Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Over on Bitmob it's Horror Week, so I posted a love letter to one of my favorite scary games, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem. It's a game I wish I could play again for Halloween because it is genuinely frightening.
In the rerun department, I posted a slightly-edited version of my Tale of TGS at Bitmob because I believed the story would be of interest to other writers. The only new content is at the end where I offer my own advice on not being gunshy about writing or trying to find work in that field. I'm hardly a shining success story but I am proud of what I accomplished in a relatively short period of time. A little pride, in this case, is a good thing.
This third item was a surprise: Mako plugged my name in Yahoo Japan (not sure why) and she discovered one of my articles in Japanese on the Nikkei Shinbun website. As it turns out, it came from this Japanese Wired portal where someone took my original post about a game for blind people and translated it. That translation then circulated among a number of Japanese news websites as a "culture" item. I think this was the first moment Mako was actually impressed by my work, now that she saw it in Japanese. Having a photo I took included with the piece helped too, although my photo credit is a little more obvious than my writing credit.
Alright, so one new thing plus two old things reworked, one of which was done by a stranger. Still, good news is good, right?
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Sunday, October 18, 2009
First of all, I want to reiterate that it is a big deal whenever I visit Tokyo. It's not that far away and I'm hardly living in the sticks here in suburban Kansai, but each time I go to Tokyo I experience a sudden rush. I'm used to living in cities that I can fully comprehend or at least visualize. The number of neighborhoods in Osaka that I've never seen far exceeds those that I have, but I still have a general sense of where X and Y are and how best to travel between those points. Kobe is tiny, all things considered, and Kyoto is actually a grid which makes navigation pretty simple.
Tokyo defies all my attempts to reign in its magnitude and break it into digestible chunks. Yes, the more time I spend there the more comfortable I am with the terrain and the complex interwoven railway maps, but I never come away from my visit thinking "OK, I understand Tokyo now." If I ever learn to accept that, perhaps I will come to love it as a city, but in the meantime its power overwhelms me in a way that is simultaneously frustrating and exhilarating.
Tuesday (Sept 22nd) was actually a quiet day considering I was traveling and attending that party. Checking in to my hotel, visiting Richard out in Chiba, finding my way to the party and then coming to terms with my anxiety were all manageable events. I made it back to my hotel without incident and went to sleep excited about waking up the next morning.
Wednesday (Sept 23rd) was my first chance to meet Chris Kohler and actually talk about the job he had hired me to do. Yes, we had spoken at the party the night before but it was brief. Wednesday we sat down, had lunch, and discussed a number of things relevant to the job, including the technical ins and outs of the Game|Life website. I learned that when I was done with a story I had to submit it and he would then review it before posting it to the site. I found this news to be very comforting. I had never worked with an editor before but I viewed the idea as a safety net rather than a hindrance. Chris has written entire books and covered video games for years; he should be trusted to know what's a good fit for Game|Life or not.
We ended up going to Manadarake after our discussion which was fun for me. That's one of those sprawling Japanese stores that seem to sell everything and anything that relates to games, anime, manga, old toys, whatever. They used to have two outlets in Osaka but both seem to have closed down. I didn't find anything worth buying but I certainly enjoyed the view and I was glad to know they were still in business.
When Chris returned to his hotel, I went back out to see Richard. I knew I would be too busy to visit him once the show started, so it was important to me that I hang out with him while I could. It was also a rare opportunity for me to play games with somebody. I know the Internet has opened up the world of video games so that people don't need to be in the same room to play together anymore, but having a baby to take care of means my gaming time at home is extremely limited. This trip was as much a business outing as it was a chance to get away from that routine of go to work/care for baby/go to sleep.
