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Erich’s Top JRPGs of 2013

If you haven’t observed already, I have a soft spot for JRPGs. To my joy, they were making a small comeback in 2012 and the trend continued well into the following year. In addition, thanks to a newly acquired PlayStation 3 at the beginning of 2013, I was able to enjoy a good number of JRPGs.

Which allows me to share the top 3 JRPGs of 2013 that I enjoyed most:


3. Tales of Xillia

Xillia

Not all Tales games are created equally, but they definitely tend to still be a cut above most JRPGs. In fact, the Tales series is arguably the third most popular JRPG series, just behind Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. It has a clear footing in Japan and a growing presence worldwide.

Unlike some games, JRPGs are largely reliant on plot. Xillia takes an interesting turn by allowing the player to play the game from one of two perspectives, Milla or Jude. I actually really enjoy having this option and the changes are different enough to keep things interesting. However, overall, the story inevitably suffers from a bit of pacing issues. I really didn’t find it engaging until I reached the city of Sharilton, which is a good 8 to 10 hours into the game. Even then, there are brief moments of lag. Things get much more interesting once the plot twists kick into action, and there are plenty of them in this game.

Also, I’m not usually a stickler for voice acting, but the English voice acting leaves a bit to be desired. Milla’s voice felt particularly off at first, but it eventually grew on me. To also be noted, Teepo’s voice was at times a bit harsh on the ears. However, the voice acting is not a deal-breaker, if you’re worried about that.

If there is one element from Tales games that shines above the rest, it would have to be its battle system. It’s something that manages to always improve with each Tales iteration. Stemming from Tales of Phantasia’s Linear Motion Battle System, Tales of Xillia now boasts the Dual-Raid Linear Motion Battle System and the new Link Mode (which allows you to team up with characters to utilize special combos). In a nutshell, this system basically combines RPG elements with those commonly found within fighting games. This makes battles fluid, fun, and engaging without relying on the commonly seen turn-base battle mechanic.

In the long haul, Tales of Xillia ended up ranking among my favorite Tales games. It doesn’t quite beat out Tales of Symphonia or Tales of the Abyss, but it has a good footing in third place.


2. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Kuni

Ni no Kuni had the honor of being the first new game I would play for 2013, and what a great start that was! For those unaware, Ni no Kuni is a special collaboration between LEVEL-5 and the famous Studio Ghibli. This is basically a match made in heaven, as this game managed to capture the endearing charm found in most Ghibli films and combine it with good ol’ classic JRPG gameplay.

As expected, the game’s artistic direction is absolutely gorgeous. There is so much detailed poured into each environment, whether it be the bustling streets of the homey, mid-20th century American town, Motorville, or the various settings of the whimsical and colorful fantasy world being overtaken by the Dark Djinn. It looks and feels as if you’re in a Ghibli film. Along with a plot focused on mending people’s broken hearts, it also comes with all the charm to boot.

Joe Hisaishi, the composer behind many of Studio Ghibli’s films, also lent his talents to this game. This resulted in a beautifully orchestrated soundtrack (all performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra) that certainly makes most games green with envy.

The battle system is like a mix of both Pokémon and Tales. Monsters called Familiars can be recruited and fight for the player. They all have their own stats, moves, and can evolve into other forms, just like Pokémon! However, unlike Pokémon, the human players can fight too and you can actively control the Familiars in battle just like in Tales games.

Ni no Kuni is definitely a gem. A big, shiny one. An excellent JRPG and a fantastic PS3 game. I certainly hope this isn’t the last that we’ll see Studio Ghibli involved in game development, because I would love to see (and play) more.


1. Fire Emblem Awakening

Fire Emblem Awakening

Surprise, surprise! Yes, Fire Emblem Awakening is not only claiming the top spot on my list for top 3DS games of 2013, but for JRPGs of 2013 as well. Which was a tough decision, because Ni no Kuni is pretty great. However, as a frequent player of traditional JRPGs and not so much tactical-style games, Fire Emblem had a much bigger hurdle to overcome. Which it did.

Needless to say, I did have a low standard set for Fire Emblem, as it was a game series which has struggled to keep my attention in the past. However, Awakening does an excellent job of removing hurdles which has prevented (new) players from enjoying the franchise in the past, while still maintaining elements previous fans enjoyed.

I also feel as the newly added “dating sim” mechanics ended up greatly benefiting the series by getting players more engaged in the story and growth of the characters. Seriously, I don’t often delay beating the game in favor of grinding just to unlock dialogue between characters. This may attest to the game’s writing, which successfully conveys the multitude of different personalities in this game in fresh and amusing ways.

The way the game carries you along is quite remarkable. Everything culminated so perfectly at the end with the dialogue, setting, music, etc. that the memory of it still strongly resonates with me. Once it was over, I hesitated moving on to another game. I simply wanted to experience that adventure all over again. It is moments like this that remind me why I love video games.

It is thanks to Fire Emblem Awakening that I understand the passion fans have for this franchise. If you were disappoint by Fire Emblem games in the past, or tactical games in general, then you should definitely consider giving them another chance with Awakening. Just like I’ve declared it to be the must-have 3DS game of 2013, it is also a JRPG worth its weight in gold (the Fire Emblem currency, not the shiny metallic stuff).


