Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Games Games Games

Yes, the point of this blog is to talk about the game industry. But we can also talk about our favorite video games here. So, here's my history:

I didn't own any consoles growing up. I was strictly a PC gamer. I remember the first time I played Wolfenstein 3D. I don't remember if it was the whole game, or just the first level, but it fit on a small 3.5" floppy disk. I was blown away by the graphics. We have really come a long way since then, in just the short span of 15 or so years. Just imagine where we'll be in 15 years if technology keeps advancing at the current rate.

Today, I don't really touch PC games at all (except maybe some X-Moto every once in a while). I currently own a PS3, PS2, PSP, and Nintendo DS. Ever since I started at Sensory Sweep, I've been working mainly on DS games (as I've mentioned in other posts).

Another great perk about my company (and I'm sure a lot of other companies in the industry) is that we have video game competitions every once in a while. I've been in Guitar Hero, Guitar Hero II, and Rock Band competitions. They also do other games that I'm not so good at, like Madden.

We also have a video game library. There are hundreds of titles across all the major platforms that we make games for (which is pretty much all of them). It's great borrowing games from the library, rather than going out and spending $50-60 on a game that you may end up not liking.

So here is a sampling of some of the best games in my collection (to give you a taste of what I play):

  • Hot Shots Golf (several)
  • Tony Hawk (several)
  • Guitar Hero (several)
  • Shadow of the Colossus
  • ICO
  • Burnout (I have 3 and 4, but 3 is still the best Burnout game ever made)
  • The Orange Box (I got this one mainly for Portal, even though the rest of the package is amazing too)
  • Rock Band
  • Tony Hawk (both PS3 releases)
  • Lego Star Wars (these Lego games are great for Co-op)
  • Lots of PSN titles (Echochrome, Pain, Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars...)
And I'm currently playing Phantom Hourglass on the DS. Overall, I would say that I'm a gamer driven more by new and different concepts that are well-executed (see Echochrome, Shadow of the Colossus, Portal), and not so much by typical FPSs or sports titles that tend to dominate the charts . I'm usually willing to take a chance on groundbreaking new concepts or ideas that will push game design in a new direction. Of course, I still have my old standby's of Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk, but they, too, were new and groundbreaking when I started playing them.

So what drives you to play the games you do? Let's hear about some of your favorite games in the comments.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Team Mascot Charlie

Astute observers of the credits in My Japanese Coach will notice an entry for our team mascot, Charlie. Charlie is my dog, a long-haired chihuahua, and he goes to work with me every day. One of the nice things about working at a video game company is the relaxed, laid back atmosphere. It's so laid back that they let us bring our pets in. Some people bring their pets to work once or twice a month, and others, like me, bring their pets to work everyday. Charlie's almost 3 years old, and we got him from a rescue shelter when he was about 7 months old. He just sits in his bed on my desk, usually sleeping all day, burrowed under his blanket. He's well-known throughout the company. My boss always says that many people won't know who I am if he refers to me by name, but they always know who Charlie is. To most of the people in the company, I am known as "Charlie's owner." Every year, we have a Halloween party at the company, and my wife and I always dress up Charlie. Last year, we found a hot dog pet costume he could wear for Halloween. A few weeks later, our company decided to have a hot dog eating contest (in correlation with the Major League Eating game we eventually released on WiiWare), so it was, of course, the perfect opportunity to wear the costume again.

This is probably one of the best aspects of working at Sensory Sweep. Pets are known to relieve stress, and they lengthen your life. Just imagine how much better your work day would be if you could have your pet at work with you.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

More My Japanese Coach news

At the time of this writing, My Japanese Coach is currently ranked #6 in DS games on Amazon.com. It is currently behind Mario Kart and New Super Mario Bros., but ahead of Brain Age and Spore Creatures.

There is also a video review, as well as lots of game footage:

After reading through the message boards at GameFaqs/GameSpot, I found a few more issues I'd like to talk about.

  1. A lot of people want to know if there's a cheat code so they can skip ahead to some new material they don't already know. Others just want to skip to lesson 30 to get away from romaji. I can tell you that there is a cheat (I programmed it), but it's up to the publisher, Ubisoft, to decide when/if that ever gets released. I'd suggest contacting them. Perhaps I can post it here when they give the OK.
  2. The vocabulary lessons (after lesson 100) are not grouped in any meaningful way. I agree that it would be better if they had been grouped with similar words, but unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to do this. The words were randomly assigned a lesson, in groupings of 10.
  3. Just as a clarification (many are confused in the posts I've read), the game defaults to romaji until lesson 30, at which point it defaults to kana (for features that don't require romaji.) The toggle in the options stays gray until lesson 30, at which point you may re-enable romaji.
  4. Some of the characters require more strokes than the actual number of strokes. As I mentioned before, with a dictionary of 11000 words, some incorrect characters may have been overlooked. If you finish writing a character, but the game doesn't accept it yet, you can press the A button to check it. This is the easiest way to get past these.
  5. On a related note, you can clear the current character by pressing the B button. This is an easy way to start over on the current character if you mess up.
  6. The highest lesson you can unlock with the placement test is 11. For non-beginners, the cheat might be your best option (again, you'll need to contact Ubisoft).
  7. Unfortunately, there is no verb conjugation game. We had one in My Spanish Coach, but it didn't translate as well to Japanese. However, you can go into the dictionary and click on the "V" next to verbs to view a conjugation chart.

