Recaplets: What the Truck, Edmonton Rush, MADJAM

My list of things to write about is always longer than I can manage, so from time to time I find it helpful to do some mini recaps, or recaplets. Here’s the latest edition:

What the Truck?!

Hard to believe we’re already in our fifth year, but it’s true! Our team of organizers has grown to seven this year, with the addition of Katherine, Mikhaila, and Su.

We’ve hosted two events already this year, with another three to go. Our season kicked off on May 23 at Churchill Square and thanks in part to amazing weather, we had record attendance. Sharon recapped it here, and even with more than 20 events under our belts, we’re still learning about things we can do better.

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

Our second event took place on Sunday and was a much quieter affair, but it was our first attempt at brunch and we were just thankful it didn’t rain on us! We loved the location though, at 108 Street right in front of the Federal Building, so I think it’s safe to say we’ll try to return there again next season.

Our next three events are taking place on July 10 at Northlands Park, August 22 at TELUS Field, and September 11 back in Churchill Square. Hope to see you there!

Edmonton Rush win the NLL Champions Cup

I know I have already mentioned the big Edmonton Rush victory in my Edmonton notes, but I wanted to expand on it a little.

Edmonton Rush win NLL Champions Cup

Winning the title is always the goal but winning at home? You couldn’t have asked for a better ending to the 10th anniversary season. For me, the victory was made even sweeter as I was in the crowd with my brother. We have been attending Rush games since the very beginning. Actually since before the beginning, as we went to the training camp back in 2005 too! We travelled down to Calgary to witness the first ever Edmonton Rush victory in 2006 and while that was amazing, winning the title is something else.

Edmonton Rush 2015 Western Final

Here’s what owner Bruce Urban wrote:

“Ten years of blood, sweat and tears have amounted to this, our first Champions Cup title in team history. We’ve had to make some moves over the years, trades that haven’t been easy, but we did so knowing that we were building a championship calibre team, one that Edmonton could be proud of.”

I’m not sure if the Rush will remain in Edmonton, but I hope they do. There are lots of reasons it would make sense for the Oilers Entertainment Group to own the team, but it seems that ship may have sailed. Anyway, I’ve enjoyed being a fan for the last ten years and look forward to many more victories!


Back in early May I stopped by the finals of the second MADJAM event of the year, called the GDX Super Jam. You can read the full event summary here. At each of the MADJAM events, game developers have as little as 24 hours or as long as a week to build a game from scratch.

MADJAM April 25, 2015

There were 33 participants and 7 games involved in the GDX Super Jam. They had a week, and while some people spent 2-3 hours per day, others spent significantly more. It all paid off though as every team gets thorough, constructive feedback from the judges on how to improve (in addition to some great prizes).

The winning team was Nick Samoli and Jeremy Burns who built a game called “No One Was Here”. The judges praised their music, among other things. I talked to them afterward and while they put in a ton of effort, they wished they had had an artist on the team. Looking forward to seeing what they build next!

MADJAM April 25, 2015

The next MADJAM event is coming up in July at K Days. Participants will have a week and the winners will get admission for the last three days of the festival. Stop by and check out the incredible budding game developers we have here in Edmonton!

Bonus Notes

This was my first year as an attendee of Eat Alberta, after being a member of the organizing team. Sharon and I had a great time, which you can read about here. The organizing team did a great job!

After a few years of helping out with the digital side of the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts, I have decided to step away from that committee. I enjoyed working with everyone there and am excited to see what they come up with for 2016. I look forward to keeping my attendance streak alive next year! Here’s my recap of the 2015 event.

I’ve got at least one more year to go as a member of the Edmonton Food Council. We announced our newest members a few weeks ago, and we just had our first meeting with the entire group last week. At that meeting we learned a lot about the food processing industry here in Edmonton, very interesting stuff. I feel like we have a decent foundation in place now, so hopefully we can take the Council forward more publicly in the year ahead.

Thoughts on my Kinect for Xbox 360

I got what I wanted for Christmas! Santa, aka Sharon, gave me a Kinect for Xbox 360. It’s one of the hottest gadgets out there right now, and Microsoft expected to sell 5 million units by the end of 2010 (we might hear actual sales figures at CES this week). We’ve had fun playing with it over the last week, and it has proven to be a hit with friends and family too.

We have three games – Kinect Adventures, which came with the Kinect, Kinect Joy Ride, and Dance Central. I like different things about each, but I guess my favorite at the moment is Joy Ride. It’s really fun to steer, drift, boost, and stunt the car around the track! The interface seems to be the most touchy of the games, however. Adventures is also fun, but the downside is that it requires a lot of space in order for two players to play together. We have just enough space in our condo after we slide the couch out of the way. Dance Central is probably the most well-known Kinect game, and it is more or less what you’d expect from the makers of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. It’s fun, as long as you’re not afraid to look ridiculous! It also has a really attractive interface, with Minority Report-style swiping, rather than holding your hand stationary to select as in the other two games.

