In May 2013, John Szczepaniak, a Bordersdown member and occasional article contributor, fired up a Kickstarter project. The aim was to get £50k to fund a 10 week trip around Japan to interview developers and relevant entities connected to the history of Japanese videogaming, as well as visiting historical locations, with the output being a book and DVD. His backers smashed through to £70k. John sent us the book and DVD, so I took a break from playing games to check out The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers.
The book must have almost crippled the postie. It’s a vast tome 1.2 inches thick and as it thudded against the floor at my front door, I started to get an idea of the effort that must have gone into creating it. The book is labelled as “Volume 1”, so there’s more content planned for two further volumes that depend on sales of the first one.
The DVD is a double disc set lasting almost 4 hours.
So, who are these aimed at? The target audience is anyone with an interest in more than just playing games and who also like to look at games, appreciate a little of the history and maybe learn something along the way. And people into bicep curls. Or maybe those of you that just like the idea of looking in a shop full of daftly expensive toy robots as found on the DVD. If you like looking at gaming art, you’ll get something out of these.
In the book, there’s a bit where John is chatting to Konami and SNK veteran Kukino; John tells him about his visit to the abandoned Konami building. Kukino laughs about how the building had Konami, a videogame developer and a bunch of clothing and lingerie companies. The Konami geeks were never as well dressed or clean as all the people at the other companies. They even got complaints. Go game devs! Little snippets like this brought a smile to my face. The collective experience of the people interviewed is massive, so there are also words to inspire. Konami designer Masaaki Kukino says: "I've spent my entire career on arcade game development. I love my work and going forward I continue to love my work. From now on I will continue to work on developing games that I truly love.
The book takes the format of interview transcripts, interspersed with “in memory of” pieces discussing significant figures that John would obviously loved to have interviewed had they still been alive. The DVD necessarily only contains summaries and snippets of the interviews. The people interviewed range from developers and musicians to collectors and presevationinsts. You get a little insight into what the gaming world was like on the industry side in Japan through the early years of gaming. You’ll see original artwork and design documents for both released and unreleased games. There is also more personal content and footage; for example Yoshiro Kimura made a 3D board one-off game, with self righting characters which he shows John. The interviewees range from the game designer of Strider to the Code Veronica / Cybernator artist. The interviews in the book go into details about the realities of working in the industry in the 80s, whilst the DVD content tends to stick to more visual themed sections such as looking at design documents, original artwork and live gaming.
In return for sharing their time, John gives interviewees gifts, like versions of their games ported to British 8bit computers. Their reactions are great, varying from confusion to amazement.
The DVD presentation is functional with some haphazard editing, but John’s a gaming geek, not a video editor. Go in with an open mind, ready to enjoy the bits that fit with your interests. In the footage, you can tell he is little overwhelmed by actually being there, perhaps wondering how on earth it came to be, but kudos to him. What an achievement – he asked for money, succeeded and got out there. He did for real what many people only ever dream of. In the interviews you can tell he is in awe of even being in the same house as many of his historical heroes. This isn’t an action packed thrill-ride. It’s a fly on the wall style documentary. For me, it was fascinating to see the Game Preservation Society who have the most incredible kit to restore and preserve original games. It warmed the cockles to know that people out there are bothering. And this is part of what I liked about the book and DVD – John has bothered to make them in the first place. He’s contributing to that preservation of history.
Unlike many other videogame tomes which just collate already known info, this book, and the DVD that accompanies it, compises of all new content not available elsewhere, so it makes them worthy purchases, even if the DVD seems a bit steep due to the Kickstarter’s pricing structure. The content of the book alone, even though it's only Volume 1 is infeasibly vast and the mind boggles at the amount of work that must have gone into transcribing it from the original interviews. I'd urge anyone whose interested is even a little piqued by my review so far to just get on and buy it, not least because the future of Volume 2 might depend on sales of Volume 1!
