BOV 2013: Here’s to the video games made in Vancouver

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      The video-game-development industry in Vancouver is alive and well, even if it looks a little different than it did a few years ago. There are fewer studios working on games with multimillion-dollar budgets, but the likes of East Side, Hothead, Klei, Roadhouse, and Slick are picking up some of the slack.

      It’s not as if the bigger players have left the city altogether. EA Canada still employs hundreds in Burnaby working on some of the industry’s most profitable franchises. In November, Capcom Vancouver’s Dead Rising 3 will be released with the new Xbox One console. Namco Bandai has opened a studio in the Centre for Digital Media. And Black Tusk, a Microsoft studio, should be announcing its big-budget, top-secret title next year.

      So here’s to the games being made in Vancouver, and the people who make them.

      Best studio

      Klei Entertainment

      With two outstanding games released in the past year—2-D stealth game Mark of the Ninja (Microsoft Studios) and the weird survival adventure Don’t Starve—Klei Entertainment has established itself as one of the industry’s bright lights. Founder Jamie Cheng bootstrapped his independent studio after leaving Relic Entertainment and just like the Vancouver video-game entrepreneurs who preceded him, he’s grown it to the point where he and his creative team are making the games they want to, not those they have to in order to keep the lights on. Next up: Incognita, which looks to put a twist on turn-based gameplay.

      Best sports game

      NHL 13 (EA Sports)

      If NHL 12 was significant because you could create a female character, NHL 13 raises the bar by adding two world-class female players to the ranks: Hayley Wickenheiser and Angela Ruggiero. With more dynamic skating and improved goalie control, you begin to see why the NHL franchise—developed in Burnaby at EA Canada—continues to be the highest-rated sports video game year after year.

      Best game made by one person

      Retro City Rampage (Vblank Entertainment; PS3, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Windows, Wii)

      What started as a Vancouver programmer’s hobby project turned into a labour of love. And what a labour it was. Brian Provinciano spent nearly 10 years working on the massive and hilarious open-world game Retro City Rampage, inspired by Grand Theft Auto III and bursting with pop-culture references. With the exception of the soundtrack and some art, the entire game was created by Provinciano.

      Best strategy game

      Company of Heroes 2 (Sega)

      For years, as other Vancouver developers have come and gone, Relic Entertainment has been quietly working away. The studio attempted to slip its typecasting by releasing a shooter game—last year’s Space Marine—to mixed reviews. Company of Heroes 2, published by its new owner, Sega, is a return to the real-time strategy genre that Relic’s reputation was founded on.

      Best romance game

      Everlove (Silicon Sisters)

      Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch and Kirsten Forbes founded their studio, Silicon Sisters, to make games for girls and women. Everlove, now on iOS and Android, is the first game the studio has created for adult females and is unabashedly built to resemble a romance novel. Players become Rose and decide which relationships—if any—she should engage in. Be prepared for surprises.

      Best Nintendo game

      Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (Nintendo)

      Starring the brother of the more popular plumber, this game came out of the secret bunker in the middle of Vancouver’s Next Level Games. Developed for the 3DS handheld, it’s a lighthearted ghost story that has scaredy-cat Luigi wearing a vacuum on his back in order to capture mischievous spooks.

      Best mobile game

      Capsized+ (indiePub)

      A space explorer is stranded on an alien planet. While the story remains the same, this game—which Vancouver-based Koolhaus ported to iOS from Windows—does things just a bit differently. Equipped with a multimode gun and jetpack, you have to navigate your way to safety. And maybe a rescue.

      Best free-to-play game

      Knights & Dragons (Gree)

      In 2012, Japanese game publisher Gree took a stake in Vancouver’s IUGO, one of the first studios to make games for Apple’s iOS. The first game since that investment is Knights & Dragons, a turn-based RPG with crafting and castle-building. IUGO told the Straight that the game is averaging $1 million a month on iOS (due to its paid aspects). It’s just been released for Android.

      Best lost opportunity for the video-game sector

      Matt Toner, a veteran of the local tech and gaming industry, captured the NDP candidacy in the Vancouver–False Creek provincial riding on a platform of preserving “jobs of the future”, his term for high-paying creative employment in animation, film, and game development. Had Toner—and the NDP—won in the provincial election, he would have become an important voice. Toner, who lost the seat to Liberal MLA Sam Sullivan, has since gone back to running his media company, Zeros 2 Heroes. He told the Straight he’ll return to politics if he “can make a meaningful difference”.

      Best video-game restaurant

      EXP Restaurant + Bar
      309 West Pender Street

      Collect some experience points at this downtown restaurant, where even the “leetspeak” phone number is nerdy. Proprietor Brian Vidovic still isn’t able to let patrons play games at EXP—a side effect of archaic provincial liquor laws—but he doesn’t let that stand in the way of hosting themed events, like the ones celebrating Capcom’s 30th anniversary and the launch of Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist. With starters and sharing plates, called “multiplayer” here, the menu is healthier than you might expect, and gluten-free and vegetarian options abound.