Thursday (Sept 24th) was the first day of the show. The doors didn't open until ten but being the eager person that I am, I showed up well before nine to ensure that I didn't take any chances. Also, I had to be with Chris to actually register as a member of the media in order to get inside at all. While I waited for him I saw a number of other journalists show up and register, many of whom I first saw at the party on Tuesday. As I hoped, the awkwardness was gone now. I didn't exactly freely converse with them because they're still people who don't know me, but at least I was no longer paralyzed with admiration.
The good news about visiting the Tokyo Game Show on the business days is the crowds are much smaller. They're not gone, of course, but the difference between 70,000 people and 25,000 people is readily apparent. All of the games I tried to see on that first day were easily accessible with minimal waiting. I also felt like I had more time to play the games than I normally would have. There just seemed to be less external pressure to keep things moving.
Internally, however, I was extremely nervous. After I played a few games I found the press room and sat down to write about them. It took nearly two hours to write that first post because I kept changing my mind on how to approach it. Should I try to detail the differences between the Xbox 360 version and the PlayStation 3 version? Is it worth explaining how the two demos were slightly different? Which screenshot should I choose? What kind of a title would go best with this story? Is this post too long or not long enough? It was mentally exhausting and by the time I was through, I was starving. It was also past two P.M. which meant the day was half over already. This made me more nervous, as I didn't want to waste time buying lunch but I couldn't ignore what my insides were saying.
I managed to squeeze in some kind of sandwich and a couple more games before returning to the press room shortly after three. Again, it took me a long time to get any serious ideas onto the screen, but even after the press room was closed I felt like I had accomplished something. There was a tangible uneasiness as I knew that I had a lot more writing to do before I could truly call it a day, but I knew that I could write anywhere at any time. The games were only available on the show floor, and I had seen five or six of them which was enough.
In checking in with Chris at the end of day one, he told me about a party being held by Microsoft at a nearby hotel. I was happy to discover the event was outdoors and relatively spacious, so I didn't have to wait in lines to get a drink and there was plenty of food. Pretty good food at that, particularly the lasagna which is a dish I hadn't eaten since I came to Japan. I had a few glasses of wine (kept it classy - we were poolside after all) and I was thrilled to see a demo of Left 4 Dead 2. Not only was it fun to get my first hands-on experience with the game, it ended up making a nice story for the site.
Day One Stories (based on when I wrote them, not when they were posted): Bayonetta, Darksiders, PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe, PixelJunk Shooter, and Left 4 Dead 2.
I got off to a late start on Friday (Sept 25) but I did my best to make up for it by taking Richard's advice and pulling out my new netbook whenever possible to write. I wrote while riding the train, I wrote while waiting to enter the show, I even wrote while standing outside Sony's booth waiting for a chance to play Heavy Rain. That last one proved to be a stunningly long wait, considering I went there as soon as the doors opened and there were only five people in front of me. Still, I made the best of the time as I finished up stories from the day before. In the end the wait was worth it, as I felt it was the most exciting thing I saw at the show.
I found myself running low on inspiration, so I started wandering around the "game school" area of the show. These were low-budget, independent projects on display, many of them created by students. I also went looking for a game I had seen on the NHK news the night before. The news coverage of the show was pretty broad and gawking, but you can always count on television reporters to dig up something that looks crazy. They spent a long time looking at Project Natal, something I couldn't see (the demo was invitation only) but there was a game that worked by scanning your brain activity. That one I managed to find directly across from another unusual work, a game made for blind people.
I found writing in the press room came a lot easier on the second day, as I had written so much so quickly I was simply getting used to the idea of pouring my ideas out at a faster pace. Due to the submission process and the fact that Chris was busy doing his own thing during the show, there was an odd disconnect where I really didn't know what he though of my work. He was publishing it to the site, of course, but there wasn't much of an opportunity to actually talk about how things were going. Even when we got together with his photographer Jon Snyder and Christian Nutt for dinner, it was less show talk and more casual discussions of Japan and whatever else was on our minds. I felt good, sure, but I was wondering where I stood as far as quality was concerned.
