2016 Report: Hiring and Staffing

In an effort for transparency we will make available some information and stats on our own work, methodology and practice over the last year.  Part of what provided us with the insight and mentorship necessary to get to where we are today is how open other gaming/tech companies are with their data and this is our small attempt to do the same to tell you what has worked for us, what hasn't and what we can expect for 2017. 

To start it off I want to start with our staff and hiring practices for 2016.  Specifically with a focus on diversity and creating a staff base that reflects the communities we serve.  

Going in to 2016 we had 4 staff.  Ryan Oliver, Michael and Evan Despault and Nyla Innuksuk.  All owners, all working the jobs of about 15 people each.  Standard startup stuff. Some successes, some well timed employment and internship grants throughout 2016 has allowed us to hire more and set us on a footing that has allowed genuine and what we hope is sustainable growth.

Some quick stats as of the time of writing.  

  • We currently employ 10 people in five different communities.  Lindsay, Ontario (x1), Toronto (x3), Pangnirtung, NU (x2), Arviat, NU (x1), Vancouver, BC (x3)
  • We currently employ 50% (5) staff of Indigenous (First Nations, Inuit) identity. 
  • We currently employ 40% (4) staff who are women. 
  • We have locations at shared office spaces in Toronto and Vancouver.  
  • We connect everyone via a series of online tools primarily focused around;
    • Slack
    • Confluence (Atlassian)
    • JIRA (Atlassian)
    • Google Docs

This hiring practice took a concentrated effort to work with hiring groups in various communities and the support of both the 'Youth Internship Fund' of the federal government and the funding programs of 'Miziwe Biik'.  These funds have allowed us the support to hire, train and mentor a variety of staff and provide us with a safety net to grow and innovate.  

The te(a)ch Team ... and the GG of CAN!

The te(a)ch Team ... and the GG of CAN!

Like any small tech startup we also outsource a lot of the work we do to smaller contractors and people in our industry who can help us get smaller jobs done.  We need to provide full respect and props to people like Ann Tipper, and Akash Sherman to name a few who have repeatedly made the work we do look 1000% better.  We partner with quite a few organizations as well and it's worth mentioning we would be nowhere without the Qaujigiartiit, The Inuit Art Foundation and our best friends at 1One. Finally we need to acknowledge the support of both Computers for Success Canada and Mobilizing Inuit Cultural Heritage who have supported us in setting a direction for these companies that we're super excited to roll out in 2017.

If you're looking to hire can we recommend the following; 

Thank you and I hope this all has done something for you, or at least provided some insight as to who we are working. We like to try and create a company culture and a work environment that is exactly like what Dominic Toretto has done in the first 7 Fast and the Furious movies.  Family, super fast cars and always made better by the The Rock. We'll keep you posted on how that goes. 

Computers for Schools Nunavut

The Pinnguaq Association is proud to announce we are the new administrators for the implementation of the Computers for Schools Program in Nunavut.  We will work to make computers available to any Nunavummiut or Nunavut based organizations that require them with a special focus on combining the work of the CFS Nunavut program with the work of the te(a)ch program currently being developed in the territory.  You don't have to be a school.  Contact us!

Computers.  Literally Being Used in Schools.  In Nunavut.

Computers.  Literally Being Used in Schools.  In Nunavut.

The CFS program was co-founded in 1993 by Industry Canada and the Telecom Pioneers.  It is a national program that refurbishes and delivers, at little or no cost, technology from government organizations, private businesses and individuals, in support of digital inclusion and economic development. Computers are distributed to schools and nonprofit organizations supporting youth, seniors, low-income Canadians, new Canadians, Indigenous people and other eligible recipients across Canada.

Computers for Schools Nunavut is administered by The Pinnguaq Association with support from the entire CFS network across Canada, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) and Computers for Success Canada (CFSC).

So what does this mean?  Nunavummiut, if you need a computer, if your organization needs computers to improve what you do, if you're going to school and need a laptop.  Get a hold of us!  We are here to help.

If you're involved with our te(a)ch program?  We have computers to send to you so you can take advantage of what we're doing there.  

At the same time, if you're in Nunavut and want to recycle your existing computer, contact us.  We're still working out how the refurbishment program will function, but we would love your help with creating a sustainable tech infrastructure across the territory.  

Canada in 2017 - Sesqui and Pinnguaq

We have been working on something very special throughout 2016 and have never found the time to sit down and write about it.  However, thanks to recent hires we increasingly have time for things like ‘Blog Posts’ and we wanted to share the incredible relationship we’ve established with the Canada 150 Signature Initiative, ‘Sesqui’.  

Sesqui is a touring, interactive exhibit that you’ll be hearing a lot about in 2017.  It will feature live events, education programming and will be headlined by an interactive dome showing the 360 degree film ‘Horizon’ being produced by the Sesqui team.

Pinnguaq is proud to celebrate our involvement in this project.  We are helping to design and craft the ‘offsite’, digital media component that will revolve around a VR App and host at least six unique 360 films shot around Canada.  

The VR App we are designing with our friends and partners from uForis, a BC based VR company that has developed their own proprietary VR engine.  It’s incredible and we will explore it more in a future blog post, but we are delighted and honoured to be able to develop with this engine for such a large project.   

uforis_vr-logo_480.png

The App we are developing is called ‘Meridian’ and with the help of uForis we are able to make it light weight, flexible, interactive and available to nearly every VR device on the market.  

Our other role on this project is as producers of the six VR pieces that will be housed within the VR App.  Some of these projects cannot be announced yet, but we can tell you we are taking major roles on each one, from producing the shoots, the post production, the special effects and most importantly, the interactivity.

Each story will push the boundaries of how 360 stories are told.   A piece will come from every corner of Canada and feature more than just a passive viewing experience.  Each piece will have a unique interactive element that will place you in control of the story and how you experience it.  

Some of the stories we are working on include the tale of Polarman, a real life superhero from Iqaluit, Nunavut.  Hani Al Moulia, a syrian refugee and a photographer who uses his passion for photography to shape his view of the work.  There are more to come and we will announce them as we are able to.

We are excited to share the work we’re doing in the VR Space with Sesqui and uForis and would encourage you all to keep your eyes out in 2017 for this initiative to see what’s been keeping us busy so far in 2016.

