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  Grand Theft Auto Regent Park  
Posted 2006-11-28 by Tony Walsh
Regent Park, one of Toronto's more troubled inner-city neighbourhoods, is broadcasting a slice of life via the YouTube-based Regent Park Television. Yesterday's episode shows how local youth perceive their experiences with the infamous game Grand Theft Auto. None of the gamers interviewed in the piece seem old enough to purchase the game in an ESRB-compliant retail store. According to the Wikipedia at the time of this writing, "Over 50% of the population living in Regent Park are children 18 years and younger (compared to a Toronto-wide average of 30%)."

The kids in the video said they play GTA a few hours daily on average, and say that they like it because of the killing and stealing depicted in the game. "What makes the game good is that what you can't do in real life you can do [in the game]," one young gamer says, adding "I don't want to kill a cop or jack a car, I'm just saying it feels good to be able to do it in a game." Midway through the video, scenes from the game are comically re-enacted. The interviewer squeezes some candid moments out of the kids towards the end of the video, but they all declare "it doesn't influence me in any way." At least the game influenced them enough to make a video about it, giving outsiders an inside look at how one violent game relates to Regent Park youth culture.
  Country Style Says “LOL”  
Posted 2006-11-22 by Tony Walsh
Country Style Says “LOL”
"lol" says the Country Style coffee cup. But why? Is it part of a marketing campaign targeting people who are conversant in chatspeak, 1337, or gamerspeak? From what I gather, there's some sort of contest involved. If you don't win, a Country Style coffee cup apparently mocks your misfortune with a terse "lol." How about a hot cup of STFU, Country Style?
  Toronto Gets Residential Fibre Optic Networking  
Posted 2006-11-22 by Tony Walsh
Yesterday I received a sales brochure from Bell Sympatico (my ISP) informing me that residential fibre optic internet connectivity is available in my area (after having been launched last summer). I first subscribed to high-speed internet access (DSL) in 1998, and currently subscribe to Sympatico's highest-speed DSL service, which runs me about $50 CAD monthly before taxes. For this price, I get ample transfer speeds, bandwidth and extremely rare service interruptions. Now, for $70 monthly, I could get 10Mbps download speeds and 50GB of bandwidth. But I won't. There's nothing wrong with my current service, which I believe gets me something like 3Mbps (it might be more, but the point is the speed isn't an issue). I am a hardcore gamer, but I'm not limited by my current connection--getting fibre optic isn't going to improve my situation much, considering most games aren't built to output unlimited bandwidth.

So why would anyone subscribe to "Sympatico Optimax?" Bell thinks you'll need that kind of speed to (and I quote):
  • Download a full-length movie at high speed and upload photos – at the same time.
  • Download CD- and DVD-quality music and videos.
  • Play high bandwidth video games online with improved response time.
The first two points are a bit silly. If you're downloading up to 50GB of movies and music each month, you are likely pirating rather than spending thousands of dollars per month at the iTunes store. The third point, as I mentioned, just isn't all that applicable. Today's games aren't putting out the kind of bandwidth that would require a fibre optic connection. The biggest two selling features aren't even mentioned in Bell's literature: Tell me if I have a dedicated IP address (DSL customers have dynamic IPs), and tell me what my upload speed is. Then maybe we can talk.
  Telefilm Canada Funds Domestic Game Devs  
Posted 2006-11-16 by Tony Walsh
Tonight I attended a PR event held by Telefilm Canada. The funding agency added more detail about its recently announced video game development competition. The event was held in downtown Toronto for an audience primarily of film, TV and web developers--Canada's game industry lives primarily in Montreal and Vancouver. Telefilm and its Canadian New Media Fund (CNMF) arm discussed the plan to allow domestic developers to vie for financial assistance and in-kind funding in 3 rounds. One developer will make it to the final round, spending about $550k to receive about $750k. In order to lower the barrier to competition, a Telefilm rep said, the agency requires only a 5-page proposal and "elevator pitch" on DVD featuring the core team members. By contrast, a typical funding application runs about 40 pages and may contain supplementary visuals. Proposals will be evaluated by industry jurors and must adhere to the same sorts of principles found in CNMF applications.

While I applaud Telefilm for providing a boost to the national game development scene, I can't think of a single, truly Canadian game publisher off the top of my head. So I guess any game developed through "The Great Canadian Video Game Competition" will either have be to self-published, or seek a publisher outside the country (or the Canadian arm of a foreign publisher). I'm also a teensy bit disappointed at the amount of money on the table. $1.3 is a big budget for most web sites, but isn't so hot for a video game (add self-publishing costs to that if the developer goes that route). Regardless, I hope the winner of this competition is a small development company with brilliant ideas that could use a leg up (and has over half a million dollars to risk).
  ‘Toronto Star’ Takes Bizarre ‘Warcraft’ Trip  
Posted 2006-11-16 by Tony Walsh
Wow. There are so many things wrong with this Toronto Star article on World of Warcraft. I barely know where to start. Wait, yes I do: The reportage is terrible. I'll just pick on a few of the worst points so you know where I'm coming from on this. Writer Christian Cotroneo claims:

"...World of Warcraft is the granddaddy of online communities. On one hand, it’s a sprawling, seamless fantasy, where you choose an avatar — a rogue, fighter, Mage — and go forth in this virtual world to hack, slash and maim your way to glory." World of Warcraft is not the granddaddy of online communities. It's not the oldest one by a long shot, and it hasn't spawned any sequels ("grandchildren," keeping with the metaphor), and it isn't even the largest "online community." And why is "Mage" exclusively capitalized? Don't they have proofreaders over at The Star?

