Archive for the 'Gaming' Category

One of my Photos on Boing Boing

I had a significant bump of traffic the other day, and it appear Boing Boing used one of my photos for an article pertaining to wikileaks. They provided all the proper CC attribution and I was quite honored to have my photo used. They did a little photoshop work to it to make it fit the article. Here is the orginal:

Film Noir - Take Two

And you can see the version they used in the article here:

I wonder if I should be shooting more of these little models and figures in B&W settings.

Faces at the Tokyo Game Show

Faces at the Tokyo Game Show, originally uploaded by jasohill.

The Tokyo game show came and went again this year. I can’t say there was really anything all that interesting going on this year. There weren’t any new console announcements, or highly anticipated games to speak of. The only thing I took away from it were some decent photos, and a chance to catch up with some friends. I suppose in many ways, that is what it’s all about, but it’s a heck of a lot of money to spend.

One thing I should mention is that it was ridiculously hot this year. I walked around in a soaked shirt most of the day.  Not that this was bad enough, but the stench of fanboy order was also in the air.  Japan doesn’t like deodorant, and this is a fact you could smell.  I might just consider saving my pennies next year.

Nintendo DS destroying all other consoles

If you were to read this story on DS fanboy, then you might think the DS is more in demand than even the Wii and the PS3. Well, I can backup this claim.

On Thursday, I drove over to my local used game store and asked how much I could get for my old DS phat. They quoted me 12000yen. I was a little taken aback. I only paid 11 000yen for it used last year. That means I would be making a 1000yen profit on it.

However, that wasn’t the biggest surprise of the night. That came when I asked how much I could buy a DS lite for. He told me they were currently going used for mere 23 000yen used. To put that into perspective, these things can usually be purchased new for 16800yen.

So basically, if you live in Japan, your odds of getting a Wii or a Playstation 3 are far greater than getting a DS. Good luck! You’ll have me as competition.

A Toil of Two Cities

This week I have special treat for you all. Chris Covell is an expert in all things retro, and he is also a resident of Iwate prefecture. I have asked him about writing a series of articles on the retro gaming scene in Japan. He has agreed, but first, he wants to share something with us . I feel this is an issue we can all sympathize with. Therefore , without furthur ado, I present the first in, hopefully, a long series of editorials by Chris Covell.

A Toil of Two Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It all just depends on where you live, of course.

Most people who play videogames have by now heard the tale of “ea_spouse“, the wife of a developer working at Electronic Arts. Her husband routinely worked horrendous hours, up to 85 per week, with no overtime or compensation. Since EA’s stance on overworking their developers was one of “Do it or find another job”, ea_spouse had no choice but to air her grievances publicly on a Livejournal blog. The upshot of the whole deal was a class-action lawsuit awarding $15.6 million to EA’s overworked artists, and a similar settlement of $14.9 million to its programmers.

I remember this tale far too often in my working week — not because I am worked too hard; far from it — but because it’s what I am thinking of when I see the sallow faces of some of my Japanese students. They are usually engineers, but sometimes public school teachers, or salespeople as well. They walk in, tired as hell, showing progressively thinner bodies and prematurely-aged faces. Of course, the working habits of Japanese people are legendary. Long hours, long commutes, short sleeps, devotion to the company: a Samurai spirit, as some poetically like to call it.

I don’t believe a word of it.

Aside from those people who truly are workaholics, who simply love working, I’m pretty sure that most Japanese workers who show the hard-working gaman, ganbarimasho spirit do it not out of a drive from within their souls, but rather out of pressure from without. I honestly feel that this distinction makes all the difference in the world. For one, everyone is expected to work late (nobody goes home early unless gender, a family, or some other hindrance provides an excuse) and then everyone often goes home, all at the same time. For another, whether salaried or paid hourly, a majority of this overtime work goes unpaid and unacknowledged by the company, and it also goes unmentioned by the worker. And yet another: they are afraid to face their bosses when they do have such complaints or grievances.

I’m not necessarily railing against this culture, because it is a part of the culture of Japan to work longer and keep one’s complaints to oneself. It is indeed admirable to work hard if you are truly driven from within and want to achieve mastery of your trade. However, workers in Japan are still flesh and blood. My students are regular people, with fascinating hobbies that they say they can’t enjoy enough; with families who complain they can’t see enough of their significant others; with dreams of travel which will remain mere dreams since the only way to take a vacation longer than 5 days is to quit one’s job and then take the trip.