Now you know my picks, but what do you think? Was there JRPGs that I missed, that you think should be on this list? Feel free to let me know in the comments below!

Sayonara 2013, Konnichiwa 2014

Sayonara 2013:

A year ago, I was busy packing for and traveling to MAGFest, listening to video game music, and having fun meeting and making friends. As a result, I declared 2013 to be a year dedicated to video games, and, boy, I definitely wasn’t far off.

IGDA Scholars at Riot Games

The 2013 E3 IGDA Scholars at Riot Games.

Since the beginning of my college career, I’ve been planning to use my junior year to get jump-started on graduation preparations with networking. As someone who wants to work in game development, the best place to go for that was, by far, GDC. In February, I received my chance by getting selected to be a Conference Associate for GDC. This was indeed a priceless experience, but the opportunities did not stop there. Greatly inspired by GDC, I applied for the 2013 IGDA E3 Scholarship. Every year, the IGDA awards these scholarships “to the most promising students studying anything related to game development.” I couldn’t have been more honored than to be selected among only 8 to win this scholarship by the IGDA.

Pegasus Theater Enforcers at PAX

The Pegasus Theater Enforcers at PAX Prime 2013.

This was a very exciting opportunity for me, because I’ve wanted to attend E3 (as well as GDC) for a very long time. Not only did I get to attend E3, the scholarship also granted me more opportunities for networking and professional growth. The more I got insight from professionals in the field, the more clear my goals and career direction became. I also got to see, sit by, and talk with many of video game developer heroes such as Shigeru Miyamoto, Eiji Aonuma, Jenova Chen, and Kellee Santiago (who was my mentor)! The cherry on top of all of this, would be getting accepted to be an Enforcer at PAX Prime in Seattle. While I didn’t find PAX to be as useful as GDC or E3 (mostly in thanks to the IGDA scholarship) for networking, it still provided me several opportunities to be with friends and to visit one of my favorite places in the U.S. In one year, I managed to visit for the first time three of the largest gaming events in the U.S. and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunities provided to me to do so. Every year has its ups and downs, but I can say that 2013 will definitely be a year I will not soon forget!

Konnichiwa 2014:

By the end of 2013, I’ve decided to combine my love for games and my love for Japanese culture into one and pursue a career in Japanese game localization. I honestly don’t know why this realization didn’t come to me sooner, but I’m certainly glad I’ve embraced it now. For those who do not know, localization is the process by which games created in Japan (or other countries) get translated and prepared for an audience in another part of the world. Beneficial skills needed to do this type of work are creative writing, scripting, drama, and most importantly a strong foundation in Japanese (or other foreign languages).

You can help me study abroad in Japan with a small donation or even sharing this blog!

You can help me study abroad in Japan with a small donation or even sharing this blog!

With this career goal in mind, I’ve reached out to professionals in the field to gather advice in preparation for graduation this year. I was told that if Japanese game localization is something I’m interested in, I need to get myself to Japan. That’s because companies hiring for Japanese game localization positions really favor candidates who have lived in the culture, speak the language fluently, and understand all the nuances of both the game content and business communication with the companies involved. Now, I’ve wanted to study abroad for a long time, because 1) I’ve wanted to visit Japan since I was a kid and 2) living and breathing the culture and language is the best way for me to learn it. My last attempt to go to Japan in 2011 didn’t work out due to the earthquake and tsunami, but now I’ve been provided another opportunity and probably my last before graduation in December 2014. Kennesaw State University has a program in May which not only takes to me Japan, but also provides me essential credits required by both my major and minor.

I’ve started a fundraiser with GoFundMe for anyone who is willing to help me to go study abroad in Japan.

However, study abroad is not cheap, and as a poor college student who is already dependent on loans, grants, and scholarships, I can use any help I can get. I’ve started a fundraiser with GoFundMe for anyone who is willing to help me to go study abroad in Japan. Any donation is appreciated and will help me be just one step closer to achieving this goal of mine. If I can manage to save up enough money, I will be attempting to stay in Japan over the summer to do an internship with a game localization company too. Since 2014 has been on my mind for awhile, there are some other opportunities I took advantage of, which includes (but not limited to) me applying for: the Critical Language Scholarship to go study Japanese in Japan over the summer, the 2014 GDC IGDA Scholarship, and to be a Conference Associate for GDC 2014. There is no guarantee that I will get these amazing opportunities, but I will never know if I don’t try. Wish me the best of luck! While I was able to successfully use 2013 as a launch pad, 2014 is the year that will mark the end of a chapter and the start of a new one. It’s more important than ever that I continue to develop my professional growth and continue to aim for my goals. I still have lots of work to do ahead of me, so there’s no slowing down. 2014 here I come!

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Erich’s Top 3DS Games of 2013

Long time no see everyone! 2013 is already nearly over, and what it year it was! There was a lot of fanfare behind the releases of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 back in November. However, 2013 really belongs to the 3DS, Nintendo’s latest handheld system.

It’s hard to believe that 3DS was once nearly regarded as a flop near its launch. Now, the 3DS is, by far, the system to deliver the most bang for your buck. This year, tons of great games came out for this handheld system.

