Interview: Robert Jerauld, former producer at Enix USA

Before there was Square-Enix, there was Square and there was Enix, two Japanese publishing houses well known for their RPG output. During the heyday of the SNES, both companies had a US presence based out of Redmond, Washington, where they published some of the most beloved games of those eras. The inner workings of Enix USA during that time, however, have always been the subject of much rumor and fan speculation. What happened to localizations of Dragon Quest V and VI, Enix’s flagship franchise? Why did Nintendo publish Illusion of Gaia? And how did King Arthur and the Knights of Justice wind up the way it did? Is there really an Ark of the Covenant? Will we ever find Noah’s Ark? Where exactly is Atlantis and did Amelia Earhart land there? Are we alone in the Universe…

Ahem. I had the opportunity to talk to Robert Jerauld, producer during the first incarnation of Enix USA on all titles titles throughout the NES/SNES’s life. Robert’s early career trajectory took him from working as a Nintendo Game Counselor to working many roles on some of the most beloved games on the platform. Robert continues to work in the game industry to this day – he is currently an Executive Producer at Microsoft Game Studios, with credits on games like Zoo Tycoon, Gears of War, and Alan Wake. I am incredibly thankful and excited that Robert took the time to talk about his experience at Enix USA with us. Read on for a fascinating look of what Robert’s time at Enix USA was like!

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Play it Again for the First Time: Buster’s Hidden Treasure (Konami, MegaDrive, 1993)

An experience I think many have had is revisiting a game that we had memories of playing in our youth. While we all had those games that we had essentially memorized – I know stuff like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Sonic 2 so well that the ten-year-old me in my head gets actively angry when I see people not taking bonus-optimized paths through them – there are others where the memories are a little more vague. We enjoyed them at the time, but we’ve essentially forgotten the vast majority of the experience, to the point where replaying the games is like enjoying something completely new. Sometimes it’s a harsh lesson in reality, as you find out that game from your youth was utter garbage you liked because you were young, dumb and ate up anything with your favorite characters on the box. Other times, you find yourself rediscovering what you enjoyed so much, and perhaps even appreciating these titles in a brand new way through the eyes of experience.

So there’s a series of podcasts and media under the collective banner of Laser Time that I’m fond of. Most of the folks doing shows and articles there are previous or current employees of Future Publishing (whom I’ve done a fair bit of professional work for), who run the show as a way to talk about interesting pop-culture things and their own subjects of interest with friends they came to connect with through work. Laser Time manager Chris Antista recently did some stuff about Tiny Toon Adventures videogames, highlighting the many titles Konami (and others) published with the license. Among them is the Genesis/MegaDrive entry, Buster’s Hidden Treasure.

Buster’s Hidden Treasure was actually among the first games I got for the Genesis, and I remember spending way too much time defending it against my SNES-owning friends who insisted on the superiority of Buster Busts Loose as a game. It wasn’t uncommon in the 16-bit era for different platforms to get entirely different titles in a franchise or license, and Konami in particular made very, very different games for the SNES and the MegaDrive. So since you couldn’t argue over which had the better framerate or textures, you had to fight over what game was actually better, and boy did I fight tooth and nail for this one. But was I actually right, or was I just doing my duty as a pre-adolescent console warrior?

I wanted to find out. I played Buster’s Hidden Treasure again, and I’ve got a fair bit to say about it 20-some years later.

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Game music highlight: Outrun and Turbo Outrun

So the time change happened here in the USA this weekend, and like many folks subjected to Daylight Savings Time, the combination of bio-schedule disruption and winter shift to having less sunlight during the day makes me rather moody. Not to mention how cold it’s suddenly getting! Fortunately, we all have videogames and their blue, blue skies to make up for the seasonal loss of sunlight, and there’s no bluer skies than those of Sega arcade games! And what Sega arcade game is filled with blue skies, sandy beaches, and hot cars? All-time classic Outrun, of course!

The recent announcement of Outrun coming in the second wave of North American 3D remastered Sega classics put a big smile on my face, because now I’ll be able to go for joyrides wherever I want in beautiful stereoscopic 3D. Not only that, but I’ll have yet another outlet to listen to Magical Sound Shower through!

Outrun, along with Space Harrier and After Burner (II), is one of the all-time classic soundtracks from the old Sega S.S.T. Band (now called H.). Hiroshi Kawaguchi was the maestro behind all of these scores, and he’s still kickin’ it as the veteran of Sega’s sound team.

Personally, I put Outrun’s tunes into two tiers: “Magical Sound Shower” and “Other Songs That Are Pretty Good I Guess But Why Would I Choose To Play Them Instead of Magical Sound Shower.” All of the songs from the game have been remixed and redone over time, most notably getting a modern makeover in the recent arcade and console updates for Outrun. These are all pretty fantastic, as well, but only Magical Sound Shower got the Hatsune Miku treatment in the Project Diva titles. It’s probably my favorite version of the tune.

