Formula 1

There was a point in my life where I enthusiastically followed Formula 1, and it’s easy to remember when: Ayrton Senna. My interested in F1 started and ended with him, and I’ve never bothered to pay attention since. As much as I love to play racing games — it’s one of my favorite video game genres — I don’t find it particularly interesting to see cars race on TV. If I was a fan during the Senna era, it was because of the stories that developed during his run, and the drama that followed from race-to-race (the action, the rivalries, the controversies, etc.)

Fast forward to earlier this year, just ahead of the start of the 2019 Formula 1 season. I’m sick in bed, binging madly to keep my mind off my incessant coughing, and I decide to check out a new documentary series on Netflix called Formula 1: Drive to Survive. I was hooked, and binged all 10 episodes in one go. It covers the 2018 season, but by examining certain drivers and teams, which means the focus is not on the winners of the races, but on the drama that takes place on and off the track, and that’s what got me.

What’s happened since? I immediately wanted to know how the upcoming season 2019 was looking like, and so started looking up news and reports, and I’m now at a point where I listen to a weekly podcast called Shift-F1 (funnily enough, it’s hosted by three guys from the gaming press, including Noclip‘s Danny O’Dwyer), I watch all of the practice, qualifying, and racing highlights on YouTube (the official Formula 1 channel is really great for this), and on a daily basis I’m watching lots of videos on YouTube that are F1-related, examining how things are going, analysis of the cars, drivers, tracks, etc.

I’m also really bummed by how Ricciardo is doing with Renault this year.

My sudden surge in interest in Formula 1 has even spilled over to Formula E, the electric car racing series, and I’m following it in a similar way — and I’m quite excited for the upcoming documentary, And We Go Green (produced by Leonardo Dicaprio). Formula E is also quite interesting in that it adopts in real life a lot of “mechanics” that we’re used to seeing in video game racing — there are actual boost pads on the track.

So all this to say that these days I’m having a lot of fun following the world of these speedy cars, and that’s without any interest in watching actual races live.

Friday Fluke

Pretty much ever since I’ve worked at Ubisoft Montréal, I’ve sent out an email at 16:oo on Fridays to invite everyone on the team to take it easy as we head into the weekend. It started out as a pretty typical “beer mail” — as Production Coordinator on For Honor, one of the things I did was order and stock up the beer fridge (along with soft drinks) — and over time I started having a bit of fun with the email. When I changed teams (the Game Operations Online team), I kept doing it, even though it wasn’t really a habit the team had — I remember the first one I sent, grabbing a beer and then standing alone, with no one else drinking. Eventually they caught on, and on top of sharing a drink and chatting, it turned into playing games and the like.

Last year I decided I didn’t want to call it the “beer time” anymore — because of the alcohol connotation that could make non-beer drinkers feel uninvited (even if we stock up on other things, like sodas, juices, kombuchas, etc.) — and decided to brand it as the “Friday Fluke.” I’m part of a team called Harbour (offering online solutions for all of Ubisoft), and the “fluke” is a part of an anchor, and so I saw this as an “anchor” for the week — and I also liked the other connotation that the word has (an unexpected piece of good luck).

With that change, I’ve been turning that end-of-week time into more of an event, and the latest thing I’ve introduced (as of a few weeks ago) is that we kick it off with someone doing a presentation about something personal using the PechaKucha format (20 images/slides x 20 seconds), in order to get to know each other a bit better. It’s been great so far, with everyone doing a fantastic job with what they shared, even if they were a bit nervous about trying out the format. I myself did a couple (to get people used to it), first a rundown of my 10 favorite anime series, and then for the second one I broke the format a bit, giving my 20-second thoughts on all 25 James Bond movies (I included Bond 25).

After that we usually end up playing games in a large group, usually of the social deduction variety, things like Werewolf, Secret Hitler, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, The Resistance, Coup, etc. For Werewolf, after playing through two copies of Werewolf Legacy, I’ve now started creating my own scenarios, but that’s for another post.

I’m sharing this just to put it out there that the end-of-week “beer time” that is not uncommon in game studios (we used to do it during my time at Eidos Montréal, in the Square Enix Montréal studio, as well) doesn’t have to be just that, and can be turned into more of a social event, in which everyone can feel like they can be part of it, and contribute.

Four Years a Game Dev

It was four years ago on this day (Monday, May 11, 2015) that I started my first day as a game developer. After leaving our life in Tokyo at the end of March (on the 31st) and spending a month in my hometown while I continued to look for work, we moved to Montreal during the first week of May so I could start the following week at Eidos Montréal.

Thinking back, it was a bit of a crazy idea to suddenly do a career change and make the decision to find work in the games industry. As I’ve written before, it wasn’t easy, but I’m glad I persevered, and I find myself still incredibly thankful to be working in this industry (now at Ubisoft Montréal, for just over 3 years).

Sure, I do miss my life in Tokyo, all of my friends there and all the amazing people I worked with, hung out with, and shared fun times with, but I have no regrets. Four years a game dev.

Recent Gaming (May 2019)

The Picross-inspired Piczle Colors.