Everyone else at the dinner table made it a point that they were not going out to do anything on Friday night, a decision I emulated. I spent most of the evening in my hotel room polishing up some stories and talking to Alex on the phone. He arrived earlier that morning to cover the show, but since the two of us were busy working for our respective web overlords we were too busy to actually hang out at all. I never made it bed early but it was definitely an indoor, low-key night.
Day Two Stories: Heavy Rain, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker, Quantum Theory, Blind Braver, Neuroboy, and Puyo Puyo 7.
I knew Saturday (Sept 26) was going to be tough because it was the first day of the show to be open to the public. I knew this was going to mean crowds at every turn, so much so that even walking from one booth to another would be an adventure of the sweatiest kind. Chris suggested I try to visit the Capcom booth and play Okamiden as it was the only game he was unable to play at a private event he was attending. I wish I had thought of that on the press days, because it took a solid hour to get in to the demo area (which was actually kind of lovely with its torii and fake cherry blossoms) and I barely got to play the game. Still, I kept working on previous day's stories while I waited so as not to waste my time.
The crowds did have one interesting benefit in that they drove me to seek out the unusual and less popular exhibits. This led me to play a bunch of smaller games that the masses were simply ignoring. In particular, I found a number of games at the back of the Square Enix booth that were being ignored, perhaps because they were behind the booth where few people walk. There were giant, multi-hour lines for other Square Enix games that stretched back there though, so I found it funny that while they all waited I was standing in front of them playing games and having fun - mostly.
I should point out that after my experience on Thursday I learned the best way to eat at TGS is to simply bring something small and keep it in your bag. I would buy my breakfast and lunch at the convenience store on the way to the show in the morning, eat the former while on the train and the latter whenever I found myself yearning for a bite to eat. It wasn't very glamorous but it was tasty enough and it enabled me to keep busy without wasting time at the food court. My hotel also gave me a free bottle of water every day which I took with me and drank as needed. It added a bit of weight to my bag but it was pretty hot in there on account of the thousands of gawkers slowly milling about.
I managed to play games all morning and early afternoon so that when I sat down just after two PM, I was comfortable just writing the rest of the day without feeling the need to rush back onto the floor. Again, it was getting easier to write the more I did so, so I got a lot done in those remaining hours. I ran into Chris in the press room and he told me there would be karaoke later that night in Shibuya. He also told me that I was doing a great job which was exactly the news I needed to hear. I had been building up my own confidence without any feedback from him simply by assuming that my work was worth publishing, so it must have been satisfactory. Hearing him actually compliment my writing was an even better response than I expected.
Alex swung by the press room to say hi and tell me he was leaving. He had decided to keep his trip really short by only spending one night in town and getting in as much gaming as he could before going home to write. I felt pretty strange about being unable to hang out with him at all but he was under a lot more pressure than I was. I was writing for one site over the course of four days. He was writing for multiple sites (at least three) and he had less time to do it in.
On the way out the door I met up with a guy named Kevin whom I had some contact with via Twitter. He had come down from Saitama to TGS and had organized a small group of other foreigner-in-Japan Twitterers to have breakfast together, but I had arrived too late to participate. Instead, we had a light snack at a nearby cafe and just talked about TGS, Japan in general, etc.
Saturday night was the first chance I really had to just go out and see the city while I waited for the call for karaoke. I went to Shinjuku to see the 8-Bit Cafe, a retro-game-themed bar. The atmosphere was really cool as there were toys along the top of the bar and a glass case full of video game memorabilia. There were also a couple of old consoles hooked up to a TV and a bin full of games to play for free. Much like Thursday night, I ended up playing a game that tied directly into my work at TGS. I found the original Thexder just hours after playing the new sequel Thexder Neo at the Sqaure Enix booth. Too bad both games sucked.
