Fall 2018 Anime Season

Coming off a relatively quiet summer season, I’m facing a fall season that has nothing I’m really interested in watching. The only thing on the list that I’m mildly interested is Ingress, and the continuation of Banana Fish, but even that, I only watched 5-6 episodes of the first season, and although I liked it fine, it never really grabbed me — I keep saying to myself that I’ll continue watching it, but I never do. Last season’s High Score Girl was fantastic though, and I still really enjoyed watching more Lupin the III Part V. There is more anime I’m interested in watching though, and that’s the stuff that gets added to Netflix. They recently added two new series I’m interested in watching: Last Hope (I watched the first episode and liked it) and Dragon Pilot — and I really liked the second Godzilla anime film as well.

Game Boy 013 – Rejection

“Game Boy” is a weekly column in which I write about being a game developer working in Montreal. You’ll find them all under this category, and it starts here.

About a month ago there was another game dev hashtag making the rounds, in this case, #ShareYourRejection (or rather, it wasn’t just tied to the games industry, but the examples I saw in my timeline were game dev-related).

I make no secret that it wasn’t an easy process for me to get a job in the games industry, once I decided I wanted to return to North America and work in games. I applied to countless companies — through their website — and would never hear anything back other than a confirmation of receipt, and then sometimes a notification that the position was filled, and that I would continue to be “considered” for future openings.

(There’s one company in particular — you can probably guess if you know my tastes in games — to which I applied for quite a few positions, with that type of response every time.)

Yes, at times it was feeling like nothing would happen, and that maybe my dream of working in games was a futile one. Despite that, I still left Tokyo without a job lined up, hoping that things would work out. My wife and I stayed at my parent’s home (in the province of New Brunswick) for just over a month while I continued to apply for positions — and at that point, I finally got some phone interviews happening.

How did I finally break through? I got so tired of applying through websites and nothing happening that I figured that I would need to try and get in touch with a recruiter directly, and that’s what I did. There was something that looked interesting at Eidos Montréal, and so I reached out to a friend who had ties to them, asking if he could get me the name of someone I could email directly. 

Following that first email, I got a reply that they’d be interested in talking to me, asking me what role I’d be interested in (they had a few they thought would fit my profile), and then I did a call with the recruiter, and then a call with the person who would become my manager.

The whole point of this post is to say that, yes, rejection happens, but if it’s something you really want and that you think you could really do, then you need to persevere and figure out ways to get through. And yes, getting in touch with a human being — instead of just a contact email or upload link on a website for your CV — has a much better chance of getting the attention of the company.

(Let me add that I did the same thing for Ubisoft, once I got laid off from Eidos Montréal, and that also worked out.)

I’m still a newbie in the industry — I’m at about 3 and a half years now, 2 and a half at Ubisoft, with a trajectory that went from Production Coordinator to Project Manager — but I’m always happy to share anything I can share with anyone who is also interested in doing the same. I have in fact already been contacted a few times by people asking me for advice, and I’m always happy to help out any way I can.

It’s maybe also worth noting that I did all of this once I was already in my 40s, and so it’s never too late. 

Alfred Hitchcock

On top of my year-based movie watching — I’m currently still in 1978 — I enjoy watching through other series of films as a Sunday night tradition. Following Bond and Indiana Jones, over the summer I decided to revisit a large chunk of Alfred Hitchcock’s work. I stuck to his color output (with the exception of Psycho of course), which starts in the late 40s. I’ve always been a big fan of his films — and his TV series, and even the Three Investigators book series that I loved as a kid — and it was really fun to do this, since I hadn’t re-watched most of them in probably a couple of decades. You’ll find below the full list of what I watched (and under this category).

Like it’s 1968

The latest movie marathon I was doing was for 1968, and although I had initially told myself I’d do 10 movies, I’ve decided to stop after 7, which are all listed below (and can found collected here). There were still a few movies I would have watched, like Bullit (which I admittedly had already re-visited a few years ago), Yellow Submarine, and Barbarella, but I’ve had a hard time getting in the mood to watch them, so I think it’s better that I just move on to something else. Next stop: 1978.

Game Boy 012 – Newcastle

“Game Boy” is a weekly column in which I write about being a game developer working in Montreal. You’ll find them all under this category, and it starts here.

Following my first business trip with Ubisoft earlier this year in order to attend GDC, I was pretty excited this month for my second one, which gave me a chance to visit England for the first time (I almost visited over 20 years ago when I was backpacking across Europe, but it was the year the UK left the Eurail pass, and I was too cheap to pay the extra money to get there).