Following the post I put up recently about TV shows I’ve been watching on a weekly basis (which does not preclude continued binging, which I’m currently doing with the second season of Cobra Kai), here’s a survey of what I’ve been playing video games-wise in recent weeks.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. I’m at close to 60 hours on this, and still haven’t completed the main game. I’ve stopped playing it a few times since its release, in order to jump on other things I also wanted to play (Red Dead Redemption 2, The Division 2), but I came back to it this week and completed a few more missions. I still think this world is so incredibly gorgeous, and I love being in it.

Gems of War. It has an incredibly generic name, and it’s a free-to-play game (something I’m not a big fan of generally), but this game by the creators of the original Puzzle Quest got me hooked immediately. It’s basically exactly like Puzzle Quest with a few upgrades, and up until now, I haven’t felt like I needed to deal with F2P incentives, but I can see it coming down the line. After being incredibly addicted over the first few days I was playing it, I now haven’t touched it in weeks, and maybe that’s for the best.

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. To my great surprise, I’ve discovered the joys of playing Super Mario games co-op. Before picking up this game I had never played co-op in any of the other Mario games that offered it — never felt the interest, looked too chaotic — but since I like to play games with colleagues at work, I figured I’d give it a try, and I ended up loving playing in co-op (usually 3 players) much more than in solo mode. I had an absolute blast playing through the campaign with two colleagues, and we’re currently backtracking and getting all 3 star coins in each level, in order to unlock all of the bonus levels — which is something I’ve never bothered doing in any Mario game. I’ve had so much fun playing this way that when we’re done unlocking everything, I’m planning on bringing my Wii U to work so we can play through Super Mario 3D World that way.

Picross S. Playing through Piczle Colors put me in a Picross playing mood, and the release of Picross S3 last week reminded me that I hadn’t played any of the Switch releases yet, so I picked up the first one and have been having a great time with it (I’m about 50-60 puzzles in).

Piczle Colors. I love Picross, and this Picross-inspired game by my friend James Kay’s Score Studios is just as fun. According to my Switch stats, it’s the game I’ve played the most on my Switch this year so far (after finishing it, my play count was at over 20 hours). If you love Picross, you really need to get this as well.

The Division 2. I was incredibly excited for the release of this — I quite enjoyed the first game — and it hasn’t disappointed. Although I’m sure you get more fun out of it if you play with others, I’ve pretty much soloed it exclusively so far (I used matchmaking for one mission I was having a hard time with), and it’s been fine that way. I’ve put in about 60 hours, and have completed the campaign (I did that at around the 50-55 hour point). I’ve dabbled a few hours in the endgame, and do like it — especially the new specializations that gives you a super weapon — but I’ve decided to put the game aside for a bit so I can play through some other things.

The Gardens Between. I picked this up a while back while it was on sale, and only just recently got around to playing it. I’m really enjoying it so far, in part because of the fantastic art direction, but also because of the innovate gameplay that revolves around forwarding and reversing time (a bit similar to some of the things we saw in Braid, but still with its own twists). Highly recommended.

TowerFall. I’ve loved TowerFall for a long time, previously playing it on PS4, and recently picked it up on Switch as well. The impetus was actually for a team activity we were doing at work (a silly tournament we organize for our interns), because I wanted the 6-player option that only the Switch version offers. This game is still so much fun.

Yakuza Kiwami 2. I played through and finished three Yakuza games last year (Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami, and Yakuza 6), and so wanted to take a break before I get to Kiwami 2. I started playing it this morning, and it feels just as good as all the other games I’ve played. I love this series to bits — this is my spiritual successor to Shenmue — and I’m really looking forward to playing Judgment this summer (new game not in the series, but from the Yakuza studio).

Recent TV (April 2019)

I’m not quite sure what my love of Killing Eve‘s Villanelle says about me.

In recent years, the majority of my TV watching has been of the streaming variety, mostly binged from Netflix. I did notice that I’m watching a few series on a weekly basis this month, and here they are.

Doom Patrol. I thought the Titans series was pretty good, and my favorite episode from its first season was the one that starred the Doom Patrol. Because of that, I was incredibly hyped for this series, and so it’s a bit unfortunate that it just didn’t land for me. I still have the last 2-3 episodes of the 10-episode season to watch, and I will watch them, but I don’t think I’m in for a second season if they do end up making one. I don’t like that they went less funny and more just plain weird with their stories, and I thought the addition of Cyborg was incredibly lame — or maybe it’s just that I really don’t like his portrayal in this series.

Game of Thrones. Certainly one of my favorite series of all time (like everyone else), and following this week’s episode (the battle of Winterfell), I’m now even more excited to see how things are going to fall out over the final three episodes. Let’s see who wins this goddamn game of thrones.

Killing Eve. I loved the first season to bits, and I’m enjoying the second season (so far) just as much. Never mind Eve though, for me it’s all about Villanelle, I just can’t get enough of her. I’m definitely happy that they’ve already announced that they’ll do a third season.

