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Replaying Japan 2014

These are my notes on Replaying Japan 2014 which ran from August 21st to 23rd. I am the co-chair so I won't be writing a lot of notes. The web site for the conference is here:

You can see the tweets at - we have a Storify at

You can see some photos at: (thanks to Vadim Bulitko)

This conference is the third event organized between the U of Alberta and Ritsumeikan with support from GRAND, Japan Foundation, Prince Takamodo Japan Centre and Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies. Last year we had the 1st International Japan Game Studies Conference at Ritsumeikan in Kyoto.

Day 1

Tomohiro Nishikado: Innovation at the Dawn of Japanese Video Games

Tomohiro Nishikado gave the opening keynote. He started working on arcade games in Taito back in the days of mechanical games. One day they dropped off Pong from Atari and many thought this wouldn't compete with the mechanical games. He developed Soccer based on Pong that was released in 1973. This was the first videogame to come out in Japan. It is interesting how it is an evolution of Pong.

1974 he developed a racing game called Speed Race which he felt was faster than the American ones. This was the first Japanese arcade game licensed to the US. he talked about the architecture of Speed Race and how they had to build custom logic boards. (This was before integrated circuits/microprocessors and the separation of hardware/software.)

Then he developed Western Gun where he was able to improve the graphics. At this time he was developing everything himself. Then he showed Interceptor, a flying game (1976). It was a first person perspective game. The game boards got more complex as the games got more complex.

At the same time Atari came out with Breakout, which he found addicting despite the graphics, which were simpler. He learned from Breakout that the playfulness was more important than fancy graphics. He decide to incorporate 3 elements from Breakout:

  • The exhilaration of destroying blocks
  • To give share to targets and make them mobile
  • To create a two-way shooting game where the player is also shot at

He also decided to use a microprocessor which involved looking at a number of American games to see how that worked. The architecture was different and not in the logic of the board.

He the talked about questions he get asked about Space Invaders:

  • How did you come up with the idea? From Breakout.
  • How long did it take to develop? 2 years
  • What kinds of technical difficulties did he encounter? Getting information about microprocessors. Developing for microprocessors. He had to create tools for development including using a light pen to draw characters. He showed how the code was hand-written.
  • What made you decide to use invader as a character? He struggled with the characters. He modelled tanks and then soldiers, but it was suggested that it wasn't a good idea to shoot at people. At that time Star Wars was a big hit so he settled on aliens. The images of the characters were inspired by the Martians from The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. Nishikado showed how the Martian evolved into a bitmap. As one Martian looked like an octopus he then drew on different sea creatures for the other aliens.
  • Was Space Invaders a big hit instantly? No, Taito thought another shooting game would be more successful so that game got more attention. He was told the shooting was too difficult and new players wouldn't continue playing.
  • Why do you think it was a smash hit? He thinks the trade people were older, but players were young and they liked the new features.

Space Invaders led to an explosion of invader cafe houses with tabletop machines. There were something like 300,000 machines in Japan and then associated products. The game was popular for a year and then became a social problem and popularity declined. Other companies analyzed the game and came out with other similar games that changed the history of games.

It is said that Pong is the beginning of videogames, but it is also said that Space Invaders is the origin of Japanese games. He is proud of this.

We talked about the development of cocktail/tabletop games as a different format for arcade games. These were first developed in Japan. From marketing point of view they are good as two people could sit at the table. I'm interested by how different the coffee table space is from upright arcades.

Someone asked if he became rich from this. He was a salaryman and all the patents and IP was held by Taito. He did get a bonus at some point.

After the talk he showed us his notebook that he kept when designing Space Invaders. I took a picture of the concept and then the resulting bitmaps. See and

Parallel Session 1

Domini Gee: Catherine: A Cultural Bubble on Japanese Society

Domini Gee presented a case study on the game Catherine and how it is social commentary. Catherine is not a shooter. The main character has nightmares and is torn between two women. It is a game for older/adult player and explores themes common to Japan like the drop in births and whether the Japanese are not having sex. Catherine deals with these issues of sexuality and values in adult life. You make choices between order and chaos. The game plays with the idea of herbivores or sheep as a type of masculinity. (Men as either carnivores or herbivores is a trope in Japan.)