I have to admit, the Kinect is much more of a workout than I anticipated. There is no sitting down! If you play long enough, the Xbox actually pops up a notification asking if you need to take a break.

Kinect Joy Ride

One of the best parts about Adventures, Joy Ride, and Kinect Sports (which we don’t have), is that each game takes photos as you play. Some of them are just embarrassing! But they are fun to look at, and you can upload the photos to, where you can download them or share them on Facebook. It looks as though that was built specifically for Microsoft’s games, but it would be fun to see it extended Kinect-wide (or better yet, just let me upload straight to Facebook or Flickr).

The picture above is pretty low quality, but I am guessing that is just to save space/bandwidth, because the quality of video using the chat feature is impressive. Sharon and I did a video chat on the Kinect with my parents who used a normal computer with Windows Live Messenger, and it worked flawlessly. Made me wish for Skype support on the Xbox (as that is where the majority of my webcam contacts are).

Another interesting feature of Kinect is the voice recognition. So far it seems to listen to Sharon better than it does to me, but either way it does a decent job of interpreting commands even with background noise. The downside is that it is limited to the “Kinect Hub” – a kind of mini-dashboard within the Xbox 360 dashboard. I look forward to broader voice support, so that I can tell my console to turn off, or launch Netflix.

I love the Kinect, so far! It’s hard to believe that the device I stood in line for over five years ago has changed so dramatically, but it has. And I can’t help but think that this is just the beginning. There’s so much you can do with a Kinect-style interface, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Thanks Santa!

A local technology gem: 3D Interactive (3DI)

Like many in the local technology community, I was introduced to 3D Interactive Inc. (3DI) at the last DemoCamp. Founded in 2005, 3DI creates “advanced interactive simulation software for design visualization and training systems”. Or put another way, they take the powerful technology behind today’s video games, and apply it to business uses. At DemoCamp, Andrew Czarnietzki showed us 3DI’s training simulation for a Caterpillar Wheel Loader, which is used by the U.S. Army, among others. While he used a mouse and keyboard that night, he said that 3DI had a more realistic simulator back at the office. I knew I had to check it out, and when he heard I was interested, 3DI’s Dave Chan offered to give me a tour of 3DI. I happily accepted, and spent an hour and half there last week.

3D Interactive

The Wheel Loader simulator is pretty cool, and yes I was lucky enough to get to sit in the driver’s seat! The simulator has three pedals, a steering wheel, a joystick, and even a key ignition. I drove the loader around and as I did, Dave explained some of the features, and it became clear that 3DI is pretty passionate about realism. Dave pointed out that when you turn the Wheel Loader on, the gauges on the dashboard all light up and move just as they would in a real machine – most other simulation software just uses a static image for the dashboard. Another cool feature was that static objects become dynamic as you move closer to them. There was a tire on the ground ahead of me that I drove towards. When I was close enough to interact with it, the simulation software turned the tire into something I could pick up – Dave said the change from static to dynamic is important for performance reasons, but it’s done in such a way that you don’t even notice it. The simulator, which took about 5 months to complete, features a number of “missions” such as backfilling, truck loading, etc. And to make it more realistic, you can do them at night or during the day!

Another simulation Dave showed was for a Wheel Tractor-Scraper. Operators are supposed to do a complete inspection of the machine before using it, and the software enables this for training. You can move around the machine, and as you do you check off the items you’re meant to inspect. The simulator will randomly insert problems or issues. The entire simulator was completed in about 7 months, whereas the competition’s timelines were longer than 18 months.

3D Interactive

I also got to see a snubbing unit simulator, built for Nisku-based Snubco, a world-leader in rig assist snubbing units. It’s a first in the world, and will have a significant impact on the market. Snubbing is controlling the pressure to allow the insertion or removal of pipe or tools into an active natural gas or steam well, which is an extremely difficult process. The training for a snubbing unit operator is easily about 3 years, and conventional training methods don’t let you explore the “what if” scenarios. With 3DI’s simulator, which took about 4 months to complete, the training time is greatly reduced, and trainees can go through a number of scenarios with the exact controls they’d have available in the field so that if they encounter an issue, they know what to do. Actually the controls themselves were rather interesting – the panel can be easily localized (apparently China is a big market for this). And in case you’re wondering, yes, there’s a lot of math involved to ensure everything is modeled accurately!

