We know it’s been a while since we’ve posted an update, and for that we apologize. While this may create the appearance that we’re not up to much these days, the truth is actually quite the opposite. Since late summer, we’ve been busier than ever with many new and exciting project across Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Gaming and even some very experimental work in Photogrammetry for Immersive Cinema.
The fact of the matter is, we’ve simply not had time to do full updates and though much of what we can talk about has been quickly posted on our Facebook, and Twitter streams, more often than not we can’t talk about the work we’re doing, and we learned on Clandestine: Anomaly that sometimes it’s better to wait, as talking can create it’s own set of challenges.
While some of these project are still in the R & D phase, others have been recently released or are on the verge of official announcements. Outside of specific projects, what we can talk about and what will be the focus of this update is some of the local events, panels and talks ZenFri has participated in since our last update.
Updates to Come
But first a little taste of the updates that are coming just around the corner.
After this week’s update we hope to post a special report on the city-wide augmented reality scavenger hunt mobile app we created alongside Bit Space Development for the Cinémental film festival’s 25th anniversary titled “Cinémental 25“. If you’ve been following us on social media you’ll know that app got quite a lot of local press including a Metro News cover story.
As the app was event-focused, the Scavenger Hunt portion of app’s life cycle was much shorter than normal, and so we’ve put some time into creating a video that helps preserves the idea of how the app was intended to be experienced. We hope to have that special and detailed blog in the weeks to come.
If you can’t wait to learn more about the App, Bit Space posted a blog about it upon its release that you can check out here.
Starting in January we hope to share some exciting news about The Last Taxi. We’ve gone dark on that project for quite some time, tweaking the idea and seeking out funding to turn the base idea into something truly special. These efforts have not been in vain, and we’ll have more to discuss on that front in 2017.
Recent Community Talks and Appearances
So that’s a bunch of hints about all the things we aren’t yet ready to talk about, but what else have we been up to?
Well, October and November was a busy time for local events:
- MGUG Conference (Manitoba GIS User Group) on October 7th;
- The opening festivities for Cinémental on the 12th;
- Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce‘s Small Business Summit featuring a Keynote from Winnipeg’s Mayor Brian Bowman on the 20th;
- The massive industry-wide IGDA + New Media Manitoba “Perspectives on Virtual Reality” panel also on the 20th;
- Yes! Winnipeg and Manitoba Technology Accelerator Reception with local machine-learning startup Sightline Innovation investor Jim Balsillie that featured surprise talks from both the City’s Mayor and Premier Brian Pallister on the 23rd which closed out October;
- And finally New Media Manitoba hosted a talk titled “Marketing Video Games” in 2017 with Shane Neville on November 23rd.
ZenFri was at each of these events in one capacity or another. We’ve provided some details below.
The MGUG Fall Conference is an annual single day gathering of Manitoba’s GIS (Geographic information system) Community where members and community experts gather to share knowledge and discuss trends.
This year’s event was filled with exciting speakers including a Keynote from Dr. Bob Fraser, who received his postdoctoral research at the University of Manitoba’s Department of Computer Science before moving on to work on Location and Semantic Location systems at Google. His talk discussed how Google is working to improve information convergence and context of Beacon, GPS and Wireless Data systems to better understand user habits in exchange for providing more relevant, context aware data.
The conference also brought lots to the table about how GIS is used for everything from creating regional climate change models, to air traffic control systems and agricultural management.
It really is a fascinating field with lots of interesting work going on locally.
Our contribution to the conference was a talk by Corey titled “Using Location Data for Gaming and Other Entertainment – State of the Art & Emerging Trends” where he discussed lessons learned in developing Clandestine: Anomaly, the impact of Pokémon Go and where the future of this technology is heading when it comes to entertainment.
We were as impressed both by how large and engaged the local GIS community is, as we were by the the caliber of talks.
Cinémental 25th Anniversary Festivities
While our next blog will be a deep dive into the “Cinémental 25” App itself, festivities surrounding the festival’s 25th anniversary were also a noteworthy part of our October.