Domini talked about some of the omissions from the game like discussing Catherine's pregnancy. The game is honest, but then avoids certain issues and simplifies some complex issues with a limited set of endings. It is none the less notable for breaking the fourth wall asking "Do you want to live a comfortable and steady life, or do you want live a life of excitement?"

Alexandre Benod: Übermenschen discourse and generation Y in Japan: what Role Playing Games tell us?

Benod focused specifically on JRPGs and contemporary Japanese culture. His ongoing work is on religion and gaming through the perspective of "flow."

New Race (Adventures of ?) 1987 is a shoot-em-up where you play a caveman who starts by throwing rocks and defeating the enemies of prehistoric life. You get stronger and stronger becoming a superman.

He talked about Shinjinrui - "new man" or "new breed". Where did term "new man" come from? They are the first generation with no experience of war and rebuilding. They are bigger than their parents due to diet and health. The term for older people denotes decadence.

The "new breed" represents a generation of educated men and women spoiled by their mothers who don't want to sacrifice life to work. They were exposed to mange and anime. He talked about the rise of new new religions that focused on spiritual life over materialism. These religions like Aum Shinrikyo taught super powers.

Not only religion, but also manga, anime and games taught about the ubermensch. He talked about Dragonball and the influence of this on youth. The main character gets stronger and stronger as the enemies get harder. Perseverance (gambaru) and development is everywhere in Japanese culture. It is at the core of Japanese personality according to some psychology. Brain Age is an example of gambaru - play everyday and you become a superman.

He talked about different types of leisure, active (sport) and passive (pachinko) and the value put on active play in Japan. He then talked about Final Fantasy XIV. He believes that you need a lot of gambaru to make it through to the fun parts (after level 13).

We talked about flow in games and the similarities between religious flow and gaming flow. A participant talked about meditation techniques and gaming and research into the differences/similarities.

There was a great question about whether games can be considered sports. Is the gambaru the same? Not all sports have intense physical aspects - curling or forms of shooting may be seen as closer to gaming than track sports.

Rachael Hutchinson: Embodied experience and social critique: anti-nuclear discourse in Final Fantasy

Hutchinson teaches Japanese language, culture, and games in Delaware. Since the atomic bombs dropped on Japan there have been a number of texts about nuclear weapons like Black Rain, Barefoot Gen, Gojira, Akira, and in games like Metal Gear series and Final Fantasy series. The timing of these games is 1987 right after Chernobyl (1986). There is a lot of study of nuclear bombs in Japanese art, but not as much on nuclear power.

N power is dual - it can switch from positive to negative (at any point.) It is instable and connects to human failings. How to control this power and use it responsibly? Final Fantasy series spans from Chernobyl to Fukushima. FF VI starts in a world where there was a destructive war and the game is about stopping another war. FF X has a similar emphasis on the past and the senseless destruction of machines. The giant monster that is the reward for human failings is called Sin. Sin's exploding looks a lot like a nuclear explosion.

FF VII is where the ethics of using nuclear energy is clear - it is about "mako" which is very similar to nuclear energy. In this game we are not trying to avoid mistakes of the past, but trying to deal with a corrupt government. Mako can do good or poison people. Hutchinson then talked about the increased agency of players and then how that agency gets taken away "making player hyper-aware of connections between reality and game world." The manipulation of player when major characters get killed off forces player to reflect on the game. FF VII is called a world changing RPG because of how the player has to engage in the issues. The player is complicit and deeply engaged which makes the message more likely to stick with the player.

She ended by talking about John Whittier Treat's discussion of atomic bomb literature attempts to contemplate "rupture" in human history. FF VII is similarly about dealing with rupture.

Mia Consalvo: A Little Nintendo in All of Us?: Exploring the Influence of Japanese Games on Western Game Designers

Mia talked about how her paper is part of a larger project on Western Otaku. She has done work on the Japanese game industry. She has also looked at the indie localization phenomenon. She is now asking about how developers start as players and fans. How are they influenced by what they played.