It was a challenge to determine what was the cream of the crop, but here are my top five 3DS games of 2013:


5. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon

Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon

In an interesting marketing twist, Nintendo celebrated 2013 as the Year of Luigi. Which is now confirmed to spread in 2014…so it’s more like the Fiscal Year of Luigi? Anyways, out of this emerged two noteworthy 3DS titles: Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon and Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. While I was a big fan of Mario & Luigi games in the past, Dream Team is having a hard time gaining some momentum with me. Therefore, the honor of fifth place goes to Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon.

Dark Moon is a follow-up to the GameCube classic, and I’ll admit I have a soft spot in my heart for some spooky Mario…er…Luigi goodness and Boos. While the ghosts are a bit more generic in design than they were in the original game, they are used in a multitude of clever ways.

The common Greenies will be wearing cooking pots on their heads one moment, donning sunglasses the next moment, and then haunting suites of armor another moment. All of these different scenarios require a different approach for Luigi to use in order to capture the mischievous ghosts in his Ghostbusters-like contraption, the Poltergust 5000. However, it should noted that the bosses are far from generic, especially since one of them is a staircase. Yes, you did read that correctly.

There is a nice variety of worlds too, since Luigi is no longer confined to one haunted house. This is a game with surprises up its sleeve, and it’s certainly not one to leave you bored anytime soon.

Still, forget “Year of Luigi”, 2013 is the Year of the 3DS, which you’ll discover why as you read on.


4. Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Animal Crossing: New Leaf delivers everything Animal Crossing players wanted in the past (like pants) and more. This latest entry is the best Animal Crossing has ever been. The potential for endless creativity has always been a staple in the Animal Crossing games, but with New Leaf, that potential has been even further extended.

Along with wearing pants, the new additions of swimming, hanging things on the walls of your house, saving patterns as QR codes, and customizing your town with public works projects are also welcomed additions. I only wish my villagers would recommend some new public works projects more often, because you can’t build them until they’re requested.

In part thanks to the introduction of public works projects, there’s a bigger dependence on bells (the game’s currency). Conveniently, there is a tropical island full of lucrative beetles not far offshore. Although, I would be careful with the beetle-farming as it can get old fast.

New Leaf even added the convenience of town ordinances (like the Night Owl or Early Bird ordinances), which helps assist with how a player wishes to play the game. I currently have the Beautiful Town ordinance set up so my flowers won’t die from neglect…yes, it’s been awhile since I’ve visited my town, Foxtail. However, due to the nature of Animal Crossing, which is a game based on real time, there is often always something to do.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is like a digital zen garden complete with little animal residents. Players take care to arrange their towns and their houses into what they please. The Animal Crossing experience is even more complete with friends, whom you can share your arrangements with. The 3DS is a platform that makes this very easy to do which makes Animal Crossing feel right at home on the system.


3. Pokémon X and Y

Pokemon X Y

There must be someone out there listening, because Pokémon X and Y are truly designed to cater to its players. Training Pokémon has never been easier thanks to things like the Friend Safari and newly added tweaks to breeding such as Destiny Knot. Not only does the series introduce some new (and very cool looking) monsters, it also embraces the old Pokémon that fans have loved throughout the years.

The introduction of Mega evolution helps to spread the spotlight to some of these old Pokémon like Mawile and Kangaskhan. Although, fair few were already in the spotlight without this new evolution (like Garchomp, Tyranitar, Scizor, etc.). Despite this, Mega Pokémon have proven not to overpower the game as feared and adds an interesting strategic element to battles. Also, the newly introduced Fairy type does a great job of putting once rampant Dragon (and Fighting) types in their place while not taking over itself.

From a non-competitive perspective, the Pokémon X and Y are truly the most gorgeous games out of the series. X and Y gracefully took the series into the third-dimension. I really fancy the shaders the developers took care of creating to mimic Ken Sugimori’s style. Shaders which are really at their best during battles (and while viewing the PokéDex).

While I didn’t find X and Y’s story as engaging as Black and White’s, there is no doubt that Pokémon X and Y delivers a solid and exciting Pokémon experience. Of course, the Pokémon games were never really noted for their deep stories in the first place.

For Pokémon fans or even beginner trainers, X and Y will guarantee to delight.


2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Admittedly, I was hesitant to play another handheld Zelda, which started having a trend of being lackluster in comparison with their console counterparts. I also didn’t grow up with the nostalgic appreciation that many gamers have for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, which this game’s world and story is based on. My introduction to the Zelda series was Ocarina of Time…which is hard to top, despite how A Link to the Past is the foundation for much of Zelda lore.

Nevertheless, A Link Between Worlds, with its redirected focus on exploration, found itself placed among my top favorite Zelda games. I can easily say this is the most enjoyable handheld Zelda experience I’ve had since Link’s Awakening for the Game Boy/Game Boy Color. The newly introduce item rental system gives this game some very much welcomed flexibility, something I’ll admit Skyward Sword lacked.

I also can’t help but wonder if Nintendo took notes from the Zelda Symphony tour, because the music in A Link Between Worlds is top-notch. Most of the soundtrack consists of themes found in previous Zelda games (mostly notably A Link to the Past), but the overall quality of the music is great. I highly recommend having your volume up while playing this game, because the music itself really helps to add to the experience.

