Game Boy 012 – Newcastle

“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.

Following my first business trip with Ubisoft earlier this year in order to attend GDC, I was pretty excited this month for my second one, which gave me a chance to visit England for the first time (I almost visited over 20 years ago when I was backpacking across Europe, but it was the year the UK left the Eurail pass, and I was too cheap to pay the extra money to get there).

This trip was more of a traditional “business trip,” in that it wasn’t to attend a conference, but rather to join meetings with our worldwide customer services teams, as part of their annual summit — the European CS team is based in Newcastle. My team at the Montreal studio builds the main tool that our CS agents use to interact with customers — a tool that interacts with pretty much all of our games — and so every year we are invited to participate in this summit with them, to get a better understanding of their reality, and to discuss how to improve the tool.

But more than just having meetings, the real “gold” of these trips is to get to spend time with all of these people you work with — people you interact with on a daily/weekly basis, but always through emails and calls. There’s no denying just how much a “real” chat with people can incredibly strengthen these relationships, and that goes doubly when you get to share a meal with them, some drinks, and even a dance floor (we enjoyed an epic dance-a-thon on the night of the office’s annual summer party — and those sandals you see pictured in this post acted as the invitation “tickets”).

Those few days of interactions were probably more valuable than months of calls, and it gave us a chance to all get a better feel and realization of things we’re each dealing with.

But outside of work, it was also a fantastic trip. My wife came along with me, and she thoroughly enjoyed day-tripping in Newcastle — a beautiful city — and the surrounding areas. I had an extra day and a half to spend with her, and so we made it out to the also beautiful town of Durham, and visited Edinburgh for a day. We both loved what we saw of England, and can’t wait to get a chance to visit again — my wife was so infatuated that she mentioned wanting to live there, but then again, she said the same thing after our trip to San Francisco.

We arrived back home last night after an intensively long day of travel, that followed barely 3 hours of sleep, and included a 7-hour layover at the Amsterdam airport, and today I took the day off to recuperate a bit — and to try and get around the jet lag.

Travel can be taxing, but the experience in between makes it all worth it.

Guide to Yanaka

yanaka-ayubovan-1

My buddy Said Karlsson has written quite a few guides for Navitime’s JapanTravel site, and his latest contribution is for the lovely Yanaka neighborhood of Tokyo. The best thing about these posts is that they all feature great photography by Said. I also like this post that offers up a selection of kissaten (old style coffeeshops).

Okutama

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been out hiking, something that was rectified earlier today when we headed out to the Okutama area. We decided to head to Mitake mountain, and took a cable car up (pictured above), with the idea of walking down (we didn’t really have time to walk both ways).

It may be silly to say — and believe me, I did enjoying the walk — but one of my favorite things when we go out hiking is that we usually pick up a bento (lunch box) for the trek, and since we passed through Shinjuku station, we were able to get some really nice ekiben (bento that is aimed specifically at people travelling long distances by train, sold at stations that have lines that leave the city).

And what I always like to point out as well is that all of this happened within the bounderies of Tokyo-to, meaning you don’t even have to leave the city to go on these wonderful hikes.

To get there, from Shinjuku station you hop on the Chuo line (the orange line) and switch trains at Ome (you may need to switch at Tachikawa on the way, depending on your train), to then get off at Mitake station. Across the street from the train station is a bus station, with buses that take you up to the cable car station (270 yen for the bus, 570 yen for the cable car, one-way).

Fuji

Ah, yes, Fuji-san, something I’ve been lucky enough to see a few times this past month as I continue research for the new editions of the Rough Guide for Tokyo and Japan. The view pictured above is from the train as I leave the Fuji Five Lakes area. Oh, and I’ve now become completely addicted to the joys of the Japanese onsen.

Rough Guides

As 2009 comes to an end, I’m very happy to report that one of the projects that will be keeping me busy during the start of 2010 will be work on the upcoming fifth editions of The Rough Guide to Tokyo and The Rough Guide to Japan (due for release in 2011). I’ll be contributing to both, but mostly on the Tokyo guide — joining author Simon Richmond — with contributions to the Japan guide limited to Tokyo and surrounding areas. For more on the Rough Guides series, check out the official site.