A lot of these are valid complaints, and, if there's ever a sequel to this game (Ubisoft decides), then these things will definitely be taken into account. Unfortunately, play testing only gets us so far before the game is released. It's great to see all the things many of you would like to see changed to make this a better product. Perhaps Ubisoft will do an Intermediate version, but the ones that I see on GameSpot for the Spanish version are foreign to me. I don't know anything about them. Perhaps Ubisoft has another developer making those.

Friday, October 17, 2008

My Japanese Coach reviewed

As I mentioned previously on this blog, I was the lead programmer on My Japanese Coach and My Chinese Coach. While My Chinese Coach has been out a while, My Japanese Coach seems to have a lot more buzz surrounding it, and was just released on Tuesday Oct. 14th. The first reviews are in, and the overwhelming majority seem to be pretty positive. While the larger review outlets have yet to say anything about the game, I found the following links on some more obscure websites:



Now, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. No one is more eager to read reviews of games than the people who worked on them. Most of the people on my team google "My Japanese Coach review" nearly every day. We want to know what people think of our games. We are very interested in knowing what parts you liked, or didn't like so we can use that knowledge to make the best possible product in the future. I will most likely be the lead programmer on future language coach titles, so I will definitely take into consideration a lot of the things people write about these games. We even read message boards, like on GameSpot, or user reviews on Amazon.

I have noticed, in reading reviews and comments about the game, that there are some issues that keep coming up. I would like to address some of those here:
  1. There are 100 scripted lessons in the game. My Spanish Coach and My French Coach only had 40 scripted lessons, but Japanese and Chinese both have 100. There are about 1000 lessons total, but after the first 100, they are pretty much just vocabulary lessons made up of random groupings of words from the dictionary, with 10 words per lesson.
  2. There has been some misinformation in the reviews regarding how the stroke recognition system works. No, it does not just count the number of strokes, but actually uses stroke recognition to compare your strokes against the stored strokes from our artists. Obviously this system can be hit or miss, causing it to be somewhat confusing as to how it actually works (Brain Age anyone?). The stroke recognition system did not change between the Chinese and Japanese versions of the game, so any reviews that say otherwise are simply remembering it wrong.
  3. There have been complaints that people want to use kana/kanji earlier on in the game. Unfortunately, the first time that it defaults to something other than romaji is at lesson 30. At this point, you can go into the options and switch it back to romaji if you wish. For more in-depth kana/kanji prior to lesson 30, you can always go into the writing comparison module and practice these anytime you want.
  4. The review on diehardgamefan.com mentions "...with the DS lite, you will find some severe stylus detection issues." The stylus detection system did not change in the slightest. I think the reviewer's DS lite is just defective.
  5. Some reviewers/commenters have noted that some of the characters (VERY few, from my understanding) require you to use the wrong stroke order to get them correct. With thousands of characters in the dictionary, there were bound to be some incorrect strokes that would get overlooked. Unfortunately, I speak Spanish, not Japanese, so I was much more helpful on My Spanish Coach than on this game, as far as the language itself is concerned.

If you have any desire to learn Japanese for any reason, then I highly recommend this title (I hear it's a great companion for imported Japanese games). But you don't have to take my word for it. The reviews speak for themselves.

If you have any questions about the game, or wish to discuss a specific aspect of it, I'd be glad to facilitate those here on this blog. And if you want to meet our Japanese expert, his blog can be found at:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Company contests, and other fun stuff

I lost this week... Well, technically, I just forgot to fill out my football picks for the week, therefore I've lost any chance I had of winning the NFL football contest (I wasn't doing that well anyway). Each week, anyone at the company that wants to participate can go onto the internal website and fill out their picks of who will win each of the NFL football games of the week. Each Wednesday (today), winners and losers are determined, and each receive prizes. The overall winner of the company receives $20. The individual winners on each team (there are 5 or so teams) get a candy bar and a soda. Each week's biggest loser also wins a candy bar and a soda, and they get their name on the Pooh ball of losers. At the end of the regular season, the person with the highest overall score, across all weeks, wins $200.

