NINTENDO: a History of Strange Business Decisions

9 08 2013

Nintendo is a company that’s been around the block a few times.  In fact, I would challenge you to find any other company as associated with pure gaming outside of Atari.  They’re also the only company who have remained a juggernaut in the industry over the past 30 years; but being the Big N doesn’t mean there haven’t been stumbles along the way.  For everything the House of Plumber does right, it seems they leave behind them a wake of decisions that often leave both fans and detractors scratching their heads.  Here is, in my estimation, some of their most huh-worthy contributions to gaming.

 

 

GETTING INTO GAMING IN THE FIRST PLACE

 

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Back in 1983 when Nintendo entered the market in Japan, they were known mostly as a company that made playing cards and the occasional arcade game.  Sure, they had been dabbling in games since the 1970’s, but when the Famicom first surfaced, gaming in Japan was dominated by computers.  It’s closest rival was Microsoft’s MSX series of computer consoles, licensed to the likes of Panasonic, Sony, Sanyo, and National.  That’s a pretty ballsy move, going up against some pretty heavy hitters with very, very deep pockets; but Nintendo had done their homework, and they came loaded for bear.  First off, the Famicom (short for Family Computer) was set to directly compete on the PC front, even though it wasn’t a personal computer at all, really.  You could outfit the Famicom with a keyboard, disk drive, and it even ran BASIC.  This would be the only time in gaming history that Nintendo would enter the market not having a monopoly on what makes Nintendo, well… Nintendo: it’s signature games.  Donkey Kong, Mario Brothers, heck, even Super Mario Brothers were all available in one form or another on competitor’s machines; but it’s the superior Famicom versions of those games that would become classics.

 

 

SUPER FAMICOM DISK DRIVE

 

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Probably the most well known head-scratcher in the history of the company, Nintendo was famously working with Sony on a CD drive for their Super Famicom game console when it put the kibosh on the project well within view of the finish line, literally throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  The end result of this gigantic corporate punking was the creation of the PlayStation, specifically designed to pee in Nintendo’s coffee.  You need to understand that Nintendo’s main competitor at this time wasn’t Sega, but NEC, whose PC Engine system was the #2 console in Japan… a console that was built around CDs.  The number 3 company, Sega also has a CD option for their system, and although the technology was new, it provided an obvious path as to where games were going.  Interestingly, the excuse Nintendo would provide as to exactly why they made the decision they made regarding a CD add-on for the SuperFami makes no sense whatsoever.  N pointed to piracy concerns over the easily copyable CD format, when there had already been devises specifically engineered to copy both Famicom and Super Famicom cartridges on the market for ages.  The reality is Nintendo did this simply because they felt they could, because… they were Nintendo.

 

 

STICKING WITH CARTRIDGES

 

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By the time Nintendo’s Ultra 64 rolled out as the Nintendo 64, the gaming industry had already embraced the compact disk as the chosen format for game delivery; but Nintendo made the decision to stick with cartridge based games.  Their explained reason: sure, CD games were cheaper to manufacture and held more data; but cartridges loaded faster.  That’s right, the Big N was so concerned about how you spend your time, they didn’t even want you wasting that extra 20 seconds it might take a game to load had it been available on CD instead of cart.  That’s just how thoughtful they are.  This would prove the beginning of a disastrous trend for the company to forgo industry standards… just because.  The end result of this decision would lead to the departure of one of the companies biggest 3rd party assets, Square Soft, and set the stage for the position in the console market Nintendo finds themselves today.

 

 

64DD / VIRTUAL BOY ONE TWO PUNCH

 

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Although the Nintendo 64 proved far from a failure, two devices Nintendo would release alongside it would come to define the word.  Nintendo assured it’s critics that it would address the space limitations of it’s chosen cartridge based format with an-add on that harkened back to its Famicom roots: a disk drive that could read and write data, giving game companies not only more storage options; but also the ability to expand games.   Seemed like a sound and interesting idea at the time, and no one was exactly opposed to it; only it took them forever to actually release the thing.   Announced in 1995 and finally hitting shelves in 1999, by the time Nintendo made good on their promise almost all of the anticipated disk games had already been released in cartridge format, and no one was supporting it… including Nintendo.  That’s right, Nintendo released a device that it had no intention of supporting because they didn’t want to feel like they wasted their money.  But they had no problem with consumers wasting theirs.

