X Marks the Spot Wins First Place in Game of the Year Competition

 

In a great start to the new year, Ironic Iconic Studios’ first game, “Mandatory Upgrade – X Marks the Spot” has taken top honours at the 2nd annual TorontoGameDevs.com Game of the Year competition. Hundreds of people voted for their favourite game produced in Toronto and Southern Ontario and our game was fortunate enough to be voted #1 overall. This puts Mandatory Upgrade in the esteemed company of terrific games from other game devs such as DrinkBox Studios, Benjamin Rivers, and Ubisoft Toronto.

A game like this doesn’t just appear fully formed from the ether of the designer’s mind and so I’d like to take a moment to give a shout-out to the folks who helped make this happen. Firstly, my partners at One More Story Games who provided the platform to create and release great story-based games, StoryStylus. They also provided plenty of encouragement and technical support and were flexible enough to accommodate me when I started to use their game engine in strange and unexpected ways. I’d like to send props to Julia Harrison and Alistair Murphy, the artists who took my pages of descriptive text and reference material and whipped them up into a cohesive world with their gorgeous art. Also mad props to Steven G. Saunders (aka Mr Zoth and the Werespiders) who created the perfect musical accompaniment to the world of Mandatory Upgrade; a soundtrack that is evocative, moody, and fresh, all at the same time. Finally, I’d like to do a big shout-out to Pati Tozer, my editor and chief of QA who helped keep all of my mistakes in the dev room and out of the public eye, a service for which I am ever grateful.

One of the best things about contests like this is how easy it makes it to discover new games that you may not have heard of. I’ve definitely added more games to my ever-growing game queue as a result of this. And I hope that if you haven’t yet tried Mandatory Upgrade: X Marks the Spot then you may be inspired to do so now. You can play it via the One More Story Games Website.

Cyberpunk Thriller “X Marks the Spot” First Premium Release for Story Worlds Platform

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

GottaCon? Why Yes. Yes We Do.

So many colours!
So many colours! Double rainbow across the sky!

Just a quick note out that this weekend, from Feb 28th – March 2nd, I will be living large at GottaCon, Victoria’s premiere game convention. Not only will I be running an information booth for the LevelUp – IGDA Victoria group, but I’ll be participating in not one, but two video game themed panels. The first panel “Creating DIY Video Games – Indie Style!” is on Saturday at 10 am, and the second “Storytelling in Video Games: Telling Tales Around the Digital Campfire” will be on Sunday at 12:30 pm. Information on both can be found here.

GottaCon has been steadily growing over the past six years and this year it should be bigger and better than ever, with a new downtown venue and a lot more participation from the exploding local video game scene. Why not come and check it out? If you do, be sure to drop by the IGDA Victoria booth and say hi. And maybe even ask about the upcoming Video Game Start-Up Boot Camp while you’re at it. See you there!

A Blast From The Past – BioWare Interview From 2006

Option 2 may not be the most considerate choice.
Option 2 may not be the most considerate choice.

I was poking around through my files when I came across this: an interview that I gave as part of winning the 2006 BioWare writing contest. I entered my Neverwinter Nights module “Walking With The Ghost” into the contest and managed to get 2nd place in the popular voting category. I’m still pretty happy with the resulting module and very honoured about winning. Unfortunately, most of the projects I mention in the interview never saw the light of day, but, as you can see from the rest of this site, it never stopped me from continuing to create.

The original has disappeared from the BioWare website, but you can see it via the Wayback Machine here. And if you happen to have a copy of Neverwinter Nights, you can grab the module for free in the Neverwinter Vault and try it yourself. Enjoy!

Walking with a Ghost by Chris Tihor

Interview by Jay Watamaniuk

Where can fans grab your module Walking with a Ghost?

Freely available at Neverwinter Vault.

You have labeled this as a ‘contest’ version of your module. Is this part of a larger story?

That’s the plan, when I can find the time to do it (see below). While working on Walking with the Ghost, I found that a number of the ideas that came out of it struck me as worthy of looking into further. Specifically, the idea of having Nym as a companion and what it would mean given her unique qualities. That, and the idea of building upon the main character’s history, allowing the player to discover over time certain things about their heritage and the local history, how they tie together, and what their reaction is to uncovering this knowledge.

How did you get started in making modules?

By entering this contest. I had never gotten around to making a module before this one as most of my spare time had been taken up with other projects. I had always been meaning to work with the Aurora toolset, but I had never had a good enough excuse to devote some time to playing with it seriously until now. I work as a software developer and I have been working on developing a couple games of my own, on the side, over the past while, so this tends to eat up most of the free time that I have.

What writing project would you love the most to complete?

Hmmm…I would have to say my current writing project: a comic book series I am collaborating on with artist Myke Allen called Spiketown. It’s a collection of stories about the various people who live in, around, and under a bustling technological metropolis in a strange but familiar world. Spiketown tells of the lives of regular people living in extraordinary circumstances and extraordinary people trying to live a normal life. Spiketown will also set the scene for a future series we’re planning, tentatively titled Epoch. It’s an epic story of angels, androids, and apocalypse. There’s a good chance that there may also be additional things starting with ‘A’.

Sweet Validation (And I Don’t Mean Parking)

I was reading over an excellent interview on Gamasutra with game designer Chris Avellone (he of Fallout 2, Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment fame), when one particular question caught my eye:

“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.

Video or it never happened

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.

