Unseen News

The Untold History of Japanese Video Game Developers book

The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers Book Gold Cover

Over the last few years, publications and books such as Retro Gamer Magazine and Atari Inc. tried to recount in detail the history of western video games. However, due to language and cultural differences, the origins of the Japanese gaming industry, if we exclude Pixel’n love books, most of which remain nonetheless available only in French, are still poorly documented.

Then again nothing seems to be impossible anymore in our crowdfunding age, and consequently, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, even a freelance journalist like John Szczepaniak, already a contributor of various magazines and websites among which the excellent Hardcore Gaming 101, had the chance to go in Japan to interview mostly unknown programmers, game designers, illustrators and musicians, active in that extraordinary video games period that were the eighties and  the nineties. The result is the first volume of The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers.

The Untold History of Japanese Video Game Developers book

From the very beginning it is evident that one of the big draws of the book are exclusive info about Japanese home computers from the eighties, platforms virtually unknown in the west but that were the first training ground for many newcomers in the gaming industry, who, economic and technical limitations notwithstanding, went to release many innovative or socially relevant games.

A very creative era, therefore, where even small software houses could create groundbreaking experiences such as Manbiki Shounen, the first stealth game (released November 1979) according to John Szczepaniak, or became the subject of parliamentary discussion with 177, a trashy eroge in which the goal was to chase and then rape a young woman .

This rough yet fascinating world is unfortunately on the verge of disappearance due to the extreme rarity of some titles and the fragility of the medium, typically floppy disks or tapes, on which they were originally published.

That’s why we find in the book an interview with the curator of the Game Preservation Society, an organization dedicated to catalogue and preserve, both in their original format and by making a digital copy, all the Japanese games released in the period that goes from the seventies to the nineties. Unfortunately, many old titles are already lost forever because nobody thought to archive them at the time.

The Untold History of Japanese Video Game Developers book

Doujin Games and Visual Novels are two other topics that historically had little coverage in the west, although in recent times, thanks to the advent of digital stores, the number of these games available in English is growing. Valuable from this point of view are thus the long conversation with ZUN, the creator of Touhou, an incredibly successful indie franchise, as well as the interview with Ryukishi07, who introduces us to the narrative techniques of Higurashi, a celebrated series of visual novels mostly known in the west for the eponymous anime.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t find in The Untold History of Japanese Videogames Developers new facts about more popular videogames. Suikoden fans, for example, will certainly appreciate the interview with the director of the first three chapters of the series, Yoshitaka Murayama, while SEGA long-time supporters can look forward to an in-depth overview of Yuzo Koshiro’s old works.

John Szczepaniak: Describe when and how you joined Konami.

Yoshitaka Murayama: I joined Konami as a new graduate in 1992 in the role of programmer. In my second year after joining the department, I was in was put in charge of creating games for Konami’s game machine and that’s when I got involved in game design. Since it was an extremely secret project inside of Konami, there were very few people involved. So even though I was close to being a new recruit, I was expected to play a very large role. The plan at first was for Konami’s game machine to be a console type and it was suggested that it have a card reader function to allow players to exchange data. The plan changed midway from a console type to a portable type game machine, and it was going to have 3D (polygon) functionality that was not common at the time.

More interestingly for Unseen64, John Szczepaniak also asked, when he could, about beta and unreleased games. This is just a incomplete list of what he discovered, confirmed or got further info in the book:

  • The Saturn version of Grandstream Saga;
  • A sketch of Soul Blazer 2;
  • Ys 3 wasn’t originally an Ys game;
  • The unreleased Namco console;
  • Bounty Arms, a cancelled Playstation game;
  • A photo of an unreleased game made by Yuzo Koshiro, Variant 7;
  • Amazing Island, a gamecube title originally started on saturn and later moved to dreamcast;
  • Street Fighter NES;
  • Unreleased Negcon Games;
  • Chulip original version;

Soul-Blader-2-concept

With 36 interviewees and more than 500 pages, The Untold History of Japanese Video Game Developers is a book full of previously unknown and interesting info for fans of retrogaming and obscure japanese developers. We are happy that many info on cancelled projects and facts about the development of some of our favorite games were preserved in this book, huge props to John for his work! If you don’t like to read, you can also check The Untold History of Japanese Video Game Developers DVD ;)

You can buy The Untold History of Japanese Video Game Developers in paperback and digital from (they will be on-sale untill the end of  December 2014):

  • Amazon.com: Paperback Silver (35.99$), Paperback Gold (44.99$) and Kindle digital (12.45$)
  • Amazon.co.uk: Paperback Silver (19.28£), Paperback Gold (26.33£) and Kindle Digital (9.31£)
  • Amazon.it: Paperback Silver (25.18 euro), Paperback Gold (31.70 euro) and Kindle Digital (9.99 euro)
  • Also available on all other Amazon sites. Please search for them directly!