Studio studies is a new area within game studies. It can be very difficult to gain access to studios so we end up knowing more about modders, fans and indies than about the developers. Some of the people doing this include, Ashton (student game developers), Malaby (Linden Lab), O'Donnell (Vicarious Visions), Banks (Auran Studio and others), and Whitson (Execution Labs). Largely studio studies is interested in the studios rather than the designers.

She talked about O'Donnell's idea of game talk - the short hand for talking about game design that can end up excluding. Generation can also influence what people have played. She talked about three generations or attitudes to Japan.

  • 1980s and "Japan Panic" in the USA - a period of fear of Japanese domination. Early American game developers didn't have access to Japanese games.
  • rise of "Cool Japan". This generation had access to Japanese games in their childhood so it influenced them.
  • rise of 8-bit/retro nostalgia. The next generation grew up with these games and now the early games get woven into their games. Phil Fish, designer of Fez, said "Your games just suck." He loved the early Japanese games, but not the new ones. This generation returned to the old games.

Now game developers constantly play games as part of their work. Japanese games become part of the homework.

Then she talked about how designers talked about games "from Japan" vs "of Japan". Of Japan could only have been done in Japan while From Japan could be done anywhere but happened to come from Japan. Nintendo had a fundamental design influence as they laid the groundwork after the game crash for all that came later. She gave examples of both From and Of.

Daisuke Saito: Minecraft-Based Communication Learning to Elementary School Students And Junior High School Students

Saito talked about using Minecraft to teach communication and negotiation. Students had to create design documents and then implement in Minecraft in communication with each other.

It was interesting to discover that in Japan there is a focus on moral education and communication. That is what they were using Minecraft for.

Keiji Amano: Practical Use of Console Games in Business Administration Education: Course design, Evaluation method and Guidelines for selecting appropriate console games

Keiji talked about using commercial games in business administration. He talked about bit about research around serious games going back to the 1970s. Education and amusement are not necessarily in a trade-off. One should be able to use games so that they are both entertaining and educational.

They want to use serious games to bridge the gaps between lectures and move students from cramming to autonomous learning. He and his collaborator is interested in games designed for entertainment which can be used seriously. Some examples he surveyed include:

  • 72 hours after earth quake
  • Guilty or not Guilty
  • Age of Discovery 4
  • The Combini
  • Lets make a professional football team
  • All sorts of smartphone games about managing some business

They created a Serious Games Seminar to integrate everything learned in other courses. The idea was to use games as a safe place to integrate learning from other lectures. He gave an example of the Combini game series (The Convenience Story series). Students are given goals when playing the games. They might ask questions as to whether a store is more profitable in a residential area or downtown. They can compare in the game. The students can research all sorts of questions using the series.

What sorts of games are appropriate for this time of learning? People can win a game without understanding why - how do you make sure they learn? Keiji described processes to make sure students reflect on what they are doing like keeping a journal of their decisions and write a report at the end about what they learned.

They used a competency dictionary to evaluate students. Keiji then talked about how they assessed games for their learning. They don't have a good metric yet, but they have looked at serious games as examples.

There was an interesting discussion about the pedagogical principles.

Melanie McBride: The 'ways' smell

McBride talked about Kodo - a old Japanese game of smelling. Howes, a sensory anthropologist, suggests that there is a sensory order - some senses are more important in some cultures. The nose has been demoted.

She talked about the Scentee - an iPhone peripheral that activates smells by vibration. Then she talked about the game kodo (or way of smell). This Heian period game sometimes had a gambling aspect.

She then switched to talking about gamification and competition in learning. She encouraged us to think about embodied learning and using smells. As an educator she wants children to develop a spirit of curious play rather than lots of gamification. She believes that in Japan there are traditions of the way (do) that game designers need to return to. They are embodied, they are about curiousity rather than rewards.

Christopher Michel Yap: Genetic Predestiny vs. Digital Free Will: A Critical Analysis of Character Foils in Metal Gear Solid

Chris started by talking about character foils or dualities like Spock and Kirk. The two play off each other. There is an irony to foils - the closer they are related the more engaging the difference. Foils can exist in any medium, but how can they be used in games?

