Harmonix Harmony

I find it a bit funny and strange that last week I found myself playing not one, but two games from Harmonix, having terrific play experiences with each. Sure, I’ve enjoyed Rock Band games in the past (especially the Beatles one), but I hadn’t played anything from them in a while, and although it’s a coincidence I found myself playing both DropMix and Amplitude at the same, it’s a happy one.

DropMix is an electronic board/card game the company released a year or two ago. I remember hearing it was fun, but it was a bit of a pricey game, and so I didn’t really think it would be something I’d pick up. For some reason, Amazon in Canada currently has the base game on sale for $20, and that was enough for me to take the plunge, and I’m sure glad I did. I’ve played a bunch of times so far with colleagues at work, and we’ve all had a really fun time with it, with everyone really liking it. There’s actually some fun strategy involved in playing the cards, and the fact that you create live mixes as you play cards — that sound good — just adds such an enjoyable vibe to the play sessions. I won’t lie, I definitely want to pick up more cards for the game (they released extra packs of cards), and so I’m keeping my eye on the price.

For Amplitude, it’s a rhythm game that originally came out on the PS2 — which I never played at the time — and then got a PS4 remake a couple of years ago. It’s free this month through PlayStation Plus, so I gave it a go, and couldn’t stop playing. The music selection is terrific — in that it’s so perfectly suited for the gameplay — and I found myself addicted to the hectic “get in the zone” type of play.

As much as I’m enjoying both of these games right now, I do admit that it’s a bit sad that not only did I not support them when they originally came out, Harmonix isn’t really getting much of my money at this point in time. But hey, I am thankful to finally be playing them, and definitely recommend others do so as well.

Reading in 2019

Great, a post about resolutions, just what everyone needs.

Love ’em or hate ’em, the start of a new year is indeed the time to think about resolutions, things you’d like to try doing — or doing better — and for me it’s reading. Don’t get me wrong, I read constantly, but it’s usually limited to magazines, comics, bandes-dessinées, and tons of stuff on the web. I’ve been trying to get my book reading habit back up and running for years now, and it’s a constant struggle.

I don’t know when it happened exactly, but I lost the habit of reading books — whether fiction or non-fiction — a great many years ago, and even though I’ve started plenty (and I mean plenty), rare is the book that I’ve actually finish. I don’t know if it’s some sort of late blooming attention deficiency or what, but I have such a hard time sticking with books I start, and I don’t like it.

So, and this isn’t the first time I’ve kicked off a new year with this in mind, I’m trying develop a book reading habit, with the goal of getting through at least a couple of books a month — probably one fiction and one non-fiction. I’m including books that I started in the past and never finished, so I think it should be doable.

My current serving is made up of Forever and a Day (a new Bond novel by Anthony Horowitz that is set directly before Casino Royale, and sees Bond becoming a 00 agent ) for which I’m about halfway through now, Significant Zero, a games industry memoir that I started a while back and am now getting back to, and on the educational side, The Product Manager’s Survival Guide — my direct manager is a Product Manager, and so it’s to better understand what she deals with.

At the same time, I’m actively going through all those long reads that I have saved in Pocket, since for so long it’s almost felt like a graveyard — where articles go to die. I’ve been pretty good so far at clearing up things (either reading, filing as a bookmark elsewhere to reference later, or simply deleting).

So here’s to a better year of reading.

The Minish Cap

My favorite video games series is The Legend of Zelda, but I do have a few blindspots, and they are mostly made up of portable releases (on home consoles, Skyward Sword is the only mainline Zelda game I’ve never played). Over the years I’ve heard a lot of good things about The Minish Cap — originally released on the Game Boy Advance — and it’s a wonder I never played it, since I did have that system. My friend Rekka was recently talking about playing it (while gushing about the aesthetics) and that inspired me to finally give it a shot — and since I’m currently on holiday break, it’s a perfect time to do so.

So far I’ve had a terrific time with it. I love the pixelized graphics, and the top-down gameplay is on the simple side but engrossing, as is the big-small mechanic. I haven’t played in the last few days because I picked up a few games on Switch that took over my attention (especially Night in the Woods, which I powered through and loved to death), but I definitely plan on continuing to play it to completion, playing short sessions here and there.