Some video-reviews of The Untold History of Japanese Video Game Developers from Youtube:

 

Lufia & The Fortress of Doom [Genesis / Megadrive – Cancelled]

Lufia and the Fortress of Doom is a rpg developed by Neverland and released by Taito for SNES in 1993. A (north-american only?) port for Sega Genesis was supposed to be released in 1994, but it got delayed and Taito America eventually closed down in 1995.

However, in 2014, the western programmer that worked on the port leaked a tech demo, featuring just the title screen and a testing dungeon, of the Genesis version of Lufia on the internet. According to him, he had just six months to finish the project:

Well, one of the reasons it was cancelled was because they told me to complete the port in 6 months.. there was no way in hell I could have done it since all the original SNES code was fucking indecipherable and the Japan programmers weren’t any help..

lufia genesis

For more informations check the original opa-ages topic.

Images:

Videos:

 

The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers DVD

The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers DVD

While he was in Japan to interview some legendary gaming developers for his “The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers” book, John Szczepaniak also recorded many hours of footage about those meetings and his visits to some interesting japanese places related to videogames. Some of those recordings have been released in a 4-hours-long double DVD titled “The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers DVD”, in a limited edition of 500 copies, an interesting item dedicated to gaming collectors and fans of japanese developers, especially those from the early ‘80 and ‘90 (screenshots below from Retro Type).

The-Untold-History-of-Japanese-Game-Developers-DVD-japan

Along with some intriguing chats on old-school / obscure videogames in Japan and their preservation, visits to Akihabara and popular japanese gaming shops, an interview with one the best game designers that almost no one knows (Yoshiro Kimura), a quick look at the Tokyo Game Show and other more or less compelling materials, John was able to gather some exclusive info about various unreleased games and undeveloped pitch that remained unknown until now.  Here are some personal highlights:

An interview with Kouichi Yotsui (Background Artist and Game designer at Capcom for such classics as Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and Strider) and Roy Ozaki (Producer at Mitchell Corporation ) that show some design docs for unreleased games that were pitched in the ‘90 to Enix and Capcom.

The-Untold-History-of-Japanese-Game-Developers-DVD-games

An interview with Yukata Isokawa (creator of Pitman and Namco’s NeGcon controller) with some talks about an unreleased Namco Golf game planned for the original playstation, that would have used the NeGcon controller like a Wiimote.

An interview with Yūichi Toyama (Capcom, Sega, Technosoft, Sting) with some memories about Grand Slam, a cancelled action game inspired by Area 88 manga and Choplifter.

A visit to Keigo Matsubara’s HUGE gaming magazine / book preservation archive (check his website, in japanese). You could try to contact him if you have any questions about old japanese gaming magazines!

The-Untold-History-of-Japanese-Game-Developers-DVD-magazines

A visits to the Preservation Society, a group that tries to repair and save games that could be lost, especially old cartridges and games developed for old PCs that are not available anymore or not emulated. They even show a short game created by Hudson Design School as a test for internal use only.

An interview with Masatoshi Mitori, Masaki Higuchi and other developers talking about an unreleased game they worked on.

A quick look at the first MSX hardware prototype.

An interview with Yuzo Koshiro (music composer that worked on such classics as Streets of Rage, Ys, ActRaiser, Shinobi and much more) and his memories about the cancelled Street of Rage 4 that was pitched for the Dreamcast.

The-Untold-History-of-Japanese-Game-Developers-DVD-koshiro

While the audio and video quality are not the best (unfortunately the tripod for the camera used during the trip was broken before even being used), and some of the chapters could be of no interest for someone (there are some parts in which designers talk about their development hardware in japanese software houses in the early ‘90 and try to drawn them on a whiteboard) all those memories about previously unknown lost videogames and from the golden age of japanese gaming made me to love what i saw in this DVD.

