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).

The Latest from Toco Toco

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I haven’t posted about Toco Toco recently, but it continues to be one of my favorite web series, and so let me remind you that you should really check it out if you’re on the lookout for a beautifully produced series of documentary shorts covering Tokyo creatives. The last 3 episodes cover accessory designer KAE, fashion designer Nukeme, and animator ShiShi Yamazaki (pictured). And here’s also a reminder that director Anne Ferrero is also behind this year’s excellent feature documentary about the Japanese indie game scene, Branching Paths.

Picotachi Vol. 35

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The indie gaming scene in Tokyo is on the rise — the Branching Paths documentary illustrates this quite nicely — and one of the components of that growing scene is the Picotachi series. Organized by game dev Joseph White at his Pico Pico Cafe — a lovely space in Kichijoji — it’s a bilingual show-and-tell series where local and visiting devs can share what they’re working on. The next edition, Vol. 35, is set for this Saturday (August 20), starting at 20:00.

Toco Toco on Daisuke Ishiwatari

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Toco Toco is an interview video series directed by Anne Ferrero (who also directed the fantastic Branching Paths documentary), and the latest episode features Guilty Gear director Daisuke Ishiwatari. The series was recently re-launched and currently focuses on game creators — the previous episode focused on Suda51.

Japan Indie Games Go, Go, Go

This is a post to celebrate the release of the Branching Paths documentary, which I just love so damn much.

Go buy it here.

So what’s this Branching Paths thing all about then? It’s a just-released documentary directed by Anne Ferrero that takes a look at the growing indie gaming scene in Japan. Unlike in the west, where indies have enjoyed quite a bit of success over the past 7-8 years, Japan is still in the early stages of an indie revolution, and Branching Paths does a fantastic job of illustrating what this nascent movement is looking like. Even better, it’s beautifully shot, and so also does a terrific job of acting as a visual tour of Japan from the perspective of games and the people who power that space.

But for me, it goes deeper. Seeing this now, after being back in Canada for close to a year and a half, it reminded me of a world I left behind. The film is packed to the gills with interviews of people I love and call friends, and so not only did it serve as a nostalgic reminder of all those people that I don’t get to hang out with anymore, but also of the spaces and events that I cared about when I was there (Picotachi, Tokyo Indies, BitSummit, Tokyo Game Show).

It even reminded me of PauseTalk, as the first time I heard about this project was from Anne, the director, who made a few visits to my events.

I love that the very early stages of an indie scene that I saw while I was in Tokyo has continued to grow, and is at a point now where I think there’s no turning back – we’re in for a lot of new and fun gaming experiences from Japan, directly from the minds of of a whole bunch of interesting creators. 

That’s something to be super happy and excited about.

Branching Paths

I’ve been anxiously waiting for the release of this (you can buy it here), and finally got to watch it last night. It’s a documentary that tells the story of the growing Japanese indie gaming scene, something that’s been slow to develop, and isn’t anywhere near what we’ve seen in the west over the past 6-7 years. Not only is it beautifully shot, but it does a great job of revealing this movement as it’s happening. On a personal note, I loved seeing so many friends featured throughout (too many to name), and I also felt immense nostalgia at all of the spots and events (Picotachi, Tokyo Indies, BitSummit, Tokyo Game Show) that were part of my world when I lived in Japan. I’ve been following this project for quite a while – the director made a few appearances at my PauseTalk events – and I’m just so happy that not only has it finally come out, but that it’s as good and interesting as it is. If you have any interest in games and Japan, this is an absolute must-watch film.