Recent Gaming (May 2019)

The Picross-inspired Piczle Colors.

Following the post I put up recently about TV shows I’ve been watching on a weekly basis (which does not preclude continued binging, which I’m currently doing with the second season of Cobra Kai), here’s a survey of what I’ve been playing video games-wise in recent weeks.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. I’m at close to 60 hours on this, and still haven’t completed the main game. I’ve stopped playing it a few times since its release, in order to jump on other things I also wanted to play (Red Dead Redemption 2, The Division 2), but I came back to it this week and completed a few more missions. I still think this world is so incredibly gorgeous, and I love being in it.

Gems of War. It has an incredibly generic name, and it’s a free-to-play game (something I’m not a big fan of generally), but this game by the creators of the original Puzzle Quest got me hooked immediately. It’s basically exactly like Puzzle Quest with a few upgrades, and up until now, I haven’t felt like I needed to deal with F2P incentives, but I can see it coming down the line. After being incredibly addicted over the first few days I was playing it, I now haven’t touched it in weeks, and maybe that’s for the best.

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. To my great surprise, I’ve discovered the joys of playing Super Mario games co-op. Before picking up this game I had never played co-op in any of the other Mario games that offered it — never felt the interest, looked too chaotic — but since I like to play games with colleagues at work, I figured I’d give it a try, and I ended up loving playing in co-op (usually 3 players) much more than in solo mode. I had an absolute blast playing through the campaign with two colleagues, and we’re currently backtracking and getting all 3 star coins in each level, in order to unlock all of the bonus levels — which is something I’ve never bothered doing in any Mario game. I’ve had so much fun playing this way that when we’re done unlocking everything, I’m planning on bringing my Wii U to work so we can play through Super Mario 3D World that way.

Picross S. Playing through Piczle Colors put me in a Picross playing mood, and the release of Picross S3 last week reminded me that I hadn’t played any of the Switch releases yet, so I picked up the first one and have been having a great time with it (I’m about 50-60 puzzles in).

Piczle Colors. I love Picross, and this Picross-inspired game by my friend James Kay’s Score Studios is just as fun. According to my Switch stats, it’s the game I’ve played the most on my Switch this year so far (after finishing it, my play count was at over 20 hours). If you love Picross, you really need to get this as well.

The Division 2. I was incredibly excited for the release of this — I quite enjoyed the first game — and it hasn’t disappointed. Although I’m sure you get more fun out of it if you play with others, I’ve pretty much soloed it exclusively so far (I used matchmaking for one mission I was having a hard time with), and it’s been fine that way. I’ve put in about 60 hours, and have completed the campaign (I did that at around the 50-55 hour point). I’ve dabbled a few hours in the endgame, and do like it — especially the new specializations that gives you a super weapon — but I’ve decided to put the game aside for a bit so I can play through some other things.

The Gardens Between. I picked this up a while back while it was on sale, and only just recently got around to playing it. I’m really enjoying it so far, in part because of the fantastic art direction, but also because of the innovate gameplay that revolves around forwarding and reversing time (a bit similar to some of the things we saw in Braid, but still with its own twists). Highly recommended.

TowerFall. I’ve loved TowerFall for a long time, previously playing it on PS4, and recently picked it up on Switch as well. The impetus was actually for a team activity we were doing at work (a silly tournament we organize for our interns), because I wanted the 6-player option that only the Switch version offers. This game is still so much fun.

Yakuza Kiwami 2. I played through and finished three Yakuza games last year (Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami, and Yakuza 6), and so wanted to take a break before I get to Kiwami 2. I started playing it this morning, and it feels just as good as all the other games I’ve played. I love this series to bits — this is my spiritual successor to Shenmue — and I’m really looking forward to playing Judgment this summer (new game not in the series, but from the Yakuza studio).

Recent TV (April 2019)

I’m not quite sure what my love of Killing Eve‘s Villanelle says about me.

In recent years, the majority of my TV watching has been of the streaming variety, mostly binged from Netflix. I did notice that I’m watching a few series on a weekly basis this month, and here they are.

