Hands-on with Kodak’s EKTRA: It’s cool looking, it feels nice, it’s confused.

Original article published by Rochester CITY Newspaper.

With a foot modestly in the future and a thumbs up to the past, Kodak made a daring step last week with the release of its new smartphone and DSLR camera hybrid, the Kodak EKTRA. Designed as a “camera-first” smartphone, Kodak hopes to bridge the gap between expert photographers and smartphone users. I went hands-on with the device at a release event and got a brief look at the camera’s functionality and how it holds up as a common smartphone.

The EKTRA features a 21 megapixel camera sensor with f2.0 glass lens, an ergonomically-weighted body to make it feel more like a camera than a phone, and a 13 megapixel front-facing camera. Also, like a DSLR camera, settings — such as adjusting the ISO, resolution (from 4K to 720), f-stop, white balance, and more — can be adjusted on the fly. The device comes with a suite of Kodak-made apps exclusive to the phone, one of which uses filters and vignettes to simulate the look and feel of classic Super 8 camera footage.

Running the latest Android operating system, the EKTRA’s specs meet the status quo of what should be expected in today’s average smartphone: 32GB space (which is expandable with a microSD), 3GB RAM, and a 5-inch full HD capacitive multi-touch screen. Currently the EKTRA is only available on AT&T and T-Mobile networks in the US.

The built in camera features a touch screen wheel modeled directly after the settings dial on any DSLR camera: manual, film/video, HDR, Auto, Sport, and so on. When holding the EKTRA, I intuitively checked whether the rim around the raised lens rotated, thinking that it may function as a manual focus, which it did not. I saw this as a lost opportunity in design for experienced photographers. Nonetheless, the manual focus feature is still there as a touch screen function, and it gets the job done.

“It’s made for photographers,” a rep told me. That statement might be a little concerning. Although the camera specs are impressive for a smartphone, they’re not on par with full-fledged DSLRs, and the phone itself is mid-tier at best, making it neither a camera replacement nor a reason to replace your current device. Professional photographers, in most cases, are going to have a mid- to high-range camera on them, which lowers the selling point to the professional photographer market. And since, as a smartphone itself, it’s not on par with higher-end devices, the market for the EKTRA risks falling into a niche category.

The phone — I mean camera — does look really cool. The back is bound with a textured leather with an imprinted Kodak symbol. The cases readily available come in two types: camera pouch and camera case. Note that they aren’t referred to as “phone cases.” The camera case, just like the phone, is something you want to be seen holding. Stylized and tailored to look like a classic, leather camera case: it’s classy and all show. Much like the phone itself, the case was designed with the “camera-first” mindset.

The EKTRA seems heavily tied to the nostalgia of Kodak’s heyday, and that’s tricky: anyone from the days of analog photography will have an appreciation for the phone’s exterior design, but to a new generation, it’ll feel more like retro-ware, which may make it a novelty more than a desired product.

A lot can be said about Kodak and its struggle for relevance in a digital age. But at the end of the day, Kodak is playing to its strengths here. Instead of a desperate plea to stay relevant, it has chosen to focus on creating a new product that also caters to its past success. That’s bold, and I can’t help but recognize and respect it. Still, the true test will be how relevant its nostalgia-fueled pitch will compete in the modern tech world.

The Kodak EKTRA Smartphone is available for $399.99 and can be purchased at B&H Photo Video, Best Buy, Amazon, and kodakphones.com.

Kurt Indovina

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Rochester, NY continues to cultivate a video game industry all its own.

Three years ago when I first heard that The Strong Museum of Play (located right here in Rochester, NY) initiated the only Video Game Hall of Fame in the United States, my Roc pride was met with triumphant fists to the sky, followed with a “fuck yeah! I love my garbage plate city!”

Seeing The Strong make headlines on major game publications such as Polygon for the game museum, or Game Informer write about the launch of a “Women in Games Initiative” always comes off a bit surreal. But why is it surreal, when it now seems to be a reoccurring theme for Rochester to be making headlines in the game industry? It’s because, at the end of the day, this city is still small. Hang out at enough coffee shops, and get your groceries at Wegmans, in a week’s time,  you’ll practically be the mayor of Rochester. So seeing this small time town make headlines on huge game news outlets gets me giddy.  It’s a different feeling from living in Seattle–a city recently built on the foundation of the gaming industry–where headlines about Nintendo and Microsoft and Valve are to be expected.

