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27th August 2010

A First Look At Tween Transmedia Series Ruby Skye PI

Story 2.OHA very special starring role has been played in the upcoming tween detective web series, Ruby Skye P.I. The esteemed Dragon Academy joined forces with one of Canada’s most innovative online storytellers – Jill Golick of Story2.OH – to become the first member of the local education community to embrace direct sponsorship of original, responsible and engaging online entertainment for Tweens; one of the world-wide web’s most under-served audiences. Principal Dr. Meg Fox declares the partnership “a wonderful opportunity”, noting the shared sensibilities between the school, and the digital series concept: “Our principal educational goals are to encourage all the things that Ruby Skye cares about too: creativity, freedom of expression, collaboration and commitment to social justice.”
The Dragon Academy
Founded in Toronto’s Yorkville district in 2001, The Dragon Academy is a socratic, museum-based, integrated school revered for valuing rich, challenging and unusual content in its curriculum via lively connections with Toronto’s key cultural institutions. This made it the ideal local sponsor for the equally inspired new form of storytelling featured in the pending, locally created & produced web series, Ruby Skye P.I. The Dragon Academy is heavily featured as a principle location for the series’ action: it is just the sort of school environment to promote the curious, inquisitive and often hilarious sleuthing adventures of the quick-witted, impulsive mystery devotee, sixteen-year old Ruby Skye — a very young would-be detective bent on getting to the bottom of a mysterious email scam which has defrauded a well-meaning but eccentrically naive neighbour.

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Ruby Skye P.I. is a tween web mystery aimed at kids ages 8 through 14 and is one element of an impressive cross-platform project intended to entertain, engage and educate kids online around the world. Ruby Skye P.I. is the brain-child of Canada’s pioneering transmedia creator, Story2.OH’s Jill Golick (Hailey Hacks, Crushing It, BoyMeetsGrrl) and already represents a dazzling collaboration among community, corporate, and creative partners — all keen to see Canada reach the cutting edge of excellent online content for young people.

The first Ruby Skye P.I. mystery began principal photography at The Dragon Academy and on location around Toronto on August 16th and continues shooting its first mystery, The Spam Scam until September 2nd. Ruby Skye P.I. is one of nine digital web series projects selected for investment by the highly-competitive Canadian Independent Production Fund’s new web series program. Ruby Skye P.I. continues to seek local, national and international partners to fully realize its exciting vision. Interested potential sponsors can contact creator Jill Golick at 416.414.8539.

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3rd August 2010

Fall Conferences and New Films On The Horizon

We’re back after a break over the BC Day long weekend and trying to get back into the swing of things. News out of Toronto this morning is that Virgin Gaming has partnered with Ubisoft to be the online tournament provider for some of the publisher’s most anticipated multiplayer console releases. Leading the charge is Tom Clancy”s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier™, the latest chapter in the award-winning franchise.

“Ubisoft is one of the leading video game publishers in the world and we are thrilled to offer our members the opportunity to compete in some of their best multiplayer console games,” said Rob Segal, CEO of Virgin Gaming. “Virgin Gaming is a unique convergence of social networking, video games and Ubisoft and Virgin Gaming Partnershipcompetitive gaming, and we are excited that Ubisoft shares our vision for the platform and its potential.”

“Ubisoft is thrilled to be partnering with Virgin Gaming on its new venture. We have an exciting lineup of multiplayer titles this year that we believe will be a perfect fit for gamers to play and compete against each other in a tournament setting,” said Laurent Detoc, president of Ubisoft North America.

Sir Richard Branson unveiled Virgin Gaming to an enthusiastic reception at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). The overwhelmingly positive response helped Virgin Gaming to quickly take the industry by storm, being the first online platform for gamers of all skill levels to compete in some of the best games for the biggest prizes. In true Virgin style, Branson kicked things off with dramatic flair, announcing that Virgin Gaming would give away over $1 million in cash and prizes over its first 12 months. Ubisoft headlines a slate of industry partnerships with key publishers and retailers to be announced by Virgin Gaming in the coming months. Additional details on these partnerships will be announced soon.

nextMEDIA has just opened up for 2010 Design Exchange early-bird registration. The conference, which will be held in Toronto this November 29th and 30th, will help you create opportunities for your business by bringing together the highest growth areas of the converging next-generation entertainment marketplace.

