In a recent poll by Sperling’s BestPlaces, Detroit was ranked the fourth biggest city in the country for video gaming. It could be the brutal weather we suffer through for half of the year that drives people to huddle around their Nintendos, or perhaps the lack of other things to do, or maybe just a general love for gadgets. It’s a question that 16-year-old John Wolff ponders on his online forum with other Detroiters who enjoy video games. The forum is part of Wolff’s group Urban Electronics, a way for like-minded kids to not only talk about video games but to be able to meet up and make them too.
“Everyone says, ‘I have a great idea for a video game’, but they never pursue it,” Wolff says about why he started the group, which meets on Sundays at Lawrence Technical University. He says the group’s aims are educational, allowing the local youth the opportunity to express their ideas and learn about video game technology. Mostly it’s a learning experience for everyone. “These kids are ages twelve and up,” he explains. “We’re going to start at the basic level, and move on from that experience.”
Wolff realizes that as a small non-profit group, it will be difficult for his games to compete with what’s out there. Instead of relying on stunning visual effects like big game developers tend to do, Urban Electronics will be concerned with the aesthetics at the core of the games. “Since our games can’t focus on high quality graphics, we focus on innovation in game play, and on making the storylines concrete and not loosely sewn together,” he explains. “I asked the group, ‘What would you like to see in a game?’ and we decided on urban elements. Not urban as in Grand Theft Auto, but urban as in ‘cool’. We are thinking about urban music in our games. Wordy music in video games doesn’t really work, but we are thinking of using beats, scratching, DJ’s.” Wolff assures: “It will be different.”
Making games has been an interest of Wolff’s since he was in the fourth grade, citing the futuristic role-player Final Fantasy VIII and the covert-op Metal Gear Solid series on PlayStation as his favorite games and catalysts. It was then that he discovered the computer program RPG Maker, software that allows video game enthusiasts to try their hand at making their own role-playing games by configuring pre-made sets of graphics for characters and maps. But to do something really complex, like creating his own graphics, Wolff realized he would need extra help, so he started writing his ideas down in a notebook for use later.
By eighth grade, Wolff’s interest in making video games was rekindled with an encounter with an issue of Game Informer Magazine with a headline about game development. Instead of suggesting that he pursue a more normal hobby, Wolff’s mother actually encouraged him, and let him go on a trip to a video game development conference in Chicago.
“The conference covered every single aspect of video gaming,” Wolff says. “Video game development, video game design. It was really enlightening.” So when he learned about SEMAFX, a group of Southeastern Michigan digital artists and their Creative Congress event, he decided to share his ideas for his own game development organization. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Which is where we first caught wind of Wolff and crew, with an impressively delivered artistic statement about the project. For a previous feature on SEMAFX, please click here.)
At nearby Youthville of Detroit as well as local video game shops, Wolff started spreading the word about his plans. “I created interest in it just through word of mouth, which I believe is the most powerful aspect of advertising,” he says.
Since it is an educational experience, Urban Electronics’ crew of nine is aiming at one project per year. Eventually, Wolff hopes to branch out to developing games on multiple platforms for a wider audience. But Wolff and his group are always interested in other talent joining them, and anyone who is curious about game design is welcome to sit in on their Sunday meetings. “I want to bring everything to the next level and really immerse people in a game environment,” Wolff says.
Urban Electronics meets on Sunday, October 1st at Lawrence Tech. More information is available at their website, http://www.uegda.com.
Leyland DeVito is studying illustration at Detroit's College for Creative Studies. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Thanks to our French history, in Détroit we’re left with a lot of French words that nobody really pronounces properly. Petanque, the name of a game being played downtown in Campus Martius Park, doesn’t have to be one of them.
As Jeff Widen of the Detroit Petanque Club assures me, the pronunciation is really simple: Peh-TONK (“Like Tonka toys,” he explains, “and Pez but with an H instead of the Z”). Getting into the game is just as easy, all prospective players have to do is show up at Campus Martius Park between 11:00 AM and 5:00 PM on Saturdays to join in on a game.
The rules of the game are also simple. Like the English bowls or the Italian bocce, petanque involves teams tossing heavy balls at a smaller target ball (called the cochonnet, translation: “piggy”), with points being earned for each ball that is closer to the cochonnet than the opposing team’s nearest ball. But one of the rules exclusive to petanque and one which contributes to its popularity is also the game’s namesake. “Petanque” comes from the French pieds tanqués, meaning “stuck feet”. Players must throw their balls with both of their feet on the ground within a small circle on the field, a rule that levels the playing field for older or handicapped people.
This accessibility attracts a variety of people to Campus Martius. Some petanquers have been playing since the Detroit Petanque Club started last summer, others are curious passersby or innocent bystanders who were roped into playing a round. The laid back nature of petanque makes for a revolving door of players, with people coming and going even midgame, matching the inexperienced with newcomers. The game just constantly goes on.