The downsides to the 8-Bit Cafe are two-fold. One is the cost, as there's a cover charge of sorts that is added to your bill and everything on the menu is pretty pricey. I really enjoyed my "Nuts & Milk" cocktail and "cake-cheese" dessert, but they were both 150 or 200 Yen more expensive than they needed to be. The other problem is the five flights of stairs patrons must use, meaning that I could never afford to get drunk there else I stumble and fall to my death on the way out.
I knew Richard had been invited to a party somewhere near Shibuya, so I left the cafe after one drink and made my way over there, although my trip to the cafe meant I arrived well after ten PM so the party was dying down. I had time for another drink and we talked for a while, but once eleven o'clock came everybody started bolting to catch the last train home. I was less worried because I knew I was staying out that night. I was prepared to take a taxi back to my hotel if I needed one. Richard lives way outside the city limits, however, so he couldn't be as cavalier. Sadly, he ended up missing the last train after we separated and his phone ran out of power before we could reunite near Shibuya. I'm told he eventually crashed in a capsule hotel.
I spent an hour or so just wandering around Shibuya, witnessing some amusing and fairly depraved behavior. I stopped in Burger King for a Whopper Jr. (my first in years - there's no BK in Osaka) where I waited in line behind what looked like a hip-hop dance troupe based on their outfits. They were all black and sounded American, though at least one of them demonstrated enough Japanese ability to suggest he was a resident. Watching them debate the menu choices was pretty funny to me. Less funny was the abundance of homeless and/or intoxicated people walking the streets. One girl was so drunk there were two men trying to pick her up off the sidewalk and failing miserably. I hope they knew her.
Chris did call shortly after one AM and I was able to find him thanks to the reference point of Mandarake. He was with a large group of people who seemed reluctant to go out singing, as many of them had flights to catch the next day. Eventually he made some calls and we tracked down a different bunch of people (including Christian) who were willing to karaoke it up. We shopped around a little bit (the first place wanted a crazy amount of money considering what time it was) but settled on a joint located above the Burger King where I had eaten an hour earlier. It was small and very low-rent (all the song books were torn and in very poor condition) but the price was right and we sang and drank for three solid hours until the trains started running again.
Snooping around the web I found some pictures of the event in Christian's Flicker stream. You can see me here, here and here.
I knew Chris wasn't going back to the show for the last day so when we said our goodbyes, that was that. He thanked me for the work I had done and told me not to push myself too hard if I decided to go one more time. I went back to my hotel for an extended nap of sorts but I was determined to get a few more hours in at TGS before leaving later that night.
Day Three Stories: Okamiden, Echoshift, Death by Cube, 0 day Attack on Earth, and Thexder Neo.
Sunday (Sept 27) was both the easiest and the hardest day for me at the show. My confidence in my ability to do my job was at its peak, but my energy levels and my overall enthusiasm for TGS were bottoming out. Operating on less than four hours sleep will do that. I figured the best course of action was to just play whatever I could before retiring to the press room and then leaving, writing on the train ride home as needed. Again, I stuck to covering things that no one else seemed to be playing or talking about online. I had hoped to meet Richard at some point, as he came to the show, but since his phone had no battery power we never got into contact with one another.
Ultimately I got in a few quick things, took an hour or so to write down some impressions, then went back to Tokyo station to have dinner and buy the all-important souvenirs for Mako, her parents (who hosted her and Go while I was away) and some of my co-workers (particularly the ones whose school I skipped in order to make the trip). While riding the Shinkansen to Osaka, I tried to play the Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker demo but it proved to be quite deep and I only completed the tutorial. I spent the rest of the trip writing and trying not to fall asleep.
Day Four Stories (some of these were quite late): Game 3 (working title) by The Behemoth, Tekken 6, and a wacky student game.
Overall, I am very pleased with how the trip turned out. The business of attending and writing about TGS proved to dominate my time in a way I didn't quite expect, so aside from the time I spent with Richard and the late-night antics in Shibuya I was too busy to simply amuse myself as I saw fit. I was unable to visit any of the restaurants or sights I had in mind before the trip. However, the show itself was my favorite one yet because I had four days to fully investigate all corners of the exhibition.
