Bouncing around Japan

Sitting in the J-Hoppers hostel in Osaka right now, hoping for the rain to go away . Started the journey over two weeks ago with a few days in Singapore for DICE Asia and Game Connect Asia. Saw some great presentations and well moderated panels, participated in a panel on Breaking into the Game Industry for students (I hope we didn’t crush too many dreams, but the truth doesn’t change!) and made a bunch of new friends. Game devs the world over are great people to hang out with. The crew from the Philippines need to watch out, with all of those invites I might just show up on someone’s door.

If my notes are legible when I dig them up I’ll post some, but I recall Scott Foe’s presentation being a hit and Nelson Wong and Takahiro Murakami had a great term for cultural differences that make games succeed/fail in different markets: The Oddness. My bossman Mario Wynands apparently rocked the house, but because I listen to him all the time I went to a different session 🙂

Flew up to Tokyo right into the waiting arms of a pre-TGS game dev party, caught up with some old acquaintances and managed to leave a refill of biz cards back at the hotel. Clever. From there the week rolled on between wandering with my camera, chatting with developers and random folk, and being blissfully lost in Tokyo.

Tokyo Game Show was smaller than I remember it from 3 years ago, I actually found chunks of the hall unoccupied by booths. Going on a business day was absolutely the way to do it though, 24,000 people vs. 70,000. Actually got hands on time with a few games.

  • Uncharted 2 is fantastic, I need a PS3.
  • Bayonetta is a natural evolution of Devil May Cry, in the short demo I played the combat system was crazy fast and completely over the top. Wanted to try out the easy mode automatic system to see just how it works, but with just one session I stuck to the core game and had some fun.
  • Lost Planet 2 multiplayer was equal parts excellent and frustrating. Fighting the giant beast with 3 other people is great, instant death water pit that you can’t see coming not so much.
  • Red Steel 2 looks nice, plays quite well when you’re pointed at the screen, and the Motion Plus for the sword is solid. Swinging the sword can make it difficult to reorient your cursor on the screen though, will want to see if players can adapt to that.
  • Nier was a big WTH? Muddy textures, very limited combat moveset, and the demo was all of 5 minutes trapped in a single rectangular hallway beating on two giant armoured guys. Some of the combat impact was satisfying but I played this right after Bayonetta and the comparison was not at all favourable for Nier.
  • Best of TGS for me: PixelJunk Shooter. Beautiful fluid dynamics, lots of character to the worlds and the scientists you have to rescue, and devious puzzles + action. Many twin stick games that put rotation on the right stick are a pain to aim and shoot accurately. Q Games has got it so well tuned that after a couple of minutes you don’t even think about it. Execution is everything.

September 30th was Pecha Kucha Tokyo vol 65 which was full of fun presentations and interesting people. Mathematical models of crazy architectural shapes, a cross stitching champion, dolls constructed from leather, beautiful lighting installations, and me bringing up the rear. I talked about Shatter, how we made it and how wonderful it was for us as creators to make our own thing instead of always working for hire on someone else’s property. Everyone loved the art, and the pictures of the guys with beards (James, Jos, I’m looking at you) elicited positive noises from the female members of the audience. 20 seconds of video at the end, just 20 seconds, and lots of people got hooked on the music! Module you need to tour Japan my friend.

Also, there has been music, lots and lots of music. After despairing that Singapore was completely hopeless musically (one place I heard a cover band go from It’s Raining Men to Bryan Adams to Black Eyed Peas as if it was the most normal thing in he world) we stumbled into a Tittsworth set at Zirca. Zouk is one of the other major clubs out there, and I had no idea who was playing until I looked at the ticket after I was in the door. To my delight: Steve Aoki and Diplo. Oh yes. Japan has been brilliant, with Ken Ishii and Dr. Shingo at Womb capping my first week nicely. So far though the best set to rock my feet off was Baiyon playing at Metro in Kyoto last night. Absolutely sublime from start to finish and he even threw some Eden tracks in there. My hat goes off to Dylan from Q-Games who told me about the gig, would never have known otherwise.

No photos yet, this little netbook Josh kindly lent me is lovely for small stuff, but processing RAW images kills the poor thing.

After months of slammed work to get games out the door I can feel my batteries recharging and my brain starting to spin back up in new directions. Back to New Zealand next week, but now it’s time to go walk some of Osaka.

Blotto Brace for GAMMA3D

GAMMA is an amazing event in Montreal which coincides with the Montreal International Game Summit. The Kokoromi collective (Cindy, Damien, Heather and Phil) put out a call for games tied to a theme to be played at a party on giant projection screens. Now in its third year the Kokoromi crew decided to run with 3D as their theme, so retro-future it’ll make your eyes water.

I’ve tried and failed to get a game completed the first two years, but this year was Win. Working with the insanely talented Antony Blackett (code) and Corie Geerders (art, and famous director of F*Dance) put together a weird game of support rather than destruction.

The goals were: playable and interesting with 3D anaglyphic glasses, playable at a party in under 5 minutes, uses an Xbox 360 controller for input.