My only gripe is that I wish I could be playing this on Switch — in fact, I’d really love for all Zelda games to be available on Switch, so I could continue to address those blindspots I have (like the Oracle games).

Favorite Media of 2018

Yes, it’s finally that time of the year (see 201020112012201320142015, 2016, and 2017) when I take a look back at my favorite media from the past 12 months. As always, this is not a “best” list, but instead a survey of some of my favorite media that released in 2018 that I consumed over the past year. I don’t take in everything, so there’s absolutely tons of things that I haven’t gotten to experience yet that I might like even more than what I have listed here (and I might even make some updates over the coming weeks). The purpose in me doing this is to take some time to look back at the year, and remember all the great games, shows, movies, etc. that I really enjoyed. Each category is made up of an alphabetical top 5 (a “favorite 5” if you will), followed by a few honorable mentions.

Favorite Games
I think more than any other year, I had a bit more trouble putting this list together — and it has nothing to with the quality of releases this year. It’s in part because I didn’t play that many 2018 releases, which is partly explained by the fact that I got a PlayStation VR in the summer, and so spent a while playing a lot of older VR games on that platform. It also doesn’t help that Nintendo didn’t release much that I was particularly excited about this year. And of course, as always, there’s still loads I need to play. And where’s God of War? I really enjoyed it when I started playing it, but never got around to finishing it (got to about 10 hours), and I haven’t felt the urge to return and finish it — I think it’s a good game, but it just didn’t excite me as much as it did others. Also, I’m sure that if I would have played Yakuza Kiwami 2 it would be included, but after already playing Yakuza 0, Kiwami, and 6 this year, I wanted to take a break (but as you can tell, I love that series so much). Super Smash Brothers Ultimate makes my top 5 because I have so much fun bringing my Switch to work every day to play a few rounds with colleagues at the end of the day (I don’t particularly want to play it alone at home).

  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (PS4)
  • Dragon Quest XI (PS4)
  • Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4)
  • Super Smash Brothers Ultimate (Switch)
  • Yakuza 6 (PS4)

Honorable Mentions: A Way Out (PS4), Far Cry 5 (PS4), Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition (Switch), Hollow Knight (Switch), Into the Breach (Switch), Lightfingers (Switch), Magic: The Gathering Arena (PC), Onrush (PS4), Quarantine Circular (PC), Shadow of the Tomb Raider (PS4), Spider-Man (PS4), Starlink: Battle for Atlas (Switch), The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit (PS4), Yoku’s Island Express (Switch)

Favorite Mobile Games
I don’t play a lot of mobile games these days, and it all happens on my iPad (except for Pocket-Run Pool, which I did play a lot on my phone), but I still had a lot of fun with these games. To be honest, my top game would be Gorogoa, but it officially released in mid-December of last year, so I don’t include it. For Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition, I only played the first few chapters on mobile, but ended up buying it on Switch and continuing there.

  • Alto’s Odyssey
  • Donut County
  • Florence
  • Hidden My Game by Mom 3
  • Pocket-Run Pool

Honorable Mentions: Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition, Reigns: GoT

Favorite Board Games
This is a new category, and the only one where I’ve decided to cheat a bit in terms of time of release. After getting rid of my entire card/board game collection when I left Japan, this is the year that I finally got back into playing regularly and building up a new collection. I feel like I didn’t buy enough games that were released in 2018 proper to just share that, so I’m sharing favorites that were released in 2017 as well. There’s tons more I’d like to play from this year though, and I expect them to hit my table in the coming months.

  • Breaking Bad: The Board Game
  • Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game
  • Gloomhaven
  • The Quest for El Dorado
  • Ultimate Werewolf Legacy

Honorable Mentions: Deadwood 1876, Founders of Gloomhaven, Keyforge: Call of the Archons, Kingdomino: Age of Giants (expansion), Magic: The Gathering, The Legend of the Cherry Tree That Blossoms Every Ten Years

Favorite Movies
As with last year, with all of the old movie marathons I do, I tend not to spend that much time watching new movies, and so my list isn’t as fleshed out or exhaustive as it could be — going through what came out this year, I already have an incredibly long list of things I want to watch (and I expect I’m going to love Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse when I see it). But in terms of what I did watch that came out this year, here are my faves.

