Interview: Cave’s Tsuneki Ikeda (IKD) from 2010

Game Developer’s Conference is this week, so I’m going to be busy hopefully gathering material both for here and for assorted freelance outlets until Friday. Seeing as how I’m not going to have time to write new material for a bit, I think it’s time to once again reach into the vault and republish a piece that hasn’t been seen in English before, and one that I’m particularly proud of.

This interview with Cave CCO Tsuneki Ikeda – known to shooting game fans as IKD – was originally conducted for France’s ig Magazine in 2010. A lot has changed since then, and not all for the better, in Cave’s case. Reading through the text now, you can definitely see Ikeda drop some hints of market troubles that would come to have a harsh effect on Cave’s shooting game development. It’s a very interesting read – but also quite heartbreaking.

And, of course, thanks to Jon Rogers for being awesome and helping to set this all up.

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Buying game music on iTunes: what’s out there

I’ve always been a collector type ever since my youth (much to the chagrin of my parents), and though the stuff I’ve collected tends to change over time, it’s typically import goods with some connection to gaming. These days it’s primarily doujin goods and figures, but during my highschool/college years I acquired a sizable collection of physical game soundtracks and arrange CDs. MP3s were a thing back then, but portable MP3 players like the iPod weren’t1, so CDs were really the only semi-portable way to take your music with you. Me being who I am, I wanted my favorite VGM with me everywhere I went.

The problem with game music CD collecting is that it’s a niche market, even in Japan, so only a few stores carried a good VGM selection. Another issue was the price: Japanese CDs are ridiculously pricey compared to the West due to a whole mess of factors, so you’d be spending half the cost of an actual game just to legally own the music from it. A niche market combined with high prices meant stuff went out of print very quickly and would sometimes command absurd prices in the aftermarket.

Then iTunes happened. Love or hate Apple, iTunes provided a service people wanted: a way to cheaply and easily buy and enjoy music digitally. With the power of popular portable music players behind it, the iTunes store quickly became the favorite way of many consumers to legally obtain digital music. It also provided an easy way for producers and music labels to reissue old releases without having to put up the costs to reprint CDs and packaging – a perfect fit for niche markets like game music fans. For Japanese consumers, it’s even sweeter – they get all the music for considerably less than an actual CD.

While Japanese iTunes has a pretty amazing selection of game music, there’s also a substantial amount available on the US iTunes store, including a bunch of stuff you’d likely be surprised to find is available Stateside. Here are some recommendations for you to check out!

(Since I’m located in the USA, this article mostly covers items available in the US iTunes store. Availability may be different in your territory, but I encourage you to check and post your findings here! And hey, making a US iTunes account isn’t hard, either.)

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Interview: Hifumi Kono of Nude Maker and Project Scissors/NightCry

Much as I take pride in my knowledge of gaming history, there are a few areas that I could stand to learn more about. One company whose history I don’t particularly know that well – though I’ve always meant to learn more about – was Human, a Japanese developer and publisher prominent through the late 80’s up until the end of the 32-bit era. Human was known for a lot of things: Fire Pro Wrestling (perhaps the best-regarded wrestling game series of its time), a game design school that produced fascinating experimental titles like The Firemen and Septentrion (S.O.S. in the West), the groundbreaking Clock Tower series, and a sudden collapse that left the firm in shambles.

So when I was offered the opportunity to conduct an interview with Hifumi Kono, the former Human employee who went on to found developer Nude Maker, I jumped at the chance. I was eager not only to learn a bit more about Human’s history, but also to look a bit deeper into the game that defined the company’s later legacy, the Clock Tower horror game series, and its spiritual successor Project Scissors/NightCry. Read on for a candid look at Human’s past, Clock Tower’s influence and how it symbiotically benefited from Biohazard, living on pachinko earnings, and what happens when you play a classic Western horror game without speaking the language.

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Hardware review: The New Nintendo 3DS XL

Up until Nintendo graciously bestowed upon me a New 3DS XL (how’s that for disclosure?), I had been playing the same aqua-blue system I’d owned since launch. Despite the temptation of numerous special-edition models and the XL version, I loved my little blue wonder and decided I was going to stick with it as long as I could. After going through something like five different models of the original DS/Lite/i, I wasn’t going to spend extra cash on another 3DS unless I felt it was absolutely necessary.

Of course, when Nintendo announced the New 3DS and games that would run exclusively on said platform, I knew I’d have to wind up getting one eventually simply because I need to be able to keep up with potential work opportunities. Thankfully, Nintendo sent one my way so I wasn’t forced to fight the throng of people attempting to preorder a (quite beautiful, I should note) Majora’s Mask New 3DS system.

As much as I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, I’m among the folks who are quite displeased that the only North American New 3DS offering is of the XL variety. I was greatly looking forward to swapping out faceplates procured from abroad and colored Super Famicom-style buttons that proclaimed to the world “this isn’t a mobile device, this is a specialized portable game machine!” Instead, I got a giant, boring black brick that looked just like every other piece of mobile kit I hauled around while commuting.