More importantly, I was hired to do a job and I did it well. How well? When the show started I told myself I was just a lucky guy who happened to be in the right place at the right time. By the end I realized that being lucky didn't mean I wasn't also a good writer. In a surprise affirmation of that fact, Chris Kohler recently offered me a chance to continue contributing to Wired Game|Life. I've already submitted two potential items and I've got a few other ideas on deck. Plus, there's another game show next month...in Osaka! I will, of course, link to any future posts on Game|Life but in the meantime a complete listing of all my posts is available right here, a link I will add to the Contact page.
Hey, I'm a writer now. Awesome.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Thursday, October 15, 2009
The big news right now is that my dad is here. He came in Tuesday night from Hong Kong, his first ever visit to China. Believe it or not, he didn't eat any Chinese food while he was there, but if you know him there's a reason for that. I have to go to work for the rest of the week but I gave him explicit written instructions on how to ride the trains to my apartment. When I walked in the door yesterday, he was standing there meeting my son and his grandson for the first time. It was a sweet moment.
He's here until Monday so I won't have much time to write. However, I can promise you that I have not forgotten what day it is today (ten years, wow!) and my Tokyo Game Show tale will be ready very, very soon. I also finished reading The Fountainhead and I feel like I need to talk about it.
Oh, but speaking of TGS, here's some more big news: my first podcast! Okay, it's not MY podcast but Alex's own DoFuss Show. We spoke over Skype this weekend about the show for two hours and he edited that together with some interviews he did and a conversation with his usual podcast partner, Darren. Unfortunately, we couldn't work out a time when all three of us could speak, but I think this is was a reasonable compromise. I do hope to talk to them again, possibly later this month when Darren comes to Japan.
You can download the MP3 at Alex's site. I haven't heard it yet but I'm looking forward to weirding myself out by listening to my own voice on my iPod. And yes, all of this is reminding me that I should try making a podcast sometime.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Of course Tokyo Game Show has ended and I am back home with the family and going to work as usual. Of course I want to write all about the trip and talk about the show as well as what it was like to see it from another angle.
Here's the catch: I'm not done working. I attended the show on all four days but on Sunday, I got off to a late start (I'll explain why) and rather than spend time at the convention center writing, I simply did my best to look around and then planned on writing about stuff later.
Here we are a few days later and I'm still piecing stuff together, so it would be inappropriate to take time out from my job to spin a tale for my blog about the trip. So if you folks will bear with while I complete my profession obligations, I will be sure to talk about what I did in Tokyo in a little bit.
In the meantime, I would remind you that all of the TGS coverage at Wired Game|Life is available right here and a list of my articles can be viewed right here. Again, the site will continue to update over the next few days as more stories are completed, but these links will still encompass TGS/my work. I hope you take a look at what we wrote, because those pieces represent how we predominantly spent our time in Tokyo.
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Friday, September 25, 2009
I just wanted to give everyone a quick update on how things are going - things are going very well. I'm certainly tired from working, and before anyone says "lol you play games that's not work" let me clarify: playing games is fun of course (well, when they're good) but then I have to do my job which involves writing my impressions of those games. Normally when I write about games I take my time, think things over, maybe even let it sit for a day or two and then revisit it. That is not an option here. I've already written eleven posts for Wired Game|Life (not all of them are live yet) and I should probably finish another one before I hit the show floor tomorrow. That's a lot of material in a very short time for me.
Which brings me to the good news: I am definitely getting better at doing this. Writing that first post was without a doubt the hardest I worked all week. I hemmed and hawed. I questioned my skills and my usefulness. All this stress over a game I was excited about and should have had a ton opinions to share!
