by 25 gigabytes we have to consider what software, games and game add-ons we purchase online. With three gamers in the house using three PCs, two laptops, two Xbox 360s and a Wii, all running on one internet account, this is something that has the potential to become a huge issue – and cost – for us, especially as many game and software titles have huge updates between the time they are shipped and the time they are installed. Am I going to get the next chapter in the ongoing saga of super hero DeathSpank or just read about it in press releases? How big am I going to be able to make my world in Dragon Age 2, and what extras will I be getting as I take up the fight in Deus Ex: Human Revolution? Will I be getting that next QuickBooks update, and how much bandwidth will the tax files use up? Are the ISPs going to launch their own game and software download service to go along with their Video On Demand service and compete with Steam, Direct to Drive, the Wii Store, PlayStation Network,  Xbox Marketplace and other digital download outlets? I hope I didn’t just give them any bright ideas…

Do we cut some of our digital channels and upgrade our internet plan? We’re already using the Extreme plan and to upgrade to the next available plan would be another $50.00 per month for an extra 75 gigs per month. Which Canadian channels would we drop and how much bandwidth would we burn through watching the shows from those channels online – if they’re even available online? Now instead of conveniently transferring large web site files between computers via MSN Messenger, we will most likely be making use of USB drives or data CDs – which means we get to pay the copyright surcharge to the government when we buy more drives and more CDs to transfer our own data – or perhaps we just add an internal file server and pay for the extra hydro power needed to run it, then we can have the Township pounding on our door wanting to search our house because of excessive power use.

I won’t even go into all those Windows and software updates that can sometimes involve huge files, with ISPs recommending that all computers have the latest updates and patches in order to remain secure, which is a no-brainer, but will still have an effect on our bottom line for bandwidth usage, which, but the way, we can’t even check on because apparently Shaw doesn’t show bandwidth usage on client account profiles unless said account is a habitual bandwidth hog. Why is it a secret? If Shaw knows how much bandwidth we’re using, why can’t WE know how much bandwidth we’re using? The whole process of cable television, internet connection and usage has become a huge tangled web for consumer – and yes, that pun was intended. To add to my Telcom rant, why can’t we have total control over our “bundles” and choose all of the extra channels we want over and above basic cable? Why do we have to have a bunch of channels we don’t watch built into them, instead of being able to build a bundle out of the channels we do want – and why can’t we burn some of our bandwidth up by going to our account profiles and checking off which channels we want? The Build Your Own Bundle option is just a tad misleading, don’t you think?

CATASpurred by the CRTC’s controversial UBB decision, Canada’s largest high-technology organization has also joined supporters of an initiative to connect Canada with ultra-fast communications, putting out a release today calling for the creation of a new model for the implementation of broadband in Canada.

“Fast and affordable communications is vital to society as well as business,” stated John Reid, President of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA). “We are in danger of falling even further behind the rest of the world if we can’t develop a new, workable model for the adoption of broadband — the fundamental infrastructure for today’s knowledge economy. We need to collectively resolve issues such as usage-based billing within the framework of a larger national plan.”

“Our i-CANADA program to accelerate the development of connected communities and to regain Canada’s leadership in the digital economy is in danger of getting tangled,” said Bill Hutchison, Chair of the i-CANADA program. “We have a New National Dream that will bring global leadership through the use of ultra-fast intelligent communications and collaboration within communities to reach new levels of economic, environmental and social growth and prosperity. This dream is being threatened by a start-and-stop policy environment in Canada.”

Mr. Hutchison illustrated some of the crippling problems that Canadian society faces due to the lack of a consensual overall model: “There may be as many as 700,000 homes in Canada that lack broadband Internet access, and many of those who have it are complaining of speeds so slow that they are barely faster than dial-up. By comparison, the U.S. government’s “National Broadband Plan” sets a target speed of ‘affordable’ 100 megabits-per-second Internet service connecting at least 100 million homes by 2020. Australia has pledged $43-billion to the creation of a high-speed network.

“We need a firm consensus in Canada on what our ‘baseline’ of acceptable speed and cost is,” said Mr. Hutchison. “Businesses need to plan, communities need to build jobs, and residents need access to services such as online health care and education.”

