The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers – Extra “Omake” DVD – Part I

untold-history-dvd

This is my first review article for Retro-Type.com and it is setup to be a multi-part review on the 2-disc dvd set that was originally part of a bonus tier of the Kickstarter for the Untold History of Japanese Game Developers book being written by John Szczepaniak. This project was funded around 1 year ago from today on June 30th, 2013.

John is a writer and editor for many video game history publications such as Retro Gamer, Games TM, and Hardcore Gaming 101. John’s passion is for making new discoveries as a Video Game Historian and it clearly shows in the DVD as he uses every possible moment to find out something new that the world outside of Japan may never have known about before. My first introduction to John’s work was through a 8-page Falcom and Ys series retrospective featuring an interview with Falcom’s President Toshihiro Kondo. It was an wonderful article to read and went into many details of what makes the Ys series so great. The Ys series for me holds a special place in my heart and is one of the most sought after treasures in my retro video game collection tastes.

GTM111

I’d highly encourage reading his article sometime if you would like to read more about the Ys series. I was lucky enough to import a copy of Games TM Issue 111 from Europe just after its original release. The Ys article starts on page 152.

So… Even though this DVD was originally a Kickstarter bonus item for higher tiers, John eventually decided to open sales for the DVD outside of the Kickstarter, at least while supplies last. That means hurry up and get one while they still exist if you’re interested! 🙂 I was fortunate enough to get one of these DVDs and I would like to share with my readers some of the contents I found most interesting in the first disc of this DVD. In total the the DVD set is 4 hours longs, so this covers the first two hours of amazing bonus content that which I’m sure will in large part be wonderful supplemental material to review again as we read through the book once it is released.

From the moment you insert your disc into the player, the DVD menu starts off blasting away at some nice retro game tunes composed by Yuzo Koshiro, who composes several transitional music tracks throughout the DVD. That alone is a nice bonus alone if you are a fan of Koshiro’s work. I know I am. The DVD is also split up nicely so that you can select various chapters that you may wish to review in more detail and a timeline for when each segment starts that you will see when playing the DVD. This is very helpful because as you will discover when watching it, this DVD is PACKED with interviews and information and never-before-seen content and really completes the documentary aspect of the behind-the-scenes or making-of-the-book.

The DVD starts off with a typical day of travels in Japan to more or less show what some of John’s days were like and what is like to travel to some of the places he visited during the trip. Japan is a relatively small country compared to say, the United States, however it can still take several hours to get where you want to go depending on the transportation options available. Some of these areas shown in the DVD were exciting to see and may especially be interesting for those who may never have visited Japan before because it really does capture how Japan looks both in the more crowded city areas as well as the more rural areas. Japan is a beautiful place to visit and my wife and I have been to Japan twice now to spend time with her family.

The first interview is with Roy Ozaki (President of Mitchell Corp) and Kouichi Yotsui (Creator of Strider).

Roy Ozaki - Kouichi Yotsui

Roy Ozaki’s level of English is pretty good and offers to do much of the interpretation for John during these interviews. They discuss many of the releases from Mitchell Corp best known for the “PANG” series also known as Buster Bros, a highly additive Balloon Pop game that I remember growing up with as well as the Strider series and also a game I’ve not had a chance to play yet called Suzuki Bakuhatsu for PS1. Here is one shot I really liked of Koichi Yotsui holding an original Strider oil painting he had painted.

Koichi Yotsui - Strider Oil Painting

And a quick look at the cover of the original Strider design document which was pitched to Capcom many years ago:

Capture47

What was an especially nice and rather raw touch to this particular documentary were old photos from Mr. Yotsui’s younger years showcasing his life’s work, student film making, company trips with Capcom, one of which showed the current company president of Capcom in a ski trip photo, a picture of Shinichi Yoshimoto (Ghouls’n’ Ghosts) and how some of his friends and colleagues went on to do equally important or historical works with the gaming and film industries.

I enjoyed seeing two particular photos of Mr. Yotsui younger self chopping through a wooden board propped up on a cement block with what appears to be Fire coming from his hands as he does it.
Koichi Yotsui - Chopping Through Board

How fitting for the creator of Strider to have such power and strength!