3D Interactive

The training simulators all use the Epic Unreal 3 engine, augmented by 3DI’s other technologies. 3DI also creates design visualizations however, which use their own systems, such as pureLIGHT, a global lighting system. Dave showed me three such visualizations. The first was something they created for the City of Edmonton’s Fire Rescue Services. It’s an interactive model of a house to help train firefighters. With a couple of clicks you can see a completely finished house or just the frame (to learn about how the walls are constructed, etc). You can also simulate a garage with a vehicle in it, or a messy garage, or an empty one! The second visualization was for a new building for BP Energy, designed by Gensler. It was designed to help BP and Gensler see what the interior spaces might look like, with floor plans, furniture, and lighting all simulated. One of the floors in the building is for oil futures trading, and it featured an insane number of desks and computers! The third visualization I saw was very quick – 3DI created an interactive model of the new Art Gallery of Alberta building, which was apparently used for fundraising and other promotional purposes.

BP Trade Floor ModelArt Gallery of Alberta Model

I met around five developers while I was there, all of them busy working on new projects. One developer told me he was working on “Dirt 2.0”. See 3DI doesn’t just model a Wheel Loader, they model entire environments. The new dirt system will enable 3DI simulations to have more realistic dirt, sand, and gravel, that leaves tire tracks as you drive through it or that falls realistically as you start to dump it out. The dirt system is just one of many that 3DI is working on to bring a new level of realism to simulations.

Thanks for the tour Dave! I was really impressed with 3D Interactive after DemoCamp, and the tour only reinforced that feeling. They’re an Edmonton tech company doing amazing things that have an impact around the world.

Apocalypse Gaming Lounge in Edmonton

While walking to the City Market downtown today, Sharon and I happened upon Apocalypse Gaming Lounge, located on 107th street at 102nd avenue. The mirrored windows make it impossible to miss. Apocalypse opened on April 8th, after some construction and setup delays (according to their website). We decided to check it out.

Gaming machines

Apocalypse has thirty kick-ass looking computers for gaming, as well as a dedicated Xbox 360 Rock Band stage with two overhead flat screen televisions. They’ve also got a couple retro coin-op arcade machines. The decor is reminiscent of a restaurant like Moxie’s, with hardwood floors, black leather couches and exposed brick walls. You can see the full list of available games on their website.

They are open Sunday through Thursday from 10am to midnight, and Friday and Saturday from 10am to 2am. Rates are $6.50 per hour ($30 per day) for non-members, and $4.50 per hour if you decide to pay the $40 per year membership fee. There were no gamers in the lounge early this afternoon, but I suspect their clientele are more night owls than early risers. Here are some photos I took of Apocalypse.

Internet cafes are nothing new of course (a great one in Edmonton is 3rd on Whyte), but I haven’t seen many gaming lounges. I wonder if this is part of a growing trend? Are gaming lounges sprouting up in other cities? I think the concept is great, especially with games like Rock Band, but I wonder how feasible the business is. Apocalypse has 108 members in their Facebook Group though, so maybe there’s more demand than I thought.

Electronic Arts acquires Edmonton's BioWare

Post ImageElectronic Arts today announced that they have acquired Edmonton’s very own BioWare Corp. in a deal that could be worth $860 million USD. More accurately, EA is buying VG Holding, the parent company of both BioWare and Pandemic Studios. From GameSpot:

VG Holding Corp. was formed in late 2005 when esteemed Canadian role-playing game studio BioWare formed the aforementioned “superdeveloper” with Californian shop Pandemic Studios. The union was funded by Elevation Partners, a venture capital firm with rock star Bono on its board, and brokered by then-Elevation board member John Riccitiello, who became BioWare/Pandemic’s CEO.

A number of articles today have mentioned the fact that John Riccitiello left Elevation in February to become the CEO of Electronic Arts. So essentially, he has purchased BioWare and Pandemic twice. He must really like their games!

This is a great move for Electronic Arts. I’m sure fans of both BioWare’s and Pandemic’s games will have some reservations about the deal though. Will EA cause the studios to lose their mojo? I guess we’ll find out. Both companies will become part of the EA Games division, but Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka will continue to run BioWare, and Andrew Goldman, Josh Resnick, and Greg Borrud will stay in charge of Pandemic, according to GameSpot. At least for the time being.

The official BioWare press release is here (PDF).

Read: GameSpot

Bungie splits from Microsoft


Today Microsoft announced that Bungie Studios, the developer of the Halo games, will once again become an independent company. Microsoft will still own part of Bungie, and will continue the long-standing publishing agreement between the two for games developed by Bungie. From the Inside Bungie blog:

Bungie has long been built on creativity, originality and the freedom to pursue ideas. Microsoft agreed, and rather than stifle our imagination, they decided it was in both our best interests to unleash it. We’ll continue to make Xbox 360 games, and we’ll continue to make amazing games for MGS. In that regard, nothing has changed.

It sounds like everyone is happy with this arrangement. Both MS and Bungie seem pretty adamant that nothing will change, and I don’t see much reason to doubt them. I would assume that Microsoft will make slightly less money on future Bungie games, but I think they can live with that as long as the studio continues to pump out winners.

