Quick, what was the last Canadian video game you played? With any luck, the boys of Cerebral Vortex Games hope your answer will soon be "Ambush Trivia."
At a gala event held in Toronto in early spring, Cerebral Vortex was one of four fledgling game companies each awarded a quarter of a million dollars in development money enough to turn their idea from pipe dream to reality.
The money came from Telefilm Canada's Great Canadian Game Competition, an initiative started in November 2006 with the aim of kick-starting a wave of homegrown talent.
"What we wanted to do was to help create original IP (intellectual property) that's Canadian, created by Canadians, intended for Canadian consumption and the world," explains Earl Hong Tai, director of Telefilm Canada's western region.
"We know the game industry is booming in this country, but I think the element we're looking for is the development of indigenous properties rather then simply doing version 4 of a sports game or some sort of American-licensed property."
The parallel between the film and gaming industries in Canada is clear. The spinoff advantage of vast foreign productions is the growth of our local talent. Yet despite a wealth of talent in programmers, artists and designers, we have not yet seen a breakout title in games.
Huge foreign companies like Ubisoft in Montreal and Electronic Arts in Vancouver are based here, but the work done by their hundreds of creators is still owned by someone else. Thanks to Telefilm's competition, would-be studios got access not just to development funding, but also to real-world mentors to get their programs on track.
For Cerebral Vortex Games, winning the competition means they might also get to quit their day jobs. The three lead designers are all instructors at Toronto's International Academy of Design and Technology in the video game design program. After working in different aspects of the industry, they dreamed of starting their own company. Art director Michael Sauro says their win will let them "put our money well, Telefilm's money where our mouth is and really get it done."
Their first hope for their game Ambush Trivia, which they plan to release across platforms for both the PC and the Xbox Live Arcade, is to be viable for the marketplace. But it seems just as important that it add up to some solid CanCon.
"A lot of people will tell you, "That movie really affected my life,' or "That book changed my way of thinking,'" says Jason MacIsaac, Cerebral Vortex's design director. "Well, I'm telling you a lot of the games I've played have been just as influential on my outlook, if not more, and a lot of them are American or Japanese. It's a really good idea to have Canadian game developers so games can reflect our cultural experience."
Damir Slogar is the CEO of Big Blue Bubble, another competition winner, a London, Ontario-based company known for making games based on licensed properties like the hit show 24 for mobile platforms like cellphones.
Big Blue Bubble hopes to make the move into console gaming on Nintendo's Wii with its winning pitch, Hobby Shop.
Using the Wii's unique motion-sensitive controllers, Hobby Shop gives players virtual tools like hammers and screwdrivers that they use with the same moves they would in real life to construct whatever they want.
Winning the quarter-million in development money means they can keep the rights to Hobby Shop for themselves.
"Whoever develops the game actually ends up owning this IP at the end," says Slogar. "We have chance to sign this deal with the publisher even without Telefilm, but the big difference in that case would be that the publisher would own this IP the whole concept and everything."
And it's not game over yet. The four winning teams are still in the running for another half-million dollars being awarded at Vancouver's Vidfest in September to help with the final commercialization of the game, enough to get one lucky title onto the shelves.
When it comes to getting Ambush Trivia ready for the next round, Cerebral Vortex's triumvirate know where to go to fill out their company's ranks.
"We keep an eye on the exceptional students," says MacIsaac. "I hope my students are reading this. "You slackers! You're not going to get hired! You thought we weren't watching! You thought we were kidding, but we weren't!'"