Jeff was first introduced to the game while vacationing in Paris two years ago, where he saw people playing in the Jardin du Luxembourg. When he got home he did some research on the Internet and found out about the game and the Michigan Petanque Club, a group of older people who have been playing at Royal Oak’s VFW Park since the Seventies. It was then that Jeff received his calling— he and his friend Joe Zajac decided that Detroit needed a Petanque Club of its own, and created the sister club.
Jeff has become somewhat of a Petanque Superhero since he discovered the game, wearing a French flag pin on his hat and a utility belt around his waist to hold his tape measurer and scorekeeper. He pulls me off to the side at one point during the day and shows me a prized artifact he obtained: an old petanque ball made out of nails hammered into a knot of wood, resembling the scales of a rolled up armadillo. It was created in France before there were forgeries to make the metal balls used today.
Jeff is also a wellspring of advice for novice petanquers. Though its premise is simple, a variety of strategies are available. Players can choose to hone their skills at “placing” their balls near the cochonnet or “shooting” the opponent’s balls out of the way. Forming a team of specialists based on their particular skills can add a fun, competitive aspect to the game.
Or you can just roll the ball. “Ignore him,” a man named Tony tells me. “Just roll the ball. You don’t know what’s gonna happen.” That advice sort of sums up the downtown petanque games very nicely. You don’t necessarily play to win or lose. Some people go downtown not even knowing they’re going to wind up playing a game. It’s not a bad attitude for life, especially during these lazy summer days. You just roll the ball— and see what happens.
Anyone interested in an introduction to petanque should attend the Michigan Challenge Tournament on Sunday, June 25th at Royal Oak’s VFW Park starting at 1:00 PM.
People interested in joining in on the Detroit Petanque Club’s games can meet up with players between 11:00 AM and 5:00 PM at Campus Martius Park on Saturday or between 12:00 PM and 1:00 PM at the General Motors Promenade at the Renaissance Center in Detroit. Check out their blogsite here.
The Michigan Petanque Club meets between 1:00 PM and 6:00 PM at the VFW Park.
Leyland DeVito is studying illustration at Detroit's College for Creative Studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University of Detroit Mercy’s Calihan Hall provided the backdrop for a live combination of hoops, hip-hop, and a little Super Bowl flavor as the 8th annual Gridiron Celebrity Hoops classic came to town. Pro football & baseball players, media stars, rappers, models, and even a Olympic silver medalist were on hand to show what they could do on a basketball court. Some of the players showed that they indeed “got game” and some showed why they shouldn’t venture outside of their chosen profession. Along with former pro football players Matthew Hatchette, Asante Samuel, and Donnell Bennett, the game featured Rose Bowl Champion Quarterback Vince Young, and everyone’s bad boy of the moment, All-pro wide receiver Terrell Owens. Playing against some of the best And 1 mixtape touring pros (Highrizer, Baby Shaq, Pat-da-roc, Springs, and the newest street ball legend, Hot Sauce), the game served notice that not all the baddest b-ball players are in the NBA. However, in All-Star games such as these, the final score and defensive play isn’t what matters. It’s for a great cause. Proceeds from the game went to Junior Achievers and Detroit Homes for Black Children. But now it’s showtime. And what a show it was.
Terrell Owens (T.O.) was there to take his frustrations out on the rim. He did some real damage. Along with Baby Shaq, and Highrizer, T.O. had the most impressive displays of aerial aerobics, showing that he could indeed fly like Mike. Starting the game with a ferocious 360 degree dunk, T.O. showed tremendous leaping ability and displayed a great knowledge of the game on a variety of moves. Vince Young, playing conservative basketball with the NFL draft right around the corner, managed to avoid injury, which would have been news worthy of Super Bowl-type coverage, if the unthinkable had happened. The crowd pleasing Hot Sauce performed his magical dribble moves, once dribbling the ball off the head of Detroit Tiger centerfielder Nook Logan.
Serving as the M.C. for the evening, the Pistons’ own John Mason kept the crowd hyped while a couple of gorgeous models (Nik, from “America’s Next Top Model” and Melyssa Ford of “BET Style”) kept the players in line as honorary coaches. The half-time show, featuring Virgin Recording Artists “Dem Franchize Boyz”, had the court overflowing with kids of all ages shaking their bootys. Spotted in the crowd enjoying the lengthy half-time was All-pro tight end Antonio Gates. So what’s up Antonio? How come you not out there ballin? He smiles and lets out a chuckle.
“No,ooo. I’m just chillin. Enjoying the game and having a good time being back in the “D”. He laughs at a young lady sitting near him who’s jokingly referring to him as her boyfriend. After Mason introduces 2004 Silver Medalist Lauryn Williams to the crowd, halftime is over and the game continues. More flying dunks, fancy passes, and surprisingly, a little defense as it gets close to the end. The final score? Who knows. It was for a good cause. All in all a good time for everyone. And nobody, especially Mr. Young got hurt. Isn’t that what All-star games are all about?
