Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Videogames in Japan

For those of you interested in a career in videogames, check out this article.

Though its specifically on making it in Japan, the advice given applies to the games industry in the US too.

Here's some bits of universal advice that stood out to me:

"Like to draw? Bring a sketchbook portfolio or 3D render. Developers always want good artists. Want to be a designer? Show them some sample concepts and game ideas, or do a "what-if" scenario with their intellectual property: "This is my version of a Lost Planet RTS." Have a management background? Discuss some thoughts you had about effectively managing schedules or budgets."

"Even if some of your offerings are a little off-base, you will have shown that you can grow inside the team to fill a necessary role, not just be the go-to guy for English e-mail exchanges or developer blogs. And, if you can prove that you have knowledge, drive, language ability, and growth potential, then you will be an impressive candidate in this world of global markets and overseas outsourcing.

Once you get the job, make sure you continue to grow and stay indispensable. As you show that you can perform duties that no one else can and have carved out a unique niche for yourself, your "indispensability factor" will grow, leading to more authority and responsibility inside of the team. 

"Be Flexible

I've been fortunate enough to play key roles in over ten AAA titles, but I've also been on projects that were stalled, rejected, or canceled. Go into it with your eyes open, and know that, no matter how skilled you are, you won't be lead designer or producer on a multi-million dollar project your first time out.

Maybe your first job will be second- or third-string designer on a DS title, or artist on an XBLA or PSN game. Embrace these duties. Working on a smaller team can be incredibly rewarding, and you'll find more satisfaction in saying "I designed this entire game mechanic" or "I modeled this entire level background" than you will in saying "I came up with hit point values for the enemies" or "I modeled the trees in this level," which is what may happen when first working on a huge team.

Many people in the industry here never work on a "true" AAA title, but that doesn't mean that they don't create great games and have a blast doing it.

Even if you do reach the plateau where team sizes are in excess of 100 people, you still have to be flexible.

I've had countless ideas shot down, entire game concepts denied, and months of work put into design documents vanish at the blink of an eye because of changes in a title's focus. Remember, games are a business, and you might have the best idea or greatest character design in the world but if the market doesn't like it, it's not going in.

It's not always about creating what you think is the "best" game (or even what you would necessarily choose to play). It's about making something that will sell, and sell well. I can't count the times that a junior team member has complained that management "doesn't get it" and swears that the game would be 100 times better if only their idea had made it in. It is the creative director's job (or producer's, in some teams here) to establish a clear direction for the title with management and make sure that all game content meshes with that direction.

The larger the team, the more individual compromises will need to be made. Learn to take it in stride and you'll begin to see the big picture. 

Be Tough

This one is deceptively simple but harder in practice. You've got to strengthen yourself both physically and mentally to endure the rigors of a career in game development here in Japan, where the language contains a word meaning "to die from overwork" and many normal salarymen don't even get home until close to midnight.

All development teams around the world experience what is known as "crunch time:" the period right before a title is released to certification where everybody on the team is in a mad scramble to finalize all of the content and iron out the last few pesky bugs.

Some Japanese developers, however, seem to have made it a goal to elevate the ridiculousness of crunch into an art form. Obviously it varies from team to team and title to title, but I've had crunches on two-year titles that have lasted six months. That's six months of having no social life and no free time, limited time with loved ones, and long periods in which you forget what the inside of your apartment looks like because you've slept at the office for five nights in a row.

While I certainly don't condone this practice — in fact I've made it a goal to alleviate it as much as possible — there is just no way around it on Japanese teams and you'll have to accept it as a fact of life. Learn to adapt: make your colleagues your best friends (they should be anyway), because they'll be the only company you have on many a long night spent testing or debugging. Practice living your entire life (food, work, and sleep) at your desk for a month and you'll be on your way.

Learn to be thick-skinned mentally as well. At first you will be demoralized because of perceived failures and because your ideas or designs were rejected.

Know that this happens to everybody, and don't take it personally. Japanese developers, for the most part, take a very strict and regimented approach to dealing with other team members. It's not because they are not kind (you will grow to learn that they are) or are out to get you, rather it is part of a long-standing tradition in production industries to codify relationships in a master-apprentice context.

So when the lead designer takes the paper containing what you believe is your best game mechanic ever and throws it into the trash (yes, I am speaking from personal experience here) or the art director has you redo a render for the 100th time because the sheen on the shoelace holes of a character's sneaker are not perfect, know that they do these things because they truly believe that you will learn and become better as a result. Hang in there and you may gain a wonderful mentor with whom the bond of friendship and camaraderie is not easily broken. 

Be Patient

Last, but certainly not least, is patience. You must realize that things won't always move as quickly as you'd like them to. This advice works on both a micro and a macro level.

On a smaller scale, you will no doubt wonder why your feedback is not carrying as much impact as you would like it to, particularly when you are new to a team or the project is in its infancy. You may feel (with good reason) that you have great ideas and designs and they are being brushed aside with nary a second glance.

