May 152014
 

In Part 1 I listed some good tools and books for learning the characters and words, but I didn’t touch on a very important subject: The grammar. Without it you wouldn’t be doing much more than grunting out some memorized words and hoping people can piece it together! (Interestingly enough, this is what the actual grammar feels like sometimes anyway).

The grammar of Japanese can be incredibly difficult, or incredibly easy. It all depends on what tools you use! Personally I have found it be be simpler than English grammar; the grammar is very regular, the rules are somewhat logical, and there are relatively few contradictions (which makes them easier to remember when you encounter them).

The wrong grammar book, however, can make your life a nightmare. Many books are little more than copied and pasted European language lessons with Japanese grammar switched in. This doesn’t work. Japanese requires a different way of thinking, and a totally different approach for Westerners to learn.

Thankfully I have learned through much trial and error what works and what does not work for me. And now I’ll pass some of that experience on to you.

 

 Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese

This free online Japanese grammar textbook is simply the best guide to Japanese grammar I have found. It’s even better than any non-free books I have seen! Instead of starting from  basic English sentences translated to Japanese like 90% of other books would do, this one begins by teaching you the building blocks from which Japanese grammar is formed, and then works its way up to proper full sentences. There is simply no better way to start thinking in Japanese.

Another fantastic feature of this guide is the section on common slang. The Japanese have formed a very bizarre sort of slang, and good luck reading a manga or understanding a TV show without understanding it. It’s a subject that is often strangely ignored, but incredibly important to your learning.

 

Japanese Step by Step

Japanese Step by Step is an excellent textbook on Japanese grammar. In particular, learning verb conjugations is pretty difficult, as there are a lot of strange little rules to memorize. The author, Gene Nishi, makes learning these rules super simple with nice flow charts and diagrams. This is pure genius, as having that kind of visual aid really makes learning it a snap. I would highly recommend picking this up as a companion to Tae Kim’s guide.

 

Japanese Graded Readers

Remember those little books with short simple stories you used to read in grade school? There is something very similar aimed at learners of Japanese: Graded Readers. These provide multiple levels ranging from absolute beginner to intermediate. These are a wonderful aid to studying, as they provide a means of immersion, but at a level you are comfortable with, and the stories are a lot more interesting than the usual inane stories most textbooks offer.

An absolute beginner should start at level 0.

If you are a bit more comfortable, try level 1. Or beyond. It goes all the way to level 5.

 

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 Posted by at 6:30 am
May 082014
 

I have been muddling through teaching myself Japanese for a few years now, for better or worse. Along the way I have encountered a lot of pitfalls, and and managed to overcome a lot of challenges. Learning Japanese is not easy, but if you want to start down the road, I will share some of the things I have learned along the way.

 

1. Start by learning the kana. 

The absolute first step in learning Japanese should be to learn hiragana and katakana.  This will make your life so much easier. You simply won’t be able to get very far if you don’t know them, and it will utterly sabotage your learning more and more as you go along. There are a lot of them (46 of each), so it may take some serious studying. Also if you have never learning another set of symbols, it can be a bit mind bending at first, but it’s an amazing experience once you can finally look at something like this: てんきがいいからさんぽうしましょう and be able to make sounds out of it!

This brings me to my next tip, which is:

2. Avoid Romaji

Romaji is the writing of Japanese words in our letters. You probably come across it all the time if you are into Japanese culture at all.

Many Japanese textbooks use Romaji, and it may be fine for learning pronounciation, but once you know the kana it will really ruin your learning of the language. It will leave you utterly illiterate in the written language, and it will eventually make Japanese sentences too difficult to parse.

When you get to the intermediate level, there are many clues as to the meanings of sentences embedded in the placement of characters. Without having these available to you, you will eventually become frustrated and hit a total wall in your studies.

3. Use Flash Cards

Use flash cards for everything! Repeatedly drilling yourself on pretty much everything you learn is simply required to learn. There is so much to study and a lot of it looks the same, so not reviewing thingswill lead to confusion pretty quickly.