New Hires! Meet Our Peoples!

This has been a busy week for Pinnguaq.  In addition to being shortlisted for the “Arctic Inspiration Prize” for our te(a)ch program, we also brought on four additional staff to bring our grand total to nine!  I’d like to take a few seconds to introduce you to our new recruits, as well as pay proper attention to a hire from 4 months ago that we never took the time to properly acknowledge previously. 

Brandon Bunnie

Brandon Bunnie

Brandon Bunnie joined our team in Toronto in July 2016 and has been a vital part of everything we’ve done since that moment.  He is a 3D modeler and the first full time artist to join our team.  He took the reigns on Food Fight, a game we premiered at TIFFxPOP 03, and has put some incredible work into Art Alive and Qalupalik, just to name a few.   You can check out Brandon’s website here, he’s dope.

Max Ahn

Max Ahn

Max Ahn joins our team in Vancouver as a programmer from our allies at Lighthouse Labs.  He is a member of the AMS Game Development Association (AGDA) out of UBC.    Max worked as a writer and game designer and has been involved in projects including the recently Greenlit, ‘The Puppet Master’.  He’s just getting started with us but has taken over work on ‘Art Alive’ and will be working on our VR tech projects as well.

Talia Metuq

Talia Metuq

We’ve been fortunate to be able to hire two positions in Nunavut this past week, bringing two former ‘Code Club’ (now te(a)ch) students in as full time representatives of The Pinnguaq Association.  Talia Metuq will work out of Pangnirtung and Jamie Okatsiaq will work out of Arviat.  We’re extremely pleased to have them join our team and love the fact we’re able to bring former students of our education initiative into the fold.  It will bring vital Inuit voices to the table and their skills and insight will help Pinnguaq craft a better product.

Arielle Grimes

Arielle Grimes

Arielle Grimes joins our team in Toronto and comes with an impressive resume.  She is a game developer and audio designer who has operated mostly independently for the last few years.  Her portfolio is impressive and she’s already been a valuable asset to the team.  Arielle takes the role of ‘Interactive Experience Developer’ and we’re glad to have her on the team.     

Julie Alivaktuk

Julie Alivaktuk

As of the day of this blog posting, November 4th, we are super happy to announce we're also welcoming Julie Alivaktuk to our Pangnirtung, Nunavut team.  Julie will head our social media outreach in both English and Inuktitut.  Julie is the mother of two beautiful kids (who also happen to be Nyla's nephews) and has connections to nearly all of us going way back.  She's an accomplished film maker, activist, fashion designer and parent.  She is adept at hashtagging things for maximum exposure and knows what those damn kids like these days with their social media and the "at" symbols and all that.  Super stoked to have her on board. 

Qalupalik Update- October 2016

About three years ago we began crafting an idea for a game.  It was centered around the idea of the Qalupalik myth.  As arctic ice breaks up around May and June of every year, it becomes as tempting as it is dangerous to head out on the plates of ice and make your way over open water.  It’s fun, the danger is a part of that fun.  But mythology sprung around it to protect those who may not recognize the risks.  The Qalupalik are sea creatures that exist under the sea ice, waiting for young people to come a little too close to the open sea ice, where they are kidnapped.  The Qalupalik story has existed in Inuit myth for eternity and over the last three years we have worked to bring it to life.  

We’ve hit as many roadblocks as we have successes with this project. At one point we cancelled the game, then just as quickly uncancelled it.   We’ve produced a ton of demos around the concepts, developed the characters and the work Jonathan Wright has done around the qalupalik themselves have been universally well received.  
 

The universal truths of being a small indie studio are hitting us hard.  

  1. Don’t take on projects bigger than your britches.

  2. You’ve still got to pay the bills, month by month.
     

The project is huge, much bigger than our team can handle at this moment. We are growing, and on the verge of hiring an addition 6 people, which will likely help.  But the second point, keeps biting us in the butt.  As our team grows, so do our bills.  We have a bunch of projects on the go, many which we will unveil over the next few weeks because these projects pay the bills.  Right now, Qalupalik does not.

Qalupalik is not dead, far from it.  But we are forced to reexamine it.  We are very excited about the world this project exists in.  We are very excited about the mythology and the Inuit partnerships we have developed to ensure an accurate and authentic vision of this world.  But we need to now focus it on achievable goals for both our team size and our time availability.
 

Here is what we do know.  

  • The release date of “2016” that is posted on some websites will be move to undefined.  

  • The continued work on this project has and will continue, including recent work by our recent hire, Brandon Bunnie to bring more and more of the characters to life as 3D models.

  • The world that it exists in will be the target of many smaller projects that we hope will lead to continued support and funding for the main project.   We have been fortune to be a part of the release of “Beneath Floes”, and a film project called “Qalupalik” was just awarded the “Pitch This” winner at the Toronto International Film Festival with both our own Nyla Innuksuk and our friend, Sean Wainsteim beginning work in that direction.   

  • Qalupalik will feature 18 Quintillion procedurally generated ice floes, and will take 5 billion years to fully explore.  You will be able to see each other through a unique multiplayer mode, but let’s be honest, you’ll never find each other so don’t bother looking.
     

Work completed just this past week to begin to bring the "Walrus Qalupalik" to life as a model.  

Work completed just this past week to begin to bring the "Walrus Qalupalik" to life as a model.  

Qalupalik moves forward and we will continue to share our successes and failures with you as we progress.  At the end of the day, like any other company we have to pay the bills.  We will continue to do that so that one day we can fully realize this vision and release the project to you, the unwashed.  

 

Singuistics: Gwich'in Edition

Pinnguaq is very excited to announce the first in a series of upgrades to the “Singuistics” language learning App.  We first released Singuistics in December 2013, as a way of being exposed to the Inuktitut language through the traditional songs and art of the Inuit people.  It is an iPad App that tries to embed culture and language in your head through music.  

Click to Download Immediately (Free- iPad only)

Click to Download Immediately (Free- iPad only)

After a number of years we are on the verge of rolling out at least four new languages over the next four months, and it all starts with Gwich’in.  

