Unprecedented raw footage of the Japanese games industry
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Between September and November 2013 I travelled around Japan interviewing developers for my series of books, The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers. (If you've not read it, feel free to jump in with Volume 2, they're not chronological.)
I also accumulated an enormous quantity of video on this trip (I can't recall, but I want to say like 20 hours maybe?). The video was edited down to 4 hours for a documentary / gonzo road trip adventure DVD. It contained segments of interview footage, game footage, and other visually interesting material. All the music was by Yuzo Koshiro, used with permission, predominantly from his game The Scheme.
Only 1'000 copies were manufactured (above is the cover). This sold out fairly quickly, with the last 100 being sent to Japan for sale in Beep Shop (they've still got a few copies if you're desperate for a copy). I contacted GOG.com with the intention of selling it via their movies section, but they never replied. In fact I emailed them about 15 times from multiple email accounts, and they never even replied to decline. So I gave permission to Hardcore Gaming 101 to upload it in segments on their YouTube channel, so people could view it for free.
A lot of the juiciest material is up, so I'd like to draw everyone's attention to them. If you like Japanese games, and are interested in the history of games, they should be a real treat. If you like this material and want to see the third and final volume of the books published, consider picking up Volume 2 and spread these videos around.
Here are the videos in a semi-random order! For hardware I've mostly used the American names, but obviously NES/Famicom and TG16/PCE are swappable. Keep an eye on the HG101 channel in case newer videos come up.
A Visit to the Abandoned Hudson R&D Laboratory in Sapporo
The most popular video upload, documenting a visit to the old, now abandoned, Hudson laboratory on the outskirts of Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan. Lot's of cool research went on in that building, and it even featured a miniature train track. There's some footage of this in use from an old promo video. If you only watch one video from this selection, this is it.
Manabu Yamana (Dragon Quest III programmer)
Ever wondered how they actually made NES games? What kind of set-up they had, and computer equipment, and how it all looked? Here's a diagram from the lead programmer of Dragon Quest III.
Compile Design Documents - Guardian Legend, MUSHA, and Aleste Gaiden.
Ever wondered what the design documents for NES games looked like? Here's a detailed look at Guardian Legend on the NES (hybrid shmup with RPG bits), plus some arcade shooters. Be sure to pause and zoom in.
An Interview with Michitaka Tsuruta, creator of Bomb Jack and Solomon's Key
More design documents, this time for Solomon's Key, comparing the arcade and NES versions, plus NES puzzler Fire 'n' Ice.
An Interview with Enix programmer Toru Hidaka
Old-school programming for NEC's PC-88 computer series. We also dig down deep and look at the utilities which coders would make, allowing graphics artists to create detailed pixel art, musicians to convert sheet music into chiptunes, and map tools for laying out the stages. Quite a bit of demonstration footage. If you wondered how they made detailed pixel art in the mid-1980s, this is a cool showcase.
A Visit to Westone's Office and Meeting with Ryuichi Nishizawa and Kouichi Yotsui
Everyone knows and loves Westone and its Wonder Boy series. Here's a tour of their offices, before they sadly closed down.
A Visit to the BEEP Warehouse in Saitama
You know that scene in Indiana Jones, in the warehouse, with all the boxes? This is like that, but with videogames.
A rare look at the Data East Deco cassette tape arcade system
The Deco cassette system pioneered several firsts, and this is the last working model available to the public. A true piece of history, lovingly restored.
An Interview with Satoshi Nakai and Masayuki Suzuki (Success, NCS/Masaya)
Do you like big robots? Here's a chat with the creators of Assault Suits Leynos and Valken. Also some Code Veronica artwork, a unique system used by Taito for creating pixel art, parallax scrolling on TurboGrafx-16, and how to make pseudo-transparencies on it.