For a really good computer flashcard system, the free program Anki. It tracks how well you know each bit of information, and and automatically manages how often to show each card. It sure beats buying and wrestling with a bunch of index cards, trust me.

4. Begin Studying Kanji Early

Kanji are those horrible characters in which each one is a separate word or idea. To be proficient in Japanese,  you have to learn around 2000 of these delightful little joys. This means you had better start early, because you don’t want to the point where you can’t continue without knowing them and then have to cram.

Many classical study methods for these things would have you learn both the meaning and the (sometimes many) pronunciations of each character. I have discovered that it is simply better to learn the meaning of each Kanji, then just learn the pronunciations as you go.

There is a great book dedicated to learning the meanings, Remembering the Kanji.

The method outlined in this book really works well.

As a companion to that, a good Kanji dictionary is a must. I would recommend The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary. It has a really cool method for looking them up. My copy is dog-eared from heavy use. In fact it is one of the things I have made sure to take with me to Japan the times I have actually been there.

 

Hopefully these tips will help you, good luck with your studies!

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 Posted by at 9:25 pm
Dec 142012
 

Load times in video games suck.

Unfortunately they are a necessary evil, but with a little planning they can be greatly reduced.

I have written an asset system for This Just In, which will smartly load in needed assets, and dump unneeded assets to both minimize both memory usage and loading times. (Assets being things like graphics and sound.)

The most basic step in this is making sure that when a scene transition is hit, using set intersection between the scene being exited and the scene being loaded, to figure out which assets from the last scene need to be kept, and which discarded.

Maybe this will explain:

The scene being exited had Gabby and Alice images loaded. The scene being transitioned to need Gabby and a background image. The most efficient course of action, then, is to keep the Gabby image loaded, discard the Alice image, and load the background image.

This is just the basic loading operation, though. The real magic of my asset system is the ability to smartly decide which assets are ‘needed’ for the next scene.

In creating the game, there is an asset chart quietly held in the game engine. This chart has information on every scene, which assets are needed when, and general player usage information. It know when it’s okay to have to load, when it’s not, and how what the player will typically be transitioning from scene to scene.

Take going from the game to the status menu. This is something that will be happening constantly, and shouldn’t have to load. So any time the player is in a situation in which the menu is going to be used, all of the game assets AND the menu assets will be held so there is never a loading pause going back and forth. (Anyone remember the PS1 Chrono Trigger port?)

Another example would be cut scenes. The cut scene probably won’t use many of the assets from the game, and vice versa. Stopping to dump those assets, load the cut scene ones, only to dump the cut scene assets and RELOAD all of the assets from the game is very inefficient. This assets system will be smart enough to realize that the game assets should stay in memory, and the cut scene assets will be loaded on top of that, played and then dumped. resulting in only one short asset load at the beginning of the scene, and no loading at the end.

Another constraint is memory. Some systems might not be able to hold everything suggested by the asset system in memory without crashing, and so the asset system will smartly prioritize which assets to hold based on memory constraints as well. This will mean loading times might be a bit a bit longer on low memory systems, but they also won’t run out of memory and crash, whereas high memory systems will have very few loading screens, due to the ability to hold more in memory.

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 Posted by at 12:30 am
Dec 092012
 

I’ve been away for a while. I’m sure you know the deal, I’ll skip the excuses.

I have some cool stuff in the works. Major revisions to the Sandroid code, for instance. Updating them to work properly in Android 4, new features, etc.

Also working on a cool app to help in setting up for the board game Dominion, which can be a pretty feisty game to set up when you have some expansions in the mix.

The most exciting thing, however, is a very large project. I wrote a post a while back describing writing the beginning of a game engine. That game engine has kept on evolving, and is now being used in an indie game.