Conflicts like the one over usage-based billing can only be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction if Canada has a strategy for broadband development: “The old model where the private sector is expected to pay for infrastructure development from their profits, has greatly changed,” indicated Mr. Hutchison. “Now that communications is a ‘commodity’, it no longer affords the same level of profit to the telecommunications companies. We need a new model for infrastructure development. We have a good momentum going, but we need a national debate to be able to resolve the broadband issue.”

Welcome to Canada – where you can create all of the great digital products you want – you just can’t share it with your fellow citizens unless you get really creative and innovative with file size and delivery compression.

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17th December 2010

An EA Kind of Morning

EA Black BoxNeed for Speed™ World, the Play4Free™ online PC action racing game from EA Black Box, has now eclipsed three million registered users. With numerous hours of high-speed, high-stakes Need for Speed multiplayer action, Need for Speed World is one of the world’s most popular, free to play racing games. Today EA builds on the game by adding an all-new dynamic day/night cycle and an advanced vehicle performance customization tuning system. Players can go under the hood to upgrade and tune their vehicle with an extensive list of car parts ranging from tuned engines to top-tier suspension systems to create a high-performance race machine. Need For Speed World

Need for Speed World brings together best in class action racing with an unparalleled social experience for the PC. Players can compete against their friends and family or pick from thousands of top ranked players to challenge in intense online battles and police pursuits. Gamers race the way they want in an ever expanding world that continues to grow with a constant stream of new content, cars, and features.

In addition to English and German, Need for Speed World has now been localized for France, Russia, Spain and Poland markets. Players worldwide can feel the rush of illicit street racing as they speed their way through a white-knuckle socially-connected Need for Speed experience. They will also be able to purchase SpeedBoost which they can use to acquire in-game items such as Booster Packs, Power-ups, XP accelerators and even exclusive exotic cars via the in-game store using a variety of local payment options including credit cards and SMS billing.

The EA PWNED_ team stopped in at the EA Sports campus in Burnaby during their recent globetrotting visits to various EA studios around the world. Watch Matt Cuttle and Sian Welby as they join World Heavyweight Champion David Haye as his famous ‘Hayemaker’ and a range of other equally devastating blows are captured for Fight Night Champion. Appearing in the game and on the box the champ is heavily involved in EA Canada’s latest game but who would he like to play as in Fight Night Champion? Tune in to find out.

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In other developments, EA sent out a press release announcing an “Epic Promotion” for the upcoming Bulletstorm, developed by Epic’s People Can Fly studio over in Poland. Normally I wouldn’t carry the news about this promotion because the games involved are not developed in Canada. That said, the fine print at the end of the press release somewhat irked me. Maybe it’s because my morning caffeine level has not yet reached a safe level, maybe because it looks like EA is leaving an out for itself while sucking gamers into pre-ordering Bulletstorm on the promise of getting in on a beta for Gears of War 3, a title that has been delayed at least a couple of times now – and was supposed to be a part of the recent Spike Video Game Awards but was a no-show (just like the awards show itself, in terms of quality). This has not pleased the hardcore Marcus Fenix fans, and perhaps Epic and EA are teaming up to try to appease them, dangling the slim promise of a beta play in front of them.

Why do I think this promotion sounds somewhat hinky? Well, the press release started off great – then I noticed the * in a sentence: Players that purchase the Epic Edition are guaranteed early access to the Gears of War 3 beta*. Pre-order now to reserve a copy of the Epic Edition which will be available on Feb. 22, 2011 for MSRP $59.99 ($69.99 in Canada, which doesn’t make sense given the strength of our dollar), only for the Xbox 360® while supplies last.

So…having a rabid Gears of War fan living in the cave upstairs, I checked the disclaimer indicated by the * before telling him of this “Epic Promotion” …and the * indicates that Conditions and restrictions apply. See back of pack for details if and when available. Okay, so this is normal, conditions often apply when EA sends out a press release, but it’s usually the requirement of an EA Account and an internet connection, and this is where the promotion doesn’t sit quite right with me. EA and Epic want gamers to pre-order one game, for the promise of getting in on the beta for the game that they really want, but there are conditions that you, the gamer, won’t know about until you get your hands on Bulletstorm. Now, the “if and when available” part is not very clear – what is EA defining as “if and when available” – Bulletstorm or the beta – and if they know these conditions are going to apply, why aren’t they releasing the details now?