I've talked already about becoming indispensable to a team, carving out a niche for yourself, and earning the trust and respect of team members. All of these things take time. To quote a Japanese figure of speech, most developers here prefer relationships that are "narrow and deep" rather those that are "wide and shallow." In other words, they intend to connect with fewer individuals on average, but when they do, those connections are profoundly strong.

If you persevere in your duties, remain dedicated, take criticism whether you feel it's deserved or not, and show everyone that you are a harmonious member of the team, you should find that your feedback and ideas will gradually carry more weight with those around you.

On a larger scale, realize that you may not initially advance in your career as much as you might hope from project to project. Japanese companies are notoriously difficult to move up in, and it will take a mountain of hard work and a great track record to convince team leaders that you are ready for an official promotion.

You will, of course, be asked to take on more and more responsibility without an change in title or increase in salary, and you must learn to work through these hurdles, just as you must overcome the "glass ceiling" that still hampers foreign developers at some companies.

You may feel that your contribution to a title was astronomical and that you fully deserve more say in the creative process, but don't be surprised if you find yourself in a similar position when the next project rolls around.

Just know this: if you have chosen the right team to work for, I will guarantee that someone is silently watching and observing your endeavors. You may not get much feedback or indication of an impending expansion to your role in the team, but it will come in due time and it will feel great because you will know you have truly earned it."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Drawin' clothin'

Here's a good one, clothing! We all wear it, and it comes in all kinds of shapes n' sizes, but drawing it... that can be tricky. Especially with say, ruffles on a cape or a skirt. As with all things, approach by breaking own into simpler components.
Or just copy, (i mean 'learn') from an artist you like, or a photo.

Like hair, clothing follows gravity and movement. How much it wrinkles and is swayed by movement gives us an idea of how thick or thin it is, what sort of material it's made of.

To begin with, draw the figure in a pose you want. Think about what movement they have to make for such a pose. The lines in clothing will follow that movement.

Things like cloaks and skirts will trail behind movement.

Adjust the number of wrinkles and lines based on what material it is. A thick cloak will usually have fewer wrinkles and more soft lines than a thinner material.

[IMAGES PENDING (tablet broke)]

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Request for the Sheppard Boys, on the movie Ponyo...
A trailer of Ponyo can be seen here

My good pal Weigy also saw him in person at San Diego Comicon (picture above)
Really, if you are a Miyazaki fan, check it out. Weigy also has a review of the movie Ponyo @ !
It's a great spoiler free review that talks about the sort of emotions and ideas Ponyo inspires.

Now I was lucky enough to see Miyazaki in person a few months ago, and Ponyo was one of the things he talked about briefly. The interviewer had just seen the movie the day before, so he decided to talk about spoilers for the rest of us.... So if you don't want to know anything about the movie, don't read ahead.

I still took down some notes though.

On event in the movie is a giant tsunami wave that threatens the human settlement. The interviewer asks Miyazaki about this, and mentions Nausicaa's sea of corruption. Miyazaki responds that humans often believe they are seperate from the rest of nature, living in houses in cities and such, but we are not. The tidal wave in Ponyo though is of a different nature than the deadly force of Nausicaa's Sea of Corruption, it is the way that Ponyo is introduced to the humans. In this way Miyazaki shows nature as a near magical force that brings humans an unexpected perspective. Disasters shouldn't always be equated with evil.

Miyazaki also mentions that, in the town he grew up when a heavy rain fell, water could seep into the house, sometimes rising to knee height. It's not a deadly disaster, but he finds in these sorts of situations people are nicest to each other, coming out to help one another with the problem. He then mentioned that when he rebuilt his house, he and his wife opted to keep it at the same level as everyone else, so they would flood together too.

He then joked that sometimes, standing on a skyscraper in Tokyo, he imagines what it'd be like if the ocean swallowed up a few buildings along the edges. Miyazaki likes saying apocalyptic things like that.

Miyazaki then talks about how in his films, there's really no pure evil character. The antagonist in Ponyo is more of a troubled man than evil. "Making an evil character means you have to draw him, and that's never pleasant"

Noburo Yoshida is art director of the film, and drew the backgrounds. At first, he drew perfect backgrounds, but Miyazaki insisted that he let his childishness through, and jokes that Yoshida, after the feat of Ponyo, has yet to re-enter our ordinary reality.
When you watch Ponyo, keep this in mind, look at the background, see what Miyazaki means by "let your childishness show in your art."
As an adult I see that a certain way, but I wonder how kids will interperate that?

The colors of Ponyo are brought up, saying that it takes them to a whole new level.
Miyazaki says of Yoshida that he loves the colors red and green (these are contrasting colors, by the way, think), that when he draws clouds he always places down five, nicely spaced. He has a childish enthusiasm from his drawings, and it's this essence that Miyazaki wants to convey in his films.

