Auditioning for Run! The Shinkansen Dream! The Story of Kiku and Shinji

So, I don’t think I have mentioned this, but Saijo was home to Shinji Sogo. He invented the Shinkansen, which if you don’t know it by that name, you probably know it by the term “bullet train” but whatever you know it by, you almost certainly know it. The iconic fast train of Japan.

Sadly, Saijo, and indeed, all of Shikoku lacks an operational shinkansen. With the only ones being in museums. However, we paid host to the inventor, and soon, paying host to a fancy musical! Which in Japanese is known as 走れ!夢の新幹線~キクとシンジの物語~. A friend of mine had been asked to talk to the local foreigners to spread the word, and see if we were interested. While my musical theatre history is limited to a community production of Annie, Karaoke has made me fall in love again with singing. And hey, Japanese community theatre sounded pretty awesome.

So I sent in my application, and asked about the audition specifics, so I could prep what I could! I was rather dismayed that the email I got at 5am detailed that I’d be reading a Japanese poem on the day and singing a capella  a song I had never heard of. So I was dreading it a little to say the least. However, after some people were like “CHALLENGE!” I thought it was not the end of the world to rock up.

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Backlog Update: Riviera: The Promised Land

Riviera is a STING was originally released in 2002 for the Bandai WonderSwan. A lovely console to never leave Japan, and the first game to be part of their overly ambitious series, Dept. Heaven, which was planned as a huge set of vaguely related games all drawing on Norse mythology loosely. Luckily, STING moved Riviera to GBA in 2004 where it would receive an English localization, and would become somewhat of an RPG darling for a time. In 2006 the GBA version was ported and a little upgraded to the PSP.

Unlike most games that were planned as massive series such as Shenmue, Xenogears and Ogre. Dept. Heaven is progressing smoothly. Since its inception we’ve had Knights in the Nightmare, Yggdra Union, and Gungnir. Each game is given an episode number which reflects the originality to its design. Which for STING is a pretty sensible plan because they do a lot of odd games to say the least. However, it appears that numbering system is a bit broken as somehow anything was able to beat Knights In the Nightmare. 

Knights in the Nightmare. How much can you understand this screenshot?

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In order to write this post I needed to be born.

So I study Japanese. Recently, in reviewing various bits and pieces with my teacher, we did ために (tame ni) which translates as “in order to.” You can look at the title for an example.

But, what is so special about ために?Nothing specific, it just reminded me of my favourite language activity I did during Japanese classes at university. I’m going to do the activity in English here because I feel most of my readers won’t know Japanese…

In order to become super fit I need to exercise more.
In order to exercise more, I need to have more free time.
In order to have more free time I need to read all of game of thrones. (because it it taking up free time)
In order to read all of game of thrones, I need to quit my job.

In order to get super fit, I need to quit my job.

It’s silly, it’s memorable. It practices using the structure and makes a joke you want to share with someone. And the time I ran into this I ended up with “In order to go to Japan i need to go to the library” This is one of the few bits of language learning where I very specifically remember the class. Sadly, not all grammar can be used to make such sharable lines. But when you can do it, it makes an impact.

Feel free to do the activity in the comments!

ESL Game Breakdown: Almost But Not Quite Mario Kart

Almost but Not Quite Mario Kart is one of the more beloved ESL review games I have run into. Like Bowling, it features a typical “not game, but gamified Quiz/Test/Worksheet” format. Which follows a pattern much like
1) Ask Question
2) Answer Question
3) Receive rewards, some of which will enable you to hinder opponents.

You can look at all the materials, suggestions, rules, worksheets etc for Mario Kart on Englipediea.

I actually am not a fan of this structure, but, it results in games students like, which is the most important thing in designing classes. Mario Kart falls more specifically into a “race style” ESL game where students get a worksheet/question of some kind, do it, get it checked by the teacher, move their character to the next space and then do the next question.

Winner is whoever finishes the race, or is the furthest when it finishes, is the winner. Mario Kart adds items to the standard race game, some items move you forwards others move opponents back. Curiously, and probably a slight oversight by the person who made the game, Mushrooms are significantly more powerful than shells.

Because of the presence of items, Mario Kart’s worksheets have more questions than spaces, 26 questions to 20 spaces. Meaning a team might not need to answer every question in order to finish up the race. Which, I think is a good thing, because it means teams don’t need to focus on questions they don’t understand, or can take time to think on them.

Another thing I really liked a lot about Mario Kart, is that while obviously it rewarded knowing your English, a bit of cleverness offered you a huge advantage, groups of 4, 4 pages of questions, these are not accidents. Students could be doing up to 4 questions at once. Many of the teams were not doing this, but often some of the students that were not great in the classes were winning because they thought about using their time best.

While ESL games should test English, I do feel there should be space within them to use strategy of some kind. In this case effective time management. Having 4 players being able to work on different problems at the same time can mean some teams are playing a wildly different game though, which can be an issue. But sometimes not, especially when it comes to more difficult questions, so there is some balance here.

Although that raises a question, why allow, or even encourage a secondary skill to influence the game when the point is English? Which is a fair question. I think it is important to note the context these games are run in, classes where not all students want to take English classes. So some concessions have to be made for them. Allowing some clever thinking or use of a secondary skill to be of aide as opposed to JUST English is also good. The Bowling game (ALTINSIDER) has a great example of this with the actual bowling part. Being good at English is great, but if you can’t bowl, you are only good for points. Meaning that those students who aren’t so good at English but GREAT at bowling, has so much incentive to try and answer even if normally they wouldn’t. How much you decide to take that to heart is a different matter though.

While I don’t think Mario Kart has as much to offer lessons wise as bowling, it does have a little bit.

Visually tracking score is more interesting to many students than simply using point values
We can break down worksheets into smaller, checkable chunks to create a strong sense of progress in activities like this.
Theme matters way more than it should.
A little bit of randomness, and the chance to sabotage someone else is something that people love.
Allowing secondary skills to be useful will help those not solely interested in English.

So, go forth, and play Mario Kart… In March when review games are life.