Posted on July 14th, 2009 4 comments
I have not thrown out a business card in nearly nine years on this loony express train. I thought I’d show some of ’em off, exploring some of the detours of game-industry history from 2000 on in the process. Starting with me, because I’m that way. Plus, I worked for Gamers.com and I gotta brag about it to somebody.
My first paying job that wasn’t Wendy’s or the college bookstore was when I worked a summer at Gamers.com writing news and filling up their database with retro games. This was the 1999-era Gamers.com, when they hired 110 people to make a video-game website and had many of them devoting 40 hours a week to the most ridiculous things, such as educational games.
Gamers.com was founded and run by world-famous cybergamer Dennis “Thresh” Fong, and therefore everybody on the staff also needed nicknames to put on their business cards. I used my IRC nick, which I took from the name of a character in Bonobono. The company was set up in warehouse space in a not-at-all-good part of Richmond, CA, and I was in fancy-schmancy company housing the whole summer. I remember calling my mother and excitedly telling her about the flock of Canada geese on the premises. There was free Snapple and a pristine example of Bally’s Xenon, which I wrote a strategy guide for in Gamers.com’s internal newsletter. Very good times. I’m very happy that I got a job at a dot-com back when it was still a social phenomenon.
I left at the end of summer to finish up my last year of school. Before I could return, the site was
soldlicensed out to Ziff Davis Media in 2001 after Fong’s outfit exhausted their $14 million in VC — maybe they shouldn’t have paid full-time dot-com salaries to people like me for writing blurbs about NES games, huh?
The name bounced around, and around, and around, and now Gamers.com is some sort of mainland-Chinese game news site.
After graduating from college I got a job at GamePro, which hasn’t existed at this location since 2005 or so. They were in San Francisco when I joined on, at a lovely location right by the Bay Bridge, but they moved soon after to this office in Oakland, right by the main BART station. Downtown Oakland gave you a real life view of “the wrong side of the tracks” — fancy outdoor mall and atrium on one side of the BART station, littered streets and gray buildings on the other.
I was the International News Editor for GamePro.com, a title I earned because IDG had a deal going with Enterbrain at the time and so I got to translate articles from Famitsu.com for our website. (Does anyone remember this? I don’t think your average game-forum slug ever admitted to reading GamePro.com back then, but I am reasonably confident the Japan coverage on there was just as good as anything on IGN, etc. today.)
In 2004 IDG bought Star Wars Insider and regrouped it, GamePro and GamePro.com into a separate division, IDG Entertainment. This didn’t change day-to-day work much, but did result in some revised business cards. IDG Entertainment is officially called GamePro Media today, overseeing a flock of websites and their two print mags.
Late in 2004 I moved over to Ziff Davis Media in order to help create 1UP.com. I actually got two sets of cards for this job — one in English, one in Japanese. None of this “flip the card to get the other language” stuff. I was in the big time.
101 Second Street is in the heart of SF, the sort of office any parent would be proud to see his son work at. GameSpot (ie. CBS Interactive) is a couple of blocks down the street, GamePro a bit further down, and Ubisoft’s SF office just around the corner.
Most of the things that made 1UP a first-rate website didn’t happen until after I left, so I can’t take credit for any of it. If I was arrogant enough to try defending myself, I’d say that Ziff didn’t get super super serious about online until just after I left, when GMR and XBN were suddenly closed. That’s about when the podcast/video stuff really exploded.
Do you have a business card from the game industry that’s historically interesting or has a neat story attached to it? Tell me about it!
Posted on July 14th, 2009 8 comments
Maker: Dempa Shinbunsha
Release Date: November 1988 sometime
Price: 1600 yen
As licensed PCE accessories go, this one is pretty rare — a two-port multitap that came out to little fanfare in 1988 and was available for just a short time in the market.
Dempa Shinbunsha, a Japanese publisher named after the electronics industry newspaper they were founded to run, released this peripheral under the “MICOM SOFT” brand. This was inspired by MICOM BASIC Magazine, a pioneering hobbyist computer mag — arguably, the first one to achieve popular support among the general public — that Dempa published in Japan from 1982 to 2003.
A month after this, Dempa used the “X” label again for the XE-1 PRO HE, a sturdy joystick that cost the near-unimaginable sum of $100-ish in 1988 dollars. Dempa wanted to get in on the ground floor with the PCE, there’s little doubt about that — they even worked on some of NEC Avenue’s early releases as a subcontractor.
If you’re the sort of person who thinks a 5-port Multitap has too many “unused components” (like that 5-CD changer that you only listen to one CD with) then why not use this instead and save yourself a few hundred yen? This isn’t the only two-port adapter, either — there’s Sur de Wave’s Twin Tap (1992), along with Hori’s unlicensed Twin Commander (1989).
You’d think that more PCE gamers would’ve been interested in a two-port multitap, but in the end NEC-HE’s 5-port model was by far the most popular accessory in the genre, followed (not too closely) by Hudson’s three-porter.
Posted on July 14th, 2009 2 comments
Release Date: 11/18/88
Price: 4900 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 23.92 / 30.00
Kōgien: “Based from an offbeat parody novel. The gags inserted into each scene will make you laugh. The game, divided into eight chapters, features Sadakichi, the decchi with a license to kill, trying to recover Hideyoshi’s ancient documents from the evil NATTO syndicate.”
