• Edmonton’s explosion in indie game developers fuelled by culture of curiosity, support
    3D Game Development

    Edmonton’s explosion in indie game developers fuelled by culture of curiosity, support

    Andrew Czarnietzki is only too happy to show off physical copies of Curved Space, a 3D twin-stick shooter featuring “transtemporal spiders.”

    It’s the realization of a childhood dream to one day develop his own video game.

    “It was just crazy to unbox this and see this thing made manifest — and real.”

    Czarnietzki is one half of Only by Midnight Ltd., an independent game studio he started with his wife, Jen Laface. Over the past few years the couple have worked jobs, raised their young child, and somehow found time to develop a video game, all from their Edmonton home. 

    “I find that with Edmonton, you get this atmosphere of support, which has been great,” said Laface.

    Alberta’s capital is famously home to game giant Bioware, which planted roots there in 1995 and grew to prominence after a slew of highly-regarded video game blockbusters like the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series.

    In more recent years, Bioware has been joined by other well-known studios like Improbable and Beamdog.

    But a scene of smaller, independent game developers has grown in Edmonton’s fertile gaming soil, leveraging a ready talent pool and supportive community to create a space for hobbyists, full-time professionals and everything in between.

    The Edmonton Screen Industries Office estimates there are now around 75 indie game developers in the city.

    Bioware a draw for developers

    It was back in 2015 during a game jam — short events where creators work individually or in teams to create games centred around a theme — that Jace Boechler first started work on the competitive fighting game Little Hellions.

    With a background in web development, Boechler made the jump three years later to work full-time on the project. 

    Like many indie developers, part of the reason he’s stayed in Edmonton is simple: it’s home. But Boechler also sees in the city a culture of curiosity for game development.

    “There are so many people who are hungry to get into game development in Edmonton, and I think that’s largely by the virtue of the presence of Bioware,” he said.

    “But I think that’s just the diving off point — I think there’s so much more that we have here that people don’t actually know about.”

    The main cast of 2017’s Mass Effect: Andromeda, part of the blockbuster video game series by Edmonton-based Bioware. (Bioware)

    Growing the community

    GameCamp Edmonton is a game development organization that aims to connect creators and help them network and learn, something it’s done for more than a decade. Before the pandemic it held monthly meet-ups where it invited local talents to share their expertise. 

    Vanessa Capito, also an associate producer at Beamdog, is one of the group’s organizers. 

    “Edmonton and Alberta, I think they’re special in that we still have a relatively small community, but it’s been very welcoming and open.”

    She says game jams have been a great way for people to collaborate and build up a portfolio. 

    “I love our community,” Capito said. “When I first joined six years ago, I was just a shy student who was just wowed that we had something like this here in Edmonton.”

    A pre-pandemic GameCamp Edmonton meet at Central Social Hall on Jasper Ave., where local talents were invited to share their expertise with other game developers. (Submitted by Vanessa Capito)

    Edmonton’s gaming support system

    The Edmonton Screen Industries Office was established in 2017 to support the development of screen media projects. From its inception, the economic development organization has included video games under its wide-ranging purview.

    “I think we’re seeing continued growth, and I expect that we will continue to do that,” said CEO Tom Viinikka. “Our hope and our goal in our office is to foster that growth.”

    The screen industries office aims to connect creators and offers information and workshops for developers. It provides some granting opportunities — it is currently taking applications for $1,500 micro grants to help with third-party costs during a project’s initial planning phase.

    I love our community. When I first joined six years ago, I was just a shy student who was just wowed that we had something like this here in Edmonton.​​​– Vanessa Capito, Beamdog associate producer and GameCamp organizer

    Viinikka said there are a number of ways that Edmonton is well-suited to the indie development scene.

    “Edmonton is an amazing place to do business in general,” he said. “I think that we have a really entrepreneurial spirit in this city.”

    Bioware’s presence has seen indie studios started by former employees while post-secondary institutions in Edmonton have been forward-thinking, Viinikka said, referencing the University of Alberta’s certificate in computer game development and NAIT’s digital media and IT program.

    “We need to feed this talent pipeline and they’ve done a wonderful job of that.”

