Let’s Make a Retro Compilation!

Hey! Did you see the MegaDrive/Genesis Mini at SegaFes this year?

Well, unless you were in Akihabara, I doubt you saw it in person, but the initial reveal was broadcast live on Sega’s YouTube channel. And while they haven’t announced the entire games lineup yet, what’s included is very interesting! Sonic 2 and Shining Force are gimmes, but stuff like Madou Monogatari, Vampire Killer/Castlevania Bloodlines, and Wrestleball — Wrestleball! — make me feel like this’ll be the first of the mini-consoles that I actually buy.

Of course, they announced the US version too, along with a bunch of its games, and… well, the lineup is considerable less exciting, in my opinion. Are there still people out there who regard Altered Beast as anything besides a gay-subtext-laden exercise in camp with miserable gameplay? And seriously, how many of the people potentially buying this thing would have even finished Ecco the Dolphin?

Then again, we still haven’t seen the full lineup of either platform, so perhaps it’s too early to judge. Still, from the early look, the Japanese MegaDrive Mini is a lot more in line with my tastes.

Of course, the MegaDrive Mini is the latest in a flood of mini-consoles that began with the NES classic: tiny little plug-and-play replicas of the classic systems with a curated selection of games that represents the platform’s history. Nintendo, SNK, and Sony have all released mini-consoles of this nature, to varying degrees of success. (You can’t seem to give away PlayStation Classics at this point.) After eeing the stumbles others have had — and having licensed out a fair few MD games to cheap plug-and-play manufacturers, to often poor results — Sega’s decided to take their time with the MD Mini. Good for them, and good for us Sega fans!

However, this all got me thinking. Retro compilations are a tricky beast: Most companies are content to just slap as many ROMs as they can on a disc, quality and adaptability be damned, often without really testing or adjusting anything. Remember how Xybots has a completely unmapped button in Midway Arcade Treasures 2, rendering it unplayable? Remember how Microsoft was so desperate for GameRoom content that they offered Atari 2600 Venetian Blinds, which is literally a game where venetian blinds open and close?)

They charged Microsoft Funbux for this

Making a retro compilation is easy. Making a good retro compilation takes a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and effort. Part of the reason why the NES and SNES Classics sold gangbusters was that they picked a whole mess of good, representative games for them!

But you don’t really understand how hard making something like a classic compilation is until you try to do it yourself. When it comes to picking a game lineup (to say nothing of actually doing the emulation work), there’s a lot of factors to take into consideration.

So you know what? Let’s give it a shot.

I’m going to take my all-time favorite console — the Sega Saturn — and try and pick a selection of games that not only have broad commercial appeal, but represent what made the Saturn special compared to all of the other consoles of the mid-late 90s.

So let’s do this, folks. We’re going to make a (totally theoretical) Sega Saturn Classic!

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Interview: Takashi Tateishi, Composer at Capcom and Sound Producer at Konami

I once again attended MAGfest this year, and had a wonderful time presenting panels alongside LordBBH. (Check out the videos of our panels!) My good friends from Brave Wave Productions were also in attendance, and this year they brought Takashi Tateishi as a guest. Tateishi-san has had quite an interesting career: working on one of the most beloved soundtracks ever in Megaman 2, lending his composition skills to cult favorites at Takeru, and doing a whole mess of sound work at Konami in the late 90s. I’m extremely happy to have had the chance to sit down and chat with him about his career. Read on for some interesting anecdotes about early game music development… and also learn about the rarest official Megaman music release of all time.

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The Curse of CONTENT

Man, 2018 was quite a year for games, wasn’t it? Of course, it felt like everything amazing got overshadowed by The Cowboy Game coming out at the tail end of the year. You know, the game where if you dare to say anything slightly negative about it, a horde of people was come in and shit up your comments and Twitter mentions.