The Virtual Boy parallels the disk drive in almost every way but one: while the 64DD was held back by Nintendo’s need “to get it right”, the Virtual Boy was rushed out the door even in the face of protests from it’s designer, Gunpei Yokoi.  Yokoi made the machine his pet project, and Nintendo was onboard having been fiddling around with 3D since it’s Famicom days (the Famicom supported 3D gaming through a pair of active shutter 3D glasses and some early Super Famicom games had 3D support built in, although it was never utilized.  In fact, the N64 was once conceived as a 3D system).  So while Nintendo had been doing it’s thing, the inventor of the D-pad, gameboy, and creator of such classics as Kid Icarus and Metroid was tinkering away in the background on his little 3D device.  He had it up and running just fine, but due to the cost LED diodes at the time it only was able to display one color: red.  Yokoi was pleased about his progress so far, but felt that it still wasn’t quite ready for prime time, and that in order for it to be viable in the marketplace it needed a full color screen, not just red.  Behind closed doors Nintendo agreed with him, but then they went out and publicly announced the Virtual Boy’s release, much to Yokoi’s horror.  This move was beyond bizarre: not only was there no reason to release the system at that time (Nintendo dominated the mobile gaming marketplace, they had no real competition), but the folks who designed the system has specifically told the bigwigs not to release it. The system flopped, just as Yokoi has predicted it would in it’s current state, and Nintendo not only publicly blamed Gunpei but also went out of their way to shame him, fire him, and then later murder him.  Yes, Nintendo killed Gunpei Yokoi.  They also never really made any games for the system, marking the second time Nintendo sold a product to consumers it never had the intention of supporting.

 

 

MINI-DVDS

 

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Finally capitulating to the demands of developers, Nintendo announced that the followup to the Nintendo 64, called Project Dolphin, and later given the Christian name Game Cube, would in fact utilize DVDs for game delivery (thus bringing the system in line with the standard game format of the day); but not just any DVDs… MINI-DVDs!  It was like getting all the audio and load times of a DVD, but with half the storage space, once again making it nearly impossible to port a great many games to their system.  It’s important to understand just why the distinction between DVD and mini-DVD is so important.  The biggest reason beyond the amount of data it can hold is the cost to manufacturer.  Because DVDs were the standard format of the day for games, movies and computer software, it cost less to manufacture them and thus cost developers less to produce games on that format.  Because mini-DVDs were pretty much a specialty item, the cost to mass-produce them was significantly higher than your vanilla DVD.  Once again, Nintendo said the reasoning behind this was to protect from piracy, but let me tell you: if you can copy a DVD, you can copy a mini-DVD.

 

 

CONTROLLERS ARE TOO COMPLICATED

 

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As Nintendo was gearing up for it’s successor to the Game Cube, the company decided to go on an interesting tirade:  controllers had become too complicated, there were too many buttons and, where once gamers could just pick up a controller and go, they now had to learn the controls to the game before playing it and that impeded the joy-joy process.  Nintendo would fix this problem by offering consumers a simple controller that needed no explanation, said Nintendo’s talking heads.  The actualization:  the Wii remote and nunchuk.  Now maybe it’s just me, but having a two-part wireless controller that has to be in the very specific range of a sensor bar and whose function varies depending on what game you play at any given time, that can also be used horizontally as well as vertically is a lot more complicated than, say, a controller where you use one thumb to press a d-pad or analog stick and the other thumb to press a button.  This would be the beginning of a trend where Nintendo would identify perceived problems that didn’t exist within the industry and claim to fix them.

 

 

THE TWO SCREEN HANDHELD

 

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Nintendo’s announcement that the followup to the wildly popular Game Boy series of handhelds would feature two screens working together had gamers in a heightened sense of speculation.  What would it look like?  How would it work?  Would the screens be side by side?  The end result, the Nintendo DS (DS for Dual Screen) was an unmitigated success; but the Big N’s explanation of just why two screens were needed was a little bit… odd.  You see, in Nintendo’s mind the idea of pushing a button to access a menu or map or secondary screen within a game was just unacceptable.  They argued that, using the Legend of Zelda as an example, it took away from the gaming experience to have to hit the select button to call up the items screen and then have to push left or right on the d-pad to see the map.  It was much more logical and handy to have a second screen that displayed items or location information.  An interesting concept, yes.  A thorn in the side of gamers?  Hardly.  This was another instance where Nintendo would claim to fix a problem that just didn’t exist.