Highlights for this fall’s conference include:

* 2 days of learning, strategizing and collaborating across all areas of digital entertainment, including advertising, gaming, TV, mobile, music and publishing.
* Facilitated meetings and networking between established industry leaders and emerging new talent from multiple sectors.
* Sessions, discussions and workshops designed to drive your business forward and provide you with the connections and info you need to stay ahead of your competition.Match Up
* Insight into emerging technologies and platforms that can change your business.

Digital LeisureDon’t forget that Digital Leisure’s Match Up!, designed exclusively for Nintendo’s DSiWare™ game service is available as of today for only 200 Nintendo points.

Flip, match and…kaboom! – How fast can you find the right set in Match Up!? Whether you’re 4 or 40, Match Up! will have you captive for hours. Reveal shapes, colors and even hidden bonuses with a new take on a childhood favorite. Quick hands and a sharp mind are the only way to beat the clock and disarm the explosive cards riddled throughout. Not quite ready for the explosive action? Then start with the absolutely addictive classic concentration play, and see if you can level up. So come on – get matching! Read the rest of this entry »

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12th July 2010

Know Your Stuff Because It Could Be Important

Make It RightYesterday while we were at the grocery store, I was killing time at the checkout by perusing the magazine stand, and noticed that Mike Holmes (Holmes on Homes, Holmes Inspection) has a magazine. Who knew? So, being a fan of his shows and because it had an article on smart homes, I bought the magazine. (I wonder if the sales guy we’ve been dealing with for our modular home design is tired of hearing “Mike Holmes said…or…I saw on Mike Holmes’ show…”) One of the magazine’s features is a “bookmark it” blurb, and this issue’s featured bookmark was the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s home (or office) inventory tool, Know Your Stuff™. This is a very handy – and free – tool that those of us with an abundance of high-tech and high-priced equipment should use – just in case. IBC

According to the IBC’s info page, “The Know Your Stuff™ tool will help you to build a room–by–room record of your belongings and calculate replacement costs. A home inventory will help you get the right insurance coverage and make it easier to file a claim, should you need to. And with IBC’s free, secure, online storage you will have access to your inventory anywhere, anytime.”

MaRSMaRS today launched a new commercialization program called TechStart! Consumer, following an open call for promising start-ups in the consumer digital media space. A total of 15 aspiring ventures have been chosen for the 16-week intensive boot camp program led by MaRS Advisors and subject matter experts from the industry.

The program was created in response to the growing demand of consumer-facing digital media companies seeking advisory services, mentorship and market connections from MaRS to help refine their business models and market penetration strategies. The TechStart! program combines advisory, peer-to-peer interactions and focused sector-specific education into one intensive, fast-paced program.

In the last year alone, MaRS’ client portfolio – the approximately 600 Ontario-based companies actively working with MaRS advisory services – has seen a 61 per cent increase in digital media ventures. Today, digital media companies represent 50 per cent of the broader information technologies practice area.

TechStart! Consumer is composed of 10 intensive advisory-driven sessions that cover a range of important business-building topics including: market assessment; user experience design; business modeling; consumer branding; and market launch.

“We hope that TechStart! Consumer will allow us to further our business model and refine our strategy,” says Kuhan Puvanesasingham, Co-founder of Price My Ride, one of the participating companies. “Not only will we be able to closely work with a broad group of seasoned MaRS advisors and experts, we’ll also be able to share our energy and enthusiasm amongst other participants.”

“The TechStart! Consumer program is the first of its kind in Ontario. Creating a meaningful experience for 15 companies is challenging, but the program has been designed to meet the considerable demand from entrepreneurs for this type of immersive learning experience, working closely with both advisors and other entrepreneurs,” says Krista Jones, the MaRS Practice Lead who is spearheading the program. “We have benchmarked a number of acceleration programs internationally in the design of TechStart!, and we believe that the program will help catalyze, scale-up and enrich our entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

In addition to launching TechStart! Consumer, MaRS is also renaming its ICT practice to ICE – Information technology, Communications & Entertainment – to better reflect the growth of consumer facing start-ups working with MaRS.

