Exclusive Interviews

Erin Robinson: From Neuroscience To Games

April 3, 2015 — by Nicholas Yanes


The explosion of indie gaming in the past decade has not only allowed for smaller companies to enter the gaming market, it has allowed for people from various background and unique games to have a place. One such person and game is Erin Robinson and her game, Gravity Ghost. To learn more about Gravity Ghost, Gamesauce has talked to Erin Robinson about her background and developing games.

From Researcher to Game Developer – Leaving the Academy for Games

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Vladimir Funtikov: Pushing Through the Hard Times

November 6, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

Vladimir Funtikov, Co-Founder, Creative Mobile
Vladimir Funtikov, Co-Founder, Creative Mobile

Driven by a desire to create games that come alive and resonate with players, Vladimir Funtikov co-founded Tallinn-based Creative Mobile, and after only four years, it became one of the largest mobile gaming companies in Northern Europe. His passion for games began with his first PC, and almost immediately, he started creating games, beginning with basic Warcraft and SimCity scenarios, then moving to single-player levels for Duke Nukem 3D, and eventually making multi-player maps for Counter-Strike.

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Mark Robinson: “Look Deeper” at Your Data

October 22, 2014 — by Casey Rock

Mark Robinson
Mark Robinson, CEO, deltaDNA

Mark Robinson likens the experience of data-mining to exploring a new city, noting “I have always liked being lost … and then uncovering something surprising and thought-provoking.”

Robinson has been tackling data analytics and helping bring companies closer to their customers for over 15 years. But one sector has been lagging in connecting with their user base. “The (gaming) industry lives with retention rates that are too low,” Robinson says. “And it’s our fault, not the players. By getting closer to the players, we can understand their frustrations and deliver fun more consistently.”

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Reko Ukko – Taking Games Seriously

October 7, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

Reko Ukko, Co-founder/ VP Game Design, Seriously

Reko Ukko, co-founder and vice-president of game design at Seriously, admits that the company’s name is a great conversation starter. It denotes that they are serious about the work they do: games for mobile and for whatever will come next, such as wearables. They are also serious about free-to-play, a business model they are certain is here to stay.

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Gamblit Brings Gaming and Gambling Together

September 18, 2014 — by Industry Contributions


Gamblit Gaming’s CMO David Chang spoke about how Gamblit connects gaming and gambling, as well as the trends in both the gaming and gambling industries that he’s witnessed over the last few years, with TechnologyAdvice host Clark Buckner. provides coverage content on teaching and training games, strategic employee engagement software, and customer loyalty programs and much more. Also be sure to check out their gamification tech conference calendar.

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DeltaDNA CEO Mark Robinson on Current F2P Challenges

August 27, 2014 — by Industry Contributions


DeltaDNA was an early adopter, so to speak, of the Casual Connect conference, knowing that it would become a great environment to build relationships, grow their network, and both give and receive value from the innumerable conversations that occur before, during, and after the conference. In 2014, they were a proud Gold Sponsor of Casual Connect USA 2014. While there, DeltaDNA CEO Mark Robinson spoke about the concept of Player Relationship Management, how the industry has evolved in the free-to-play (F2P) space, and techniques DeltaDNA uses to increase engagement and create better gaming experiences with Clark Buckner from (they provide coverage content on enterprise employee engagement, customer loyalty and rewards, and gamification trends and much more).

Responsive Games in the Free-to-Play Market

Developers can interact with players within the game, collect rich data based on player experience, and use that data to craft a version of the game that’s more responsive to the player.

Launched in 2010, DeltaDNA uses a Player Relationship Management platform to maximize player engagement in free-to-play games. Using this platform, developers can interact with players within the game, collect rich data based on player experience, and use that data to craft a version of the game that’s more responsive to the player.

Through his work, Robinson identified three areas in which the F2P gaming industry has trouble:

A lack of rich data on player behavior: By balancing game dynamics to satisfy average players, developers end up satisfying no one.
A lack of retention: Less than 40 percent of F2P gamers typically come back to a game after an initial session.
– A lack of great, creative ideas: Game developers and publishers are always on the lookout for well-executed games.

