Premium game available on innovative new platform that brings story based games to the casual gamer.
March 9, 2016 – Victoria, BC, Canada – Ironic Iconic Studios’ first game, “Mandatory Upgrade – X Marks the Spot” is an exciting new story-based game that allows the player to assume the role of a government agent investigating a death by a suit of cybernetic armour run amok. Starting today, it’s available on Facebook and the web through the Story Worlds platform.
Story Worlds was devised by One More Story Games as a way to create narrative-focused storytelling games and deliver them to a wide audience through traditional casual game platforms, such as smartphones and tablets. Ironic Iconic Studios saw Story Worlds as the perfect venue to release X Marks the Spot as the game addresses both the rising demand for story-based games while being playable within a few hours time to reflect the trend towards shorter, more compact experiences.
You’re Rachel Varley, fresh out of re-entry training and eager to get back to work as a NASIA Agent. But before you get a chance to get your feet under you, you find yourself tasked with discovering how a fellow agent managed to get carved up by a mechanized SWAT suit. Sure, everyone at the West Harbour Complex seems happy to help out and answer your questions, but you can’t forget that one or more of them may have been involved in plotting someone’s death. At least you’re not alone, you’ve got your trusty drone Osprey and your Virtual Personal Assistant, the always sassy Brigid. Will you be able to get to the heart of the mystery and still manage to escape in one piece?
Mandatory Upgrade – X Marks the Spot is now available on the Story Worlds games portal, with a free demo version available prior to full game purchase ($3.99 CAD). Play it on Facebook and the One More Story Games website. For more information, please visit www.mandatoryupgrade.com/x-marks-the-spot.
About Ironic Iconic Studios
Ironic Iconic Studios has been making games since 2003 in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Their clients include Harebrained Schemes, Tap Tap Tap, Paper Machete Games and GameHouse Canada. This is the launch of their first in-house game.
Direct Game Link: Mandatory Upgrade – X Marks the Spot
There’s often a lot of things going on in my life, professional and otherwise. I really like being involved in a lot of things, which is no surprise to the people that know me really well, especially those who have seen me on the verge of insanity when attempting to do everything at once. I’ve fortunately been able to remain self aware enough lately to maintain a certain level of balance in my life while still getting up to the stuff I love to do. For example, I’ve managed to get some solid game design work done, speak at a few conventions, take care of my responsibilities with LevelUp – IGDA Victoria and still maintain a decent personal life. Mostly. But I don’t always think to take a moment to write about it. That’s right: I’m a bad blogger. I do tend to send the odd note to Facebook or Twitter or the like, so if you’re ever wondering what I’m up to on a regular basis, you could do worse than tune in to one of those. I do try to keep my portfolio and presentation pages up to date too, even if the blog looks like a barren wasteland.
One thing that I’d like to talk about is my recent PAX Prime 2014 Panel titled “You’re So Mature! Is Storytelling in Games Coming of Age?” It was a difficult subject to tackle, but fortunately my panellists were up for the challenge and I thank them for volunteering their time and brains. One of the cool things that came of it was that our panel was covered by journalist Derrik J Lang who wrote a very insightful article about it called “Game creators seek mature storytelling in games“. Most interestingly to me, he wrote it for the Associated Press, which means that it ended up getting picked up by various other media outlets throughout the world. I was able to watch as the story turned up on more and more media websites in North America such as the Calgary Herald, Fox Business, and Salon, and internationally as well from such diverse places as New Zealand, Taiwan and India. Not having personally encountered this before, as projects I’ve been involved with have not been covered by the traditional press, I found the process utterly fascinating. Hopefully I’ll get more opportunity to witness this again in the future.
As those of you who live in British Columbia are probably aware, we are in the midst of a provincial election. My approach to elections tends to be thus: I scope out each of the candidates for my riding and then choose which one I feel would best represent my interests. I have preferences as far as political parties are concerned, but I prefer to focus on the candidates themselves. This year, I was still in the process of making up my mind when I received a phone call from the office of Carole James, the current MLA and candidate for the New Democratic Party in my riding. After the usual question (Can we count on your support?), the caller asked me this:
Caller: Do you have any questions that I can answer for you?
Me: Actually, yes. Can you tell me: What is Carole James’ and the NDP’s policy on financial incentives for the video game industry in BC?
Caller: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I’ll have to ask someone and get back to you. Is it okay if we call you back later?
I hadn’t thought much about that conversation until a couple of days later when Carole James herself called me to answer my question. I was pleasantly surprised that she took my question seriously enough to contact me directly and that she was relatively informed on the issue. Carole was aware of the troubles that the game development industry had been having in Vancouver and the need to offer incentives that would keep BC competitive, especially in comparison to Quebec and Ontario. She told me that her party had already made plans to do something for the BC film industry and would look into something similar for the video game industry. After chatting a bit more and making plans to talk more after the election, I wished her good luck and said goodbye.