That all said: today I was able to attend an event here in Rochester, that journalists at major publications, couldn’t attend so easily. Being a Rochesterian, and a game journalist, I was able to mosey just a few blocks from the CITY Newspaper offices (where I work) to The Strong National Museum of Play, and witness the unveiling of 2017’s Video Game Hall of Fame inductees in person, when otherwise, others watched from a live-stream. It felt good.

Screenshot 2017-05-04 at 7.17.54 PM

Best part of today was that I finally got the chance to write for my local publication about video games–an opportunity I’ve been patiently waiting for. So a big thank you to CITY Newspaper for allowing me to do that.

Whether or not they intentionally chose May 4 — arguably geek culture’s most favorite day of the year — is up for debate, but The Strong National Museum of Play today presented the 2017 inductees into the World Video Game Hall of Fame. Based on a committee formed of international journalists, game developers, and educators, this year’s inductees include “Donkey Kong,” “Street Fight II,” Pokémon “Red” and “Green,” and “Halo: Combat Evolved.”

Please be sure to read the full CITY Newspaper piece here.

Screenshot 2017-05-04 at 7.18.12 PM

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Keeping game development in New York State

“Brain-drain.” It’s a term that’s been tossed around my city of Rochester, New York for a long time. All Rochesterians, businesses, and educators alike are aware of it. It’s the idea that folks come from around the world to receive our education (especially in video game development), and then inevitably leave for work elsewhere. And in most cases, it’s the West Coast. Why? Because right now, that’s where the video game industry is.

I, admittedly, was one of them. A few years back, I left Rochester for Seattle, Washington — which at the time, I didn’t really have a reason or intention; I just wanted to go. Of course I knew Nintendo was there, and so was Microsoft, but I hadn’t known initially going there that I’d somehow end up working at the former. It was also there where I gained a newfound appreciation for Rochester. While in Seattle, I had crossed paths with a few people who went to school at Rochester Institute of Technology, and then left after graduating to work for Microsoft, Bungie, or one of the other 250 game studios in Seattle. Hearing this not only brought a much needed enthusiasm over Rochester, knowing that my small home city was pumping out credible talented individuals, but also left me begging the question: “What are they doing here? Actually, what am I doing here?” Eventually, I came back.

Now, I need to put all my cards on the table here: I am not a college educated individual. I went to a community college briefly for a degree in fine arts, but never finished that degree. With that said, I may not have educational credibility to my name, but there is credit to my work (more on that in this post). I’m also not claiming that Rochester will benefit from having my brain, but it is clear that Rochester can be more than just a hub of education, but a city of great minds, and it needs all it can get.

The brain-drain also goes beyond upstate New York, but all of New York State. In fact, New York State is just about ready to do anything to keep our young minds here. New York State governor Andrew Cuomo has created a free-tuition initiative specifically for SUNY graduates. As long as they stay in New York State after they graduate, they don’t have to pay their tuition. That is, unless they come from a family with more than a gross income of $125,000.  It’s a major catch. The plan has been met with opposing thoughts, and rightfully so: it’s pretty slippery. I don’t know if keeping graduates prisoner here is the answer, but the optimist in me wants to think it might be the nudge to shift where the industry grows next, even though, really, it’s a cheap trick.

There are efforts being made elsewhere, with less restriction to a graduate, such as the NYS Game Dev Challenge hosted by R.I.T. (I’ve mentioned this in past posts, and plan to elaborate more on it soon). The challenge is currently happening, with submissions closing on April 24, 2017. The contest is open to anyone who is a New York State resident (hobbyists and students alike).

Lastly, there’s the not-as-mentioned, as much they should be, Vicarious Visions. An Albany-based AAA game development studio that’s currently developing Destiny 2 and the Crash Bandicoot N’ Sane Trilogy.  I had the pleasure of listening to Vicarious Visions’ producer Kara Massie speak at the NYS Game Dev kickoff event, hearing her inspiring story of moving around the world from Canada to England, until she finally settled in Albany at Vicarious (her presentation can be watched below). So in short: there’s things happening here, cultivating a game industry all-its-own. It’s just a matter of educating others that it exists.

