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  • “The Phantom of Akihabara,” Chapter 7: “A Well-Adjusted World”

    Posted on September 15th, 2009 keving 3 comments


    “You were never part of it in the first place. Besides, could you really say the game industry had it right, ever? Every hardware maker having their own network? No synchronization between development and sales? Huge gluts of titles; top-brand games all coming out at the same time and eating into each other’s profits? There’s a lot to gain from stabilizing distribution, even if means a little more regulation than what they had before. The industry’s never enjoyed anything like it. A lot of them are looking forward to it.”

    Here is chapter seven (“A Well-Adjusted World”) of The Phantom of Akihabara: GAME OVER, a serial novel written by Yoshitaka Ohsawa between 2002 and 2004. You’ll want to start at chapter one if you’re new to the tale.

    The move to regulate and control games and otaku culture, a mission led by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, is rapidly approaching its final stages. Secretly, behind the spotlights, the government has acted to take over game distribution, the central core that makes entertainment an economically viable industry. Ryohei Takamizawa, the hero, has made contact with Saeko Kanoura, an informant (?) within the ministry, to get to the bottom of this operation.

    Happy readin’.

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  • Onna Sanshirou (Taito, October 1985)

    Posted on September 14th, 2009 keving No comments

    This game is so cute. I can’t stop watching for some reason.

  • Glomping: Taking hugs to the cutting edge

    Posted on September 11th, 2009 keving 2 comments

    OTAKU USA x FAMITSU: “Otaku World Culture” explosion

    Hear ye! Hear ye! The long-awaited fruit of the most recent, and certainly most wall-shaking, collaboration between Otaku USA and Weekly Famitsu is on sale now! The 9/24 issue of Japan’s venerable TV Game magazine offers readers a trip through “Otaku World Culture” via the results of the 2009 Foreign Otaku survey and special contributions from the OUSA staff. The Famitsu spin machine is promising a thorough look at the “rich and realistic” lives of Western otaku and gamers. And since YOU supplied the raw data, this epic celebration of international-brotherhood-and-understanding is very much yours to enjoy as well!

    A thorough look, eh? Well, in that case I’m sure we can expect a portrayal of video-game and anime fans as mature, self-supporting men and women who hold steady jobs and enjoy their hobby respo–

    The problem with subcultures is that if their members do not immediately censure the scene’s most embarrassing traits, those traits invariably end up defining it.

    Just to prove I’m not one to talk, here’s a comment from one of the US otaku surveyed:

    “My dream is to marry a Japanese woman, work in Akihabara, and play games on old systems like the PC Engine and Dreamcast in their original form!” –Anonymous, age 33

    Jeez, what am I doing in this article? I could go without the part where I’m 33 and manning a register in Akihabara with my waifu, but I like the rest of that sentence!

  • The people who wrote that Cross Review don’t understand anything!

    Posted on September 10th, 2009 keving 2 comments


    So says Ryoichi Hasegawa, the former Sonic Team and Naughty Dog dude whom I think I either drank with him once or attended his GDC panel, one of the two. Maybe both.

    These days he’s back at Sega as their localization manager; his latest project,  House of the Dead: Overkill, comes out 9/17 in Japan. Famitsu gave the game straight 6’s in this week’s issue (a fair bit lower than the US/European reception), and Japanese blog My Game News Flash did an informal interview with him about it.

    Hasegawa: Good to meet you. Let me get one thing out of the way: The House of the Dead: Overkill, coming out next week from our company, got straight 6’s in Famitsu’s Cross Review, but please don’t believe that.

    Q: Boy, that’s rough. Is the game fun?

    Hasegawa: Oh, of course it is. The people who wrote that review don’t get it! The four people who reviewed it don’t get what makes it fun at all!

    Q: I saw a movie of it yesterday; was Biohazard and stuff like that a pretty big influence?

