Let’s Nagoya – Part One (The Arrival)

I moved to Japan with my girlfriend Ciara. This is the story of our flight and our arrival in Nagoya. Sorry for the lack of photos – later updates will feature pictures of everything from Shinto temples to pachinko parlours; from startled Churchillian cats to overly-earnest karaoke sessions. 

There are a lot of things you don’t want to hear your pilot say when you’re in the air. Things like “It’s probably nothing.” and “Yolo.” and “Hang on what’s that?”. Well, add to this list the sentence “There’s something wrong with the electrics.” because that’s what we heard two hours after take-off on our flight to Tokyo. The atmosphere in the cabin turned sour; unsettled and nervy.  Long seconds passed without elaboration, and the atmosphere degenerated yet further. No one was quite ready to start screaming or terror-crying, but there was the very real feeling that we were all definitely going to die, and that that was the end of it.

Eventually the intercom came on again: “Nothing to worry about, really. The bathroom lights and the in-flight entertainment don’t seem to be working right now.” If the atmosphere was sour before it was now explosive. This was a betrayal. Surely you start by explaining that the only consequence of the electrical fault will be pooing in the dark and missing out on watching Rush four months late. This was a betrayal and we were all furious.

So we didn’t die. And despite what we perhaps would have liked, we didn’t rise up and overthrow the pilot. Instead, we returned to Heathrow and engineers came onboard to poke at wires until they were convinced everything was working. Then, four hours behind schedule but alive and mercifully able to both watch Rush and see ourselves poo, we were off.

Then, at some point during the flight I totally lost my mind. I think it was somewhere around the 11-hour mark, but I can’t be sure. A few factors contributed to this. I couldn’t get to sleep. I was cooped up in a tiny chair for sixteen hours. But if I had to identify one factor above all others it would be the fact that someone in the row in front of me was watching a documentary about elephants on a loop for hours.

That doesn’t sound too bad, but this documentary wasn’t just about elephants – oh, god no. It was called An Apology to Elephants, and it was a documentary about human cruelty to elephants throughout history. As such, 80% of its running time was filled with graphic pictures and video clips of elephants being physically abused (the remaining 20% of the film primarily consisting of elephant experts looking upset). This played, silent but subtitled, on a loop for seven hours - right in the centre of my field of vision. And however much I tried to look away I found myself unable to do so. I hope that the person in that seat had fallen asleep, and wasn’t deliberately engaging in a marathon elephant-suffering session to pass the long hours of the flight. But I’m not sure – we can only speculate on the matter.

Eventually, miraculously, we started our descent, and the in-flight entertainment turned itself off. The apology to elephants was finally complete, and we were above Japan, ready to land.

What came next was a blur of semi-competent activity. We passed immigration and were handed our residence cards. We got our improbably heavy suitcases and made our way to the train station. We bought improbably expensive tickets and made our way first to Tokyo, then to Nagoya by Shinkansen.

Neither of us speak much Japanese, but we managed to get to Nagoya, and then to our hostel near Kanayama without too much trouble. And while we were incredibly nervous, we even managed to ask for help from several people without accidentally insulting them or tripping over our feet or raising the the topic of Shinzo Abe’s apparent historical revisionism of comfort women in the Second World War. It went well, in other words. And, in fact, one thing that living in Japan these past two months has taught me is that while Ciara and I are yet to master Japanese, we’re actually both natural experts at various forms of non-verbal communication – for example: bumbling hand signals, nervous laughter, and oafish nods.

With our fancy communication skills it wasn’t too long before we found the hostel. After that came a fitful night of sleep and a morning of bleary eyes, endless possibilities, and some pretty intense futon-related back pain. Japan – we had arrived. What the hell were we supposed to do next, and what would the next few days hold?

Was our apartment going to be full of rats? Would we ever be able to find Marmite for a reasonable price? Such questions roiled through our heads, as I’m sure they roil through yours. Well, you’ll find these answer to these questions – and much more, including a cat cafe, a ski trip, and, if you’re very lucky, a Colony Beetle - in the next edition of Let’s Nagoya.

