Darian Jacobs reviews Wao Kanaka, I ka Wā Mamua, i ka Wā Mahope

She:kon! The leaves are colourful and the autumn chill has embraced us here in Montreal.

The big project of summer 2018 was a second Skins workshop held in Hawai’i! The game Wao Kanaka, I ka Wā Mamua, i ka Wā Mahope, developed by Hawaiians attending the Skins Video Game Workshop, is completed and ready to be downloaded and shared. We here at AbTeC thought it would be fun to have me, a Skins 4.0 alumni, play and review this newest creation. As I have not had the joy of participating in the Hawaiian workshops I can also provide an outsiders view, so here we go!

The main menu of the game (with hidden interactive elements!) (Screenshot. Ka Lei Milikaʻa. 2018.)

Straight from the main menu the game is charming. The game’s audio is in ʻOlelo Hawaiʻi, but you can choose to view the subtitles in English as well. There is the option to choose between Adult and Child, but I didn’t find much difference between the two. The art style of the main game is endearing, with blocky shapes and polygonal surfaces. This was a smart move for creating characters and scenery as it is less difficult to make compared to smooth and rounded surfaces. By embracing this simple style players are more likely to be forgiving of anything strange, which is crucial when a game is being made on such a time crunch as the Skins workshops have.

The Skins 6.0 cohort, Ka Lei Milikaʻa, chose to have all the game’s dialogue in ʻolelo Hawaiʻi. (Cutscene still. Ka Lei Milikaʻa. 2018.)

The voice recording in this game as characters talk and sing is quite good; nice and clear. The music is fantastic as well, and the sound overall really ‘wowed’ me. In cutscenes, where story is being told, the videos are eye-catching and creative. The work put into trying to be informative and entertaining is apparent as the storytelling aspects are succinct and don’t run on too long where players may tune out.

One mini-game involves learning moʻolelo (chants) in ʻolelo Hawaiʻi. (Screenshot. Ka Lei Milikaʻa. 2018.)

The minigames are a mixed bag. After hearing moʻolelo, or chanting, a typing game is unlocked. The player must type in the words in the correct order before they run out of time. It was only in this game that I noticed a difference between selecting Adult or Child at the main menu. Adult seemed to have the words fall faster while Child gave slightly more breathing room. It is a challenging game that brings to mind dark memories of playing learn-to-type games in grade school. On the plus side I did end up paying much closer attention to the words of the chant.

In the second mini-game, the player learns about sustainable resource management. (Screenshot. Ka Lei Milikaʻa. 2018.)

Another minigame comes after learning a lesson about preservation; take one fish and leave one fish. I must admit that I wasn’t able to figure out how to ‘win’ this game. I pulled in my fish and sorted them based on the vocal reactions I heard, tried to split the type 50/50, and finally just did a general even split. I had no indication if I had done things correctly or not, just the stats of fish I caught and so I eventually gave up and moved on.

The final minigame was the hardest for me. The story told here is the most dense, and I would recommend watching it twice so you can appreciate the visuals and absorb the information better. The gameplay portion is no joke! The player is tasked with creating a route for water to flow from a start point, through as many farm plots as possible, and to the reservoir. You are given two path blocks to work with and they’re randomized. The game is not afraid to mess with you and give useless blocks over and over. I really feel like luck is a necessary component to win this one.

The player constructs an irrigation system in the third mini-game. (Screenshot. Ka Lei Milikaʻa. 2018.)

At the end of the day you return to your home to sleep, where an ending scene told me that I had done well, but not well enough. After multiple attempts I had to ultimately accept that I won’t be the savior of the world, however if you play and win please share with us! Tweet at us or post on our Facebook page so that we can congratulate the heroes of nature, or console those who couldn’t overcome the trials.

Regardless of if you win or lose, the game is bright and inviting with an optimistic tone despite the dire warnings. I would recommend giving it a go! Once you’re done you could also take a swing at any of the other Skins games available, all were made with passion.