Are strip-mahjong games and simulations where you “raise” virtual idols not Japanese enough for you? How about an adventure where the cast is mostly weirdo middle-aged people from Osaka and you’re fighting a terrorist organization whose aim is to destroy the Kansai region of Japan and make the entire land safe for natto?
Sadakichi Seven, aka mild-mannered Osakan Tomokazu Yasui, is a secret agent who works for the underground Osaka Chamber of Commerce. He is the decchi (a term for a merchant’s apprentice in the Kansai area) with a license to kill, and with that kitchen knife he’s got on the game’s cover art, he keeps Osaka safe against NATTO, a group of evil Tokyo businessmen who want to destroy Sadakichi’s home. This is funny because (busts out Chris Rock impression) people from Tokyo are like this — “Wee wee wee, I like natto” — and people from Osaka are like this — “Rrr rrr rrr, I don’t like natto.” Get it?!!?!
A lot of the humor in this menu-based adventure (a surprisingly prolific genre across Japanese systems in the late 1980s) is, admittedly, rather…local. Not only will you have to know a lot about Japanese culture; you’ll also need to know a fair bit about Osaka and the differences between it and Tokyo. For that matter, you’ll also need to know how to decipher written Osaka dialect, which is laid on thick by most of the main characters here. In fact, short of a shogi simulator, I can’t think of a PCE game that’s less accessible to foreigners. Sorry. The 007-ish music‘s nice and atmospheric, at least (the Hudson Soft Lounge Orchestra back in action), and if you do know Japanese, the humorous responses you get for trying outrageous things are worth the trip.
Hideyoshi no Ōgon is actually based off a series of spy-spoof novels written by Ryu Togo starting in 1984, some of which are kind of funny — they’re all out of print, but available as cheap ebooks from the original publishers. The game’s characters and graphics were all drawn by Koichiro Yasunaga, a manga artist who’s earned some repute for his girl-laden ’80s comics. so there’s that going for it as well. (The Japanese Wikipedia cites a source that claims Togo lost the right to create further Sadakichi novels because Hudson trademarked the guy’s name and were presumably uncooperative somehow after this game came out. Odd.)
This video gives you the basic idea of gameplay. Not much else to report.
Posted on July 14th, 2009 6 comments
Posted on July 14th, 2009 2 comments
Maker: NEC Avenue
Release Date: 10/14/88
Price: 4900 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 22.47 / 30.00
Kōgien: “The hero Opa-Opa can walk on the ground. He collects money from defeated enemies to purchase power-ups from the shops. The game is surprisingly difficult and will not be finished easily by most players. A port of the Sega arcade game.”
The fourth port of Fantasy Zone to home systems, chronologically, after the Master System, MSX and Famicom. (It could be argued that the MS version is a sort of “parallel” to the arcade game, since both were developed simultaneously in 1986 and have a range of differences.)
Although this game looks very faithful to the original, the controls are a bit of a pain and the music is simply awful — not unfaithful to the arcade tracks, but just very poorly rendered on the PCE’s sound technology. Despite this, PC Engine FAN readers rated it surprisingly high.
This is the first PCE title from NEC Avenue, a satellite company of NEC’s formed in 1987 to be their record label. They worked on a great deal of PCE hardware and software, starting out with ports of Sega, Taito and Capcom arcade titles and moving on to girl-games as time went on. They also produced a bunch of game music soundtracks, including Koji Hayama’s Cho Aniki music collection — something that no gamer, really, should be without.
NEC’s internal software and accessory development was spun off to a new division, NEC Interchannel, in 1995, with Avenue remaining as a record label until ’98. Interchannel was exclusively a girl-game maker — until very recently, I think the only non-gal-game they published in Japan was Puyo Puyo CD 2, coincidentally their inaugural release — and they went independent in 2004 after NEC sold the 70% share it had in the outfit.
During the Avenue era, much of NEC’s internal software development was led by a man named Toshio Tabeta, a name infamous among PCE fans. He’s a talented man, and he produced some great stuff, but his reputation for perfectionism (perhaps speared by complaints toward this Fantasy Zone port) led to his titles getting delayed, and delayed, and delayed, sometimes into oblivion. Space Fantasy Zone, which was announced in 1993 and all but completed for the Super CD-ROM but was never released after four years on magazine “Coming Soon” lists, is the most classic example. Another one: Strider, originally announced as a HuCard but then bouncing through every possible PCE format there is before finally coming out as an Arcade Card-exclusive title in 1994. Not once, but twice, he made promises to magazines that “if my game’s delayed any longer, I’ll shave my head” — and then performed the act right in front of their cameras a few months later.
He’s a colorful figure, and he’s still in the business running Prototype, a Japanese outfit that mostly publishes ports of famous girl-games to home consoles and cell phones.
Compare this video to the arcade game, and I think except for the dual-layered scrolling, it’s a remarkably nice-looking port. Not a nice-sounding one, but still. Note that Level 2 of this game is the first time ever that a PCE title uses a shite-ton of sprites to mimic the effect of layered scrolling — a trick that got pretty common later on in the console’s life cycle.