Today was a totally different story. I took Richard's advice and started typing on my netbook whenever I had to wait. On the train or just in a line, I got a lot of work done during this normally stagnant time. More importantly, I just found myself getting my thoughts onto the screen at a faster pace. Normally I'd say faster isn't always better but this isn't the case. I am becoming a better writer by pushing myself in these conditions.
Tomorrow the general public arrives which I think will make my job a little harder. Certainly it will impede my ability to freely travel the floor as the number of people in the building will essentially triple. We'll see if my press pass grants me any line privileges, but even if it doesn't I'm going back for more. See you on the other side, people!
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Monday, September 21, 2009
There was a reason I didn't prepare much over the weekend. We spent Saturday with Mako's parents, doing some shopping and simple errands. I borrowed their fax machine to handle some paperwork associated with my new job. I had never sent an international fax before and was generally unfamiliar with international calling rules in Japan, but everything seemed to work out. Hopefully they won't get a massive bill next month because I inadvertently entered them into a new calling plan or anything.
Saturday also happened to be our second/fourth anniversary but, sadly, we couldn't really have dinner or do anything as a couple. I would say last year's post is worth reading if you like to look backwards. I certainly never would have guessed that by our next anniversary, we'd have a baby. I look forward to telling him about how we met someday. Maybe I can use this blog to put it all in perspective for him.
Sunday was another undokai or "sports day" which I attended at the same school I went to last year. The big difference (and I mean big) was that last year's festivities were postponed for rain and this year they went off as planned on a Sunday. This meant the community events occurred and a full audience was on hand for it all.
The entire spectacle was magnified thrice over. Last year I speculated that I only saw half of a show because so many events were cut. The event I saw on Sunday was clearly more than just a sum of its parts. The community members were organized into teams designated by their neighborhood. Not only were mothers and fathers in attendance, but so were grandparents and siblings of all ages. I saw scores of former students there, and since I've only been here for two years that meant there were probably dozens more that I simply didn't recognize.
With so many people on hand, the energy level was through the roof. Lots of people fell down during the (many) relay races because they were pushing themselves so damn hard. Nobody got hurt and nobody seemed to mind when they tripped over a fallen competitor. People were obviously trying to win but there wasn't any sense of failure for those who lost. Then again, when all of these events are rehearsed and rehearsed so many times in the preceding weeks, I suppose it must feel more like a show than a competition. Do the members of the Washington Generals ever feel bad about losing to the Globetrotters every single time? Of course not.
I was asked to perform on the microphone again this year, only this time I had to share time with two adult announcers who were clearly going for a "conversational" approach to announcing. I could only talk when they weren't talking, but when I did I tried to do a little play-by-play for fun. People said I did a great job and I can only assume they weren't just trying to spare my feelings.
Today turned into a rather busy day because I needed to go shopping. Chris Kohler informed me that the press room at TGS has very few computers but there is is free wifi internet for all. The problem there is that my laptop doesn't have a wifi adapter. I had always thought about buying one but now I suddenly needed one. Second problem: buying computer stuff in Japan is hard because a lot of software won't work in foreign language versions of Windows.
Mako came up with a bold solution: buy a netbook. Normally she's the one pushing me to spend less money but this time she was suggesting I spend $400-500 on a new PC rather than $50 on a wireless card. Her reasoning was sound though, not that I needed much convincing to buy a new toy. I often lug my laptop to work whenever I know I'll have time to write between classes. It's not a particularly light machine, the battery is completely dead and I often encounter schedule changes that make me wish I had/hadn't brought my computer to school.
The netbook both solves my TGS reporting dilemma and will give me a quick and lightweight alternative to bringing my main computer out into the sticks every week. Starting next week I'll be able to bring the netbook with me everyday, writing whenever the opportunity presents itself. I'll still have to upload stuff when I get home (unless I discover the schools have free wifi - fat chance) but in the long run, this means less lugging and more typing. This is a very good thing.