I can pretty well guarantee that if I walk into the EB Games we normally shop at later today, they will not have this Epic Promotion pre-order in their system, and probably won’t for at least a week – unless it’s automatically included in a regular pre-order. It took almost a month for Dragon Age 2 to show up for pre-order, and Guild Wars 2 CE only became available a few weeks ago. Now, does this “limited quantity” mean that because EB Games Canada – or GameStop if you prefer – is slow to add titles and offers to their system, the Cavechild could miss out on his chance to get in the Gears of War 3 beta or will our store be allotted a set number of Epic Promotion pre-orders? I just checked the EA Store, and they don’t have the “Epic Promotion” advertised yet either, so perhaps a phone call will be in order once the stores open.

I just hope that EA and Epic aren’t using the promise of Gears of War 3 to artificially attract gamers to Bulletstorm with a thin promise that will then get yanked out from under them due to something like “time constraints to meet deadlines” or some other lame excuse, and then appease the gamers by tossing extra special DLC items at them.

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11th November 2010

In Honour and Remembrance

As we prepare to converge on our local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion for this year’s Cenotaph Ceremony of Remembrance, I find myself thinking about the many sacrifices thousands of men and women have made to protect the freedom and honour of our country. By extension, thousands of families have made a similar sacrifice, giving up the comfort of having their father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, husband or wife near to them. They have spent countless hours wondering and worrying, loathe to receive that unwanted message stating that the ultimate sacrifice has been given by their cherished family member.

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Many Canadians express their patriotism as November 11th nears, but our soldiers, past and present, do not have the luxury of remembering the fallen at an annual ceremony. They live those battles and conflicts daily, whether they are still on the front line or haunted by the darkness or wars past. I find it ironic, as the Government of Canada strives to make detrimental changes to our Veterans’ pensions for retired and/or wounded soldiers, they flood the airwaves with advertisements telling us to make Remembrance Day something more than just something we do, to make the day something more than what we feel. A call to action, if it were. Yet here we have the Government wanting to treat our Veterans in a manner which they certainly do not deserve. These men and women deserve the utmost of honour, courtesy and support; they should not have to continue fighting the Government they served in order to maintain a reasonable lifestyle when their duty is done – whether they have retired in full physical health or not – whether they have served overseas or not, they are still our military veterans, and the Government of Canada needs to step up and make some huge improvements in Veterans Affairs. Do not sell Canadian citizens on the ideals of honouring our soldiers, only to turn around and treat them with dishonour behind the closed doors of a bureaucratic office.

Equally despicable is the car thief who made off with a car in New Westminster, leaving the Seaforth Highlanders searching for and hoping that their Regimental Mace will be returned to them – intact. I hope that those of you reading this will make use of your contacts network, and maybe someone, somewhere, will know something and the Mace can be returned. (see the full story here in the Province).

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And then there is the Royal Canadian Mint, whose graphic artists can’t seem to wrap their heads around the importance and patriotism of our Highway of Heroes, declaring that the task is proving very difficult to translate into a coin design. Fine – they can’t do it, open up the design process to the general public. I am sure that somewhere in this big country is a designer who can articulate the overwhelming show of respect shown to our fallen by members of the fire and police departments, along with the growing numbers of ordinary citizens who line the highway to honour not only the soldiers on their final journey home, but also their families.

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But then there are the positives – those who come home safe, and those who pick up the task of supporting our soldiers and their families long after their time on the front has ended. These organizations work hard, raising the money to send children to school, to provide medical treatment and support for our wounded, and to keep the memories of our soldiers alive, passing on the priceless knowledge and experience that can only be shared by one who has been there.

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Please take the time to support those who say nothing is too difficult to help our soldiers and their families. Support the Canadian Hero Fund in their 11 for 11 drive, which will help send the children of soldiers to school. Support Wounded Warriors, The Royal Canadian Legion, and the True Patriot Love Foundation, the Canadian Military Families Fund and Boomer’s Legacy, who all work tirelessly to help those in need.