A chat with Hifumi Kono, Masaki Higuchi, Masatoshi Mitori of Human Entertainment
Ahh, Human Entertainment. The company which brought us a multitude of sports titles, and a selection of odd and unique titles. Three old colleagues sit on a couch and reminisce about the old days. Discussion on Septentrion / SOS for SNES, life at the company, Clock Tower (SNES), and also an interesting revelation regarding Nintendo's demand for Virtual Boy games, the rise of PlayStation, plus the decision to make Clock Tower 2.
An Interview with 8ing and developers from Compile and TechnoSoft
The creator of the original Herzog, predecessor to Herzog Zwei, describes some unreleased games he worked on. Also, Takayuki Hirono of Compile gives a detailed explanation of the differences between the sound capabilities of the NES and the TurboGrafx 16.
A Look at the Japanese Game Preservation Society
We need to preserve stuff, and we need to do it now.
An Interview with Yutaka Isokawa
Have you ever played Game Boy puzzler Catrap, or used Namco's NeGcon controller? This man worked on both.
A Look at Yuzo Koshiro's Studio
Many of Sega's early console titles were graced with the pumping techno sounds of Yuzo Koshiro. Here's a tour of his studio.
An Interview with Yoshiro Kimura
Moon, Rule of Rose, Chulip, Little King's Story - these are some of the games of Yoshiro Kimura, now a rising star of the indie scene.
Meeting with a Book Collector
Thousands and thousands of rare Japanese books related to games. Guide books, information books, any and all gaming books. Quite probably all of them.
Heisei 3rd Year (1991) Hudson Computer Designers School Graduation Album
This exceptionally rare item was created by students at Hudson's school for game designers. It was a sort of graduation project, and it features profiles of numerous Hudson staff, detailed (and sometimes embarrassing) personal information, and mini interviews with a lot of them.
Rock Paper Scissors with the Creator of Alex Kidd
A showdown against the mysterious and enigmatic creator of Alex Kidd (and the man behind the rock/papeer/scissors matches in the game).
Interview with Roy Ozaki and Kouichi Yotsui
We visit the home of Roy Ozaki, president of Mitchell Games. While there, the creator of Strider shows us his many design documents, some from unreleased games. Plus, lots, and lots, and lots of super rare, old photos from Capcom during the 1980s.
Listing for the sold out DVD, with time stamps.
00:00 - Roy Ozaki & Kouichi Yotsui
An introduction, gift giving, various awards received by Mitchell Corp. I show Mr Yotsui photos from an anonymous source at Capcom, various design documents for games, including some which were never developed
00:21 - A mountain ryokan I stayed in
00:23 - Visiting Westone
Walk up to the company office, a look inside, plus interview introductions and gift giving with Ryuichi Nishizawa and Kouichi Yotsui
00:31 - Cannon Dancer director's commentary
Strider creator Kouichi Yotsui plays through the first level of Cannon Dancer, with commentary
00:38 - Tour of TGS 2013
00:43 - BEEP Shop with Takayuki Komabayashi
A visit to a high-end retro store located in Saitama, which is more like a museum. Rare Enix games, Japan's first RPGs, Panorama Toh by Yoshio Kiya, the man behind Legacy of the Wizard. A brief look at adult-only games
01:06 - Visiting Keigo Matsubara
Still in Saitama, I visit a collector with nearly 14'000 videogame related books
01:25 - Deco Cassette in action
Data East's DECO Cassette arcade system is an almost forgotten relic. I visit a tiny arcade in Akihabara to play the last known working unit available to the public - includes a history of the unit and its significance, plus a look inside it!
01:34 - Flash Boy and Ninja
Gameplay footage of two of the rarest DECO cassette games - possibly two of the rarest games in the world. Both are unemulated. This is direct video capture after the games were saved from destruction by Japan's Game Preservation Society. Flash Boy in particular is important, because it sets several arcade precedents. You'll never guess the date it came out
01:36 - Michitaka Tsuruta
Creator of Bombjack explains the development of Solomon's Key, with original concept artwork!
