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  • Takin’ off again

    Posted on January 20th, 2010 keving 1 comment

    Sorry to jet on you again, but I’m on vacation for the rest of January, skiing in Tahoe. Above is some footage from last year.

    Maybe I’ll update a bit during this time, but to be frank, I probably won’t! (I’m doing my January the Nintendo way — in hibernation, am I right, guys??!!)

    In the meantime, why not review some of the PC Engine coverage I’ve generated so far, all 61 articles of it?

    See you folks later!

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Cobra: Kokuryuoh no Densetsu

    Posted on January 20th, 2010 keving 4 comments

    Cobra: Kokuryūō no Densetsu
    (コブラ 黒竜王の伝説)

    Maker: Hudson
    Release Date: 3/31/89
    5980 yen
    CD-ROM (78.12MB + 9 tracks)
    Genre: Adventure
    PC Engine FAN Score: 24.90 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “Cobra, the hero, infiltrates the Queen Love in order to steal a secret treasure, but the ship is swallowed up by a giant scow built by an ancient race to capture marauding monsters. Cobra explores the city inside as he searches for a way out.”

    Buichi Terasawa is one of the few Japanese comic artists that you can say “moved the medium forward” and have evidence to back that statement up which doesn’t involve boobs or panty shots — although he’s drawn his quota of both.

    After getting his start assisting in Osamu Tezuka’s manga department during the mid-’70s, he debuted in the pages of Shonen Jump with Space Adventure Cobra, a series that’s continued on-and-off to this day in comic and anime form. (The official English name of the series changed to Cobra the Space Pirate once Terasawa switched publishers in 2008.) He was one of the first mainstream Japanese artists to bring computer graphics into manga, producing his first full-color digital comic in 1995, and he was also one of the first (in 2001) to distribute his work online. Rare among manga artists, he also participated actively in the development of both PC Engine games based on his work: this one, and Cobra II: Densetsu no Otoko, ported to the Sega CD and released in America under the name The Space Adventure in 1995.

    This video has both captions and annotations. Make sure they’re both on!

    All that makes it a bit surprising to discover that Cobra is classic macho-man adventure that’d be right at home in a Depression-era pulp magazine. Cobra is every bit the Golden Age space superhero, right down to that skin-tight outfit with the boots and everything. He constantly smokes a cigar (even in zero-G), he’s got a super-powerful laser gun inside his left arm, and if all his high-tech gadgetry fails him, then — oh, yeah — he’s still got enough brute strength to break out of metal restraints, all Superman-style.

    Terasawa’s genius lies in the way he took this very traditional all-American superhero, ready to be packaged into an issue of Detective Comics alongside The Bat-Man and Crimson Avenger, and basically threw him into the movie Barbarella. Things like skirts and mink coats don’t exist in the Cobra universe; women are uniformly long-haired, decked out in bikini-inspired spacewear, and aching to get into Cobra’s pants as soon as possible. Considering Cobra came out during (and was heavily buoyed by) the Star Wars craze, it’s fascinating how Terasawa didn’t draw much direct inspiration from that film at all. His take on science fiction involves zero highbrow morality nor religious symbolism. It’s based around two core tenets: scoring hot chicks, and kicking ass — and in that way, it’s even more successful at providing silly escapist fantasy for men than George Lucas at his best.

    Kokuryūō no Densetsu (“Legend of the Black Dragon King”) is a pretty faithful retelling of a story arc that originally ran throughout 1981 in the Shonen Jump manga. Cobra’s hitched a ride on the tourist cruise ship Queen Love at the behest of his partner, Lady Armaroid, in order to steal a ring from an ancient civilization. Along the way he gets swallowed into an enormous, self-contained garbage ship, so big that an entire human civilization exists inside; you spend most of the game trying to find a way out.

    The game itself is a pretty standard menu-based adventure, one geared more toward telling a story than posing a challenge. It’s a marked improvement over No-Ri-Ko in that respect, providing a solid weekend’s worth of entertainment. The art, which Terasawa provided much of the design for himself, is pretty brilliant throughout, but the real highlight here is the voice acting. Cobra is the first game (I think) to have real actors provide voices for a video game, and the titular character is handled by the biggest of them all — the late Yasuo Yamada, the original Lupin III and essentially the guy who invented the idea of “voice actor” as a profession in Japan. Yamada voiced Cobra at Terasawa’s request in this game and its sequel, and he provides a memorable performance, delivering that perfect mix of bravado and gravel that Harrison Ford nailed for his own Star Wars scoundrel role.

    Chronologically, Cobra is the first CD-ROM² System game I’d actually feel confident in recommending to others. It’s more a “digital comic” than a game (the sequel was a great deal more challenging), but it’s still a pioneering experience and a harbinger of assorted amazing things to come for the medium. It’s made me want to read a great deal more of the manga, too, and that’s a lot more than most Japanese licenses do for me these days.