A Link Between Worlds has worked its way into the hearts of many fans and has even been crowned Game of the Year by some. The hype does not disappoint as this game successfully merges a nostalgia for the old with fun and new mechanics.


1. Fire Emblem Awakening

Fire Emblem Awakening

Choosing which game would claim first in my list was definitely challenge. Despite this, there was a game that stood out from the rest. The 3DS game that surprised me the most and impressed me the most was, by far, Fire Emblem Awakening.

It might have helped that I did not have high expectations for Fire Emblem Awakening initially. The only Fire Emblem game I’ve played in the past was Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. That was a game I eventually lost interest in and never did return to play. Therefore, I dubbed the Fire Emblem series as games that were not fun for me. I would only pick up Fire Emblem Awakening as part of a coupon deal along with Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Of course, Fire Emblem took a back seat, while I was running around with Isabelle doing mayor-like duties for a spell.

Once I did play Fire Emblem Awakening, I was hooked. Fire Emblem Awakening’s strength lies within its writing, which helps bring its world and, most importantly, its characters to life. Awakening does a great job of taking what I can best describe as “dating sim” elements and incorporating it into a strategy RPG. In the process, I became really attached to the development of my characters, and I would even grind willingly just to see their stories unfold.

The pacing in Fire Emblem Awakening is simply fantastic. Very few video games achieve this, but Awakening is one of them. Through both its lows and highs, the game sweeps you along on a seamless adventure. Nothing can really compare to how the game builds up its finale, which in a brilliant combination of narration, music, and gameplay make you feel as if you finished a epic quest.

Fire Emblem Awakening will make you love its characters and long for more. While the competition was tough, Fire Emblem Awakening, in my book, is clearly the top 3DS game for 2013. I can’t recommend it enough.


Now you know what I think, but what do you think are the top 3DS games to come out this year? Let me know in the comments below!

Chrom and Lissa, two main characters from Fire Emblem Awakening.

The Key to Fire Emblem Awakening’s Success

Fire_Emblem_Awakening_English_Logo

Fire Emblem Awakening is one of those games that leave you longing for more. When I find myself experiencing this, I know that I’ve truly stumbled upon a great game. I’m not alone in saying so. Numerous people, gamers and critics alike, have applauded Fire Emblem Awakening for refined gameplay mechanics and fantastic narrative (yes, the localization is superb).

I’m not here to debunk any of their claims. In fact, I agree with them wholeheartedly. However, I would argue to say that what really lead Fire Emblem Awakening to its success are its introduced casual gameplay elements. In particular, what I want on focus on are the adjustable difficulty settings. Let me elaborate for a bit.

I would argue to say that what really lead Fire Emblem Awakening to its success are its introduced casual gameplay elements.

Fire Emblem Awakening is not my first foray into the Fire Emblem series. That was with Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, a remake of the first Fire Emblem game for the Nintendo DS. A few chapters in Shadow Dragon, I kept losing characters to permadeath and I would constantly restart. Eventually I stopped playing. I lost interest in the game. It was then that I deemed that perhaps the Fire Emblem games were not exactly my cup of tea.

FEA_Screen1

Fast forward to present-day. It was hard not to notice everyone raving about the latest Fire Emblem game, Fire Emblem Awakening. This ignited a sparked interest in the series again. However, I only ended up picking up the game in June along with Animal Crossing: New Leaf as part of coupon deal. My hesitation with Fire Emblem still lingered, so my 3DS time was devoted to Animal Crossing for a while. However, thanks to a certain friend, my Facebook feed was once again filling up with Fire Emblem Awakening praise. The timing was good because summer classes just ended and I decided to give the game a chance. That was a chance I did not regret.

FEA_Settings

Stephen Totilo of Kotaku.com claimed this game to be “The Ocarina of Time of Fire Emblems.” In comparison with my own experience with Zelda, I would definitely have to agree with this statement. However, I may have never realized Fire Emblem Awakening’s potential if it were not for a few tweaks the developers did by adding casual gameplay elements. Most notably is the ability to adjust difficulty (Normal, Hard, and Lunatic) and the option to choose between Classic Mode (turning permadeath on) and Casual Mode (turning permadeath off). In combination, this gives the player 6 different ways to play the game. In an Iwata Asks interview, Kouhei Maeda, the director of Fire Emblem Awakening, said, “I realized there was a value to having various modes, because if it was too difficult on Classic Mode, they could play to the end in Casual Mode. I think a lot of people will play all the way to the end” (http://bit.ly/XVqv6w). This insight is probably what helped saved the series from possible extinction (http://bit.ly/18kf29E). Difficulty no longer becomes a barrier for new players. This, in turn, greatly expands the Fire Emblem audience.

I realized there was a value to having various modes, because if it was too difficult on Classic Mode, they could play to the end in Casual Mode. I think a lot of people will play all the way to the end.