One of the game music trends that I’m really, really sad kinda died around the early 90’s was the existence of named company music teams that would put on live shows and events. You had Zuntata (Taito), the JDK Band (Falcom), S.S.T. Band (Sega), Alph Lyra (Capcom), Gamadelic (Data East), and others that are probably skipping my mind. JDK Band is the only one that still really exists in a form like it used to have – most of the old Zuntata crew went off to do solo stuff, Alph Lyra just kinda petered out, and Gamadelic died along with Data East. While you still have some live game music events, they’re usually either medleys or planned for a composer or series rather than encompassing the works of a whole company with a rock-concert-like flair.

Why am I talking about this? Because I want to show you this awesome clip of a live S.S.T. Band performance of Magical Sound Shower from 1989, that’s why! Get a load of that atmosphere and the enthusiasm. I really, really feel like I missed out with never having had the opportunity to go to one of these.

EDIT: GSK linked me to a video of the late, great Kenji Eno, along with Sega musicians Tomoko Sasaki and Naofumi Hataya, performing Magical Sound Shower at WARP’s booth at Tokyo Game Show 1997. It’s really, really good, to the point where I’d be remiss if I didn’t add it in! (Also awesome: Jun Senoue was the guy who provided the upload!)

So yeah, Magical Sound Shower is great, a true classic piece of game music. But you know what? It’s actually not my favorite piece of Outrun music. Yeah, it’s my favorite piece from the original Outrun, but my personal most-beloved Outrun tune actually comes from 1989’s Turbo Outrun. Rush A Difficulty is a tune with a delightfully memorable Engrish title that plays for the first portion of the game, and it’s absolutely fantastic.

Why do I like it more than Magical Sound Shower? Well, I think it conveys actual the feeling of racing and speed more effectively. You hear this and you know damn well it’s videogame driving music. It’s fast, it’s upbeat, and it’s got a catchy but complex melody that gets you pumped just thinking about it. Now that’s what I call game music!  Alas, it’s a lot harder to find alternative/remixed versions of this song, but I’m still pretty darn happy just having the original to listen to. Maybe we can convince Takenobu Mitsuyoshi to slap lyrics on it someday. Ah, a girl can dream…

Mikie (Konami, arcade, 1984)

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One of the best thing about the early-80s worldwide arcade boom was the sheer creativity exhibited in the concepts. The youth of the gaming medium meant that developers would try anything and everything looking for the next megahit. I mean, yeah, there were definitely a lot of alien-shooty spaceship games, but there was also stuff that you’d have a hell of a time trying to pitch to corporate higher-ups nowadays. (“I mean, yeah, the space marine FPS is a safe bet, but I’ve got something even cooler! Imagine a game where you’re fighting against another guy, with a lance, and you’re riding an ostrich, just kind of flapping around this weird space-time void! Wouldn’t that be awesome? It’ll sell MILLIONS!”)

Technical limitations also forced games to veer away from realism into realms of strangeness and abstraction. Even games that had a setting based in some matter of reality would have to rewrite “rules” in order to make them into something that would make a (theoretically) fun game. Clearly this was the problem facing the Japanese programmers at Konami when they decided they wanted to make a game about American high school life. Not only did these guys have zero actual experience in American high schools, but what the hell kind of game could you make out of that? After much deliberation, it was decided to focus on the major element of high school everyone remembers: terrible people in highly visible and obnoxiously dramatic teenage relationships.

So now, let’s take a look at this very early Konami arcade game, one that puts us in the shoes of Mikie, high school asshole extraordinaire.

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Indie RPG review: OFF by Mortis Ghost

One of the biggest frustrations of being a JRPG fan is the constant blanket dismissals of the genre from both players and the media. You’ll hear that JRPGs are juvenile, that the stories are garbage, that they’re filled with hackneyed character tropes and poorly written dialogue. It’s annoying because we know, deep down, that there are far too many JRPGs out there to which those complaints apply perfectly.

Yet the genre is brimming with unexplored potential. In fact, I’d argue that the format of the JRPG – a linear adventure punctuated with story scenes, exploration bits, and combat – is one of the best out there for telling fantastic stories in games. It allows us to engage with a large cast of characters, explore and understand the complexities of a world not our own, and take part directly in the physical and emotional struggles of the characters that populate these fantasy realms. The potential for so much awesome world-building, character development, and emotional depth is right there, and yet so often it’s squandered on yet another variation of The Continuing Adventures of Team Anime Archetypes.

That’s why games like OFF make me very happy, because they remind me that JRPG styled games can be more. So, so much more.