Working with the Tetlit Gwich’in of Fort McPherson in the Northwest Territories, we’ve put together an extremely unique take on the Singuistics learning system.   With the support of the “Aboriginal Language Initiative” of the federal Government and the Gwich’in Tribal Council, Singuistics is now available with 3 Gwich’in songs, and art done by John Bonnetplume of Fort McPherson.  

Sarah Peter Ga’ahdoh

Sarah Peter Ga’ahdoh

This edition of Singuistics sounds different than the rest.  The songs come from an old recording of a woman named Sarah Peter Ga’ahdoh  Sarah was born in 1894 and  In the early 1970s, Sarah sat down with her family and “CHAK Radio” and recorded a series of songs and stories.  We have over two hours of audio and have pulled out three of the songs she sang in that session to create these lessons. These songs are raw and a reflection of the way Sarah told stories and shared her culture.  We have at least 1 more song that we will be adding to the App at a later date.  

These pieces are provided by her Grandson, James Ross, of Fort Mcpherson. James helped us coordinate the Gwich’in edition on the ground in Fort McPherson, bringing together artists and language educators.   Eleanor Mitchell-Firth gets the credit for the excellent language lessons that were put together for this app, and John Bonnetplume created a series of incredible art, some of which we haven’t even been able to share yet.  This will come!  

The Tech

We took the last year bringing the core SInguistics engine from the X-Code programming software and in to Unity.  This will allow us to release Singuistics on a variety of other devices, beyond just the iPad (As it has previously only been available).  Look for Android, iOS phones and tablets and even desktop releases in the near future.  

Next

Singuistics is only going to grow from here.  Next up is the Anishinaabemowin songs we have prepared.  That will be followed by Cree and Dene versions.  Throughout we have additional Gwich’in songs (at least one), 3 new Inuktitut songs (featuring The Jerry Cans), and some more fine tuning and device releases to put out.  

All will grow within the app itself and we hope to spread this learning and play tool to any Indigenous language who is interested in using this tool.  The process is far from perfect, but our hope is that it provides a unique way to be introduced to the rich nations that inhabit this land, and the languages that build the place we all live today.   

Moving Away From Syllabics. The Syllabics Translator.

Pinnguaq is extremely happy to release an Inuktitut Syllabics Word Replacement extension for Google Chrome today.  By activating this extension your browser will automatically replace any Inuktitut Syllabics with Roman Orthography on any site you visit.   Instructions on how to install the extension are available here and we’re looking at the feasibility of expanding this extension to Edge and Firefox in the near future.  

This post specifically will deal with the “Why” for this release.  Why release an extension that converts syllabics to orthography?  Syllabics look awesome!  I’d be lying if I said how “Cool” syllabics look isn’t one of the main things that come up when developers agree to let us translate their games into Inuktitut.  For someone who doesn’t know Inuktitut and doesn’t need to, it adds a unique and fun character set to their game/product without much effort.  But for the rest of us, their relevance is increasingly waning.  

Yup, this looks pretty cool.  No doubt. 

Yup, this looks pretty cool.  No doubt. 

For those not familiar, Inuktitut syllabics were adapted from Cree syllabics in order to translate the bible.  They’ve since gone on to become arguably the dominant form of writing for Inuit people.  In the last year the Government of Nunavut has announced it wants to move away from syllabics in the education system and this move is supported (recommended) by the national Inuit organization, Inuit Tapariit Kanatami (ITK) in a March 2015 report.  

There are a lot of good reasons to abandon syllabics.  It creates two systems of writing (syllabics and orthography), it allows for standardization and the reality is, syllabics is a writing system imposed upon Inuit.  The report in March 2015 read

“Existing writing systems have been imposed on us. Canadian Inuit now have an opportunity to choose and create our own unified writing system,

Increasingly it appears that move will be towards Orthography.

It should be noted this transition will likely be the most difficult for elders who grew up on syllabics and are among the most literate in the territory today with written syllabics.  It is why (we assume) the Government is proposing a gradual change that starts in the education system.  It is why we will do our best to make Inuktitut available in both syllabics AND orthography and to provide choice.  

Beneath Floes run through the "Syllabics Translator" extension in Google Chrome

Beneath Floes run through the "Syllabics Translator" extension in Google Chrome

Speaking as a non-Inuit person there are benefits to moving away from syllabics as well.  To welcome new speakers (or in this case readers) to the language, syllabics add a second barrier of language that must be mastered to be able to participate in the language itself.  Sure, you may know that Nunavut means “Our Land”, but seeing it in syllabics and learning what each symbol represents is like learning a second type of Inuktitut.  For a language at risk this type of barrier to new speakers prohibits quick learning.  

As a non Inuktitut speaker, when you are surrounded by Inuktitut every day you begin to recognize patterns and are able to pick up words and meaning quickly.  Like anything, learning is constant and quick with total immersion.  As syllabics are moved away from, that learning will be better facilitated through reading/text as well.  

There are a lot of good reasons to move away from Syllabics and we welcome the public shift towards a standardized written language.  Syllabics look cool, no doubt.  But for those who want to really understand what is going on, we hope this tool can help.  

Syllabics Translator Extension (Installation Instructions)

Inuktitut Syllabics Translator for Google Chrome will automatically convert Inuktitut syllabics in to Roman Orthography.  Our reason for this extension is explored in this blog post.  If you're this far you're probably interested in installing it.  Here is how.

1.) Ensure you run Google Chrome.

This extension will only run on Google Chrome.  So ensure you have it by downloading it here.  We are exploring the possibility of bringing this extension to Microsoft Edge (Internet Explorer) and Firefox.  Interested?  Let us know so we know there would be some value.

2.) Install the Extension.

Click on this link to visit the Extension page.  Click the big blue button that reads "ADD EXTENSION TO CHROME" in the top right corner.  

You will be asked to confirm the installation and then notified once it is successful.  

That was easy.

3.) Report Problems.

There may be issues with the translations as they occur on the fly.  Please let us know so we can make this extension better!

4.) Delete/Turn off the Extension.

Longing to see syllabics again?  Click on the "Window" menu in Chrome, then "Extensions".  Simply uncheck the extension you want to disable.  Click the garbage can if you want to remove it completely.