Elisa Harkins at the Indigenous Futures Cluster

Our new public-event branch, “Indigenous Futures Cluster Presents” invited Elisa Harkins (Cherokee/Muscogee), composer and artist, to speak at Concordia on October 27th. She received her BA from Columbia College Chicago and her MFA from the California Institute of the Arts. Her work uses music, sculpture and the body in the concept of “Performing Life”.

Her style of music combines traditional Cherokee music scores and electronic/dance music. She started with two animated music videos she had made called The Ham Dance and Buffalo. The videos are bright, colourful and fun. The Ham Dance is an animation of a yeti and a polar bear hanging out and having fun dancing. The Buffalo animation is a loose telling of the origin of the Blackfoot Indian “Buffalo Dance”.

Buffalo from Elisa Harkins on Vimeo.

A large portion of her performance, entitled “Wampum”, was also shown. Dressed in beautiful Cherokee powwow regalia, Harkins dances and sings in English and Cherokee. She dances barefoot as futuristic music plays, creating a mesmerizing show.

Following this she presented a video called Plains Indian Sign Language where she signed the story of a friend’s death. The video is powerful in its simplicity and introduced the concept of hunter’s sign language to many of those in attendance.

The Plains Indian Sign Language from Elisa Harkins on Vimeo.

Harkins also shared music she had made for portions of Skawennati’s newest machinima project, The Peacemaker Returns”. Nightcore, dance and electronic music styles mixed with Indigenous rhythms to create themes for characters and scenes. Her work is a little strange and very interesting; take the time to watch her videos and performances to see for yourself one of the many forms Indigenous art can take.

Fall into autumn with AbTeC

She:kon! The leaves are changing and Mont Royal provides a lovely view out the office window as everyone is busy at work.

The beginning of the new school year came with an Intro to Second Life workshop, delivered by Skawennati, Maize Longboat, and myself.  Held in collaboration with the Concordia Student Union, the workshop had 10 students attending and was held in a computer lab at the University. Over the course of two hours, the group learned the basics of the game and created their avatars. We introduced Second Life by noting that we use it to film machinima. The workshop ended with a question and answer period where participants asked about the history of AbTeC, TimeTraveller™, and about some of the finer details of machinima creation. The group was enthusiastic and great to work with!

Autumn is going to be an exciting time for AbTeC here at Concordia University. There will be an AbTeC retrospective show called Filling in the Blank Spaces at the Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery running from November 4 to December 2, 2017.

The exhibition-forum will show 20-plus years of programming and production from Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (AbTeC) and the Initiative for Indigenous Futures (IIF). Documentation from Skins Workshops, work from Scott Benesiinaabandan, Postcommodity and selections from IIF and other projects will all be presented in the space.

There will also be workshops held at the gallery! Skawennati will lead the workshops with the help of research assistants, including myself and Maize. Intro to Second Life will provide basic knowledge of the game and website that is used for Skawennati’s machinima projects. In the second workshop, Indigenous students will work on character design. Over the last few days, we will offer Intro to Machinima demonstrations at various times. Please stay tuned for more information on our social media.

Activating AbTeC Island has been on hold as the team is busy using the space for filming the current machinima project, but keep an eye out for when we announce the return! Have some fun looking at the rich history of AbTeC and we look forward to working with those who sign up for the workshops!

What is AbTeC Island?

She:kon! We’ve had some beautiful and warm days here in Montreal as summer comes closer.

Skawennati and her team have been hard at work preparing AbTeC Island for the next machinima project. AbTeC Island is the space in Second Life that we use to create sets and characters for machinima projects. AbTeC Island is an Aboriginally-determined cyber-space, made by and for Indigenous people. The word “machinima” is the combination of “machine” and “cinema”. Skawennati defines it as “making movies in a virtual environment”.

Machinimas are made in a similar way to how a film movie would be made. A script is written, storyboards are drawn, sketches and plans are brainstormed. For each project we have an asset list and it’s very important. As the story and an idea of how it will be filmed are decided upon, the asset list is filled carefully. What sets are needed? What is in those sets? How many characters are there and what clothing and props do they need? All of this information is contained in that one list. By using a game like Second Life a lot of real world restrictions are lifted. We can buy, build –or use a combination of both– to recreate places like Alcatraz or create an imagined place like a glowing city in the sky.