Doom Patrol. I thought the Titans series was pretty good, and my favorite episode from its first season was the one that starred the Doom Patrol. Because of that, I was incredibly hyped for this series, and so it’s a bit unfortunate that it just didn’t land for me. I still have the last 2-3 episodes of the 10-episode season to watch, and I will watch them, but I don’t think I’m in for a second season if they do end up making one. I don’t like that they went less funny and more just plain weird with their stories, and I thought the addition of Cyborg was incredibly lame — or maybe it’s just that I really don’t like his portrayal in this series.

Game of Thrones. Certainly one of my favorite series of all time (like everyone else), and following this week’s episode (the battle of Winterfell), I’m now even more excited to see how things are going to fall out over the final three episodes. Let’s see who wins this goddamn game of thrones.

Killing Eve. I loved the first season to bits, and I’m enjoying the second season (so far) just as much. Never mind Eve though, for me it’s all about Villanelle, I just can’t get enough of her. I’m definitely happy that they’ve already announced that they’ll do a third season.

Twilight Zone. Before watching the first episode, I was a bit bummed by the headlines I’d seen that suggested this new take on the classic franchise was a bust (at least based on the first four episodes, that had been made available to reviewers). Maybe it’s because I went in with lowered expectations then (after my initial excitement at the thought of Jordan Peele taking on the series), but I’ve enjoyed all of the episodes so far (the first four). Sure, they’re not all amazing, and some could have been cut in half, but I’ve enjoyed them none the less, as well as the weird Twilight Zonian twists we get in all of them. It’s maybe not for everyone, but it’s working for me.

Warrior. Produced by Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shanon, this is based on an idea Lee had in the 70s for a series that he never got to make, but that later inspired David Carradine’s Kung Fu. I’ve only watched the first episode, but I dig the setting (late 19th century San Francisco, focusing on the Chinese communities), and the fights are fun. I’m in for at least a few more episodes.

What We Do in the Shadows. The movie this is based on is one of my all-time favorite comedies, and so I was incredibly excited at the thought of getting a series based on it, and from the same creators. Five episodes in, I’ll say that I like it, but I’m not overly in love with it. It has its moments — some brilliant — but for the most part it’s so-so, making me think that the insanely fun premise of the movie isn’t really enough to sustain a series. I’ll keep watching it though, for the amazing cast at least.

Bond 25

I am indeed a huge Bond fan, have been one my whole life, so you can imagine my excitement this week when I learned that they were going to have a live stream to announce details about the upcoming Bond film, 25th in the series. It’s something they also did for the previous film, Spectre, and it was indeed exciting to not only find out that S.P.E.C.T.R.E. was finally coming back to the films, but also that Monica Bellucci was going to make an appearance.

What did we did we find out Bond 25? Well, I was really hoping we were going to get the proper title, but alas, it seems like it hasn’t been finalized yet. The cast is looking quite good though, with pretty much all of the regulars returning (including the return of Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter, which I’m very happy about), and I think Rami Malek has the potential to be a deliciously cruel villain. Doing the stream at GoldenEye, Ian Fleming’s private estate in Jamaica and the place where he created James Bond, was a nice touch, as it is to hear that Jamaica will feature as a location in the upcoming film.

We’re still a ways off until the release (Spring of 2020), but I’m already pretty hyped for it.

Like it’s 1988

It’s been a while since I’ve written up a mini review for one of my year-based movie marathons (196719681977, 1978, 198519861987), and that’s because I was still planning on watching a few more movies for 1988, but I sort of stalled at the start of the year. Even though there were a few more films I was planning on watching, I think I’m going to call it here, and move on. Next up should be a viewing of films released in 1969, but I’m in no big hurry. For now, here’s the list — in alphabetical order — of all the movies I watched from 1988 (or you can find the posts through the “1988” tag).