The festival opened on October 12th and ran until the 23rd, providing two weekends of feature length French language films, many of which were subtitled in English.
As a company founded by film students, we’re huge fans of French-language cinema which is, in part, what drew us to the project. This enthusiasm ensured we didn’t merely build an app (and write a ton of content about Franco-Manitoban history), but that we attended the festival as much as we could.
During its opening night, the festival’s Board of Directors were kind enough to ask us to speak about the app and demonstrate its novel capabilities. While we felt bad being the only presenters to speak in English, we were honoured to be integrated into the festival in a formal and enthusiastic way.
Honestly, we were happy to be a part of the such a long lasting and culturally significant festival. The French community in Winnipeg sure knows how to make an anglophone feel jealous about the level of cooperation and collaboration in their community. Beyond these warm sentiments, the festival itself was a great event, and one we hope to attend again in future years.
Small Business Summit
Being members of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce has brought us many benefits over the years. From being on community roundtables, appearing several times on their radio program and receiving a nomination for the Spirit of Winnipeg Award in the Small Business category, to providing input to the Bold Winnipeg initiative, and having a presence on their Innovation Leadership Council, the Chamber has made our unconventional, little creative company feel at home in the local business community.
Apart from what it has done for us directly, we truly believe the Chamber’s dedication to small businesses is critical to the success of our business community, which is why we’re excited when they introduced the Small Business Summit in early 2016. The Summits are meant to act as an information transfer across industries and between the public and private sector.
The second iteration of the summit was on October 20th, and features a Keynote address from Mayor Brian Bowman, and we were in attendance to learn more about how the city operates and what they hope to do for small businesses.
A 3rd such event is currently slated for December 1st, you can find the details here.
Perspectives on Virtual Reality Panel
On the same day as the Small Business Summit was the IGDA and New Media Manitoba sponsored industry panel, “Perspectives on Virtual Reality”.
This panel brought together representation from nearly every Virtual Reality game development firm in the city, and was a true show of how far our industry has come and where it’s headed. Looking across the 8-person panel you can literally see the future of Winnipeg interactive experience development (missing of course are a few key players as the panel was already quite large).
This community is releasing more games than ever before, across more platforms than ever before and a core contingent of the developers on this panel have released cutting edge or world renowned virtual and augmented reality content with folks from Owlchemy Lab‘s Graeme Borland (Job Simulator), Campfire Union‘s John Luxford (Lost Cities VR), and Kert Gartner the indie game trailer extraordinaire and mixed reality pioneer behind industry-leading trailers for games like Fantastic Contraption all together on a single stage, with our own Corey King (Clandestine: Anomaly / The Last Taxi) also contributing.
The panel also featured Darrick Baxter of Ogoki Learning Inc for the first time at an IGDA event. Ogoki Learning is a 100% First Nations owned and operated company, specializing in Tribal Language Apps and games, and they have a release history that puts most other local firms to shame. We hope we hear more from these unique and innovative companies in the year ahead.
Also on the panel was long-time community leader Dylan Fries of Electric Monk Media and Winnipeg Game Jam (which has basically grown into a local institution), and Dan Blair and Julia Passamani of the fast growing and dynamic Bit Space Development. We have an extreme positive bias towards the folks a Bit Space, both from their work on Cinémental 25, and for a number of reasons we can’t yet talk about, but which you’ll be hearing more about soon.
The epic 2 hour panel took place in a filled lecture hall at Red River College and spanned a wide range of topics including gaming, education, market trend and ethics. Fortunately, the Winnipeg Chamber’s Matthew TenBruggencate was there as a moderator to keep everyone on track.
While this panel may not seem like much to outsiders, we believe this panel will go down in history as a marker in the Winnipeg game development community where we start coming together in a deep and motivated way, and begin to get recognition as an dynamic, and unusually innovative and dedicated development hub.