AbTeC Island visiting hours will still take place every Friday from 12:00 PM until 2:00 PM EDT while work on the new machinima project moves forward. There is only so much space that we can fill with objects and the more complicated the object the more space it takes so we have to be attentive. All of the sets are built with care and look great so it’s sad to have to pack them away, however we must if we want space for new ones. To help deal with this problem, we now have an area of the island that is designated for visitors. In it you will find: a set from She Falls For Ages, which we call “The Residence”; the dream apartment from TimeTraveller™ and the childhood home from She Falls For Ages. There is also the future Musée des Beaux-Arts and the TimeTraveller™ Boutique. All of these places are now high up in the sky away from where we are filming. There aren’t any teleportation stations set up yet, so for now a friendly Abbi avatar will help you fly to the space to explore.

Not only are buildings and people built but the land itself can be transformed. We are able to change how the land, sky and water look to various degrees. For example, the current project requires an Iroquois village. Skawennati envisioned a river next to the village, following what history suggests. Through terraforming, we are able to change and shape the ground with tools in Second Life to create the river and mountains. These tools can be tricky to use but a skilled hand can create some great things! Sadly, you will not be able to visit this part of the island until we’ve finished filming our current machinima.

We hope you enjoyed this little peek behind the curtain and that we’ll see you at AbTeC Island soon! You can join us every Friday between 12:00 PM and 2:00 PM EDT (9:00 AM to 11:00 AM PST).

Skins Workshop Series Retrospective

She:kon! With a new Skins workshop just around the corner it seemed like the perfect time to take a look back on the history of the workshop.

The Skins workshops bring Indigenous storytelling to experimental digital media. During the course, a group is taught skills such as game design, art direction, 3D modeling and animation, sound, and computer programming. In a deeper sense, students learn about the relationship between their contemporary culture, media and cultural productions, and technology. The students then work together to make a video game. The goal is to empower our youth to be producers of digital media, not just consumers.

Skins 1.0 started all the way back in 2008! It’s almost the ten year anniversary of the Skins workshops. The first one took place at Kahnawake Survival School, the high school on the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, from September 2008 to June 2009. Owisokon Lahache is an artist, teacher and a source of cultural knowledge that greatly benefits the Skins Workshops as she helps to guide participants. Her art class created Otsì:! Rise of the Kanien’kehá:ka Legends over the school year. The game is based around local stories that the students knew and wanted to work with.

The path from brainstorming to a game starts with sharing stories. Participants also discuss what could be transformed into a fun game and what some realistic expectations are. Once a story is chosen the planning for the game begins! Making a paper prototype helps to visualize the setting and layout of the game. What do we need? Who will work on what? All the answers to those questions are found in something called an asset list. Through the process participants work with a team that helps them learn how to create what they have hiding in their heads. A lot of planning, learning and hard work get poured into each game.

Otsì:! is a mod (modification, for you non-gamers) on the Unreal first-person-shooter engine. The game starts with the player as a warrior in the woods. A narrator tells the story of a village that divided into two and the monstrous Flying Head that came from this event and terrorizes the people. The Skins 1.0 team envisioned multiple levels where you would face various creatures from our legends, like the Hoof Lady, and the Monkey Dog. In the end, they created what is known in the game industry as a “vertical slice” –basically a taste test of the game. In one level, we fight the zombie-like tree people. Very creepy! In another, we confront the terrifying Flying Head with the knowledge given to us through the narrator. It was a great start for Skins as Otsi:! won the Best New Media Award at the 2010 imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival.

Skins 2.0 brought the students and the workshop to Concordia University, allowing the students to get a feel for the university environment. This workshop took place over 14 days in July 2011 and brought together game-industry professionals, Indigenous artists and mentors, and a team of Concordia Computation Arts undergrads.

In this game, the player controls an Iroquois youth named Skahion:hati who is a bit of a braggart. When the legendary Stone Giant threatens his home, his elders call his bluff and send Skahion:hati to face him. The player begins by longhouses and a river; if you don’t feel sure about where to go follow the flow and take a leap of faith. Gifted with resistance to falling, Skahion:hati can make great leaps in his fight –however beware water as he isn’t much of a swimmer! Navigate the battlefield to scoop up the Stone Giant’s spit to use against him and keep your village safe.

