Monthly Archives: March 2012

March 11th, 2011. 12 months ago today. I’m at home in my room in the east of Nagoya, a huge but mostly unremarkable city in central Japan. It’s on the direct line from Tokyo to Osaka, but closer to the latter – you can be in Kyoto in 25 minutes, if you take the bullet train.

I’ve been living here for about six months. It’s not an alien place any more; it’s starting to feel like home. The past few weeks have been especially good, because spring is in the air. The sakura blossoms won’t appear for a while yet, but the days are getting warmer – and best of all, university holidays have started, and a ten-week break stretches out ahead of us, pregnant with possibility. My Japanese has got good enough to spend days or nights hanging out with new friends without needing to resort to English – I’m far more proud of this than any classroom grade, and delighted that it’s happened in time for the long, lazy spring holidays.

On this particular day, it’s balmy enough that the sliding doors to my balcony are open, letting the spring air blow through the room. I’ve got Skype open and I’m chatting to a friend, a classmate from university in London, who’s living in Tokyo. I can’t recall what we’re discussing – I know that I was wandering around the room, clearing stuff up while we talked.

It’s around quarter to three in the afternoon when everything moves – and actually, I don’t notice it at first. It’s an odd sensation, like vertigo. Your brain isn’t built to process the idea that everything around you, all those solid walls, are shuddering. Instead, it feels like the head-rush you get when you stand up quickly after lying down for too long. My first thought is to wonder if I forgot to eat lunch, and am getting a bit dizzy as a result. Then my friend’s voice pops out of the speakers. “Whoa. Earthquake here.”

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A week ago, the idea of a Valve-designed games console seemed to be little other than a science fiction “what if?” scenario for bored games journalists. Today, it seems like it’s actually happening, in some form. There’s been no official word, but equally nothing that amounts to a denial from the company itself – and more and more sources are crawling out of the woodwork to say, yes, this is happening.

But what’s happening? It’s pretty obvious that Valve isn’t about to start building consoles. The company isn’t in the hardware business and has no plans to be in the hardware business, which it has (politely, politely) implied to be a bit of a mug’s game. Right now, Valve laughs its way to the bank by being the dominant distribution platform (with a tasty 30% cut, or thereabouts) on hardware which is made by someone else – which must inspire green-eyed jealousy at Microsoft, Sony et al, since these companies have to sell expensive hardware at a loss in order to get that kind of cut off software.

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