I mean, clearly the game is amazing, right? After all, no other game this year had as much CONTENT as Cowboy Game. A huge, explorable world! Numerous player and NPC interactions! Realistic horse testicles that some poor graphics rigger in crunch time likely had to miss his daughter’s birthday party to create!

But it’s like… whenever I hear someone I know talk about Cowboy Game, they never seem to be having that much fun with it. They want to play it because it’s the current gaming zeitgeist, but when they talk about doing stuff in the game, it’s never with the sort of excited fervor you hear when someone is describing something they are really, truly passionate about. It just feels like they’re experiencing The Game With the Most CONTENT because that’s what you’re supposed to do unless you want your gamer cred to be shot. Sometimes I wonder if all the vocal fans are genuinely enjoying that game, or convincing themselves that they are (and posting incessantly about it) because they feel like they have to.

CONTENT, in all caps, is what I think of when you’ve got a game that just has a lot of stuff in it for no reason other than to make the game bigger, longer, more epic!!!1! Open world games are often the ones that feel the most CONTENT bloat, but they’re certainly not the only ones: we’ve all played a JRPG that went way overboard with the sidequests, an action game with levels that are pure padding, and tacked-on systems like crafting, levelling, and skill trees in games that don’t really need them. CONTENT is, theoretically, supposed to keep you engaged, but often does the opposite: it wears you down, leaves you longing to get back to the fun parts, and can even make you feel spiteful towards a game for wasting your time with unsatisfying, superfluous empty bullshit.

So folks, let’s talk a bit about CONTENT, why it’s present in games, and how games can be better about giving the player a lot of stuff.

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Doing the Doujinshi Thing, Part 1: Getting it Off the Ground

Where did this wacky idea of mine to go into doujinshi publishing germinate, exactly?

Let’s start by going back a bit, to around the mid-90s or so. I was in my teens, obsessed with anime and things like Virtua Fighter and Final Fantasy VI, and loved writing stories and doing drawings about the games and shows I was a fan of. Unfortunately, I lived in the American Midwest and was surrounded by people who could not give less of a rat’s ass about the weird games I did, so I wound up keeping all of the stories and doodles to myself. The internet is really just starting to become a thing, so it gave me a bit of an outlet to meet and talk with other people who like the same sort of games and media I did… but since it was still just building steam, it was pretty limited.

Oh, what I wouldn’t have given to be able to talk and share my creations with others! Clearly, there must have been some folks out there who would love to hear me tell them the stories I had in my head about Virtua Fighter characters.

It’s around this time that, somewhere — I forget where, exactly — I encountered an article describing doujinshi and doujinshi subculture. Upon reading it, I was in complete awe. The article — complete with pictures — described a convention where people went to sell and buy their own stories and comics about their favorite anime, manga, and games. The pictures showed so many things that I longed for: photos of fan comics based on Virtua Fighter and SNK fighting games, people dressed as characters from Final Fantasy and Darkstalkers, stalls lined with artists showcasing their work.

Reading this article was revelatory to me. What it described was something I desperately, desperately longed for. A place where many people came together to trade fan work about the media they loved… it sounded like something out of a dream to a lonely girl in the Midwest who wished she could share her creations with others who liked the same nerdy stuff she did. But such a magical place was far across the ocean, seemingly forever out of reach to me. For years, it felt like I would never be able to see what these doujinshi conventions were like.

I did, however, continue to do research on the world of doujinshi, and what I discovered fascinated me. I was able to obtain a few books — some through resellers on places like eBay, others through a few friends in Japan I had made contact with — and seeing other people’s creations based on games and characters I loved felt nothing short of wonderful.

Eventually, however, I did manage to make my way over to Japan in 2002. It was that year when I attended Comic Market for the first time. I’d heard of Comic Market talked about as the king of all doujinshi events, and I knew that if I wanted to finally see what these gatherings were all about, I’d have to go myself. What I experienced exceeded all of the expectations I had. This was a place free of shame and stigma where I could meet others who loved the same sort of stuff I did, where I could form a personal connection with a creator by buying physical copies of their work, where I could find crazy, wonderful things that I never imagined. I came out of that Comiket absolutely exhausted and having spent far too much money, but my god, I had never felt that sense of belonging and the freedom to be my profoundly nerdy self so intensely before.

