Adventures in Computing Camps Sold

Great news for me this week. I am happy to announce that I have sold my computer camps business which I created and grew for over 10 years. Adventures in Computing camps operated on the campus of Algoma University, and offered fun and interactive summer camps for kids 7-16. Initially offering general computing and web design camps with a bit of game design mixed in, due to its popularity the focus of the camps eventually moved towards game design. Camps including Adventures in Video Game Design, 3D Game Design, RPG Game Design, and Pro Gamer camps as well as Adventures in Computing.

Over the years, I worked with some great people, and met tons of great kids — including a number of really smart, really talented kids. One of these kids even became my business partner in the venture, several years later. It is a great feeling to mentor a 13 year old over the years and then have him become an instructor and eventually offer to buy 50% of the company! Kevin has since moved on to further his career in web design. I’m also really please that another former camper and instructor has purchased the camps and will continue to operate them, and hopefully take them to the next level!

The camps were a great learning experience for me and I had a lot of fun. But a year ago I made the decision that I was ready to move on. Since I work full time, and operate Digital Adventures (in my spare time) and I am writing a book for young entrepreneurs, and doing tons of other stuff, I simply don’t have the time, and frankly after hitting the 10 year milestone — I was simply ready for some new challenges.

I am happy to see the camps live on…and I want to wish Stephen all the best in the years to come!

A Look at the Last Decade in Tech

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine, January 2010

Wow. 2010…it’s hard to believe! If you would have asked someone 50 years ago, what it would be like in the 21st century, they might have said we would all be driving around in flying cars or communicating with our wristwatch picture phones.

We have come along way, and this last decade is no exception. So when reflecting back on the last ten years of technology, I wasn’t surprised at all that there was so much that I could talk about.

The year 2000 brought with it a new millennium, the Y2K bug – which never fully materialized, and the end of the Dot-com boom. Amazon.com was already the most successful online retailer, and Google was still a fledgling start-up company – not a verb!

This decade has seen the creation of the iPod, iPhone, Blackberry and other smartphones, HDTVs, and next-gen video game systems like Xbox 360, PS3 and the Nintendo Wii. Blu-ray beat HD-DVD, ebooks finally began to catch on, and Netbooks became one of the most popular computers in years.

As an “early adopter” I tend to jump in to new technologies as they come out. I picked up the iPhone when it hit Canada – and can’t live without it. I own all three video-game consoles, which I use not only for gaming and movie/music streaming, but with my new Wii I can also get fit!

I was rooting for HD-DVD during the high definition video war (it was cheaper and more advanced) because I already had the add-on unit for my Xbox 360, but I am ok with Blu-ray winning the war. It still appears that DVD is king, however. When you are an early adopter, you sometimes get burned because it is inevitable that technology will become cheaper, faster and better. But even though my $2,500 HDTV now costs $700 to buy, I have enjoyed every minute of it over the last 4 years.

Getting back to innovative tech, digital music was revolutionized when Apple launched the iPod in 2001, and then iTunes in 2003 – now the most successful digital music marketplace in the world, with almost 10 billion songs downloaded.

Apple did it again with the iPhone – a smartphone that puts email, Internet, music, video/movies, games and over 130,000 apps in your pocket. It is now the number two smartphone in the world, behind RIM’s Blackberry, which had a significant headstart. Over three billion apps have been downloaded since the App Store was launched in 2008.

Apple is expected to announce a new “tablet” computer in January 2010 – could tablet computing (which has been around for at least 10 years) finally be the next big thing?

From its early beginnings in the first half of the 1990’s, theWeb really came into its own in the last decade. Websites went from being cheesy-looking experiments, to truly attractive, engaging, and interactive mediums. The concept of Web 2.0 has taken this even further with web-based communities and social networking sites, video-sharing sites like YouTube, blogs, wikis and other online technologies.

Social networking exploded in the last five years, first with the popularity of MySpace — perhaps the first successful mainstream social networking site, followed by the current king, Facebook. I personally use Facebook to keep up with my friends and share a little bit of my life.

Blogging became a hit as millions of people took to the web to express themselves, provide professional advice and information, or just voice their opinions about everyday stuff. There are now hundreds of millions of blogs on the Internet. I too have a blog – mostly for posting articles I write such as the one you are reading, but I hope to do more with it in the future. You can check it out at www.digitaladventures.ca.