Notes:

  • This extension will only convert text.  It will not work on images.  

An Evening To Celebrate Indigenous Gaming and Comic Books

July 30th 2015 at Bento Miso in Toronto, Ontario we are co-presenting an event called "An Evening To Celebrate Indigenous Games and Comics".  It will run from 7pm-9pm and do exactly what the title suggests.  Create a space to celebrate the work of Indigenous game makers, games and comic books (held in the evening).   Games with Indigenous themes, team members or that celebrate the richness of Indigenous cultures around the world are welcome.  This is a part of the Planet IndigenUS festival being held across Toronto.   This will also be the official launch party of Moonshot, a collection of Indigenous comics put out by AH Comics and Hope Nicholson.  

Over the next week in advance of the event we will take a brief look at some of the games being showcased, all on this page.  Check back regularily for updates!  


Game 11:  Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime

Take control of a massive neon battleship in this 1- or 2-player couch co-op action game. Deep space is a dangerous place, but you don't have to face it alone!
Asteroid Base is a Toronto-based indie game making studio that formed in 2011 in Toronto’s game jam scene. To date we have released one game, Shuriken Skies, and are currently working on Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime.


Game 10:  Aeroplane (Art Alive)

Aeroplane is a 1976 print from Cape Dorset Artist Pudlo Pudlat. It showcases Pudlo’s fascination with mechanical transportation and was featured on a Canadian Postage Stamp. In 2015, in collaboration with Mobilizing Inuit Cultural Heritage and the McMichael Gallery of Canadian Art, Pinnguaq created an interactive exhibit around “Aeroplane” called “Art Alive”.
The player is brought deeper into the intension behind the print in a fun and interactive little game that explores Pudlo’s inspiration and talent.

Youtube Preview - Journey Into Fantasy Press Release


Game 9:  Manidoonsug: Little Spirits

Manidoonsug is about helping people remember the way of life inherited by those who lived in this land for thousands of years.  Most people have forgotten about this way of life, and it hasn’t taken long for the Earth to become polluted, suffocating in the cloud of the modern industry and becoming increasingly ill in the time since. In consultation with Mississauga New Credit and other primarily Annishinabe groups around the GTA, we have worked to create an interactive world which players experience through the lens of traditional Ojibwe people. As the circle of life persists, it can be seen that the illnesses present in the world at large also exist within ourselves as people. Players will help to keep their virtual, self-governing band members existing in harmony with the living world around them by helping them decide what they need from the environment to live full, sustainable lives in respect of our collective existence as a whole. Even the littlest of spirits do their part to make our life the gift it is


Game 8:  Brokenhead Bingo

Brokenhead Bingo was created in 5 days and submitted it to the app store on the Brokenhead Ojibway First Nation in Manitoba.  Ogoki Learning Systems Inc helps train First Nations and Native American Tribes how to create language and game apps.  They do this to introduce new skills to the First Nation and improve computer and programming skills.
The training had about 8 attendees helping in various capacities to create this amazing game. They had no experience in game development but quickly learned the ropes and created an amazing iPhone game! 


Game 7:  Flappy Witch Bird

Developed through the Arviat Code Club sessions hosted by Pinnguaq in February 2015.  Jamie Okatsiak is a leader and a trainer for the Code Club sessions that still run to this day in Arviat.  He teaches kids from across Arviat the fundamentals of programming and introduces the importance of games to Nunavummiut. Jamie was the first trained “Trainer” from the Code Club sessions in Nunavut and this was the first completely independent game he created.  


Game 6:  Ienién:te and the Peacemaker’s Wampum

Participants of the Skins 4.0 workshop at Concordia University from May 27th until June 14th, 2013 created this game. Ienién:te and the Peacemaker’s Wampum opens with our heroine, Ienién:te (yeh-YAWN-day), returning home from university with her brand new Archeology degree, where she is visited by a bear spirit in a dream. The spirit tells her of evil wrongdoings nearby which only she can set right. Using a combination of the school smarts she brings home from university and the traditional knowledge that she learns from her grandmother in the game, Ienién:te avoids security guards and solves increasingly difficult puzzles to reach an ancient sacred and powerful artifact--the Peacemaker’s original wampum. The wampum was stolen by her evil archaeology professor, who is using its power to fuel his own immortality. Only by rediscovering her culture and returning the artifacts can she foil his aspirations of world domination and protect all worlds from the powerful, ancient evils he had carelessly unleashed.


Game 5:  Skahiòn:hati: Rise of the Kanien'kehá:ka Legends

Participants of the previous Skins workshops wanted to continue developing their games, so we collectively decided to merge the stories. The result was this four-level game in which we meet Skahiòn:hati as a brash youth, itching to get out of his village. He is sent on a mission to fight the fearsome Stone Giant. Later, as a seasoned hunter, he must overcome the zombie-like Tree People before he can use the information from an elder’s story to beat the terrifying Flying Head.
Skins 3.0 took place from March 2012 to July 2012 at Concordia University in Montreal. The collective was composed of Mohawks of Kahnawa:ke.


Game 4:  The Adventures of Skahiòn:hati: Legend of Stone Giant

Drawing on old stories from the Mohawk community of Kahnawa:ke, this game introduces us to Skahion:hati, a boastful young man who lives in a pre-contact Iroquois village that comes under threat by the legendary Stone Giant.
Skins 2.0 Skins Summer Institute took place over 14 intensive days, from July 16 - 29, 2011, at Concordia University in Montreal. Using the Unity game engine, a team of Mohawk participants completed one level of this adventure.


Game 3:  Otsì:! Rise of the Kanien’kehá:ka Legend

Otsì:! Rise of the Kanien’kehá:ka Legends draws on several tales from the Mohawk community of Kahnawa:ke, creating a narrative about an Iroquois hunter on a mission to stop the dreadful Flying Head from destroying his village. A range of mentors and experts in Iroquois culture guided the teenagers in translating the oral tradition into a video game.


Game 2:  We Sing For Healing

We Sing for Healing is a musical text adventure game made from a place where Google Maps can't zoom in and Skype doesn't load, using Dreamweaver and Adobe Photoshop with SoundCloud tracks by Exquisite Ghost. It is a statement on the digital divide, a subtle weaving of traditional teachings, and a reflection on how the meaning is in the meaning you make, recognizing that the player makes the meaning.