01:40 - Sony's Indies Stream Party
01:42 - Yuzo Koshiro
A visit to the legendary composer. We check out his studio and a couple of doujin games he made - one of which was never made public
01:46 - Bare Knuckle 4
A concept video for the never developed Bare Knuckle 4 on Dreamcast, with a voice-over explaining what happened to it
01:49 - Professor Yoshihiro Kishimoto
Montage of the interview with Pr. Kishimoto, developer of Pac-Land, and programmer on Namco's Star Wars for Famicom
01:55:22 - END
BONUS: there are slideshows of photographs with music from Yuzo Koshiro, on both DVDs!
00:00 - Human Entertainment
Hifumi Kouno (Clock Tower), Masaki Higuchi (Virtual Boy), and Masatoshi Mitori (Septentrion) reminisce about Human Entertainment
00:05 - Toru Hidaka
Legendary Enix programmer. Created graphics, map, and audio utilities which in combination with his programming facilitated the creation of games. If you ever wondered how pixel art was made in the early 1980s, or how music ended up in games, this is for you
00:13 - Yutaka Isokawa
An introduction to the man behind the original Pitman, which became Catrap on the Game Boy. He was part of the NeGcon development team at Namco, and we dissect a NeGcon controller with his commentary
00:28 - Kobe, Kyoto, and Osaka
00:30 - Unreleased MSX game
Yuichi Toyama of Raizing/8ing sketches an unreleased MSX game he developed prior to joining TecnoSoft, called Grand Slam. Based on the Area 88 manga and influenced by Choplifter, it would influence his creation of Herzog
00:32 - PC Engine VS Famicom audio
Takayuki Hirono of Compile explains the differences between the sound capabilities of the PC Engine and Famicom. Psh-psh-psh-BOOM!
00:33 ~ 00:35
Full design documents for Guardian Legend,
MUSHA, and Aleste 2
00:35 - Taito's art & pixel tools
Masayuki Suzuki of Masaya/NCS describes a very unorthodox method of producing pixel art
00:40 - Satoshi Nakai
A look at some truly fantastic game art, from Assault Suits Valken, and RE: Code Veronica
00:42 - PC Engine parallax and transparency
Explanation by Masayuki Suzuki on how they achieved parallax-scrolling and transparencies on PCE, using Shubibinman 3 as an example
00:48 - Flying to Hokkaido
00:50 - Yasuhito Saito, his music on a wall
00:50:30 - Night driving around Sapporo!
00:52 - Night in a capsule hotel
00:53 - Hudson R&D
Visiting the abandoned Hudson laboratory on the outskirts of Sapporo. Detailed information on the lab and Hudson
01:00 - The Game Preservation Society
The stuff these guys get up to is incredible. Thousands of games in storage, almost a hundred computers on hand, and more tech than you even knew existed.
01:14 - The rarest PC Engine game on earth?
A world exclusive. You were never meant to see this. No one was. Developed at the Hudson Computer Designers School, it allows players to meet and speak with Hudson staff
01:16 - OutRun tapes
Before making OutRun, Yu Suzuki and Yoji Ishii went on an epic cross-continent road trip with a video camera, for research. We didn't have a player to view the footage, but I shot video of the tapes themselves...
01:20 - Famicom programming environment
Manabu Yamana, programmer on multiple Dragon Quest games, describes in detail the development environment at Chunsoft.
01:22 - Yoshiro Kimura
A walkthrough of the Love-de-Lic offices, the bespoke board game Potato Saga, and an exclusive viewing of Mr Kimura's artwork
01:29 - unreleased CBM game
A detailed look at an unreleased game by Hiroshi Suzuki, titled Dojin, with added commentary by Masakuni Mitsuhashi of Game Arts
01:34 - prototype model of MSX
01:38 - Rock, paper, scissors
I play janken with the creator of Alex Kidd, Kotaro Hayashida. Can you guess who won?
01:40 - Akihabara ~ Nakano Broadway
01:55 - Night photography