So how does DeltaDNA address these challenges in the F2P space? First, they work to understand player behavior. Developers can interact with a specific player in their game so they are able to customize game mechanics according to a player’s style or competence, using a platform such as DeltaDNA‘s. Then, they make games more responsive. Better gaming experiences stem from responsive, user-driven, tailor-made game situations. And lastly, they use analytics in an effective manner. When designers or publishers work closely with an analytics team, they’re able to obtain rich data, such as direct feedback on retention rates or why some players leave a game sooner than others. They can then devise solutions to increase retention levels as well as to create player segments for better engagement and possible monetization strategies.

When designers or publishers work closely with an analytics team, they’re able to obtain rich data, such as direct feedback on retention rates or why some players leave a game sooner than others.

By leveraging real-time data and understanding player behaviors, DeltaDNA can design and create games that are more customized and responsive, thereby establishing long-term value, increased engagement, and a better end-user experience. Robinson added that they work to ensure that players have a great experience regardless of their competency or playing style. They don’t want the free-to-play model to be seen as an inferior gaming experience simply because it’s free.

Robinson also noted the necessity for a messaging strategy. Developers and publishers need to be consistent and intelligent in terms of their messaging without inundating users with too many messages. This can be done by fully understanding the different player characteristics in one’s game, as well as by considering how to manage player experiences in a way that their players will want to respond to messaging.

Developers and publishers need to be consistent and intelligent in terms of their messaging without inundating users with too many messages.

The Future of the Casual Gaming Industry

According to Robinson, the most exciting and successful companies in the gaming industry are starting to adopt new skill sets in order to get closer to their respective playing communities. Developers and publishers now have multi-scaled teams with new skills and a reliance on analytics. Additionally, marketing is now a more important part of the process alongside development, design, and creative.

For Robinson and DeltaDNA, the next step in the industry is realizing that a game developer/customer relationship won’t be limited to a one-game environment. Rather, they see multi-game relationships forming between publishers and gamers, thus creating more engagement for a publisher and more value for consumers.

For more information on DeltaDNA’s features, solutions, and resources, visit To listen to the full interview, click the play button below:

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Millennial Media’s Lewis Rothkopf on Better Games through Big Data

August 26, 2014 — by Industry Contributions


Lewis Rothkopf, the senior vice president of global monetization solutions at Millennial Media, moderated a panel discussion on Leveraging Data to Build Better Games and Enhance Monetization at Casual Connect USA 2014. While there, he spoke about that panel, Millennial’s ongoing projects, and the current and possible future trends at the intersection of big data and gaming with Clark Buckner from (they provide coverage content on enterprise employee engagement, customer loyalty and rewards, and gamification trends and much more).

Millennial Media is an independent audience platform in the digital advertising space that connects brands and consumers by leveraging data through a mobile-first approach and cross-screen targeting solutions. Rothkopf oversees the company’s publisher and developer relationships. Consequently, he has a unique understanding of the opportunities and difficulties facing today’s gaming industry.

Rothkopf moderating the panel on leveraging data at Casual Connect USA 2014.

Better Games through Data-driven Decisions

Part of his panel discussion at Casual Connect concerned itself with one of the gaming industry’s major challenges: developers and marketers need to tap into ways of leveraging data so they can make smarter, more efficient, data-driven decisions in order to reach the right consumers in the right place at the right time on the right device with the right mindset and within the right context.

Additionally, Rothkopf pointed out three other critical areas that need to be addressed:

Actionable Intelligence: Developers need to gather deeper and less obvious insights based upon in-app behaviors. Such insights are observed alongside third-party data based on offline behaviors so that developers can make faster, smarter decisions in regards to monetization and user acquisition.
– Hyperlocal Targeting: Developers are tying everything back to local, both to monetize and acquire users. Such hyperlocal targeting that reaches consumers in the right place, mindset, and time can be a challenge.
– Individual SKU-ing: Developers are realizing that creating hits is very much a numbers game. Consequently, they’re releasing a much greater volume of individual SKUs and iterating on them once they’ve taken a foothold instead of hoping to release one monolithic, tent-pole title. Many casual titles are also being released in the hopes that one or more of them will hit it big (see Flappy Bird).

The Millennial Media booth at Casual Connect USA 2014

Acquiring Users and Monetizing

Rothkopf found that the Casual Connect audience wanted to know more about data conversion in terms of giving developers an edge in user acquisition and monetization—two areas that Rothkopf and his team at Millennial Media understand. He cited two specific areas that Millennial Media currently focuses on in order to help devs acquire users and work toward monetization: location and cross-device and cross-screen.

