Michigan Got Game!

The game and multimedia industry is alive and well in Michigan.

On Tuesday night, I attended a joint meeting of SEMAFX and the local IGDA chapter. SEMAFX is the local chapter of ACM/SIGGRAPH, and the acronym stands for (the cumbersome) Southeast Michigan Animation and Special Effects User Group. IGDA is the International Game Developers Association, and ours is the Michigan South chapter. We were hosted by Schoolcraft College, which offers Associate Degrees (and Post-Associate Certificates) in Computer Graphics Technology, as well as many other programs.

Despite being held for two hours on a weeknight, the turnout for this event was fairly impressive. I counted over 60 attendees before the lights went down. There was interesting content for the solid two hours, with minimal organizational pitch.

A professor from Schoolcraft College described their program briefly, and then he gave an interesting presentation showing how he wrote a simple catapult game in flash with only two explicit variables. The game is used by The Learning Channel in conjunction with their Roman Catapult feature, and apparently the actual name of the game is Play the Flippin’ Game.

A group of students from Lawrence Technological University in Southfield (Detroit area) showed off a game project, named “Larry Kart“, which they completed during a school year in which they also managed to graduate. They gave themselves the name Gym Class, an inside joke regarding the lack of such at Lawrence Tech, and the site also reads Rut Row Studios.

A Canadian animator showed an impressively rendered video for a game mod project as a prelude to displaying his own animations using characters, from existing 3D models, entering and exiting various vehicles at speed and at rest, as well as scaling a wall. It was impressive to know that these animations were not done with motion capture, and more so because the compact cockpit of one vehicle combined with the chest measurements of the female character left precious little maneuvering room.

Another Canadian from just across the river in Ontario gave a quick overview of flash game development, cramming lots of information into a reasonably short period of time. This skill must be a necessity when he teaches groups of 15-20 youngsters (ages 9-15) the basics of game development in only five days. This is done as a summer program given in association with the University of Windsor.

In addition to all of the schools mentioned above, there are also thriving programs being taught at Michigan State University, University of Michigan, and Ferris State University, as well as opportunities at other educational institutions and community colleges around the state. The field of games and interactive media is really growing in this area and it bodes very well for the future.

After the official meeting, which was just the presentations, the real business started in what SEMAFX calls the “afterglow” party. Everybody involved retires to a restaurant/bar to schmooze and network. We had game designers, programmers, graphic artists, musicians, and other interested parties discussing all manner of topics, all in a spirit of cooperation between the groups.

The next meeting for the Michigan South chapter of the IGDA is scheduled for June 5th in East Lansing, and the next SEMAFX meeting is scheduled for June 14th in Berkley (Michigan). Both should prove to be informative and entertaining, and one does not need to be a member to attend.

Shareware Industry Awards

Three products on which I have worked garnered SIA 2005 nominations.

Each year, the Shareware Industry Awards Foundation (SIAF) presents awards to “honor some of the best software available that uses the shareware model of marketing”. These are the most prestigious awards in the industry, as products are nominated and recognized for the award by other shareware professionals. A parallel set of awards, the SIAF People’s Choice Awards, are voted on by the general public (i.e., our users). All of these will be presented at the awards banquet during the Shareware Industry Conference (SIC 2005) this July in Denver.

Action Solitaire was one of four products nominated in the ‘Best Action/Arcade Game‘ category. I did all of the coding and much of the design for this product, which was first released in 2003. We released a significant update, Action Solitaire 1.1, back in April, to add 18 new games to the product (for a total of 52).

Pretty Good Solitaire was one of four products nominated in the ‘Best Non-Action Game‘ category. This is its third nomination in a row, and in previous incarnations, has won the award in 1999 and 2001. Since its last victory, I programmed the library that now does all of the card drawing and animation, including the ability to load custom card sets and backs and to resize cards. The latest version, Pretty Good Solitaire 10.2, contains 610 different types of solitaire and was released in February of this year.

SnagIt was one of three products nominated in the ‘Best Graphics Program or Utility‘ category. This nomination is a testament to the longevity of this product, developed and published by TechSmith, a local company. Although I claim little responsibility for its success, I did program version 2.1 when I worked for them briefly way back in 1992-93. The current version, SnagIt 7.2, is also a PC Magazine Editors’ Choice winner.

Click here to see the complete list of SIA nominees for 2005.

As they say, it is an honor just to be nominated. However, we would really like to win, too, so I would certainly appreciate your votes. (I still think that Pretty Good MahJongg would make an excellent People’s Choice selection.)

Hot Off The Press…

The Southeast Michigan chapter of the IGDA just released the following memo:

Local Game Developers Protest New Legislation

Game developers in Southeast Michigan are voicing their complaints over some new legislation making the rounds in the state senate. Bills sponsored by Senators Hansen Clarke and Alan Cropsey prepare the state to take a much firmer stance on the sale of video games to young people. A number of hearings regarding these bills will be held this month to discuss them further. The next one is scheduled for May 6 at the Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, from 6:00pm to 8:00pm, where representatives from local and national game developers are expected to testify against this pending legislation.

Specifically, the bills criminalize the sale of games rated ‘M’ for mature by the Entertainment Software Rating Board to anybody under the age of 17. Under one of the proposed amendments to the Michigan penal code, any individual who is found selling one of these games can be put in jail for up to a year and even fined up to $5,000. The idea behind these bills is that they are designed to protect our youth from “those who poison the minds of our young people,” Governor Jennifer Granholm said.

But Michigan’s local game development community contends that the proposed legislation is flawed on a number of levels.

“The bill indicts the game development industry on the whole,” said Cristopher Boyer, CEO of local video game publisher Variant Interactive, Co.

“When compared to other entertainment mediums which produce similar products, game developers are considered to be these villainous deviants with no moral compass,” Boyer said.

Currently, there is no law or legislation regulating the sale of movies, music or books containing questionable content.

The bills would also put unnecessary burdens on independent software developers, who would have to spend thousands of dollars more to have their game rated when they are only distributing their game on the Internet to credit card-bearing consumers.

“For independent developers, the cost of having your game reviewed could be more than what it costs to make the whole game,” said Gregg Seelhoff, Technical Director at Sophsoft, Inc. — a game development company in Michigan who makes solitaire games to sell on the Internet.

“It could put some people out of business,” Seelhoff said.

Local developers are also apprehensive of the bills when it comes to the growth of the industry, especially in Michigan. There is growing concern that such an attitude by the state’s legislators would create an inhospitable environment for game developers, making it harder to bring more members of the industry to the state. And as an industry that boasts domestic revenues of more than $7 billion per year and growing, local enthusiasts believe that it’s an industry Michigan can not afford to ignore.

“Rather than spending time trying to figure out how to censor games and put our young retail workers behind bars, I think it would be more appropriate for our State government to focus on generating new high-tech jobs by attracting the industry into the State,” said Brian Winn, a professor in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State University, and one of the coordinators of Southeastern Michigan chapter of the International Game Developers Association.

“I think its just another example of the politicians being out of touch with younger and college aged kids,” said Jay Semerad, another coordinator of the local chapter of the IGDA and founder of Red Leader Audio, a music composition studio based out of Ann Arbor, focusing on the game industry. He, like many others, believe that the state’s reluctance to better involve themselves with the game industry will cost them more than just economically.

“Why are they surprised when the kids want to get out of Michigan after graduation?” Semerad said.

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Note that this is not an official press release, as our chapter cannot fully represent the whole organization nor the entirety of its position. However, this statement does not conflict with the IGDA position, and it properly represents the stand of the chapter leadership.