So you control the game with the Left Analog Stick, it takes 3 minutes to win, and it has a strange zen quality which rewards not panicking. (Which was an unintended consequence of the control being very hard until you learn to release the stick to neutral for each movement. We may do a new version in the future with a different control scheme to see how that feels, but doing this thing in spare moments between other projects… we’ll see.)

So here it is, download Blotto Brace.

Requires a gamepad of some kind, playing it on a keyboard is damn near impossible (that will probably be the update we release) and 3D glasses are highly recommended. Run the fullscreen version only on 4:3 monitors, widescreen will make you cry.

The party kicks off right about now and it’s the first one I’ll be missing since flying from NZ would be prohibitively expensive. In my place I give you this game! Massive props to Ants and Corie for making this possible.

Quick Update, CHCH, AKL, LSGM

  • Went to Christchurch, it’s flat. Heard some good dubstep and DnB, took photos of the Garden City Big Band and plenty more of the city itself, made the mistake of going up the gondola while it was covered with cloud.
  • Went to Auckland, attended Semi-Permanent 08 and spoke at the Media Design School. More excellent dubstep (Loefah!) and awesome people. Also, Stefan Sagmeister’s Things I have Learned in my Life So Far is a great project/list.
  • Participated in the Lost Sport finals with Team Wellington. We won gold in the 7 circuit labyrinth!
Photos of the above to come as I process them. Currently deep into a project pitch with a tight timeline and the potential to fulfill a longstanding design desire.

Team Wellington – Multiverse Olympics 24 Aug 2008 from Jo Eaton on Vimeo.

Victory for Team Puppy Guts!

Serious F*Artist How awesome is this? Team Puppy Guts, the kick ass crew that I shot production photos for a few weeks ago, has just won the NZ 48 Hour Film Competition with their short film F*Dance. 6 finalists are chosen as the winners from their respective cities, then the local Kiwi legend Peter Jackson goes through the other runners up from all the cities and selects 3 more films as his Wild Cards which are then added to the finals.

Corie and co didn’t know until just this week that they had been selected as a Wild Card, so he had organized a small get together at his place to watch the finals as they were broadcast on C4. So tonight we got to see all of the other finalist films (some of which were really fun) and the Wild Cards (which were all great). The Runner Up was announced, Beyond Belief by Team Lens Flare, who were a Wild Card pick. We all sat around wondering who was going to win the whole competition. Then F*Dance came up. Moment of stunned silence, followed immediately by clapping whooping and hollering. We couldn’t quite believe it.

Immediately text messages and phonecalls start flowing in from friends and family. Was a great thing to see. Then the star of the film, Reagan, calls. He’s up in Auckland for the weekend and is at the bar where everybody has just seen F*Dance win. The arts crew for TV3’s major nightly news program is there and want to interview him! Great, we’ll turn to TV3!

After all of the other real news, and a bit about running down the ski hill in Queenstown with dogs, there’s Reagan on camera and looking totally thrilled. A few words with him and then Nightline proceeds to play the ENTIRE FILM ON PRIMETIME NEWS! Sweet.

48 Hours 2008, PKN Wellington, X|Media|Lab

Speak to Me Time flies, so the saying goes, and I haven’t felt it this much in recent memory. Fun, joy, excitement sums it all up. As a result the fourth dimension darts forward resulting in a pleasant sense of vertigo. 8 weeks since I arrived, conversations where I was measuring time in country in days are still fresh and vivid. Where has it gone?

For starters into the depths of Sidhe Interactive. They’ve done a fantastic job ofRehearse making me feel at home. As has Wellington on the whole. Excellent people and a friendly party culture that reminds me of Montreal in all the right ways. New coworkers universally kick ass and one group of them are participating in 48Hours, a competition to write, direct, shoot, edit, and finish a movie in 2 days of straight madness. A few of my photos fell into the Coder Art presentation during a Friday show and tell and they asked me to document their 48Hours. Sounded like a chance to shoot a bunch and give the new lens a workout so I agreed. Then they told me to be at the office at 8am on Saturday morning. Ouch.

Still, it was great to watch everybody work, Corie Geerders directed and kept the whole ball rolling and the crew rocked the whole thing to get it done before the deadline. Game artists are used to working with fairly tight deadlines, but even this was hardcore. I wonder if Team Puppy Guts has more FX shots than any other production? When the video hits the web I’ll post a link, but the movie, F*Dance, deals with finger dancing. All of their hard work paid off as Puppy Guts are in the Wellington Finals, if they win there it’s on to the nationals!

  • Shots taken: ~1500 (approx 20 hours worth of following crew around)
  • Shots processed: ~120
  • Posted to Flickr: 39 (although Corie has put 64 of them up on his Flickr)

IMG_8375 Work resumed post 48Hours and ticked along quickly until Wednesday night when it was time for Pecha Kucha Wellington vol 02. A solid PKN (anybody heard how the first Vancouver one went?) with some really fun presentations. Of note was Kris Sowersby of KLIM Type Foundry who did a wonderful 20×20 on what a Typographer actually does. Inspired me to take a swing at the same thing on Game Design, since nobody has a clue what we do outside of the industry and it will be a good challenge to make a compelling 20×20 out of it. Kris and some cohorts came up with a font that would save 10 to 15 percent of the space in a phonebook. Might not seem huge but have a look at the white pages or yellow pages and think about how manyIMG_8419 pages that would save. Massive. Of course the phone book company turned it down. Sigh.