He focused on Metal Gear Solid 1, Konami 1998 (Playstation). Solid Snake has to prevent Liquid Snake to stop superweapon Metal Gear.

The theme is why do you do the things that you do? Because of genes or desires?

When you fight bosses they talk to you before and after. You also have long conversations with commanding officers. Many of the characters seem to acknowledge genetics as a major factor in their actions. Solid Snake (your character) by contrast is empty. The bosses and officers talk a lot to you to help player understand. Solid and Liquid Snake are clones of Big Boss. You are identical. This leads to questions of genetic predestination and choice. Liquid feels constrained and you, Solid make choices.

Chris then described how the literary device of the foil don't work quite the same when one character is played. Foils work better (or more easily) when they are between non-player characters.

I asked about side-kick foils like Drippy in Nino No Kuni and he agreed that they are a form of foil.

He is running a

Emily Flynn-Jones: Soft(ware) Power: Animal Crossing as a Persuasive & Affective Kawaii Game

Emily started by talking about cute. Cute is diminutive, gendered, and often deformative. She talked about the darker side of cute and specifically Animal Crossing.

A lot of the literature on kawaii talks about it as playful. Contemporary cute culture is exploding. Thus play gets woven into more and more domains. (Is cute really playful or is that sold to consumers.)

Cute for designers is a type of sugar coating used to soften domestic technologies and to sell them. However there is a connection between cute and pitiful - weakness and vulnerability. Cuties are at their cuteness when they are in the middle of a pratfall. Do we enforce weakness or cute vulnerability?

Cute is an innate releasing mechanism that releases parental responses and changes our behaviour. Cuteness is attractive and attracts sociality.

She has played Animal Crossing systematically for a study. Animal Crossing rewards cute and responsive behaviour. Cuteness is communicated in positive and negative ways. She talked about how the game simulates work - there is a lot of playbour - play labour. "The work of the game was washed over by cuteness." They (Emily and others playing together) were found cute when playing.

Kawaii was originally connected to fragility, and about to being close to die.

We had a really interesting discussion about cute, moe, and the way things pass.

Day 2

Kevin Kee: And the Digital Humanities Shall Lead Them: University to Community Partnerships with Computer Gaming: The Story of nGen

Kevin started with the question "how should universities engage in innovation?" His talk moves from a big question to a smaller one like nesting dolls or

How have researchers and universities understood the promotion of innovation? Should universities promote innovation?

Too many universities have thought of innovation as corporatization. Innovation has for many become synonymous with commercializing intellectual property and creating incubators.

How did Brock experiment with innovation?

He then moved down to how they have been trying innovation engagement at Brock. He gave some background on St. Catherines and the employment problems. From Garden City to Garbage City. This led to a discussions at Brock as to how engage in innovation with the community.

In the uni we can work to our priorities and schedule. The timing was right. Heavy industry was the history and knowledge economy the future.

Leadership needs followers. The first followers according Sivers are really important. Too many incubators fail. They needed followers or needed to be a follower. They got funding from the OMDC.

There is a principle of working independently in the university, but in business it is about collaboration.

One lesson was "Be Quick, Don't Hurry." In 2008 nGen started. They hired an executive director which is important given how academics don't have the time to focus. This made a real difference as the economy collapsed in 2008 and they had to adapt to a regional community adjustment fund. nGen depended on a business approach of building community support.

Another lesson was to keep expanding. To the academics it felt like time to relax, but Silicon Knights (their industry partner) collapsed so they had shift and connect with others.

Academics tend to specialize, but business is about regeneration and adaptation. nGen joined other networks and had to adapt to survive.

Kevin then shifted to talking about building a game on The War of 1812. The game includes information about the Niagara on the Lake area and a game where you try to solve the mystery of who bombed the Brock statue.

Another lesson was "be a start-up, be entrepreneurial." Start-ups take a certain organization similar to digital humanities projects, but there are differences.