And check out this photograph of a young Keiji Inafune (on the right) at an Izakaya restaurant. Typically Izakayas are restaurants that offer small portion appetizers and large quantities of beer after work hours. One can only imagine what kind of “Mega” concepts and ideas may have been discussed outside of a work day. 🙂

Young Keiji Inafune

What I found most interesting about this interview was that some design documents and drawings of Mr. Yotsui for game designs that were never actualized into finished games were shown. One game in particular that stood out to me was one apparently titled “Dentsuki”:

Dentsuki
Dentsuki
Dentsuki
Dentsuki
Dentsuki

I think the concept sketches of the game give a pretty good idea of what some of the gameplay would have been like. I would still love to see this game created even today if it’s not too late! It looks like good old fashioned arcade fun. During the interview, John explains the idea of crowdfunding and Kickstarter (especially how popular it was for Mighty No. 9) to Mr. Yotsui as a means of possibly funding games that otherwise may never have been released and perhaps he should consider this for finishing up some of these game concepts or at the very least selling a compilation book of unused game ideas. Mr. Yotsui laughs and says that there might not be such a market for that, but I bet there would be more interest than he thinks. I’d buy a copy of that book for just the artwork alone. 🙂

The next location that John visits is that of the Westone office where he meets with Ryuichi Nishizawa of Monster World fame.

Ryuichi Nishizawa

Check out these toy models for Monster World II and IV!

Monster World II

Monster World IV

I’ve always really liked the character design of Asha, the green haired girl from Monster World IV. She kind of reminds me a bit of Shantae too, since they share a similar design quality. Though I doubt Matt Bozon’s design work on Shantae was based on Asha’s design. It’s probably just a coincidence.

There’s also an extended interview here with the creator of Strider, Koichi Yotsui from earlier in the DVD and in this round he discusses a spiritual successor to Strider called Canon Dancer as he plays through the game on his laptop.

Canon Dancer

I’ve never played Canon Dancer before but it looks amazing!

The next location in the DVD shows an overview of his time at the Tokyo Game Show 2013. Since most of the games shown there were newer generation games for the next generation systems that I’m not quite ready to buy yet, I was mainly interested in seeing their Falcom booth in the video, and John does indeed show it. Below is a shot of the Falcom Booth that they had on display there showcasing a song from Legend of Heroes: Sen no Kiseki.

Sen no Kiseki Booth

Unfortunately, this seemed to be the only Falcom game exhibited at TGS. No other series mentioned, and this booth does more or less paint the picture that a lot of us Falcom fans feel these days in that it seems that Falcom has abandoned some of their older, classic franchises in lieu of pursuing only Kiseki games until further notice. It’s not that I dislike Kiseki games either. From the one title I’ve played in English so far, Legend of Heroes VI: Sora no Kiseki FC (later released in English as Trails in the Sky) it seems to be a great series with well developed characters and a good story. However, since these games are very text heavy, there is very little chance that we will see many of these titles ever released in English due to such a high text volume to translate which would be expensive! XSEED is doing a great job with trying to bring over this series with Trails in the Sky for PC getting a Steam release hopefully later this year (I’ll be there Day 1 for that since I feel that the PSP version just doesn’t do the game justice graphically) and I believe they have also confirmed the second chapter in the series to be released at some point, or maybe they were just looking into it. Still, even though XSEED is trying to release these, generally when a new Kiseki game is released, most of us English-only Falcom fans say “Great… another game we won’t be able to play and will likely have no hope in getting in English.” I think we mainly want to see some of their older IPs and series have new sequels or introduce new IPs altogether and right now we just aren’t seeing that happening. I remember when I last visited Japan, I attended an event for the unveiling of several Xbox Kinect games in Akihabura. My goal was to try the playable demo for Crimson Dragon and I got a chance to meet and play the game in front of Panzer Dragoon series creator, Yukio Futatsugi. While I was in line for the demo I met a few Japanese Gamer Otaku and we started talking about Falcom. They told me that they used to really like Falcom, but currently they do not like the direction that Falcom seems to be going with their games, so I detected some dissent among even Japanese gamers as well in regards to Falcom’s current development trends.

Realizing that the above paragraph is a bit of a rant, it’s time to move on!

John’s next trip is to the retro video game store called “Beep Shop” located in Saitama. beepshop

Now before I go any further, I have to tell you all that having been an active game collector for years and having visited Japan on two separate trips now, I felt that I had already discovered the best stores for retro-gaming. I mean there are several Chiba Kantai Dan (Chiba Appraisal Shop) stores all over the suburb of Tokyo called Chiba, the Book Off, Hard Off, Off Hobby franchise stores, and specifically in Akihabura there is the famous Super Potato, Retro Gamer and Trader stores. All of these stores are great and fun to explore, but with that being said, they all had limited stock of items from PC-88, PC-98, MSX, X68000, FM77 and FM-Towns. Super Potato and Trader had a “few” games for MSX and Sharp X68000, but not terribly many. So… when I saw this next segment where John visits Beep Shop and what all they had there, I was completely and utterly blown away by just how much stock they had of rare games and systems for much of the older Japanese home computer market.