This trip was more of a traditional “business trip,” in that it wasn’t to attend a conference, but rather to join meetings with our worldwide customer services teams, as part of their annual summit — the European CS team is based in Newcastle. My team at the Montreal studio builds the main tool that our CS agents use to interact with customers — a tool that interacts with pretty much all of our games — and so every year we are invited to participate in this summit with them, to get a better understanding of their reality, and to discuss how to improve the tool.

But more than just having meetings, the real “gold” of these trips is to get to spend time with all of these people you work with — people you interact with on a daily/weekly basis, but always through emails and calls. There’s no denying just how much a “real” chat with people can incredibly strengthen these relationships, and that goes doubly when you get to share a meal with them, some drinks, and even a dance floor (we enjoyed an epic dance-a-thon on the night of the office’s annual summer party — and those sandals you see pictured in this post acted as the invitation “tickets”).

Those few days of interactions were probably more valuable than months of calls, and it gave us a chance to all get a better feel and realization of things we’re each dealing with.

But outside of work, it was also a fantastic trip. My wife came along with me, and she thoroughly enjoyed day-tripping in Newcastle — a beautiful city — and the surrounding areas. I had an extra day and a half to spend with her, and so we made it out to the also beautiful town of Durham, and visited Edinburgh for a day. We both loved what we saw of England, and can’t wait to get a chance to visit again — my wife was so infatuated that she mentioned wanting to live there, but then again, she said the same thing after our trip to San Francisco.

We arrived back home last night after an intensively long day of travel, that followed barely 3 hours of sleep, and included a 7-hour layover at the Amsterdam airport, and today I took the day off to recuperate a bit — and to try and get around the jet lag.

Travel can be taxing, but the experience in between makes it all worth it.

Summer 2018 Anime Season

Coming off a season where I ended up watching quite a few things that I liked — especially Lupin the III: Part V and Legend of the Galactic Heroes, but also Megalobox (which I haven’t finished), and to a lesser extent Layton Mystery Tanteisha: Katori no Nazotoki File, that I watch with my wife — looks like it’s going to be a slow summer for me. But that’s fine, just gives me time to watch stuff from my backlog. Here’s what I will check out (taken from this list) — and to that you can include Lupin III and Layton, that are both still ongoing.

Banana Fish
I feel a lot of nostalgia for the original manga, which I remember reading in the old PULP magazine. I don’t really remember much about the story, so looking forward to watching this anime adaptation.

High Score Girl
The main reason I want to check this out is because in the trailer you see them play actual video games from the early 90s (which is the setting of the series), and that sounds like it could be fun.

Game Boy 011 – Ebb and Flow

“Game Boy” is a weekly column in which I write about being a game developer working in Montreal. You’ll find them all under this category, and it starts here.

I was going to start sharing my GDC thoughts this week, but there’s Japanese gaming in the air. This weekend marks the 6th edition of the BitSummit indie gaming festival in Kyoto, and that’s pretty much all I’m seeing on my timeline right now — people taking in cool indie games, and enjoying (drunk) social outings around town.

I won’t lie, it’s making me pretty fucking homesick right now (when you lived in Japan for over 15 years, it’s hard not to consider it one of your “homes” for the rest of your life).

But on top of BitSummit, this week also marks the release of Ebb and Flow, a fantastic new documentary from the team at Archipel. Archipel, composed of Anne Ferrero and Alex Zabava, is the duo that for the past few years has been producing the Toco Toco series, which I’ve highlighted and recommended on this blog countless times because I think it’s terrific — each episode focuses on a Japanese creator, and although quite a few of the episodes focus on the games industry, they touch on all creative fields. They also produced the excellent documentary Branching Paths, that takes a look at the growing indie gaming scene in Japan.

Archipel as a label was launched fairly recently, and is to be the home for all of the duo’s future videos, including more Toco Toco, and even more excitingly, what looks like more long-form videos.

Ebb and Flow — with the subtitle “Conversations on the recent momentum of Japanese games” — is a great exploration of the recent resurgence in popularity of Japanese games on the world stage (they point to the start of 2016 as a milestone date). It features interviews with the creators of all those games (Nier: Automata, Yakuza, Monster Hunter: World, Rez Infinite, Persona 5, and lots more), and I of course loved seeing my friend John Ricciardi (co-founder of the Tokyo-based game localization company 8-4) be included as well, to offer some context.