Kevin had started the game project for all sorts of academic reasons. His real motivation was academic not entrepreneurial. This is a problem as you really need to be hungry and adaptable to run a successful start-up. A start-up need complete commitment in a way that universities don't. Academics don't have total commitment to a project - they have lots of projects and spread their commitment.

While the game project didn't evolve into a company, the incubator has done well and become a model for other incubators.

He then talked about the prominence of the digital humanities in gaming and other areas. The digital humanities is complicit in and connected to the knowledge economy and how it is evolving. We are working

Tomoki Kajinami: Supporting method for watching e-Sports considering relationship between player's conception and game field, Kanagawa Institute of Technology (Japan)

Kajinami talked about how th public image of fighting game is negative. The image is that it is violent, has a negative effect on character and encourages criminality.

He has considered the differences between high cultural value games and fighting games. For fighting games people don't appreciate the play and virtuosity of the game. We need to find ways to support fighting games and explain them.

He has acome up with a way of promoting fighting games. The idea is to visualize the network structure of the player's conception. He identifies intention keywords (extracted through protocol analysis) and action keywords extracted through action log. Then he can connect intentions to actions.

He showed some intriguing examples of these conception graphs.

A second approach was to represent players' situation-based focus areas. He wants to show how tactical fighting games are in a way that can be compared to chess. He uses a space block to show the space that players focus on.

His research on players using these two approaches then showed how they conceive of the game and deal with space tactically. Next he wants to do some data mining.

Shuji Watanabe: The design of purpose in the game - "Ludo" and "Narrative"

Watanabe started by talking about game design workshop examples that ask students to convey information about a game space. He used this to introduce the issue of designing games to maximize flow. If the challenge is to high player gets anxious. If it is too low they relax and become apathetic.

The limit of flow theory with games is that games require players to think about multiple objectives at the same time. You can't really represent multiple objectives. Objectives are created by players. He proposed a balance model where the designer balances the skill of player. They might add to difficulty as the game goes along. Or they let the player change the difficulty.

He also talked about risk and play style. If there is a high risk in game it might be fast so you can try and try again. Low risk games might last longer. He gave other balance models. Multiple balance models is like a mobile with different hanging models.

He then talked about structured "ludo" and used PacMan as an example of different play (ludo) structures.

Yoshihiro Kishimoto: The Educational Power of Games: The Production and Evaluation of Japan's first "Serious Game Jam"

Kishimoto asked us how we like school classes. Many in Japan don't like learning English which is why they ran a Serious Game Jam with the theme of English Learning Games. This was one of the first serious game jams in Japan. Serious game jams aren't as popular in Japan and serious games also suffer from there not being any places for people to share ideas.

Kishimoto and colleagues decided to make their own game jam that focused on serious games. They got 14 professionals and 21 students to participate and made 5 games over 2 days. He described some of the games. "Big Big Dragon" is about dragon training that helps students practice listening skills. Students then tested the games with school kids.

The game jam was run with some interesting components. There was a concept sheet contest. Participants had to present and they got feedback from professionals. They didn't stay over night between two days and they were able to communicate before.

They hope to continue holding these game jams.

Canadian Industry Panel chaired by Sean Gouglas.

Joshua Nilson of East Side Games introduced the panel with a talk on the Changing Game Landscape. He recommend that people who want to work in a game company should try working in IT. He organizes Indie Power events at conferences that bring indies together.

He is very interested in business culture and has visited companies whose cultures he respects like Supercell, Pixowl and others. He is trying to figure out how to

East Side gets all their players organically. Their culture is built around:

  • Fiercely independent
  • Culture is King
  • Community is Everything
  • Fail Faster
  • Indie Freemium

They develop casual with a twist. Every studio pretents they have a great culture, but East Side really tries.

Vancouver's game industry is supposed to be desolate but in fact there are a lot of companies if you look at the Social/Mobile. Before there were fewer traditional console companies. Now there are a lot of smaller companies playing "snack sized gaming". Many people just want to play for short periods. Some of the now

  • Barrier to entry has lowered = now people can self publish and talk to customers directly. You don't need offices and can work lean.
  • Bootstrapping = freedom to move fast (just develop a bit and then adapt as players give feedback). Small teams can move faster and scale up iteratively. They don't build the big one, but scale bit by bit.
  • New audiences = women are playing more than men on the Flurry Platform. The audience for gaming is changing. See Flurry article.