I found this particular interview with one of the workers at Beep Shop, Takayuki Komabayashi, and subsequent tour of their facility absolutely amazing! I definitely would like to visit this store the next time I visit Japan. Beep Shop appears to be part shop and part warehouse distribution center. They also have an entire workshop space filled with classic games from the all periods of gaming, many of which are sold on auction and mailed out from the shop. Who knows, perhaps some of the auctions I’ve participated in over the years at Yahoo Auctions Japan may very well have been from Beep Shop.

There was an impressive collection of older Japanese PC games such as the PC88/PC98, FM77, FM-Towns, X68000 and MSX games and a large collection of quality MSX games such as Snatcher, SD Snatcher, Akumajou Dracula (Castlevania), Gradius as well as several Japanese computer models from the PC-6600 to the Sharp X68000 and all them in great working condition.

Beep Shop

Beep Shop

Beep Shop - MSX

Beep Shop - MSX

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Part of the interview showcases a game I had not heard about called “Recapture” from Hummingbirdsoft, a comical game about Corporate espionage.

ReCapture

Very rare and expensive, 60,000-70,000 or roughly $600+ only around 20 or so copies left.

I also learned from this interview something I had not before, which was that Tape do not seem to be degrading as fast as floppy diskettes are.

Mugen no Shinzou (XTALSoft) which is one of the first RPGs in Japan for PC88 which is an important piece of gaming history.

Mugen no Shinzou

Mugen no Shinzou

Mugen no Shinzou

Check out the unique packaging with the cut-off corner!

During the interview they showed original complete boxed copies of Panorama Toh and DragonSlayer by Nihon Falcom.

DragonSlayer

Panorama Toh

Panorama Toh which is also one of Japan’s earliest RPGs in this condition is roughly estimated at 130,000 yen or $1300 and could possibly go for close to $2000 if the auction ever went high enough for it.

Mario Bros. Special developed by Hudson Soft for the PC-88 is shown featuring many different game mechanics from the original such as moving platforms, and stage/scene changes.

Mario Bros Special

Next on the DVD is the interview with Keigo Matsubara, a collector of video game books and soundtracks that has almost an entire collection of game books in Japan. John conducts the interview along with Mr. Matsubara’s friend Joseph Redon, who is the head of the Game Preservation Society in Japan.

Keigo Matsubara

Mr. Matsubara has two rooms completely dedicated to game books and presents a 15 year collection, most of which are official guidebooks. He has over 14,000 books not including game magazines, for those he has 4000 of them bringing the total collection to 18,000! What is even better is that he appears to building a database for everything currently in his collection.

For kicks, John asks if Mr. Matsubara can find a randomly chosen book in his collection and he finds it within a matter of seconds and gives it to John.

He then shows John his equally impressive collection of game soundtracks and Omake OST CDs (which in context means extra or bonus content) of which he has around 6000 units or so. Check out the photo below, there’s plenty of Falcom stuff in there! 🙂

CD Collection

Even more interesting is that Mr. Matsubara is a member of the Game Preservation Society and he is open to making his collection available if people are looking for particular information. It also appears that he would like to setup a type of online library that could be accessed. That database is not complete yet, but if you are interested in reaching out to him, Mr. Matsubara’s website is at http://vgsearch.info/ and his Twitter profile is at https://twitter.com/zerocreate

In Japan only there were books for games that were setup to be a “Choose Your Own Adventure” many of which were for early Nintendo games and could really be considered games in their own right. I personally own one of these books for the NES game called Faxanadu, (or Famicom Xanadu) which features some interesting artwork in the books as well, so I was very interested to learn that there were other books out there just like it! A few books spotted from Mr. Matsubara’s collection that I was able to read the katakana characters of included King’s Knight, Super Mario, Final Fantasy, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, Ultima, Tower of Druaga, Salamander, something called Super Star Wars, Knight Rider and Airwolf and even one book for Metal Gear:

Metal Gear - Choose Your Own Adventure

Metal Gear - Choose Your Own Adventure

Metal Gear - Choose Your Own Adventure

John then asks what one of the most rare books or important books from the collection and he is shown a book called Denshi Yuugi Taizen: TV Games (Electric Viewing Game Encyclopedia) which was published in June of 1988. It’s an important piece of history because it details several games that were featured in the early before the book was published, not only for games released in Japan, but for games released everywhere in the United States and England. The book is in full color and setup to be a reference guide split within three sections that can be turned to at any point in the book, it is really setup as a comprehensive database of information in layers. The top layer is company information, the middle layer is setup to look up specific information about certain people or developers and then information about specific games on the bottom layer. It covers everything during that time period for arcade games, to consumer and PC gaming. It’s truly a very unique book that I would have never known about before had it not been for this interview in this DVD. I also enjoy hearing John’s Japanese informant mention to him the importance of having a book like this be created for the last 40 years of gaming history and this book shows one of the best examples of what should be done with this type of historical knowledge about video games going forward.