“Repositioning our practice name is the right response to a fast-changing marketplace,” says Jones. “It better reflects the types of clients we attract and work with today. ICE is just a more succinct, sharper and relevant way to describe our focus and expertise beyond traditional ICT to include consumer and entertainment-based ventures.”

Winnipeg’s Indigo Rose Software has released AutoPlay Media Studio 8 Personal Edition for use on Microsoft Windows 7, Vista and XP. This new version of the company’s popular visual software programming environment is being offered free for non-commercial users. The program is designed to help encourage the development of free software applications and utilities by students, hobbyists, open-source programmers and freeware developers. Read the rest of this entry »

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16th June 2010

The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design

Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design
Title: The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design
Authors: Flint Dille and John Zuur Platten
Publishers: Watson-Guptill Publications
Year: January 2008
Softcover: 260 pages

The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design is mistitled, but only slightly so. For any designer or writer with aspirations of success in the gaming industry, this book will aid them. However, the book should not be the last guide an amateur buys,i nor the first. The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design is not ultimate, simply thorough, with solid advice for both novice and veteran writers. The book’s great weakness is that its authors only seem able to address half of their audience at a time; this is no one’s ultimate guide.

Each half is well-written and concise, if festooned with typos. The first half provides a walkthrough of the process of developing a strong, marketable property, and the second half teaches its readers how to see that property through the corporate minefield. The first half errs on the side of simplicity; it’s difficult to conceive of a would-be game designer unaware of the basic history of video games, or who would need to be reminded of the difference between onscreen and offscreen dialogue. A newcomer will benefit from the learning exercises provided, if they’re the sort of writer who works well with templates, but writers who fancy themselves experienced creators may find Dille and Platten’s fill-in-the-blanks approach demeaning.

The second half of the book contains valuable advice for staying hired at a development agency, but their suggestions about how to ease into the industry are not only basic, but common. Even a reader completely unconnected to the industry will find their advice rather obvious; in 2010, it is unlikely that aspiring designers are not already aware of their need to network and check for jobs online. Fresh hires will find the chapter on the various uses of lawyers, managers, and agents useful, but only if they can afford them, and the glossary will be useful only so long as the references are relevant—and references to plot devices like the Giant Rat of Sumatra may not be relevant as long as the authors seem to think.

The guide may be penultimate, but it does have its strengths. Dille and Zuur Platten both are warm, considerate writers who want their readers to succeed in the field. But the odds of any novice being guided to chairmanship through this guide alone are slim to none. The readers and writers both would be better served through an expansion of this book into a two or three volume set to give the writers the breathing room to be more cohesive, and the vast scope of readers more distinct attention. Dille and Zuur Platten have the necessary skills and ambition to make an ultimate guide to videogame writing; this just isn’t it.

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24th May 2010

Murphid Addiction Alert

Decapod StudiosI’ve spent the past week or so playing Murphid, the debut title from Vancouver-based Decapod Studios. Murphid’s game play is, to an extent, a mix of the Tetris and Collapse 3 styled games. It is also quietly addictive. Released on the XBox Live Marketplace on May 13th, Murphid is priced at a very reasonable 240 MS Points. In my opinion, it’s worth the price – plus there is a free demo available, so you can try Murphid before putting your points on the line.Murphid Arcade Mode

Murphid has a very short learning curve and does offer on-screen tutorial hints for the first few minutes of play – this is the game’s sneaky way of drawing you into its clutches. Don’t get me wrong, I totally enjoy playing Murphid, and I think Decapod did a fantastic job with its development. I particularly like that there is no annoying music, just the game’s sound effects for audio. I can’t count the number of arcade-styled games in which I turn the music completely off because it grates on my nerves. Not so with Murphid. The sound effects fit pleasantly into the game play, and even losing sounds okay. This is nice when playing at the end of the day, winding down and trying to enter some semblance of relaxation mode. Jarring arcade music just doesn’t seem to help with that.