Buy the music produced by Canadian artists, who gave of their time and talents to create songs whose monetary proceeds support organizations like those mentioned above. Here are only a few of the songs out there whose sales help our military families:

The Trews – Highway of Heroes

Basia Lyjak – Waiting

Julian Austin – The Red and The White

Canada’s Country Artists – Standing Strong and True

And most importantly of all, please thank a soldier.

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30th June 2010

Ted (and Ryan) Talks: An Interview with Genius Factor Games

Genius Factor Games logoStudio: Genius Factor Games
Current Title(s): Gravity Well (2009)
Future Title(s): Riese

I arrive at Genius Factor Games at 2:05 in the afternoon, and am welcomed by Ryan Arndt, the Director of Digital and Emerging Media. He’s as friendly as his position requires, and I’m invited to wait in the lobby until their previous meeting concludes. The offices are lowly lit, and sparsely furnished, with ecru sofas and a single glass table with two trade magazines.. Gravity Well may be their biggest success so far, but the few pieces of art on the walls are solely devoted to their newest project, a card game tie-in to Riese: the Series. The door into their meeting is left ajar, allowing me to hear an intent discussion of the viability of video game franchises as cross-media entertainment; I find myself more eager than ever to speak to the two men inside. When I’m welcomed into the office, an introduction to Ted Nugent, CEO of Genius Factor Games, is immediate—as is an introduction to his Australian Shepherd, Jenny, who sits at his feet.

Ted Nugent

 

I begin by asking how he feels about the success of the company’s debut; and immediately, his gratitude and modesty take centre stage.

 

“Well, I didn’t expect Gravity Well to…I think there needs to be a little bit of context around the whole thing. When we started with Gravity Well, it was really to learn the publishing system. So I didn’t expect the game to do more than one sale–one sale would have been a bonus. We released it in April of last year, and since then it’s done a lot better than I expected, and amazing… The reactions from the customers and from the people who are playing have been equally amazing.”

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3rd June 2010

Balancing The Canadian Copyright Act Is Like Walking A Tightrope

Government of Canada…and trying to understand it all is like standing in a tornado. There is so much going on right now in regards to Canada’s copyright reform (Bill C-32) that it is almost impossible to keep up. Thankfully, there are an abundance of online resources available so that we can learn more about the processes which have MP James Moore on Twitterbeen followed up to this point, as well as keep current with what is going on right now. The Canadian government has been maintaining a site called Balanced Copyright, and it holds a wealth of information. Naturally, the Pirate Party has grabbed the domain balancedcopyright.ca, but there is no site yet launched for that URL. I imagine that the group will probably use the domain to counter MP Tony Clement on Twitterthe one run by the government, and will count on the public not knowing the location of the government’s site. Speaking of government, both MP James Moore (Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages) and MP Tony Clement (Minister of Industry) have been engaging the public, media and industry groups on Twitter since the Bill was announced yesterday. I recommend following both MPs, along with copyright expert Michael Geist for continuing updates about Bill C-32’s progress.

Fair Copyright for Canada (administered by Michael Geist) also has an active Facebook group which carries updates and opinions relevant to Bill C-32. One point which seems to be an area of contention is the Digital Lock, and CBC News has written a very comprehensive look at what it could Michael Geist on Twitterentail. I freely admit that I have not had time to read and process all of the information about C-32, and while I will endeavour to do so, I would like to invite someone more expert in the ramifications of C-32 to write a guest editorial explaining the good and the bad of our copyright bill. While many of what we could deem as special interest groups are voicing their opinions about Bill C-32, the most relevant to both us and our readers is what those in interactive media are saying. All of the sites and Twitter accounts above contain links to opinions and press releases from groups such as ACTRA, AFM and the Documentary Organization of Canada, and I invite you to check them out. Here is what ESAC has to say about the reforms:

esacThe Entertainment Software Association of Canada has released a statement about Bill C-32, congratulating the Government of Canada on its introduction of copyright reform legislation which will help protect Canadian content creators and digital media companies. ESAC believes that protecting the intellectual property of industries that contribute to Canada’s prosperity is not only good public policy, but is essential as our economy transitions to more knowledge-based jobs.