I felt pretty pleased about our conversation and told some friends about it, game developers and otherwise. One of my friends is an ardent supporter of the Green Party and suggested that I contact them with the same question and give them a chance to state their position. I thought that it seemed only fair, so I sent an email to Jane Sterk, the leader of the Green Party and the candidate for my riding. This was the email message that I sent:
A few days later I received this response:
We don’t have policies on incentives for video games.
Wow, that was terse. And I don’t think she was answering the question I asked. It almost sounds like she thinks that I’m asking for money to play video games. Maybe a handful of quarters for the arcade?
I’m pretty amazed at the difference in the response between the two candidates. One was polite, thoughtful, and engaging, the other was rude, brusque, and dismissive. I know that my concerns about the game industry may not be important to the majority of the electorate, but they are important to me, and they are important to others who make a living making games.
And you know what? Maybe the video game industry should be more important to BC as a whole. According to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, Canada’s game industry ranks third in the world, has a direct economic impact of $1.7 billion on the Canadian economy, and was expected to grow by 17% last year. Traditionally, BC has been a big part of that, but growth has flattened out in our province compared to strong growth in Ontario and Quebec, due in a large part to better financial incentives in those provinces. There’s a lot at stake for the industry and consequently for British Columbia, not the least of which are thousands of well-paying jobs.
To Jane Sterk and the Green Party: if you are interested in supporting environmentally friendly industries, you could do worse than support the video game industry. These days many of the games developed exist only in digital form, requiring no packaging or shipping, and no physical media to junk up the landfills. And in a time when we’re looking to move away from a reliance on the oil and gas industry, supporting the video game industry may be just the thing British Columbia needs.
“What about in terms of the differences between narrative in film or books, versus narrative in games? It seems like there’s some key differences that a lot of games don’t really seem to pick up on.
CA: I think that people [in the industry] are appreciating scriptwriting talents more, especially as games become more voice-acted and cinematic. I [think that for] anyone pursuing narrative design, scriptwriting is the best way to hone your craft, because it’s a lot of what you’re going to be doing. It teaches you all the brevity; using the environment to communicate a situation, as opposed to just the flat-line vomit of text, like Torment had. Which we had to do at the time, but that’s more of a novelistic approach to writing, which isn’t necessarily the best fit for games.
Also I think comic book writing lends itself to training you to write dialogue for games, just because you have to think so visually about what’s happening in the environment. I really enjoy writing comics. For Star Wars [Knights of the Old Republic II], for example, I found myself thinking about the process a lot differently. About how the shot was framed, what was being shown, and how that reinforced what the characters were saying and [their interactions].”
Those of you who have seen my talk, Rummaging in the Geek Culture Toolbox, may have noticed that I made some of the same points in that presentation, particularly in the section on writing for comic books. I’d like to take this opportunity to say: it’s a pretty great feeling to see your theories confirmed by an industry professional whose work you respect and admire.
Walking on clouds will now commence for the foreseeable future.
Last Friday, I headed out to my old school, Camosun College, to give a talk to the Computer Systems Technology students. The talk (which I gave with Mel Reams, another Camosun graduate) was all about starting a career in video game development. As I stood in front of the students, consulting my notes and trying to communicate what I thought would be the most valuable nuggets of advice to help them pursue that game career, I actually felt a bit envious of them.
I could remember my own college years and my burning desire to work in games: it was what drew me into computer programming in the first place. I could also remember Victoria being sadly lacking in game companies. Oh sure, Disney Interactive were here at the time. But they operated in such a secretive fashion that they were practically a secret society. And, never knowing the secret handshake, I never made it into their hallowed halls. In addition, there was no one around to tell aspiring game developers the way to get into the industry. It was a mystery that I had to solve on my own.
These days, there are numerous game companies operating in Victoria and more opening all the time. And as for someone to pierce the mystery of gaining employment in the industry, they now have folks like Mel and myself to give them a hand. Getting a game job is easier than ever, but as we mentioned in our talk, it still requires a bit of work. The most important points I’ve summarized here below:
The game industry is still a highly competitive one, so you need to use every advantage that you can to make sure that your resume goes in the interview pile. A diploma or degree will give you a leg up over those with equivalent qualifications but no piece of paper. A diploma also shows that: a.) you know how to code and b.) you can finish what you start – both valuable traits to have. Also, if it turns out that the game industry isn’t your cup of tea, you can still get a decent job in software development.
Do your research
Find out which languages and technologies are being used in the industry and learn them. Research the companies that you want to apply to. Determine everything you can about them: how long they’ve been around, what games they’ve made, what games they’re making, who works in key positions, etc. And play their games! Also figure out what a good salary is for where the company is located. You can find out most of this stuff online.
Get out and meet the people who are working in the industry. Find out if there are any local game developer groups and join them. Victoria has the LevelUp group which is also a chapter of the International Game Developers Association or IGDA (A professional organization that you should definitely look into). Go to game conferences if you can afford to. GDC in San Francisco is the big one, but it can be expensive. Look for other ones closer to home like the Penny Arcade Expo and the IGDA Summit both in Seattle. A pass to either is way more affordable and Seattle is a 2.5 hour ferry trip away.