"Don't Alice it!" my partner not so subtly warns me in his continuing effort to coach me in the subtle art of croquet. Apparently to "Alice" the ball is to hit it too short, as I have done many times previously. This time, however, I send my ball flying and our chances of catching up to our opponents disappear along with my ball.
Despite my poor showing I'm enjoying a unique croquet experience, not in someone's backyard, but on an immaculate official croquet lawn in the urban surroundings of Detroit's River Side district. The Detroit Croquet Club has been meeting on this site since 1991. This court sits on the front lawn of the Omni Detroit Hotel, which maintains the field and leases it to the DCC. According to the Omni, this is the only United States Croquet Association sanctioned court in Michigan.
My partner, coach, and tour guide for this experience, is long time DCC member and staunch croquet advocate Chris Jablonski. The group began under the auspices of avid player John Stroh of the famous Stroh beer and ice cream family. In its heyday the club saw activity nearly every day of the week. Today the club meets only once a week but club members hope to turn this decline around and make croquet an everyday happening here once again.
Currently, the club meets at 5:30 pm on Tuesdays in good weather and stays out until dark (though they have been experimenting with floodlights). The club's official league play takes place during two seven-week sessions over the warm season, with all other weeks devoted to open play. Even during the league sessions the club welcomes new players who may fill in on shorthanded teams or play during gaps between official matches.
Croquet matches are played between two sets of opposing partners, and a league team consists of three pairs of players. Sanctioned croquet is not quite the same as the backyard variety. The wickets are narrower and arranged in a specific configuration on a set rectangular field. Players must go through each of the six wickets in order (and in the right direction), earning a point each time they do so, before hitting the single stake to finish. The game ends when both members of one pair hit the stake, and each pair's total points are added to their team's score.
As in backyard play, a player can send another player's ball flying, though the old "put your foot on the ball and whack" method is strictly against the rules. To do well at the game, a player must possess skill, technique, and accuracy, as well as the ability to plan several moves ahead. While DCC players take their game quite seriously, the accessibility of the sport, and the partnership system, make it possible for newcomers to quickly learn from more experienced players..
The group welcomes drop-in players. Members come from all walks of life, and hail from nearby lofts and distant suburbs. All the equipment - clubs, balls, wickets, etc. - is provided by the club. League play is $40 per season. A nominal fee for open play goes toward buying equipment and furthering the growth of the club.
The court is located in front of the Omni Detroit Hotel at 1000 River Place. For information about renting the court for private play from the Omni call Gail Fyfe at (313) 259-9500. For information about league play and other matters concerning the Detroit Croquet Club call Pat Vintevoghel at (313)566-2316.
Running in the Street:
Group Builds Connections One Step at a Time
Kemba N’Namdi’s words from our interview (see Gallery story) reverberate in my thoughts. Use your city in order to understand what you have and how to make improvements. The same thing applies to the body - so despite the below freezing temps, I’ve been running through the streets of Detroit.
On foot one sees the city from a new perspective: From the flatlands of Eastern Market to the canyons of downtown –everything looks different. Having stepped outside of the box that is the car, I view the peaks of buildings stretching to the sky, and realize that people do indeed inhabit the shops and offices on the street level. I am free to make my own path and understand the connections between places that often seem impossible separated by a maze of one-way streets and no left turns.
The Downtown Runners and Walkers have been running and making connections in Detroit for two decades. Created in April 1983, the group was formed in conjunction with the Central Business District Foundation (publishers of Destination Detroit) to promote downtown bars and restaurants by bringing runners in on nights when business was slow. That relationship lasted until 1988, but the DRW races on, held together by camaraderie and the de facto leadership of original member and accomplished marathoner Ralph Judd, who says his role is just “keeping it going.”
The group meets every Tuesday at a different Detroit bar or restaurant. After the night’s run, members gather in the meeting place for food, drink and conversation. In addition to the weekly events, DRW members often come together for social outings - from summer solstice and Christmas events to a recent Super Bowl party, these people know how to have fun as well as they know how to run. In fact, over the past 20 years, 20 marriages take place between couples who met through the DRW, which has truly become a close-knit family.
Yet it is hard to imagine people more accepting of new faces. On my first run with the group, I ran in light snow from Captain’s Bar just east of the Ren Cen to the Belle Isle Bridge and back with Henry, a former All-American track star. When we got back to the bar, I was in for a “Cheers” reception: Suddenly, everyone knew my name. Immediately people were telling me stories about different runners, the group’s social events, the courses they had run and the injuries they had suffered. Despite being a “newbie" I already felt like part of the gang.
Using the city, new facets and connections reveal themselves immediately. What began as an isolated act - running through the city alone - brought me in touch with a larger community that I might not have discovered otherwise. I'm looking forward to running in Detroit whenever I can, and discovering even more about the city one step at a time. The Downtown Runners and Walkers meet at a different site each Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. to run (or walk) 4 to 8 miles. Participants range from serious marathon runners to people just out for a walk with friends. Membership is free. For more info visit their website here.
-Nick Sousanis, email@example.com