It’s easy for me to recommend everything that Archipel produces — every time I talk to Anne, I tell her I’m her biggest fan — but at the very least, if you have an interest in Japanese games, you really need to watch Ebb and Flow (and follow that up with Branching Paths, to see a similar story from an indie perspective).

Game Boy 010 – For Honor

“Game Boy” is a weekly column in which I write about being a game developer working in Montreal. You’ll find them all under this category, and it starts here.

This coming week will mark my 3rd anniversary of working in the games industry — I moved to Montreal during the first week of May 2015, to start work at Eidos Montréal a week later on the 11th. It’s also interesting to see that the first game I worked on, For Honor, is not only picking up steam more than a year after a release (and it was a strong launch), but it’s also celebrating with a Free Weekend event, in which you can play the game for free until Sunday on PC, PS4, and X1.

After exiting Eidos Montréal — or more specifically, the Shinra Technologies project — at the start of 2016, I was then hired by Ubisoft Montréal in February, and it was to work as part of the live team on what was to be the launch of an ambitious new IP for the company. Better known for its open world games, this was to be a multiplayer-focused “live” game, and it was exciting to be part of that of that final year of production before launch.

I still remember the first time I saw mention of For Honor, as part of its unveiling at E3 the previous year, and thinking that it looked like a cool game, of course not knowing at the time that I would eventually be joining its production team.

As the game was preparing for launch (on February 14, 2017), I moved over to a different team at the studio, and so no longer “lived and breathed” For Honor, but it’s still a project I feel a strong attachment to — even if it’s not a genre of game I generally spend a lot of time playing — and I’m happy that following the launch of dedicated servers a couple of months ago, the game is still getting a lot of love and attention. And as has been announced, there’s more to come, with some reveals coming at E3.

It’s also great to see that the documentary about the making of the game, Playing Hard, is currently showing at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto — it originally aired as 3 episodes on TV here in Quebec last December, and has now been edited into a film. I’m quite happy to have this document of a production I was a part of, and even though I’m biased, I think it’s a pretty great story to tell (check it out for yourself, to see all of the drama that can happen in this world of AAA game-making).

So yeah, with the Free Weekend happening, this week I just wanted to take a moment to think back on the experience I had working on For Honor, and hope a lot of people who haven’t had a chance to play it will take the opportunity to do so.

Game Boy 009 – GameStruck4

“Game Boy” is a weekly column in which I write about being a game developer working in Montreal. You’ll find them all under this category, and it starts here.

After keeping my weekly rhythm constant for the first eight editions, it’s now been over a month since the last one, which was never my intention. It started because of my trip to San Francisco for GDC, but then I wanted to write up the experience I had, and there was so much that I wanted to share that I just ended up not getting anything done. So in the meantime, I’ll start up again with something else, and touch on GDC at a later date — I have finished the draft for a presentation/report I’ll be doing at our next team meeting, but it’s close to 50 slides long.

So what do I want to share? Following a recent Twitter meme that saw people share four films that had a strong impact on them, under the “FilmStruck4” hashtag, some people started sharing the same but for games using the “GameStruck4” hashtag. Below is what I shared, which I consider to be some of the first games (in alphabetical order) that had a huge impact on me.

King’s Quest (PC)
I’ve always had a lot of love for point-and-click adventure games, and yes, it would be easy to point to all of the fantastic LucasArts games I played and loved (and although I love me some Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango, one of my favorites was Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis), but if I’m to think back on my first memories of the genre, it’s hard to avoid naming the King’s Quest series (even if for this purpose, I just mentioned the first one). I loved these games to bits (as well as many other releases from Sierra), and have fond memories of playing them both alone, and with friends sitting next to me.

Phantasie III: The Wrath of Nicodemus (PC)
I’ve mentioned this game previously when talking about favorite games (here and here), but more than a just a favorite of mine, I think it led to my love of playing RPGs — and those Dungeons & Dragons games from SSI that I also played so much of really owed a lot to it. The other influential RPG from that era for me was the first Might & Magic game.

Pitfall (Atari VCS)
As repetitious as this game may be, this was always my favorite game to play on the Atari VCS (or 2600). Thinking back on this, it’s no surprise how platformers turned into a favorite genre for me — especially during the 80s and 90s (although it still is) — and I’d say it all goes back to this game. I’ll never forget that rudimentary sound effect (sorta like a Tarzan yell) that played while Pitfall Harry swings on a vine.