That’s when I absolutely knew that, somehow, I wanted to engage in the creation of doujinshi myself. It took 16 more years for it to happen, but after years of attending events, buying books, and forming connections with other creators, I finally achieved a lifelong dream.

But, dear reader, I know I’m not the only person who feels this way about Japan’s fascinating and wonderful doujin subculture. I know that there are others who, like me, long to participate in this scene. And to help those folks out, I’m going to talk about my experience of doujinshi creation — and try to advise you on how to set foot into your own self-publishing endeavors while doing so.

Step 1: Deciding what the hell you want to do

The first thing you need to do when making doujin is figure out what it is you want to make. Which can be just about anything — you can base it off of an existing property (provided the owners aren’t unusually litigious), write original comics or stories, make informative books or self-published reference guides… the doujin world is your oyster! It doesn’t matter if it has a logical reason for existing or not, what matters is that it’s something you care deeply about and want to share with the world.

For some people, deciding on a subject is really easy. Do you have an OTP you draw every day, maintain a tumblr art archive for, and want to sell a book of your comics of them smooching overseas? Cool, there’s your doujin, move on to step 2. If you’re like me, however, and you have a whole mess of different obscure interests… well, narrowing things down a bit more difficult!

I’ve been thinking about doing doujinshi of my own for over a decade and a half now, and the subjects and ideas I’ve had have changed constantly over the years. I’ve wanted to do something about Vanessa from Virtua Figher (still do, in fact), something about Fighting Vipers, books where I talk about my favorite male and female game characters, books about various obscure retrogames…

So how’d I eventually settle on a subject? Well, when I was in Japan over the 2016-2017 New Year, I met with my friend Pin, another doujinshi creator who compiles amazing books about important titles from Japan’s gaming history. I’d just finished my Raimais article, ran it at Arcade Superplay Expo, and acquired the PCB from a store in Osaka, so Raimais was very much on my mind. Over dinner, I had a thought come to me, which I promptly blurted out:

“You know… I think I’d really like to make a Raimais doujinshi.”

And that was the spark. In a sudden burst of thought, I’d managed to settle on what would be the subject of my first doujinshi. Of course, I still had a lot of work ahead of me to actually make it a reality.

Step 2: Figuring out how you’re going to make this happen

Congratulations, you’ve figured out the subject of your book! Now, you want to stop and make a preliminary plan of what your book is going to be like. There’s a lot to consider here!

  • Is it a comic? An illustration collection? An informative book?
  • Will it be black and white? Color? A bit of both?
  • Are you going to be the sole artist and/or writer, or will others be involved?
  • How big of a book do you want this to be, both in terms of physical size and number of pages?
  • Do you want any cute extras for the book, like a fancy-schmancy cover or some sort of insert?

I’ll go into more detail about choosing various print options when we get to the next part of this article, where we’ll discuss getting the book printed. For now, just make a general plan of what you want to do. This plan isn’t a permanent thing, but just a general idea of the sort of creation you want to make. Keep in mind that, as things progress, your plan will probably change, as they did for me.

Initially, my plans for the Raimais book were quite grandiose. I’d seen doujin by my friends Pin and Zekuu, two folks who go into some amazingly detailed research about fascinating retrogaming subjects and bind it all in gigantic, 100+ page books. I’d seen guidebooks from Mind Maker, who published some very detailed guidebooks about games like Strider Hiryu and The Ninja Warriors. I wanted to make a book that combined a guide and a deep dig into the material, discussing everything I’d found in my research on the game, along with an overview of all of the game’s stages, and some guest art of the game’s characters.

