Back in the Saddle

A year ago today, I rescued the archives of this site, and the process of going back and fixing all of those old posts (I wasn’t able to rescue all of the images, and so had to manually replace them with the aid of Archive.org) got me wanting to blog again about my love for Japan culture, and I’ve been doing it pretty regularly since.

For years, updates on this site had become quite rare — if you look at the archives now you’ll see plenty of posts each month, but that’s just because I imported my Debaser diary (previously on Tumblr, in which I write-up the media that I’m consuming), and so it makes it seem like I was consistently writing here. But that wasn’t the case. After a couple of posts about the rescue efforts (which ended up taking months), this was the first post that felt like a traditional JeanSnow.net blog post.

A year later, I sorta have a routine now where I mostly put up new posts on the weekend, saving stuff I want to highlight until then, and putting them all up in one batch. It would probably be better to parse them a bit more, scheduling them to go up on a daily basis, but I guess I don’t really care about doing it that way.

A couple of days after that return post, I wrote this, saying I had no idea if I was going to continue doing it or not, but I’m now happy to still be doing it. Blogging like this is how I started my professional writing career, and even though I’m just doing it for fun now, I like that I’ve come full circle, doing pretty much the same thing I was doing 15 years ago — although it’s not quite the same in that I’m no longer based in Tokyo.

DJ Dougie Jones

Longtime readers of this blog may remember that I’ve done a lot of music-related projects over the years, like my PLAY sessions at Cafe Pause in Ikebukuro, and then in more recent years my Codex music podcast. I haven’t done anything in the form of creating mixes or playlists in ages, but recently have been teaming up with one of my colleagues and friends at work, Samya Khemri (who together with me is part of the studio’s Game Online Operations team), in creating playlists in Spotify for internal events at the studio. Since we’re both huge fans of Twin Peaks, we call ourselves DJ Dougie Jones. The first playlist was for a happy hour on the studio’s rooftop terrace, the second playlist we did as a soundtrack for an evening of Cards Against Humanity (that we played in a meeting room), and the third one was for our team’s summer BBQ, that was held last week in a park not far from the studio. These are really fun to make — we basically bounce off each other, track by track — and I love the exercise of listening to something someone else has selected, and then trying to think about what would be fun to follow with. It definitely scratches my music itch.

Favorite 5 Games

There’s a tweet making the rounds right now encouraging you to share your favorite 5 games of all time. Narrowing down your favorites to a truly top 5 is of course an impossible task — I’d count pretty much every Legend of Zelda game as favorites — but I tried to do the exercise nonetheless, highlighting 5 games that had a strong enough impact on my gaming life that I would certainly count them among my favorites. Just below this I’d need to also include a Mario game (probably Super Mario World) and Ultima (especially Ultima 7), but for now, here are possibly/maybe my 5 favorite games (in no particular order).

Phantasie III: The Wrath of Nikademus
SSI was better known for all of the games it produced under the Dungeons & Dragons license (Pool of Radiance being my favorite), but this pre-D&D era RPG was a highlight for me. It’s quite possibly not a great game if you revisit it now, but I remember spending countless hours playing it, and a lot of those hours were played side-by-side with a friend in front of the PC (a Commodore PC-10), our own version of couch co-op. Also, the names I used for my characters in this game are the same names I continue to use for any character I need to name in an RPG.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
The Zelda series in general is my favorite series in games, and so narrowing it down to 1 or 2 titles is tough, but it’s hard not to point to A Link to the Past as a milestone (and its modern 3DS sequel, Link Between Worlds, is fantastic as well). The Super Nintendo graphics were astounding at the time, and it was certainly the game that cemented the series as a classic for all time.

Wave Race 64
I love Wave Race so damn much, and I can say that I also love the GameCube sequel (Wave Race: Blue Storm). Experiencing those beautiful giant waves was a joy, and added a fun level of randomness to the racing experience. More than any other racing series, this is the one that I’d most like to see a proper sequel, and so I keep wishing that we’ll see one on Switch.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
I was a huge fan of the Infocom library of text adventure games, and it all started with Zork, but the adaptation it produced of Hitchhiker’s is the title that is the most memorable to me. From the insanely convoluted Babel Fish puzzle (that you pretty much needed the hint book to help you through) to just the genuinely funny vibe throughout, it stuck with me.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Including a game that came out just a few months ago? What can I say, as someone who truly loves the Zelda series, this entry is as groundbreaking as it is fun as it is engaging. To see Nintendo produce such an amazing Zelda game thirty years after the first one is something I feel is pretty special.

20 Years Ago

My friend Kyle tweeted out that today marks 20 years since the release of the film The End of Evangelion (July 19, 1997). I actually got to see it in theaters in Tokyo that summer, as part of my first visit to Japan, and this made me think back at how much my life changed that year.

It was at the start of May 1997 that I went to the city of Tianjin, China as part of a 10-week program to study Chinese at Nankai University — along with a group of students from McGill University and the Université de Montréal (where I was studying in their East Asian Studies program). The first day I was in China, I would meet the Japanese woman who is now my wife (it took a few weeks before we actually got together though). At the end of the 10 weeks, the entire group returned to Montreal, but I decided to stay — yeah, because of the girl — and so enrolled at the university there to continue my Chinese studies.

During that summer, my wife had returned to Japan (it was the university’s summer break) and I decided to go visit her for two weeks. That would be my first visit to Japan, a place I would later call home for over 15 years.

My wife is originally from Kobe, and so that’s where I went. By boat. It was a two-day journey from the port of Tianjin to the port of Kobe, and it was an amazing way to slowly take in Japan, small island by small island, until we reached the port. I still have vivid memories of listening to Fugazi’s Repeater on my walkman, while taking in the sight of Kobe as we approached.

I stayed a couple of days in Kobe, but for the majority of the trip we were in Tokyo, staying at one of my wife’s friends. It’s during that trip that I got to go see The End of Evangelion, which was my introduction to the series — I knew zero Japanese, and considering how, ahem, narratively adventurous that movie is (especially the ending), you can imagine what a trip it was to take in. That July also marked the release of Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke, which I also went to see at the theater (and as I mentioned recently, it may have been my first taste of Ghibli).

I still have quite a few vivid memories from that trip — like the first time I watched Mecha Mecha Iketeru, a comedy series on TV starring the comedy duo of 99, who I’ve continued to love for 20 years. I also bought a PlayStation while I was there to bring back with me to China, and the first words of Japanese I really learned where while playing Tomb Raider and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in Japanese.

After the trip, we both returned together to Tianjin by boat (this time taking 4 days because of a tsunami), and would end up staying in China until the end of that year — at which point we went to Montreal for one semester so I could get the missing credits I needed for the program I was doing, before moving to Tokyo at the start of May 1998.

I’m certainly thankful for the interesting journey my life has taken, as well as for all of the unexpected swerves I’ve decided to take a chance on and follow.

Interview with Shigeru Miyamoto and Yves Guillemot

The moment I saw Shigeru Miyamoto walk out on stage at Ubisoft’s E3 press conference, I was ecstatic. It’s no secret that I have quite a bit of fondness for Nintendo, and so to not only see the company I work for collaborate with them, but then to also see Miyamoto himself help with the promotion, it was awesome. The game itself, Mario + Rabbids Battle Kingdom, looks super fun and I can’t wait to play it. Here’s a Eurogamer interview with both Miyamoto and Yves Guillemot talking about the collaboration.

Yesterday was Ubisoft Montréal’s annual assembly, and not only did Yves show up to talk at the assembly, but I also had a chance to take a photo with him (below), and at the same time tell him how happy I was that we were collaborating with Nintendo like that, and how excited I was when I saw Miyamoto on stage at our press conference.

2 Years a Game Dev

Today marks two years since I became a game dev.

After leaving Tokyo on March 31, 2015 and then spending a month in my hometown of Moncton, New Brunswick, we moved to Montreal on May 5, with my first day as an employee at Eidos Montréal — part of the Shinra Technologies team, based in the Square Enix Montréal studio — on Monday, May 11.

A lot has happened in these two years. After the Shinra adventure ended in January 2016 (due to the unfortunate cancellation of the project), I started at Ubisoft Montréal the following month — on February 15, to be exact — happy to join the For Honor team to experience the final year of development of this new franchise for the studio (the game came out on February 14 of this year, almost exactly a year after I started). For the past six months I’ve had the great joy of working as part of the studio’s Game Operations Online team (or GO-2, as we call ourselves), a service team that supports the live aspects of the studio’s various productions via operational guidance and tools.

What an interesting journey it’s been so far.

I have a ton of people to thank for helping me along the way, whether it’s through guidance, support, or plain ol’ friendship, and instead of going through a long list of names, I’ll give you all a big collective hug.

I’ve had a lifelong passion for games, and it became my dream to work as a game dev. Here’s to many more wonderful years in this industry.

The Dream of Working in Games

Shortly after the release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there was a story that came out about a non-Japanese programmer appearing in the game’s credits, Corey Bunnell (pictured), who it was later discovered had a long time ago written in a forum about his dream of working for Nintendo — read this Kotaku piece. I find this to be such an inspiring story, and it reminded me of how lucky I find myself to have been able to also follow a dream of working in games, and making it happen.

Yesterday (March 31) marked exactly 2 years since we left Tokyo, heading to Canada to spend time with my parents in my hometown, with still no job in sight (or any idea of what city I would end up in). It was a scary move to make, but I had faith that I could make something happen eventually. Just over a month later we were moving to Montreal, and on May 11 I started work at Eidos Montreal as a Production Coordinator for the Shinra Technologies team there (under the Square Enix umbrella). Two years later, and I’ve continued my games journey by moving to Ubisoft and experiencing the launch of a new franchise for the company (For Honor), and now I get to work with yet another terrific team of people as part of the studio’s “Game Operations Online” team.

Without wanting to sound too cheesy, if you have a dream of doing something, sometimes you just gotta have faith that you can make it happen if you try hard enough (and being surrounded by awesome people who can support you in different ways doesn’t hurt either). I decided to do this at a point in my life (i.e. age) when most people are content to simply continue to coast on the path they’re already on. I still have other goals I’d like to achieve, but I can say that what I did was well worth all the effort — and yes, all the stress too.

Charisma Blogger

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My buddy CheapyD uncovered this old photo of us, posing with Danny Choo and Andrew Shuttleworth, at an event in Tokyo back in 2009 (CGM Night, which had to do with online content creation, but I can’t remember what the “CGM” stood for). I just find it funny to be described as a “Charisma blogger.”

Update: Found my original post about the event.

2008 and Down

In my continuing archival work on this site, I hit a big milestone last night, in that I finished April 2008, which is pretty much the last time I regularly hit a month with 80+ posts — it only happens again a couple of times in November/December of 2009 for some reason.

I think the reason for the reduction in posts was that it was around the time I started contributing regularly to Wired‘s Game|Life blog, for which I was doing around 5 posts daily.

This means I should hopefully be speeding up as I go through the rest of the archives, getting it all finished in the weeks to come. That won’t be the end of it all though, as there are a few other things I’d like to do, like going through the first few years again to improve tags on posts, and also incorporating my early moblog posts, which used to be done as a separate blog.

For Honor Alpha in Japan

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It’s been incredibly exciting for me this week to see our game, For Honor, get a live debut in Japan through our Alpha event that kicked off yesterday — following a similar event in North America and Europe last month.

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To all my friends in Japan, if you’d like to play the game, it’s available now as a download on the Japanese PSN Store, and the event runs until Monday. You’ll need a credit card for the download, due to the game being rated “Z” (for age verification).

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It’s been pretty neat seeing the game featured on the front page of the Japanese PSN Store on the web, as well as on the console (see images in this post).