I personally played on Normal and Classic (and still restarted every time a unit died). I found myself enjoying the game so much that I was grinding for fun. A game that I could of beaten within 20-30 hours transformed into a 50-60 hour endeavor. Now I’m trying the game on Hard and Classic, and I’m seeing myself in a similar situation that I found myself in on Shadow Dragon. However, this time I’ve already played through the game to the end on Normal and fell in love with it. As a result, Fire Emblem is no longer a series that I’ve deemed “not fun” but instead as something that I can’t wait to play again. Normal Mode allowed me to ease into the franchise, and in turn the franchise acquired a new fan (and future potential paying customer). My only gripe is I wish I could adjust the difficulty whenever I want, because all that grinding made me a bit over-powered at the end.

Chrom and Lissa, two main characters from Fire Emblem Awakening.

Own a 3DS and haven’t played Fire Emblem Awakening yet? Get up and play it now!

Fire Emblem Awakening’s attempt to add casual gameplay elements into a typically hardcore franchise has resulted in great success. By embracing the casual market, Fire Emblem Awakening found itself in the hands of many more players. In fact, no one starts as a hardcore gamer. Yet, Fire Emblem Awakening also had something to offer to its most hardcore fans. More games (and consoles) need to follow this same formula. By focusing on one audience over the other, games ultimately lose out on a potential market. However, the casual market is the future of gaming. As much as I enjoy the treats specifically targeted to hardcore players, the casual audience of today will be the hardcore audience of tomorrow.

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Your Princess Is In Another Castle

Your Princess Is In Another Castle

Originally designed to be on display as an exhibit. Each image is a separate 11×17 piece, displayed at eye level in a row.

What do those words say? I’ll just go ahead and tell you. They spell out: “Your Princess Is In Another Castle”. This is a photo exhibit I designed back in April and May and it is now on display at Southern Polytechnic State University. Of course, now that it is on display, I felt the time was right to write about this special exhibit. In fact, the timing couldn’t be more perfect with my recent attendance of the XYZ: Alternative Voices in Game Design exhibit at the Museum of Design in Atlanta. The result is a perfect storm of ideas for a blog that simply needed to be written down. There is no better place to start than with the inspiration behind ”Your Princess Is In Another Castle”. Back in February, I discovered a video that was being shared among a circle of game developers I follow on Twitter. The video was the first part to a new video series created by Anita Sarkeesian and called “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games”. Finding her video to be enlightening and informative, I’ve decided to see how professionals in the field felt about it. Upon posting the video in the International Game Developers Association LinkedIn Group for additional commentary and feedback, it was an immediately hot topic. It remained the most popular topic for about two months and did not start reducing in popularity until comments were closed. Ultimately, my post about Anita’s video resulted in 208 comments of hot debate about not only the role of women as characters in video games but also as game developers in a predominately male industry. The conversation I witness unfold around Anita’s video would follow me to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Notably, there was the IGDA/YetiZen party incident which featured scantily clad female dancers much to the chagrin and disapproval of many game developers. Despite this, and thankfully, GDC was largely defined by a huge positive movement for change within the industry. Leading the way was the newly formed advocacy track. One of the sessions from this new track called #1ReasonToBe, was arguably the most talked about session of GDC. The origin of this panel has its roots in Twitter hashtags #1ReasonWhy and #1ReasonToBe. #1ReasonWhy encouraged women game developers to speak out about their difficulties of being in the video game industry. The result was numerous tweets that were full of upsetting, troubling, and negative stories about being women who make games and gained a lot of publicity by the media. A number of women game developers wanted to counteract this negative movement through the hashtag #1ReasonToBe, discussing instead why women are a part of the industry and should continue to be a part of it. This Twitter discussion culminated into the session at GDC, and resulted in a powerful message that inspires women to remain strong and pushes the industry forward in embracing gender equality. Right now in Atlanta, at the Museum of Design, is a special video game exhibit called XYZ: Alternative Voices in Game Design. Its mission is to highlight the work of women as game designers and artists. I couldn’t be more thrilled to see such an exhibit, apparently the first of its kind, form in Atlanta. If anything, it is certainly a sign, maybe even an extension of what I’ve experienced with “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” and the events at GDC. Women have been and will always be an integral part of the game development community. Their growing contribution to game development only makes me more excited for the future to come. As a male, I may never truly fully understand the issues and hurdles women face in achieving gender equality. However, I will certainly support the cause. That is why “Your Princess Is In Another Castle” exists.

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If this photo exhibit can get someone to ponder about the issues involving video games and gender equality, that would be good enough. Although, I really hope it can be a tool used to help spread the message of #1ReasonToBe.

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IGDA 2013 E3 Scholarship

The month of June was a pretty amazing month for me. The Zelda Symphony returned to Atlanta on June 6, premiering its second season dubbed “Second Quest.” Right after that, 3 years since its last visit, Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY also came back to the capital of Georgia. I had the joy of going to both of these events. However, the true highlight for me in this month was having the opportunity to attend the Electronic Entertainment Expo (better known as E3) in the heart of downtown LA. Many gamers have dreamed of attending this conference. Finally, for me, this changed from a dream into a reality. In addition, my E3 attendance was part of something very special. I got to attend E3 as an IGDA Scholar.

IGDA Scholarships

Every year, the International Game Developers Association will award these scholarships “to the most promising students studying anything related to game development.” IGDA scholarships include all-access passes to events such as E3, studio tours of local game development companies, mentorships and meetings from senior video game developers. In a nutshell, it’s a priceless opportunity for anyone who wants to work with video games. Lucky for me, I was among only 8 people chosen to attend E3.