Posted in Actual Real Life Stuff, Japan | Tagged | Leave a comment

New Game: ‘Character Creator’

Character Creator - Title

Welcome to the Spectrum Character Creator. This application will help you create a character for use in the Spectrum Role-Playing System (2nd Edition).

Please begin by inputting your race, gender, and most crippling source of regret.

Play it here

Posted in Games Blather | Leave a comment

Some thoughts on ‘End Boss’

End Boss - Title

So I made a game. It’s called End Boss, and you can play it here if you haven’t already.

It’s 5-10 minute long, and it’s made entirely of words. If you like words, or slightly disturbing themes, or things that are just 5-10 minutes long then give it a try.

If you’ve already played it you have a choice: either (a) go straight to the comments section of this post and angrily exclaim ‘It’s not reallygame though, is it?’ or (b) keep reading for a few of my thoughts on the game.

I approached End Boss looking to make a game about choice. You may be surprised to hear that, because as you can probably tell it’s a very linear game. The decisions you make don’t lead to loads of branching paths, or alter the game’s story in any real way. But that’s kind of the point - I wanted to make a game about choice rather than a game about consequence.

I feel like most games that purport to offer players significant choices only really offer significant consequences. The decisions you tend to make as a player are interesting because of where they lead – which character you save, which city you choose to visit - and not because the choices are meaningful in and of themselves.

What’s interesting, meaningful, important about the choices we make – where they lead us or what they say about us? Well both, clearly. Both are important, both are interesting, but games rarely put much emphasis on the act of choosing, so focused are they on crafting interesting consequences.

From a purely narrative standpoint, consequences are often what makes a choice interesting. But from a human standpoint – a character standpoint – consequences generally aren’t all that important. It’s the decision itself that’s of interest; the context, the thought process, the mistakes and the weaknesses and the sheer humanity that goes through our heads when we think desperately about what to do. Think Sophie’s Choice, think Breaking Bad, think Telltale’s The Walking Dead.

I wanted to make a game all about that moment of choice, one where the consequences of your choices are of secondary importance, or absent. entirely In the end I decided to make a game not about choosing to do something, but choosing why you did something.

End Boss tells you that your character some pretty awful things at some point in the past, and then asks you why. It’s not trying to make you feel personally bad for these things, because you – the player – obviously aren’t responsible. Instead it asks you to justify your character’s decisions as a way of building up your own personal narrative. The hows are unchanging, but the whys are up for grabs. Who is your character? Are they a cynical political manipulator? Do they believe themself to be a remorseless instrument of fate? Are they overcome with regret for their mistakes? Are they something altogether different, or more complex?

Your choices in End Boss don’t determine much of what happens, but as the game goes on they do give you a pretty huge level of control over who you are. Not because of what you chose to do, but because of why you chose to do it.

As a game it’s a reaction against the short shrift most games give to the act of choosing. You might notice that the only real action you can take in the game is deliberately given absolutely no context, and only really becomes meaningful later on, when you’re tasked with justifying the choice you made.

But the game’s also a reaction against the way morality is presented in most games. You don’t choose your moral alignment or lose Morality Points by stealing gruel from a cute little orphan child. You don’t have a binary choice between becoming a shining paragon of virtue and becoming the moustache-twirling CEO of BabyHarm Inc. Instead it tries to get you to play around in the spaces between wholly good and wholly evil, and to come to your own conclusions about who your character is.

Hopefully it works on some level, for some people. This is the first game I’ve made, and I knew that it was never going to be perfect. To be honest, I’m reasonably happy with it, even though it’s flawed, and the writing is scrappy, and it could be far better. But the core idea is solid, and I don’t think I did it too much of a disservice.

Well, anyway, I hope you liked it. Here’s to the future, and here’s to improving.

Posted in Games Blather, My Games | 7 Comments