Game 1:  Gravity Ghost

Developed by Erin Robinson Swink, Gravity Ghost tells the story of Iona, a 12-year-old ghost girl, as she searches the galaxy for her lost friend the ghost fox. Along the way you learn about her struggles with growing up, as well as the friendships she forms on the small island where her family lives. Iona comes from a family of lighthouse keepers, and though it is never explicitly mentioned in the game, they are Sami immigrants to the United States. Gravity Ghost was developed by a small team including Renee Nejo, who is Native American. The team aspired to make a peaceful game with universal themes of love, family, and loss.

Pinnguaq; Growing!

About six months ago we began movement to expand Pinnguaq into more opportunities in other markets.  The game industry is just a small piece of a world of interactive media that is still being defined and explored.   Over the next few months we will roll out a branding change to Pinnguaq, a new series of websites (let's face it - we're overdue), and a new company based in Toronto that will work in film, specifically with a focus on 360 degree and virtual reality filmmaking.

Over the next few paragraphs we will roll out a new owner and partner, our first few projects in this new field and take a look at some of the upcoming work both the not for profit and the game division is working on.

A New Owner and Partner

I'd like to introduce you to Nyla Innuksuk.  Nyla is an established filmmaker whose most recent work includes an award winning short that debuted at TIFF, and a bunch of other stuff that is
under NDA right now - but trust me is going to be awesome.   She has also done some other reallygreat works.  You should see them all. 

Nyla is not only coming on as an owner, but as a key creative partner and lead and a lot of what we do over this lifetime is going to have Nyla's fingerprints all over it.  

360 Film/VR 

Nyla brings with her established film experience and that led us to exploring what is possible with 360 degree and VR filmmaking.  We believe it provides an opportunity for not only greater immersion and unique ways of experiencing film and games, but the 
opportunity to tell stories in a new way. We believe our previous work in games is going to meld well with our new film focus as we create deeply creative and interactive stories.  A lot of projects are in the works and they'll be announced as they're ready.    

We've begun our exploration with 360/VR film over the last 24 hours.  Last night we shot Tanya Tagaq's performance of "Nanook
of the North" at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and this morning Nyla took off for Ecuador as a part of a team led by Adamson Systems to capture the Pope's appearance in the country in front of 1 million people on July 6th 2015.   This summer will be spent perfecting our technique with 360/VR film and major projects will follow.  

The Pinnguaq Association and Our Games Division

With the release of "Art Alive", the rest of Pinnguaq turns it's focus in many different directions.  We aim to continue to improve and expand the current edition of Art Alive, with plans to expand it rapidly across the world in the next year.  We will explore other art forms and other ways of creating interactive art.  Singuistics continues to be on track for a mid-September release in six full Indigenous languages.  All we are looking for is a Mi'kmaq partner now!  

At the same time we have begun work on some of our first work not rooted in Indigenous culture as we are tackling a classic Arcade IP from Japan to bring it to a modern audience.  That game will be announced in the next few months as the legal is finalized.  

Pinnguaq Association has just been blessed with funding from the Nunavut Department of Culture and Heritage to bring at least 5 existing games to Inuktitut over this coming year.  Have a game you want to make available in the Inuit language?  Contact us!

At the same time we are working on an Inuktitut Syllabics typing program to teach people how to use the Inuit keyboard on a computer, as well as expanding our Code Club offerings to Iqaluit and soon the country with an online infrastructure that will be able to support clubs across Canada without us needing to be there physically.  

Best Company Photo Ever

Best Company Photo Ever

To Boldly Go...

We're excited about where we are headed.  Games still play a vital roll in what we do, but as both the success and the demise of Tale of Tales tells us, one must be ready to always pivot and explore new ways of creative expression, of interaction and of finding ways to make money, money, make money, money.  Bills won't pay themselves!  Yet.

Storytelling- Art Alive Post 4

Art exists to tell a story in a way that mere words cannot.  Inuit culture is an oral one and often the best records we have of the experience pre and during contact are those told through art.  The imagery that has come out of Inuit communities through visual arts tells us more about the culture and people than meer photographs or written stories can.  Each image and carving is the story not only of a culture, of a time but also of the person who created it.

With Art Alive we aim to tell those stories in a unique way, but one that still sticks to the original vision of the artist.  Interactive media allows us to take storytelling to its next logical step.  The story can unfold with the progress of the user and often in the direction the user takes it.   

The deeper engagement that interactive media allows users to be engaged with the stories the artists tell at a level previously not possible. Getting The Stories So how do we get the stories?  Of the seven images we’re currently working with only one of the artists is still alive (and we are fortunate to be able to consult directly with him).  The deceased artists present a quandary when attempting to represent the original intent of their work.  

For the show opening at the McMichael Gallery of Canadian Art on June 20th, we are focused entirely on the artist Pudlo Pudlat.   He passed in 1992 but left behind a portfolio of work that tells amazing stories about his interaction with both the traditional and “modern” world.   Fortunately, for us, Pudlo’s life was well documented and academics have been analyzing his work for decades.  Through interviews with Pudlo as well as various academic analysis of his text we were able to craft a narrative that we believe reflects his own experiences and intentions.  

What story was Pudlo trying to tell with "Aeroplane"? Fortunately dozens of Academics and art lovers asked him while he was still alive! 

What story was Pudlo trying to tell with "Aeroplane"? Fortunately dozens of Academics and art lovers asked him while he was still alive! 

Telling The Stories

When we tell the stories we want to tell three aspects of the work we’re using;

  1. Art Alive focuses first and foremost on a narrative that reflects as much as we can the original intent of the piece.  We attempt in our own storytelling to reflect and tell the story the artist intended with his piece.
  2. Second we want to tell a story about the artist him/herself.  An artists experiences and reflections on his/her life can often tell us about the inspiration and the influence that led to the piece as it exists now.
  3. Finally when relevant, we tell the story of the medium and technique to create the art.   Certain paint styles were not introduced in Cape Dorset until after 1976 and Pudlo’s work reflects that.  A print innovation workshop was held in Pangnirtung in 2010 and the results are reflected in the 2011 collection.   If those stories are relevant to the experience, we will tell you all about it.  
Paperwork spread out over desk for dramatic effect.