  • How Knight Rider saved Activision (sort of)

    Posted on January 18th, 2010 keving 3 comments

    A neat passage from an interview with Activision Blizzard head Bobby Kotick, printed in the February ’10 Game Informer:

    We had a guy in Japan who was an intern in our Japanese office. A very aggressive guy — an American who spoke Japanese. He would sell things that we didn’t actually have the rights to. The first one he did was Knight Rider. He went to one of the Japanese licensees of Nintendo and sold them the rights to make a game based on Knight Rider. We didn’t own Knight Rider! The deal he did was “You make the game, you get to publish it in Japan, and Activision gets to publish it everywhere else.” So he calls us and says “I just sold Knight Rider” — it was to Tecmo, I think [actually Pack-in-Video]. I said “How much did you sell it for?” He said “$400,000.” I said “That’s incredible, but we don’t own Knight Rider!” So we had to go get the Knight Rider rights.

    It turned out that this was going to be our little business. We’re going to sell rights of things that we could own, and the Japanese publisher will make the game, and we’ll sell it to the rest of the world. We did a lot of these. The next one he did was this old ’60s show Combat! How we got this one, I don’t know, but he got another $200,000 advance. Then, the thing that kept the company alive for the rest of the year was Shanghai. We sold Shanghai to everyone. If you had an LCD screen on your microwave at home, we sold you Shanghai! That got us through the end of 1991.

    It’s a fascinating little peek into the 8-bit era of the game business — even though Kotick’s misremembering a fair bit (and GI apparently didn’t fact-check his tale). Knight Rider was actually sublicensed by Acclaim Entertainment, something that Tom Sloper (a veteran game-industry guy who worked for Activision at the time) confirmed in a GDRI interview. Maybe Kotick heard the story and confused it in his memory such that he thought he was the actual licensor; I dunno.

    He is right, certainly, that Activision got heavily involved with Japanese sub-licensing in the ensuing years. But they never released a Combat! game — Kotick’s probably got that confused with Thunderbirds, a ’60s kids’ TV show and an equally oddball choice for a game license. What? There was a Combat! game? Well, set me on fire and call me Bernie! Still, that came game out in 1995, in Japan only, a fair bit after the 1991 timeframe Kotick was talking about. My apologies; I was still thinking in 8-bit terms — Thunderbirds was a 1990 game, after all.

  • The Tower of Druaga (Namco, June 1984)

    Posted on January 17th, 2010 keving 12 comments



         IN A TOWER

       TO HELP KI IN

    The Tower of Druaga is quite possibly my favorite Namco game of all time. It introduced the concept of role-playing games to a wide Japanese audience before Dragon Quest existed; it has neat characters and audiovisuals; it’s oddly addictive; it’s a direct challenge to hardcore players from hardcore game developers.

    Masanobu Endo, designer of Druaga, began working on the game as a side diversion while he was busy learning assembly language on the 6809, the chip Namco was slated to use in their arcade boards starting with Super Pac-Man. From here I’ll let Endo explain the rest, from when he answered questions publicly on 2ch in 2001:

    “In order to get this game released to the public, I wanted to follow these core concepts:

    – Keep costs low by making it a ROM swap for Mappy boards that weren’t earning any longer
    – Make it seem like a straightforward maze game on the surface
    – Include RPG and adventure elements
    – Give the game an ending to keep players from going for hours on one credit

    Basically the company wanted to get some more earnings out of old Mappy boards, so they’d be happy even if they only sold about 2000 upgrade kits. It was a ripe opportunity to experiment. I was lucky that they had enough free staff at the time to assign a full-time programmer to the project — we worked at a breakneck pace and got the game done in about half a year, which made the accounting people pretty happy.

    So, really, the difficulty of the game didn’t affect the project getting greenlit one bit — I mean, this was a C-grade ROM swap, after all. It wasn’t going to make or break the company either way, and the fact that such an epoch-making title got created in that situation really shows how much Namco cared about the craft of video games, I feel. The only mistake, if you could call it that, is that we had planned to install the game only in Namco-owned arcades, but it wound up earning so much that we actually had to manufacture new boards to satisfy demand.”

    Yes, Druaga is ridiculously difficult. No, there’s no way you could ever figure out how to get all the treasures singlehandedly. But Druaga succeeded in 1984 because it forced arcade rats to work together, writing down their discoveries in public notebooks and pooling their wits (and 100-yen coins) together to get to the end. It created a community, in other words, just like Street Fighter eventually did — one that wrote strategy guides and dojinshi in droves. In a way, Druaga solidified the concept of a “game fandom” in Japan more than any other individual game.

    It’s a game I like enough that I beat it on Virtual Console Arcade back when it came out — and I figured I’d take a Japanese walkthrough of the game and annotate it for your entertainment. The video’s in 4 parts and each part should play automatically after the previous one ends. Hope you enjoy watchin’ it.

  • I’m an ex-employee at a porn game company; any questions?

    Posted on January 17th, 2010 keving 4 comments

    1 2010/01/12 18:40:23.72 ID:2oLm8F690
    I’m gonna be quitting my job at the end of the month.
    I got no savings and no gig next, but I wanna take some time off anyway.
    Probably going right back to eroge, but…
    7 2010/01/12 18:43:04.87 ID:sqeFXSaR0
    What was your job?

    Director, planner, that sort of thing.

    9 2010/01/12 18:43:31.40 ID:VwTpnoC00
    How much did you get?

    About 200,000 yen/month after taxes. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less.

    Read the rest of this entry »