How do indie companies compete with big guys. Local grassroots groups are important form of indie community help. Culture is important - East Side encourages people to bring them games. He told a great story about an employee who just went ahead and did something.

He talked about new job roles. The old model was Game Designers, QA, Artists, and Engineers. With casual and social games they need Biz Dev, Statistics, Writers, Marketing, and Production.

Independent studios are growing. Think start up. Publisher way of doing things is disappearing.

He then talked about what is next. He talked about Toca Town and how games for toddlers are setting the expectations. He talked about micro games.

Then we saw a short video on Full Indie - an indie game conference and meet up in Vancouver.

Then we had an open panel discussion. Some of the questions discussed:

  • How do you create a more inclusive atmosphere in a game design company? Game culture is important to avoid getting a bro culture.
  • The player culture can be toxic, how do manage the trolls? Community managers need to watch for trolls and deal with them. Companies need to be clear about how they are going to deal with toxic discussion. One needs to have as close to 24 by 7 customer support as possible to catch things.

Shigeo Tosaki: A hidden message about 16 years ago - Amusement arcade industry is going to die (in Japan)

Tosaki started with a message hidden in an old arcade game, Radiant Silvergun. The message questions the survival of the game centre business in Japan. Tosaki followed up with statistics on arcades and how centres are closing and making and less and less money. It was interesting how important the medal games (coin pushers) are along with the crane games.

Tosaki felt that the problem was that game centre games are not fun any more. Too many companies are trying to squeeze every last yen out of crane games and have forgotten to make them fun.

Keiji Amano: Pachinko Videogames from the Famicom to the iPhone

Keiji gave a paper that I contributed to asking about all the videogame pachinko games. Why do people play pachinko on consoles or smartphones if those digital games don't have any gambling? What is the attraction of pachinko games separated form the winning of prizes?

Keiji gave a tour through the history of digital pachinko games. He talked about

Keiji then returned to the question of why digital remediated pachinko is so popular and suggested 3 reasons:

  • Pachinko has become too complicated in parlours. Only experts can understand what is happening. Smartphone version are easier to play and you can learn without losing money.
  • Economic reasons. Pachinko is becoming an expensive habit.
  • Catharthis. Digital pachinko games, like the parlour ones, appeal to players who want a distraction. The objective has always been not to make money, but fill time.

Jeremie Pelletier-Gagnon: Game Freaks and Mythopoetics - Contemporary Game Center Culture in the Light of Nakazawa Shin’ichi’s Game Freaks Play with Bugs - In Praise of the Video Game Xevious

Jeremie talked about Xevious, an important arcade game and talked about Shin’ichi’s important early critical work of game criticism. Shin’ichi wrote about Xevious to help us understand games. He talked about the importance of bugs in the games. Shin’ichi felt the placing of bugs drove players to uncover the secrets. He talked about mythopoetic excitement. Jeremie talked about the No Kon Kiddo TV show that follows some kids who become friends at a game centre. The series covers a number of important arcade games, but Xevious runs throughout.

Day 3

Martin Picard: J-games, geemu, and the media mix: Japanese video game studies at crossroads

Picard's talk was about the study of Japanese game culture and our perceptions of Japan and Japanese games. He has noticed three myths about Japanese games that have a kernel of truth, but also have to be confronted.

1. Japanese games are unique

Explanations of Japanese uniqueness come from all over like books like ''Power Up", blogs, and fan sites.

There are popular theories on the Japan-West gaming divide. Genre gaps, how J games are "other" or "quircky". Japaneseness has been a tool for exportability and for fans trying to explain things. Things get even more complicated when western terms like JRPG get used by the Japanese. Even Japanese companies have taken to the term for marketing purposes. See He mentioned orientalism and: Tucker "The Orientalist Perspective: Cultural Imperialism in Gaming".