  1. Appointment with Death
  2. Child’s Play
  3. Coming to America
  4. Dangerous Liaisons
  5. Die Hard
  6. Frantic
  7. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
  8. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
  9. Heathers
  10. Johnny Be Good
  11. License to Drive
  12. Monkey Shines
  13. Rambo III
  14. Red Heat
  15. School Daze
  16. Scrooged
  17. The Naked Gun
  18. They Live
  19. Twins
  20. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
  21. Willow

Googie

I finally have the name to associate with a type of old-school diner/coffee shop I love so much: googie (here are some photos). I came across it while reading an article in a recent issue of Monocle (the October 2018 issue, which I hadn’t finished reading).

Although it’s a disappearing genre, there’s a bright spot in that the article talks about a resurgence in popularity, in the form of renovation work to classic joints (the article’s focus is on LA, which features them more than the box-like diners we tend to see on the east coast).

Chips coffee shop in LA.

The Artists

Each episode has a title “game box,” like this one.

If you’re at all interested in gaming culture, I can’t recommend enough The Artists: The Pioneers Behind the Pixels, a series of short (about 10-minutes each) documentaries released last year that take a look at various aspects of gaming history, produced by the CBC. There are 10 episodes in all, and you can stream them through the CBC Gem app or web access (a name I really quite dislike and don’t understand). Big thanks to my Ubi colleague Fred for bringing this to my attention.

Being the game history/cultural nerd that I am, I did already know most of these stories (for example, if you enjoy the Doom episode, then you really need to read the fantastic book Masters of Doom), but I did still get a kick out of revisiting all of this, and enjoyed the interviews and presentation (the series is slickly made with a retro aesthetic). It also made me quite nostalgic for the Electronic Arts of old.

Groundbreaking ad for Electronic Arts from 1983.

May 2019 Writing Challenge

I’ve been feeling a bit bad lately that I haven’t been writing much here — something that I like doing for myself, as a continuation of what I started way, way back in 1998. So just like I gave myself a challenge to get back into reading books in a bit of an agressive way (2 books a month, which I’m still pretty much on track with), I’m giving myself a writing challenge as well, and that’s to write at least five posts a week — long and short — until the end of May. I’ll be off from work for the next six Mondays in a row (something I did in August of last year, that I found to be quite enjoyable), starting this week, and so hopefully that’ll help give me more time to write.

Here goes.

My Ten Favorite Anime Series

At work I like to organize some fun times at the end of every week — I even have a name for it, the “Friday Fluke.” Part of it is getting a drink, relaxing a bit with colleagues, and playing some games (our go-to tends to be various forms of Werewolf). Last week I introduced a new part to it, and that’s to encourage everyone to do a presentation about something they’re passionate about using the PechaKucha format. The idea is to have fun and get to know each other better, so it can be about anything, like your favorite albums, a trip you took, etc. I kicked it off with a round-up of my 10 favorite anime series (not including movies), and so here’s what I came up with, in alphabetical order.

Captain Harlock
Or to me, Albator, as he is known in French, which is the language I watched it as a kid. I believe it was the 1978 series, and it’s my favorite cartoon from my childhood. It’s a bit surprising in a way, because I’m sure so much of it went over my head, but I was obsessed with Harlock’s ship, and my go-to building project with my LEGO blocks was to create giant ships that looked like it.

Cowboy Bebop
I always consider this as one of my very favorite series, and I think it’s as close to perfect as a series gets for me. Great characters, an awesome soundtrack, and fun space adventures. What else do you need?

Future Boy Conan
Another series from the 70s (and in fact, 1978 as well), I only watched it a couple of years ago, and found it to be hugely enjoyable. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, you do get a lot of proto-Ghibli feels, despite the admittedly crude animation (standard for the time).

Junji Ito Collection
I’m a huge fan of Junji Ito’s horror manga — favorites include Tomie and Uzumaki — and this is a fantastic adaptation of his short stories (each episode is made up of a few shorts). It was produced last year, but I already consider it a favorite.