Twitter is another popular service (referred to as micro-blogging) that allows you to express yourself in 140 characters or less, and share it instantly with all of your followers. Personally this is one online innovation I just don’t get…but if you want to know what Ashton Kutcher is up to every moment, be my guest.

YouTube has become so popular that the site hosts over 100 million videos and over 13 hours of video is uploaded every minute. Google bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion. The site costs over $1 million a day to operate, but Google says it will soon be profitable because the number of people viewing videos supported by advertising is increasing.

The web continues to grow as technology evolves and more and more users log on. It is estimated that the number of Internet users has increased from 361 million in 2000, to over 1.7 billion in 2009. This is over 25% of the world’s population.

The technologies and products I have discussed are only a fraction of the innovations we have seen in the last decade. And if that is any indication of what is to come, then we have even more to look forward to in the coming years! If you are like me, then I know you can hardly wait to see what is ahead.

Hot Tech for 2009

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
(Originally published – January 2009)

In January of each year the world gets a glimpse at the next generation of great technology at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  It is this year’s show that serves as part inspiration for this article, as well as other observations I have made in tech.  Below are only a few of the products that I feel will be hot in 2009:

Netbooks

Last year a new genre of laptop computer was introduced – dubbed the “netbook”. These small (7 – 10 inch screens) devices are essentially miniaturized notebook computers which are useful for surfing the Internet, email, listening to music and other casual computing activities.  Because the devices are relatively underpowered they cannot fully replace a “real” laptop but have proven to be immensely popular, with price points of between $299 – $499.  Beginning with 7 and 8 inch screens, more recent models have expanded to 10 inch screens, making them much more user friendly.

Netbooks have quickly proven themselves as popular and now most of the top PC companies have released models.  The only major holdout remains to be Apple, which said it would continue to watch the space develop.  There was speculatation that Apple would announce a netbook at the recent MacWorld event, but alas this did not happen.  2009 should prove another successful year for the netbook category as these tiny devices continue to improve in both style and capability.

Touch Screen Computing

Millions of iPhone owners have proven that consumers like touch screen technology. Competing smartphone models have been introduced by numerous competitors such as Samsung, LG, HTC and more recently Blackberry.

Another technology that never fully caught on (tablet computing) touch screen computing has begun a resurgence in popularity.  Microsoft has had a Windows Tablet version for several years now, but recent devices have fully embraced “touch” and consumers finally seem ready for it.

HP recently introduced several sleek “All-in-one” touch screen computers (up to 25” screens) that allow users to move objects, open windows, edit photos and much more using their fingers instead of a mouse.  Microsoft itself has developed a Surface computing device which resembles a table – but the entire surface is a computer screen that responds to touch!

Net Connected TV’s

Fresh off the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, almost all of the major TV manufacturers (Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic) have announced net-enabled TV with direct access to streaming movie or video services such as NetFlix, Hulu, YouTube, as well as streaming news, weather and more.  These TV’s have built in Ethernet (some also have wireless capability) allowing for direct connection to the Internet.  Direct access to streaming movie services could mean a world of hurt in the future for video rental chains such as Blockbuster, Rogers Video and others.

Ebooks

Once thought to be the next big thing — Ebooks have been kicking around for at least a decade.  An interesting idea – a digital copy of books you can read on a handheld device — they have just never fully caught on.  But 2009 might be the breakout year for the ebook.

Amazon.com’s Kindle ebook reader was introduced in November 2007 and sold out in 5 hours.  With more inventory, sales resumed in 2008 and the company has had difficulty keeping the unit in stock ever since.  An endorsement from Oprah in October – as one of her favorite products – created another four month waiting list for the device.  Oprah’s endorsement may have finally opened the market to mainstream consumers – which represents a huge market opportunity compared to traditional buyers of these devices.

Amazon may have achieved what no other manufacturer in this space has done before – not only making a device that is easy to use but one that has easy access to a large inventory of new digital books.  With over 200,000 titles currently available for download using the device’s free wireless service, consumers can purchase ebooks for typically much cheaper than printed versions (New York Times best sellers are only $9.99).  Unfortunately, the Kindle is so far only available in the US, where it offers the free wireless service.  Hopefully in 2009 they will expand to other markets, including Canada!