My Turn-Based Strategy Reading Game

Like many writers, I’m a fairly avid reader. I also never seem to have as much time to read as I would like. So I’ll often just pick up a book for 15-20 minutes here and there when I get a chance. This means that I tend to leave a number of books lying around the house, strategically placed in locations that I habitually stop to relax in. I also tend to have many books on the go at once, partly because of the strategic placement mentioned earlier and partly because I have a variety of interests as so a variety of books that cover those interests. Here’s a short list of books which I currently have in some state between not read and not finished.

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett

– One of his early Discworld stories for younger readers about a talking cat, some intelligent rats, a “stupid-looking kid” and their scheme to con villagers out of money. Personally, I don’t see much difference between these books and his adult oriented material except that the protagonists tend to be younger. The writing style is pretty much the same. I adore Terry Pratchett and usually bring one of his books along on a long voyage.

Access All Areas: A User’s Guide to the Art of Urban Exploration by Ninjalicious

– A practical guide to Urban Exploration i.e. going places you’re not supposed to. The author’s approach is light-hearted and informative which makes it an enjoyable read, and he encourages being respectful to the places you visit. I probably won’t be trying much of this myself, but it’s a good resource for researching modern stealth techniques.

Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames edited by Chris Bateman and

Professional Techniques for Video Game Writing edited by Wendy Despain

– Two books that I keep coming back to. Great reference material for your game writing needs. I’ll pick one up to look up something specific or read a random chapter to keep things fresh in my mind.

Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols by Adele Nozedar

– A guide to the symbols used by ancient and modern people and the meanings ascribed to them. Fascinating reading and useful when creating symbolic systems to use in your own creative work.

Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

– The  story of a white kid growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s. I like the other books I’ve read by Lethem, particularly Gun, with Occasional Music, but I find this one to be a bit slow going. It’s beautifully written, but so far I find it to be a bit too heavy and depressing for my tastes. I haven’t given up yet, though.

A Summary of the Summer Summit

As mentioned in the previous post, I recently attended the 2nd annual IGDA Summit in Seattle. Monday night, at the August monthly meeting for the Victoria BC chapter of the IGDA, I gave a short presentation on the highlights of the summit. I spent some time talking about the various talks and the topics that they covered: Entrepreneurship, Advocacy, Monetization, Quality Assurance, Writing, Intro and Microtalks. I mentioned the great keynotes that I watched from Kim Swift of Airtight Games and Julie Uhrman, the CEO of Ouya. I told them about the parties and other fun events too. But what I really tried to focus on, what I thought was the most important, was the opportunity to meet other developers.

The best thing about the IGDA Summit is meeting other game developers. The theme of the conference is “Developers helping Developers” and nowhere is this more evident as when you are mingling with your fellow attendees and having a spirited chat. I met quite a few veterans of the industry and they were all more than happy to discuss various aspects of game development and answer all questions. Whether discussing the talk we just saw, chatting about current affairs in the industry, or just debating the merits of the latest comic book movies, it was engaging and inspiring. I soon realized that I have never before met a more friendly, helpful, or fun group of people as at the Summit. There was such a diverse crowd there that, chances are, even if you belong to a specialized group within game development like myself (Game Writing), you can still find your compatriots at the Summit. I found myself surrounded by people who cared about the same obscure things that I do, such as the future of narrative in games and escaping the mono-myth in your writing. And after the day’s talks a number of us ventured off to continue discussing writing and telling stories while dining on some excellent Chinese food.  (introduced to us by the intrepid James P).

My advice: if you can make it to the IGDA Summit next year, then go. If you’re strapped for cash, then volunteer. If you’re a student, look into the IGDA Scholars program, because not only can you get a free pass, but you can also get a tour of some of the local game studios, such as Bungie and Valve. So don’t miss out on a great opportunity to network with other developers and make new friends. Because the IGDA is about developers helping developers, and you can always use more friends. I know I can.

A Skedaddle to Seattle

Last week, I participated in the second annual IGDA Summit in Seattle, Washington hosted by the International Game Developers Association. I’d made it out to the inaugural Summit last year, but this year was my first as a speaker. My talk, “Rummaging in the Geek Culture Toolbox“, was a look at all of the great things that came out of  the workshop with the same title that I ran during the International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling (ICIDS) last November in Vancouver, BC. The main goal of both was to explore the potential of using different forms of geek culture (in this case Role-Playing Games and Comics) to help in creating games, with a focus on writing and narrative design.

The talk went really well, I thought. Following the talk was a really interesting panel discussion of the subject with Wendy Despain, Richard Dansky, and myself. It was great to get the perspective of game writing veterans, and it gave me a few new ideas to pursue. The questions from the audience were also thought-provoking. Overall, very inspiring for me and hopefully entertaining and useful for the audience. I’m already considering doing another talk/workshop that would expand on the themes from the last one, maybe even looking at a couple new forms of geek culture to explore.

If you missed the talk, it was recorded and will be posted on to YouTube in the near future by Casual Connect. I’ll pop a link up here when that happens, unless I watch it first and find it too embarrassing. In that case, I may never mention it again. 😉

The rest of the Summit was terrific. I got to meet up with a ton of other game creators, old friends and new, exchange ideas and stories, and generally have a great time. I’ll be giving a brief talk summarizing my Summit experience and giving reasons why you should come out to Seattle for the next one. It’ll be happening during the August Level Up/IGDA Victoria monthly meeting next Monday evening. So if you have any questions come by and ask away.