Paperwork spread out over desk for dramatic effect.

Only two weeks until the show at The McMichael Gallery of Canadian Art opens and next week we will be inside the gallery helping to setup.  Make sure you follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and/or Tumblr for lots of pretty pictures and a live preview of the game as it is installed into one of the most historic galleries in Canada.  

Bringing 2D Characters To Life- Art Alive Post 3

How do the characters and elements in Art Alive come to life?  What dastardly wizardry are we employing in order to bring people that have been frozen in time and place for decades into the living and breathing (artificial) world?  Contrary to what you might think, the process does involve wizards and the sacrifice of goats.    We wouldn't have it any other way.

Dissecting The Print

The first step is to remove the elements from the print themselves so they are controllable.   In this process we often have to create elements that were not there originally.  If a person or landscape is partially covered by another element, the elements that are covered must be recreated so we don’t have people walking around without shoulders or mountains with person size holes in the middle of them.

For this we turn to the experts.  Amberlea Williams is an Ottawa based artist and she pretty much rules at everything she does.  We send the prints to her and within 24 hours usually have them back in layers upon layers of detail with each element meticulously recreated and dissected for our own use.   She’s the best, buy her stuff.  

Breaking It Down

We'll talk more about how we develop the stories we work with in a future blog post, but once the story is developed we have a pretty good idea as to what elements we want to animate.  We then set about animating those specific elements.   

Each character is broken down into individual components.  Arms, legs, noses; it’s all there for us to play with.

Take this example of a character from the print “Reward for a Successful Hunt” by Piona Keyuakjuk of Pangnirtung, Nunavut.   

You can see the individual photoshop layers that are created.  We can, and often do, break it down even further.  Providing us with control over everything from hands to even individual fingers.

Mapping A Structure

The character’s elements are then imported into Unity and rebuilt.  Each element goes in, in a jumble of pieces and the character must be reassembled.  Each component as it is pulled out is placed back into Unity and rebuilt.   The characters body parts are layered in order to provide a sense of depth and provide more natural looking movement.  

Without getting too far into the technical, the character is built into Unity’s animation system.  Each dot on this image below represents a “key frame” in the animation sequence where the elements of the character are manipulated and moved.  We assign the value of these dots in advance and then run a sequence which calls on those assigned values.  

Viewed visually we can see it represented by animation curves.  

When put all together, our man is suddenly moving and beginning to show signs of life.

Advanced Structure

This is a basic glossing over the animation structure that Art Alive uses.  It’s worth mentioning that we also employ a technique that actually allows us to physically map a false skeletal structure to 2D figures and it automatically brings them to life.  

In essence we take a 2D figure and apply the skeletal structure like so.

Each key feature on the creature is highlighted and assigned a roll. We tell the computer where his skeleton is and it does all the math for us from there, manipulating the 2D images at our whim.

When that is done we assign a standard animation loop as we discussed above, calling the necessary movements when we want them.  We then end up with an animated character such as this:

Oh, and then we sacrifice a Goat with the help of our resident Wizard. Obvi.  

More next week and keep your eyes peeled as we may be doing a live development stream this week from Vancouver.  

News

How Art Alive Began- Art Alive Blog Post 2

In this post we will look at where the original ideas for Art Alive come from, how they grew into a life of their own and where we see them going.

Idea Born From Qalupalik

It’s the nature of game development that as you iterate on ideas, new ideas tend to form and if you’re not careful you can get wildly out of control and working on twenty projects at one time.  This is Pinnguaq.  We can’t say no to an idea.  

img2.wikia.nocookie.net___cb20110412030148_mario_es_images_8_82_Super-mario-bros-2-usa-characters-1-

We’re working on a game called “Qalupalik”.  It’s our biggest game and features a considerable amount of running and jumping.  Right from the start we knew we had to figure out how to make jumping fun.  

Jumping in games may seem like a basic concept but it can make or break a game.  Look at Mario Brothers 2.  One of the key things that make Mario, Peach, Luigi and Toad play so differently is the way they jump.    This basic mechanic, slightly tweaked can change entirely how a game is played.  

A modern platformer game relies on perfect level design and the ability to time jumps well.  The modern Zelda games tend to “auto jump”, meaning if you approach an area that you would normally jump and you're at the appropriate speed, the game takes care of the jump for you.  Both are great, but what would work for Qaluaplik?

Cube Jumper

This is where we began our prototyping for Qalupalik and this is how Art Alive was born.  We created a number of different games that explored the various ways of jumping in a game.  We explore a number of those prototypes in this blog post, but one prototype stuck with us as we moved into where Qalupalik is now.  That prototype we called “Cube Jumper”.

Yeah, literally. It was a cube that jumped.

Yeah, literally. It was a cube that jumped.

Cube Jumper invoked a very simple control scheme on a tablet that allowed the user to control and time jumps across a constantly moving scene.  It was challenging, developed in a day and extremely fun.  At the same time, Ryan, who had spent the previous six years working in the arts in Nunavut had a desire to create a game around Inuit art.  ALSO at the same time we were all playing through the great game on the history of typography and fonts, “Type: Rider”.  It was the perfect storm of influence.  Art Alive was born.  

We wrote up a page of ideas that included this single image:  

The idea was to create a game where the player starts as a blob of ink and slowly start to take form and recreate themselves on a print.   The player would start by rolling across the level and as he/she takes form it would reveal elements of the print, brought to life. The idea is that, like Type:Rider it would explore a story that entertains as much as educates.  

The First Art Alive Prototypes

From there we started holding Google Hangout conference calls in the print room of Uqqurmiut, going through decades of Pangnirtung prints and trying to decide which ones to start with.  

Ultimately we decided on a number of prints and started experimenting.  We took the prints, cut out the various elements and created 3D outlines of them in blender.  Soon these elements were coming to life and creating platform like elements to each one.  

In this example you can see a portion of the print in which we first identified the elements we wanted to create as platforms.

Then cut it out in a program like Photoshop where they were broken down and identified.