Zork 1 (PC)
I’d say Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was my favorite Infocom game, but there’s no denying that it all started with the first Zork game — from that point, I fell in love with all things Infocom. When it comes to text adventures, I never really played much of anything that wasn’t Infocom, I was just really in love with their style, the stories, and the fantastic boxes filled with “feelies.”

Here’s an extra 4 “honorable mentions“:

F-19 (PC)
I never was big into flight simulators, but the one I did get into was F-19 from MicroProse — probably because the box looked so cool (the F-19 was a “theoretical” stealth jet fighter). I still remember the gigantic manual that came with it, and I did play it a lot, so I imagine I probably got pretty good at it. Another MicroProse game from those days that I remember loving a lot was Airborne Ranger. It’s maybe why I love playing Tom Clancy games so much.

Gorf (VIC-20)
It’s probably not that great a game, but the VIC-20 was the first computer we had, and the first device we had that played electronic games (I had to go to my friends’ homes to play Atari, Intellivision, and ColecoVision games). Of all the games I played on the VIC-20, I’m sure I played Gorf the most.

Spy Hunter (Arcade)
We had a corner arcade, and the game I played the most had to be Spy Hunter. James Bond fan that I am, I loved driving my spy car while eliminating enemies, with that classic Peter Gunn music playing. While I was in San Francisco last month I went to the Musée Mécanique, and had a chance to play it again. It’s still just as fun.

Ultima VII: The Black Gate (PC)
Of all the Ultima games I played, this was my favorite, and I still have such vivid memories of starting to playing it, after opening that black and foreboding box, and embarking on a journey that was so, well, dark. And with the world now being presented full-screen, it all felt so incredibly immersive.

Spring 2018 Anime Season

After a few disappointing anime seasons, I found myself enjoying most of what I wanted to watch during this past winter season — I really liked Junji Ito Collection, thought Kokkoku was pretty good, as well as Devilman Crybaby (although I haven’t finished watching it), and I watched the first episode of B: The Beginning and will watch more. When I started looking into the new spring season — which I always do on AniChart — I found quite a few things I was interested in watching. Below are those series, and I’ve already started watching all of them, so I’ll indicate what I think so far, after 1-2 episodes.

FLCL Progressive
I’m a huge fan of the original FLCL (as is most everyone who’s watched it), and when a sequel series was announced, my first reaction was that I didn’t think it was a good idea. I still tried to keep hope alive that it would be good — and the fact that the original creators are back was a good sign — but I’m just shocked at how much I disliked the first episode. I’m going to watch the second episode when it’s out, just to make sure, but wow, I was bored to tears with what I saw in episode 1. I even rewatched the original series last year, and still loved it, so it’s not a case of me not being into this series/world anymore.

The Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These
I didn’t really know what to expect with this series, but figured I’d check it out because I liked the idea of galactic battles as a setting (I don’t feel like we get a lot of series like that anymore), and that it’s produced by Production I.G. I’ve watched the first 2 episodes, and I’m really digging it so far. It really is all about the space battles and the tactics used, and the first episode ends on a great cliffhanger. I’m pleasantly surprised by this.

Lupin III: Part V
I love Lupin, and have watched a lot of his series and movies, and so was pretty happy when I saw they were launching a new series this season. I’ve watched the first 2 episodes, and so far it’s really fun. It’s an interestingly modern setup (people are following Lupin — and getting in his way — through social media), and yet it feels like classic Lupin. I’m pretty sure I’ll be enjoying the rest of this.

Megalo Box
Despite the name, this is actually an Ashita no Joe series set in the future, in celebration of the series’ 50th anniversary. I’ve never read or watched anything that has to do with Ashita no Joe, but the description sounded interesting — a world where cybernetically-enhanced boxing matches take place — and I liked the first episode. The world looks very Akira-esque (if not of that quality), and this is probably the way to get me to watch a sports-themed series (I don’t tend to like watching sports-related anime).

Fist of the Blue Sky
This is a prequel series to First of the North Star. I know the basic setup of First of the North Star — and I can’t wait to play the game by the developers of the Yakuza series — but I’ve never read or watched any. I thought the first episode was pretty neat — its CG cel-shaded, like Knights of Sidonia and Ajin, and produced by that same studio — and it’s funny to see these ridiculously muscled-up characters interacting with crazy kung-fu-inspired moves. But by the second episode I was already growing bored with the story — and lack of action — and so I’m not especially excited to continue watching it. I might give it another episode.