This quote from the Bungie press release made me laugh:

“Working with Microsoft was great for us, it allowed us to grow as a team and make the ambitious, blockbuster games we all wanted to work on. And they will continue to be a great partner. But Bungie is like a shark.  We have to keep moving to survive. We have to continually test ourselves, or we might as well be dolphins. Or manatees,” said Jason Jones, Bungie founder and partner.

Heh, well we can’t have them turning into manatees!

Mary Jo Foley has a good post up with five reasons why the split is a smart move for Microsoft. Her fifth point is the most important, I think:

5. Quasi-independent subsidiaries come up with more interesting ideas. As it has done with Xbox and Zune, Microsoft no longer believes innovation only happens when a unit is physically and psychically locked inside the Redmond headquarters.

I hope that shift in thinking really is happening inside Microsoft. For instance, I’m sure the new Vancouver dev centre will do some great things if they aren’t forced to go through Redmond for everything.

For lots more on this story, check out Techmeme.

Read: Microsoft

Checkers solved at the U of A

Post ImageHow many games of checkers can you win in a row before someone beats you? Quite a few? Doesn’t matter, eventually you’ll lose right? You think, “it’s only a matter of time.” Well some Computing Sciences researchers at the U of A have figured out why – it’s because humans make mistakes. They’ve solved checkers, completely, and have software that is invicible:

After more than 18 years and sifting through 500 billion billion (a five followed by 20 zeroes) checkers positions, Jonathan Schaeffer and his colleagues have built a checkers-playing computer program that cannot be beaten. Completed in late April, the Chinook program may be played to a draw but will never be defeated.

Their research and “proof” were to be published in today’s edition of the journal Science.

This is pretty incredible when you think about it. It speaks to the advances we’ve made not only with technology, but with our understanding of how to harness it to do things that previously seemed impossible.

I generally consider checkers to be a fairly simple game, but don’t let that fool you:

The popular game may be simple to play, but it holds a potential 500 billion billion positions. That’s one million times more complicated than any other game solved before, says Jonathan Schaeffer, the computer science professor who began the project in 1989.

Congratulations to Schaeffer and his team! I can’t imagine what they’ll figure out next.

Read: ExpressNews

Team Fortress 2 Release Date: October 9th

Post ImageOne of the most delayed and over-hyped games of all time has finally been given a release date: Team Fortress 2 (TF2) will ship on October 9th, 2007 along with Half-Life 2: Episode Two and Portal, according to a report at Shacknews. Regarding the platforms:

Valve is handling development of the games on PC and Xbox 360, with EA UK’s Chertsey, Surrey office bringing the titles to PlayStation 3.

Today’s news follows rumors originating last month that the PlayStation 3 versions of the games would be delayed into 2008. Valve’s Doug Lombardi noted to Shacknews that development has been progressing well on all three platforms.

I used to be a Team Fortress Classic (TFC) addict so I am definitely interested in giving TF2 a try. I am really excited that the game will be available for the Xbox 360 too!

I really hope TF2 doesn’t suck. Since being announced way back in 1999, the game has undergone a number of design changes, with co-designer Robin Walker admitting that Valve built “probably three to four different games” before settling on a design. Let’s hope they picked the right one!

Read: Shacknews

Build the next Tetris for Xbox Live Arcade

Post ImageSmart move Microsoft! It’s no secret that one of the biggest selling points for the Xbox 360 is the Xbox Live service, and specifically the Arcade which contains relatively simple games. Now Microsoft is making moves to further increase the importance of XBLA:

Microsoft plans to announce a contest akin to the television show “Project Greenlight” that will award a cash prize and a potential slot on Xbox Live Arcade to the best new game created with XNA tools. The company intends to announce the winner of the contest, called “Dream-Build-Play,” in August.

That’s pretty cool! Imagine seeing your game in the Xbox Live Arcade…that would be sweet. You can learn more about Microsoft’s XNA tools here.


Worms coming to Xbox Live Arcade

Post ImageI’ve had my Xbox 360 since the console launched, but I have never purchased a game from the Xbox Live Arcade. I was tempted with Dig Dug, but ended up just playing with the trial for a bit. I might have to lay down some cash this month though, because Worms is coming to XBLA:

I’m very excited to be able to confirm that Worms is coming to the Xbox Live Arcade next Wednesday. This is one of those games that seems like it was designed for the service with easy-to-learn gameplay, attractive graphics, and cute worms who are all out for blood.

Ah yes, good old Worms. I remember playing it on the computer back in high school – what a great game! According to the Wikipedia entry, the first public demo of the game happened back in January at CES. Worms will cost 800 Microsoft Points when it is released.

Also on the topic of upcoming releases for the Xbox Live Arcade, it looks like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is also going to available this year!


Read: Ars Technica