The football contest is just one of the fun things we do at Sensory Sweep. I've participated in foosball tournaments (took second place), singles and doubles ping pong tournaments (didn't do that well), Guitar Hero competitions, and Rock Band contests, for both individuals and bands. They also play Madden occasionally, but I've never participated. The great thing is that there are always cash prizes for the winners, and you get to do all these things on company time! It's a very fun environment to work in.

Each year, we also have various company parties, with the best being the Christmas party. We usually rent a big ballroom at some fancy hotel, and take the place for the entire evening. Each year at the party, we have a talent show, where most people usually perform something related to video games. In 2006, a co-worker and I decided to form a barbershop quartet to sing at the Christmas show that year, so we found our lead and bass, and got busy practicing. We sang the Super Mario Bros. theme song, and a version of Shenandoah, with all the words rewritten to be about video games. We each got a $25 gift card to Best Buy for participating.

In summary, I love working at Sensory Sweep. Not only do I get to work on video games, and get paid for it, but I also get to participate in all of these fun activities, most of them during work hours.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Games I've worked on

When I tell people I make video games for a living, they often ask if I've worked on any games they've heard of. I've listed them below. For a full list of games my company has made, visit http://www.sensorysweep.com or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensory_Sweep_Studios.

  • Tom and Jerry Tales (2006, Nintendo DS)
  • My Spanish Coach (2007, Nintendo DS)
  • My French Coach (2007, Nintendo DS)
  • My Chinese Coach (2008, Nintendo DS)
  • My Japanese Coach (2008, Nintendo DS)
It's not a lot yet, but it takes time to get a lot of titles under your belt. I was lead programmer on My Chinese Coach and My Japanese Coach, so if you have any suggestions or complaints, feel free to discuss them here.

Speaking of My Japanese Coach, it's very encouraging to see the buzz it's receiving on forums around the internet. Chinese Coach is doing well in it's own right, but My Japanese Coach isn't even out yet, and it's ranked higher on Amazon.com than the Chinese version. So, let me know what you think of those games. If you have specific comments, or questions, I'm open to discussing as much as my boss will let me.

These games have been a lot of fun to work on. The DS is a pretty easy platform to work with, considering it's all done with C and C++. Unfortunately, I can't tell you about any future titles I may or may not be working on, but as soon as I can talk details (meaning, when future games are announced), I'll be sure to post them here.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Story...

Obviously, I love my job. My wife always tells people (when they ask what I do) that I got my dream job right out of college. I get to work on games all day long, then I go home and play games at night.

So, here's my story. I've always loved programming. I used to write games on my TI-85 calculator back in high school. I also played around in QBasic back then. I took computer classes throughout middle school and high school. I remember learning HyperCard (anyone used it?) on a Mac Classic in 7th grade. But it wasn't until I got to college that I finally started learning real, useful programming languages. I'd always loved video games, but it didn't quite occur to me until about halfway through college that I could really, actually go into the field of game development once I got my Computer Science degree.

I eventually graduated, and I applied at some 20 or 30 different companies, some game-related, some not. I had several interviews, and even some job offers. But I decided I would only fall back on the non-game-related jobs if the game programming ones didn't pan out. I was flown out to Phoenix, Arizona, for an interview, and almost flew out to San Rafael for another, but eventually I decided to accept an offer at Sensory Sweep, even though the pay was less than some non-game-related job offers I had received. For more pay, I could have been a Java coder at some newspaper publishing company. Or I could have been a database programmer in a large corporate environment.

Sure, I could've taken the money, but would I have been happy? Probably, to an extent. After all, I enjoy programming, no matter the nature of the task. But would it have been this fun? Definitely not. The great thing about working at a video game company is not just the games you get to work on. In my opinion, the best part of working at Sensory Sweep is the atmosphere. Everyone you work with loves video games just as much as you do (and some probably more). Everyone talks about games all day long. You can't find that at Microsoft, or some web development company. It's a pretty casual environment too. Our break room has 2 ping pong tables, a foosball table, air hockey, and 2 arcade machines. I can honestly say that if it weren't for my job in video games, I would not be as good as I am now at foosball and ping pong. But of course, those are just perks.

Welcome to the blog!

Thanks for visiting this new blog. I work in the video game industry at a game company called Sensory Sweep in Salt Lake City, Utah. Before I joined this company, it was always my dream to work in video games. I know there are a lot of people out there that want to know about the video game industry, and how they can get started. So the point of this blog is to give you an insider's view of what it's like to work in video games, and also what you need to do to get a job making games. I'll also discuss common issues I encounter as a video game programmer. If there is anything you'd like to know about the game industry, post your questions here and I will do my best to answer them. And if I can't answer them, then I will find someone I work with that can.