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Earlier this year I decided that I want to make games in Japan. Problem was, I didn't know how to make games and I don't speak Japanese. I scoured the web for Japanese indie communities but nobody responded. Then, this unassuming post got a single reply from a game translator in Hiroshima and I'm thinking, "what are the odds that this one single reply will make any difference..?"

Six months later, we're having lunch in Kyoto after attending the biggest indie festival in Japan.





This has been an experiment of epic proportions. Quit your job, switch careers, go into hiding, make something, bring it to the other side of the world. Three weeks turned into almost three months, and what started out as im gonna go network in japan lol ended up changing things in big, big ways.

..and?

So BitSummit went great. So great in fact, that when it was over I thought to myself man, if I go home tomorrow this was still the best trip I've had.

It started out with me and my housemate running through the pouring rain to arrive (on time!) at a show floor packed with attendees. It was overwhelming, and doubly so when we snapped back into it and remembered we had actual booths to set up.

I then spent two days standing up, not eating, worrying about crashes, fixing bugs, and not believing how amazing life suddenly had become.

Setting up at BitSummit

Talkin nodes at Tokyo Indies

I've never been so completely surrounded by people who are this passionate about anything. Everyone from the dude taking time off his gig at the local café to the dev one booth across to the Sony rep scouting for talent had one thing in common; they were all stoked. Stoked on finding new games, playing them, understanding them, brainstorming, offering their love and support. I felt fake at first for being new to the scene, but people didn't care - they liked the game and that was that.

The Japanese indie scene is a place for idealists to leave traditional career paths, overcome societal pressures, and come home. A place to gamble on their lifelong passions, and doing it together.

Ah, surprise challenger BIC Fest appeared towards the end of the original itinerary and helped cement the decision to skip my flight home. Visiting BitSummit's Korean cousin was like visiting family abroad. New vibe, new food, new subway stops, but the exact same glowing passion and optimism.

BitSummit Highlights

  • Dawn of the first day, two kids came straight to the booth saying they'd seen the game online and asked if they could play. I played it cool, but on the inside I was crying with joy. I felt invincible.
  • The only thing I'd put in my BitSummit todo-list was get Suda51's autograph. I did.
  • A tiny girl playing the game at least seven times (and killing it).
  • Being alone at the booth takes a lot out of you, so the translators agreed to help out and cover for me. Might've broke without em.
First fan selfie 💖

Player feedback 💘

BIC Fest Highlights

  • Camaraderie. Nothing like a beach party with 50 drunk devs going "lol we're in Korea wut".
  • The venue, dawg. LED covered ceilings are insane.
  • Having mom's kimchi on the floor of the Korean college student I met briefly in Kyoto, who then both hosted me in Busan and helped out at the conference.
  • Dwarf Fortress' Tarn's epic first name, and his talk on hand drawn pictures for fans and the ensuing discussions on procedural cat vomit.

The response to the game has been insane with mentions and articles at Famitsu, IGN Japan, some local publications, the Japan Times and even some minor buzz at ruliweb, who back in '06 changed my life with this gem.

Over a thousand people have played Aya Blaze and almost 😤 everyone loved it. People even came asking to take selfies, saying it was their favorite game at the show and they can't wait to buy it. Crazy.

Accomodation: Day 1

Accomodation: Day 71

Don't Forget The Normals

A huge part of working on Aya is bringing it to regular people aka not gamers. The medium has finally become accepted by the mainstream, but it got a little convoluted in the process, leaving many behind.

I talk to so many normals who are curious about games but feel that the threshold for getting started is too steep. Or, they simply feel excluded. The latter is way common, and in a world where gaming holds a cultural position that surpasses cinema, I don't understand the business sense in completely overlooking huge audiences that don't respond to worn out clichés in the form of basically toys for boys.

Normals in Japan.

Normals in Korea.

...which is why I was overjoyed when like half of the my guests weren't part of that target audience - they weren't gamers, but rather friends hanging out at some weird new event for the weekend. They would play the game and say they loved it, but quickly point out that they "don't play a lot of video games" as if that invalidated their opinion.

To me though, seeing someone truly enjoy a video game for maybe the first time ever made everything come together.

[Blog Post Extra Content]

For allay'all devs out there preparing for your first show, here's a short list of stuff I learned from my two first major conferences;

BITSUMMIT:  
 * Bring more business cards than you think you need.
 * Bring more fliers than you think you need.
 * Taking selfies with fans is strange and wonderful.
 * Start menus don't reel people in - have an extra screen on the table for a looping gameplay video.
 * Leave the booth for 10 minutes and miss important people like Eiji Aonuma 😓
 * Stay at the booth and meet amazing people every two minutes.
 * Everyone in this indie business just loves games.
 * Bring something to put all papers and fliers in.
 * Make it easy for people to sign up to whatever you want them to sign up for.
 * Use the biggest monitors you can afford.
 * Put up at least basic (but eye catching) signage that's visible from afar.
 * Bring your own food (vegetarians and vegans only).
 * Print out basic instructions and controls to save your voice box explaining them to over 600 people.

BIC FEST:  
 * Hand drawn controller instructions are kawaii and people like that.
 * Getting acutal feedback is wonderful.
 * Signage should be presented in the host country's native language first, English second!
 * Headphones as an option!
 * Doing new builds at the booth is hard.
 * Taking selfies with new fans is equally strange and wonderful.
 * There's no hierarchy in indie dev. People mingle freely and everyone's just stoked on games.

OTHER:  
 * At the booth, people will approach you constantly. It's hard, but find a way to give each person the attention they deserve while staying aware of VIPs waiting to talk to you.
 * Keeping track of business cards and emails is incredibly difficult.
 * If you have a nose piercing, people will remember you. Flip side being, that doesn't mean you will remember them. That will make them sad.
 * I should really start using hashtags on Twitter.
 * Writing a blog post takes longer than writing an AI.