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 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 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.