Skins 3.0 responded to the desire of participants from Skins 1.0 and 2.0 to complete their games. Every two weeks from March until July participants met at Concordia University to work on combining their games to make one finished product. There were also two full-day intensives held. The result of all this hard work was Skahiòn:hati: Rise of the Kanien’keha:ka Legends which won the Best New Media Award at the 2013 imagineNATIVE Festival.

The game opens with a cut-scene that explains the dire situation the village is in. A man and his brother have seen a Stone Giant! The brother died so that this man could warn the village to flee but the elder is determined that they need to take a stand. The player controls Skahiòn:hati as a youth, who is given the mission of fighting the Stone Giant after boldly declaring the he is ready. There are pieces of history and info bits woven through the longhouse that the player can read as they prepare for their fight. A short journey requires keen hearing and bravery to find the Stone Giant. Once it is defeated the game jumps forward and Skahiòn:hati is a seasoned hunter who has been working to fight strange and terrifying creatures to protect his village. There is a fire in the distance and zombie-like tree people stand in the way. At the village, history is shared on the fate of this village and Skahiòn:hati’s and he receives a warning. Skahiòn:hati will need to use fire to defeat the Flying Head but flaming arrows are not enough! It’s up to the player to return to his village and defeat the monster once and for all.

Skins 4.0 was a three-week intensive workshop that took place from May until June 2013 at Concordia University. Participants from Kahnawake and Akwesasne came with varying levels of knowledge that benefited the game-industry roles they took on. (For you game nerds: this time we used Construct 2 rather than Unreal). I’m biased as a Skins 4.0 participant but I think this is the best game so far 😉

Ienién:te and the Peacemaker’s Wampum featured a female lead and a story inspired by Indiana Jones. Ienién:te returns home to her reserve from university to find that someone has stolen a sacred artifact to use for evil. It’s up to the player to find her tools, sneak, solve puzzles and fight the final boss –a strange old man that turns out to be (SPOILER ALERT!) her archaeology professor!

My experience with Skins was fantastic! I was able to practice new skills and ones that I’m proud of and see what I’m capable of under a tight schedule. I worked on cut-scenes, poster art, character design, modeling and animation. The main story point I wanted to push was having a female lead and the team was more than happy with the idea. I was able to test my social awkwardness and explore Concordia University where I now study. The main thing that I took away from the experience was the knowledge that creating something that has an infusion of my culture doesn’t mean it has to be boring, obvious or preachy as I believed. It can be just as natural, fun and focused as any other culture I had experienced in games and art before. I just had to open my eyes to that first.

We are excited to bring the video game workshop to an Indigenous community far away  and to see what our new friends in Skins 5.0 will create!

 

Spring Lab Update

She:kon! The weather is starting to even out here in Montreal. With the start of a new season it feels like a good time to give a look into what’s been happening in the lab and a peek at what’s being planned.

The 2167 VR Projects that IIF produced were delivered on time to TIFF thanks to the hard work of the artists and our team. Look forward to seeing Scott Benesiinaabandan’s Blueberry Pie Under The Martian Sky and Postcommodity’s Each Branch Determined in the summer. Keep an eye on this space as well as our social media, where we will announce the details about the exhibition.

There are going to be some new faces around the lab. This spring, AbTeC will host Hannah Claus,artist and friend, for a short artist residency. Michelle Brown, PhD student at U Hawaii in Indigenous Politics and Future Studies, will have a residency for several weeks early this summer. Michelle will be in the studio to learn the ins and outs of what AbTeC does as she is covering our projects for her dissertation.

Jasmin Winter is an MA student from the University of Winnipeg who will be joining us from April into June. She won the best paper award from the International Conference on Sustainable Development 2016. In additions to coordinating IIF’s Symposium of the Future Imaginary, Jasmin will be taking over the social media coordinator responsibilities while we continue to look for someone to take the job on more permanently.

A warm welcome to all!