“We applaud the government for showing leadership on this complex issue and we look forward to studying the bill more closely,” said Danielle Parr, Executive Director of ESAC. “Without strong protection for our intellectual property, we’re basically operating in a digital Wild West. Promoting piracy under the guise of ‘user rights’ does nothing to defend the livelihood of thousands of Canadians who rely on turning great ideas into world class entertainment,” she added.

“Piracy fundamentally undermines the integrity of the marketplace. It forces creators to compete against black market versions of their own products, affecting their ability to recover the considerable investments associated with digital media production. A strong bill – one which prohibits hacking of digital works, trafficking in hacking tools and that makes those who facilitate digital piracy clearly liable for their activities – is critical to the success of Canada’s digital economy,” says Parr.

In the industry’s view, a bill with clear protection for intellectual property will enable creators to decide how and at what cost their products can be accessed and in turn allow consumers to decide which products succeed and fail by voting with their pocketbook. Further, by supporting a diverse range of business models, strong copyright will facilitate increased competition, which ultimately leads to greater pew internetconsumer choice and lower prices.

In related news, the Pew Internet and American Life Project has released a report about The State of Online Video. While this study was conducted in the USA, the information can be useful to those Canadian companies and individuals who produce web-distributed products. The study is available as a downloadable PDF, or it can be read online.

And now back to our regularly scheduled Canadian game industry news and updates:

THQ has confirmed in an official press release that Relic Entertainment’s Company of Heroes Online will Relic Entertainmentindeed be released to the North American market this fall. Building on the frenetic Real-Time-Strategy action of the original Company of Heroes, Company of Heroes Online is free to play and offers army specialization, commander customization, and persistent progression, allowing players to strategize on and off the battlefield. Players will also have the opportunity to earn or purchase special units and upgrades and improve their army with each and every multiplayer victory.

Vice President of Global Brand Management Travis Plane commented that, “We are delighted to bring this award-winning franchise to gamers in a whole new way with the online version of the Company of Heroes experience. Players will benefit from the persistent upgrades and the ability to tailor their armies to really suit their play style making this a unique experience for everyone.”

Capcom MobileCapcom® Mobile and Classic Media, whose portfolio includes of some of the world’s leading kids, family and pop-culture brands such as Where’s Waldo?®, Casper the Friendly Ghost® and Lassie®, have announced the release of Where’s Waldo?® In Hollywood, the sequel to last year’s top-selling mobile phone game.

“The first Where’s Waldo? game was a run-away mobile hit with its addictive mini games and classic search and find puzzles,” said Midori Yuasa, President, Capcom Interactive, Inc. “For theWaldo In Hollywood sequel we’ve built on the winning mix with a whole new crop of puzzles, achievements and even more Waldo fun.”

“Capcom Mobile has done a terrific job translating the search and find experience of Where’s Waldo? for mobile and we are excited to partner with their team on the second game,” said Nicole Blake, Senior Vice President, Marketing & Consumer Products, Classic Media. “With its crowds of celebrities and celebrity-spotters, Hollywood is an exciting place for fans to take up their search for Waldo.”

Based on the international publishing phenomenon, Where’s Waldo? in Hollywood, developed by Capcom Interactive Canada, chronicles the world-famous traveler through a series of tinsel-town themed adventures. Players can join the search with multiple search and find games that are based on classic scenes from the book series, as well as five mini games, including Tic-Whack-Wizard, Odd One Out, and Slide Puzzles. As players progress, they will be able to unlock bonus content and earn in-game achievements. Where’s Waldo? In Hollywood is currently available for download on most North American carriers. Read the rest of this entry »

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10th May 2010

Summing Up GDC Canada 2010

Howard DonaldsonI 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). Guild Wars - Danika

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 GDC-Games AcademyVancouver 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 GDC-SnakeTakes Studiofigures, 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 GDC-Expo Flooraffordable 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.