 

 

IT’S NOT ABOUT POWER, IT’S ABOUT GAMES

 

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During it’s Wii years, Nintendo would take a lot of heat for releasing an underpowered game machine, a system that just couldn’t keep up with its competitors.  N’s answer to this criticism would be that gaming was less about the power of the system and more about the quality of the games.  They then proceeded to release the Wii U, another underpowered system, repeating the games over horsepower mantra… while at the same times not releasing games for it.

 

 

TOUCH SCREEN CONTROLLER

 

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The main selling point for Nintendo’s Wii U system was less the actual system and more about the system’s unique tablet based controller.  While controllers in the past had toyed with the idea of having some sort of interactive display (most notably the usage of VMUs on Sega’s Dreamcast), Nintendo went all in giving the Wii U a controller that could display the entire actual game on it, without the use of a TV.  An interesting and exciting idea to be sure; but once again the reasons given behind the decision making is suspect.  What if, Nintendo has said, someone wants to watch something on TV while you want to play a game?  You can play it on the actual controller without the need of a TV!  Additionally, Nintendo again brought up the problem of pesky menu screens.  It’s much more handy to have a second screen handling menus instead of having to press a button.  It keeps you in the game!  Well, I don’t know about you; but it takes me out of the game a lot more to have to divert my attention away from the game to a secondary screen I’m holding, then to find an icon, press it, and then return my attention to the main screen.  And what about when your playing your game on the controller screen without using your TV?  Doesn’t that mean there should be a secondary controller screen to your secondary screen?  If not, how important does that make the necessity of having tablet controller in the first place?  Once again, a fix for a problem that never existed in the first place.

 

 

ALL OUR CUSTOMERS ARE IDIOTS

 

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The most recent example of Nintendo Brand Business Wackiness comes straight from the top, Mr. Satoru Iwata.  He announced publicly that according to an internal study, modern gamers weren’t smart enough to finish level 1-1 of Super Mario Brothers.  This distain for customer intelligence had been one of those things hidden in plain sight at Nintendo for years.  Look at their early games: they’re all pick-up-and-go.  Then on the Super Famicom they started giving more in-depth tutorials when a new gameplay mechanic was introduced.  The Nintendo 64 and Game Cube would give players a chance to see where things were before levels started.  The Wii featured an actual ghost player to show you what you were suppose to do.  The 3DS offers you up an indestructible mode of play on Super Mario if you die enough, and many games offer endless tutorials because as Nintendo now openly believes, you can’t figure out things for yourself.





Bob Sadek and the Smallest of Kindnesses

2 06 2013

I’m going to begin my return to HCKBlog on a very personal note.  I talk a lot about filmmaking and video games here, touching on my past and what spurred my interest and informed me on what has become my career and hobby; but I don’t really touch on what came before that.

Really, there was a catalyst to where I am today, creatively; a spark to what started my fire.  And that spark came from a match provided by a teacher.

Before I get into things too much, I want to say that I come from a family of teachers.  My grandfather on my father’s side was a teacher.  My grandmother on my mother’s side was a teacher.  My mother was a teacher for 9 million years, and her 4 siblings were also teachers (my aunt is a minister, and if that’s not a teacher, I don’t know what is).  In fact, I have cousins that are, or have been, teachers as well.  You could accurately say that teaching is in my family blood.

Interestingly enough, I don’t have many fond memories of the actual teachers who taught me, especially once I got on into my later years in school.  I had a rough time of it, and I didn’t exactly help myself out.  To say that I was disinterested in school would be a massive understatement.  It’s not that I wasn’t interested in learning; but I had such a great aversion to going through motions and wasting my time on things that I deemed inapplicable to my adult life that I began avoiding it at every cost.  School became less a dear friend that I spent the majority of my weekday time with, and more a rival for my time that I occasionally passed by and waved at out of obligation.  Eventually, I was told by my high school vice principal that my school would “be better off if I wasn’t there” (a direct quote, actually) so I dropped out and moved on.