Most of the topics discussed in the videos are just a taste of the full interviews and articles that you can read in “The Untold History of Japanese Game Developer” book, but if you are interested to see some of the creators of your favorite games from when you were a kid in the ‘80 and are fascinated by nerdy / otaku japanese lifestyle, you can buy “The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers DVD” from Hardcore Gaming 101 and it will go on sale (-10£ less) for Black Friday on the 28th of November!

 

Together on Patreon to support Unseen64!

Together on Patreon to support Unseen64!

There are already more than 3.000 unseen videogames saved in the Unseen64 archive, but so many others wait to be added. There are only a few active authors on the main U64 Staff: we face some difficulties to keep up with all the work and costs to run such an online museum of games we’ll never be allowed to play.

The server hosting Unseen64 and related technical support cost about 600$ per year. U64 is an independent site. No money is generated from our work so we must pay each and every server bill ourselves, with the help of a few awesome supporters. Years ago we had Google Adsense banners that helped a little to raise money to pay the server, but then Google banned us because we use to write about prototypes and rom-hacks, even if we don’t host those files on our server.

Big gaming networks like IGN or Kotaku have the power and the money to have a team to work full-time on their website, to publish daily updates. We don’t have their resources, but we have something better: we have you, a community of gamers that know why it’s important to archive beta and cancelled games.

Together we could make Unseen64 a better online museum for all those games that could be forgotten forever.

unseen64 on patreon

Patreon lets readers support their favorite websites by becoming patrons, giving a small donation every month through paypal / credit card. Unlike other fundraising services which raise lots of money for a single big event, Patreon is for creators who publish online a stream of smaller works, like website updates, articles, researches, and need just little money every month. Empowering a new generation of creators, Patreon is bringing patronage back to the 21st century.

Together on Patreon we can rise enough donations to pay the U64 server, and maybe we could even rise enough donations to pay our best contributors to quit some of their day-jobs and write more good articles, to publish books about lost games and consoles, deeper researches on lost videogames, create video insights, interviews with forgotten developers and much more.

Check our Patreon page to find out how you can help too!

Thanks to everyone that supported and continue to support U64 for all these years! Thanks a lot to 0r4 for his music that we used in this video and to Mark for his chiptune support! 

Demon’s Crest [Beta – SNES]

Demon’s Crest is a 2D action game developed by Capcom and originally published in 1994 for the Super Nintendo. As we can read on Wikipedia, this is the 3° game starring Firebrand (an enemy character from the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series), following Gargoyle’s Quest and Gargoyle’s Quest II. Thanks to Casey Strange we were able to note some minor beta differences in the some screens published in old magazines.

demon's crest beta

In the screenshot the earth gargoyle has a slightly different sprite. The color is a bit darker but it could be because of the magazine. The enemies in the first beta level were different as seen in this preview video of a sample Demon’s Crest demo for retailers.

There were two Demon’s Crest prototype sample cards on eBay and one japanese beta version was leaked some time ago, you can find the download in this nice anonymous Tumblr, thanks to Casey for the share! This ROM dump of the Japanese sample / beta game looks more like the final game compared to the video, but maybe with the help of our friends at TCRF it would be possible to find some interesting unused stuff hidden in the beta code.

In this beta you start the game with all 5 talismans and four of the crests. This is different compared to the final version. The game stops after the second battle with Arma in stage four and you are greeted with this screen.

demon's crest beta

Armageddon Potato noted:

After doing some comparisons there is a large chunk of blank data in the retail rom at the very begining (which was also dumped by a SUPERUFO apparently as it’s tagged in the header.) After that the prototype is indentical the final minus the size differences. I wouldn’t expect any changes in the prototype then. […]

I landed up getting a cleaner rom rip. One without the SUPERUFO header which may have been causing the blank space problem(since that makes no sense!) It does appear to have some differences, although they may be possibly minor. Once I get some solid free time I’m going to have to play though both the retail game, and the prototype. I need to know exactly where the game lock you from the later levels in the prototype, and possibly pictures/screenshots of where this happens.

If you notice more beta differences from Demon’s Crest, let us know in the comments below!

Thanks to Casey Strange and MicroChirp for the contributions!

Images: