The Last Emperor

I capped my 1987 movie marathon (of 30 movies) with a film that holds a special place in my heart. I didn’t watch this film when it originally came out, but rather during the summer of 1993.

At the time, I had finished my first two years of university, specializing in Mathematics, and I was feeling lost. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, but just knew that it didn’t involve Mathematics (or at least, not to have a career based on that). I took the decision that summer that I would leave my program, and instead enroll in a Liberal Arts program. I didn’t know what I wanted to focus on, and so for that first year decided that I would take a big variety of classes, and see what stuck. Around that time, I watched this movie, and was intrigued and fell in love with the world that was presented (even if part of that world was rather harsh). So when it came time to pick classes, they included some language classes (German and Spanish), philosophy classes, and one class on the history of communist China. I never liked history classes in high school — for me, it was just about memorizing dates and names, and I hate anything that involves rote memorization — so I had never had an interest in taking any at a university level, but the topic interested me. That class — given by professor Chungchi Wen — not only led me to discover that a history program was right up my alley (you’d get to sit and hear all these great stories, and the exams where composed of 1 question, to which you would answer in the form of an essay, which is where I developed my love of writing), but it would also mark the first step of my Asian journey. The following year I declared a major in History (and a minor in Mathematics, due to all of the credits I had accumulated), and after that program was finished I moved to Montreal and enrolled in an East-Asian Studies program, which led to an opportunity the following year to go study Chinese at Nankai University in Tianjin, China, which is where I met my wife (who was studying at the same university), who happened to be Japanese, which led me to move to Tokyo, and the rest is, as they say, history.

Sure, all of this is not just because of this movie, but I still can’t help but point to it and see it as a sort of trigger for everything that came after. As for the movie itself, how is it now? I still quite enjoyed watching it, and it’s still a beautiful film to watch, but having everyone speak in English comes off as incredibly unnatural to me (back then, it didn’t take long before I discovered the cinema of Zhang Yimou, with a body of films that further inspired me), and there’s some iffy acting as well. But yes, it’s still a very special movie for me, and I’m thankful for the life choices that came out of it.

Analoging Into 2018

The start of a new year is a fun time to lay down some new initiatives. Call them resolutions, call them whatever you like, but I find that writing down something like this in the new year helps to focus on what you want to prioritize.

The biggest thing for me is something that I began doing in recent weeks. Over the past few years, I’ve found myself trying to digitize most of my media consumption. Leaving Japan marked the biggest push in that I got rid of most of my belongings — meaning all my books, games, CDs, etc. — and since being back in Canada I’ve felt like keeping that “luggage-less train” going.

I don’t want to suddenly start buying lots of physical goods, but I have been wanting to start rebuilding my board game collection — I’ve bought a few things here in Montreal, but mostly small 2-player card games — and in terms of books, I’d like to start building a nice reference collection of game-related books (like the nice coffee table style retrospective books I’ve drooled over in recent years).

I also want to write more. With a pen. On top of taking lots of notes in a notebook/notepad again — something I used to do a lot, but did digitally instead in recent years — I picked up a paper agenda for the year, something I haven’t done in years (I got this one).

I also want to get back into doing personal projects. It’s something that was a big part of my life in Tokyo, but then with the big move and change in career, it was put aside to better concentrate on this new personal journey. But as I wrote recently, attending a few events have rekindled my interest in being part of that sort of thing, and so we’ll see what happens — among other things, fingers crossed on a relaunch of the PechaKucha Night series in Montreal happening.

As for this site, following my return to blogging in 2016, I think it’s time to find a new thematic focus for the coming year. As much as I still love so many aspects of Japanese design and culture, it’s no longer my everyday reality, and I’d like to write a bit more about things that are part of my current “world.” I’m not quite sure what that’s going to look like, but it’s something I’ll be exploring over the coming weeks and months.

After living/studying in China in 1997, I moved to Tokyo in 1998, which impacted the following 15+ years of my life. Twenty years later, in 2018, I’m in a very interesting place professionally (I can’t wait to get back to work tomorrow to continue on the various initiatives I’m involved in there, and seeing what else I can do to shake things up), and I’m excited to push myself even further on various fronts.

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.

Texture vs. Magzter

A few months ago I wrote in jest that magazines are dead. They were sorta getting like that for me at least — with my digital-first lifestyle and reading habit, I was getting more and more frustrated by what was being offered in terms of proper iPad-formatted magazine editions.

And then I gave in.

Many a time have I bemoaned the PDF-like formatted magazines being offered by publishers — meaning, just taking your print edition and releasing it as is for iPad, which means constantly having to zoom in and out of pages to read the text. But the thing is, I really like reading magazines, and while it still wasn’t enough to make me want to seek out print editions (I buy one print magazine monthly, and that’s Monocle), I did decide to bite the bullet and test out a couple of “all-you-can-eat” digital magazine services — luckily, both services offer a free 1 month trial, so there’s nothing to lose in trying them out.

I’d seen Texture mentioned a few times, and the app looked slick, so I started with that. What’s great with Texture, is that although most of the titles on offer are PDF-like, the ones that do have proper iPad-formatted editions are actually included this — which is the case for a lot (if not all) of Conde Nast titles, like Wired and The New Yorker. The selection on offer is comprised of the majority of big titles out there. At $15 a month (for a subscription that not only gives you access to all titles, but also to all archives of each title) it seemed like it would be the more expensive option.

Magzter is the better known service — I’d heard it mentioned by a few people — and includes quite a lot more titles. That expanded inventory is a bit moot though, as the majority is made up of pretty much anything under the sun, and mostly international offerings that I have no interest in. But the worst thing here is that after I signed up for the free month (for the service that is $10 a month I think), I quickly realized that it doesn’t include access to most of the titles I’d want to read (and individual title subscriptions are not cheap). The one magazine that was part of that price tier — and also isn’t present in Texture — is gaming magazine Edge, which I used to read religiously but stopped when they turned their digital edition into the PDF-like model. What I did end up doing during that month was voraciously read through most of the issues I had missed (in the past year) before my free trial was up. I ended up falling in love with that magazine again —  with the intense reading getting me to a point where I guess I just accepted that zooming in/out is part of the process of reading these days, que sera sera — and so eventually subscribed again using Edge‘s standalone app.

The main result of this intense month of trial of these two services (back in August/September) was that, well, I fell in love again with reading a great number of titles, and so at the end I decided to keep my subscription to Texture, and I’ve been gorging myself on titles ever since — and since this is buffet-serving, I don’t feel bad about going through some titles in mostly browse mode, just reading bits here and there.

I’d still like to include more indie offerings to my diet — which would be in print, and tends to bust the wallet more — but I’m at least happy to find myself in a magazine reading mode that I haven’t found myself in for years (not since I ran The Magaziner, a website I used to share my musings about magazines).

Pooch in the Media

My dog Confiture — who I always refer to as “pooch” on social media — has been getting quite a bit of media coverage in Montreal of late. It all relates to the fact that since early 2016, we’ve been basically crowdsourcing walks for him, using a private Facebook group we created that now has over 1000 members (with hundreds more still waiting for approval). It’s mostly done through McGill University students, and so he’s almost turned into an unofficial mascot on campus — if you walk him in the area, you’ll probably get a few people telling you, “hey, that’s Confiture!” A couple of weeks ago, the McGill Tribune, the university’s student newspaper, published this piece, and then this article was published this past Saturday in La Presse, Montreal’s biggest newspaper — I was also contacted by the CBC.

It’s a bit funny to see how much of a local celebrity he’s turned into — he’s certainly the happiest he’s ever been.

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.