Terebi Geemu

Terebi Geemu

The large font in red says “Terebi Geemu” or Television Game.
ISBN–10: 4946432310 -ISBN-13: 978-4946432316

The next book shown is the guide book for Invader or more commonly known as Space Invaders and it happens to be the very first game book ever written in Japan. I wish I could have gotten a sharper photo of it in the video, but that was the best I could get after many tries.

Invader Guide

Check out this collection of guidebooks for the Mother / Earthbound series!

Mother Series Guides

Further during the interview John is able to check out more rooms filled with games from different systems, Famicom, Super Famicon, PC-Engine, Gameboy, Master System and several PC games including Ys, Vantage Master, Zwei just to name a few. You can tell that Mr. Matsubara was a big time Falcom fan. 🙂

Next, a rare look at the Data East Deco Cassette Arcade System which is the last model that can still be found at a public arcade featured in the Natsuke Arcade Museum located in a Game Center in Akihabura. The game Zeroize is featured on the system during the interview which has some pretty unique gameplay similar where a person controls a car/ship and has to bump into enemies and knock them into holes, and trap walls. Imagine if we had a realife bumper cars game like that today! I’d play that!

Deco Cassette

Two other Deco Cassette games showcased were Flash Boy (1981) which features some pretty impressive gameplay and had versions that could do either horizontal or vertical scrolling which was pretty revolutionary for a game made in 1981 and may have actually pre-dated several other games that featured this type of effect early on in history. The second one was a game called Ninja, which really hasn’t been seen on video until this DVD’s release since it recorded RGB footage direct from the Arcade machine.

The next interview focused on Bombjack’s creator, Michitaka Tsuruta who was also responsible for Solomon’s Key I & II and Catrap.

Michitaka Tsuruta

Bombjack is a personal favorite of mine. I could play that game all day, especially the Kralizec port of the Arcade version that was made for MSX. “It’s a blast!” Get it? 🙂

In this interview we get to see some never before seen concept art from Solomon’s Key, the arcade version which is quite a treat to see. Mr. Tsuruta explains the process they used at the company Tehkan for creating pixel art using a program called “Eddyputer” which utilized a light pen that would allow the pixel artist to draw, dot-by-dot on the CRT monitor itself.

Mr. Tsuruta also shows several nice original design documents from Solomon’s Key:

Solomon's Key

Solomon's Key

Solomon's Key

Solomon's Key

Solomon's Key

Solomon's Key

Solomon's Key

Solomon's Key

Solomon's Key

Solomon's Key

Solomon's Key

Solomon's Key

Solomon's Key

Solomon's Key

Solomon's Key

The next interview that I enjoyed was the one with Yuzo Koshiro, which included a discussion of his career works as a video game composer and a tour of his music studio.

Yuzo Koshiro

John was able to see some of the doujin games he was working on and was able to meet Yuzo Koshiro’s mother who happens to be the CEO of the game development company Ancient, who brought them all sandwiches. That’s a pretty cool Mom!

Mr. Koshiro then shows John an unreleased game he worked on called Variant 7 for the PC-88, a very fast paced and ridiculously difficult doujin shtmup game which has never been seen before this DVD release.

Yuzo Koshiro

Mr. Koshiro then proceeds to demo a game that is a hilarious parody of the opening of Ys III: Wanderers of Ys and a game called “The Scheme”, dubbed as a hybrid name of “Wanderers From Super Scheme”.

Wanderers From Super Scheme

The final interview on this first disc was with Yoshihiro Kishimoto, the creator of Pac-Land.

Professor Yoshihiro Kishimoto

In this interview, Professor Kishimoto shares many of his experiences in the game industry and how the Japanese game industry works, how it used to be, how it is now, and how he tries to help his students best understand what to expect when they look for game industry positions in today’s world.

I’ve not had time to fully watch Disc II yet, but if it is anything close to the amount of content on this first disc, I’m sure to be in for a surprise! I’m especially happy that I watched this and I hope you will perhaps decide to grab a copy while there is still time if you enjoyed my review.

As far as I know from today’s posting, you can still order the DVD at the following information page over at Hardcore Gaming 101.

As soon as I’m finished with Disc II and taking screenshots, I’ll post a follow-up to this article for the second disc in the set.

July 3, 2014

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