Twilight Zone. Before watching the first episode, I was a bit bummed by the headlines I’d seen that suggested this new take on the classic franchise was a bust (at least based on the first four episodes, that had been made available to reviewers). Maybe it’s because I went in with lowered expectations then (after my initial excitement at the thought of Jordan Peele taking on the series), but I’ve enjoyed all of the episodes so far (the first four). Sure, they’re not all amazing, and some could have been cut in half, but I’ve enjoyed them none the less, as well as the weird Twilight Zonian twists we get in all of them. It’s maybe not for everyone, but it’s working for me.

Warrior. Produced by Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shanon, this is based on an idea Lee had in the 70s for a series that he never got to make, but that later inspired David Carradine’s Kung Fu. I’ve only watched the first episode, but I dig the setting (late 19th century San Francisco, focusing on the Chinese communities), and the fights are fun. I’m in for at least a few more episodes.

What We Do in the Shadows. The movie this is based on is one of my all-time favorite comedies, and so I was incredibly excited at the thought of getting a series based on it, and from the same creators. Five episodes in, I’ll say that I like it, but I’m not overly in love with it. It has its moments — some brilliant — but for the most part it’s so-so, making me think that the insanely fun premise of the movie isn’t really enough to sustain a series. I’ll keep watching it though, for the amazing cast at least.

Bond 25

I am indeed a huge Bond fan, have been one my whole life, so you can imagine my excitement this week when I learned that they were going to have a live stream to announce details about the upcoming Bond film, 25th in the series. It’s something they also did for the previous film, Spectre, and it was indeed exciting to not only find out that S.P.E.C.T.R.E. was finally coming back to the films, but also that Monica Bellucci was going to make an appearance.

What did we did we find out Bond 25? Well, I was really hoping we were going to get the proper title, but alas, it seems like it hasn’t been finalized yet. The cast is looking quite good though, with pretty much all of the regulars returning (including the return of Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter, which I’m very happy about), and I think Rami Malek has the potential to be a deliciously cruel villain. Doing the stream at GoldenEye, Ian Fleming’s private estate in Jamaica and the place where he created James Bond, was a nice touch, as it is to hear that Jamaica will feature as a location in the upcoming film.

We’re still a ways off until the release (Spring of 2020), but I’m already pretty hyped for it.

Like it’s 1988

It’s been a while since I’ve written up a mini review for one of my year-based movie marathons (196719681977, 1978, 198519861987), and that’s because I was still planning on watching a few more movies for 1988, but I sort of stalled at the start of the year. Even though there were a few more films I was planning on watching, I think I’m going to call it here, and move on. Next up should be a viewing of films released in 1969, but I’m in no big hurry. For now, here’s the list — in alphabetical order — of all the movies I watched from 1988 (or you can find the posts through the “1988” tag).

  1. Appointment with Death
  2. Child’s Play
  3. Coming to America
  4. Dangerous Liaisons
  5. Die Hard
  6. Frantic
  7. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
  8. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
  9. Heathers
  10. Johnny Be Good
  11. License to Drive
  12. Monkey Shines
  13. Rambo III
  14. Red Heat
  15. School Daze
  16. Scrooged
  17. The Naked Gun
  18. They Live
  19. Twins
  20. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
  21. Willow

Googie

I finally have the name to associate with a type of old-school diner/coffee shop I love so much: googie (here are some photos). I came across it while reading an article in a recent issue of Monocle (the October 2018 issue, which I hadn’t finished reading).

Although it’s a disappearing genre, there’s a bright spot in that the article talks about a resurgence in popularity, in the form of renovation work to classic joints (the article’s focus is on LA, which features them more than the box-like diners we tend to see on the east coast).

Chips coffee shop in LA.

The Artists

Each episode has a title “game box,” like this one.

If you’re at all interested in gaming culture, I can’t recommend enough The Artists: The Pioneers Behind the Pixels, a series of short (about 10-minutes each) documentaries released last year that take a look at various aspects of gaming history, produced by the CBC. There are 10 episodes in all, and you can stream them through the CBC Gem app or web access (a name I really quite dislike and don’t understand). Big thanks to my Ubi colleague Fred for bringing this to my attention.

Being the game history/cultural nerd that I am, I did already know most of these stories (for example, if you enjoy the Doom episode, then you really need to read the fantastic book Masters of Doom), but I did still get a kick out of revisiting all of this, and enjoyed the interviews and presentation (the series is slickly made with a retro aesthetic). It also made me quite nostalgic for the Electronic Arts of old.

Groundbreaking ad for Electronic Arts from 1983.

May 2019 Writing Challenge

I’ve been feeling a bit bad lately that I haven’t been writing much here — something that I like doing for myself, as a continuation of what I started way, way back in 1998. So just like I gave myself a challenge to get back into reading books in a bit of an agressive way (2 books a month, which I’m still pretty much on track with), I’m giving myself a writing challenge as well, and that’s to write at least five posts a week — long and short — until the end of May. I’ll be off from work for the next six Mondays in a row (something I did in August of last year, that I found to be quite enjoyable), starting this week, and so hopefully that’ll help give me more time to write.

Here goes.