How did I get this scholarship? Well, I applied for it! The application asks for some basic information, but it also pays special attention to how you’re contributing to both the game development community and areas outside of that through volunteerism. It will cover game projects you’ve worked on, your career goals and aspirations, and your thoughts on why it’s important that developers should help each other. Certain sections of it allow you to make special requests. In particular, you can ask for your ideal mentor. Remembering a video I saw about the IGDA scholarships before, I took advantage of this and requested Kellee Santiago. She is one of the co-founders of Thatgamecompany, the producer behind Flow, Flower, and Journey, and currently in charge of developer relations for OUYA. Believe it or not, IGDA pulled through and Kellee Santiago became my mentor! However, I didn’t just get Kellee… I also got a second mentor, Erin Robinson (a.k.a. LivelyIvy), an award-winning independent game developer. Erin currently is working on the charmingly Zen-like game known as Gravity Ghost!

Since my return, colleagues often ask me what I did at E3, what games I’ve played, and what I enjoyed most. I played lots of games, so I’m just going to limit it to the ones that stood out to me the most. Well, it should be no surprise that I was absolutely thrilled with the Nintendo booth. I loved playing the two Zelda games, The Wind Waker HD and A Link Between Worlds. Outside of Nintendo, I really enjoyed Tearaway for the PS Vita. However, by far, the best experience at E3 for me was getting to attend the Pokémon X & Y Developers Roundtable presented by Tsunekazu Ishihara and Junichi Musuda. Not only was the roundtable itself pretty fantastic, I also found myself among several of my game developer heroes. I ran into Shigeru Miyamoto on the way there, and I found myself sitting with Eiji Aonuma, Masahiro Sakurai, and Takashi Tezuka. It was truly an honor!

Another thing that was a blast to do was the studio tours of EA, Insomniac Games, and Riot Games. Thanks to my wonderful mentor, Kellee, I also got to visit Thatgamecompany and meet with Jenova Chen. It was very enlightening to visit these different places and witness firsthand how company culture can vary from place to place. I also need to mention how awesome it was to meet and talk with my mentors and industry veterans such as Laura Fryer. These wonderful and talented people were also big highlights of my E3 experience.

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Oh, did I forget to mention that I went to see the Zelda Symphony again in LA? The performance at the Greek Theatre blew Atlanta out of the water. Seriously, the orchestra performed at a caliber worthy of Hollywood films and the result was spectacular. I will be forever spoiled.

Trust me, I’ve been to 4 Zelda Symphonies. Of course, I have yet to attend one that disappoints either. Live orchestrated Zelda music? My response anytime will be: “Yes, please.” Anyways, the best way I can describe E3 in a nutshell is that it’s a “video game theme park.” Much of the show is dedicated to the spectacle of marketing, journalism, and PR (all which I think are a lot of fun). Thanks to the IGDA Scholarship, I also got special access to speak with the developers behind the games at E3. The event in its entirety was an extremely rewarding and educational experience. I could honestly write a book about my amazing time there, but instead I’ll end it here with a bit of advice for future IGDA Scholars: Don’t hesitate to take full advantage of the scholarship. Thanks to the all-access pass given to me by the IGDA, I was able to see and do things I probably would have never been able to do as a regular attendee. Never think that something is not achievable. Take a chance: request for that amazing mentor, talk to people who inspire you, and go see the things you truly want to see. You’ll find opportunities in areas you’re truly passionate about, and that will ultimately create an unforgettably great experience.

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From Up on Poppy Hill Deserves a Chance

How I ended up writing this review is somewhat of a funny story. From Up on Poppy Hill is the latest feature film from Studio Ghibli. When it was announced it would be released here in the U.S., you can bet that my ears perked up! Studio Ghibli is responsible for famous Japanese animated features such as Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Spirited Away (so far the only Japanese animation to win an Oscar for Best Animated Feature).

This is just a few of the classics to come out from this studio, and most of them are definitely worth watching. Notably, the majority was directed by the infamous Hayao Miyazaki, but with From Up on Poppy Hill his son, Goro Miyazaki, was the one in the director’s chair for a second time. This has sparked some negative publicity as his first foray into animation with Tales from Earthsea was not well received. Of course, it’s not easy when the poor fellow has the gargantuan reputation of his father to live up to.

©2011 Chizuru Takahashi - Tetsuro Sayama - GNDHDDT

©2011 Chizuru Takahashi – Tetsuro Sayama – GNDHDDT

Despite this, I know many of my friends were interested in seeing this film. However, I had one friend caution us not to set our standards too high. He said that the characters were un-relatable and that the overall plot was very plain, stale, and boring. He suggested that I should judge it for myself, so one day out of boredom I did watch it and fell in love with it. My baffled friend wanted to know why, so what you’re about to read is taken from my response to his question.

Unlike my friend and others who share his point of view, I was able to relate to the characters. It helps that my father was in the U.S. Coast Guard, so I can easily relate to the theme of flag signals, boats, fathers out at sea, and etc. I think what throws most people off is that this anime is largely based on a re-imagining of real life. As such, the film features subtleties that are not necessarily found in animation, particularly in the characters’ development and how they express their emotions. Due to its animated nature though, it may be seen as stale or lacking magic.