With all of the inexpensive and free tools available, it’s super easy to make your own games these days. Start small with small projects that are simple. Learn by doing. The goal is to finish something. It’s harder than it sounds, but do it. Even if it’s a crappy little project, you’ll feel great. Clone an existing game as an exercise. Create a mod of an existing game. Sign up for game jams. Join up with other game developers in small project groups. Just make games.
The game industry is a young one and as such is always growing and changing. You need to grow and change with it to stay on top of it. Develop a habit of continuous learning. If you’re coming from school you’re already on the learning train, keep on riding it.
I’ve never been one for music festivals in the past. Mainly this has been due to a lack of interest in the bands playing and a lack of free cash on my part. The music festivals that I did attend were either the free festivals that were put on yearly, or the odd ticketed festival that appealed to my particular taste in music. The free festivals, like the Festival of Friends, Earthsong, or It’s Your Festival (where I actually worked for one summer, but that’s another story) were a fine Hamilton summer tradition and were well attended by just about everyone I knew regardless of your musical stripes. After all, they were free and it’s hard to complain about free entertainment especially when you’re young, bored, and broke. As for paid festivals, the only one I’d managed to get to up until now was Lollapalooza: the first one back in 1991 and the fourth one in 1994. Both of these occurred due to a magical combination of my having money and the line-up being interesting enough for me to part with said money.
This brings me to Rifflandia. Since its inception in 2008 I’ve been watching it grow with interest. But every year it’s been the same thing: either I’ve been too short in the cash department by the time the festival rolls around or the band line-up hasn’t inspired me enough to cough up the dough for a couple of the steeply priced wristbands. But it was different this year: a friend had two extra park passes and generously donated them to Pati and I. So I was finally able to experience Rifflandia, or at least the main event at Royal Athletic Park. Here are some of the highlights for me.
- I made it to the park on Friday shortly before Rich Aucoin took to the stage. I was glad that I did. His performance was high-energy and infectiously upbeat. He was able to get the notoriously inert Victoria audience jumping and signing along with him. And this was before he brought out a parachute for the audience to play with. It was like the best part of primary school had come back to visit for a brief moment.
- Band of Skulls remind me of Rush. This is a good thing. Is it because they are a three-piece band with a rich full sound? Is it because they are skilled musicians? Is it because they rock? Is it all of the above?
- The Flaming Lips were amazing and weird and colourfully celebratory. I thoroughly enjoyed their show and have now happily checked them off on my “Bands to See Live Before I Die” list. I was a slightly disappointed that they didn’t play more songs from the rocking part of their oeuvre, but what they did play was just the kind of crazy head-trip that they are famous for, and rightly so. Also, having small children running around during the concert made it somehow even stranger.
- The Stanfields hard-edged Celtic rock exploded out of the side stage on Saturday afternoon, surprising all within earshot. Some folks in the audience looked genuinely disturbed, but that may have been because they saw my enormous grin and were afraid that I might eat them. They needn’t have worried: there were plenty of tasty tunes to satisfy all appetites. They’ll be back in Victoria at the end of October, in case you missed them this time around.
- The Jezabels just may be a new favourite band. The Australian quartet have this great flowing ethereal rock sound that appeals to my endless love for all that is dream pop, shoegazer, and wall of sound. Hearing them perform outdoors on the exquisite main stage sound system may be one of the high points of my year.
- Jinja Safari, also from Australia, played a perfect set of summer music. Their high energy performance of African influenced rhythms and infectious fair weather pop was a perfect companion to the hot and sunny September afternoon.
- Much of today’s hip hop seems to be concerned with convincing everyone that the performers are possibly the coolest and undoubtedly the most sexually proficient people around. This is profoundly uninteresting to me. Grand Analog showed me that I can enjoy rap again. Their fun-loving brand of old school rap music was a breath of fresh air mixed with some kickin’ beats.
I have to admit something: my expectations for this year were not high. Beyond headliners the Flaming Lips, I didn’t know many of the bands on the bill. It turns out that this was actually a much better thing than I had assumed it was. It allowed for moments of surprise and discovery that really made Rifflandia for me. And I think that that’s the key to Rifflandia: go without expectations and just enjoy the experience. Chances are you’ll come out the other side with some new favourites.
I discovered today that Casual Connect Seattle have now posted the video recording of my talk for the 2012 IGDA Summit along with a whole bunch of other talks from that same conference. The fact that I mention this means that I have watched the video and wasn’t horribly embarrassed by seeing myself in it. In fact, I enjoyed it enough to want to share it with you. You can find it here.
Besides watching the talk and the excellent discussion afterwards with Wendy Despain and Richard Dansky, I spent a good deal of time watching other presentations that I had attended and also ones that I had missed for one reason or another during the conference. I particularly enjoyed watching Luke Dicken’s Skynet and You: Game AI for the Uninitiated and Brandii Grace’s Design Secrets Revealed! How to Attract a Wider Female Audience. You can find the complete list of videos here on Casual Connect’s Youtube IGDA Summit List. Check it out and let me know which are your favourite talks.