Although unconfirmed, some analysts estimate that Amazon may have sold up to 1 million devices to date.  Sony’s latest readers have also been selling well, and smartphones such as the iPhone are also proving to be capable and popular devices for downloading and reading ebooks.  In 2009 it is expected that Amazon will release the next version of their Kindle device and a number of other companies are set to release readers as well, to capitalize on the ebooks growing popularity.  Even with increasing sales, ebooks still represent less than 1% of book sales, but this may be the year that things begin to change.

Blu-Ray High Definition

Last year at this time, Blu-ray finally defeated its rival, HD-DVD, in the high definition (HD) war.  Now that consumers were not forced to choose sides in the war of competing technologies, Analysts predicted that Blu-ray would explode in popularity.

Blu-ray HD video was finally poised to take the reins from DVD in the consumer video market.  But so far consumers continue to overwhelmingly support DVD.  The trouble with HD is that consumers faced a double whammy – requiring both an HDTV and a Blu-ray player – both being costly investments.

I stated in a previous article that I believed the price for Blu-ray players would need to come down to $200 (from $600-$1,000) before sales would pick up.  This has happened just recently and along with the dramatic reductions in the cost for HDTV’s, I believe that Blu-ray has finally reached a price point that will register with consumers. Unless the economy continues to take the wind out consumer spending, Blu-ray should experience greater success in 2009,

Conclusion

I have briefly discussed only a few products that I think will be hot in 2009.  As technology has proven throughout the years, it just keeps getting cheaper, better and faster.  By this time next year, we are bound to see even more exciting developments in computing, gaming, home audio/video, GPS, smartphones and more.   Here’s to another exciting year in tech!

Ready to be a Game Designer?

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
(Original Print Date – June 2007)

Video games, they are tremendously popular and hugely profitable. World-wide they represented a market of $25.4 billion in 2004 and according to a recent forecast by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the industry will continue to grow at an average compound annual rate of 11.4% reaching $46.5 billion by 2010.

With games representing such big business, and average game development budgets growing from about $40,000 in the early 1990’s to over $10 million today, game design is hotter than ever, and lucrative too.

According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), there were 144,000 full-time employees working in video game development in the U.S. in 2005, up from 50,000 in 1998. The ESA estimates this number will grow to over a quarter of a million workers by 2009.

With entry-level game developers earning about $67,000 per year, I’ll bet you gamers out there must be thinking – a high-paying job making video games, what could be better!

So where can you get started? Well it just so happens that you have some options in Sault Ste. Marie. If you are between the ages of 11-16, Adventures in Computing Camps at Algoma University offer one week summer day camps in video game design, 3D/First-Person Shooter game design, and new this season, Role-Playing Game (RPG) design.

These one week camps take students through the game design process, learning the principles of game design, level design and 3D character design, while creating your own original 2D, 3D, FPS, and RPG games. Adventures in Computing Camps are in their 7th season in Sault Ste. Marie, and host about 100 students each summer. Visit www.computercamps.ca for more information.

Did you know that Algoma University will be offering a Masters Degree in Computer Games Technology beginning in September 2007? The program is the only one of its kind in North America, and is offered in cooperation with the University of Abertay Dundee in Scotland.
The program is 12 months long, and Students will study Game Design and Development, Programming for the Xbox and PC, Console Games Programming, The Games Marketplace, and Artificial Intelligence for Games, among other courses.

Potential applicants require a computer science degree and should be skilled C++ programmers to be accepted. The program is offered via video-conferencing with University of Abertay curriculum and instructors. Students will work on cutting-edge equipment and complete their own gaming projects during their one-year of study, and graduate with a Masters degree recognized for its excellence world-wide. For more information visit www.algomau.ca/gaming/index.php .

The future of gaming is bright. Video games are pushing the envelope on technology, leading the development of faster PCs and consoles with ultra-realistic graphics capabilities. And this is only the beginning.

With all of these exciting opportunities to learn about video game design locally, perhaps in the next several years we may actually see a game development industry spring up right here in Sault Ste. Marie.