When focusing on location, Millennial Media marries location and context. In partnership with Esri, they’re re-launching Point: Audience Location Advertising, where their clients can target traditional location dimensions (country, date, etc.), time dimensions, and hyperlocal dimensions like household income, environment, propensity for shopping, etc. To deal with cross-device and cross-screen, Millennial Media also offers PATH, a mobile-first, cross-screen advertising suite that helps advertisers reach consumers anonymously. PATH provides access to tens of millions of cross-screen profiles in a seamless manner.

During the panel at Casual Connect USA 2014, they discussed using big data to build better, smarter and more monetizable products.

Successful Gaming Marketing

Finally, Rothkopf stressed that success comes from having a fair exchange of value, achieving relevant advertising, seeking the right targeting, and leveraging both first- and third-party data to make smarter decisions to drive monetization and deliver a better gaming experience.

To hear more from Lewis Rothkopf on big data, gaming, and his insights from Casual Connect USA 2014, listen to the podcast interview below. For more information on Millennial Media, visit, or if you’re a developer seeking to acquire users or working toward monetization, visit

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Geoffrey Greenblatt in the New Frontier

August 21, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

Geoffrey Greenblatt, North American Gaming Director, Mindshare
Geoffrey Greenblatt, North American Gaming Director, Mindshare

Geoffrey Greenblatt, the North American gaming director for Mindshare, became interested in gaming at a very early age. He was four years old when his father brought home a Texas Instruments computer, and he was instantly hooked. Handheld games, Sega, Gameboy, Genesis and Super Nintendo all followed. He doesn’t claim that first computer was the inspiration for his career, but he says it was definitely the jumping off point of his interest in games.

Games and Advertising

His moment of inspiration actually came when he moved from traditional media to digital media. On his first day in that space, he saw an ad in a game, learned that it was served dynamically and thought, “Wow! Games and advertising. Now that’s an area I want to explore.”

After that moment, Greenblatt decided to dive in and see what could be done in the space. He began by putting together integration-based programs and proposing additional opportunities to clients who were interested in the gaming space. His breakthrough came with developing the first content distribution program on Xbox LIVE for Sprint. They were short-listed at Cannes, and interest grew from there. He considers himself fortunate to have had such supportive clients, but the biggest hurdle in getting the project off the ground was explaining how it could drive success for the brand.

This is still the biggest hurdle to overcome. Greenblatt recognizes that brands are not interested in the tactical details of a program; they are interested in how a program can fill their needs objectively.

Working With the Unfamiliar

His work day differs so much day-to-day that he claims there is no such thing as a normal day.

Greenblatt has now been with Mindshare for 8.5 years. He had spent three years with a different agency in traditional media and then moved to digital media there. He decided the best way to grow and learn would be in an unfamiliar environment. Mindshare had great accounts that he thought would be fun to work on, and, fortunately, they also had an opening for him.

His work day differs so much day-to-day that he claims there is no such thing as a normal day. He spends a lot of his time writing: presentations for client teams or conferences, POVs, booklet write-ups, such as one he just did for E3, and even informative emails, so he is often found in front of his computer, typing away in Word or Powerpoint. If he is not at the computer, he is meeting with vendors to learn about the space and following up with teams to provide them with any information they need to create a successful gaming space program for their clients. He emphasizes, “I love the variety that my position offers, and I very much enjoy working with all the people at Mindshare that I have gotten to know so well over the years.”

It’s All About Monetization

Greenblatt points out that the center of any industry has to be monetization, and it is no different for the games industry. From the console perspective, monetization growth appears to be centered on continuous expansion of the audience, especially beyond core gamers and early adopters. Growing the audience drives the purchase of more games, and in this way, increases the revenue. This is the key point for other platforms as well: growing the audience is the way to increase revenue. As the audience expands, developers can sell virtual goods, integrated programs, data collection, and advertising. All of this drives revenue.

photo 1
In the gaming space, the combination of mobile, social and programmatic has created a variety of different options for brands.

He has seen huge shifts in advertising in recent years with mobile, social, and programmatic buying. Mobile and social are completely new spaces that grow and change very quickly. Programmatic buying seems to be the convergence of many different types of opportunities into a more linear opportunity. It can be difficult to keep up with the rate of change, but the changes can also be very exciting. In the gaming space, the combination of mobile, social and programmatic has created a variety of different options for brands: single or multi-platform options, easy-to-purchase or very robust program options, single title alignment or network-based options. There are now so many options for brands, and the gaming space has become more attractive for a greater variety of brands.