Also that evening I met the talented and wonderful VJ Zoo, Kat Black and Jasper Cook. This was to be the first of several encounters over the coming week and the beginning of a wonderful friendship. Pitsch Leiser and the PKN Wellington crew did a great job and I’m looking forward to vol 03. (Which will be in Wellington itself rather than Lower Hutt 🙂 )

One thing rolled directly into another and I found myself attending X|Media|Lab Wellington as part of the Sidhe posse. X|Media|Lab is basically a traveling think tank. WelcomingThey land in a city with a theme for the conference (Wellington’s was Commercialising Ideas) and a group of local and international mentors who have had success in their respective fields. The first day is a set of lecture presentations, capped at 20 minutes each, from a few of the mentors but the real fun is the Saturday and Sunday. Working on the premise that all of the real work at a conference happens during the coffee breaks XML is just one long series of coffee breaks. There’s a minor scramble to sign up for an hour of a mentor’s time (10 one hour blocks over a day and a half) and then all of the teams start meeting with the sages.

The conversations that happened over the course of that weekend ranged from business to creativity and rarely fell short of thought provoking. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the Sidhe crew had our minds expanded a little. You can see the list of speakers at the XML website, and all of them brought great value to the discussions. I could write pages about each one, but this is already getting longer (and later) than I’d like so I’ll leave it at: Tom Duterme from Google can freaking dance! Kat and Jasper got a last minute gig to VJ for DJ Krush on the Saturday night at Sandwiches, and did a great job as well as sneaking Tom and a few others in the door. I saw Krush checking out the visuals behind him more than once.Whiteboard Scrum

Bottom line, if an X|Media|Lab is happening and has something to do with your field, get there. Doesn’t matter where it’s happening (Wellington had visitors from Australia and Germany) throw in an application for your project to go through the XML wringer, it’s well worth it and quite frankly not expensive.

Right, time to edit this and get to my bed. Another week of high speed good times awaits tomorrow!

Crossing the World

10 Tips at GDC GDC was, as always, a great experience. This time it was different because I was both a presenter and actively looking for a new gig. In the past I’ve been willing to hear about opportunities, but I was always gainfully employed and mid-project. After a few months of contracting it became clear that working by myself on my laptop just isn’t my preferred way of doing things. The rapid exchange of ideas that happens on a team, the conversations, meetings, and arguments are all such a huge part of the game development process and my social nature. So I began looking for the next Right Thing, with an eye to traveling abroad if possible.

During GDC I was talking with studios from all over the world and had a lot of great leads, but as is always the case the HR process is either blindingly fast, or painfully slow. Studios that I really wanted to work with had plans change, staff free up, projects cancelled, all of the usual issues. One studio though was extremely straightforward, didn’t mess about, and really went out of their way to answer my questions and try to convince me to sign on.

So, two weeks ago I arrived in Wellington, New Zealand to take on a three month contract with Sidhe Interactive. I’m  heading up the design for a new project that has a broad, extremely fluid brief and being encouraged to create something great for the studio. For the first time I’m tackling an original IP with some resources, instead of just skunk working it or doing it entirely on my own time. I’m thrilled to be working with an incredibly experienced artist who just got here as well, and the trust placed in us to deliver is a refreshing change. Before the three months is out Sidhe and myself will know if a long term commitment is the way forward. Again, great no fuss business attitudes.

Wellington is a beautiful city, very similar to Vancouver in more ways that one, although when the locals warn you that the wind is serious here they’re not joking. It’s quite compact, you can walk from one side of central Wellington to the other in 30 minutes. The hills surrounding the downtown core slope up and out steeply and remind me of San Francisco, but in places the houses cling to the hills in ways that make SF’s look positively tame.

As with most places in the world, people are friendly, but the hospitality here has a distinctly islander feel that I recognize from home and noticed in Hawaii as well. Business is serious, but with a minimum of bureacracy. (Opening a local bank account was a snap.)

Warthog at Armageddon The pictures in this post are from my first wanderings around Wellington, expect more soon . The Ghostbusters and the Warthog I bumped into at the Armageddon Expo, a local comic/game/anime/otaku convention. The Ghostbusters guys were great, super friendly and had taken a lot of effort with their costumes. The Warthog is just… wow. Weta’s attention to detail Ghostbusters is simply unreal and if you’ve watched the Lord of the Rings extras and seen what their workshop is capable of then this piece of the Halo universe will come as no surprise.

With a regular schedule again I hope to post here more, including more  information on Wikis and a few other odds and ends that have been sitting in my ToWrite box for a while.

Setting up a real blog

Excuse the dust and funky paint smell. I’m setting things up to post my design ramblings, both general and project specific. I’ve got two side projects that I plan to blog the design and development of, Z2Z and I Hear You. More on those in future posts.

This was blogged from Laika, with Shawna riding shotgun. Look at me, I’m all 21st century!