Wouldn’t that be cool…

Halo 3 – Time to Finish the Fight

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
(Original Print Date – September 2007)

September 25, 2007 will go down in history…video game history that is. Halo 3, the much anticipated final chapter in the Halo trilogy was released at midnight on September 24th across the U.S, Canada and most of the rest of the world. Some 10,000 retailers in the U.S. opened their doors at 12:01 to allow thousands of fans to get their hands on the latest edition. Microsoft is banking on the fact that the Xbox 360 exclusive will not only be the biggest video game launch in history, but will also help catapult sales of the console itself, and solidify its position in the video game console market against rivals Sony (PS3) and Nintendo (Wii).

Halo 2 made history in 2004, when it brought in more than $125 million in its first 24 hours. And Halo 1 and 2 combined have sold more than 15 million copies since the series first launched for the original Xbox back in 2001. Two months ago, Halo 3 had already racked up over one million pre-orders, crushing all previous records, and would eventually hit almost 1.7 million pre-orders by launch time.

Microsoft has confirmed that Halo 3 grossed more than $170 million in sales in the first 24 hours after release. This is the largest single-day take in for any release in entertainment history, shattering the previous record held by the Spiderman 3 movie, which brought in $150 million in its opening weekend.

I remember when Halo first came out for the Xbox. Way back in 2001, critics were scoffing at Microsoft’s entry into the video game console market, but Halo was the killer app for Microsoft needed to turn the Xbox into a legitimate contender in the extremely competitive industry. This title was different than any games before it. It had beautiful graphics, an interesting story line, but most of all it was fun as hell to play. The multi-player campaigns were even more fun.

Halo 2 continued the story, and “the fight”, bringing with it a bigger focus on the multi-player game play, and was built from the ground up for play on Xbox live, Microsoft’s online membership service. Halo 2 is still the most played game on Xbox-live, even 3 years after its launch…something which is surely to change with the launch of Halo 3.

The third instalment opens with Master Chief hurtling towards earth in a Forerunner aircraft. After bailing out of the craft 2km above earth, Master Chief crashes into the dense forest of Africa where he is located, but though dead. After coming back online, Master Chief and his fellow humans begin the final fight.

After the first Halo is destroyed by humans, the second is activated and more are placed on standby, ready to fire. If the remaining Halos are activated by The Truth they will decimate all life in the galaxy, something that the human race along with their new found allies, the Elites, will do everything they can to prevent. You as Master Chief, along with your new ally, the Arbitor, must finish the fight against the alien Covenant and the Flood, destroying all remaining Halos in the process.

The first thing you notice when the game loads, is the gorgeous high-definition (HD) graphics. This is by far one of the best looking games to date. As you trudge through the different terrains, fighting the plethora of alien enemies, you can’t help being impressed by the incredible landscapes, and amazing realism that surrounds you. If you have played any of the Halo games before, then you are familiar with the game play. But Halo 3 continues the fun, by introducing a number of new vehicles, weapons and characters. The artificial intelligence (AI) of the characters is also impressive – providing more challenging game play.

Bungie, the game’s developer has introduced some really cool tools and features this time around. Like the addition of 4 player co-op over Xbox Live, and the ability to record your game play and send clips to all your buddies. The game also includes a new map building component called Forge. Forge allows players to “tweak, create, or even destroy the objects present on any multiplayer map.” In other words, players are able to customize maps, and then upload to Xbox Live for others to play.

If you already own an Xbox 360, then Halo 3 is an absolute must for your game collection…and if you don’t, what are you waiting for? It is an impressive game for a number of reasons, but I think the most important reason to pick it up, is the fun game play and ability to kick some alien butt with your buddy down the street or someone on the other side of the planet, over Xbox Live. So come on and join the fight to save the galaxy, and join the millions of fans who’ve already taken the pledge to “finish the fight”!

Head-to-Head: Xbox 360 vs. Sony PS3

By Nevin Buconjic
For Fresh Magazine
(Original Print Date – September 2007)

Well, I finally caved in and bought myself a Sony PS3. I have never been a PlayStation user, opting instead for both the original Microsoft Xbox, and subsequent Xbox 360.