Objectives Over Tactics

In the games market, the biggest advertising mistake Greenblatt sees is thinking tactics first. An advertising campaign must, first and foremost, be about the brand’s objectives. An opportunity, no matter how exciting it may seem, may not be the right fit for a brand. He has seen this mistake on both the brand and the developer sides. But developing a program in the gaming space is not about creating a cool experience in the game; it is about fulfilling a brand objective.

He insists, “This problem arises from a lack of understanding about what is really important for the brand and thinking about the game first; this is especially important for game lovers. They tend to look at opportunities from the perspective of a player rather than the perspective of a brand or advertiser. Both brand teams and game developers need to look at opportunities through the lens of the brand: what the brand is trying to achieve and how will the results be measured.

The long-lasting trend of creative pioneering is something he believes will only continue to grow.

Greenblatt is very interested to see how mobile gaming will continue to evolve. The platform’s accessibility has allowed game lovers and potential designers to create for the first time. With first time developers having the opportunity to bring their ideas to fruition, new kinds of games will continue to be created. Add new types of social mechanics and innovative developments such as virtual reality, and the level of creativity in the gaming space is reaching heights never previously imagined. This long-lasting trend of creative pioneering is something he believes will only continue to grow.

When Greenblatt is not at work, he likes to keep busy with a variety of activities. He has side projects he is working on with friends and he also has a job with ESPN on ABC production, something he has been doing for 10 years now. If not occupied with these, he spends his time watching TV and movies, going to the gym, watching sports, and catching up on sleep.


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Interview: Kelly Richard Fennig on Using Gaming Technology to Explore the Past – Circa 1948

August 1, 2014 — by Nicholas Yanes


Kelly Richard Fennig is a technical producer who’s worked at Slant Six Games, was the project director for Circa 1948 at the National Film Board of Canada, and is a founding member of Ton Up Interactive. An actor, hardware & software engineer, UX designer, project manager, and musician, his various industries gives him a unique perspective and well-rounded appreciation of what it takes to make games.We were recently able to talk to Fennig about the creation of Circa 1948, difficulties encountered during its production, and long-term goals for this project.

GS: What was the inspiration for this project? Specifically, what is so special about 1948?

Kelly Richard Fennig

Kelly Richard Fennig: The world-renowned visual artist, Stan Douglas, was the key inspiration for the project. (He proposed the project several years ago.) For those unfamiliar with his work, he’s primarily a visual storyteller and photographer, and is known for creating photograph composites that capture a moment in time.

One Stan Douglas photo can be composed of over 100 or more separate elements – each being specifically chosen and placed, then seamlessly assembled together to make a “perfect” photograph. But the true art comes from the curiosity of the audience themselves, from what subtle and nuanced details they discover in his work and, usually depending on the order in which they discover them, people will ask themselves about the significance of these details. Eventually, viewers create their own narrative to explain what happened leading up to the moment, so the audience experience is an integral part of the art, and every experience is unique to each individual.

Douglas has a fascination with history and his style is what I personally call a “dirty reality,” since many of the works I’ve seen of his look very “lived-in,” almost to the point of being run down. This makes sense to me as a storyteller: the more worn out something is, the more it has experienced to get to that state, and the more potential for stories it has to tell. As mentioned before, the devil is indeed in the details, so Douglas makes it a point to be as historically accurate and photorealistic as possible.

Being born and raised in Vancouver, he loves this city and its history, and 1948 was a time when the city was on the cusp of change. For most, there was a deep postwar depression and jobs and money were hard to come by. Soldiers back from the war were without jobs or, for some, even homes. The city was beginning its “urban renewal” and claiming its casualties. The technological innovations of the latter half of the 20th century, marking our modern age, were just around the corner. Looking back, the themes in the story Stan Douglas tells in Circa 1948 would be echoed in any city in North America at that time, and have numerous parallels with the present.

GS: On this note, why did you select the two locations?

Fennig: There are the simple answers – money, budget, and technical limitations. For an ambitious iOS app to have the visual fidelity to honor the works of Douglas, we would need to limit how much content the app could have so it could reliably run at an acceptable frame rate and not be multiple gigabytes in size.