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Official Gaming.moe Twitter account + Coming Soon!

Heya folks! This is just a handy little public service announcement. We’ve been getting an influx of new visitors lately, and that’s pretty fantastic! I’m super excited that this site is reaching new people. Gaming.moe is still pretty new, and since I’m still pretty busy with other games writing, I can’t really update every day – a couple times a week seems like it’ll be the norm. If you want to know when updates happen, I highly suggest following the Gaming.Moe twitter account, which will update whenever something new goes live (and occasionally when other interesting business is afoot).

So what do I have planned? The next thing to go live will either be a look at Terra Battle or a review of the strange, beloved Belgian freeware PC RPG OFF. Other stuff I’ve made drafts for: a review of Sega MegaDrive/Genesis Complete Works, a review-type thing for Konami’s bizarre 1984 arcade game Mikie, NIS’s mostly-overlooked PSN game Battle Princess of the Arcadias, and a figure review. I can’t say for sure when all of those will go up, but they’re definitely cookin’.

Also, I’ve had a few folks ask me if I will be taking outside contributions for articles on here, and that’s honestly something I haven’t decided yet. I want Gaming.Moe to be somewhat personal, yet I think there are a lot of people with similar tastes in gaming and great writing skills who could use some exposure. It’ll probably be a while before I make a decision either way; Right now, I just want to establish the overall “feel” of the site and increase awareness.

And, as always, the Gaming.Moe Patreon appreciates your support!

Why we should pay attention to free-to-play games

I originally had a good chunk of this text as the intro to my upcoming Terra Battle article, but it became so long-winded that I felt it’d be better off as its own bit. It occurred to me that rather than front-loading a piece that’s supposedly dedicated to a specific game with way too much text justifying covering free-to-play games, I should make it its own little editorial. After all, free editorial is part of the reason I started Gaming.Moe to begin with.

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Interview: Yusuke Kozaki

Yusuke Kozaki is one of the hottest Japanese artists right now, and it’s not hard to see why: his work has a distinct, refined style that’s both stylish and has a more “realistic” look that gives it broad worldwide appeal. Kozaki’s work in games is especially memorable: besides working extensively with Suda51 on titles like Liberation Maiden and No More Heroes, he also did the designs for Fire Emblem: Awakening (along with some additional art for Super Smash Bros. 4).

This interview was conducted at Japan Expo USA 2013. I was unable to find an interested publisher at the time, and seeing as how Kozaki’s become much more well-known in the past year or two (he’s a big part of the Under the Dog anime production effort you’ve probably heard about) I think it’s a good time to put this out there. Just remember: this is a little over a year old at this point, but I still think it’s a really nice interview with some interesting info.

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Welcome to Gaming.moe! (And please pardon the mess.)

We’re finally launching! I’ve had this site in the works for a while, and now we’re finally ready to go public. Yes, Gaming.moe is ready to take its first steps into that scary, uncharted wilderness we call the internet.

I’m planning on putting up something new every few days or so, work schedules permitting. If you want to know when the site updates or what’s in the works, follow the Gaming.Moe twitter!

Of course, there are probably a few things that will need adjusting as I ease out of the initial launch into establishing this site a bit more. You might see things like image and layout changes from time to time as some of the kinks are worked out to make this site look as attractive (dare I say… kawaii) as possible. Some of the functions might not be working 100%, either, so if you notice something amiss please drop me a line. Twitter is probably your best bet for reaching me quickly.

I hope you enjoy the site, and if you dig it, please do consider supporting the Gaming.moe Patreon campaign. Here’s to a bright future of pure gaming love!

Syvalion Extra Credits: Sybubblun for X68000

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While consoles were the dominant forms of at-home gaming in Japan, proprietary personal computers were also quite popular amongst the more tech-inclined and older players (in other words, people who could afford them). Before Windows and MacOS became the standard systems most folks across the globe used, Japan had a whole mess of fragmented PC platforms from manufacturers like Sharp, Fujitsu, and NEC. I’m not going to pretend like I’m an expert on old Japanese PCs – it’s an area of gaming I’m still actively learning about and researching, but when I find interesting things about the systems and the games they played host to, I definitely want to share.

One such thing involves the port of Bubble Bobble for the Sharp X68000, a platform that played host to both a lot of amazing arcade ports and original titles. Bubble Bobble is an example of the former, a practically arcade perfect transplant which had creator Fukio “MTJ” Mitsuji himself aiding in the port.

The porting team at DEMPA didn’t stop there, however. With MTJ’s aid, they added a hidden “expert mode” with 20 brand-new levels… and a facelift connected to one of MTJ’s other titles.

Thus, Syvalion and Bubble Bobble had a beautiful crossover baby, and they named it…

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