Level Up 2018 Showcases The Best New Game Developers

Stephen R Clark checked out LevelUp last night and gave me some of his thoughts about the event, and pictures. You can follow him on Twitter at @theMediaman3.


The Game Development scene has exploded over the last few years and that’s in no small part to all the Ontario post-secondary education programs focusing on video game development. Just as these students are preparing for exams, Level Up 2018 showcases many of the team and solo projects built by Ontario’s newest game developers.

Level Up is a free event hosted on two floors at the Design Exchange in the heart of downtown Toronto. More than a dozen college and university programs send students to show off their hard work and compete for awards.

Additional sponsorship of the event comes from partners AMD, Ubisoft, Microsoft, Zynga and more; all are looking for the next generation of innovative game designers and artists. There’s no shortage of innovation as traditional game genres are mashed up, reinvented, and perfected.

There were four categories of completion; Best Tech, Best Art, People’s Choice, and Best Overall Game:

Technical Innovation:


Artistic Achievement:

That Night (OCAD)

People’s Choice:

Stop Running (Brock U)

Best Overall:

Super Random Heroes (Sheridan)

OddBird Studio created Super Random Heroes. The team is also known Arrow Heads, which is available on Steam and Xbox One, and soon on PS4. Super Random Heroes grants random (though not always enviable) superpowers to ordinary citizens. The twisted humour and creative gameplay make it an quick game to pick up. Still in early development, the game only has one level and three superpowers. The game is targeted for release in 2020 so there should be many more unique skills and scenes to play by then.

Super Random Heroes also received funding recently at the EGLX Pitch Competition. Several other games that were present at EGLX less than four weeks ago and showed considerable improvement at Level Up 2018. Skies of IrisHead Rush and Critterbox were also refined following user feedback. WanderfallKojiki54% and Godsend look a lot better after massive graphics and lighting work. Godsend also refined their gameplay and shows a lot of potential as your hero possesses different enemies in order to solve puzzles.

Zephyr didn’t win any awards but should also receive mention since it placed 2nd or 3rd in Best Art, Best Overall, and People’s Choice. At first it looks like a standard 3D platformer, but with the control to immediately switch seasons to Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter the gameplay and visuals make Zephyr unique and fun to play.

Since students are at the end of their school year, most of these games are as complete as they’ll ever be. Many will be posted to Itch.io, others will get a full release on Steam. Many will simply become portfolio pieces as their developers enter the gaming industry. Ontario’s Indie game industry is growing, and each year there are a lot of creative minds at Level Up Showcase to fuel it.

Remember to check out Stephen R Clark on Twitter, and also GeekDad.

Detective VR Now Available on itch.io

Detective VR by Sixty Forty Games, another award-winning game at LevelUP TO 2017, has just been released on itch.io.  Detective VR won second place in Technical Innovation and third place Best Overall design.  Check out a gameplay demo for Detective VR below.

In this 80s themed, murder-mystery game on the HTC Vive, you can explore the crime scene, pick up objects and interact with them as well as interact with NPCs. Once you’ve collected all the evidence, you can move onto the interrogation phase and interrogate the suspect by piecing together the evidence that you found to contradict what the suspect is saying!

Put your detective skills to the test by keeping your eyes peeled for the tiniest piece of evidence. You’ll also need to pay attention to what the suspect is saying. With your journal, you can keep track of all the evidence you found and can look back on it when interrogating the suspect.

LevelUP TO 2017 Winners Announced!

LevelUP TO, the student game development competition has announced the winners for the 2017 showcase, which took place last night. Our friends over at Ubisoft Toronto tweeted them our last night and here they are!

Audience Choice Award:

  • 1st place: Unspokin
  • 2nd place: Joustaposition
  • 3rd place: Twin Switch

Best Technical Innovation:

Best Artistic Achievement:

  • 1st place: Disco Is Dead!
  • 2nd place: Unspokin
  • 3rd place: Valhalla Showdown

Best Overall Game:

  • 1st place:  Disco Is Dead!
  • 2nd place: Shots Fired
  • 3rd place: Detective VR

Congrats to Disco is Dead for taking home three of the four awards, including Game Of The Show, and Unspokin for grabbing the Audience Choice. Sherdian College walked away with most nominations from the games you see above. You can find out more about both of those games in our interviews we did last week:

5 Horeseman Games (Unspokin) Interview

Disco Is Dead Interview

Congrats to everyone who got to show off their games! We'll see you at LevelUP TO next year!

One last LevelUP TO Preview: Interview with Livius Grosu

One last preview as Levelup TO is today, at the Design Exchange (234 Bay St.) from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm.  I interviewed Livius Grosu, a Ryerson University student in Computer Science.  He has created a VR horror game that he will be showing today at LevelUP TO.

TGD: Tell me a bit about yourself. (Is this your first experience at LevelUP? Have you created games in the past?)

Livius Grosu: I'm currently attending Ryerson University for Computer Science and I plan on breaking into the game dev field.  I've had an interest in making games ever since I got my hands on it!  From gamer maker studio to the latest version of Unity, I've been making games ever since.  This LevelUp that I'm attending will be my first and I'm super excited about it!