However, there is also an artistic rationale for this decision – the duality of having two locations sets up a ‘compare and contrast’ dynamic with the themes of the story. Geographically, the city of Vancouver is divided along Main Street.

The duality of having two locations sets up a ‘compare and contrast’ dynamic with the themes of the story.

On the traditionally more affluent west-side is the site of the Hotel Vancouver. In 1948, it was weeks away from being torn down and relocated, soldiers from the war who had yet received promised support from the government have taken over the building and are squatting in this “tarnished dilapidated gem” of the city.

On the working class east-side is Hogan’s Alley. This area was a culturally diverse home to immigrant and migrant workers who turn into backyard entrepreneurs using whatever skills they have to find a buck, with some of their enterprises being less legal than others. In the middle are those who like to straddle and profit from both sides. So the divide of race, income, and “urban renewal” gets blurred at this moment in time.

And to this day, this divide still holds true.

GS: While recreating the two locations, what archives did you use? Were you able to interview anyone was alive in 1948?

Fennig: Currently, neither site exists anymore. The old Hotel Vancouver at the intersection of Georgia & Granville Street was torn down, and Hogan’s Alley was razed in 1968 to build the Georgia Viaduct. As a result of these changes, we had to rely entirely on archival documentation. Our artists combed the City of Vancouver Archives, and those of the Province and Vancouver Sun newspaper archives. Our producers also got access to the CBC radio archives to gather some radio interviews to add audio colour to the world. We even discovered some magazine articles published at the time showcasing the architecture of the city.

We were about 95 percent confirmed accurate with the geography, but where we weren’t certain, we made our best assumption of what would have been there based on our findings. In many cases, where there were gaps in accuracy, some miracle photograph would show up in the strangest of places and times. For example, two months before completion, a photo would show up and we would find a building that was completely wrong, so we went back and rebuilt it.  It was uncanny – in January 2014, Canada Post celebrated Black History Month by releasing a stamp recognizing Hogan’s Alley. On it, we discovered yet another building. Our art lead Jonny Ostrem, who worked closely with Douglas for the duration of the project, would insist we respect the historic authenticity Douglas revered.

As for the characters in the app, nearly all of them are fictitious. That being said, we were able to interview many people who were alive in these communities, and they shared stories about some of the more “colorful and notable” people and events of the time. From these stories, Douglas worked with screen-writer Chris Haddock and playwright Kevin Kerr to create some original characters and situations that were amalgams of these stories.

A room in Circa 1958. People alive at that time shared stories about some of the more “colorful and notable” people and events of the time, and the team was able to include them in the app.

GS: During the making of this interactive experience, what were some difficulties encountered?

Fennig: LOL! Where to begin? This project was well underway by the time I came on board – two-four years depending on who you talk to. By the time I came on:

  • – The app was originally planned around the time of the iPad 2, but Douglas’ vision was too technically ambitious for even the iPad Air (four years later).
  • – The project was created by a series of contractors and students, who rolled on and off at various times based on monies and availabilities. The only constants were the producers at the National Film Board of Canada’s Digital Studio (the NFB), known and celebrated for their development of HTML5 and Flash experiences. This app would be their first real-time experience.
  • – The Kraken engine we used was open-source and in-development throughout production, right up to shipping
  • – Douglas wanted people to not see this as a game, but as art. He wanted every asset, prop and texture to be unique. So every asset had been individually modeled/textured without reuse or instantiation. This created extra strain and challenge on the engine, memory, and computing resources.
  • – The project never went through much of a pre-production stage; they just started producing assets.
  • – Many of these assets were created by art students whose only experience had been school projects for animation, film & TV visual-FX, and demo reels. They had minimal to no knowledge about techniques for optimizing assets for real-time engines or mobile platforms. Many of the lead artists, and the art lead himself, were learning as they went. In the art world, this in itself is part of the “artistic experience”- to learn and grow while creating the “art”, and this “ground up” approach is integral to Douglas’ artistic methodology/”process”. I have a great deal of respect for them because their lessons from the school of “hard knocks” will stick with them forever.
  • – As new evidence and archival photos arose, assets needed to be rebuilt in order to continue to be “historically accurate.”
  • – It was decided that the app wouldn’t use real-time lighting – all lighting and shadows were rendered in Maya onto light and specular maps. Having numerous maps in memory instead of relying on the GPU and rendering pipeline, memory, and asset streaming would be the critical path for performance.
  • – Whenever an asset had an error (texture, model or otherwise), quite often it required re-rendering the lightmap. Over the course of the project, many, many, MANY of the assets would have to be redone.
  • – At the time, the engine didn’t have much of an asset import tool chain: all assets would be created in Maya and Photoshop then converted and imported into the engine manually.  Any spelling mistake with any of the assets would cause errors.
  • – The user experience and interface went through many iterations and was still too complex to users who were not gamers.
  • -There were all these assets, but not a cohesive end-to-end experience for the user.