This Just In

This Just In is a new indie game under development for Windows, Linux, and Android. It’s a shooter that combines elements of bullet hell shooters like Touhou or Mushi-hime with persistent character growth like in RPGs, with a humorous story set in a 1930′s style world. Expect lots of surprises!

Gabby, Alice, and Hilda, the three main characters.

This will also mark the debut of RSVM, my bullet pattern language, in a game. I will be writing about the development of the engine and the game as it goes on!

There is a blog just for the game in which myself and the 2 other team members will be posting, here: This Just In Game

A background concept painting for This Just In.

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 Posted by at 2:51 am
Apr 152012
 

We were going to eat lunch at our favorite curry restaurant, Homemade Curry Time, but it was too busy and we didn’t want to wait for a seat, so we started walking and found a strange Japanese restaurant. They had English menus, so ordering wasn’t a problem. But our own curiosity was, because when we looked at the menu, and saw “raw horse meat,” we knew we had to try it. And try it we did.

It wasn’t bad, actually. I’m not saying I’m going ask for Mr. Ed next time I’m at Applebee’s, but at least now if someone tricks me into eating horse meat, I’ll be able to say “been there, done that.”

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 Posted by at 12:26 pm
Apr 042012
 

Even though the last few days have been rainy, cold and windy, much has happened since I last posted. We’ve seen so much and been to a lot of very interesting places. And the weather seems like it’s going to cooperate, for a little while at least.

Here are a couple of videos. The first one is a Pachinko machine based on the anime, Jigoku Shoujo. Sorry that the video is sideways, but I think you can get the idea without having to turn your head.

Second, we have a video of Akihabara on a busy Sunday. So busy, in fact, that the street is actually closed off for pedestrian traffic. Watch us strut through Tokyo like the Ghostbusters through Times Square.

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 Posted by at 10:24 am
Mar 212012
 

Being in Tokyo, you’d imagine the car traffic to be along the lines of New York or a bigger city, but it’s really never any worse than rush hour Youngstown. There are however a lot of bicycles.  Here is a department store on a weekday night, and just look at all of the bicycles parked out front.

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 Posted by at 10:26 am
Mar 092012
 

We went looking for a ramen shop, but since most of them were closed, we ended up finding a strange restaurant a few blocks from our apartment, and were not disappointed. Inside the shop was basically a bar-style counter, and the cooks were right on the other side making the food (imagine Warren’s Hot Dog Shoppe, but without the big dining room area).

Next to the door was a board with pictures and names of all the foods and buttons next to each choice. You pressed the button of the food you wanted, and then inserted the money, or swiped the magical Suica card (more on the lovely Suica card in a later post), and out came a ticket. Next you brought the ticket up to the counter, and the cooks made your food. It was a pretty convenient system for Americans, since the difficult Kanji involved in the names of some of the meals would have made ordering difficult otherwise.

We got curry and kimchi pork bowls, and the food was quite delicious (reasonably priced too). We’ll definitely  be going back eventually. And next time I’m going to get a beef bowl with a raw egg on top.

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 Posted by at 8:23 am
Mar 072012
 

In the USA, arcades have more or less been relegated to children’s restaurants (Chuck E. Cheese), novelty establishments (roller rinks/Laser Tag),  and small towns unaffected by the passage of time since the 70s (Geneva-on-the-Lake). But here in Japan, they are very much alive. This picture alone shows 3 arcades, one of which is under renovation, but all of which are about 6 stories high and crowded (well except the closed one is probably crowded by workers, not arcade patrons). Club Sega on the left, Taito Station (the one that says GAME) and another Club Sega on the right, are three arcades in one city block. Crazy.

All of the games are 100 Yen, with some of the older games giving multiple plays for that. It’s a price that can add up quickly, but it’s still neat to see something that is basically dead in America be so thriving and alive.

We only played a few games: Persona 4 The Ultimate Mayonaka Arena, Pop’n Music Fantasia, and Mushihime-Sama, but it was still a good time, and a fun atmosphere to get lost in for an hour or so.

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 Posted by at 2:30 am