The UI for Murphid is bright and colourful, and there are really only two things that I would like to see added – a time counter for Survival Mode and for Microsoft to enable achievements for indie titles. Survivor Mode does tell you how many lines you’ve survived, but in my opinion, a timer would be better. Murphid also rewards players with the following eight awards:Murphid Awards

Me Not Noob – Break 600 marbles
Take The Red Pill – Complete the 1st stage in Campaign Mode
Anabolicious – Earn 300 power ups
Another Brick Off The Wall – Break 1000 blocker marbles
Serious Pam – Survive 30 minutes in Arcade Mode
Captain Darwin – Survive 60 minutes in Survival Mode
New Way To Say Hooray – Break 100 000 marbles
Friends Call Me Puffy – Earn 99 lives in Campaign Mode

In true “level up” fashion, each award has a progress line which shows you how close you are to winning it, and the awards fly out from the right whenever you hit a milestone. There is also a High Score board and there appears to be some very interesting characters who have been playing Murphid. I do believe that I have now taken over every spot on the board – at least on my screen.

Murphid Anabolicious ProgressMurphid’s game play differs from all of the others in that you are unable to rotate your game pieces. You can switch over to the next piece if it is more advantageous to your strategy, but there’s no rotating, and you cannot “slide” your pieces to the left or right, either. Unless you’re in Arcade Mode. Then you can “slide” – but only if you’re quick. Campaign and Survival Mode do not allow “sliding” but they do offer shadowy arrow tracks to help you place your pieces. To add to challenge, some of the marbles are “stapled” to each other, which means you must eliminate one marble to free the other. If you plan your strategy well, this can often work out quite well for you and result in some very large matches and resulting chains.

Campaign Mode has 12 stages, with each stage divided into 6 levels. The game saves automatically as each Campaign stage is cleared, with difficulty ramping up the further you get into the game. Difficulty comes with shortened room for clearance, a slightly faster Murphid Campaign Modemoving wall of marbles, and the addition of more colours to clear. The only time I had any difficulty with the additional colours was in the closeness of hue for the two variations of red.

Arcade Mode offers endless play – unless you fail to clear the marbles – again, with increasing difficulty the longer you play. Survival Mode is just what it sounds like – it starts off challenging and gets harder the longer you survive. For the curious, no, I have not won the Captain Darwin award yet. But I will.

There are several power ups to assist you with your game play. These randomly generated power ups include the standard row (fireball) or column-clearing (lightning bolt) bombs, as well as the non-discriminatory marble-blasting WMD (weapon of marble destruction) bomb. Another useful power up is the Chainsaw, which will clear a few marbles out of a column. This comes in handy for getting rid of overhanging marbles or X-blockers. Another power up will clear all of the X-blocker marbles, while the paint drop power up will convert several marbles, including the X-blockers, to match the colour of the paint drop. If you place this power up right, you can convert a very large number of marbles to one colour, allowing for an easy and large area clearing. Another power up will clear all marbles of one colour from the screen, which can also lead to some very nicely chain matches, and the multi-coloured Joker power up will Murphid Survivor Modecomplete a matched set for you, getting rid of more pesky marbles.

Rounding out your power arsenal is the coveted power medallion. Interspersed throughout various Campaign Mode levels, these medallions come in a variety of colours. Match its colour to capture the medallion, which then be iheld for you on the left side of the screen. These medallions come in very handy as they will clear half the screen for you should the marble wall advance past your defenses to the top of the screen. Players are also rewarded with bonus points for combo matches. Your current bonus multiplier is always displayed to the right of your screen.

According to Decapod’s dev blog, the studio is working on Murphid’s first update which will be available in a few weeks. One thing that I hope they do not change is the non-rotation of marbles. Some may see this as a fault, but I do not. I believe that the non-rotation factor makes the player (namely, me) pay more attention and come up with plans which I must deploy in rapid succession in order to stop the advancement of the Coloured Marble Liberation Army. Grab the demo, buy the game – either way, I recommend giving Murphid a go. I rate this title at 5/5 on the scale of puzzle games I will play over…and over…and over…

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15th May 2010

Grown Up Digital

Grown Up DigitalTitle: Grown Up Digital
Author: Don Tapscott
Publisher: McGraw Hill
Year: October 2008
Hardcover: 368 pgs.
Companion Website: Grown Up Digital

Don Tapscott has a deserved reputation as a prolific, adept, and enthusiastic futurist author. However, his personal realities make him an ill-serving advocate for the ‘Net Generation’.  The book’s opening salvo of corporate approval rightfully informs a young reader of the work’s intended audience. This work is about the Net Generation, not for it, and if the axiom of never trusting anyone over thirty is to be adhered to, the sixty-three year old Tapscott deserves a double-dose of scrutiny.