"On the other hand, it’s supremely social. Players band together, chatting incessantly. They hook up for virtual drinks at the inn, share a slab of wild boar meat. They dance, they have picnics in the woods, they even share a bed on occasion." Dude, I don't know what server you are playing on, but I have never heard of players going to an inn in Warcraft for a pint and a slab of meat. Picnics in the woods!?! Cotroneo is embellishing here. Maybe he plays on a server dedicated to role-playing, where players imagined they were eating and drinking together, or having cybersex in the woods, or whatever the hell he thinks he's talking about.

"'Yay! I got my Voidwalker!' some warrior declares in the general chat window that runs along the bottom of the screen. He is, I assume, referring to some fancy piece of equipment earned in battle." For the uninitiated, a Voidwalker is a minion of a Warlock and has nothing to do with warriors or equipment earned in battle.

What I have been seeing a lot of lately are mainstream media outlets increasing their coverage of games and virtual worlds, but not applying the same journalistic skills, methods or ethics to those spaces. No "average" audience member would ever catch the errors, although they might walk away with the wrong idea. But gamers and virtual world residents (of which there are increasing numbers these days) know better.
  I Explain Why ‘The Internet’ Doesn’t Suck  
Posted 2006-10-25 by Tony Walsh
If you're within broadcast range of Ontario public TV station TVO today, you can catch me on The Agenda in a 40-minute discussion about the degree of suckitude present and/or lacking in "The Internet." The discussion was arranged after Maclean's magazine writer Steve Maich stole the cover of this week's print edition with the provocative declaration that "The Internet sucks." Maich's article takes an incredibly one-sided view, and there's so much I could easily pick apart here, but I'll wait until tonight's segment. Producer Daniel Kitts tells me that tonight's guests not only include Maich, but the McLuhan Centre's Liss Jeffrey (others TBA). The segment airs at 8pm Eastern Time, but will also be available as a podcast.
  Electric Bikes Get Kickstart in Ontario, Finally  
Posted 2006-10-04 by Tony Walsh
I've had my eye on electric scooters for about seven years, but never managed to get a straight answer from Toronto City Hall or the local cops about the legality of riding such vehicles around town. Authorities didn't seem to know how to classify them, and it seemed to be up to the whims of an individual officer to ticket (or not), depending on a personal interpretation of road rules. But things are looking up. CityNews reportsProvince of Ontario "has now cleared the way for so-called e-bikes, two wheelers that use an electronic engine when needed to help a rider get up a steep hill...The three-year test plan will let cyclists take their e-bikes on any route where they could use a normal bicycle." Hot diggity. I'll have to look into the definition of "e-bike," because I'd rather drive a compact 2-wheeled vehicle on local streets than a full-sized e-bike.
  ‘Waking City’ Now in Play  
Posted 2006-09-18 by Tony Walsh
Waking City, Toronto's first inner-city alternate reality game launched September 16, 2006, with a full roster of 20 teams (each team comprised of 5 people, I believe). The proceedings are being documented by the team behind the game and some of the players on an official gameblog, via the flickr tag "wakingcity" and through video posts. As an ARG designer and contributor to Waking City, I find the documentation a very useful way to dig further into the minds of ARG players. Seems like everyone's energized and having a great time so far--good luck to the Waking City team and the game's players.

[Note: I won't be publicly posting any spoilers, clues, or other vital game information until the game is completely wrapped up.]
  TIGC Notes: ‘Video Games in the Classroom’  
Posted 2006-09-04 by Tony Walsh
Following are my notes from David Hutchison's engaging lecture on "Video Games in the Classroom: Some Pedagogical Possibilities" at the Toronto Independent Game Conference last Friday. The notes are rough, abbreviated, and paraphrase, rather than quote Hutchison.

Continue reading: TIGC Notes: ‘Video Games in the Classroom’
  Toronto Independent Game Conference Flashback  
Posted 2006-09-04 by Tony Walsh
I had the opportunity to present at the newly-established Toronto Independent Game Conference last Friday afternoon, but regrettably wasn't able to attend all 3 days of the event. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the conference and its attendees--sometimes indie efforts can be dodgy--and I look forward to participating next year. The small crowd was overwhelmingly white and male, but I'm sure I'll see diversity increase as word gets out about the event. The conference is compact enough for the panels to be useful, and for all attendees to get to know each other, something not usually afforded by larger productions.

Unfortunately I missed Tim Carter's presentation on Serious Games, but managed to catch the entirety of David Hutchison's "Video Games in the Classroom" (I took notes). Hutchison, an excellent speaker, covered some expected and unexpected angles on using games in education--he's authored a book on the topic that I believe will be out by the end of the year.
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