  • Mandy
  • Mary and the Witch’s Flower
  • Mission: Impossible – Fallout
  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  • The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl

Honorable Mentions: Apostle, Annihilation, A Quiet Place, Batman NinjaBird Box, Black PantherDeadpool 2, Flavors of Youth, HalloweenHereditary, Incredibles 2Ready Player One, Sicario: Day of the SoldadoSolo: A Star Wars Story, Summer of 84, Teen Titans Go! to the MoviesWon’t You Be My Neighbor

Favorite Movies of the 1980s
Last year I watched a crazy amount of movies from the 80s (from 1985 to 1987), and so thought it would be fun to list top 5s for each of those years. This year, I only recently started marathoning films from 1988, but here are my 5 faves for the year.

  • Akira
  • Coming to America
  • Die Hard
  • Heathers
  • They Live

Favorite TV
I think my biggest discovery and love this year was the treasure trove of international crime dramas on Netflix (like The Break, The Chalet, The Forest, and Trapped, among others). Although not included in my top 5, they made up a lot of my favorite viewing this year, but I still enjoyed a lot of other things.

  • Cobra Kai
  • Everything Sucks
  • Jack Ryan
  • Killing Eve
  • The Terror

Honorable Mentions: Altered Carbon, Better Call Saul, Black Mirror: BandersnatchBodyguard, Castle Rock, GameCenter-CXGLOWHannah Gadsby: Nanette, Lost in Space, Norm Macdonald Has a ShowSaturday Night Live, Star Trek Discovery, The Break, The Chalet, The ForestThe End of the Fucking World, The Good Place, TrappedUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Westworld

Favorite Anime Series
I definitely watched less anime this year than last year, and it was pretty easy to come up with a top 5 — but these really are all series that I highly enjoyed.

  • Devilman Crybaby
  • High Score Girl
  • Ito Junji: Collection
  • Lupin III: Part V
  • The Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These

Favorite Web Series
Not much changed since last year, I still enjoy the same series, although I’m now including the Nintendo-produced “Let’s Play” series featuring comedy duo Yoiko (GameCenter-CX‘s Arino and his partner, Hamaguchi).

Honorable Mentions: People Make GamesShut Up & Sit Down

Favorite Music
As the years go by, so does the reduction in new music that I end up spending a lot of time listening to, to a point where I have more trouble filling up this category. There is a lot that comes out that I enjoy, but I just listen to the albums a few times, and then never end up revisiting them, which makes it hard to say that they’re favorites. I do listen to music constantly (“no music, no life”), but it’s very eclectic, spans decades, and I’d say this year I’ve developed more of an obsession for classic jazz (hard bop). But here are albums that came out this year that I did really like.

  • Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (John Coltrane)
  • DJ-Kicks (Mount Kimbie)
  • Strangers in Dub (Burt Kaempfert Meets De-Phazz) (De-Phazz)
  • The Beatles (White Album) [Super Deluxe] (The Beatles)
  • The Pool (Instrumentals & Remixes) (Jazzanova)

Honorable Mentions: All Nerve (The Breeders), Do the Get Along (Holly Golightly), MassEducation (St. Vincent), Sparkle Hard (Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks), The Pool (Jazzanova), The Sunshine Beat, Vol. 1 (Tahiti 80), Time ‘n’ Place (Kero Kero Bonito), Woman Worldwide (Justice)

Favorite Comics
Each year I feel bad that I’m not reading more independents when it comes to English-language comics, but yeah, what I read regularly is the super-hero stuff. And this year again, the majority of my sequential art reading happened more on the French-language side, as I continue my weekly (sometimes more) visits to the library to pick up books new and old.