    A 2019 report by the Entertainment Software Association of Canada found that Canadian video game companies generated an estimated $3.6 billion in revenue. Despite the pandemic, global video game revenue was forecasted to rise to $175 billion for 2020.

    Shift to digital distribution

    When Kyle Kulyk lost his job in finance during the 2007 financial crisis, he went back to school to study game programming at NAIT before starting his own video game company, Itzy Interactive.

    Opportunities for smaller indie studios have been made possible by a global shift in video game distribution in recent years — digital platforms now offer the chance to get more games out to the masses.

    WATCH | Indie game scene on the rise in Edmonton:

    Edmonton’s growing indie game development scene

    Alberta’s capital is famously home to big game developer Bioware but many smaller, independent studios have also made the city their home. 2:33

    Game engines — software frameworks for games — were previously the purview of big studios, but Kulyk says they’ve become more user-friendly and reasonably-priced. At the same time, major console-makers like Sony and Nintendo opened up their digital distribution platforms to indie games.

    “Things turned around the last console generation, over the last 10 years or so,” he said. 

    Itzy Interactive started in mobile games but has since turned to console and computer platforms. In May it published its fourth title, the co-op arcade shooter Mad Devils.

    Funding can be challenging

    Kulyk readily admits that the reality of the industry can be harsh for indie game studios vying for attention in a more accessible market.

    “It’s certainly not for the faint of heart in terms of the commitment that it takes to get there,” he said.

    “We wouldn’t exist right now if it wasn’t for the Canada Media Fund.”

    The fund develops and finances Canadian content across audiovisual media — one funding source for projects that can require long, irregular hours without any guarantee of a pay off.

    Alberta previously offered a Digital Media Tax Credit, which was viewed as a major boon for the game development industry, but the provincial government eliminated the credit in 2019.

    Kulyk’s small indie studio has still managed to grow from just him and his brother-in-law to a team of four full-time employees, resulting in a collaborative creative effort he finds rewarding. 

    “To put these ideas out there to my team and then to see where we end up at the end of the day is so much more to me than selling mutual funds ever was.”

  • Bernalillo County residents support more charter schools
    Bilingual Education

    Bernalillo County residents support more charter schools

    New Mexico’s passionate and diverse charter school teachers, leaders and advocates work relentlessly to cultivate a tomorrow in which every student has access to an inspiring and meaningful k-12 public education that prepares them for our modern world. Charter schools in New Mexico are free public schools for all and are small public entities that can nimbly meet the needs of students regardless of the circumstance. As we begin a new school year that will hopefully be less impacted by the pandemic, it’s important to reflect on what we’ve learned.

    When public charter schools meet the individual needs of students, they are strengthening families, communities and the public school system. Charter schools across the state showed that, even though their campuses were closed, their schools were open to meeting the needs of families. Three Albuquerque charter schools below are an example of how public charters stepped up to the plate to put students first during the pandemic.

    • Tierra Adentro of New Mexico assigned families to its entire school staff to touch base with throughout the pandemic, ensuring their needs were being met. The school provided technology access, along with art, music and dance materials, to be able to continue their Flamenco-based and arts instruction while students were learning from home.

    • Sandoval Academy of Bilingual Education (SABE) kept all of its extracurricular activities going when students were learning remotely, including cooking in the classroom. As soon as they had the chance to serve students in person, they moved quickly to take advantage of the opportunity.

    • Digital Arts Technology Academy (DATA) used a video-game platform to host students for their classes, group projects and document storage. The system worked well for them and provided a platform that most students could easily navigate and were familiar with.

    These Albuquerque-based public charter schools found ways to keep students engaged and learning during the pandemic.

    This student-first action from public charter schools is one reason Bernalillo County residents have such high regard for their charter schools. In December 2020, Public Charter Schools of New Mexico teamed up with partners to survey 500 residents with the help of Research and Polling Inc. The findings were moving. Over 75% of Bernalillo County voters want more charter school options, a finding that held across all ethnicities. Further, in our polarized political world, having additional charter schools resonated across the board with all political affiliations: the finding included 76% of Democrats, 78% of Republicans and 76% of Independent voters.