But in that in-between time, a teacher did interact with me in a way that would prove to have a massive effect on my life.

It was during gym class.  I was shooting hoops with my friend Tony Wilkes and Steve Dykstra.  I distinctly remember that day because the REM song “Shiny Happy People” had been released, and Tony had wonderfully mistaken the refrain to be “Chinese Happy People…” which Steve and I thought was a wonderfully hilarious thing.  I began to do play-by-play, coloring our attempts at B-ball greatness in an overly exaggerated announcer kind of voice, and the school’s head coach, Bob Sadek, overheard me.  After class, he approached and ask if I would be interested in taking up the job as announcer for the school’s baseball team.  I accepted.

I worked with Steve Dykstra as my technical assistant because he was good with electronics and I wasn’t as handy.  Steve also had the job of filming the games for post game review and posterity’s sake.  Sometimes, Tony would show up as well.  I have no idea what he did… I think he was just there.  We would trudge out all this heavy equipment an hour or so before every home game, and set it up.  If memory serves, this consisted of a folding table, two giant speakers, a giant mixing board, a CD player, and a microphone and table stand.  Looking back it seemed as if everything weighed 16-tons.

I would do my shtick during the game, announcing the home and opposing batters as they approached the plate, as well as calling on field position changes, substations, and hollering about home runs.  During long pauses, I would play a predetermined list of approved songs selected by Mr Sadek.  I really got into it.  I even took it upon my self to do a seventh inning stretch, leading our meager crowds in horrible renditions of Take Me Out to the Ball Game.  It was grating, but Mr. Sadek let me continue.  In fact, one of my fondest high school moments came about because of that, and almost went unnoticed.  I have no idea who we were playing, but the local cable access channel was there filming the game.  After everything was finished, one of the camera guys approached me and said he had something he thought I should hear.  He backed up his tape and handed me his headphones.  He had captured some audio from the dugout… there was a moment during my screeching of the National Pastime’s official song where one of the players had approached the coach and pleaded with him to make me stop.  Mr Sadek’s reply would stick with me and provide the foundations of one of my core beliefs: If you want something enough and work hard at it, you can achieve it.  What he said, quite angrily in fact, was:

“If you guys had the enthusiasm he does, we’d be winning the game!”

Eventually, I would quit the announcing gig.  It had actually led to a job offer for the same local cable access channel to be their on air color commentator for high school football; but I knew nothing about football, so I passed.  Really, I quit for the pettiest of reasons:  the “managers” of the team, two girls from school whose job it was to keep score and count pitches, had been given high school baseball jackets at the end of the season for their hard work.  Steve and I had just received the school’s hearty thanks.  I felt slighted.

Later, Mr Sadek would tap me again for work on our high school video yearbook.  This was another Bob Sadek, Steve Dykstra, and me project.  It was my first introduction into film editing.  My school had an AV lab with, what was then, a state-of-the-art editing facility.  It was a behemoth.  All analog, you had to cue up in-and-out point on tapes and make manual edits.  It has some very cheesy built in early 90’s video effects (the kind that were waaaaaay overused in pornographic films of the day, not that I’d know) a full sound board, and other switches and knobs and doohickeys.  Long hours were spent in that room with Mr. Sadek, Steve, and me.  Somehow I ended up with the key and I would use the equipment on weekends when no one else was around, experiment making anime music videos… editing together scenes from the landfill of tapes I had collected and laying my selections over the audio of Japanese punk pop band Shonen Knife’s tunes.  I would practice timing and fast edits, and it helped form the strong bond I have between music cues and visual action.

I can honestly say that without Bob Sadek’s influence in my life, I would not be where I am today.  It seems like such a little thing.  I mean, it wasn’t like in the movies where he’s showing up at my house, kindling my imagination and spurring me onto higher education.  But if it wasn’t for his interest in me and my then unnoticed talents, I never would have gotten my military broadcasting gig that built upon the foundation he laid so many years before.  Without Mr Sadek, the odds of me having ever come to Japan would be slim to none.