  • Action Comics/Superman
  • Batman
  • Doomsday Clock
  • Mister Miracle
  • The Green Lantern

Honorable Mentions: Dark Nights: MetalG.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, HawkmanHeroes in Crisis, Justice League (as well as Justice League Dark and Justice League Odyssey), The Punisher

Favorite BDs
As mentioned above, my comics love these days continues to be on the French side (bandes-dessinées), as I continue to catch up on releases, reading through series. So because of that, I’m not reading as many new releases as I normally would, but these are still all books that came out this year that I really enjoyed. (The series name is followed by the book’s title or number.)

  • CentaurusTerre d’angoisse
  • Il faut flinguer Ramirez – Acte 1
  • La jeunesse de ThorgaleLe drakkar des glaces
  • Retour sur Aldébaran – Épisode 1
  • Tyler CrossMiami

Honorable Mentions: Alix SenatorLa Puissance et l’Éternité, Amazonie – Épisode 3, CarthagoLéviathan, Journal d’Italie – Hong Kong 2 OsakaI.R.$Les seigneurs financiersMutations – Épisode 1

Favorite Podcasts
My list of podcasts has changed a bit this year, with my top 5 now including two new gaming-related shows I started listening to this year (Kinda Funny Games Daily and Kotaku Splitscreen). After skipping the second season of Serial, I quite enjoyed this year’s 3rd one. For Retronauts and What a Cartoon, these I don’t listen to regularly, but instead check for episodes with a topic I’m interested in. And I really do wish Noclip would release more episodes of its excellent podcast (just as good as its video documentaries).

  • 8-4 Play
  • All Songs Considered
  • Kinda Funny Games Daily
  • Kotaku Splitscreen
  • Pop Culture Happy Hour

Honorable Mentions: Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, Monocle 24: The Stack, Noclip, On Margins, Retronauts, Serial, The AIAS Game Maker’s Notebook, What a Cartoon

Like it’s 1978

There goes another year-based movie marathon done and dusted (following: 1967, 1968197719851986, 1987). I was pretty excited to jump into 1978, as a lot of the movies I watched were pretty nostalgic for me. I ended up watching nine films (listed below), which I think acted as a good round-up of the type of popular films we saw that year — on the cusp of the blockbuster era, following 1977’s Star Wars).

You can take a look at all my short write-ups for each film by clicking below, or simply find them through the “1978” category. Next up: 1988.

  1. Animal House
  2. Damien: Omen II
  3. Death on the Nile
  4. Game of Death
  5. Grease
  6. Halloween (1978)
  7. Jaws 2
  8. Superman: The Movie
  9. The Lord of the Rings

Thrillin’ and Chillin’ in October

Over the past month I did something a bit different from the recent movie marathons I’ve been doing. Instead of focusing on a year or a particular creator, I did an all-out horror fest, mixing movies with TV series (I didn’t necessarily watch all of the episodes yet, but I did for most of them). With 27 titles, it made for the most intense October viewing experience I’ve probably ever had, and it was fun too — I can definitely see myself doing this again next year.

Below, a list of all the horror content I took in throughout the month — you can also find all the posts under the “October 2018” category.

  1. 1922
  2. Apostle
  3. Ash vs Evil Dead (Season 2)
  4. Bone Tomahawk
  5. Castlevania (Season 2)
  6. Channel Zero (Season 3)
  7. Down a Dark Hall
  8. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
  9. Ghoul
  10. Halloween III: Season of the Witch
  11. Hereditary
  12. Hold the Dark
  13. Into the Dark: The Body
  14. It Comes at Night
  15. Malevolent
  16. Oculus
  17. Pride & Prejudice & Zombies
  18. Summer of ’84
  19. Terrifier
  20. The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
  21. The Endless
  22. The First Purge
  23. The Haunting of Hill House
  24. The Purge (TV series)
  25. The Purge: Election Year
  26. The Ritual
  27. Winchester

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).

Flavors of Youth

This is a new anime anthology film out on Netflix, and it’s an absolute wonderful watch. It looks like it’s a co-production with China (the settings are Chinese as well, and of the three parts, two are directed by Chinese directors), but feels a lot like the films of Makoto Shinkai (Your Name), with hyper-realistic backdrops, and beautiful use of colors and soundtrack. I think the middle part (about the fashion model) is the weakest, but overall I enjoyed this immensely.