I do think the film achieved things as an animated feature that couldn’t have succeeded as a live-action flick, and I’m referring to the “re-imagining” part here. Yokohama, where most of the film takes place, was not drawn exactly as it was; it was from the perspective of the characters (hence, a livelier more colorful city with soft glowing lights and exaggerated messes). It’s all drawn to be like a warm memory such as someone reminiscing on the good times of their past. The soundtrack also contributed greatly to the feelings of nostalgia this film generates. This was a great perspective to use for addressing the problems facing the characters, especially since it was also symbolic of the problems Japan was facing during this era. The Japan of 1963, the backdrop of the whole plot, was not chosen by accident.

©2011 Chizuru Takahashi - Tetsuro Sayama - GNDHDDT

©2011 Chizuru Takahashi – Tetsuro Sayama – GNDHDDT

It was a great transitional period for Japan, who was still recovering from the horrible aftermath of WWII. They were working towards a peaceful and brighter future. The 1964 Olympics was very symbolic of Japan’s re-emergence on the world stage as a country of perseverance, peace, and prosperity.

Should we forget the old while pushing for new change? The classic struggle between the past and future is something we deal with as humans every day and is particularly noteworthy during this moment in Japan’s history. This is the dilemma our protagonists, Umi and Shun, must face in saving both the school’s historic clubhouse and their own relationship.

I see this film as a good first step for Goro Miyazaki and my advice is same that my friend gave to me: go see it and decide for yourself. It lacks the magic found in most Studio Ghibli films. However, it has its own niche as the recalling of a Japan that used to exist, which is almost like a fairy tale itself. Starting today, Poppy Hill will delight Atlanta audiences with theatrical showings at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

GDC: The Conclusion

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It’s been a week now since GDC ended. I’ve left the diverse and artsy streets of San Francisco to find myself back in Atlanta with spring in full swing. Seeing trees full of buds and blossoms upon my return was a pleasant surprise. I’ve been spending the week recovering from a cold (the GDC plague?), getting readjusted back into my regular schedule of work and school, and preparing to look for a new car. However, technically, GDC never truly ended for me. The experience of GDC lies within the people I’ve met and befriended. As long as I remain in contact with them, GDC will live on forever.

That said, I am so glad I had the opportunity to finally attend GDC to meet all those people. I can’t thank Ian, the CA manager, enough for selecting me to be a part of such an amazing team of people. Being a CA made me realize how amazing it was to be a part of the game development community. Everyone I worked with and met was so helpful and friendly, whether it was just discussing about our favorite games or critiquing a resume to help someone land their dream job. I will forever cherish being part of this great community of friends. I can not imagine a better way to experience GDC.

I know that I want to work in the game industry. GDC has given me the confidence and knowledge needed to take the steps toward achieving this goal. It is my greatest hope to use video games to inspire others to learn more about the world we live in. I wish to create games that help to push the industry forward. I want to be a part of games that don’t need to depend on violence and games which diversify and equalize the roles between people. I want to be a part of the bright future I saw at GDC. Therefore, I will continue to work hard to make that future a reality.


GDC blog entries:

GDC: Day 5

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I was so happy that someone took my morning shift for the Speaker’s Lounge. It gave me time to finish tweaking my resume, print some copies, and run over to the Career Pavilion. I was expecting it to be very busy since Friday was the day student passes were allowed on the floor. However, I barely had to wait to meet with the recruiters there. It might have just been lucky timing on my part.

Already having an idea of who I wanted to visit, I made my approach to selected booths. I didn’t come looking for a job, but instead internship opportunities and additional feedback on how I could improve my resume. I was most pleased with my experience with Sony and Konami. They both gave me wonderful, detailed feedback about my resume and told me about potential internship opportunities for me on the horizon. Nintendo impressed me too by offering to assist me in improving my resume as well. There was probably a grin on my face as I left the Career Pavilion. This is because the feedback I got made me feel confident and optimistic for the future. Words can not describe my undying enthusiasm for this industry and my excitement to be a part of it.

GDC was definitely a conference full of love for Journey. My next shift was for “The Art of Journey” with speaker Matt Nava. Not that I mind. If you couldn’t tell, I’m a pretty big fan of the game, and as a new media artist I was looking forward to this talk all week. Arriving early, I was a little surprised to discover that a smaller room was selected for this talk. I was certain that it was going to fill up, and I prepared accordingly. The room ended up packed, just like I predicted, but it was one of the smoothest sessions I had the honor of managing. I really think this was the result of good communication between me and other CAs, the A/V technicians, and Matt. Afterwards, I was able to briefly introduce myself to Matt and I talked to him about his new studio, Giant Squid. I love its mission to ”create artistic games that deliver beautiful, meaningful, and timeless experiences to a wide range of people.” Quite frankly, I’m pretty excited to see what Giant Squid and Matt Nava himself will produce in the future. There’s so much potential!

Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time after Matt’s talk until I had to go help out with another session called “Breaking in Game Biz!” Part of me was hoping to gleam a little insight from this talk, but at the point I was in my career path, I actually did not find it to be very helpful. Luckily, the rest of GDC was amazingly insightful. I met inspirational people and I had a whole new network of friends who shared my passion and drive for this fantastic industry. Industry is a word that doesn’t due it justice, because everyone honestly feels like family.

The CA postmortem was bittersweet. Helping bring a sense of closure to to a pretty amazing week, it marked the end of very successful GDC. After the CA postmortem, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to GDC and all my new friends just yet. Neither was the majority of the other CAs. I’ve decided to join a group of CAs in playing a game called “Witch Hunt.” This was only my second time playing, and I used that to my advantage in order to achieve victory. Yes, I actually won a game of Witch Hunt! The story about how that was accomplished is pretty amusing to tell. However, I’ll save that for another time. Just know that I am not a witch.


GDC blog entries:

GDC: Day 4

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The small amount of extra sleep I got really paid off. I felt rejuvenated and ready to take on the rest of GDC. To make my day even better, I came across a CA who was willing to trade her shift, “Sand Rendering in Journey,” for one of mine that morning. I was very excited.

I arrived early to work the shift and my CA friends gave me the opportunity to “prep the speaker.” This included introducing yourself, making sure all the needs of the speaker were met, communicating about how to go about signaling the end of the session, addressing audio concerns, etc. This was how I got to meet John Edwards, the lead engineer for thatgamecompany and the speaker for this session. As John described his process to achieve certain visual effects for the sand in Journey, I found myself to be enthralled. It was clear to me that John was well prepared for the talk. I definitely recommend watching it if you have access to the GDC Vault. Afterwards, I also met Sunni, the studio manager for thatgamecompany. I was already eyeing a studio manager position for another company, so I was really interested in hearing about the kind of responsibilities and tasks Sunni had to do as a studio manager herself. Both John and Sunni were incredibly friendly to talk to and I’m so glad I got the chance to talk with both of them.

I had a couple of hours before my next shift, so I spent it working on my resume. Getting some wonderful feedback from friends in in the CA Lounge, I was able to rework my resume to be geared towards getting a career in the game industry. The amazing thing was that I already had a ton of relevant experience and it was just a matter of wording it properly, adding projects I’ve worked on, and removing unnecessary content. I ended up reformatting my resume too. It looks fantastic now and it’s so much better than it was before. However, I couldn’t focus on doing final touches for too long because I wanted to arrive early for my next shift. That shift was for the session “Designing Journey.”

As I assumed, “Designing Journey” was extremely popular among attendees. Jenova Chen, the creative director of thatgamecompany, was the speaker. I saw Jenova’s 2013 D.I.C.E. keynote speech online, and like he warned at the beginning of his talk, that keynote and this session was very similar. However, the way Journey was conceptualized and designed is very fascinating to learn about. I still found this session to be one of my favorite talks of GDC.

After this session ended and I was relieved of my duties, me and some other CAs wanted to go visit Jenova, who was just outside in the hallway visiting people. There was a large crowd surrounding around him. Each person eagerly wanted a moment of his time. It was just a sign of how successful he and the rest of the team at thatgamecompany were at creating a game that touched the lives of many across the globe. John and Sunni were there too and I chatted with them while waiting. The group then started to head off towards a meeting and I had my chance to speak with Jenova. I mostly talked with him about his experience at the University of Southern California because I was interested in getting a graduate degree there like he did. He advised that I talk to someone who was more recently involved with the program because many changes could have occurred since he was a student. Not wishing to take up more of his time, I said my goodbyes to Jenova, John, and Sunni and headed back towards the CA Lounge to prepare for dinner.

It was during dinner that I got a text from friend I’ve been trying to meet. She stated that she was at the Game Audio Network Guild Awards, which I actually totally forgot about! Not feeling very hungry, I ended dinner right there and then and made my way over to where the G.A.N.G. Awards was being hosted. Upon entering the room I immediately found myself among friends and many of my video game music heroes/heroines. My friends in the audio side of game development are dear and close to me. If an opportunity popped up where I could work with them, I would definitely take it.

The G.A.N.G. Awards were pretty much dominated by Austin Wintory and his amazing soundtrack for Journey. It won five awards. I had the immense pleasure of meeting Austin afterwards who remembered me from online. He’s such a humble and intelligent person that I always find myself enjoying our talks. With his work for Journey coming full circle now, I highly look forward to seeing what he’ll create for his future projects. I can’t go on without mentioning Laura Intravia’s amazing vocal performance of a Journey arrangement during the ceremony. That really made my night.

Soon the G.A.N.G. crowd was heading over to their after-party and I decided to tag along. This was by far the best party I’ve attended at GDC (albeit I didn’t attend that many). I’m glad I prioritized this one over the immensely popular party being hosted by Notch. Nothing against the Secret Black Fedora party, I just felt like it was going to be another party full of loud music. At the G.A.N.G. after-party, I actually got to meet and talk with some amazingly talented people! Susie Seiter, who I saw conduct the Zelda Symphony in Atlanta, gave me some excellent advice about graduate school. It really helped to solidify my plans of diving straight into the field after graduation next year. Overall, it was fantastic end to a fantastic day.


GDC blog entries:

Game Localization Protégé

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