I would consider myself a casual gamer, but one who always needs to have the latest blockbuster game such as Halo I, II and on September 25th – Halo III. I find myself compelled to purchase the latest and greatest game to demonstrate the power and capability of my console.

I wrote a previous article on Blu-Ray (Sony) vs. HD-DVD and my conclusion was to stick with gaming console options as they were the cheapest way to go. For another $199 you could have an HD-DVD attachment for the Xbox 360, and for the price of $650 you could buy a PS3 with built in Blu-Ray.

Getting back to the reason I am the proud new owner of a PS3, the simple reason was that back in early August Sony decide to drop the price by $100. At $550, the PS3 suddenly looked attractive to me as a Blu-Ray player, with the “bonus” of being able to play some really cool games, as well as a few PS2 games I had my eye on over the years. But as I connected the unit to my plasma TV and began to explore its features more, I was pleasantly surprised by the capabilities of my new “toy”.

The PS3 is a powerful media device, which not only offers some very cool, very beautiful looking games, but as mentioned earlier, it is a full-featured Blu-Ray player allowing you to watch high-definition movies at the highest resolution possible (1080p). I am now able to watch either format of HD movies available and loving every minute of it.

But beyond these two key features, the PS3, which includes built-in wireless Internet capability, offers a slew of other neat features. These include streaming video and music from your PC, web browsing, access to the soon-to-be released Playstation Home environment (similar to Second Life) where you can create your own character and explore the online virtual world. The unit plays regular DVD and CDs as well, and performs quite well as a media hub, which Sony truly envisioned for the system.

To be fair, I still use my Xbox 360 more for gaming, as I find that PS3 still somewhat lacks those killer franchise games we see with the 360 including Gears of War, BioShock and Halo 3. I did purchase Resistance: Fall of Man with my PS3, and was quite impressed with the game, but I still give the edge to the Xbox 360 for gaming.

As far as the comparison of HD media goes, I really can’t see a difference between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray as they both look fantastic. The main difference is going to be the quality and selection of movies which are released for each format. If you have been keeping up with the HD format war, it would appear that Blu-Ray may be winning the fight. But although I haven’t seen the same movie in both formats, so far I would tend to be more impressed with movies I have seen in the HD-DVD format. But then again, I have been impressed by the picture quality of movies such as King Kong (which came free with my HD-DVD player) but not so much with the newly released 300 – which I found rather disappointing as the film effect of a “grainy-type” image really didn’t make the movie appear as brilliant as I had hoped in HD format.

Back to my review of Xbox 360 vs. PS3 — I really can’t see how you could go wrong with either system. The one major factor for deciding on which player to get may be whether or not you already own a number of PS1 or PS2 games, as the PS3 is back-ward compatible allowing you to play your favourites on the new console. This wasn’t the case for me, but the idea of getting to play a game I was eyeing up several years ago actually influenced me a bit.

Back in 2004 when they released the X-Files game for PS2, the Xbox version was to come out shortly after, but the release was actually cancelled. So I never did get to play the game. As it turns out I was able to purchase a brand-new copy of the X-files on Ebay for a whopping $12 including shipping! My new purchase suddenly opened a new library of thousands of titles both new and old.

I’m not going to bother going over technical specs of both machines, as each are very capable of offering truly next-gen graphics and game play. I think that the Xbox 360 currently has the edge as their “second-generation” of games are on shelves, displaying the true capabilities of the system’s power. It will take a while longer before game developers reach that point with the PS3, but when they do I think games will look equally as impressive as Xbox 360 games.

So once again I find it difficult to crown a winner. I think that both consoles are truly capable of amazing graphics and game play, although the 360 has the current advantage here, with more and better games. The HD quality of each is also quite similar, although the format war could change the balance here in the next year or so. Both systems allow you to play games online and stream media from your existing PC.

In terms of online game play, however, I think the Xbox 360 has the current edge once again, as their Xbox Live service works great, and has been around much longer than Sony’s comparable online capabilities. One thing the PS3 has that the Xbox 360 doesn’t is the ability to surf the Net through the console. Although it is a bit hard to read and a bit clunky, the feature could come in handy, and I have always wondered why the 360 did not have this capability…on the other hand this may easily be added in the near future with one of their periodic software updates to the 360’s operating system.

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