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.

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

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. 

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 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.

GameLoop & GCX

Today was an enjoyable day, taking in Montreal’s annual GameLoop “unconference” — “unconference” in the sense that as a group we crowdsource the sessions for the day, with each session then acting as a salon-type discussion.

After leaving Japan and moving to Montreal, it’s taken a while for me to decide to start attending this sort of event again. It was a big part of my life in Tokyo — from running the PechaKucha Night series there, my PauseTalk series, and then other types of talk events and workshops I organized throughout the years (and then there are all the events that I attended as part of the audience).

But after the move, my new goal was to concentrate on my new career path (working in the games industry) — you could also add to that the lack of knowledge I had about the creative scene here in Montreal. Then, a couple of months ago I finally decided to check out one of the events organized by the Mount-Royal Gaming Society, Art-UP (also prompted by the fact that my friend Renaud Bédard was one of the presenters), and it not only scratched the itch I had to experience this sort of event, it also made me want more, both in terms of attending and in terms of organizing.

It prompted me to reach out to the person (Nicolas Marier) who was organizing the long-in-hiatus PechaKucha Night series in Montreal, and not only did we hit it off on our first meeting, but it looks like things are brewing in a positive way to reactivate the series.

I then attended the Canadian Gaming Expo, with a day of talks that I found to be hugely inspiring (mostly revolving around indie game studios) — and it was nice to see a few of those presenters as participants in today’s GameLoop event.

It’s good to be bathing myself again in this sort of knowledge sharing — something I try to participate in and push at work as well — and I’m hoping that I’ll get to have a hand in organizing and supporting more events here too.

Moving on Up

Please allow me a bit of flag waving. First off, I was very pleased to see the following list by Forbes of the best employers in Canada, with Ubisoft Montreal (where I work) coming in at #6, and then #1 for the province of Quebec. I find it to be a pretty great work environment, and so it’s nice to see it recognized as such.

Also, this week marks my first official title change since I started working in the games industry in 2015 (following my move from Japan). After working as a production coordinator at both Eidos Montreal (on the Shinra Technologies project) and Ubisoft Montreal (first as part of the For Honor team, and then on the studio’s Game Operations Online team), I’ve now taken on the role of project manager. I actually did the transition back at the end of the summer, but it took a while for all of it to become official (it accompanied a level change, which I’m also very happy about).

Pictured above is the meeting room I book every week to watch an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer at lunch time with a couple of colleagues — we started with episode 1 of season 1, and are now in the middle of season 2.

Chip Tanaka’s Django

Chip Tanaka (better known as Hip Tanaka) created the gaming soundtrack to your childhood, and this week he’s releasing his first full-length solo chiptune album, called Django (and he’s present on the newly released Diggin’ in the Carts compilation). The Japan Times has published a great piece looking back at the man’s career.