Go ahead and buy the book (Volume 1) here now
Buy the DVD here
Volume 1 contents:
Japanese cover artist, first hired by Falcom, company's early days, Sega, Phantasy Star II cover, changes for the West, influenced by English water colour painters, other non-game work
Google software engineer, April Fool's jokes, 8-bit Maps explanation, Google Treasure Hunt, Pokemon joke, behind the scenes of Google, working with Square-Enix, Dragon Quest
Former punk musician discusses the life of Kenji Eno, creating Real Sound for the Sega Saturn, working with the Bitmap Brothers, bringing Gods and Xenon 2 to Japan, dealing with CESA and ratings in Japan, Eno-san's creation of the Dreamcast logo, Michael Nyman in a hotel, map of WARP offices
Enix programmer, history of the company, how royalties worked, game design and programming schools, Kouichi Nakamura, self-taught programming, development tools, detailed explanations on PC-88 development (graphics, map creation, music), Haunted Cave, Magic Garden, JESUS I&II, converting Ultima, Prajator, differences between tapes and disks, illegal games, the changing nature of the industry
Professor Akinori NAKAMURA
The work of Ritsumeikan University in preserving Famicom games
Game Preservation Society
Detailed look at the Japanese Game Preservation Society, scanning floppies, copy protection, unreleased games, rarest PC Engine game on Earth, optimal conditions for preserving games, technical explanations
Interview with a preservationist with 14'000+ game books, choose-your-own-adv books based on games, music CDs, magazines, Earthbound guides, and the most important book: Denshi Yuugi Taizen TV Games
Japanese gaming and arcade culture, old magazines, hi-score players, the world of the SCORELER, a TV series called No Continue Kid which examines this culture
Roy OZAKI & Kouichi YOTSUI
Mitchell Corporation and Capcom (with rare photos!), Pang and its similarities to Bubble Buster / Cannon Ball on Japanese computers, arcade games Strider, Cannon Dancer, The Karate Tournament, Lady Killer, Gamshara, Puzz Loop and Zuma, dealing with gangsters, Polarium, Suzuki Bakuhatsu, Nostalgia 1907, secrets of Namco's System 10 board, visiting Nintendo, PC-98 dev, Data East, Toki, unreleased games
Konami and SNK arcade games, map of SNK office, unreleased games, Haunted Castle (aka: Castlevania), Asterix, Crime Fighters, Silent Scope, meeting Noel Gallagher of Oasis, King of Fighters
Yo****aka Murayama, Harry Inaba, Jeremy Blaustein, Casey Loe, world exclusive secrets about Konami's unreleased games console/handheld, lots of Suikoden trivia, difficulties of localisation
Visual Novels introduction
Japanese visual novels, nakige, eroge, darkige, doujin vs commercial, Comiket, differences between Japanese/English story techniques, Umineko, Higurashi When They Cry, Rose Gun Days, dealing with fans, Otogirisou, Key, Jun Maeda, an unreleased game, otaku culture, Otogorisou and Kamaitachi no Yoru
Visual novels, working at KID, Pepsiman, VANTAN videogame vocational school, Memories Off, Otogorisou and Kamaitachi no Yoru, Never 7, Ever 17, Remember 11, EVE, the pressures of making erotic games, Steins;Gate, 999, Virtue's Last Reward, Danganronpa, PlayStation 4
Touhou shooters, PC-98 versus Windows, office sketches, working at Taito, Bujingai, PS2 bench-marking, Taito's karaoke games machine, Comiket over the years, doujin, indie, female characters, beer, trivia
Square Soft, Doug Smith, Lode Runner, old Japanese computers, Romancing SaGa, Rule of Rose, Chulip, Little King's Story, indie, doujin, detailed life history, board game with potatoes, Love-de-Lic (with office sketches), Moon on PlayStation, Lack of Love, Kenichi Nishi, outdoor theatre, Grasshopper, rare artwork
Telenet, Falcom, Game Arts, Quintet (with rare photos!), Exile on Japanese computers, PC-88, Megami Tensei differences between Famicom and MSX, ActRaiser, Illusion of Gaia, Robotrek, censorship, Gaiares, Sega Mega CD, Lunar: Eternal Blue, removed characters, Valis, creating pixel art, graphics techniques, the story behind Ys III, what happened to Masaki Hashimoto and Tomoyoshi Miyazaki, Granstream Saga