I eventually came to realize, however, that this would be a tremendous undertaking. Carefully playing through and documenting strategies for 120-some levels, even with the custom stage-analyzing tool I had1, was going to take quite a long time in-between my normal work obligations, I’d have to write a lot of stuff for the guide in Japanese, and I’d need to rope a translator friend in to help proofread and edit the Japanese since it’s a second language and I’m prone to mistakes. This was starting to look less and less feasible.

Thinking about it further, doing a big, ambitious book as my first venture into the world of doujinshi publishing… well, it just felt like it wasn’t the best idea. I’d need a lot of money upfront for printing, I wouldn’t know how much of an audience it would attract, and a project of that size has a lot more that could potentially go wrong. However, Raimais’s 30th anniversary was approaching, and dangit, I felt like I had to make something for it, even if it wasn’t the big thing I had originally envisioned.

I eventually made the decision to heavily cut down my original concept: the guide and analysis weren’t going to happen. Maybe I’d save them for something to come in the future if this project was successful, but for now, I was going to focus on putting together an illustration book instead. It’d be an anthology, and I’d get together several artists to contribute work based on the game. I already had contact with a few folks I wanted to work with for commission stuff, so I figured approaching them for potential doujinshi publication would likely work out well. That seemed like a good head start!

Step 3: Figuring out when and where you’re going to try and sell your doujin

Planning a doujinshi — especially a doujinshi with numerous contributors — takes time. You’ll want to give yourself some breathing room to work on the book before it goes to print, so now’s a good time to look at various doujinshi events and figure out where you would like to debut your work. You’ll want to find an event relevant to the subject matter you’re focusing on that’s at least a few months away.

Most doujinshi make their debut at some sort of doujinshi event. There are hundreds of these events, usually a few every week, at different locations across Japan. Some, like Comic Market and the various Comic City events, are more general in what sort of subject matter you can exhibit. Other doujin events tend to have some sort of theme, ranging from more general, to more specific, to very specific.

For example, there are events focused on Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure doujinshi, but there are other JJBA events focused on certain parts of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (i.e. Part 3: Stardust Crusaders), and then you might have a very specific JJBA event that’s all about doujinshi involving Jotaro and Kakyoin smooching. (This sort of specificity is one of those wonderful quirks I love about the doujin scene.) Depending on how popular the subject matter is, these sort of events can range from small little gatherings to very big events. Take a peek over at ketto.com, a Japanese site that lists numerous current and upcoming doujinshi events, to get an idea of the amazing variety of these gatherings.

The small-to-mid-size themed events make for great places for first-time doujinshi sellers to cut their teeth and start building a name for themselves among peers with the same interests. See, when people dream of selling at a doujinshi event, their mind usually goes straight to fantasties of hawking books at Comic Market to the unimaginably huge horde of nerds that go there twice yearly. But as big a deal as Comic Market is, you probably don’t want to make it your first selling event, for several reasons:

  • It’s really big, crowded, and stressful, which — if you’re new to this whole publishing and selling thing — can make your anxieties a lot worse.
  • The odds of you getting in aren’t as good as a smaller event. There’s a sort-of-lottery every Comiket to figure out which of the circles applying actually get picked to exhibit, and its inner workings are a complete mystery. Even big, well-known circles and artists fall victim to the whims of Comic Market RNG every so often.
  • You’ve got the Steam problem of having to fight to be noticed within an extremely crowded marketplace. If you’re selling stuff based on something big and popular, you’re going to struggle to get noticed among the many, many other people who are doing work based on the same thing. If you’re doing something more obscure… well, you still have to compete with the big blocks of more popular stuff. Best hope somebody took the time to notice your tiny little circle cut in the catalog buried among the other obscure-media circles.

So yeah, Comiket is wonderful, but a smaller event is likely a better place to start your doujinshi career. Less stressful, less struggling for attention, and a better environment to interact with customers and other folks who share your interests.