They were then brought into Blender and made into 3D objects which finally;

Were pushed into Unity to create platforms.

As Art Alive has grown it has moved significantly beyond these humble origins with the duck print.  The games you will see on June 20th at McMichaels incorporate all sorts of influence but center around the same basic idea, learning and exploring art in an interactive space.  We’ll start to explore those ideas in the coming weeks.  

News

Bringing Art To Life- Art Alive 1

June 20th 2015 at the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg, Ontario (just North of Toronto), Pinnguaq will be debuting the first fully interactive Inuit art exhibition.  Our game “Art Alive” will take over Gallery 7 at McMichael to introduce users to the work of Pudlo Pudlat.  We are currently working with five of Pudlo’s prints and 5 original drawings to create interactive gaming experiences that explore the stories and life of Pudlo Pudlat of Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Nunavut. In the weeks leading up to the release of Art Alive, we’ll be detailing a series of blog posts here on the site to prepare users for the release.  We'll examine the technical side of the work, share video of development and share the stories of the prints, artists and work we’re doing.

Art Alive Needs A Logo:

Are you a budding graphic designer, an experienced graphic designer or a railway engineer looking to move from trains to logo design? We've yet to settle on a logo for Art Alive and we're welcoming any and all humans to touch base via our contact form

Send us some samples and we will describe what we're looking for and how little we'll pay you for it. Thanks!

So what is Art Alive?  An introduction seems as good a place to start as any.  Art Alive is a celebration of art in the interactive medium.   In Art Alive we take existing pieces of Art and both digitally and academically dissect them.  From the digital side we take each piece of the art and separate them from each other into “assets” that we can then utilize.  from the academic side we take a deeper look at each piece than all but the foremost experts in the field have done to ensure we know the story, the intent and the history of the piece and the artist.    With those two steps in place we have the tools necessary to bring the art literally to life and allow it to tell the story the original artist intended.  

In Art Alive a player will start in a gallery looking at a variety of pieces on the wall.  By approaching these pieces the player is given an introduction to the art and unlike most galleries, encouraged to touch the work.  Interaction with the work on the wall brings it to life and the player is thrust into the game.  Each piece will feature between 4-7 “levels” that weave a player through the story of the piece, the artist and the time that the art represents.  In development we focused on a developing series of small, intuitive games that can relay the story of “art”, in whatever form it happens to take.  In one moment a player may be a ball of ink, bringing colour to the world of the print, in another the player may be responsible for manipulating and rearranging the elements of the piece through puzzles or active challenges.  

Over the next month or so leading up to the release we’ll share more and more about Art Alive and have you fully prepared for it’s first installation in late June 2015.  Throughout the Pan Am Games in Toronto, Art Alive will be on display and available at the McMichael gallery with further installations to follow around Canada and an eventual worldwide release.  Keep focused on our Twitter, Facebook or this site for regular updates, the next one will be here shortly.  

Projects

Pinnguaq Scholarship 2015

Pinnguaq is proud to announce the 2015 Pinnguaq Scholarship.  Pinnguaq is awarding $6,000 by August 2015 to a student attending post secondary education in a field connected to digital media development or S.T.E.M fields of study.  

Applicants of all ages, gender identity and ethnicity are invited to apply.   Must be a resident of Nunavut. 

Please e-mail Pinnguaq, or use the Contact Us form.  Here is what we need to see from you:

  • Offer of acceptance from a program.
  • Resume/CV of work experience
  • A write up (max one page) explaining your past, present and future with digital media developments.  

Payments will be made in $3000 chunks in August/September 2015 and December 2015/January 2016.

More details to follow.  Contact Ryan Oliver.  

News

From Concept To Game- Qalupalik Main Character

We have not shared a lot about Qalupalik in quite a while and with GDC running this week we wanted to share how we came about the creation of our main character for Qalupalik.   The character is, at this point, unnamed, though internally we’re calling him Ani (brother).  

Our hope is that we’ll be able to create both a female and male playable character, assuming the sky high costs of figuring out how to create female characters in games comes down.   However in the early stages we did design versions of both the male and the female.

Concept Art: Man and Woman

It all starts with concept art, and our concept artist, Jonathan Wright is among the best.  From Iqaluit, Nunavut, Jonathan put together these two images for our two main characters.  Qalupalik is set in modern day Nunavut and it is important that our lead character looks authentic to the Nunavummiut we work with on a daily basis.  

In preparing the Demo for GDC we had to pick one character to focus on and ultimately we went with the male.  His style of dress combines both traditional and modern.  A theme of Qalupalik is the idea of having a “foot in both worlds”.  Nunavut is a ripe place for seeing this in action.  Inuit tradition still features prominently in the day to day lives of Nunavummiut while at the same time access to television, the internet and other “western” creations are adapted and combined to create a unique style.  

As the character grew we debated his style.  We were conscious of moving away from the 100% traditional look of Never Alone to ensure there was no confusion between the two games.. (Well, more confusion then there has already been).  

Authentic Nunavut

Walk into any Nunavut community and find a male age 16-20, you’ll be looking at some of the influence on our main character.    The baseball cap under a hoodie, the work gloves (likely borrowed from a family member who is a carver or works in construction), the seal skin jacket (homemade), with the store bought snowpants.   Running shoes instead of boots.  A version of our character lives in every Nunavut community.  

We set out with not only this game but with the company as a whole to represent what Nunavut looks like now, and it is embodied entirely in our main character.

We had some brief debates around what sort of clothes the character would wear and ultimately leaned on the advice of Jonathan’s wife, and Iqaluit filmmaker, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril.   Towards the end my policy towards development just because “Just do what Alethea says”.  

The designs were then passed off to the Michigan studio, Underbite, and despite having never set foot in an Inuit community in their lives they brought our character to life better than we could have ever hoped.  

He is now living and breathing (and jumping) in Qalupalik and truly represents what we see as modern Nunavut, and a modern Inuk in a video game.  

Events

Tour Dates

Pinnguaq travels significantly and we bring our games/ideas with us.  Wanna meet or try something out?  Check us out at the following events! 