With that, I'll bid you farewell from Osaka (er, the Osaka suburbs anyway). Tomorrow I go to the airport. I can't predict whether there will be time to blog during my trip. There's always time for Twitter, of course, which is connected to my Facebook page.
In the meantime, I would ask you to please, please, please follow the TGS 2009 coverage at Wired Game|Life and keep an eye on those bylines. My name will be there at some point very soon!
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Thursday, September 17, 2009
You're looking at...um, rather, you're reading the blog of a newly-minted freelance writer. I've been hired by Wired to contribute to their online coverage of the Tokyo Game Show 2009. And when I say "hired," I mean I will be paid money to write about video games.
As dreams go, this is certainly a more recent one that I all but stumbled into last year. 2008 was the year I found myself drawn back into the video game culture. It started with a resurgence of interest in PC games (thanks largely to the extraordinary experience I had playing Portal) and then I bought a PS3 to compliment our brand-new television.
Ultimately, it was the Bioshock demo last fall that really knocked my socks off and put me in an unfamiliar position: I was so excited about the game that all I wanted to do was play it and write about how it made me feel. Sure, I had been writing this blog for a few years at that point, but feeling compelled to write was an entirely new sensation.
Ever since that weekend, I've been trying to produce more "cultural" writing whenever possible, be it a game, film or television show that was on my mind. I can't pretend that I ever had a plan or a concrete goal in sight, but I suppose I might have fantasized about it leading to a job opportunity.
When Bitmob launched earlier this year, I saw it as a good place to expand my audience and possibly draw more viewers to my site. The former was a sure thing; in case you don't know, 30,000 visitors over five years is not much for a website. The latter hasn't happened yet, but at least Bitmob (along with Twitter, Facebook, and the like) helped to increase my presence on the Internet beyond this humble, archaic webpage.
Opportunity suddenly knocked last month when Chris Kohler of Wired inquired via Twitter about writers living in Japan who could help cover TGS. This wasn't the first time I saw a chance like this present itself, but this was the first time I responded quickly instead of mulling it over and letting it slip away. After a few days without a response, I figured he found someone else.
Instead, I got a message from Chris asking to see some of my work. Again, I responded as quickly as I could, explaining that I had no professionally published material but I gave him links to a few of my favorite stories, both here and on Bitmob. I didn't just focus on game writing either, I tried to show my take on a variety of topics including the birth of my son.
He wrote back and said I had the job, clearly indicating that he had read more than what I had sent him. He referenced my Super Potato story even though I didn't mention it since he had already written about that store many times before.
So here's what I know: my trip to Tokyo has morphed from "pleasure" to a business/pleasure hybrid, the likes of which have yet to be understood. I was going to attend one public day of the Tokyo Game Show and hang out with some friends. Now I'm definitely going to TGS for both press days and possibly both public days so I'm not sure how much time I'll have to hang out.
What I don't know is anything specific about the job itself. What will I be seeing/playing at the show? How many articles will I write, and how long will I have to write them? Will I need to stay up late working or will there be time for karaoke?
One thing's for sure: I'm really, really excited about getting my shot at professional writing less than a year after the idea crept into my head. What happens after the show is anybody's guess, but I know I'm going to Tokyo next week and I can't wait. Stay tuned to this site (and Wired Game|Life) to read all about it.
Oh, and play that victory sound!
つづく...(Click here to read more)
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
I knew Richard was right. It was time to return to the world of survival horror.
You may recall my excitement over Resident Evil 5 late last year when I used the Jedi mind trick to convince a retail clerk to give me a demo version of the game at a time when only new PS3 owners could play it. As much fun as it was to get my hands on something rare (at the time), when I actually sat down and played it I was sorely disappointed. The awkward control scheme, the confusing lack of objectives (fight or flight? stay or go?) and the weakness of the weapons really soured me on the game as a whole. It looked great, yes, but it was neither fun nor scary; it was just annoying. Once the game actually went on sale, I heard many people echo my own complaints, reassuring me that I had made the right call.