As I was planning for the book, I had an event in mind I wanted to debut it at: Game Legend, a doujin event in Tokyo that focuses primarily on retrogaming-based creations. This seemed like the ideal place to offer up a book about a 30-year-old Taito game: they might see a Raimais-themed book and say, “Holy crap, Raimais! I loved that game! I can’t believe there’s a doujinshi about it!” It was held twice yearly, in May and November: May is usually an expensive month to travel to Japan (and a fairly busy work month), so I planned to try and offer the book at the November event.

It’s probably a good idea to contact a few artists/authors you’d like to have contribute at this point in planning to let them know what you’re planning on doing. A lot of artists can have pretty harsh schedules, so getting an advance commitment can be a big help. At the early stages of planning, I knew I wanted Nina Matsumoto and Nemi to do something for the doujin. I also knew they were exceptionally busy, so I asked well in advance if they’d be able to find room in their schedules for a contribution to the book.

Alright then, that’s our initial preparation down. Now it’s time to apply to the event, work on planning the book out further, and research how to get our stuff printed. Stay tuned for Part 2!

  1. Thanks Jed!

Adventures in Doujin Land: How I Self-Published a Book About an Incredibly Obscure Video Game at a Japanese Convention (and so can you!)

It’s been quiet here lately, I’m afraid. It’s due to a combination of things: one is that I have been having some health issues as of late. Nothing too serious, thankfully, but still enough to put a dent in my activity. I have some surgery scheduled for early December so it should be taken care of soon.

The other thing that’s been eating up my time, if you’ve paid attention to my Twitter or Patreon feeds, is that I published a book. A doujinshi, to be precise.

Yes, I finally turned my decades-long dream of doujin publishing into a reality! Some people want to write gaming books to sell on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but me? I want to sell directly to my core audience: the hugest nerds on Planet Earth who absolutely love obscure stuff, and that’s exactly what Japan’s doujinshi scene offers. If you can dream it, you can sell it.

But how did this go from pipe-dream to reality? Well, it was a long and interesting journey, that’s for sure. But I know I’m not the only Westerner with Japanese doujin dreams, so I’d like to share my adventure so that others may learn from it and embark on their own self-publishing endeavors.

Part 1: Getting the idea off the ground

Part 2: Printing a book overseas (Coming soon!)

Part 3: The Game Legend experience

Every Classic Sonic Special Stage, reviewed

Hey, I reviewed Sonic Mania Plus recently! Some people seemed to take issue with the fact that I said the new content was a bit of a letdown — which I think more people might be inclined to agree with now that the game’s out. I mean, the team had the opportunity to put the Love Tester back into Studiopolis and they didn’t. I had to dock a point immediately right there. (It’s a joke, people.)

But some folks seemed unusually incensed that I said the special stages were bad. I don’t know why this point in particular seemed to get folks all in a huff, because… well, yeah, Sonic Mania special stages are pretty miserable. They’re absolutely the weak link in an otherwise spectacular game, and having to play more of them was not a fun prospect, made worse by the fact that the special stage rings are still a royal pain in the ass to find (and farm in postgame).

Here’s the thing, though. I’ve played a lot of classic Sonic. I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time in these games’ special stages. I think I have a pretty damn good idea of what makes for a fun Sonic special stage. And, my friends, Sonic Mania’s special stages are absolutely not fun, especially in comparison to some of the other great special stages Sonic has offered us.

So, readers, I would like to once again present you with a painstakingly compiled list of mini-reviews. This time, we’re not reviewing games, but games within games. We’re going to be looking at all of the classic Sonic series special stages1 and evaluating each type… and maybe tell a fun story or two of youthful obsession.

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  1. Except the SMS/Game Gear stuff. Those games aren’t very good, I didn’t own a Game Gear/SMS, and I don’t care.