2. Japanese games are a global product

Trying to isolate Japanese specificities can be difficult given the globalization of games. That said if we only look at games globally then we miss the ways games can evolve in the Japanese territory. The Japanese game industry is as much a local phenomenon as a global one.

Picard has writing on this, "The Foundation of Geemu: A Brief History of Early Japanese video games" Game Studies, 2013. Most of what we know in the West about J-games comes from localized games from big companies. He showed examples of how games are changed when localized.

When talking about games in Japan he uses work "geemu" as similar to manga and anime. One way to understand geemu is to understand the media mix in Japan. By looking at the media economics and history of practices in Japan they (people like Steinberg) look away from Japaneseness towards how media consumption and distribution are evolving in Japan. He showed the evolution from a linear model to a marketing of character.

The geemu market has its own processes in Japan that we need to understand.

3. Japanese games are all console games

Picard talked about how the history of games has become the history of game consoles. The problem is that console generations are a product of marketing.

There is hope. There is the crowdsourced "The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers" project by journalist Szczepaniak. He found that computer games (on PCs) were far more important in the 1980s than you hear in console stories. People playing arcade games started developing for the PC like the NEC PC-88.

He ended by talking about how the way we can overcome these myths is to do cross-cultural research in collaboration with colleagues from Japan.

Vadim Bulitko: Managing Virtual Interactive Experience with Artificial Intelligence

Vadim talked about his research into better narrative AIs. The AI shapes the game

Within video games there is the open world. There is a tension between a good story driven game and an open world. In an open world you can miss components of story and character development. In the forthcoming Dragon Age Inquisition one answer is side quests that let you build character for the main quests. There are dangers to this too.

The framework they are developing provides an AI manager that models the player/trainee and uses the model to the next bit of content. The manager follows authorial constraints to try to keep the story going despite openness.

He talked about culture and emotion modelling and showed a clip of a cultural sensitivity simulation.

In 2007 he started working on play-style modelling. The idea is that you can quantify a players style based on how they play and then give them side quests that suit their style. He talked about how AI planners can fix narrative rupture using a player model.

Now they are modelling emotions. "Left for Dead", for example, modulates the flow of zombies based on how stressed you are to keep you on a roller coaster. Vadim's team is modelling more emotions in the iGiselle project. They try to keep player on a target curve through 4 emotional dimensions. Their hypothesis is that staying on a curve (in the sense that the option that is closest to a gentle curve in n-dimensional space) creates a better user experience.

He talked about applications of this procedurally generated emotionally intense situations including serious games for health training and MOOCs. We can gather a lot of telemetry in MOOCs.

Payen Silvan: Bayonetta and Mirror's edge: the same time, but more than 5,000 miles of cultural and game design distance

He started with a painting from Klimt that suggests . He talked about how in Europe many Japanese games were not distributed. Chrono Trigger was never localized. The first Final Fantasy was VII. Big games are now designed with international standardization in mind which has pushed designers in ways they don't always like.

Then he switched to Bayonetta, 2009 and Mirror's Edge, both with strong women characters.

ME is in a clean modern city that could be urban Japan. Yamakasi is a French movie about Parkour that inspired Mirror's Edge.

Bayonetta is, by contrast, over the top. The character is sexualized and the space is a very different Europe - a fantastic romantic Europe. There is a difference between the Bayonetta Japanese representation of Europe and European self-representations. There is no real explanation for this alternate

As for the representation of women, there is a real difference. ME is from Sweden, a country where gender issues are important. The character is relatively normal and athletic. By contrast the witch in Bayonetta is vulgar, sexualized and kitch. In Japan, no one complained about representation of Bayonetta. She is "hypervisibe." (Marion Coville

He then talked about space management. In B the play just has to master combos. In ME you don't have to string all the combos, but you can travel through space. In B you have a control aesthetic of constant action and visual baroque.

He was also interesting on the tutorial and HUC. ME has a long tutorial while little in B. In B you have a rich overwrought HUD while ME is sparse.