Gemini Awards 2010The 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. Read the rest of this entry »

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9th April 2010

E is For Ethics

E Is For Ethics

E Is For Ethics
Author: Ian James Corlett
Illustrator: R. A. Holt
Published: December 2009
Hardcover 106 pages
Interactive Companion Website: E is For Ethics

I recently came into possession of this book, and if I had to choose just one word to describe it, I’m not sure that I could pick a word which would completely do it justice. E Is For Ethics is certainly inspiring and timeless. While my kids are both long past the age of being read to, they aren’t too old for productive and ethical discussion or debate – something which we still engage in, particularly during our weekly Sunday night family dinners.

Elliott and Lucy

Elliott & Lucy

While there are many “self help” books about parenting on the market, I feel that Ian’s book is different because as he says in his introduction, his only qualification in writing this book is the fact that he is a parent. To me this speaks volumes, because it really doesn’t matter how many doctorates or letters you have after your name – nothing can prepare you for being a parent other than the moment you become one. Ian has created real situations involving his two lead characters, Lucy and Elliott, along with supporting family and general public characters put in real life situations to which children can easily relate.

Each of the 26 stories told in E is For Ethics leaves its ending unresolved, leading to multiple results and opening up the chance for discussion on how the story could go. Each chapter, from honesty to respect, offers discussion ideas and quotes from both the famous and the infamous. Ian has artfully found a way through his very short scenarios for parents to gauge how their children perceive the world in general and how these little people think about what is right and what is wrong.

The Old Code

When my kids were young, one of their favourite movies was DragonHeart. As they watched it obsessively, I took the opportunity to discuss The Old Code which Bowen tries to follow. They both knew it by heart, and I believe that they both still try to incorporate those words into their daily lives – although sometimes I do have to wonder at some of the things they say or do. The important thing is that they are free-thinkers, they definitely don’t follow the crowd, and they both have a social conciousness about them. While I certainly won’t take 100% of the credit for that, I know that I gave them a good foundation, and this is precisely the ongoing value of E is For Ethics.

Ethics are timeless, and should you find yourself faced with difficulties in teaching moral lessons to your children, E is For Ethics offers some great starting points, minus all of the psych-speak. Simplicity is often best – because complicated is, well, complicated and unclear. As Ian writes in his book’s conclusion, “…even if you think you know about something or how to do something, there is always a new twist or a new way to try it. And it’s the same way we learn about ethics. Every situation is different and so is how a family deals with it.” One point which I truly admire Ian for is the fact that he is not really telling you what to teach your children, he is simply giving you, as parents, a starting point and then leaves the rest up to you.

Much like The Old Code, E is For Ethics covers those areas which are important characteristics for an honourable, compassionate and productive member of society – many of which seem to have taken a back seat in terms of importance for many people today. For example, last week I was talking with a guy who grew up in the same neighbourhood I did, which was a tight-knit, mainly agricultural community. Our discussion revolved around how much our little town has changed, and how people in general don’t seem to be as honourable as they used to be. We are the current generation running long-time family businesses, and we would like to know what happened to the time when a handshake and your word was enough to honourably seal a deal. Your conduct in business was your reputation, and growing up in a small town meant that everyone knew whether or not you truly were as good as your word.

I feel that in many ways society has forgotten about many of those values, and Ian’s book is a great way to perhaps rediscover those values for ourselves as we discuss the scenarios with our children. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children as they grow up is time, and to borrow A & E TV’s slogan, reading and discussing E is For Ethics with our children is time well spent. I would be completely remiss in not giving this little book a huge recommendation to parents and grandparents everywhere. Even if you aren’t a parent yet, chances are you might become one – pick up E is For Ethics and keep it for the future. You’ll be glad you did. Ian definitely gets five stars from me for E is For Ethics.

* The Old Code from DragonHeart

A knight is sworn to valor, his heart knows only virtue, his blade defends the helpless, his might upholds the weak, his word speaks only truth, his wrath undoes the wicked.

The right can never die, if a man still remembers him. Words are not forgotten, if a voice pronounce them clearly, The Code always shines, if a heart preserves it brightly…

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2nd April 2010

A Small Editorial On DDoS Attacks

DOS.  DDOS.  Zombie bots.  These terms likely mean nothing to most people out there, yet the effects of them can actually manage to affect the way most people today do business.