Skawennati has a team together and is beginning pre-production on a new machinima project exploring another significant Iroquois story. New tools and methods are being considered, so it’s an exciting time.

Some fun plans are in the works for a movie night. Research Assistant Roxanne Sirois suggested that we have an internal movie night to watch Indigenous films and other flicks that match up with AbTeC related themes like sci-fi. It will hopefully be a good opportunity to socialize and add to our knowledge base.

We’re saying goodbye to our social media coordinator Emilee Gilpin as she leaves for an internship in Vancouver. She did some great work taking care of our social media accounts and we wish her the best.

We’re gearing up for another productive summer and hope that you’ll keep an eye out for updates going forward!

Zoe Todd | Prairie Fish Futures

She:kon! Spring has arrived here in Montreal and is re-energizing everyone.

March 31st, 2017 was the final Future Imaginary Lecture PRAIRIE FISH FUTURES: Métis Legal Traditions and Refracting Extinction. Zoe Todd spoke vibrantly about fish, weaving stories and making connections to current issues with nature and politics.

The lecture opened with Skawennati welcoming Zoe to the territory and Jason introducing her. Zoe Todd is Métis from Amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton) in the Treaty Six Area of Alberta, Canada. She writes about Indigeneity, art, architecture, decolonization and healing in urban contexts. She also studies human-animal relations, colonialism and environmental change in northern Canada.

She started with a “speculative fish-ction” story starring the Ness Namew, an energetic and driven character who carries stories and documents that support her global “anti-colonial journey.” Fish have been witness to all actions taken by humans and have their own ideas about human actions and politics. The story is delivered with enthusiasm and is a delight to listen to in full.

Along with this story Zoe has made illustrations of various fish including the Ness Namew that she showed her captive audience. The images were loose and fun and each fish had their name and a brief background to go with them.

She spoke about sturgeon and how they can live up to 150 years if they’re healthy and what that timeline could encompass. They are now nearly gone from the North Saskatchewan river where she grew up and many other fish are at risk in Alberta and across the globe. With the possible threat of a sixth mass extinction event, what can be learned from the fish that have survived numerous extinction events?

Much like the trunk of a tree can show how many years it lived, the ear bone of a fish can tell the story of that fish it came from. She suggested looking at sturgeon as temporal travelers and to think about the different ways that time can be measured that may not have been considered before.

She spoke about Blackfoot philosopher and scholar Leroy Little Bear and explained that he is a big influence in her work. She also took time to share a friend’s video of fish peacefully swimming below ice and told personal stories that made the audience laugh with her.

Zoe summed up her intentions wonderfully with this quote: “Mostly I want a world where we pay attention to one another and where we pay attention to the water and fish. Where we care for one another and where we disrupt the ways that we’ve normalized violence against lands and waters and humans and more-than-humans. […] The core of my message is that we need to care for one another and we need to care about the fish and we need to think about the way that they’ve inhabited the world because they know so much.”

It was a lively and thought provoking lecture and wrapped up the series nicely. Please take the time to watch the video to hear Zoe’s words in her own voice and to get more in depth with her presentation.

Arcade 11

AbTeC is part of the Milieux Institute here at Concordia University and one of the other clusters included is Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG). This year TAG held the 4th Arcade 11 event from March 8 to 10. A selection of video games were chosen and then displayed for the public to check out and try. This year the theme was about showing natural environment.

None of the games shown had guns or shooting and focused more on indie games with fun and experimental twists. The goal was to show the public a different side of games that they may not have encountered. The 8 games on display explored landscapes, relationships, teamwork and strange creatures.

Games like Overcooked and Break Up Squad had great party game vibes where groups could sit down and work together, or against each other.

One area of the arcade also presented the nature vibes in its decor. The game Firewatch was set up in free-roam mode and projected for people who could choose a seat around a faux campfire and carpet grass patch. A tent was a fun addition that was enjoyed by many as the gorgeous environment was explored.

Alea is a rhythm game where the goal is to get lost in the music while sticking to the beat. It was found underneath a large leaf and had a special plant-decorated controller to use. With all the flashy, fun game and plant life, players might be confused with fairies.