    Hasegawa: It’s less Bio and more just really over-the-top — not silly, but just incredible. People speak English in this game, but the dialogue’s crazy; they say “fuck” enough to make it into Guinness. You have zombies eating something under this human-meat mixer. But it still got a D rating [age 17 and up] from CERO, not a Z. We worked with Nintendo to stretch the limits of that. It definitely lives up to the “Overkill” name. So of course it’s a fun game.

    Forget about the Japan game business for a moment — it’s extremely uncommon for someone in the American game industry to openly call out a magazine’s review. EA obliquely criticized OXM’s review of Dead Space in last month’s Game Informer, which looking back I’m very surprised GI’s editors allowed them to do without asking OXM for a response. In Japan such criticism is practically unheard of.

    I can’t criticize Hasegawa for his frustration, but I don’t find Famitsu’s scores for Overkill outrageous out-of-hand, either. I do not really trust the mag’s cross-reviews for big-name titles any longer, but once their number scores go below 7, the reviewers are usually bringing up real and believable issues. It’s the same deal with reviews on Amazon or game forums, I suppose — you can sort of get constructive guidance from a negative review, but positive ones often seem “planted” even if they aren’t.

    The bigger problem with Famitsu right now is the very obvious score inflation applied to AAA games in the past couple years. Does anyone think there’s any possible way Final Fantasy XIII won’t be awarded a 40 this winter?

  • The Game Developer Research Institute is pretty great

    Posted on September 10th, 2009 keving 10 comments

    I mentioned it in the past, but you should go there because there are hours of reading nestled within for the patient old-game fan. I’ve seen it get zero real attention from the game scene — maybe it has, I don’t know — but it deserves a lot.

    A few exciting bits of trivia from a quick jaunt around the site’s interviews:

    • Sonic Spinball was completed in a half-year-long crunch because Sega realized Sonic 3 wouldn’t make Christmas ’93. I always thought it was a great game and I have a newfound respect for it after learning this.
    • Tose trying to learn how to program 3DO games is a classic example of Japan-US bureaucracy culture clashes. Also, working at Tose is not a hot idea if you like promotions, going home at night, or if you’re a lady.
    • Unsurprisingly, working for the company that coded Razorsoft’s releases wasn’t so great, either.
    • There was an Akira-themed title, complete with a Wolf3D-style section, in development for the Game Gear.
    • There was a Road Runner-themed game in development for the Genesis in 1993 that didn’t get released because the main designer couldn’t decide whether the playable character should be Road Runner or Wile E. Coyote.
    • RPG Genjin sucked. (The translation on the page is a little off; it should be more like “I played a sample ROM from Hudson, but…hmm…I think it not coming out was definitely the correct choice.”
  • Translation as a career

    Posted on September 9th, 2009 keving 3 comments


    Hooray! The entry I did about ROM messages got linked from a lot of places, including Make Magazine’s blog, which cheers me because I love that magazine to bits.

    A new reader from that link wrote in with an unrelated question:

    I’m writing to ask you if you have any tips as to how to break into commercial translation.  I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Japanese language from a local university and I’m working at a Japanese company but the translation work in the company is very low-demand.

    I would like to get into contract work in any field, (video games preferred of course but that’s pie in the sky).  Can you give me any tips?

    Also, I’m planning on taking the JLPT this season, Level 2, mostly for experience.  I know I could pass Level 3 but the next level is much harder overall.  Did you take the test, or do you know if it’s even relevant in the field?

    I contributed to a great big article all about this subject for issue 2 or 3 of PiQ which I oughta scan in (what, is ADV gonna sue me?!!), but it’s not all that different from getting a job in game PR, or game media, or game creatin’. First you prove you can do things, and then you pass that around to people, and then those people let other people know about you, and eventually that leads to some sort of a job. No real secret to it other than that.

    In terms of more concrete advice I’d say that the $100/yr I spend on American Translators Association dues and being present in their database has, so far, gotten me a lot more than $100/yr worth of work. There’s also ProZ, but I have to admit I’ve never hardcore-used that site.