 

Date Community Location Event Games Available
February 13 2015 Waterloo, Ontario The Museum Aboriginal Intersections Singuistics, Qalupalik
February 16-20 2015 Arviat, Nunavut School Arviat Code Club  
February 17-18 2015 Toronto, Ontario York University MICH Team Meetings Art Alive
February 27/28 2015 Toronto, Ontario York University York Code Club Sessions  
March 2-6 2015 San Francisco, CA Monscone Centre (GDC Play- Booth PL501) GDC '15 (GDC Play) Qalupalik, Art Alive, Singuistics
March 14/15 2015 Toronto, Ontario OCAD Crafting Sustainability Art Alive
April 14/15 2015 Iqaluit, Nunavut The Forbisher Inn Nunavut Mining Symposium Using Tech for Education (Talk)
April 27-29th 2015 Gatineau, QC Hilton Lac-Leamy NS @ 30 Inuit Education (Talk). Art Alive, Code Club, Singuistics
May 9 2015 Toronto, ON Bento Miso Bit Bizzar #5 Singuistics, Atii Game Show, Art Alive, Qalupalik. Indigenous Gaming Showcase.
May 25-28 2015 Vancouver, BC Hyatt Regency Hotel Public Health 2015 Code Club/Mental Health (Talk)
July 30th 2015 Toronto, Ontario Bento Miso Planet IndigenoUS Celebration Qalupalik, Art Alive, Singuistics, Atii Gameshow, More
August 8th 2015 Toronto, Ontario Harbourfront Centre Planet IndigenoUS DigiLoop Details TBA

Projects

Singuistics Update!

Pinnguaq is really happy to announce that in addition to adding 4 brand new Inuktitut songs to our popular language learning App, "Singuistics", we will also be adding five new Indigenous languages to the App in the early parts of 2015.  Pinnguaq is currently working with partners across five Indigenous nations to develop add ons for Singuistics in;

      - Anishanaabemowin

      - Cree

      - Dene

      - Mi'kmaq

      - Gwich'in

Please note that exact dialects and communities being represented are still being finalized and will be properly represented in the final release.  

While we have partners spread across Canada right now, we're still in an early phase of the project and always welcome input and collaboration from any interested parties.  We require;

       - Language experts from each Nation to help share their knowledge

       - Songs recorded in the languages listed above.  (Traditional songs are prefered, 1-2 mins - though we're open to modern interpretations as well)

       - Artists to interpret the songs visually as learning aids.

       - Any and all interested members of the above listed Nations who would like to playtest, consult and advise as we move forward.  

More details to come as we move this project into high gear!  Stay tuned as we develop the only App to represent six Indigenous languages within the same infrastructure.  

News

The True Cost of Never Alone for Nunavummiut

Never Alone was released this past week and for those unfamiliar it is the first game to come out of the worlds "first Indigenous owned video game developer and publisher in US history".  It's an important game, especially for Nunavummiut as it focuses on Inupiaq culture, a cousin of Inuit.  The only language spoken in the game is Inupiaq, a very very close cousin to the Inuktitut language.  It is replete with cultural stories and features and tells a story familiar to Inuit and Nunavummiut.  Pinnguaq was created because we saw our friends and family playing games that did not reflect the experience they lived day to day.  Never Alone is one of the first games to be released that truly does reflect that experience.  Naturally, for us, it is exciting and we believe it should be mandatory playing for all, but especially the people of the Circumpolar Arctic.  

 

Never Alone

I was excited when it was released and immediately downloaded the game.  On PC the game is around 2.5 gigs.  Not the largest game by any means, but it got me thinking about what that means for Nunavummiut.   We are limited by our infrastructure and pay the most for Internet in the country.  This very important game would for most people take up a full quarter of their monthly bandwidth allowance.  So what does it cost for Nunavummiut to play experiences that are finally reflecting their culture?  

A majority of Nunavut communities are serviced by the ISP "Qiniq", a subsidiary of SSI Micro.  The rates for Internet can be simply broken down into three easy catagories.  These can be found by clicking on this link, but I've recreated the basics below and added a third column that expressed those costs in "cost per megabyte".

 

Plan Name: Atiigiallak Atii Plus Atii Pro
Transfer Ratio 10gb 15gb 30gb
Cost Per Month $80 $129.95 $369.95
Cost Per GB $8.00 $8.66 $12.33
Overage Fee $17.50/Gig $16.00/Gig $15.00/Gig

Most homes have either the Atiigiallak (10gb/Month) or Atii Plus ($15gb/Month).  What really gets most people is when that transfer ratio expires.  Then users are asked to pay between $17.50/Gig and $15/Gig for each additional Gig used over.  It is very rare for users to not go over their bandwidth transfer ratio in a single month.  

We should take nothing away from the work Qiniq is doing.  They are doing above and beyond the best they can with the limited and constantly at risk support they receive from the federal Government and because of Qiniq, every community in Nunavut (even Grise Fiord) has working Internet.

But what is the true cost for Nunavummiut to play this game in their home communities?  It's pretty simple math.

The game is currently retailing for $15.29 (Canadian) on Steam.  Presently on sale (regular price is $16.99) due to its release.  The file to download is ~ 2.5 Gigbytes and that makes for some pretty simple math.  

 

Plan Name: Atiigiallak Atii Plus Atii Pro
Cost of Never Alone $15.29 $15.29 $15.29
Bandwidth Cost(2.5 Gig File) $20.00 $21.65 $30.83
Actual Cost of Game $35.29 $36.94 $46.12

This assumes that Nunavummiut will sacrifice the 2.5 Gigs they normally use during a month.  Without a doubt in most households, this type of download would drive users into "overage fees", meaning the additional cost to download the game would range from $37.50 (2.5 Gigs at $15/Gig) to $43.75 (2.5 Gigs at $17.00/Gig).  This means that with the cost of the game ($15.29), a user would be looking at a total cost of as much as $59.04.

 

If only Nunavut had a company willing to install a fiber optic line. Oh, we do?  Let's hope the Federal Government can find it within themselves to not balk at backing such a worthwhile endeavor to help bring down the cost of living and bring up the quality of life for all Nunavummiut.

If there is one game Nunavummiut deserve to play, it's Never Alone.  They shouldn't have to pay 4 times as much to do so as everyone else.