The interviewer tells Miyazaki that, though Ponyo is a goldfish, she doesn't look like a real goldfish, and a Totoro is not an animal you can find in an encyclopedia. Miyazaki then talks about how originaly, Ponyo was a red tin frog.
I guess I can see a resemblance.... maybe

He couldn't think of a story with a tin frog though, so Ponyo became a goldfish. Miyazaki then wonders what a story about Ponyo the tin frog would've turned out like. Miyazaki then talks about, when designing his inhuman characters, he thinks about how their eyes are done.
Totoro for example. His eyes are large and.... vacant? Thinking? Miyazaki says that nature is not completely comprehensible by humans, so he wants to convey that feeling with his creatures. When looking at Totoro's eyes is he deep in thought...

or not thinking at all?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Arceus: Conquering of Space & Time

So the 13th Pokemon movie is set to come out in Japan soon.
General information can be found on
So boring things like the synopsis can be read from there.

Now, let's look at the art direction behind the movie, and the elements that make up this movie.

Damos, one of the protagonists of the movie. Let's look at his character design. His clothes are modelled after the Greeks, wearing a toga and sandals. The toga is not white, but a warm creamy color that's a little darker than his light skin tone.

Looking at his hair, he stands out amongst most pokemon characters with long sideburns, thick eyebrows and hairy arms.

He has a muscular build as seem with his thick forearms and calves, but is not a gigantic man (his shoulders are a relatively normal size for a pokemon human).

His somewhat plain clothing emphasizes his necklace, which has a circular blue symbol. I'm not sure what meaning the symbol has at the moment.

This fellow here, Gishin, you guessed it, is the badguy, from the tip of his evil red hair to the bottom of his open toed sandals. Instead of blue and creamy colors, his pallet uses a dark red, greys and blacks. While Damos is dressed rather plainly, Gishin wears a decorated robe, sash and an elaborate headdress. His frame is thinner, and the length of his arms emphasized by horizontal bands. Gishin's eyebrows are thin and pointed, and his pupils are smaller. All in all this is a bad guy lookin' badguy

Sheena is another character that appears in the 12th movie. She comes from the present time and is a descendant of Damos. You can tell by their similar eyebrows and complexion. The clothing colors are similar, but not exactly the same, hers are a cool tone compared to the warm creamy color Damos wears.

The land this takes place in is called Michina, which resembles Greece. The screenwriters for this movie actually travelled to Greece to gather information.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


It was a great time teaching all y'all little ones, I learned bunches myself too (That's what clever teachers say to their students)! But remember, if you've got any more questions...

Send an email to!!

UPDATE: OK, questions to answer
- Pokemon Arceus movie info, more drawing info
- Drawing clothing, hair, eyes, blowing in wind and such
- Designing Transformers

For these two, whoever emails me first gets their lesson first!

more to come (pictured is the Japanese concept model for Transformers movie sent to America)

***K, working on pokemon, expect update by Tuesday mornin' (I have a cold now because of all the hard painful work I put into that program so be grateful of my sacrifice!!)

Gods & Demons

Pokemon's not the only series to be inspired by mythology of course. One of my favorites is the Shin Megami Tensei RPGs. Some of these designs also appear in the Persona spinoffs.

Which character appears more heroic, more villanous? Why?
Think about their silhouettes and what kind of lines make up their shape (sharp vs blunt, round vs squared, segments vs solid, etc.)
What kind of colors are used between these two?

How many heads tall is this figure? What kind of feeling does that give you?

How are the silhouettes different between these two female figures? Which one is more reserved, which one is more active, why?

...and down here, we have a regular sort of girl (quite fashionable clothing)

...transform into a demonic form
What features about her changed from 'regular' to this 'demon' mode? How did the hair change, what kind of feeling do you get from her normal hair vs the demonic hair?

You can find more images at:


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pantheon of the Pokemon World

There are many Pokemon called legendary, possessing godly power. Here are the legendary status pokemon that lead to the creation of the world as it is now.

Diamond & Pearl

Arceus the Original One was born before existence. He shapes the universe with the creation of...

Time (Dialga) and Space (Palkia). Existence begins to form and time flows through it. They are balanced by a parallel world where time does not flow and space is distorted (Giratina)

Now that the physical world is given form and place, the spark of sentience is also given in the form of...

Omniscient Knowledge (Uxie) Omnipresent Emotion (Mesprit) and Omnipotent Willpower (Azelf)

Creation and sentience gives way to new Gods that further shape existence.

Ruby & Sapphire

Creation is parted in three, the Sky (Rayquaza), the Oceans (Kyogre), and the Continents (Groudon)

The World is given Solid, Liquid, and Gaseous forms.

Gold & Silver

The flow of Time is parted into Light (Ho-Oh) and Shadow (Lugia), the cycle of Days is formed

Red, Blue, Yellow

Fire (Moltres) and Ice (Articuno) churns the oceans, mixing with the atmosphere. Lightning (Zapdos) strikes the boiling seas and Life is created.