Konami versus the fans of Tokimeki Memorial: A Legal History

Hey, did you hear about the PUBG vs Fortnite legal case getting withdrawn? Boy, that thing was a complete disaster, huh? But ours is an industry filled with legal shenanigans… many of which, like Capcom v. Data East, Silicon Knights v. Epic, and now this, have ended disastrously for the plaintiffs.

However, it’s not always like this. We only really see these cases from a Western perspective — and, indeed, many of the most important legal cases in gaming, like the infamous Tetris debacle, were decided in US court. But there have also been plenty of legal issues surrounding games in Japan — see the recent spate of game bar closures — and one Japanese company is quite notorious for its use of litigation.

Long before #FucKonami was a trending hashtag, long before Western music game fans and developers cowered in fear of Konami’s legal threats, there were incidents in Japan involving one of Konami’s most popular (at the time) game franchises. These incidents earned Konami a great deal of notoriety among game fans in Japan as a litigation-happy tiger of a company that would happily devour its own fanbase. Somehow, though, these stories never drifted overseas, likely because the game involved was seen by the west as “some weird Japanese dating sim thing” that was of little interest or importance.

It’s time to change that. It’s time to take a look at Konami’s legal actions against one of its most fervent fanbases. Let’s examine Konami’s legal battle against Tokimeki Memorial fandom.

Before we start, perhaps it’s best to talk a bit about what Tokimeki Memorial (frequently abbreviated as Tokimemo) was, and why it was such a big deal.

Tokimemo is considered to be one of the defining “Gal-ge,” or games centered around fostering and nuturing a relationship with one of several eligible virtual women. In this game, you play as a high school boy going through the school year, meeting various girls and finding one you eventually want to win over. By paying attention to the girl’s likes and what she wants in a partner, you budget your time and raise stats to become more appealing. You also have to make sure not to annoy any of the other girls, because they’re catty bitches who will spread damaging rumors about you. Eventually, you’ll reach the end of the school year, where one of the girls — hopefully, the one you were aiming for — confesses her love for you under the tree of legend.

(If you want a slightly more in-depth and fun look at the gameplay, I’d highly recommend the Game Center CX episode centered around the game.)

Tokimeki Memorial did well when it debuted on the PC Engine CD in 1994, but it was the eventual enhanced ports to PlayStation and Saturn that really made the game blow up in popularity. Shiori Fujisaki, the pink-haired girl-next-door archetype on the PS and Saturn covers, became an instantly recognizable face across all of gaming. Konami had a huge hit on their hands, and merchandised the everloving hell out of it: to this day, you can wander into any Japanese secondhand stuff store and likely find various Tokimemo knickknacks.

Of course, with a hit game comes sequels and spinoffs, and they were numerous. The first sequel, Tokimeki Memorial 2, was a huge game spread across five CDs, and is widely considered the best in the franchise in terms of gameplay and presentation… yet it didn’t stick around in gamers’ hearts like the first game did. A disastrous move to 3D visuals on PS3 with Tokimemo 3 upset many, and Konami opted to focus instead on the growing otome market with Tokimeki Memorial Girls’ Side, which had you playing as a girl trying to impress a bevy of hot dudes. The last Tokimeki Memorial game, Tokimeki Memorial 4, released on PSP in 2009, and its very existence seemed like a surprise to many.

(A fun fact shared to me by my late friend Andrew Fitch — who formerly worked at Konami’s US branch — was that the weird PSP game Brooktown High was meant as a testbed to see if an “American Tokimemo” would work. We miss you, Andrew.)