    Public charter schools in New Mexico reflect the amazing diversity of our state, and each school chooses to put those students first when making decisions. We all know a one-size-fits-all approach to education does not work for our children. Let’s create more public school choices so every child has a chance to go to a school that meets their needs. It’s a big reason why the people want more.

  • Unity Announces Support for ROS 2 | Your Money
    3D Game Development

    Unity Announces Support for ROS 2 | Your Money

    SAN FRANCISCO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Aug 11, 2021–

    Unity, the world’s leading platform for creating and operating real-time 3D (RT3D) content, today announced support for ROS 2 – the open-source robotics middleware suite from Open Robotics. Building on its support of ROS earlier this year, Unity is now supporting ROS 2 due to significant advancements and support of more hardware drivers, networking modules, communication architecture, and several robot algorithms. To showcase the value ROS 2 brings to robotics developers, Unity also released a demo of an Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) leveraging ROS 2 in Unity.

    This press release features multimedia. View the full release here: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210811005218/en/

    RViz is a visualization tool for ROS. On the left, we show in our AMR demo how RViz is used to visualize the TurtleBot sensor data, and assign it a destination to navigate to, while the robot then takes action in Unity to accomplish the goal of getting to the destination (on right). (Graphic: Business Wire)

    “ROS 2 has a lot of promising features to serve as a more emphatic tool for robotics software development than its predecessor, ROS 1,” said Dr. Danny Lange, SVP of AI and Machine Learning, Unity. “The addition of real-time support makes it suitable for time-critical and high-performance systems, including AMRs, which we demonstrate with Unity running a ROS 2 navigation stack. With this pairing of technologies, anyone can explore this scenario, regardless of their level of experience with either ROS or Unity.”

    In tandem with the announcement, Unity released a new sample AMR project. The demo showcases a simple warehouse environment, a fully articulated model of a Turtlebot 3 mobile robot with simulated LIDAR and motor controllers, and a Dockerfile to make it easy to build an image containing all of the ROS 2 dependencies necessary to exercise the mapping and navigation stacks against our simulation. The demo builds off of the previously released Object Pose Estimation demonstration, which combined the power of computer vision and simulation technologies illustrating how Unity’s AI and Machine Learning capabilities are having real-world impact on the use of robotics in industrial settings.

    “This demo is another powerful example of how we take a flexible framework for writing robot software, and couple it with our robotics packages so that users can more easily create intelligent robots,” added Lange. “We believe that the combination of Unity tools and others open the door for roboticists to safely, cost-effectively, and quickly prototype, develop, test, and deploy solutions.”

    “We are excited by the growing ecosystem of ROS 2 compatible simulation tools,” said Katherine Scott, Developer Advocate, Open Robotics. “Simulation is a critical part of developing robust robot systems and it’s important for developers to be able to choose the right simulator for their application. Unity’s support for ROS 2 is a welcome addition to the growing community of roboticists who are using open source software to accelerate the development of advanced systems.”

    Unity’s work in the robotics field will be on display at ROSCon 2021 from October 22nd – October 23rd in New Orleans, Louisiana. To learn more about the show and how you can connect with the Unity team there, please visit Unity’s ROSCon workshop page.

    To learn more about Unity’s work enabling the future of robotics, please visit our Unity Robotics page.

    About Unity

    Unity (NYSE: U) is the world’s leading platform for creating and operating real-time 3D (RT3D) content. Creators, ranging from game developers to artists, architects, automotive designers, filmmakers, and others, use Unity to make their imaginations come to life. Unity’s platform provides a comprehensive set of software solutions to create, run and monetize interactive, real-time 2D and 3D content for mobile phones, tablets, PCs, consoles, and augmented and virtual reality devices. The company’s 1,800+ person research and development team keeps Unity at the forefront of development by working alongside partners to ensure optimized support for the latest releases and platforms. Apps developed by Unity creators were downloaded more than five billion times per month in 2020. For more information, please visit www.unity.com.