In other words, they are people with unfulfilled dreams of full humanity, unfulfilled because they are constantly being told that they should not — dare not — reach for them. This isn’t a matter of a twisted culture (so don’t say I’m trying to impose my own culture on the Japanese) but specifically that elements within the culture take advantage of its tenets. Employers, businesses, and governments throughout Japan know full well that society discourages complaining and resistance, and so these same groups can cheat and exploit people with little fear of reprisal, prosecution, and so on. Doctors in Japan tell their patients that 5 hours is all the body needs for a full night’s rest. I wonder how the experts reached that figure?…

Japanese people are biologically identical in every way to the average Canadian, American, what-have-you; and the look on my students’ faces and in my students’ eyes tells me more clearly than any doctor that however much they sleep just isn’t enough. It is this that has to change. Workers somehow need to make their voices heard again, need to resist the exploitation that companies effortlessly foist upon them. When I watch TV shows such as Project X, an incredibly fascinating and deceptively inspirational program on NHK, I am torn by two mental images that conflict inside my head. One is that of a post-war Japan, striving through technology and industrialization to become a superpower in the world. The other is of a mountain of skulls of the workers who strove and died to make this happen…

So anyway, I was talking to a student (whom I also consider a friend) today about his weekend plans, and he told me he would have to go to work on Sunday, just like any regular working day. I asked him whether it was because of an important project that they had to finish, but he said that project had been finished. Crunch time was over. He appeared now to be working Sundays, as well as Saturdays and regular weekdays. Just as a matter of course. Of course, for engineers (like my student) or game programmers, or any project-based workers, working 7 days a week during crunch time is “”normal””, but there usually is the matter of time in lieu, compensation, an extended vacation when the project is finished, isn’t there? Yes indeed, my student said, his contract stated he could get extra time off at the end of a project, but apparently his boss doesn’t read contracts…

So, naively, I suggested he — contract in hand — simply ask his boss for this holiday, and ever-so-nicely point to the contract as a backup. He said his boss was a real hot-tempered type, likely to call him an idiot or lazy if he ever complained. (Or merely “asked”, in this case.) I said, no problem, just keep your cool and remain courteous, but explain clearly that this document which he had signed, and that a company superior had also signed, is a contract. It is a written agreement, legally binding, that both parties ought to — must, if you want to take it that far — stick to. The boss ought not to break the terms of that contract, which was written up not by my student but by his company, after all.

But I did of course realize the relative absurdity of what I was telling my student to do, so I said he could try doing this, but not be surprised if he gets fired (or more likely, transferred) for his temerity. It was at that point that I decided to tell my student the tale of “ea_spouse”, as a way of illustrating two things. One, that workers in America also fear reprisals for demanding their unpaid overtime wages (so Japanese workers are not alone in this.) Two, that the power of the internet: huge, anonymous communities that can send grassroots messages through word-of-mouth, can make a difference and can effect change, as can be seen in the total $30 million settlements from disgruntled EA workers.

My student understood this, but then went on to explain how a few workers in the same company as his did air their grievances about their employer on 2Channel (“ni-channel”, the largest internet forum in the world) a while ago. He didn’t tell me if the impact of this action was big or small, but the upshot of the whole deal was that his company forbade all workers from visiting 2Channel.

If you ever go to Japan on an English teaching job, you will eventually notice that your students often make mistakes on the usage of the words “overtime” and “overwork”. My advice: don’t correct them. For most Japanese people, they are one and the same.

Chris M. Covell (

Gyakuten Saiban 2: In your hands

Okay, I promised there would be no more gaming articles today, but the good folks over at Kotaku reminded me that Gyakuten Saiban 2 is coming to Japan on October 26th. If you are a fan of the game and want to get in on the action a couple of months early, you can order the game online at play-asia, or you can tune into a future episode of Dai-Cast and win yourselves a free copy. I will be purchasing one copy for myself and one copy for the lucky Winner. Details to be announced on the show. Until that time, enjoy the nice box art.

A Tokyo Game Show Oddity

  I don’t want to flood the blog with video game related articles, but I did want to talk about one more thing I saw at the Tokyo Game show this year. First, take a look at this photo:

Rubic's Cube Girl

    Yes, she is wearing a rubik’s cube on her head. But that is not the strangest part of this photo. This woman is promoting a Rubik’s Cube game for the Nintendo DS. Yes, that is correct. A game that somehow involves a rubick’s cube. The game is coming to us from game maker Digital Works. Is the world ready for such a thing. I can only pray we are. We don’t know whether or not the game involves solving a cube, or perhaps contains some other sort of made up cubing. However, it is clear to me that this game and this woman get my vote for TGS oddball concept of the year. Keep on reaching for that rainbow.

     I found another entertaining article on this over at DSfanboy. check out it for more information on this Rubick’s revolution.

TGS 06 Wrap Up


We just got back from the 2006 Tokyo Game Show and boy are our game playing hands tired. Overall, it was an incredible weekend of debauchery and pwning. The show floor was about twice as packed as it was last year, and Nintendo was absent as usual. I can only imagine how large the crowds would be if Nintendo decided they wanted to showcase the Wii. We did see a few vendors displaying their Wii goods. One of them was showing of Elebits. Overall, it seems like the Wii will have a strong debut.