When I came on board they were “a couple weeks away from shipping,” but only because they had virtually used nearly the entire budget. They realized that, although this wasn’t a “game”, experience from the games industry would be able to provide the perspective they needed to complete and ship the app. This is where I came in.

They realized that, although this wasn’t a “game”, experience from the games industry would be able to provide the perspective they needed to complete and ship the app.

So for the next six months, we had to simplify the design and create a cohesive experience for an audience who is not accustomed to any form of first-person, real-time digital experience, with an extremely limited budget. (I am eternally thankful that Loc Dao and Janine Steele at the NFB were able to procure more monies required for completion.) Even though most of the production wasn’t efficient by conventions already proven and known by the video games industry, the ship had set sail – my job was to steer it safely into port by any means necessary.

The first step was to actually take a step back and create a design document.  From there, we used lean-style design iterations to quickly test out new concepts and simplify the experience for users who are not traditional gamers. Some gaming conventions were brought in, mainly to bring in a simple cause-effect teaching loop. As well, we had to develop a way to optimize the engine and assets but still maintain a high level of fidelity.

It was an exciting six months to say the least. We were committed to a release at the TriBeCa film festival, so with all the changes required, we had an asset lock within days of submitting to Apple. This left next to no time to optimize performance and came in far too hot for my comfort. Needless to say, I expected the first couple of weeks after release would be crashy, and we would need to get user experience feedback in the real-world to address stability.

GS: How do you see this as an “Augmented Reality” experience?

Fennig: It goes beyond the obvious. Being based off of actual historic locations and being historically and geographically accurate and incredibly detailed, it goes beyond the standard fare expected from a “game.”  These places actually existed and were respected and reproduced in such a way that allows the user to see how life actually was, warts and all.

In the initial release, we have an alternative input scheme we call “viewport” mode: it takes the gyroscopic positioning data from the iOS devices and uses it to control the “in-game” camera of the user.  Your phone/tablet becomes a “window to the past”: point the device up, and you look up; turn around, and so does the in-world camera.

This isn’t the standard or ideal mode because, as Jesse Schell pointed out last year at Casual Connect 2013, users’ arms will eventually get tired. However, it does allow for a very natural way to look at how the world once was. The Kraken engine supports Head Rotational Transform Function (HRTF) sound so with a set of headphones, the user is fully immersed into the environment.

In future releases, there are plans to incorporate GPS and compass data so for those who are in Vancouver and at these historic locations can actually hold up their devices and see what the world was once like where they stood. See the modern world through their eyes, and the historic world through the app. i.e. ‘Where what is now a Starbucks once stood a speakeasy’. It’s a gimmick, but it does allow the user a more immersive experience into the world.

At the TriBeCa film festival in New York, we collaborated with R&D Arts and Memo Aiken’s team at Marshmallow Laser Feast to go one step further – we took the app, as seen from one frame of view, and projection-mapped the environment onto four walls, almost like a first generation of the Holodeck from Star Trek. This produced a 360º view of the world – where the app allowed the user to explore a Stan Douglas photograph, the TriBeCa interactive experience actually and literally placed the user into a Stan Douglas photograph. Using multiple Xbox Kinects and the very latest Mac Pro, we would track the movement of the user and render this “reality”. Off-axis positioning would allow the user to look up, under, and around objects, and we would use their body itself as a virtual joystick to move through this world we created in the app.

We took the app, as seen from one frame of view, and projection-mapped the environment onto four walls, almost like a first generation of the Holodeck from Star Trek.

Both experiences – viewport and the interactive experience – are pretty trippy and very, very cool. Honestly, I really wish people more people could experience the installation, but it does cost a bit to transport and set up.

GS: Several of the conversations are influenced by noir films. Which noir films did you and your team turn to? How do you feel this adds to the historical authenticity?

