by Brian Ashcraft
Going to Japan to make video games. It's the twenty-first century's version of running off and joining the circus. Lots talk about it, but few do it. Evan Shulgold did. He'd first come to study Japanese, but when his visa ran up, he thought about entering a college in Japan. "I was in an izakaya with a few friends discussing our futures, and one mentioned he had heard about this school called HAL," recalls Evan. "I looked into it, and it seemed perfect. It's a school in japan that would lead to a career in the video game industry. Plus they have close ties with Nintendo, and I'm a bit of a fanboy."
First founded in Osaka in 1986, HAL is a specialty school that focuses on game development and 3D computer graphics — as well as robotics and automobiles. By 1988, a Nagoya branch, where Evan attends, was added, and there are plans to open a Tokyo one in 2009. The institution has strong ties with companies like Nintendo, who provides HAL with Nintendo hardware so that students can work with tools actually used in the industry. That's doesn't mean everyone at HAL is gung-ho Nintendo. According to Evan, he's the only student with a Wii, and he's only seen two other kids playing DSes. "It's not that everyone dislikes Nintendo," he says, "They're all mostly into online games like Ragnarok Online." Still, guests like Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto occasionally make the trip out to HAL and speak with students. All the programming that's done for consoles is done for Nintendo systems (Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, GameCube). The GBA programming class even uses a programming manual that's designed especially for HAL students to use and learn from. "Before coming to HAL, I had literally zero programming experience," says Evan, "so i couldn't even begin to imagine what the code for a video game would look like."