DOS stands for Denial Of Service (it also stands for “Disk Operating System”, but that’s not the definition I’m going to write about here).  It’s a form of attack on pretty much anything Internet Related… although primarily it was used to focus on websites and personal computers.  The basic idea behind a DOS attack was to send so much “garbage” information to a person’s computer or connection, that it would become bogged down by the data and cause legitimate requests to either become extremely delayed, or completely lost while waiting for its chance to get through the line.  This was, understandably so, an extremely effective means of attack on personal computers back when most of the population was using dial-up connections… when a person’s phone line can only carry 6KB a second (to give an idea of that speed, the average picture on a website would have taken 3 to 4 seconds to actually show up on your computer screen), it would not have taken much at all to bog that connection right down, and possibly even disconnect the user.

These days though, no one actually uses dial-up (allowing for the possibility of 4 or 5 people who still haven’t reached civilization, and only have basic phone lines running into their cave), so sending 6KB of data would do nothing more than make your modem light blink for a fraction of a second.  Enter the DDOS, or Distributed Denial Of Service.  It’s pretty much the same as DOS, yet instead of coming from a single source, it’s coming in from multiple sources – anywhere from two to millions, depending on the tactic used and the form of data being transmitted.  Sending 6KB a second from a single source would do nothing to pretty much any user or site these days, but to take that same 6 KB and send it from 2000 computers all at once, you now have 12,000 KB (or 12MB) of data all at once traveling through the wire to your home PC, or through the cable to that website’s server in Texas (or wherever) – something that most connections would choke under, or at the very least experience some extreme lag (lag is the amount of time it takes for a signal to reach you from somewhere else, and vice versa).

As some of you may know, we here at Village Gamer have in the past been the target of multiple DDOS attacks.  Our “ignored sibling” company (that’s Tami’s term) KillaNet Technology was a pet project for a packet kiddie from California for a number of years. Wait – what’s a packet kiddie, right?  A Packet is a way of measuring data traveling through the Internet. A packet kiddie is a less-than-endearing term used to describe a wanna-be hacker who uses someone else’s code to launch attacks on websites and people through the internet.  After much time was spent going through firewall logs, chat logs, data graphs, and so much lost sleep that I actually lost track, he was put before the California State Courts and found guilty for his attacks against us.  It was a small victory in the World of cyber-crime and DDoS perpetrators, but it still showed that justice could be achieved and that it is possible to survive DDoS attacks.

Most sites and users will actually pack up shop if they become a steady target of these attacks.  This is the worst thing someone can do, as it tells the kiddie that what he did is not only alright, but also successful.  Giving in to these people is the worst thing you can do. I attribute it to supplying a drug addict with more pills; they get the thrill from doing it the first time, and you handing over more just tells them that what they are doing is alright.  So how do you combat the attack?  Firstly, you have to keep your cool and ride it out.  There is nothing you can do to stop it from happening once it starts, unless you can actually go to the source and unplug each and every computer that is part of the attack, so no point stressing out over it or raging.  It won’t last forever, consider it a good chance to pull out that favourite book, or watch a movie with the family.  Your fight starts once the attack is over. Read the rest of this entry »

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8th March 2010

Parties, Departures, New Releases and Upcoming Events

Massive BearVancouver – Last Friday evening we attended Massive Bear Studio’s Launch Party at the Granville Room – your new website is awesome – and I see some upcoming news that looks quite exciting, as well. Massive Bear’s projects have included work on Microsoft-Big Park’s Joy Ride, 2k’s Mafia 2 and Day 21 Studios’ Sky Pirates of Neo Terra. Thank you again to Tim Lewinson for a fantastic time and the invitation to celebrate with you – all the best as you set off for a full slate of meetings and seminars at GDC!

It’s not generally our policy to cover the employment downside of game development, particularly with the way the economy has been over the past year or so and the adverse effect it has had on many Canadian Kelly Zmakstudios. While we will always let you, our readers, know about new studio openings and career positions, we feel that other media outlets provide more than enough coverage about job losses and we don’t really need to add to the mix.