TGD: What is your game for LevelUP TO this year?

L.G:  This year I'm submitting a VR horror game called MK.  My goal for this game is to create a dark/sinister world with unwelcoming 'inhabitants'.

MK LevelUP Toronto Game from Ryerson University Student

TGD: What did you get your inspirations for this game?

L.G:  The VR horror games theme stems from the games Amnesia, Penumbra, and Thief the Dark Project.  Ever since I played those games, I always wanted to mimic the horror and tension atmosphere that those games created.  Amnesia and Penumbra helped me understand different types of horror.  What those games really tried to emphasize was the horror of the unknown, which in my opinion, is the best kind of horror as it pulls through the core of what horror is.  Thief had tension between the player and the environment such as hiding in the shadows while a guard is nose hair away from you.  I wanted that kind of tension in my game to emphasize the fear and horror that a player might encounter.

TGD:  What are you most excited to show off about MK, and about LevelUP?

L.G:  We're excited to show off how the game can bring out the fear in a player.  Every asset from sound, models, lighting, and more, pushes this principle and it all ties nicely into a horrifying bundle.  I'm also excited to talk to members from Unity, AMD, and Ubisoft and get a slice of how the game dev field works!

Thanks again to Livius for taking the time to interview.  We'll see everyone tonight at LevelUP TO!

Disco is Dead! - LevelUP TO Preview

I recently spoke with a team of students from Sheridan College about Disco is Dead! which they will be showcasing at LevelUP this year.  It looks really unique, and they even built custom controllers to add to the experience.

TGD: How many of you are in this team?  Have any of you created a game in the past?

Team: We are a team of 4th year Bachelor of Game Design students at Sheridan College. Our development team includes Nuha Alkadi, Coulter Baker, Jeffrey Barkun, Kassandra Kadar, Jennifer Johnson and Melissa McQuarrie, with P.J.Tremblay as our composer. Throughout our years of study, we’ve developed and prototyped numerous games and participated in many game jams. For our capstone year, we took on the challenge of creating an arcade game that plays with custom built alternative controllers titled Disco is Dead!

TGD: Tell us more about Disco is Dead!

Team: Disco is Dead! is a buddy cop comedy horror co-op arcade game that plays with custom built slappable zombie heads and disco ball controllers. It follows the story of two funky disco-loving cops – Reggie and Kenny – who must save their city from a zombie apocalypse… by slapping! The main gameplay is a fixed runner where players must slap in the indicated directions, and there are interactive comic-book styled cutscenes where slapping can impact the narrative.

Disco is Dead!  - Controller Set Up.jpg

Team: Additionally, the game allows players to feel like true buddy cops themselves. With cooperative and competitive goals, the two players create off-screen conflict, immersing themselves into enacting the similar behavioural nature of bickering buddy cops. Many players’ favourite moment of the game is activating buddy mode, which requires both players to “grab the (disco) balls and touch (high-five) each other.” Originally, Disco is Dead! was a game jam prototype we created during the summer of 2016. It was designed to be played on arcade cabinets, and the only control was simply slapping the joystick. We decided to take this wacky idea further and create an even more immersive experience.

TGD: How long have you been working on it?

Team: We have been working on Disco is Dead! for about 8 months now, since September 2016.

TGD: Do you plan on working on this game post-level up as well?

Team: Disco is Dead! is designed to be a fun and wild experience to play in public places such as arcades and showcases. We are hoping to take our game to as many places as possible to offer players the unique and rare opportunity to slap zombies!

Thanks again to the group for taking time for this interview.  Really looking forward to playing this at LevelUP TO.  Check them out on Twitter at @DiscoIsDeadGame, and their site here.

LevelUP TO Preview - Interview with Alessandro Profenna

I recently met with Alessandro Profenna, a Ryerson Unversity student pursuing a BSc in Computer Science.  He will be participating in LevelUP TO this year, and we talked a bit about his work and his game, COLHEX, that he will showcase.

TGD: Thank you for meeting with me here.  Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Alessandro Profenna:  I’m a third year student at Ryerson University pursuing a BSc in Computer Science.  I’ve enjoyed math and art since I was a young child, with an initial interest in studying Architecture. After a year in the program, I discovered LevelUP online, which is what made me want to switch to Computer Science.  I love art and design, and some of my favourite game series are Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy.  The gameplay in these titles is flashy and beautiful. For example, the visuals of shooting a spell make it more satisfying to play.

TGD:  Wow, so LevelUP inspired you to switch programs?

A.P:  Yes, it definitely helped with my decision. I knew that a degree in Computer Science would give me the skills necessary to pursue game programming and design. Architecture and game development actually have a lot in common.  They are very similar in the design process, keeping a strong emphasis not only on engineering and functionality, but also on aesthetics.

TGD: You have a few games that you’ve made.  You already have a game available on iOS, Infinity Wheel, and you participated in LevelUP TO last year with SHATTERFALL.

A.P:  Yes, I started making iOS games and learned SpriteKit. Through this I created Infinity Wheel, and released it in November 2015.  In the game, your press and hold the screen to move the wheel faster and guide the ball through the obstacles.