According to Grown Up Digital, the twenty year span of individuals aged between eleven and thirty-one at the time of the book’s publication has acquired a reputation for being selfish, narcissistic, violent, and, worst of all things, unemployable. Tapscott supplies strong evidence to the contrary from the research conducted by his thinktank nGenera; with approximately ten thousand interviewees of all ages, no one can fault the project’s scope . And he is right–this is a bright generation, with ingenuity and conviction. However, he is perhaps more selective with examples than he should be if he hopes to address the needs and wants of the Net Generation at large. Effie, the Princetonian Google employee mentioned in Chapter Six, exemplifies only the most privileged of current graduates; his chapter on education advocates the proper introduction of technology into the classroom without mentioning how failing school districts should acquire the money to do so. Chapter Six may advocate a utopian, Googlesque workplace, but the capital investment required for such a heaven is too considerable to ignore.

The book does have its strengths; the writing itself is strong and concise, though Tapscott’s fondness for juvenile neologisms remains–Growing Up Digital introduced his readers to the word  ‘cyberbro’, this work gives us ‘N-Fluence’– and his tendencies towards self-aggrandization  are as strong as ever. He reminds us that he has eleven books to his name and a rip-snorting family band, but he can’t be bothered to include the name of the Ogilvy “young Australian” who developed the award-winning Dove ‘Evolution’ television spot (Tim Piper).

After eleven books, his ability to write a readable sociological text is not up for discussion, yet the book suffers from its clashing purposes. The first four chapters pay tribute to the strengths of the Net Generation; his only real concern is a generational ignorance of Facebook filters. This is not unwarranted, and the notion that a respected technological guru wants to shepherd the development of the Net Generation has its charms. But Tapscott is just as happy to tell marketers exactly how to get us to spend our money, and the final chapter, ‘In Defense of the Future’ is founded on concept that the future that young people strive for is one that Baby Boomers have good reason to fear.

Don Tapscott may be for the Net Gen, but I can’t say the same for Grown Up Digital. There’s no particularly strong reason for a twentysomething to read this book, but if you happen to be a middle-aged bureaucrat without a younger friend to connect with over a beer, this is the book for you.

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16th April 2010

Spies Freelancers Awards and Great Canadian Events

Do you want to learn more about Deep Packet Inspection in Canada and who is using it? Deep Packet Inspection Canada is a website which is meant to be the largest repository of publicly accessible information concerning the use of deep packet inspection in Canada, so that Canadians gain insight into how the technology is used by Canadian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and why they are using the technology. I recommend this site if you want to learn more about service throttling and the hot issues being discussed around it.

Breaking Into Freelance IllustrationLate last year, I was a participant in a conversation with game design students regarding freelance work. I came across a book today in my morning email travels which, while I haven’t read it (but I probably will), was written by Canadian freelance illustrator and author Holly DeWolf. While many students are lucky and easily find work at established studios, it has been a topic of conversation about how schools don’t really prepare their graduates for the freelance world.

Holly agrees with this line of thought, stating that “many institutions are not preparing students for the realities of the work world. It’s important for freelance creative types to see themselves as a business in order to make it. There is a real need for recent graduates, freelance illustrators and designers plus self-taught artists to have the proper resources they need to make it as a self-employed creative”.

To that end, Holly filled that need in the artistic community with her 2009 book, Breaking Into Freelance Illustration: The Guide For Artists Designers and Illustrators. This book helps readers to develop skills in the business side of artistic practice, addressing many questions which Holly found being asked throughout her many years as a post-NSAD graduate and mentor. This book has received some very good reviews on Amazon.ca, so I can feel confident in recommending this title even though I haven’t yet personally read it. I have a huge stack of books already waiting for my perusal, and I feel that this one needs to shared with students and grads now, not when I have time to finally buy it and read it – especially as someone else just recommended another title I should read.