Falcom (incl. office sketch), Shade, creation of Popful Mail, alternate names, Ys V on SFC, Studio Alex
Falcom, Sega, Quintet, Ancient as a family-run business, The Black Onyx, sister joining industry by creating art for The Fire Crystal, what happened to Masaki Hashimoto and Tomoyoshi Miyazaki, making doujin games, history of The Scheme on PC-88, writing a music column for magazines, tour of the studio, Joe Hisaishi, origin of Sonic the Hedgehog on 8-bit systems, Bare Knuckle 4 details, influencing dubstep
Sega, arcade divisions and rivalry with console divisions, Saturn, Dreamcast, different arcade boards and their uses, end of Sega hardware, sketch of company layout, meeting Steven Spielberg, Dororo on PS2, the manga being censored, influenced by Halo, Isao Okawa, Die Hard Arcade
AX series and Game Arts introduction
ASCII, AX series, Game Arts, Taito deals, history of Japanese computers, Olion, lots of unreleased games, Theseus & influence on Thexder, Illegus, MSX prototype, writing books on games and the MSX, Apple II in Japan, PC-6001 Commodore Business Machine (PET), programming languages, Kouichi Nakamura
ASCII (with map), AX series, Game Arts, Theseus, Illegus, Silpheed on both PC-88 and Sega Mega CD, rendered backgrounds on Sega, cut content, secret minigames, Lunar: Eternal Blue debugging and game balance, Japanese magazines, DEA game school and course specifics (photos), Star Trek
AX series, Game Arts co-founder, creator of Thexder, early days at the company, office maps, Cuby Panic, PC-6001, new model of PC-88, shift to consoles, some incredible Game Arts trivia
First ever stealth game, Manbiki Shounen, signing a deal with Taito, Lupin III (arcade game), flight sims, Japanese computers, BASIC Master Level 3, PC-98, creating custom hardware boards for computers, flight controller, sound board, lots of unreleased games, early culture of computer games
Vanguard, Enix, unreleased Sega Saturn hardware allowing online shopping, The Black Onyx, Axiom on PC-88, games on PC-98, working with Game Arts and Falcom, future of mobile phone games, working on Lunar: Silver Star Story and Lunar: Eternal Blue, for both Sega Mega CD and later Sega Saturn, Grandia
Namco (and its desire to launch a console), Enix, Vanguard, origin of Pitman and Catrap, updating Catrap for Game Boy, copyright discussion, magazine type-ins, early computers, creating the NeGcon controller, unreleased NeGcon games, programming on Lunar, PC-98, Reichsritter, Gunyuu Sangokushi
Hokkaido trip & Hudson lab
Musician, dB-SOFT, Data West (with office maps), programming Volguard and 177, Macadam Soft, the mystery behind Bounty Arms on PlayStation, Layla on Famicom, Sharp X1, the Data West Active Picture System for streaming on FM-Towns, Rayxanber shmups, Cross Blaim's connection to Metroid
Takaki KOBAYASHI & Keite ABE
dB-SOFT, Agenda, SmileBoom, Woody Poko, Melroon, Studio P on PlayStation, PC-88 and PC Engine technicalities, 177 controversy, Riot City, Prince of Persia, BASIC for the NDS and 3DS, computer history, gifts to fans, mahjong, working with SNK, life in Hokkaido, copy protection on floppies
Mega Man, Mighty No.9, Capcom, Comcept, Akira Kitamura, origin of characters, Zero as a red Han Solo, Kickstarter and crowdfunding, kids sending postcards with boss designs, Japan and Western games and what they can teach each other, limitations of the Famicom hardware
Stephen & William ROZNER
Mega Man for DOS, Capcom USA, Street Fighter for the C64, and an unreleased version on NES!
Shubibinman 2, Don Quixote for laserdisc (MEGA LD), Sega Pico, Vixen 357, Winds development house as an outsource company, Japanese middlewear, Phil Fish, Star Trek, PC Engine magazine scan
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