How many Canadian video game developers does it take to change a light bulb? It's a trick question — they're too busy working on a new wave of games to change a light bulb.
The Canadian video game industry employs about 14,000 people and accounted for $2.2 billion in retail sales worldwide in 2008, up from about $1.5 billion in 2005, according to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada. This is shaping up to be a big year for new releases, judging by the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles this week, where Canadian game studios had lots to show off.
Quebec studios in spotlight
Ubisoft Montreal works on a variety of genres, from action and sports to entertainment games, and it was showing off four key, upcoming titles at E3. Brotherhood, the next title in the company's Assassin's Creed franchise; Shaun White Skateboarding, created with the gold medal snowboarder who is a professional skateboarder in the summer months; Michael Jackson, in which players sing to Jackson's hits and emulate his signature dance moves; and Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, developed exclusively for the new Kinect for Xbox 360 motion detection interface.
Ubisoft's Montreal and Quebec City studios are also working on five different games for Nintendo's newly announced 3DS handheld system that will provide glasses-free 3D gaming.
Eidos is another developer with people working in Quebec. When Eidos Montreal formed three years ago, the studio started work on updates to two properties in the Eidos (now Square Enix) catalogue: Deus Ex and Thief. The next edition of Thief was not being shown in L.A., but Deus Ex: Human Revolution is being readied for commercial release in early 2011.
Producer David Anfossi said that Eidos Montreal has benefited greatly from working on sequels for the two acclaimed series. It has helped the studio attract employees, for one, and Anfossi said he was able to hand-pick a talented team.
"We won't revise franchises forever," he added, hinting at fresh projects.
Other games being developed in Quebec and shown to media at E3 include Naughty Bear, published by 505 Games but developed by Montreal's Artificial Mind and Movement, known as A2M. Young Thor, developed by Quebec City's Frima Games, is set for release this summer on Sony's PSP and PS3 systems.
Quebec City studio Beenox is developing Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions for publisher Activision. Thomas Wilson, creative director on the game, said it's a real breakthrough title for the studio. He said making a game based on the iconic comic character will boost the profile of Beenox, which opened its studio in 2000.
Toronto-based teams were also showing off their work at E3.
Tecmo Koei Canada, established in Toronto in 2001, is retelling the story of the Trojan War in Warriors: Legend of Troy. The tactical action game, which draws from Homer's Illiad and Odyssey, is scheduled for release in November.
Toronto's Capybara Games, is developing a version of its Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes game, for Ubisoft. It will be released for download on Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade service and Sony's PlayStation Network.
West Coast studios
Which brings us to Vancouver. More than 15 games being presented at E3 2010 are being created in the Lower Mainland area, and several studios are releasing multiple games in the coming months.
Burnaby, B.C.'s EA Canada studio is where the majority of Electronic Arts' sports games are developed and managed, and the company's EA Sports label was showing off the most recent updates to its most popular franchises, including FIFA Soccer 11, NHL 11, and NBA Elite 11.
Also in the mix are NHL Slapshot, a new game for Nintendo's Wii that gamers will play using a miniature hockey stick, and EA Sports Active 2, a follow-up to the title that set the standard for exercise and fitness video games.
While the first Active was a Wii exclusive, Active 2 has been created for PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii. IPhone and iPod Touch versions are also coming out soon.
"Now more people have the opportunity to embark on this fitness journey," said associate producer and conditioning specialist Gerard Recio,
Microsoft's Big Park Games provided the world's first public look at its kart racing game, Kinect Joy Ride, a racing game for the entire family that makes use of the Kinect motion-detecting interface. No joystick is required, and to drive the cars in Joy Ride requires nothing more than a Kinect peripheral and your body.
Relic Entertainment, a subsidiary of THQ, has just released the much-awaited Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising, and was in L.A. to introduce Company of Heroes Online, which arrives in September. It also announced Space Marines, a new action game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.
In late 2008, news leaked out that Burnaby's Blue Castle Games was working on Dead Rising 2 for Capcom, the sequel to 2006's widely acclaimed zombie action title. The studio has also developed Dead Rising: Case Zero, an exclusive to Xbox 360, which is a spinoff title that takes place in the period of time between Dead Rising 1 and 2. Capcom's Shinsaku Ohara, co-producer of Dead Rising 2, said Blue Castle Games' ability to show lots of zombies on screen simultaneously was what won the studio the job. "They understood Dead Rising and were fans of the genre," said Ohara.
More importantly, Blue Castle's team was easy to work with, Ohara added.
"They were open to our ideas. The important thing working with external developers is communication, and that comes from being able to speak honestly with them."
Propaganda Games is a subsidiary of Disney Interactive, and within months will be releasing two new games: Disney Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned, and TRON Evolution: The Video Game.
Del Chafe, lead game play designer on the Tron game — which acts as a bridge between the 1982 film and the sequel coming this holiday season — admitted that it was significant coup for the studio to land two such high-profile games.
"That Disney entrusted two such important franchises to us means a lot."
Vancouver's United Front Games, which formed in 2007, has two blockbuster games hitting the market within a short span this year. In May, the developer published ModNation Racers, which it developed for Sony Computer Entertainment and the PS3. This fall, the studio's reboot of Activision's True Crime series, will hit shelves.
"It's pretty incredible to start from nothing three years ago and have two major titles coming out," said Stephen Van Der Mescht, executive producer of the interactive cop drama.
Vancouver's Piranha Games has developed Days of Thunder for Paramount Digital Entertainment. Based on the film and incorporating characters and real NASCAR drivers, Piranha's racing game is scheduled for release this summer for the PlayStation Network. Paramount's Jeffrey Dickson said that he approached Piranha to work on the game because Vancouver is "a hotbed for developers. These guys have talent. They are fast and easy to work with."
Klei Entertainment's Shank, a retro side-scrolling action game, is expected before year's end, as is Hothead Games' DeathSpank, from notable game designer Ron Gilbert, the creator of the popular Monkey Island adventure game.
Hothead was also doing deals at E3 for new titles. While in L.A. Joel DeYoung, director of technology for Hothead studios, signed a deal with Ignition Entertainment for Swarm, scheduled for release early next year. "Just like every other game we've made, it's going to be a funny game," said DeYoung.
The developer's two previous titles were based on the popular Penny Arcade gamer website and comic strip.
"We're starting to think that making funny games is our thing," DeYoung admitted. "If we tried to make a serious game it would be filled with in-jokes."