The setting meant students, employees and other people you might expect in a university stopped by the area while throngs of children also made appearances over the three-day period. Arcade 11 is open to anyone who loves games or is just feeling curious and this year was another success.

For more information on all of the games shown and for links to those games please stop by the official Arcade 11 page.

Indigenous Comic Con 2016

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Hello everyone! I’m back from Indigenous Comic Con 2016 and ready to share my little adventure.

The weekend is prime convention time as kids are out of school and many adults have had the chance to clear their schedule. ICC was no exception as the halls filled with excited “Indiginerds”. ICC took place at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico and welcomed around 1,000 people over the 3 days it ran.

I was most excited for the panels and talks that were scheduled. Sadly I can’t time travel or split into multiple people or else I would have gone to them all. Panels varied from actors talking about their experiences, to cosplay tips and tricks all the way to serious conversations on Indigenous representation in media and pop culture.

Guests I had the pleasure of hearing from included Suzan Harjo, Jonathan Joss, Jeffrey Veregge, Elizabeth LaPensée and Allen Turner to name a few. The panel and talks rooms were a little small as rooms could quickly fill for a popular panel like “Back to the (Indigenous) Future(isms)!”.

Artist Alley was split into two areas and featured the creations of Indigenous artists. An artist alley at a convention is generally where artists sell art, take commissions, and sell homemade products and other things at a smaller scale than a vendor booth would (like a bookstore or publisher for example). There were pieces supporting the Standing Rock and Dakota Access Pipeline water protectors, where the money made from selling them was being donated to their efforts.

 

The merchandise hall was a fair size with around 20 tables. Comics were on sale and featured stories with characters like Arigon Starr’s Super Indian Comics and more subdued stories like Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story written by David Alexander Robertson and illustrated by Scott Henderson. Issues, interests, history and stories were being sold to an audience thirsty for Native pop culture.

I was able to find the time to see a screening of the film Waabooz. Waabooz is the story of a young artist and his fear of dancing at the upcoming pow wow. His grandfather helps him find a way to handle his nerves and be brave. By the end of the film I was wiping away tears along with some other audience members who had connected with the story.

I saw a short snippet of Star Wars voiced over in Navajo and it was certainly a unique experience. There seemed to be a great love of Star Wars throughout the convention that showed in the merch, art and cosplay. The cosplay contest winners were Boba Fett and a stormtrooper with some Native flair in the art on their armor.

I left with some inspiration and extra motivation to get working on my own art and comic projects. I saw a lot and walked away with a backpack full of books but I still wish I could have seen and done more. The light at the end of the post-con blues is that there’s always Indigenous Comic Con 2017 to look forward to!

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Indigenous Comic Con Day 1

Good evening! It’s pretty late here so I’m sure most people are asleep back in Montreal right now.

Today was my first day exploring the ‘first ever’ Indigenous Comic Con here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As is the case with most conventions the first day started fairly late at 4pm for regular ticket holders (3:30 for VIP). I wanted to laugh, out of fondness, when I showed up at 4 and a lot of the preparations were not complete. Typical that a convention like this would start on Indian time.

With a first year convention things are bound to be a bit bumpy. The wifi didn’t work, and so my tweets didn’t happen, until around an hour after the start. Many vendors and artists set up late or simply didn’t show. But with day 1 I can forgive these things.

My habit is to pace the artist alley and vendor halls on day 1 of any convention, to scope out the merch and start adding up how much I’ll have to spend. I wasn’t prepared for the feelings I would have scouring the tables of a convention where the sellers are all Indigenous. I had a smile on my face as I saw characters that looked like me and my family, stories I had heard from a friend and so on. I didn’t realize how much I missed seeing my own people represented in the culture I adore until I actually saw them in that space. It was very, very cool.

I lost my shyness fairly fast as I realized how friendly and relaxed everyone was. I had a fun conversation with an artist who lamented her flimsy sticker badge and shared her experience going to standing rock. Although it wasn’t a complete and polished con, the warm and inviting people made up for it.

With day 1 set up complete I’m looking forward to what busy Saturday has in store for me!

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