People | 20 QUESTIONS

Hawken King: Staying on his game in Tokyo

by Mio Yamada

Staff Writer

Name: Hawken King
Age: 39.833
Nationality: Cornish (British)
Occupation: Designer-programmer; founder of Dadako (http://dadako.com) and creator of the games “Pirate Pop Plus,” “Tilterpillar,” “Bath Time” and more
Likes: Cats, Mars bars, scotch eggs
Dislikes: Cats, Snickers, boiled veg


1. How would your sister describe you? Geek.

2. Can you tell us anything unusual you do for your work? The amount of technical mumbo-jumbo we have to do is awful. It usually involves lots of ever-changing geeky work-arounds. A good analogy would be turning on the windscreen wipers so that the ignition key works.

3. Life in Japan is a giant simulation game: What are your top three unlocked achievements? 1. Self sponsoring my visa. 2. Mastering the art of idle chit-chat. 3. Not crying while looking for an exit in Shinjuku Station.

4. What does it take to get on to the front page of Apple’s app store? Make something good, and good things happen. Most game apps are not good, they just have money to keep reminding you of their existence. The app store is a last bastion for good taste, although that is changing now with paid search results. Dear Steve — may he rest in peace— knew what was a good thing.

5. Have you ever gamified a really mundane procedure to make it fun? Japanese learning was the biggest mundane procedure for me. So I’d pick three words at random, try to remember them and then use them that day. I ended up with a lexicon of useless words like “summer hibernation,” which I blurted at opportune moments to baffled coworkers.

6. What’s your opinion of cheaters? I think it’s changed a lot from games of yore. Online gaming has become a serious business, so cheating players have a lot more to lose — especially considering that online identity is now more attached to the psyche of gamers.

7. All-time Japanese hero or heroine? Hachiko of course! What a mutt.

8. You’re stranded on an island with a Swiss army knife, an IKEA baby cot, a Chihuahua and a kilo of mochi (sticky rice cakes). What’s your plan? From the IKEA wood-like substance, using the knife, I’d whittle a miniature assault course for the tiny hound. Its reward for completion of the course would be the mochi.

9. The ultimate Japanese game? The 1980s-’90s TV game show “Takeshi’s Castle” — has to be!

10. Why does your company, Dadako, emulate graphics and music of ’80s 8-bit games? Old computer graphics are increasingly harder to make on modern devices. It was the challenge really. Creativity is amplified by restriction.

11. Name a gadget you can’t live without? The iPhone. Changed my life. Day one it was released, I used GPS maps. People don’t remember or realize how tough it was in Japan before smartphones.

12. What do you to relax? Cycle; Tokyo is a little nicer to cyclists than other cities.

13. Most embarrassing incident you’ve had since living in Tokyo? Embarrassed, me? A British man? I am in a constant state of crushing embarrassment.

14. How would you design the 2020 Olympic mascot? Instead of a cute manga thing, I feel “brand Japan” would be better off with a mascot showing the artisanal traditions of the country, as they are being forgotten at an alarming rate.

15. Who would you most like to go on a bender with? For many years, quite inexplicably, Justin Timberlake used to appear to me in my dreams. We were buddies and would go to bars and clubs together. But I had to be wary of being too chummy with him, overstepping the mark as it were, because he would put me in my place with that kind of “I’m your buddy but I’m famous so don’t …” look.

So, a dingy bar with anyone but him.

16. Tips for a unique Japan experience? Go into the countryside — literally anywhere will do — and stay in a random town. Tokyo is not all Japan has to offer and I think the people will make the richest experience for you.

17. Which celebrity would you most like to challenge to a game? Brian Blessed, and to “Street Fighter II,” just for his commentary. Actually, it could be any game. Brian Blessed please.

18. Do you collect anything? Collecting is my thing, I have a complete (I think) collection of Monsterism toys by Pete Fowler (who would probably run a mile if he met me). I collect old consoles … and the boxes and wires and bits that go with them. I have so many useless bits and bobs of old consoles, I could probably open a museum.

19. What’s one thing you desperately miss from the U.K. ? I’m fed up with frankfurters, cheesed off with chorizo, so it has to be sausages! Cheap Tesco sausages, all squished up in a plastic wrapper. Oh, and Cornish bakeries. Nothing compares. I may live in a bakery on my next U.K. trip.

20. What’s the worst piece of advice you have ever been given? Some people, as the saying goes, just want to watch the world burn. A decade ago I took some advice that ended up burning a bridge on work-related matters. Never again. We have our own best interests at heart, however things may pan out, you listen to numero uno. I grasp the irony of this statement being advice in itself.