    As for the JLPT, it’s another line to fill the resume with but if I was the hiring editor my preoccupation would be with two things:

    – Your translation samples
    – Your references telling me that you submit decent work on time and are generally congenial

    Some time waaaay back in 2000 I had both of those things and I am still able to afford fancy $4 beer so It Really Works!

    (2000 was the year I passed level 1 of the JLPT, which is a good test of non-technical Japanese comprehension on a pretty native level. The JLPT is wonderful as a signpost for Japanese language study, but if you’re aiming for a career involving the Japanese language, you better at least comprehend enough to pass level 1. I don’t know if it’s true now like it was in 2000, but what I found was that if you think you can ace level 2, you can put in just a bit more work and probably pass level 1.)

  • Silent Hill Homecomin’

    Posted on September 9th, 2009 keving 23 comments

    Konami has finally gotten around to  officially canceling a Japanese release for this game.

    cd476905[1]“Due to assorted issues, the Japanese release has been canceled.
    We deeply apologize.
    Please look forward to future games in the series.

    * This page will be removed on 10/30/2009.”

    The game was released nearly a year ago in the US. Konami had the game playable at TGS ’08 and floated a June ’09 release to retailers at one point, but summer passed on by without any news. A Japanese blogger sent Konami some mail about the game on September 4, nearly 10 months after the last update to the Japan homepage, and got a reply that the game was “still under development.”

    The good-but-not-great response Homecoming got in America likely has nothing to do with this. The most direct culprit would likely be CERO, which would never in a million years give even a Z rating to a game with non-optional scenes like this (warning: gory). Indirectly I suppose you could also blame Konami for (a) allowing Double Helix to not worry about CERO (b) not seeing the point in spending money censoring the game for Japan.

    Silent Hill hasn’t had a Japan-developed entry since 2004, long after SH1 director Keiichiro Toyama and scriptwriter Naoko Sato moved to Sony and kicked off the SIREN series. You could argue that it was one of the first victims of the game industry’s globalization and Japan’s difficulties dealing with it.

  • Memories of the original Game Boy

    Posted on September 4th, 2009 keving 4 comments


    1 :2009/02/14 01:57:46.39 ID:Ki6Q4itCP
    The pangs of panic when the batteries were about to run out

    2 :2009/02/14 01:58:14.30 ID:wrXORepw0
    Batteries actually being expensive

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  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Motoroader

    Posted on September 3rd, 2009 keving 3 comments


    Maker: NCS (Masaya)
    Release Date: 2/23/89
    5200 yen
    HuCard (2 Mbit)
    Genre: Sports
    PC Engine FAN Score: 21.19 / 30.00

    This game has a tendency to be heavily overlooked in modern times. You can’t blame people; it looks remarkably Famicom-like and seems to be over in less than an hour after you begin playing it. But this game earned its PCE FAN score (and, in fact, scored the cover of the April ’89 issue, which included a massive strategy guide covering every course in detail) because, for a pretty short time in the marketplace, it was the killer app for Multitap owners.

    Moto Roader (J)-002 Moto Roader (J)-003

    Simply put, Motoroader is a five-player overhead racing game. You’ve got eight courses, you’ve got five crazy futuristic race cars driving ’em (designed, funnily enough, by Masami Ōbari, who worked on about eight billion SF and girl-service anime in the 1980s and ’90s), and that’s about it. A lot of the basic design is swiped from Sega’s 1988 arcade game Hot Rod, a slightly obscure release which I loved to bits but strangely never got ported to any console. (Activision did a few low-quality computer ports that were released in Europe only.)

    The race gameplay itself is pretty simple, and once you get a grip on the outline of each track, you can pretty much beat the computer cars every time…if you were evenly matched. Parts selection between heats takes on supreme importance in this game for the plain fact that the computer is cheating harder than me when I play Monopoly. While I have no physical evidence, it seems like the computer cars have some sort of mafia deal with the auto shop and get all their parts for half price or something — you’re still bumming around with your future equivalent of a Corolla and meanwhile your opponents all have turbo and enhanced acceleration. This means nabbing 1st place in the first two or so heats is all but required; otherwise, you won’t earn the money you’ll desperately need for the upgrades that keep you competitive in the latter half of the game.