I have a picture that was taken for my sophomore yearbook.  It’s of the baseball team, Mr Sadek, Steve Dykstra, Tony Wilkes, and me.  The school was going to toss it, but I saved it from the burn bin.  It’s been tucked away in a file in a closet for some time.  I’m going to find that picture, frame it, and hang it on my wall as a reminder of the truly important life-lesson that Bob Sadek taught me:

Even the smallest of kindnesses can leave a lasting and remarkable impact on someone’s life.

Bob Sadek, passed on today.  He was greatly loved by many, and he will be missed.





Site’s Not Dead… Neither Am I

31 05 2013

I’ve just been busy… traveled to China, Thailand, Korea, the US, back to Thailand, and now back to Japan.

New good stuff is coming shortly… just you wait and see!





Busy, Busy, Busy

23 04 2012

Haven’t had time to update the site lately… I’ve been hard at work getting some titles out the door, including the much hyped Another Take on Catherine.  So take heart in the fact that I haven’t abandoned ‘ol HCKBlog, I’ve just been busy.

In the meantime, here are some rough shots from the upcoming and aforementioned Catherine.

 





The Great Earthquake – One Year On

11 03 2012

What follows is my remembrance of the great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011.

The day was a Friday.  I worked as a broadcaster for the American Forces Network (AFN) at Yokota Air Base located in Fussa, Japan, about an hour southwest of Tokyo proper.  Previously I had been invited to go with my fellow service members to speak at a junior high school in the area, part of a thing the military does in foreign countries to show that Americans aren’t so bad.  I really wasn’t looking forward to it.  Luckily for me, I had a separate meeting for Studio Happy Chicken that had popped up, giving me an alibi to cancel the junior high thing; but then shorty after lunch I got word that my meeting had been cancelled, so I was stuck at work practically alone because everyone else had run off to the school presentation.  One of my bosses was still in his office, and he told me to just go home for the day and enjoy the weekend.  I left work early, around 2pm.

I had been under quite a bit of stress recently.  My personal life was in shambles and professionally my military contract was coming to an end so I was getting ready to leave the service in a few months.  When I get stressed and depressed, I like to shop… specifically for video games.  I guess I find an aura of escapism in the nostalgia of old games.  Nintendo had recently released their 3DS game system, something I had been on the fence about; but that day I was able to convince myself that I should get one.  So I drove from work to the Yamada Electronics store that was a few blocks from my house, parked my car, and walked up the stairs to the second floor where there kept their games, DVDs, TVs, etc.  After browsing a bit, I decided on getting an aqua blue colored system and two games: the puzzle game Puzzle Bobble 3D and Blaz Blue, a fighting game.  In Japan, when you buy a new game system, the retailer stamps the box in a specific place, enacting a warranty.  This, plus the receipt, allows you to return the system if something is wrong.  The stamp on my 3DS read “Yamada Electronics, Musashimurayama, March 11, 2011, 2:44pm”.  I thanked the cashier, took my bag, and made my way down the stairs to the sliding glass doors and my car.  As I neared the bottom of the steps, I noticed a clattering coming ever so lightly from the automatic doors.  The weather was nice, so the sensor had been turned off and they were stuck in an open position.  Casually, two employees walked over to see what the trouble was.  I thought maybe the sensors had been tripped and they were trying to close.  The two guys looking at them didn’t seem to know what was going on.  The thought did cross my mind that we might have been experiencing a very slight earthquake; but those happen, so no big deal.  As I passed through the doors, something caught my attention to the right of me, and I looked to see a woman standing, just looking up at the Yamada Electronics sign that rose high above the store.  This made me curious, so I stopped and looked, too.  That’s when everything went to hell.

The best way to describe what it was like standing outside that day at 2:46pm, is to imagine that you’re standing on a bed sheet that been pulled taunt.  Suddenly, the people holding the four corners begin tugging it this way and that, and you’re doing your best not to fall down.  That’s what it was like… sudden and violent.  I don’t remember any sound while it was happening, although I’m sure there was.  I think there was an extreme clattering.  It was so unexpected that your mind stops paying attention to the little things and starts to focus on survival.  I remember people running out of the electronics store and onto the sidewalk, I remember looking at the power lines above my head and watching the wooden poles bend this way and that like they were made of rubber.  I thought that if one was to break, we’d all be electrocuted; but there was really nowhere to go, really.  It seemed to last forever.  Then, suddenly, it stopped.  Everyone just stood out there by the street and waited.  I looked around me… traffic was moving regularly… there was no broken glass, no sirens, no announcements over the city’s PA system (this is a common thing in Japan).  Eventually, everyone just started returning to their normal lives.  I took out my iPhone and used Skype to call my mother in McPherson, Kansas.