Don’t forget that the Early Bird discount period for the Banff World Television Festival ends on April 20th – the Banff World Television Festivalfestival is about far more than just television – check it out. Dentyne Gum has launched their new interactive site with a new AR contest – you could win $25 000.00 with the symbol on the pack of Dentyne gum you’ve purchased. Canada 3.0 Forum has just announced that David Usher (ex-Moist) has joined the great line-up of speakers for this year’s event which will be MC’d by Global TV news anchor Kevin Newman. Taking place in Stratford on May 10 & 11, Canada 3.0 offers a unique opportunity to engage in seminars and discussions about Canada’s future in the tech industry.

DejeroCongratulations are due to Waterloo tech company Dejero – creator of the new Dejero LIVE Platform, the company has been awarded a Broadcast Engineering Pick Hit award at the 2010 National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) international tradeshow in Las Vegas. The Dejero LIVE Platform is a ground-breaking new way to broadcast live high-quality video without the high cost or complexity of satellite or microwave transmission. Dejero was selected from 1,500 companies that exhibited at NAB for their introduction of the Dejero LIVE Platform that is set to transform live television. 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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14th March 2010

Journeys Around The Galaxy In Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2Developer: Bioware Corporation
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: January 26 2010
ESRB Rating: Mature
Genre: Science Fiction RPG Action-Adventure
Platforms: PC and Xbox 360
Number of Players: One
Official Website

Mass Effect 2 was very high up on my list of most-wanted games for the first quarter of 2010, and also placed a very close second in our own Readers’ Choice Awards for Most Anticipated Game. Mass Effect 2 even won a convert in our house – The Cavechild did not like Mass Effect 1, but the changes in Mass Effect 2 won him over right through to the game’s final frames and has him looking forward to Mass Effect 3.

For my first play-through of Mass Effect 2 (Collector’s Edition) I chose to begin with a new character instead of importing from ME1, so that I could experience all that the story-line had to offer without paying for the sins of my Mass Effect 1 character. Well, along with the fact that I have not yet finished Mass Effect 1 (again) due to a forced re-start of the game because some less-than-honourable gamer stole my 360’s 120gb hard drive during a LAN tournament.

The opening cinematics for Mass Effect 2 are impressive and set the stage for much of the shiny newness that makes up Mass Effect 2. One of the primary new additions to the Mass Effect world is the Cerberus Network, which is available for free with all new Mass Effect 2 games. According to the Mass Effect site, gamers who either rented the game or purchased it used can still access the Cerberus Network by purchasing the option for 1200 Microsoft points. Messages about new DLC and other ME news will be sent to the gamer through the Cerberus Network interface, and much of the DLC for ME2 is free for those who have the Network enabled in their game files.New Captain's Cabin

It’s hard to not give out any spoilers to those few who have not yet played the sequel – but it was cool having my female Commander Shepard become the new Jaime Sommers, even if we seem to owe allegiance to the Illusive Man for our resurrection – and it appears that much has happened at The Citadel in Commander Shepard’s absence as well, including a reduced explorable area and a different format for stores. That said, we do get to visit some new and interesting locations, such as the miscreant hangout known as Omega and the decadent Illium, where we find Liara T’Soni in her new occupation as an information broker.

There many new and shiny things in Mass Effect 2, not the least of which is the rebuilt Normandy. While maintaining the basic layout of the ship, the technology and amenities have been updated, giving Commander Shepard fancy new Captain’s Quarters which can be decorated with spaceship models, a cute little pet and an aquarium in which to collect exotic fish. I was happy to see that Joker still pilots the Normandy, because I would’ve missed his dry wit. His interaction with the ship’s AI adds an amusing level of conversation to the game, and there are many, many homages paid to SCI FI icons throughout the game. I’m not going to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t played ME2 yet, but suffice to say that it’s important to speak with ME2 Level Up Screenas many characters as possible throughout the game, as well as eavesdrop on conversations whenever possible.

As with Mass Effect 1, you gain Codex entries and experience points for talking to people and finding bits of information as well as for completing missions and assignments. The storyline takes a number of interesting twists, and regardless of all the Illusive Man (voiced by actor Martin Sheen) appears to be doing to help out, I do not trust him. Not one bit. Something in his eyes says he’s up to something, and I’m sure we’re going to find out what it is in Mass Effect 3.

