2008_11_05_snow.jpg[GSW's resident Scottishman in Canada, Mathew Kumar, was kind enough to attend the Toronto-based Artcade game exhibit the other weekend - and presents a report for your delight and delectation.]

If you happen to read Gamasutra as well as GameSetWatch (and I hope you do, because it's important to cut your intake of unusual game-related nonsense with hard-hitting industry reportage—otherwise, you won't get all the nutrients that'll help you grow up strong and healthy) you might have read a few reports I wrote last week from the Ontario Game Summit and Game On: Finance.

These were two interconnected conferences here in Toronto that dealt (largely) with game development in Ontario—which happens to be part of Canada, that oh-so-important third biggest game developer in the world, but also happens to not be Quebec or British Colombia, where almost all of that development happens.

As a result, the conferences were really interesting when you think of them as a whole. Jason Della Rocca opened with a keynote on how to create a cluster which would foster creative and sustainable game development within Ontario (or, indeed, anywhere in the world) but I really don't think the message was taken in the best spirit.

No disrespect intended to Ian Kelso, the fine gentleman who runs Interactive Ontario, but his opening waffle, where he asked the audience to think of game development in Ontario as an opportunity to replace "car engines with game engines," was about as wrongheaded as you can get.

We all know—or at least, well all should know—that game development isn't a factory process. We can't just replace the sign that used to say "General Motors" with one that says "Ubisoft", and yet a significant proportion of the two days were spent with many of the commentators—especially those who worked for the government—spending their time debating how to draw large companies to set up huge studios to churn out million sellers and hire thousands of grateful employees.

The most astonishing thing about the conferences was that it wasn't until the very last session that anyone mentioned the amazing creative talent that Toronto has fostered in small, independent developers. Sherpa Games' Warren Currell was the first and only person to mention Metanet Software (N+), Jonathan Mak (Everyday Shooter) or Capybara Games (Critter Crunch).

So thank goodness for people like Jim Munroe for running things like the Artsy Game Incubator.

The Incubator is a collaborative game development group for artists and people who want to make games but have no technical skills (or not enough) that uses simple and accessible tools to allow their game concepts to be developed.

The group is about creativity, first and foremost, and the gathering it held the weekend before the Ontario Game Summit/Game On: Finance, Artcade, could not have been more different from the conferences that followed.


The event was part of Toronto's regular zine and alternative culture fair Canzine, and these were the Artcade rules, up on the wall for everyone to see. The Artcade was in a tiny room that was unbearably hot and sweaty (like all the best arcades, I guess) despite a sub-zero temperature on the street outside, so if anyone had pooped their pants it would have been the end, honestly.

And actually—I'll take this point to note that the Artcade wasn't merely showing games from the Artsy Game Incubator. As well as a few independent projects, it was also exhibiting titles developed during the most recent Toronto Indie Games Jam, arguably the largest independent games jam in the world.

On show included:


Gesundheit. There's a good chance you've heard of this, because it's been mentioned a few times here before and was part of the IGF's Student Showcase 2008. But just look at it! Developed by illustrator Matt Hammill, not only is it beautiful, but the design is clever; I'm surprised this hasn't been snapped up to be redeveloped for Xbox Live Arcade or something. Er, unless it has and he didn't mention it.


Night of the Cephalopods. This is probably one of the most exciting titles, because it does something that I can't think of any other games doing—well, other than sports games, anyway—running commentary.

Sounds stupid, but as you play this Lovecraft inspired tentacle horror, an (impressive!) narrator describes what is happening on screen with macabre glee. I cannot establish how amusing this is and how ripe with potential it feels. Seriously. I eagerly await the point where the download is available, as it sadly isn't yet.


Snow. People who know me might consider it cronyism to give special props to this, considering I know the developer well and he's one of the brains behind the (now defunct?) The Gamer's Quarter magazine , but this is a sweet point-and-click adventure that might be the first independent game/independent comic crossover. That I can think of, anyway.

On a recent edition of video game radio show/podcast One Life Left they finally found a reason to play some Mogwai, because it turns out that they contributed music to Actua Ice Hockey 2.

If you've been looking for an excuse to play some Godspeed You Black Emperor on your excellent video game radio show/podcast (hey, it's possible) , then The Scourge is your answer. It's a completely freaky zombie survival title developed to ebb and flow to the movement of a Godspeed You Black Emperor piece. It also contains some wonderful art from SuperBrothers—and a unique sort of "choose-your-own adventure" design. Well worth checking out.

There were actually too many interesting games for me to really give them all a fair shake. Titles also well worth looking at include Bubl, a game which attempts to be a video game version of those Tomy Water Games where you used bubbles to move objects around; Albacross, for the adorable art and non-preachy ecological themes; and A Game About Bouncing, ToJam 2008's best game, developed by Shawn McGrath (developer of Chain 3 for iPhone/iPod Touch).

I'll close with a couple of things. First of all, can you help with this?


Let me know and I'll pass it on.

Secondly, Jim McGinley noted in his brief discussion of this (excellent) Shadow of the Colossus de-make Hold Me Closer, Giant Dancer that few people actually bother to download and play games that are on the TOJam site.

In fact, he explicitly stated as advice to any game developer that they should "make a game that they want to play," because "you're the only one who is probably going to play it."

It's good advice—to strive for your own idea of creativity and not spend your time thinking about what other people want. In fact, it's one that I hope in time government bodies will think about when they consider how to keep expanding the games industry here in Ontario. I'd rather have more opportunity for people to develop "what they want to play". than see game engines developed here as if they were car engines.

(However, please feel free to prove Jim wrong and actually download some of the titles I've just mentioned. It'll be worth your time!)