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.

Like it’s 1987

Well, my latest movie marathon, for the year 1987, definitely took the longest (starting in October of last year) — not because of the quality of the films, but probably more because I burned out a bit on watching so many 80s movies last year, and needed to take a break. When I kicked off 1987 and made up my list of potential movies to watch, it was actually looking like I could end up watching 40 or 50 movies. I decided to cap it at 30 because I wanted to move on, leaving a lot unwatched, like A Better Tomorrow II, Angel Heart, Dirty Dancing, Fatal Attraction, Hamburger Hill, La Bamba, hell, even Princess Bride! But as with the other years I’ve revisited (1967, 1977, 1985, 1986), I had a good time doing a deep dive into a year’s movie output. What’s next? Since it’s 2018, I now plan on revisiting movies that go back decades, and so I’ll kick it off with a marathon of films from 1968.

Below are all 30 films from 1987 that I watched (in alphabetical order), with links to my thoughts on each — or you can just click on the “1987” tag.

  1. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
  2. Beverly Hills Cop II
  3. City on Fire
  4. Creepshow 2
  5. Empire of the Sun
  6. Evil Dead II
  7. Full Metal Jacket
  8. Good Morning, Vietnam
  9. Hellraiser
  10. Innerspace
  11. Jaws: The Revenge
  12. Less Than Zero
  13. Lethal Weapon
  14. Mannequin
  15. No Way Out
  16. Planes, Trains and Automobiles
  17. Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrole
  18. Predator
  19. Prince of Darkness
  20. Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise
  21. Robocop
  22. Some Kind of Wonderful
  23. The Hidden
  24. The Last Emperor
  25. The Lost Boys
  26. The Monster Squad
  27. The Pick-up Artist
  28. The Running Man
  29. The Untouchables
  30. Wall Street

Game Boy 008 – Terrace

“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’ve now worked at Ubisoft Montréal for just over two years — my first day on the job was February 15, 2016, which is an easy date to remember since it was exactly a year before the release of the game I was hired to work on, For Honor (which released on the heart-filled February 14, 2017).

I quite enjoy working at the studio. After my first year on production, I moved over to a service team, which has also been a great experience — and it gives me a chance to work alongside a great many of our game projects, both in and out of Montreal. But the studio itself is also quite an interesting place to work in. Up until January of this year, I was working in the studio’s “main” building (yes, the studio is so big that it covers a collection of spaces in the Mile End neighborhood), called Peck. In January, our team moved over to one of the floors in a 12-story building on De Gaspé avenue.

One of my favorite things in this new space — apart from the great view we have of the city since we’re on the 12th floor — is the big open area that’s located near the location of my desk (and pictured above). With all those giant tables (and there’s another even larger one that you can’t see, in the foreground, along with a comfy couch and chairs), it’s just perfect for us to play various card games and board games either at lunch time or after work. I run a Magic: The Gathering league inside our team, and so most lunch times we’re using those long tables to play our matches. We also play other card games, as well as board games, like Gloomhaven, which I organize on a mostly weekly schedule. But I’m lucky not just for the nice space we’re afforded to play in, but also for the fact that I have so many colleagues I can convince to play with me — which I guess is not incredibly surprising when you consider that we work at a game studio.

But going back to Peck, the best feature of that 5-story building is the rooftop terrace. It’s open all summer (or rather from late spring to late fall), and on top of being a nice place to go hang out or to eat your lunch outside, the studio often organizes happy hours there — and for some of them, you can even bring a friend or family member along.

The reason I bring this up is because this week it was time for the annual winter happy hour, when they open the terrace for one special drink-up in the cold and snow. This was my third one, and although it was still pleasant — and I downed quite a few mugs of hot cider — I was a bit saddened by the lack of snow this year, although 0 degrees Celsius was definitely more agreeable than the -20 we got last year.

Game Boy 007 – Bond

“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.

One of the things I do at work is produce a weekly newsletter for the team I’m in. It’s something I started doing for the team I joined after leaving For Honor, as part of an effort to improve communication inside the team and to bring everyone closer (you know, team building). After 42 weekly editions (ending it at that number may or may not have something to do with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), I thought I would hang my hat (in part due to a merging of teams, as well as changes to my role and responsibilities), but then I ended up starting a weekly “pirate” newsletter with a colleague (which I actually modelled after a VIC-20 aesthetic), and that seemed to be enjoyed just as much if not more than the old newsletter, and so we converted it to a new proper newsletter for this new team.

I have fun with these (it’s the reason I do it), and me and the two colleagues I do them with come up with themes each week, and they usually revolve around movies. A few weeks ago it was the 7th edition — since I number my newsletter like I number this column, it was in fact the “007” edition, and so you can imagine what we ended up doing with that one (I didn’t really leave my colleagues a choice).

And so this is where it ties into this edition of this column. For the newsletter, we did a bunch of fun Bond-related content, including my top (00)7 list of Bond films, and I wrote a little something about what I believe to be the best and hugely underrated Bond video game.

You ask anyone to name you a Bond game, and they’re likely to name GoldenEye. Whether its aged well or not, there’s no denying it was a groundbreaking game for the time — popularizing multiplayer FPS play on console, and with an insanely fun 4-way split-screen at that. But if you ask me what my favorite Bond game is, it’s James Bond 007: Blood Stone, which was released for the PS3 and Xbox 360 (I played it on the latter).

The studio behind the game was Bizarre Creations, better known for its racing game pedigree (Project Gotham Racing), and so as you can imagine, they injected an incredibly fun driving element to the game — and I’m already a big fan of driving cars in games, even outside of racing games (which probably explains why I like the Grand Theft Auto series so much). But on top of great driving levels, I loved that that they created a 3rd person action game instead of first-person — not only do I tend to prefer 3rd person action games, I’m also happier seeing Bond in action, rather than seeing things from his perspective.

I loved that game immensely, more than any Bond game that has come before or after (yes, even more than GoldenEye), and I do wish they would make another Bond game in that style. (I also think it would be interesting for Telltale to make a Bond game, in their adventure game style.)