That said, I cannot let a recent development pass without comment. For those who have not yet heard, Kelly Zmak formally announced his departure from Radical Entertainment this past Friday. This truly saddens me, as Kelly has been (and will continue to be, I hope) an integral part of the Vancouver development community. A powerful and motivational speaker, Kelly has worked hard on various Advisory Boards and industry committees. He has many times played host and emcee, and he has given me more encouragement and inspiration than he is perhaps aware. I have the utmost respect for Kelly as a business person, teacher and perhaps most important of all, friend. Kelly leaves some big shoes (or should that be hat?) to fill for his successor at Radical, and I would like to take this opportunity to wish him well with his future projects. Read the rest of this entry »

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8th February 2010

Our Take On The New BC Tax Incentives

Orby - Proud to be CanadianAldergrove – As many of you are already aware, the Province of BC announced their new proposed Tax Incentive program for the digital media industry, to be combined with changes to the film industry’s tax credits last week. This is very good news not only for the video game sector, but also for many aspects of the interactive entertainment industry.

Speaking to the announcement, Tim Lewinson, Creative Director of Vancouver’s Massive Bear Studio, stated that “as a rising company in the Vancouver development scene, Massive Bear is happy to see the provincial government recognize the importance of sustaining British Columbia’s position as one of the world’s preeminent game development hubs. By working with government to reinvigorate job growth and investment in BC, we can continue to create some of the world’s best games. There’s too much talent and history in BC’s interactive entertainment sector not to take advantage of the opportunity to work with film, television, and animation industries in building a next-generation digital media hub right here. This announcement is an important first step in getting there.”

Sadly, the film industry is crying somewhat foul in regards to the changes to this program. Shawn Williamson of BrightLight Pictures was quoted in CBC’s coverage of the announcement as saying “”What they’ve announced is the increase for video games, which will put money into the pockets of the Pixars and Electronic Arts and large video game companies which are based primarily in Los Angeles,” Williamson told CBC News. “Those companies are likely to invest and be happy. Companies like ours who produce and finance our own productions that keeps the wealth effectively in the province didn’t get a bump on the tax credit.”

While I respect Mr. Williamson’s feelings, he perhaps doesn’t understand the long history of Electronic Arts in the local game development culture and the important role the Burnaby campus has played in the growth of our local industry. I would like to direct him to an excellent article in the Georgia Straight. Written by Blaine Kyllo, this article takes a look at BC’s video game development family tree and how the industry has grown since the day Don Mattrick and Jeff Sember released the first Vancouver-developed game, Evolution, in 1982. The global video game development industry, in comparison to the film industry as a whole, is quite young and Vancouver was right there in the industry’s infancy.

Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Kevin Krueger Touring Ubisoft Vancouver

Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Kevin Krueger Touring Ubisoft Vancouver

 

For example, the first documentary filmed in Kamloops dates from 1912, and then during the 1930’s, several Hollywood studios began filming their “Quota Quickies” (today’s “B” movies) in Vancouver. One of the first TV series filmed here was the original Littlest Hobo, which was filmed at Hollyburn Studios in West Vancouver from 1963 through 1965. The point I am trying to make here is that Vancouver, and British Columbia as a whole, has had a presence in the early days of not just one creative industry, but in many.

Going back to Shawn Williamson’s comment about the “large video game companies which are based primarily in Los Angeles” – what he neglects to understand is that there are thousands of people employed in the digital media industry in BC – by small to medium-sized enterprise as well as by the bigger studios such as EA Canada, Radical Entertainment (Activision-Blizzard) and Relic Entertainment (THQ). Small studios such as Fit Brains, who may employ only a dozen people, and medium-sized studios such as Next Level Games, who employ a few dozen people will benefit greatly from this program. All of the above-named studios were producing product long before there any kind of provincial tax credits available to them. They didn’t stay because of a possible video game tax incentive some time in the future. They stayed because BC has talent.

I do have to wonder if Mr. Williamson has ever sat and watched the credits roll by at the end of a video game; just as in film and television production, there are many talented people employed for a game production beyond those who create the characters, build the environments and write the computer code. There are audio specialists, voice actors, office administration, human resources, marketing specialists, video compositors, musicians, motion-capture specialists, story and technical writers and so many more.

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