We Are Game Developers

A colleague just launched a website that interviews more of the game developers that you don’t often see in the usual game media outlets and it inspired me to write a bit.

When I was a kid, I wanted an NES. That thing entertained me for years, in addition to cartoons on TV. At one point, Samurai Pizza Cats was playing, so when my mom brought back a cart from a trip to Vietnam, I was surprised to see Speedy, Polly, and Guido. I was so excited to play this game, thinking that no one else had, but I couldn’t really share it because I couldn’t read it. It had a game feature I’d never played before: switching characters with different powers to overcome an obstacle. Since I couldn’t read the Japanese, most of the fun was figuring out the UI and HUD elements, and what button activated what, and in what menu or play state. But there were also a lot of cut-scenes with story-telling and dialogue that I couldn’t understand beyond the simple character animations, and the melody of the chiptunes. キャッ党忍伝てやんでえ was one of the discoveries that motivated me to study Japanese.

A few months ago, I sat in Makoto Goto’s lecture at Aizu University. He’s one of the developers of the latter Final Fantasy series, and is currently developing middleware for making particle effects. He recounts his first experience with programming, growing up in the rural mountains of Niigata, and having to travel 3 towns away to the nearest bookstore that carried a book on BASIC. Where he got the computer to practice executing BASIC is a question for another time.

One thing he said that I never really thought about was “Making games is to bring your dreams to reality.” It’s sort of a “duh” thing to say about any art medium, but I was reminded to when I felt limited as a kid, when dreams are still being explored and waiting to be discovered, and connections between what we experience to what we imagine could be true were being made. So things like Mario walking into pipes and Sonic the Hedgehog running through the city become iconic because we were just trying shit out.

But the game industry grows older with us. There will always be a place for experimentation, but individual experiences provide different interpretations. Possibilities and access are more open to those who carry certain privileges, and we soon discover that those who lack those privileges have other ways of achieving goals. And I think that’s where today’s impactful games are going and need. Presenting problems that many people don’t think about with solutions that are challenging to find.

The design structures are already there, now we just need to fill it with content.

Madlibs Lesson

This past week, I decided to use Madlibs in class for the 1st years. I was a little nervous because in the 3 years I’ve been here, I wanted to do Madlibs, but wasn’t exactly sure how to manage the lesson so that the students could understand the humor in it. I finally just dove in and prepared the lesson to take it a step at a time.

Students should understand what sort of passage they’re modifying first. So I made an example of what the passage should sound like ideally.

My “Dream Person” should be very adventurous and friendly. They should have a physique like David Bowie, a profile like Ayase Haruka, and the personality of a cat. They must be polite and must always remember to wash my dishes, to put away their clothes, and to take my hand when crossing the street. They should move gracefully, have a soothing voice, and should always dress fashionably. I would also like them to be a great dancer, and when we are alone they should whisper sweet nothings into my ear and massage my tired shoulders. I know such a person is hard to find. In fact, the only person I can think of is____!

I needed the JTE to help the students understand the passage to speed up the instructions, so Japanese was used a bit to translate, in addition to using simpler English explanations, as well as my WTF gesticulations.

For the lower-level classes, we split the students into 2 or 4 groups, whereas the higher-level students broke off into pairs. Their MadLib had 21 entries, so for a small group of 6 or 7, each student is responsible for at least 3 words. The JTE and I explained all the parts of speech to the students. When everyone is done, each student reports their words to the rest of the group to make the funny story.

This worked so much better than I thought. The students were focused on the task, making sure with each other their words were correct, looking for interesting words in their word banks, asking the JTE and I to confirm that their words met the requirement, asking their peers to spell, and were listening intently. When they finished, it was up to the JTE and I to help them imagine their story with a bit of translating. After that, we had half the members from each group switch out to read to each other their story, and to explain to their partner the non-sensical. The students really enjoyed how crazy everything sounded, and most of the sentences were simple enough to sustain some disbelief. Some commented how awesome (or possibly inappropriate…やばい!) the activity was.

Definitely one of my more fun classes. I collected their stories to have them appear randomly on page load here to enjoy.

“You should get that checked out…”

I was thinking about how to say that in Japanese this morning, and whether it would translate because I had probably the most uncomfortably grossest day I’ve ever had in my office life yesterday so far that I can only hope won’t ever happen again because I will be ready with something to say.

The social studies teacher, an eccentric, liberal-leaning, single older man who looks to be in his 50s, with disheveled hair, a loose-fitting suit, and has a terrible diet, was expelling more bodily gas and fluids than usual yesterday, and it was awful.

I came into the office wishing him the usual New Years greetings, interrupting his conversation with the other social studies teacher about America and China. Conveniently, he inquired for my opinion to confirm his opinion that if America and China went to war, everyone would die (or something will die). I agreed, and said that I hoped it wouldn’t come to that, although I did offer that America and China are in an economic war right now (even though China holds the majority of America’s debts…). I was told that many people supports America going to war with China.  What a scary, conservative thought. I responded by my own fear of the upcoming presidential election, and that Trump would win. The teachers shared the sentiment. Awesome. Harmony in the office.

And then the younger social studies teacher left for club activities. And it was just the older one, American me, and Ms. Ozzie.

The man decided to sleep for the rest of the day, since there were no classes. And throughout the day, he was belching, expelling this sound from the back of this throat through his teeth, and whining about how tired he was, probably from his poor posture and lack of exercise. He always seems to be out of breath if he’s not sitting. Sitting behind me, a mere less than a meter away, sharing the air, released particles flowing all around.

Ms. Ozzie and I noticed that it was more than his usual random farts, which aren’t the silent deadly types, fortunately. My hope is that his lack of manners on this particular day wasn’t intentional, but it was hard to believe that he would behave this way if there were other Japanese people around.

At first, I felt so disrespected. But today, I think perhaps he was feeling too comfortable around us.

I was tempted to say something, but I didn’t know what I could say, or how. In America, I’d once asked a co-worker to clip his nails at home or in the bathroom, where the nails could fly in his own abode. Sure, he was a little surprised to hear me be so bothered about something all of a sudden, but no offense was taken.

And then I come to Japan and find that a lot of people actually clip their nails at their desk. Luckily, nail clippers here are designed to reduce flying nails and actually hold them until you’re ready to empty them out.

Getting into the top public universityin Japan

Translation from the May school bulletin advising and informing students of the amount of study necessary in their 3 years of high school so that students can plan accordingly.

This year, Todai has released the recommendations application process that replaces the current system of screening final semester examination results.

  • A total of 100 applicants will be accepted
  • Each school’s principal recommends one male and one female
  • The examination will screen applicants’ documents, in addition to an interview. They will also take into account high scores on the National exam.
    The document screening  includes:

    • Written essays in school, or other accomplishments during general study hours.
    • Various science fair (Olympic) awards, and the like.
    • Foreign language certifications (such as TOEFL, Eiken, IELTS, etc)
    • International study abroad experience, or scores on certified exams that could be used to enter international institutions (such as the International Baccalaureate, or SAT)
    • Other considerations may include activities that demonstrate motivation for civic contributions, art, writing, sports.

The National Exam scores will be used to judge the applicant’s academic habits that ensure the effectiveness of their academic foundation after entering university, so one should aim for scores around 80% in general.