TGD: How was your experience at LevelUP last year?  Where did you get the idea for SHATTERFALL?

A.P: I came up with it in the shower (laughs).  It was inspired by one of the mini games in Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards.  SHATTERFALL is a multiplayer game where you shoot shockwaves through the floor and try to make your opponents fall.  I worked on it with a friend, Dennis Plotnik.  I learned Unity while making this game.  It was very well received at LevelUP.  The event is great because you get hundreds, if not thousands of people testing your game and giving great feedback.

TGD:  What are you most excited to show about COLHEX?

A.P:  There are real time aspects to this game. You’re not confined to the software of the game; your physical environment is part of it too.  When you’re playing, another player’s hand can get in the way and how your hand is placed will affect your outcome.  Also, I find that that seeing a quick pulse expand on screen from the tip of your finger is extremely satisfying.

TGD:  You’re in third year now at Ryerson University in Computer Science.  Where do you see yourself in the future?

A.P:  It’s a journey finding where you want to put your energy and focus.  Computer Science is a large industry, I thought about app development, about artificial intelligence.  I like making games and making them look good.  I would love to work in the gaming industry.  For now, I plan on focusing on learning more about graphics, Unity, and C++.

TGD: Thanks again for meeting.  Best of luck!

You can check out the trailer for COLHEX below.

LevelUP TO Preview - Neon Ascension

I recently spoke to a group of University of Toronto students who will be participating in LevelUP TO next week.  Jeffrey Deng and his team have created Neon Ascension, an endless climber multiplayer game, where players survive by rearranging blocks to help themselves, or affect their opponents.  Here's what the group (Team One) had to say about their game:

TGD: Tell me a little bit about yourselves.  How long have you been gamers?  How long have you been developing games?

Team One:  We are a team made of seven people. Matt Crans and Sam Rasmussen from OCAD are the artists of the team. Grace Zhu, Catherine Wang, Philip Bilodeau, Daniel Son, and Jeffrey Deng from UofT are the developers of the team.

For most of us we were gamers at a young age since we were a generation that had a lot of exposure to computers. Games allowed us to connect and make new friends who shared the same interests and even allowed us to connect with people who were across the world. All of us at some point found ourselves looking for a new games to play and this led to our creativity. Some of us have been making games since high school, and have attended multiple game jams up to this point. We’ve also have team members that have never made a game before, and this would be their first.

TGD:  It is wonderful how games allow people to connect from all over the world.  It's one of the beautiful things about video gaming.  Tell me about your game for LevelUP.

Team One:  Neon Ascension is a competitive endless climber where two players compete for survival on a wall of infinite height. The game is fast-paced, action-packed, and features retro-futuristic design in dazzling neon colors. Players stay alive by rearranging adjacent blocks on the wall, giving them plenty of opportunity to save themselves or sabotage their opponents.

TGD: Where did you get your inspiration for this game?

Team One:  We were really inspired by a 2011 game called Catherine where a single player manipulated blocks on a wall to climb it, and we decided to take that and make it into a competitive, multiplayer experience.

TGD: What are you most excited to show off about this game at LevelUP?

Team One:  We are most excited to show the crowd at LevelUP the results of our hard work throughout the past 4 months. We feel that from a visual and technical aspect we have created a standout game that we are proud to showcase at LevelUp, and that is exciting to play and watch.

A big thank you to Team One for taking time for this interview and providing videos of gameplay.  Don't forget, LevelUP TO will be taking place on April 5, 2017 at the Design Exchange on 234 Bay St.

Pitfall Planet Out Now On Steam

Bonfire Games, the winner of the 2015 Level Up competition, have released their co-op platformer Pitfall Planet.  You play as two recently stranded astrobots who must traverse an unknown planet to get back to their ship.

Emma reached out to me on email and let me know a little bit about the history of Pitfall Planet:

It began as a collaboration between a small group of students from the University of Toronto and OCADU. After our success at Level Up Student Showcase we decided to turn it into a complete game and went on to receive an IGF nomination for Best Student Game. 
Inspired by games like Toad Treasure Tracker, Little Big Planet, and Portal 2, Pitfall Planet combines co-operative puzzle solving with action and mischief. Two little astronauts set out on an adventure that brings them deep into the caverns of the planet, solving puzzles and collecting ore using their trusty grappling hooks.

Congrats to the team at Pitfall Planet on the release, and make sure to follow the gang over on Twitter, and pick up the game on Steam. If you're keeping up with past Level Up winners, reminder that OddBird Studios won this years.

Award Winners At Student Game Showcase - LevelUpTO

Last night there was the 6th annual Level Up here in Toronto, which is a showcase event for local students to show off their games.  Pitfall Planet won last years, and this year had quite a few winners, including friend of the site Oddbird Studio.  This all came from Level Up's Facebook page.

Artistic Achievement - Sheridan College - Oddbird Studios -  Arrow Heads

People's Choice Award - OCAD and University of Toronto  - Plunder

Best Overall Game - Sheridan College - Oddbird Studios - Arrow Heads

Technical Innovation Award - UOIT - Ominous Games

Congrats to all the winners! Here are some tweets from the event.