Naturally, your actions throughout the game will effect how the story goes for your character, and will also effect the appearance of your Commander Shepard. Sometimes the conversation choices are not easy to make, regardless of how predictable they may seem as far as Paragon/Renegade choices go. Sometimes you will not find out until very late in the game how a conversation option you chose has effected the storyline, which can prevent you from getting an achievement. One new addition to conversation options is Interrupt, and Shepard’s ability with Interrupt, which allows for more physical action, is usually related to the Paragon/Renegade level.

Arc ProjectorOne change in the game that I definitely did not like was the planetary scanning and mining. I liked being able to land on planets in the “rover” and drive all over the place and using the big gun to blow enemies into little bits. Those of you who have read my other reviews know that I am not a skilled video game vehicle driver, but I still derive much amusement from commanding and destroying vehicles. Unless there’s a race that I have to win, then it can be a bit frustrating. But, back to Mass Effect 2. Bioware did redeem themselves on the lack of a rover with the newly announced Firewalker Pack, which includes the M57 Hover Tank and five new missions. The Firewalker Pack is scheduled for a late March release, which follows the recently released Arc Projector – a very nifty Heavy Weapon which unleashes more mayhem and destruction on the enemy.

I did not find the new “scan and shoot probes” interaction to be engaging at all. I would much rather have been able to land more often and either have a scanner/probe function built into the rover or have the old method of locating something and then getting out of the rover to investigate. The number of actual landings often involved very limited explorable areas and quite often jumped to a cinematic when it became necessary to leave a location in a hurry. I liked having to run through collapsing archaeological digs in Mass Effect 1, and would’ve liked to have continued that type of game play in Mass Effect 2. I did find the space travel parts of the game somewhat more interactive than it was in Mass Effect 1. Now the player has to watch fuel consumption when flying around the galaxy, as well as stock up on probes. The only dog-tag collecting The Illusive Manmission was okay, but I personally like having lots of things to collect, and there doesn’t appear to be as much to collect as there was in Mass Effect 1.

I did like the new method of obtaining and upgrading weapons, armour and the Normandy. Using the computer terminals to research new technologies was much better than unlocking crates and storage units – and often forgetting that I was carrying a lot inventory. That said, it was also nice in Mass Effect 1 to be able to sacrifice some of that extra inventory for omni gel when it was needed. There are lots of new and improved weapons to obtain, and we all know that one can never have too many big guns.

For character attributes, I preferred all of the options which were available in Mass Effect 1. In Mass Effect 2 there doesn’t seem to be as much thought required for where experience points get put, which to me means that you don’t need to put as much thought into how you balance your team. I found that I often used the same characters on each mission, unless a choice was forced due to the story line. That said, I suppose that part of the reasoning behind this change was that this is a sequel – and Shepard should by now know how to use all of his/her skills – the same with the highly trained band of misfits in the squad. So, I can see the logic in this change. There are also many new powers to learn, and ammunition is handled differently than it was in ME1. Another change I greatly appreciate is the ability to map powers on the 360 controller. I found that playing Dragon Age: Origins has made me a better Mass Effect player in regards to squad skills, and the extra mapping just adds to this, so thank you, Bioware.

One thing that I did like was how team members and characters from Mass Effect 1 were worked into Mass Effect 2’s plot line, and Mass Effect 2 knew which (if any – don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t played YMIR MechME1 yet) team member may have been “sacrificed” during the Virmire Assault. This was especially interesting for me, because Mass Effect 2 was making choices for me based on my original (prior to my hard drive being stolen) ME1 game play, not my current play-through, which hadn’t yet reached Virmire. I have since completed that mission, making different choices than I did with my original play-through, so it will be interesting to see if my next full play-through of ME2 registers the changes I am making with this new ME1 voyage.

I found the writing much improved in Mass Effect 2, although at times I felt that the voice-acting for some of the characters was at times just a bit 0ff. In my opinion, the proper vocal inflections were often not achieved, particularly in the human characters. This tended to make the conversations seem a bit stilted when I was hoping it would be improved over Mass Effect 1. I did enjoy the diverse character stories and backgrounds, and often spent time “talking” with characters in order to learn more of their stories. Codex and experience points had nothing to do with that. They were just a side benefit to sometimes finding out some very surprising and humourous tidbits about my crew members.