    It’s not fair, no, but — as you’ll see in the video below — even the crappiest cars have half a chance at victory. In addition to optional weaponry you can install to turn your bout of Motoroading into a Mad Max death-a-rama, the game also has a helper function that automatically puts you back in the middle of the screen, without penalty, if you get scrolled off by the leader. The smart gamer deliberately lowers his speed just before everyone reaches the finish so he’ll (hopefully) get scrolled off and be carted across the line ahead of everyone else by the computer. This ProTip will make your friends hate you, but the PC Engine will see nothing wrong with it, and really, that’s what matters.

    Motoroader is undoubtedly at its best as a Multitap game with as many human beings as you can round up, and for this scenario, NCS has a great deal of extra content available in the form of hidden codes. With the right button inputs, you can unlock not one, not two, but 32 extra courses — two sets of tracks that mimic real-life raceways, one 8-heat set of beginner tracks, and a “crazy” course run, including a course that is nothing but cross intersections which makes your head spin if you try to run it at any speed.

    This game is pretty common in Japan nowadays; presumably once Bomberman came out, that became the choice for most Multitap owners. It proved popular enough to spawn two sequels, however, the last of which was a 1992 Super CD-ROM release.

  • Can you “buy” Famitsu?

    Posted on September 1st, 2009 keving 8 comments


    Well, you can’t buy Cross Review scores, but you can certainly buy a lot of the magazine’s preview real estate for your games if you have the bux, as Enterbrain’s “Special Advertisement Project” (a document on their business-account page, which also features the rate cards for all their mags) for August ’09 explains.

    For 6.5 million yen (just over $70k), you can purchase a 9-page “bump tie-up” affixed to the mag, replete with an opener and eight pages of advertorial devoted to up to 4 titles. That’s pretty expensive for one go, but more reasonable is the 2.8-million-yen ($30k) “exclusive scoop gatefold,” a three-page advertorial preview with three-page fold-out advertisement stuck on afterward. Least expensive — and most popular, I guess — is a regular old two-page scoop spread for 1.5 million ($16k). Both it and the $30k gatefold are reserved for new game announcements only and are limited to a single title.

    Considering that the two-page scoop is actually cheaper than a lot of Famitsu’s “real” advertising space (they charge 1.1 million yen for a full-color page and 2.75 million yen for the inside-front-cover spread), I’m sure a lot of companies go the advertorial route with Famitsu, which prints (and has always printed) very few traditional advertising pages compared to mags in the West.

    I should note that advertorial like this — which isn’t expressly labeled “Advertising” in some way, like it is in America — is status-quo in a lot of Japanese enthusiast press. I haven’t actually talked to anyone from Enterbrain since my GamePro days, but they had some sort of advertorial service going since at least back then, in ’02 or so. Newtype always had a bit of unannounced advertorial in each issue (something that occasionally gave us trouble in the Newtype USA days because advertorials couldn’t be translated and printed in our mag), and while it was usually pretty obvious if an article in Newtype was paid for, it’s much less so in Famitsu, usually. They do a good job at making all their previews equally flashy and eye-catching. I’d love to talk to their art designers sometime.

    I should also note that I’ve never heard of a US magazine that actually let publishers pay money for more preview space. Not money. Publishers will wheedle media in any ethical way possible for coverage, of course, because that’s their job, but they’d never offer money — it’s too juicy a secret to keep under wraps, and it would damage the reputation of both sides when the cat came out of the bag.

    In Japan, though, the relationship between games and game media is — and has always been — very incestuous like this.

    Famitsu’s still a great mag, though.

    (PS: The PDF mentions on the bottom that all potential games to be covered “must be assessed by the editor-in-chief,” which means that I sadly can’t buy 6 pages of Famitsu to talk about Super Family Gelande.)