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.

Torn Curtain

Last night’s entry in my Sunday night Hitchcock marathon was this one, which I had absolutely no memory of, in terms of the story (even though I know I watched it at some point in my life). It could have been an OK spy thriller, but uncharacteristically, it doesn’t feel well put together, and there are some scenes that are just painful to watch — like the confrontation between Newman and the German agent tasked to follow him, as well as some of the way-too-long focus shots on Julie Andrews’ face when she’s supposed to answer something. Someone pointed out an article to me after I watched it that suggested that Newman and Hitchcock were at odds during shooting, and that Hitchcock didn’t even really want him and Andrews in the film (the studio wanted big stars). I didn’t dislike watching it, but it’s certainly the weakest of the Hitchcock films I’ve re-watched so far.

Rosemary’s Baby

After putting aside my 1968 movie marathon for what feels like months (because I had a hard time getting through Wonderwall), I immediately followed it by this film, which is still so incredibly good. I had even watched it a few years ago, but was again engaged fully. It has such incredible mood and progression — and that ending, oh my, still so shocking. Later in the evening I watched Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain, which came out just two years earlier, and I was struck at how, by comparison, Rosemary’s Baby feels so much more modern, in terms of visual quality, editing, etc.

Wonderwall

I was a bit stuck on my 1968 movie marathon because of this film. In a way, I’m glad I watched it, as some of the psychedelic visuals are pretty fun, along with the trippy soundtrack by George Harrison, but man, it was also a chore to watch, and took me a few viewing sessions to get through — I kept pushing it off, but at the same time wanted to get through it before I moved on the next film on my list (which ended up being the excellent Rosemary’s Baby).

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 4)

I thought I was pretty much done watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. After absolutely loving the first season, and then finding the second season to be OK, I barely watched more than 2-3 episodes of the 3rd season — I suddenly wasn’t into it at all. With the release of the 4th, I didn’t think I’d watch it, but after my wife kept pushing me to do so (and also hearing some friends tell me it was good), I decided to check it out, and just blasted through the 6 episodes (and I didn’t know it was just a “part 1,” and was surprised that there were only 6). Putting Kimmy in that tech/startup setting was an absolute blast, and the “documentary” episode with DJ Fingerblast was just ridiculously funny, maybe one of the best episodes of the series. I’m now very much looking forward to part 2 of the season, which will be the show’s final season.

Westworld (Season 2)

When this second season started, I wasn’t really enjoying the show like I did during the first season. It was fine, but I wasn’t really excited to watch a new episode, it felt like things were just taking a bit too much time to happen — although the episode where we started seeing the truth behind the park was pretty interesting. But by the end of the season I was back in, and quite liked how they finished it — it sets up some interesting things to do with those characters in the next season. I’ll also say that episode 8 — that almost feels like a standalone episode, about the Ghost Nation character — was absolutely fantastic, and by far my favorite episode of the series.

Pacific Rim Uprising

I can’t say I really liked this. I liked the first one a lot, and the idea of giant mechs fighting monsters is one I quite like, but this sequel just fell flat for me. Sure, the big action set piece in Tokyo at the end was pretty fun, but getting there felt like a chore. I wasn’t into the cast, and didn’t care at all for any of the young recruits. And Charlie Day’s character was annoying pretty much anytime he was on screen. Don’t think I’d want another film in this series, unless it’s again directed by Del Toro.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower

This Ghibli-like movie is made by an ex-Ghibli director (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who directed The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There, the latter a film I really loved), within a new studio, Studio Ponoc, that is definitely trying to be the new Ghibli (now that Ghibli isn’t making a lot of movies anymore). I liked it, and it’s a beautifully animated film, but there’s something about that almost feels like it’s trying too hard to hit all the Ghibli notes — as my wife remarked, so many aspects of the film remind you of other Ghibli films. But despite all that, it’s really well done, and it makes me happy to see a studio like this that will continue the Ghibli legacy.

A Quiet Place

This was quite entertaining. I thought the first half hour was a bit too slow, and sure, there are some things that you just need to accept and not think too much about (why do they stay in that place, how did this nail never get noticed before, etc.), but overall it’s a great idea, and once things start moving along, it’s a fun ride all the way to the end. Makes me look forward to seeing the next movie John Krasinski decides to direct.