Fennig: The primary point of visual inspiration from Douglas to the art team was the film Hammett. It’s Francis Ford Coppola, so it gets a bye for legitimacy, as he is a stickler for authenticity. Essentially, this movie is an homage to “film noir” – heightened shadows, a femme fatale, corrupt police, etc. Other films were considered, but with respect to mood and detail, why deviate from a master?

The app was originally designed to be set during midday. It wasn’t until extremely late in the project (re: two months prior to release) that we should switch to an evening setting. This worked on many levels, as the story itself inherently has a “film noir” undertone, so why not make the setting “noir”…verging on the edge of twilight/early evening, moody, with heightened shadows, etc. There is this magic that happens at twilight. Since the light levels are low, fog starts to roll in, and details are obscured.

With the technical limitations of mobile platform, we could have our cake and eat it too: it allowed us a logical and natural way to obscure the details for some of the unessential environments, but still support the photorealism Douglas was known for. Having film noir inspirations, it was a natural choice, and it was surprising we didn’t think of this sooner. This choice did mean a lot of late nights and hiring additional artists to re-render nearly almost all the light maps, but it was definitely worth it. This change was chalked up to the “artistic experience” for the artists: we had to get as far as we did to realize that a time-of-day change would most honor the project.

It allowed us a logical and natural way to obscure the details for some of the unessential environments, but still support the photorealism Douglas was known for.

GS: How did you convince the Canadian government to fund this project?

Fennig: The origins of the project came from a screenplay called Helen Lawrence, a collaboration between artist Stan Douglas and the acclaimed screenwriter Chris Haddock. They originally approached the National Film Board of Canada to make the screenplay into a film, but the NFB was known for producing short animations and documentary films, not fictionalized feature films.

However, the NFB Digital Studio in Vancouver still wanted the opportunity to collaborate with Douglas, so they proposed to develop an app inspired by some of the characters and plot elements from the screenplay, but present them in a way that focuses on one of Douglas’s artistic staples – non-linear (or recombinant) storytelling. Part of the NFB’s mandate is to push the technological boundaries and innovate new ways to tell character-rich, Canadian stories, and this had potential to really try something radically new in the world of art, what the NFB calls the Circa 1948 Storyworld.

In addition to the app, they wanted to create a multi-contextual experience around it, so the Circa 1948 Storyworld is not just the app, but also a historically informative webpage, a Stan Douglas photo series, the immersive projection-map installation (as featured at TriBeCa and touring major cities), and the stage play of Helen Lawrence itself.  (Although not a film as originally intended, Helen Lawrence became a ground-breaking play where stage actors were filmed against blue screen and composited and shown to the audience in real-time into the digital environments we developed for the app).

There’s so much more to say about the Storyworld project as a whole that could be said that couldn’t fit into an interview. I highly recommend people read the official press synopsis.

Every asset had been individually modeled/textured without reuse or instantiation.
There’s so much more to say about the Storyworld project as a whole that could be said that couldn’t fit into an interview.

GS: Are there any plans to incorporate architecture that currently exist into this virtual experience?

Fennig: Since these locations don’t exist anymore, there are plans to incorporate GPS telemetry and compass information into the app. So when a person is at the physical location where a structure once stood, they can bring up the app and the tablet truly becomes a “window to the past.” The user could walk down what was once Hogan’s Alley, hold up their phone or tablet, and see what used to stand there.

As for incorporating currently existing architecture, I can’t speak of plans just yet. Some proposals are being discussed, potentially for separate but related projects, but it is too soon to disclose it.

GS: How has this technology been received by educators?

Fennig: It hasn’t really been used by educators… yet. However, historians have been comparing the app content to known historical evidence and records and applauded the sense of accuracy, detail, authenticity, and respect to the locations and the era.

Again, there are a couple of potential projects in the future that I’m not open to talk about just yet, but with “urban renewal” being a constant force for change in our city, the project has archival potential that could be quite cool, so we don’t forget the rich history from bygone generations.

The project has archival potential that could be quite cool, so we don’t forget the rich history from bygone generations.

GS: Overall, what are some long-term goals for this project?  Is an Android version going to be created?

