Former GameSpot editor turned producer James Mielke begins his series on the life and times of working at a development house in Japan.
Greetings and welcome to the inaugural entry of a monthly column I will write on GameSpot about my life in Japan working in game development. Some of you may remember seeing my name on GameSpot over the years. It's actually the place where I first got my foothold in the industry, writing import reviews and news back in the late '90s, before joining GameSpot full time as its previews editor in 1999-2000. You can still find some of my reviews here, for games like Radiant Silvergun and Panzer Dragoon Saga. Yeah, it has been a long while.
After a decade in San Francisco working for GameSpot, EGM, and 1UP, I moved my family to Japan, spending the past three years in Tokyo at Q Entertainment as a producer on games like Child of Eden and Lumines Electronic Symphony. It was a great time, working side by side with my mentor and friend Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Rez, Space Channel 5, Sega Rally, Lumines), but once we shipped Lumines Electronic Symphony for the Vita, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands, as the company began focusing more on social and mobile gaming. Because developing social games was not what I set out to do when I moved to Japan, I--with the support of my mentor, Tetsuya-- began looking for new opportunities that would provide a better career fit moving forward.
Enter Dylan Cuthbert, Kyoto-based super-programmer and president of the similarly named Q-Games (Fun fact: Q-Games was actually established years before Q Entertainment). Best known in the modern gaming era for the PixelJunk series of downloadable games on PlayStation Network, Q-Games is a company I always admired for its professionalism and the consistency and quality of its arcade-style PixelJunk games (PixelJunk Eden and Sidescroller are personal favorites). When Dylan got wind that I was planning to leave Q Entertainment (it's a small industry), he invited me to apply at Q-Games--something, if I'm being honest, I hadn't initially considered. It had nothing to do with Q-Games. I just wasn't sure if I wanted to stay in Japan in general, as I had begun to feel the urge to go home to New York City where I grew up. In fact, I wasn't even certain that I wanted to stay in the game industry at that point and considered a move into the music industry, or some other creative, design-related endeavor.
"I just wasn't sure if I wanted to stay in Japan in general, as I had begun to feel the urge to go home to New York City where I grew up."But because my wife and I both have a significant number of family members in the Kyoto and Osaka area, I decided to give it a fair shot and arranged an interview with the team at Q-Games. To my pleasant surprise, our conversation went exceptionally well, and within a few hours of my video conference call with the core management of Q-Games (including Kentaro Yoshida, who worked on all of the major Panzer Dragoon games--qualifying him for hero status as far as I'm concerned), I got an official invitation from Dylan to join. With the prospect of working with such an established, respected team, and being able to add my own contributions to their future efforts, I happily accepted his offer to join Q-Games and spent the next month planning, organizing, and moving my stuff down south to Kyoto, where we found a great apartment only a 15-minute bike ride away from work.
I am now the main producer on the PixelJunk series and work with a great team of programmers, game designers, artists, and directors. The hours are much more organized than at other places I've worked, and yet I have had little problem waking up at 7:00 a.m. every day to get into the office by 9:00 a.m. Here, you work hard, and then you play hard. You do more and you do it better when you're rested and you're not burning the candle at both ends (which is how it often is in game development). I like Q's philosophy, and the very organic way in which they approach game design, which is probably why I'm so jazzed to be here.
My job here involves a lot of things, like working on and planning games of the future and actively discussing game designs with the various team members, all of which involves a great deal of technical R&D. The average work day also involves our lunchtime jamband, The Electric Bends, which creates a new song every day (I'm the drum programmer) and whose work can be found on Bandcamp. But when I'm not jamming with the crew, I'm helping to develop the company's social media presence with our PR and community manager, John Davis (formerly of Grasshopper Manufacture), as well as devising upcoming game promotions for recent Q-Games games, like PixelJunk 4AM. I also interact directly with our publishers and business partners. As the new PixelJunk producer, it's my job to help the teams I work with succeed in creating their dreams, but since the working style at this Q is so different from the working style at my previous Q, I'm still making adjustments (the Q-Games atmosphere is very organized, and yet feels very relaxed and positive and, in a way, low pressure).
From almost the moment I stepped into the office for the first time (new-job jitters) everyone was friendly and welcoming. I went out to lunch with a bunch of the guys, and one of Q's programmers, Jaymin, even lent me his bike to go take a ride with the rest of the team. In my second week here, Dylan took us all out to a restaurant that specialized in Okinawan food and hosted a traditional welcome party for me, John Davis, and our planning/programming intern, Sagar. It was such a fun, friendly, and relaxed gathering, and I got to know a lot of the other Q staff during the evening.
In time, then, all the gears will fall into place and everything will click, and I'll get to know how things generally progress around here--especially during crunch time--but as everyone here is so open and accessible, I think it'll happen sooner rather than later. It's a very positive atmosphere here at Q. In this column I will attempt to document the random trials and tribulations of a video game producer's life in Japan, but may veer off occasionally on a different tangent. Although I won't be able to dive into the specifics of the games we're working on (at least until they've been properly announced), I am looking forward to shedding some light on the job, in the hopes it may be of some interest to people who are looking to do the same sort of thing themselves one day. If you have any feedback, please join the conversation in the comments section. See you soon.