Lupin III
I’m a longtime Lupin fan, and I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything I’ve seen, which includes various TV series, TV movies, and movies (Miyazaki’s Castle of Cagliostro is a fave). Most recently we got the Part V series, and it’s just as fun as any other Lupin series.

Monster
Based on the manga by Naoki Urasawa — one of my favorite mangaka — this anime adaptation is massive (over 70 episodes), and riveting. I absolutely loved watching it as it was airing, anxious to see where it would end up going (I had never read the manga, strangely).

Neon Genesis Evangelion
Well, it is a classic, and not for being a giant mech show, but rather for everything it did to deconstruct the mech genre, and mess with everyone’s expectations. I haven’t re-watched it since back in the day, but I am excited to revisit it when it shows up on Netflix this summer.

Paranoia Agent
I’m a huge fan of Satoshi Kon’s films, and loved this series — the only one he created — just as much. Psychologically daring and visually aggressive, same as with his movies.

Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter
Goro Miyazaki — Hayao Miyazaki’s son — doesn’t get a lot of love, but I quite enjoyed this series he directed a few years ago, the only Ghibli TV production. The use of CG was criticized, but I thought he managed to create a lovely series, with a lot of fun character moments.

Samurai Champloo
I usually consider my top 3 series to be this, Cowboy Bebop, and Monster. Just like Bebop, you get the fantastic soundtrack (here hip-hop instead of jazz), the great characters, and the fun adventure. Even better is how the hip-hop influences the aesthetics and pacing of the show.

K is for Kazdal

Jake Kazdal is a force of nature. And I’m lucky enough to have him as a buddy. He also gave me my first ever game credit — a thank you in his game Skulls of the Shogun, that he released under his indie studio now called 17-bit, but at the time called Haunted Temple Studios.

Jake Kazdal, as featured in the March 2019 issue of Edge.

I’ve spotted him a few times in Edge magazine over the years, but in the latest issue (March 2019) he gets his very own featured interview, which offers up a fantastic look at what it was like to work at Sega in the early days of the Dreamcast (one of my all-time favorite consoles). Take the time to read it to also get a look at what it’s like to be a foreigner running an indie studio in Japan (he’s based in Kyoto, as is 17-bit studios).

Twenty Nineteen

Changing the look of my blog used to be something I loved to do, whether it was creating a new look from scratch or heavily customizing themes and templates I would find online. I’d do it on an almost seasonal basis. This “design” aspect of blogging is something I’ve lost interest in along the way, with the only thing keeping me going being the desire to write. For that reason, when I started blogging more heavily again a few years ago, I was fine with using the default “Twenty Fifteen” WordPress theme.

This past weekend when I went into the back-end to write a couple of posts, I saw I could upgrade to version 5 of WordPress — which I did — and with it came a brand new default theme, “Twenty Nineteen,” which is what you’re seeing now if you’re reading this post on my website. It’s simple and minimalist, which is how I like my design, with some nice typography, and so I’m happy to switch to it. I still want to customize it a bit more (just tweaks that are baked into the customization options), and will add a few new pages to flesh things out (like an “About” page, which I haven’t had for years).

Part of the customizable aspects of the new theme that I liked was to have a little tagline at the top, following the site’s title.

Blogging since 1998.

Writing that, I realized that I didn’t really commemorate the fact that as of last year, I have been blogging pretty regularly for over 20 years. The archives on this site go back to 2002 (this is the first post), but that just marks my start of using Blogger as a proper engine for my blog (which later changed to Movable Type, and then to WordPress).

My origins of writing regularly on the web started in 1998 (in the summer I think) when I launched a site to celebrate Acadian culture (the French-speaking culture from where I grew up), and as part of the content for the site I wrote a weekly column about my life in Japan (I had moved there in May of that year). That site lasted about 3 years, and since I wanted to continue writing regularly about my life in Tokyo, I launched my own site, jeansnow.net. For at least a year, I continued to write and code everything in HTML, until I came across this thing called Blogger that looked like a pretty great way to automate a lot of what I was doing.

And now, over 20 years later, here I am writing this post.