How to please the crowd
The Elebits display area

There were a couple of interesting highlights from the show that stood out in my mind. Canada had a area at the show all to themselves, where they were pushing Canadian Gaming to the Japanese. Yes, when I say Canada, I mean the govermment of Canada. I talk to an embassy representative named Stephane and he indicated to me that the Canadian Game Industries was ready to take Japan. With companies such as Bioware, and the former ATI leading the way, it’s hard to see them not being successful. I’ll have more updates as I get my pictures uploaded.

Pimping Canada

     Stéphane-Enric Beaulieu Talks about Canada at the TGS

Katamari Surprise

  The last few years in video gaming have been a mixed bag for me. But every now and then a few surprises stand out. Take, for example, this neat little video game that I encountered in a little Senmaya game store back in 2004.    I was cruising the magazine section, looking for some porn magazines on photography. It was at that moment that I heard it.  A very catchy little, “na nana nana nana na nana”. I looked over the divider and saw a bizzare scene on the TV display. There were two cows grazing and a massive ball appeared beyond them in the distance. This ball seemed to be composed entirely of cars, trees and other large objects.  I went up to the clerk and asked him about the game. He said they called it “塊魂”、or Katamari Damashi. He explained that the concept of the game was to roll everything into a massive ball, and retstore the Univerise to the way it had been before its creator got drunk and smashed everything to pieces.

    I instantly assumed this was one of those games that never leaves Japan. We have a metric truckload of them here in Japan. I can list countless dating simulators, cooking games and pachinko titles that will never touch the hands of the unwashed masses back in Canada. Yet, How was I to know what lay in store for this little gem of a game?

     Not two years has gone by and I’ve already heard it used in popular culture and the media. Podcasts have made songs out its soundtrack, and legions of fans have made paintings and crafts as an ode to the king of the Universe. Two sequels have already been made. The most surprising thing I’ve heard from this is that the author of the game isn’t even a fan of video games. In fact, it seems he hates them. I’m surprised they convinced him to make more.

    The one issue that still puzzles me from this “Katamari Surprise” is not how the game became a hit, but how it has become a legend.  Would I be so bold in proclaiming that Katamari Damashii has now reached the level of “household name.” I wouldn’t be surprised if I were correct on that assumption. I teach over two hundred Junior High and Elementary students here in Japan, and every one of them knows the words “Katamari Damashii.”  I am shocked to learn that many people all around the world also know of the game.

      From all this, the one conclusion that I arrive at is that games seem to be either really good or really bad. There is no longer any middle ground. In the past few years, games like “Katamari Damashii”, “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney”, and others have been injecting countless cc’s of stimulant into an otherwise dull and uninspired industry. I feel have the Japanese to thank for this.  If I haven’t said it yet on this blog, I will now. I believe that the Japanese culture churns out some of the most creative people on the planet today. This is bold statment when you look at the way this same culture has progressed over the last oen hundred years. The education system seems to have been created to drain every precious drop of creativity from students.  However, I have a feeling there is a renaissance brewing. And that fire is being fueled by the gaming, movie and arts industries. What will spew next from the firey womb of Japan’s artistic community? That is yet to be determined.    

  In retrospect this also might help to explain the way my life has progressed over the last three years. I’ve developed an artist side that I never ever knew I had. I can only think that living in Japan has helped that. I help help but look back at that quirky little game and feel that we now have a more profound connection. You might call that link Japan. 

PSP in DS Case Makes 11-Year-Old Boy Cry

I found this great story on 4 color rebellion today. I’m posting it as a digg link, so feel free to check it out.

ESL teacher in Japan reports: “After class, some girls came up and asked, ‘Can we play Mario?’ I explained that I didn’t have my DS with me, but one girl pointed to the case and its DS logo. I opened the case and watched their faces fall as they saw the PSP. One 11-year-old boy actually cried. Cried. You can’t buy brand loyalty like that.”

read more | digg story

Utada is a Tetris Machine

It looks like that tetris maniac and pop singer, Utada Hikaru, is back. But this time she is kicking ass and taking names. Do you have what it takes to best her at Tetris DS? I warn you now, she is not what she seems. When she dawns her nerd glasses and focuses on the screen, she becomes an unbridled sphere of destruction. A quick search on youtube will net you a game of her playing like an untapped volcano. She will eat you alive at this game. She looks cute in those glasses, however. Za Warudo!

Oh, and if you are crazy enough to face such a foe, then you’ll have to pick up a copy of Tetris DS during the promotion and send in the Club Nintendo voucher. Only 30 lucky suckers, er challengers will get the chance. You also have a chance to chose a concert with her rather than a battle. Take the concert. You’ll thank me for it later. The offer is only valid in Japan of course.