Rochester is a moderately small city, and aside from being known as a place to be educated on technology, medicine, and game development, it is probably most famously known for its culinary monstrosity the garbage plate. We can do better. And hey, don’t get me wrong – I love garbage plates. But what if we were the city of game development and garbage plates? That sounds a bit more enticing to me. And in a weird way, they kinda seem to go hand in hand.

– Kurt

Also, I nearly forgot. I started a Twitter account for VGCandC. So please, follow it.

I wrote this while sitting at Ugly Duck Coffee and listening to Future Islands’ The Far Field. “Cave” was a song that stuck out to me in particular.

What I read this week: Rumble by John Arcudi and James Harren.

Rochester, NY game dev scene, & the future of VGC&C

I’ve been feeling that itch to write again, specifically about video games. The time feels right for it. I took some time off, made some music, made a movie, got a job at local publication CITY Newspaper. I’ve been exploring and keeping my eyes open to all opportunities. And in that exploration, I’ve drifted away from this blog. My first few posts were intended solely on building my portfolio as a writer so I had something to show websites I was pursuing for work. After I accomplished just that and got my start writing at Indie Game Magazine and Adventure Gamers, I stopped focusing on VGC&C — after all, its initial purpose of getting me a gig was fulfilled. But after doing the game journalism thing for the better half of a year with little to no pay, it was time to take a step back, get a job that did pay, and explore different opportunities.

Unfortunately, the jobs I succumbed to for income weren’t the writing kind. I assure you, if it paid, I would have kept writing. But I had to face the harsh truth for the sake of my adult responsibility—not to mention my relationship—and pay my end of rent. (And that isn’t to say one can’t get paid to write, I was just having trouble.)

So here we are: a couple years later, a pretty good job at a local publication, and some new experiences and endeavors under my belt. No, I haven’t been able to flex my writing muscles at CITY quite yet, but it’s been a step in the right direction. And most of all, it’s bringing me opportunities in less than expected places. Opportunities in video games, right here in my home city.

Here in Rochester, NY, there’s been a slow but surely steady growing scene of independent game developers. Games like Halloween Forever from developer Peter Lazarski. Or, there’s the still currently in-development A Small Robot Story by Rob Mostyn (AKA bc likes you!). Not to mention the bigger names in this town like Workinman: a studio that specializes in developing licensed titles for the likes of Paramount, Nickelodeon, and Disney; they’ve also dipped their toes in smaller indie titles like DeathState. There’s also Darkwind Media too, and even the recently founded Second Avenue Learning. Actually, the game scene here doesn’t seem slow and steady at all — it’s at the brink of bursting at the seams.

Furthermore, MAGIC center at Rochester Institute of Technology launched a New York Statewide game development challenge for students and indie developers alike. Things are happening. Opportunities are arising. I’d be a fool if I didn’t acknowledge that, especially as a prior video game journalist.

But back in 2015 when I was writing full time, none of this was really happening — or at least I wasn’t aware of it. Then again, when I was writing for IGM, I was essentially alone in my bedroom, completely telecommuting, with virtually no person-to-person interaction. It took a bizarre toll on me I didn’t expect; it actually made me anxious and depressed.

If I didn’t take that step back from game journalism, and sought out opportunities elsewhere, I may have never come back around to find that the some of the most fascinating things happening are here in my own front yard. I also have to thank my position at CITY, because without it, I may have not had the toe in the door to this community that I currently have.

So being here in Rochester, meeting these developers face-to-face, being able to attend these panels and events, has peaked my interest and brought me back to why I started wanting to write about games in the first place: because they inspired me.

So why aren’t I writing about this for CITY you may ask? Well, CITY and I aren’t there yet. Sometimes jobs are like relationships, and time & patience can be wonderful things. But till then, there’s no reason why I can’t mumble and rant here.

I don’t really have any specific intentions with VGC&C, and frankly, I’d like to keep it that way. I don’t want to set an expectation of when I’ll post again, or more specifically, assign myself the sole responsibility of writing about the Rochester video game scene. But there are things happening, and they’re happening in my neck of the woods, and that’s worth writing about.

-kurt

P.S. This post—if anything—was a nudge on my end to scratch that writing itch. With all this said, if there are other folks in the Rochester area (or upstate New York in general for that matter), who are writing about games happening in their town, I’d love to know em. So please, if you’d like, send them my way, or, introduce yourself.

Currently playing:
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Little Inferno
(Can you guess what console I just got?)

Comics I Currently Love:
Moonshine
Royal City
Black Hammer