    View source version on businesswire.com:https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210811005218/en/

    CONTACT: Ryan M. Wallace

    Unity Communications

    [email protected]

    +1 917.442.2305

    KEYWORD: UNITED STATES NORTH AMERICA CALIFORNIA

    INDUSTRY KEYWORD: CONSUMER ELECTRONICS TECHNOLOGY OTHER TECHNOLOGY AUDIO/VIDEO SOFTWARE HARDWARE

    SOURCE: Unity

    Copyright Business Wire 2021.

    PUB: 08/11/2021 08:00 AM/DISC: 08/11/2021 08:02 AM

    http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210811005218/en

    Copyright Business Wire 2021.

  • Valve Is Working to Add Windows 11 Support on the Steam Deck
    STEAM Initiative

    Valve Is Working to Add Windows 11 Support on the Steam Deck

    Steam Deck

    Image: Valve

    While Valve has already announced that the Steam Deck will support dual-booting between SteamOS and Windows 10, new info from a Steam Deck designer has also revealed that Valve is working with AMD to help ensure support for Windows 11 as well.

    In a recent interview with Valve’s Greg Coomer, one of the Steam Deck’s designers, PC Gamer learned that while Valve’s main focus so far has been on optimizing Steam OS and the Steam Deck’s performance when running Windows 10, Valve is also leaning on insight from AMD to help ensure support for Microsoft’s next OS too, which is due out sometime later this fall.

    In regards to Windows 11, Coomer said “We’ve focused so much on Windows 10, so far, that we haven’t really gotten that far into it. Our expectation is that we can meet that.”

    One of the issues for Valve is that some of the new hardware requirements like TPM chips that are expected to be part of Windows 11 require the company to do some extra work to provide baseline compatibility. That said, Coomer seems optimistic that thanks to the collaboration between Valve and AMD (who is making the custom APU slated for use in the Steam Deck), the Steam Deck should get support for Windows 11.

    “It’s also a conversation that’s going on with AMD, to make sure that, at the BIOS level, we can accommodate that. So there’s nothing to indicate to us yet that there’ll be any issues with Windows 11,” said Coomer.

    Out of the box, the Steam Deck is slated to run the latest version of Valve’s Linux-based Steam OS, which uses a compatibility layer called Proton when playing games that don’t have native Linux support. And while Valve has been clear that its focus with the Steam Deck will be to deliver the best experience when gaming on SteamOS, support for both Windows 10 and 11 remains quite important, especially because right now it’s unclear if anti-cheat protocols in games like Apex Legends, Gears 5, and others will function properly outside of Windows.

    In one of its FAQs about the Steam Deck, Valve says “We’re working with BattlEye and EAC to get support for Proton ahead of launch.” So even though Steam OS will be the default OS for the Steam Deck, it’s really encouraging to see Valve also looking to beef up the Steam Deck’s compatibility with Windows 10 and 11. Not only will this move potentially provide gamers with more options when it comes to playing a wide range of titles, but it also reinforces the ethos that the Steam Deck is much more open and flexible compared to more locked down console alternatives like the Nintendo Switch, which is something Valve founder Gabe Newell has been talking about a lot.

    Unfortunately, unlike the Nintendo Switch, according to another story from PC Gamer, it appears that the Steam Deck doesn’t have a performance boost setting when connected to a dock. This means the Steam Deck should provide similar performance in handheld mode or when connected to an external display, which might be a bummer for people dreaming about playing games on a big 4K TV with the Steam Deck.

    Coomer explains Valve’s thought process by saying “We really wanted to prioritize for using it in what we thought would be the highest use case, which is actually mobile. And so since we were focusing on that, and we chose like a threshold where the machine will run well, and with a good frame rate with AAA games in that scenario. We didn’t really feel like we should target also going after the dock scenario at higher resolutions. We wanted a simpler design target and to prioritize that.”

    And while Coomer says that it might be possible to create a higher power mode for the Steam Deck when docked, currently it’s not a “high priority design target.”

    So while new info about the Steam Deck is trickling out as we get closer to its official launch sometime before the end of the year, the excitement about an upcoming handheld gaming machine built for the PC crowd continues to grow. Some of Valve’s early gaming hardware like the Steam Controller may have been somewhat clunky (especially at launch), but the Steam Deck is quickly shaping up to become Valve’s second attempt to make its Steam Machines initiative from back in 2014 a reality, and this time, it just might work.