Fennig: Long term, there are many plans for what was accomplished. Not speaking on behalf of the NFB, I do know that the following may (or may not) happen:

  • – An Android version is tentatively in the plans, but it will require rewriting much of the Objective-C used in the front end to work in OpenGL-ES and Kraken and port the Kraken engine to work for Android. This work will benefit the iOS version as well since iOS Viewports are costly when implementing UI.
  • – The NFB would like to take the immersive installation on the road. It had an amazing response at TriBeCa. The challenge is finding sponsors to allow for the transport and setup of installation.
  • – As mentioned earlier, the kinesthetic mode linking real-world geo-location telemetry to the app, is planned for “on-location” presentations and exploration.
  • – The NFB is investigating opportunities to use the Kraken engine, the workflow improvements, and the lessons learned, to tell similar stories set in different historic locations. Since the project was developed using public tax-funding, there is great potential to open this platform up to the public for them to use and innovate (again, I’m only speculating, as the Canadian Government owns some of the technology).

Part of the NFB’s mandate is to push the technological boundaries and innovate new ways to tell character-rich Canadian stories. Based on the initial feedback the NFB feels they have accomplished this and are proud to join the small but growing movement of “interactive storytelling” – using gaming techniques and technologies to tell stories. Personally, it feels pretty cool to have Apple feature and endorse an app I’ve worked on and open the “gaming” world I love to an audience that normally wouldn’t have normally discovered it. It shrinks the gap between the “Game” and “Art” debate.


DevelopmentExclusive InterviewsIndustryOnline

Caroline Ingeborn – Expanding the Minds of the Future

July 23, 2014 — by Casey Rock

Caroline Ingeborn
Caroline Ingeborn, COO, Toca Boca

Caroline Ingeborn wants to help the world. In her own words, she says she’s passionate about making a change and meeting people, organizations, and companies across the world who share her vision of doing great things. At Toca Boca, she’s getting that opportunity.

Ingeborn has been close to Toca Boca from the start. She worked next to co-founders Björn Jeffery and Emil Ovemar at the Bonnier Office in Sweden when they founded Toca Boca — becoming very familiar with their mission and vision. During a trip to see Jeffery in San Francisco, he asked her to join the company. “I did and have never looked back since,” she says.

Pivoting Into New Industries

As the COO of Toca Boca, Ingeborn has a wide range of responsibilities. She oversees production, marketing, finance, and operations across Toca Boca’s offices in San Francisco and Stockholm, noting that “no day is like another.”

Although she had to do some catching up since she was coming from a field outside of the gaming/children’s markets, Ingeborn is used to change. She notes that every position in her career has required her to learn new things and pivot to meet new demands. But she says Toca Boca is unique in terms of what she does day-to-day. “Working with a team of such passionate people, that all strive to do really great stuff, is a fantastic experience,” she explains.

Toca Hair Salon 2
Toca Hair Salon is just one of the games the passionate team at Toca Boca created.

Exploration and Imagination

For Ingeborn and Toca Boca, it’s all about helping children expand their minds. While they keep track of innovations in the gaming market, they’re more interested in finding new areas around play in general and building a “positive children’s culture.”

Technologically, they are focused on the touchscreen experience. When considering technology, the first questions they ask are “Is this something that will enhance the play experience? And if that’s the case, how can we incorporate that?”

Ingeborn notes that while Toca Boca’s digital toys aren’t curriculum based, they encourage free exploration while sparking kids’ imagination and sense of curiosity. She notes however that, in regards to technology in the classroom, “If technology can enhance or make the classroom experience better, then absolutely, it belongs there.”

Kids Playing
“If technology can enhance or make the classroom experience better, then absolutely, it belongs there.”

Ingeborn herself is very passionate about helping educate the next generation of children. In Sweden, she has been involved with helping older kids in low-income areas develop their skills both personally and professionally.

Gender Issues and Building the Future

Another thing both Ingeborn and Toca Boca are passionate about is gender neutrality in their products. She says, it is a “big focus” for them and she is proud of the digital toys they’ve produced. “We believe in making and marketing toys for kids — not those for just girls or just boys. This is certainly an issue right now in the toy industry, and more companies — from the designers to the marketing experts to the retailers — need to be aware of it and make a change.”

With Toca Boca’s mission to expand children’s minds and their commitment to gender neutrality, among other things, Ingeborn considers it the highlight of her career so far, and one she is excited to continue building. “It’s been a great journey. We’ve built a team and company that believes in the power of pure play and the value in seeing the world from a kid’s perspective.”

Look forward to Ingeborn’s session on how play should be looked at in the digital world at Casual Connect USA!