This panel has representatives from 7 different local companies all working in VR, and are not the limits of the community’s capacity. What people need to understand is this is a naturally occurring hub here. A hub not specifically supported by any fund, but by the dreams of some of our most visionary talents.
The people on this panel are a major factor in why we believe in Winnipeg, though we have the advantage of seeing behind the scenes of many of these studios, and thus can begin to project the future.
Machine Learning in Manitoba
The last event of October took place on the night of 23rd at the Manitoba Technology Accelerator and was organized coordination with Yes! Winnipeg, who invited us.
With most of the space cleared out for the event, the room was filled with a whose who of local innovative companies, who all came to hear former Blackberry co-CEO Jim Balsillie who as a principal investor in locally operated startup Sightline Innovation had come to discuss the potential of Winnipeg as a hub for machine learning.
What some people may not realize is that ZenFri has actually done two research projects into machine learning for computer vision related applications (read AR based applications), both with the University of Manitoba in 2014. The closely related research initiatives were conducted under the supervision of Assistant Professor Neil Bruce and were called respectively “3D scene analysis and semantic labeling for augmented reality in mobile applications” which was funded by NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) and “Computer vision 3D environment recognition in augmented reality mobile games” which was co-funded between MITACS and ZenFri.
The evening turned into a rallying call for local innovation, and for companies to come together to support Winnipeg’s future and was enhanced by the brief talks by Mayor Brian Bowman and Premier Pallister who both spoke strongly about the potential innovation in Winnipeg, and who both spoke of innovation as the key to Manitoba’s future.
It was a unique event that showcased a surprising level of solidarity among our political and business leaders, and like MGUG and the Perspectives on Virtual Reality Panel, it gave us a taste of this city’s potential.
Game Marketing in 2017
Finally just this week, on November 23rd, ACI Manitoba‘s class room was filled to capacity for New Media Manitoba’s “Video Game Marketing in 2017” event that featured a talk by Vancouver-based developer Shane Neville.
Shane is an industry veteran having made games since 1997 with multiple award-winning AAA hits under his belt, including Need for Speed, Company of Heroes and Shellrazer. In more recent times he’s moved into the indie space, running his own studio Ninja Robot Dinosaur Entertainment.
This range of industry experience allows him to understand industry trends from a very broad perspective, which he broad to bare in the two hour long talk that sought to help local developers better understand the rapidly changing face of video game marketing.
The best part of the event though, was that for the second time in as many months a large swath of the local community came out to an event. We hope this trend continues.
Thought on Our Innovative Capacity
It’s our feeling that Winnipeg is rapidly approaching an important juncture in its history, where we can either double down on all the trends we’re seeing and blossom into a formidable hub of innovation by harnessing all the potential we’re seeing for the benefit of the future, or misstep, remove our steady hands and let it all go to waste.
Companies, Industry Advocacy Groups, and most of all our Government needs to keep their foot on the gas to ensure we obtain the future we desire.
We’re a city that has long suffered from significant brain drain and yet by looking at the work being done by this small subset of creatives, entrepreneurs and innovations that stay, you can help but feel that we have the potential to not only turn this trend around but experience unprecedented growth.
By capitalizing on our cost of living vs high standard of living, our strong post secondary institutions (who send many minds to the likes of Google, Facebook, and Amazon), and the determined and increasingly ambitious spirit of our innovators and entrepreneurs, we can change what it means to be a Manitoban, and therefore how those on the outside perceive us.
The growing strains of automation, climate change, and our province’s financial and infrastructure debt will pose challenges, but also opportunities. If we don’t seize this moment the future of jobs and technology in Manitoba may well end up being controlled by giant foreign companies utilizing technologies we can’t match and disrupting markets in ways we cannot control, and worse will have a dismissed role in shaping.
This is how cumulative insights of all these events have come together for us. Let’s keep working, and most importantly keep working together, for our ability to work together is truly Manitoba’s greatest asset.