Since then, Konami hasn’t done much with the series, aside from putting out the occasional bit of Girls’ Side content. Love Plus on the 3DS was seen by many as an evolution of the game’s concepts, though Konami basically destroyed that series as well. Currently, there’s a game called “Tokimeki Idol” on smartphones that looks like a really bad attempt to cash in on the Idolm@ster/Love Live! wave by using scraps of an old IP. The decline of Tokimemo itself is worthy of its own article, as it’s due to a variety of factors, but one thing that may have played a part was Konami’s antagonism of its own fanbase through legal means. Such as… Continue reading

The Amazing, Unrecognized World of Japanese Arcade Quiz Games

Quiz games. They’re one of the most basic forms of game out there, going a long, long way back to the days of game shows on radio and television, persisting to this very day. They’ve also been a part of videogaming from the early days: as soon as ROM chips could feasibly hold a decent amount of text, quiz games started to appear in arcades and on consoles.

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Nowadays, when you think of arcade quiz games, you probably think of something like the multiplayer setups you see at trivia nights in a local bar. This is the direction Western quiz games evolved in: they never really eschewed a game-show/board-game style format, and evolved to implement either real-money gambling mechanics or large-scale multiplayer, competitive functionality.

AdventureQuiz

In Japan, however, things played out very differently. Arcade quiz games started to appear there in the mid-late 80s, through companies like Sega and Nichibutsu. As the 90s came along, a renaissance of quiz-game development created a unique, fascinating genre with an abundance of different thematic elements.

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The genre first saw significant advancement through games like Adventure Quiz: Capcom World, a trivia game loaded with 80s Capcom fanservice, and Mitchell’s Quiz Sangokushi, which melded the question-and-answer format with strategic, territory-conquering gameplay. These games utilized elements of visual novels and strategy games to make the quiz experience more appealing and engaging. Other games put quiz elements into fun new genres: Taito’s Quiz Chikyuu Boueigun (“Quiz Earth Defense Force,” no relation to the current Earth Defense Force games by D3 Publisher) has you saving the planet in a story that’s chock-full of classic sci-fi parodies, while SNK’s Quiz Daisousasen (“Quiz Big Criminal Investigation”) is a detective story that morphs into a weird sci-fi/horror thing at the end. You still had game-show style quiz games too, but they were quickly losing ground to more ambitious efforts.

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In some cases, publishers adapted existing properties but added a quiz-game twist, hoping the familiar name would draw in customers. This is how we got games like Saurus’s Quiz King of Fighters and Taito’s Quiz HQ, which combined existing game properties with a quiz-game element. As time passed, however, more and more experimentation happened. The mid-late 90s were really a golden age for arcade quiz games, resulting in a stunning variety of thematic and gameplay genres mixing in with traditional quiz elements.

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Interestingly, quiz games tend to be very lengthy, sometimes taking an hour or more to complete from start to finish… which, in theory, goes against the short, focused play experiences arcades want to offer. You want to get people off that machine as quickly as possible, right? However, with these new thematic ideas, players became more committed to seeing the games through to the end. It doesn’t hurt as much to abandon a gameshow you feel like you’re not doing well in, but when you’re in the middle of a story about saving the universe? Hell yes you’re going to brute-force your way through with yen! Add a second player into the mix and watch earnings double!

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Unfortunately, most the appeal of these games is lost on the West. Japanese quiz games might be the most culturally impenetrable games out there: not only do you have to be fluent in the language, you also have to be fluent in a variety of cultural elements. Sure, you might know the multiple readings of thousands and thousands of kanji, but unless you lived in Japan during the early 1990s and remember which popular talent of the time appeared in a specific ad campaign, you’re probably not going to get very far. That is, unless you cheat. Thankfully, emulating most of these games allows you to cheat through the quiz portions, making the games somewhat more accessible… though it does result in the game losing a big part of its inherent charm. (Plus, even if you do cheat, if you don’t speak the language you can find yourself making very poor choices.)

You don’t hear a lot about quiz games nowadays — the genre saw a sharp decline in development and interest after the 1990s. Currently, the big name (and basically the only name) in Japanese quiz games is Konami’s Harry Potter-inspired Quiz Magic Academy, which has a new arcade version releasing soon (along with a mobile version that is no doubt raking in plenty of money). Right now, it’s practically the only arcade quiz game in town, unless your local game center has an older game installed in a cabinet somewhere.