The main difference is a difference of design ideology. In ME you have three types of game play: parkour in city, parkour in closed space, and battles with some animation/narration. In B you just have battle, some exploration and then bits of animation/explanation. ME tries to be realistic and has variety. In B you have one main game play (battle) which is thoroughly developed with lots of combos.

He closed by talking about Japonism and how influence has moved between Japan and Europe. Klimt was influenced by Japan and in turn influenced Japanese game aesthetic.

Kazufumi Fukuda: Construction of Digital Game Basic Title Database, and the International Cooperation

Fukuda is part of a team working on digital game preservation. The games culture and industry has expanded and now there is a dire need for preservation. There are problems:

  • Diversity - a variety of game media
  • Vulnerability - game media don't last
  • Games are copyrighted

Some game preservation practices in Japan:

  • The National Diet Library started games holdings since 2001. There is a deposit rate of 30%.
  • The Game Archive Project (at Ritsumeikan) started in 1998.
  • Game Preservation Society (2011)
  • Manga Collection

There is little collaboration between these organizations. They need a database of what games even existed. The Project of Digital Archive of Media Arts is a project to do this for manga, anime, games and interactive arts. The Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies is working on a games database. It is a corss-platform.

Their sources are actual games and references. Actual games, alas, don't have a colophon. They often don't have date or official title. To really be complete they need confirmation from references.

References like magazines can also have problems in terms of accuracy.

They have about 35,000 titles about of hundreds of thousands. They have few PC games compared to what they expect is there. The same is true of mobile games. He showed the database and the coverage from magazines. Almost all titles have been checked against 2 - 4 references. References help with genre. He showed the spread of genres. Different magazines have different divisions of genre which leads to different percentages.

Tomás Grau De Pablos: Narrative in Japanese game design: cultural differentiation in game design?

Games are universal and can have multiple meanings depending on player. But that doesn't mean it is completely open - there are constraints designed by authors. Of course, the same could be said about other media. None the less we end up classifying things for all sorts of reasons.

He talked about ideas from Japan like platformers and seals of quality that influenced the west. Since digital distribution the flow of ideas has switched. Now Japanese ideas are reified and become part of a retro aesthetic in games like Fez. Japanese game culture has been revalued as cultural artefacts of a romantic gaming past.

The contextualization of J-games as part of a media mix is a different response. There are links between fighting games and shonen manga.

A third response is the formation of niche markets. You get niches forming though the net around FPS games or JRPGs. Specialist consumers now

Operation Rainfall and Mother 3 are JRPGs that Nintendo decided not to bring to the west as they see them as being niche games.

Then he talked about the technoscape. The spaces where games are played are different and that changes the controllers and outputs. Arcades seem a good space for fighting games but not for RPGs. There are historical aspects to this. The technoscape in Japan is very different due to presence of game centres. The western technoscape has been standardized in ways that limit game designs. Digital distribution is changing the landscape in the west. He seemed to suggest that there has been a rupture

There is a consistent discourse within western journalists and developers that reifies J-games into our cultural frameworks. A type of western game has become normative thanks to discourse in west.

Thorsten Busch: Moral Choice in Japanese and Western Games

The last generation of WRPGs seem to focus on moral choice. Busch and Consalvo did a study on what players think about those choices. Then they looked at J-games. The cliché is that WRPGs are about choice and open worlds while JRPGs are prescriptive and linear. They looked to see if this is true. They have a typology 6 types:

1. Moral choice as freedom and consequence (Dark Souls lets you screw up your game by killing NPCs that you need.) 2. Moral choice without effects (Mass Effect has choices of tracks that then turn out not to be choices.) 3. Moral choice of NPC interaction (Dragon Age, Persona) 4. Moral choice in networked player game. (Journey - where you can collaborate with other player - you can't grief others. Demon Souls when played online uses moral average of all players to make choices.) 5. Moral non-choice (FF Tactics will end bad no matter what.) 6. Moral non-choice as complicity (Shadow of the Colossus, Nier, Demon Souls)

His conclusion was that contrary to the cliché, moral JRPG is varied, interesting and serves to increase emotional impact.

He talked about how some westerners like games "of Japan" because they are alien and unlike the usual stuff.

And that was the end.



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