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Thus far, I have found the assassin Thane to be the most interesting new character with the greatest amount of depth to his story, but I am looking forward to another play-through which will add Morinth to my squad – just to see how that will effect the story and character interactions. I am also looking forward to adding Kasumi Goto to the squad once she becomes available in April via DLC for 560 Microsoft points.

Thane KriosIt is important to note that Mass Effect 2 is not really a game which can be rushed through in the way that some gamers seem to enjoy rushing through a game as fast as they can, often skipping key game components. If Shepard is taken into the end game missions without due preparation of the entire squad, chances are the mission will not succeed, and Shepard may even end up in deceased mode. A deceased Shepard cannot return to gameplay after the credits nor be imported to Mass Effect 3, so therefore the player must plan to stay alive – and hopefully the full squad survives as well.

The only real problem I have with Mass Effect 2 is that my character gets stuck every so often – either by falling into a hole, getting pushed up on top of a crate by squad members, or stuck in an invisible wall – or a wall that is there but with a partial travel path through it. These events are very frustrating, because there is no way out. For some reason Shepard cannot jump down off of a crate or up out of a hole, and can’t back out of a wall. While Shepard can leap over cover, this is not possible to escape a hole because the walls of that hole are not recognized as cover. This meant that I had to start over from my last save point, and if I had overlooked saving my progress recently, this was sometimes really, really maddening.

I was not at all disappointed with Mass Effect 2 and I would highly recommend it to those who enjoy single player RPG adventures. While others have said the game doesn’t hold that much replayability for them, I feel quite the opposite. I feel that the Mass Effect franchise has loads of replayability, not only for various story outcomes, but also different experience levels, plus the direction of the story line in Mass Effect 3 has led to much debate and conjecture in the Village Gamer house.

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26th January 2010

The Saboteur – Review

The SaboteurDeveloper: Pandemic
Publisher: EA
Release Date: December 2009
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC
Number of Players: Single Player
Genre: Action-Adventure
ESRB Rating: Mature

I have logged approximately 140 hours of gameplay in Pandemic’s final title, The Saboteur, and overall I did enjoy the game. I have completed 100% of the freeplay targets as well as the mission campaign, but still have to obtain 1 gold perk and 4 achievements. In my OCD gamer style, I have spent alot of time driving or running around exploring the map, collecting cars, contraband and running into cows. The Saboteur as a game has lots that I like, but it’s impossible to not compare many of the elements to other titles such as Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto and Prototype.

The game opens at a car race where Sean first The Saboteurencounters the nasty Kurt Dierker from Team Doppelsieg. As the game’s hero, you play as Irishman Sean Devlin, who drives for Team Morini. Your best friend Jules Morini, is dead before the first chapter ends, setting the stage for Sean’s thirst for revenge against the Nazis and in particular, Dierker. Sean carries a heavy load of guilt as he heads for Paris with Jules’ sister Veronique and their father, Vittore. It is this guilt and vow of revenge that will enable the British to use Sean as a pawn in their battle against the Nazis. As you delve deeper into the game and storyline, there are more characters who enter the plot – Skylar, the mysterious woman from Sean’s past, Luc who heads up the Resistance, and that sneaky Bond-wanna-be from Britain, Bishop. There are other characters who play minor parts throughout the story, but these are your main game characters. Of course, only Sean Devlin is actually playable by the gamer.

The SaboteurI am impressed with the amount of game time offered by The Saboteur – there is certainly a lot to do in the way of collecting postcards, blowing up sniper nests and playing with some really big guns. On the converse side, those of us who have spent much time playing Asssassin’s Creed will be somewhat disappointed with the climbing and jumping abilities which have been given to the main character, Sean Devlin. Granted, he is a race car driver and not an assassin like Altair and Ezio, but I would have expected there to have been better climbing mechanics in a game which places such importance on the ability to reach building tops in order to carry out missions and destroy freeplay targets. There were times when Sean would grab ledges when I didn’t want him to, and times when he wouldn’t make a simple jump or grab a ledge to prevent a suicidal fall, even though I had specified through the controller that he do so. There were several times when I found the game’s controls to be somewhat clunky or unresponsive, and this did lead to some frustration.

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