But where does someone who doesn’t know anything about Japanese arcade quiz games go to get a good sampling of what the genre has to offer? Well, that’s why I’ve taken the time to write this. Today, we’re going to take a look at some noteworthy Japanese-style arcade quiz games: One that, against all odds, got a localized release, and three others that showcase some very interesting experiences. Continue reading

INTERVIEW: Hideo Yoshizawa and Keiji Yamagishi

Few games are as fondly remembered by NES kids as the Ninja Gaiden Trilogy. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these games put the small publisher Tecmo on the map and set a high bar for many action games going forward. Of course, part of the reson why these games were so good was the talented staff behind their production, which included director Hideo Yoshizawa and composer Keiji Yamagishi. But their exemplary work in games continues far beyond the adventures of Ryu Hayabusa: Yoshizawa has helped in the creation of fan favorites like Klonoa and Mr. Driller, while Yamagishi is involved with game music production company Brave Wave.

I was given the opportunity to interview both Yoshizawa and Yamagishi at MAGfest 2018, and was eager to get some insight on the creation of these games. I was joined in this interview by the wonderful Jonathan Wheeler, alias ProtonJon, who is one of the biggest classic Ninja Gaiden fans I know. (His questions are notated by italics.) Read on to learn plenty of surprising details about the origins of some of the most beloved games of all time (and a few notable obscurities)! (I also suggest watching the official panel they had at MAGfest, too!)

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Game Music Highlight: Neon-FM

Hello, folks. It’s been a while! I’ve been chronicling some of the issues we’ve been facing here on gaming.moe over the past couple months over on Patreon and a bit on Twitter, but we’re almost, almost in the clear now! Older pieces may be looking strange for a while until I get all the kinks ironed out, but thus far, our move to a different image server is going well. Nothing can put a stop to true gaming love. Nothing!

I have a ton of stuff in the backlog that I’m going to trickle out over the next couple weeks (including one fantastic interview I’m super hyped for), but I feel like the best way to get the ball rolling again is with the kind of utterly weird stuff this site is (somewhat) known for. Brace yourselves, folks — this one’s a doozy.

neonfm-indiedb-box

The other day, I was chatting with LordBBH about videogaming stuff, as I tend to do. I forget what the subject we were originally on was, but eventually conversation turned to a particular song from a music game called NeonFM.

I actually wasn’t aware of NeonFM until BBH told me about it, but as I’m prone to do once some random game catches my interest, I began to research the hell out of this thing. As it turns out, NeonFM is game with a long and interesting history. See, back in the early 2000s, hype for all things Bemani was at a fever pitch and arcades were overrun with groups of players who loitered around to play whatever versions of Dance Dance Revolution and Pump It Up were available to them. Dance Dance Revolution was the game that would help keep arcades on life support for a few more years: it was a tremendous hit in North America and drove a lot of interest in early music games, even inspiring people to import other Bemani titles that hadn’t been released Stateside.

There was a lull, however, between 2002 and 2006, with no new versions of DDR hitting arcades as Konami’s Bemani team focused on games that were doing better in their Asian markets: Pop’n Music, Beatmania IIDX, and GuitarFreaks/DrumMania.  Seeing an opening in the market for a new arcade dance game, a group of rhythm game fans got together under the name Pop’nko (later changed to Unit-e Technologies), planned out a new dance game called NeonFM, and attracted investors and distributors to help finance and manufacture the game.

Of course, you can’t have a music game without music, can you? Well, the NeonFM team had a few connections throughout the rhythm game community, and they managed to put together a bunch of original songs to feature in the game. There’s one song in particular, however, that I think deserves to be highlighted, because its very existence baffles me.

I’m warning you now, readers: there’s no going back from this point.

If you’re prepared to experience real music gaming tunes, then click below.

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