“We just had a pretty big earthquake,” I said.  “I felt that one!”

We chatted for a minute or two, then I started up the car and drove home.  As I pulled into my driveway, the kids that lived in the surrounding houses were outside playing.  Surely, I thought, had this been a serious earthquake there would have been sirens.  Children wouldn’t be outside enjoying the nice weather.  So I went in my home, dropped my bag on the couch, and went to the bathroom.  I hadn’t been sitting on the toilet for a minute when the house started violently shaking.  This alarmed me greatly:  I had no intention of dying on the toilet.  I pulled up my pants and dashed to stand in a doorframe.  Once the shaking subsided, I called my mother again.  Another short call; but everything seemed as normal as it could be when the world wasn’t trying to fall down.  It was around this time I realized that I had no cell phone reception, and I went online to see if there had been any news about the quake.  Reading the chatter on Facebook, I could see that it had originally been reported to be an earthquake in the high 6’s… then people were reporting it was in mid 7’s.  The numbers were rising.  I turned around from where my computer was situated and turned on the TV to see if there were any news updates.  I flipped through the channels until I hit a local station and I stopped, absolutely stunned.  I saw a wall of water engulfing a city.  I had no idea where it was, but I knew this was a terrible, terrible thing.

Remember, my training in the military was newsgathering and public affairs work.  In a way, that’s a lot like disaster response.  I also worked for the American Government’s central news hub in the Pacific.  I knew that if this was happening, the American military would need to mobilize immediately, and my office would need to begin broadcasting disaster information and report on the story. Because the phones were down, I couldn’t reach anyone by cell or landline; but the internet still worked and I had Skype, so I started calling everyone I could to report that I was safe, and to find out what I needed to do as we swung into action.  The only person I could reach was a civilian news head that worked in my office; but he was one of the top 3 decision makers, so I had confidence in his decision-making.  I ask him how we were responding to the earthquake.  He said that there was nothing to respond to, that it had been a medium-sized tumbler.  Everything was OK, no worries.  I told him that that’s not what I was getting looking at the TV.  He said that he was watching TV and that there wasn’t any quake related programming going on.  I ask him what TV he was watching, and he said he was watching base TV.

Let me explain to you how television programming works on America’s foreign bases.  Programming is sent overseas via satellite to AFN stations that rebroadcast it, minus the commercials.  Because of the time difference, the programming we show is usually not live and often a day behind what people see in America.  That means that the programming that my boss was watching was what happened a day prior to what was happening now.

I ask him if he had access to Japanese TV, and he said he didn’t.  Luckily, the base also has a CNN Japan channel, so I suggested he might change to that.  While I waited I could see on my TV huge explosions that I recognized were near Narita International Airport.  It seemed as if the whole place had blown up.  My boss came back on the phone and said that he had to go and would call me back.

Now that I had checked in with the military (who seemed clueless) my attention turned to the people who worked at Studio Happy Chicken.  I had no way of getting ahold of our models; but my good friend and Happy Chicken photographer Jarod Hodge was staying in Fussa, a 15 minute drive from my home.  No phone meant the only way I could check to see if he was OK was to drive there, so I got in my car and headed out.

In my 4 years in Japan, I have never seen so much traffic.  I didn’t know it at the time, but all of the trains were shut down.  Trains are the main way people commute in Japan; the roads aren’t designed for heavy traffic.  The streets were gridlocked in every direction, and my 15-minute trip took more than 2 hours that day.  As I passed the base, I could see commercial jet liners littering the runway.  All air traffic had been diverted from Narita Airport to Yokota Air Base.  I made my way to where Jared was; he was OK.  While we were talking, the Skype on my phone started ringing; it was the boss I had called earlier.  In an emergency situation, the military enacts a system where every office calls everyone in that office to make sure they’re OK.  There’s an order to this… one person calls another person, and they in turn call another person, who calls another person, and so on.  They even give you a sheet of paper telling you which specific person you’re supposed to call.  My boss ask me if I was OK, and I said that I was.  He sounded panicked.  He told me to just call as many people as I could get ahold of and then he hung up.  Of course, with no phones and only Skype, I couldn’t get ahold of anyone.  It was evening by this time, and I suggested to Jarod that we go to dinner.  I didn’t want to drive on the main roads because traffic was so bad, so we went to a nearby hamburger steak restaurant.  Jarod was concerned because he couldn’t reach his girlfriend; she lived next to the coast near Yokohama.

At some point, cell phones began working intermittently.  Jarod was able to find out that his girlfriend was OK.  I was able to call all our models and confirm their safety.  In the coming days we learned of the nuclear crisis.  This was handled poorly by the American military in Japan and by the Japanese government.  A sense of dread and panic hung over the Tokyo area for a long time.  Trains were unreliable as rolling blackouts threatened the city.  My office would bungle news coverage of the disaster to the point where it was taken out of our hands and given to the Washington DC bureau.  They even flew in their own reporters; effectively neutering AFN Tokyo.  What should have been the high water mark in my career as a military journalist ended up being a muddy hole that gets my dander up every time I think about it.

It’s been a year now, to the day, since the earthquake.  I don’t know if it will ever fully sink in that I was there for one of the earth major disasters.  The closest I could equate to it would be having been there in downtown New York on September 11.  Because of the world we now live in, there’s a plethora of film footage from a year ago, and I’m sure they’ll show it over and over again on TV today.  I’ll probably avoid it.  I get too emotional.  One thing that I think the world should be aware of is how very little has been done for the areas that have been devastated.   The Japanese government has done practically nothing to help those in need and to help rebuild.   TEPCO, the company that owns and operates the nuclear plant had no repercussions following the incident.  They like to blame the nuclear disaster on the US, saying that they were sold a faulty nuclear system back in the 70’s; but the real reason there was a meltdown was because they hadn’t maintained the plant for over 20 years and had a record of falsifying repairs and bribing government officials to pass inspections.  The fact that no one lost their job following the incident, that the government stepped in to give TEPCO money to pay people who had been “inconvenienced” by radioactive fallout, and that they’ve raised electric prices to make sure they stay clearly in the black in the past year only speaks to the gross corruption found in the Japanese government.

The loss of life in this disaster is truly a tragedy; natural disasters are difficult to predict and death often times unavoidable.  But what’s worse is that the earthquake and following tsunami revealed the Japanese government for what it truly is: an ineffective, totally corrupt, selfish monster.  And nobody seems to care.





Have Games, Will Travel

8 03 2012

Sorry about not updating for a bit… I’ve been in Korea.  Here’s photographic proof:

 

 

One of the things that excited me most about traveling to Busan, South Korea, was the opportunity to make new Nintenfriends for my Nintendo 3DS.  I do pretty good in Japan… every time I go somewhere I seem to pick up at least one new Nintenfriend; but I had yet to make any international friends yet, even though I took my 3DS with me to Taiwan.

When I travel, I usually take at least one handheld gaming system with me.  This started when I was in Iraq.  I quickly realized that having a Gameboy Advance SP on me was the quickest way to ward off boredom, so I’ve traveled with them ever since.  In fact, now that I think about it, a game playing device was always part of my military travel kit from 2004 – 2011.

This time I brought the 3DS and a PSP.  Didn’t touch the PSP, though.  As far as games, I had Super Mario 3D Land  and Mario Cart 7 available; but I chose to play Beyond the Labyrinth the whole time.  Interesting game, that.  For the PSP, there was Lumines, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, The 3rd Birthday, and Photo Kano.

I didn’t see one game or game system for sale the entire time I was in Busan.  I saw some knockoff Mario shirts, but that was it as far as gaming things.  The weird thing is, not even the small Sony store in the more upscale shopping part of town had games.  This is the first time I’ve travelled Asia and not seen anything game related, not even in the airport shops.  And as far as Nintenfriends go, I didn’t make one the entire time I was there, and I carried that system with me everywhere.

As an addendum, the minute I got back to Narita Airport in Japan, I made seven new Nintenfriends, including my first international one.  And the funny thing is, turns out my first international Nintenfriend is from America.  Don’t that beat all.





Christianity, Video Games, and Decency

1 03 2012

I don’t stray into serious stuff on this blog much, it’s pretty much a happy-go-lucky kind of blog; it also serves as a face for me as I am a public figure as the head of Studio Happy Chicken and as a film director, and I think most public figures involved in the entertainment industry and best enjoyed when they keep their mouths shut.  But something has been grinding on me for a while, nagging at me like an annoying itch brought on by a mosquito that somehow bit me in the night.  So before I continue on, let me open my mouth and make a personal statement:

I am a Christian.

As a Christian, I find more than disturbing the free for all that I see on a daily basis on the internet and in the media mocking Christianity.  You don’t see people attacking the Jewish faith.  You don’t see people mocking Muslims or Hindus, or Taoists, or Buddhists.  But when it comes to Christians, people seem to feel like it’s game on.  I really don’t get that.

In my life, I have read the Bible cover to cover, and I like to think I have a firm understanding of the message behind it.  I believe that it was written by man; but I believe those men were divinely inspired.  Being a Christian has given me a strong base that fuels my sense of right and wrong, decency, understanding, tolerance, and most importantly forgiveness.  These are all wonderful things, and I really don’t understand why they should be mocked.

Although I believe that there is a heaven, and only one true way to get there, I also feel that Jesus has shown by example to not judge others or treat people harshly because they don’t believe what you do.  I don’t recall Jesus going around bashing people over the heads with the message that He was the way, the truth, and the light.  He simply said, “This is how it is, and if you choose not to believe it, it’s on you” (I’m paraphrasing).  That seems like a pretty fair deal.  I didn’t read about him yelling at people, or protesting.  I don’t recall him blowing things up or ridiculing people for their beliefs.  If anything, practiced correctly, Christianity is one of the most understanding, mild-mannered religions out there.  It allows believers to hold a strong conviction while encouraging them to be giving and kind to all those around them, regardless.

As the internet has become more and more ingrained into our daily lives, I see message after message, post after post from Atheists, Agnostics, and various other non-Christens filled with venom, spitting hatred toward what I believe.  It seems like a great many people like to rub their opinions in our Christian faces, much like a collective Scott Farkus from the film A Christmas Story.  I can’t fathom how people find such joy in being mean to others.  It really blows my mind.  I see movies and TV painting a target on my religion… it’s like they find so much glee in tearing it down simply because we believe different thing, and it seems to be exclusively American entertainment that does it.  The last time I checked, America was founded on freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

Now it seems the mockery has spilled over into my favorite hobby, video games.  I read a report today that Nintendo has decided not to publish the game The Binding of Isaac on their Nintendo 3DS.  One of the theories on why they made their decision is that the story behind the game has “religious overtones.”  Here’s what they’re talking about:

After watching that, I think that saying the game has “religious overtones” is being more politically correct than this game deserves.  It’s outwardly mocking my faith.  It’s calling Christians murdering loonies.  Now, as I said before, my faith teaches tolerance, so I’m not going to jump up and down screaming that people shouldn’t be allowed to play this game and demand that the makers issue and apology and undergo some faith based sensitivity training.  I think that people should have the ability to make the decision to play it, and by doing so support the company who made it.  But having seen this, I will make my own choice not to play the game and will never support a product produced by Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl.  Just as people have the right to indulge, so do I have the right to not indulge.

I find it so incredibly sad, heart wrenching, really, that you hear about so many groups screaming for tolerance, yet not affording other groups the same.  It seems like the spirit of decency has left America.  I would like to believe that it hasn’t, but I find more and more evidence that this isn’t so.  Maybe that’s why I like classic film and retro video games so much.  Watching those and playing those, I never get the feeling that the people behind them had agendas.  Old movies seemed to be able to present faith in a way that was mild and uplifting.  They never hit you over the head with a message.  I never had to worry about gay marriage themes creeping into Phantasy Star or The Bard’s Tale.

Why can’t we all just be respectful of each other, and let the cards fall where they may?  Life’s too short, and at the end of it we’ll all find out who was right and who was wrong, regardless.  Whether you believe in the Bible or not, it does contain one very important principal that benefits everyone: treat others as you would want them to treat you.