However, there were also a substantial number of people who proclaimed that Resident Evil 5 was much better than the demo had led on. While every game, no matter how bad, is bound to have its defenders, I found that my friends were among these voices of support. There developed an odd kind of peer pressure where different friends encouraged me to buy on the game on PS3 or Xbox so I could play with them. Normally I am my own worst enemy when it comes to impulse purchases, but now I was receiving near-demands from others to join the party. Still I held out, partly because I had other games to play but mostly because I felt I had already given the game its fair shake and rejected it.
With this new-found gaming time (because Mako has gone to her parents' house) and another generous loan from Alex (thanks again, sir), I finally played Resident Evil 5 for real on Sunday. Even though Richard had completed the game already, he was happy to play it again with me, both to seek out more hidden objects and for the sheer fun of it. He tried to share some of his upgraded weapons with me but the game, rather smartly, wouldn't allow it. Having a friend with both advanced items and knowledge of the game was advantage enough; anything more than that and our survival horror would become a survival cakewalk.
I don't know whether it was having more context to the bizarre situations or simply a matter of having played the demo a couple of times, but everything about Resident Evil 5 was better than I remembered. Playing alongside Richard and knowing where to go certainly helped cut down on frustration, but more than that, the entire game just seemed more accessible and entertaining than I had previously thought. The controls no longer felt like an obstacle, probably because the demo had already made them familiar to me. Most importantly, the combat was fun rather than being a chore.
The bigger issue here is not how fun Resident Evil 5 turned out to be but how wrong I was to have judged it as I did after playing an arbitrary piece of it as a demo. One could argue that my failed experience with the demo was in fact valuable preparation time for the real thing; that is, had I never played the demo and simply sat down with the game cold, I would have encountered all of the same problems, quirks and irritants as I did before. While that might be true, there's no way to know if I would have reacted to those things in the way that I did. Also, it doesn't hold up when contrasted with my other recent video game demo playthroughs.
I was rather down on the demo of Resistance 2 that I played at Tokyo Game Show but I ended up receiving that game as a gift and playing through the entire story mode. The demo was an accurate taste of the first stage, albeit a rushed one that followed a very long wait in line which presumably put me in a bad mood. I credit my eventual seduction by that game to the excellent online co-op mode which then led me to try the single-player mode once I had no time to play online anymore.
Conversely, I absolutely adored the demo of Mirror's Edge and bought it based solely on that initial positive experience, but the real game turned out to be much more frustrating than I had previously thought. Lowering the difficulty somewhat recaptured the fun I had remembered, but I have yet to fully return to the game and play anything beyond the prologue. Then again, I haven't gotten around to playing BioShock yet either and I can't blame that on anything besides my own state of mind. The demo I played in October was phenomenal and the real game wasn't any different. I just haven't convinced myself to explore that glorious underwater world.
Looking at these conflicting examples, there's no clear connection between a good demo or a bad demo and enjoying or not enjoying the full game. Of course, the entertainment value of a video game (or any media for that matter) is not a simple Boolean matter. I can't draw a line and sort out games which are Fun versus those which are Not Fun. Taste is subjective and constantly in flux. At first I liked PixelJunk Eden, then I grew bored of it, then I suddenly rediscovered it and felt compelled to finish it. There's still time for me to enjoy Mirror's Edge or BioShock just as there's still time for me to reject Resident Evil 5.
I still feel like playing demo versions of video games is the best way to determine whether I should buy the full version or not. No amount of screenshots or gameplay footage can equal the hands-on test that a demo offers. However, it is vital that I keep in mind that a lot can change between the release of a demo and the release of the finished product. More than the graphics or the controls or the difficulty or any other technological tweaks, I can change and that's something nobody can predict - least of all me.
つづく...(Click here to read more)