But it didn’t take long to figure out how to improve it drastically.

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Now this is a 3DS for me.

Anyhow, I’m not here to brag, honest! I’m here to look at the New 3DS and give you my impressions so you can hopefully decide for yourself whether or not it’s worth the scratch. Let’s have a look!

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The gaming figures of Winter Wonder Festival 2015

It’s that time of year again: a weekend where rampaging figure nerds like me mash their F5 keys across numerous Japanese webpages to get sweet, sweet pictures of pretty new plastic figures from the twice-annual Wonder Festival. Wonder Festival is a celebration of all things figure, bringing together garage kit makers and builders, prepainted figure manufacturers, traditional action figure makers, and a whole brigade of fervent otaku.

Every Wonder Festival brings with it a plethora of pictures of new wares from numerous Japanese figure manufacturers. While I’m certainly a fan of figures in general, I’m most excited when my passions of gaming and figures collide to create gorgeous pieces of three-dimensional art. And I’m sure I’m not alone! Yet with so many manufacturers large and small competing for the attention of showgoers and photographers – and with juggernaut series like Kantai Collection spawning huge amounts of merchandise – it’s hard to sort through everything to find the gaming-related goodies.

That’s why I’ve done it for you! I’ve assembled a gallery of Wonder Festival’s gaming figure announcements, both prominent and obscure. Given how much gets shown at a typical WonFes, I may have missed a few things – if so, let me know and I’ll add them ASAP!

Some notes: I’m not posting garage kit pics, because as awesome as resin kits are, a lot of them are extremely difficult to obtain (since the creator probably makes less than a hundred of them). I’m trying to focus on stuff you actually have a chance of seeing in your hands sometime in the near future. I’m also aware that KanColle/Tony Shining Series/Love Live/Idolmaster/Senran Kagura etc. would technically fall under the gaming figures category. My major excuse for excluding them, in this case, is because there are like a billion of them and I’d rather look more at the gaming stuff that doesn’t get the plastic treatment quite as often.

Images are sourced from Akiba Hobby, Dengeki Online, MFC, Figsoku twitter and website, WHL4U, and the AmiAmi Blog.

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World’s End Game Hall: The World Ends With You and taking risks

As I write this, I’m sitting on a plane heading back from MAGfest 13. It’s a rather lengthy flight from the DC metro area to San Francisco – a little over five hours – so of course I came equipped with entertainment. Last week, Square-Enix released a new batch of non-Final Fantasy DLC for Theatrhythm, including some songs from Chrono Trigger and The World Ends With You, which I promptly acquired to accompany me back on my trip to the West Coast.

One of the DLC tracks from TWEWY is “Calling,” a theme that plays primarily during exploration and dialogue sequences. It’s a beautiful song, and I was very eager to play it1. What I wasn’t prepared for was an unexpected flood of emotion through me as I ran through it. As focused as I was on carefully gliding my stylus through the note barrage, I felt an intense longing hearing that music again.

But why? After all, back when I played The World Ends With You in 2008, I really enjoyed the game – but I hate, hate, HATED the ending, which I felt was an utterly stupid and transparent twist that undermined a great story concept. It made me bitter towards a game I had invested a great deal of time and emotion into. Yet hearing Calling stirred something inside of me. It made me realize what, exactly, makes TWEWY so very special: it’s a risky game that challenges players to do new things, to step outside their gameplay and setting comfort zones. And frankly, I don’t know if we’ll ever see something like it from Square-Enix ever again.

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  1. The other TWEWY song is Twister, and unfortunately, it’s the worst version of that particular piece. Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.

Awesome(?) 90s gaming hip-hop music

Ahh, the early 90s. It was, indeed, time for Klax, but also time for a sharp rise in popularity of rap and hip-hop music. Anyone who was a kid watching cartoons on North American TV during the late 80s and early 90s was well aware of how companies quite cynically exploited hip hop music and culture to look “cool” and “with it” to the youth. We got all manner of terrible faux-rap theme songs, new and improved character designs with backwards baseball caps, and some of the most hilariously awful commercials ever transmitted through the airwaves.

Game companies were no exception when it came to utilizing hip-hop’s popularity for commercial means, with predictably bad results.

(To be fair, Nintendo would eventually improve Zelda rapping significantly.)

Making a commercial with a rap theme song was one thing, but taking inspiration from hip-hop and combining it with game music was something else entirely. The rapidly improving sound quality of VGM, bolstered by the introduction of CD-ROM redbook audio, gave enterprising game music composers the ability to implement things like samples and voice into their songs, allowing for them to create original rap and hip-hop tunes for games. The songs were still predominantly hilariously bad, of course, but there’s a weird and lovable kitsch to them that makes them incredibly fun to look back on. Most of them, anyway.

So today, we’re going to be looking at several of these awkward game-related attempts at jumping on a musical fad. I’ll be leaving out one really obvious track – the Street Fighter III Third Strike character select theme – since we featured it previously. (I’m also leaving out Parappa because it’s just too obvious.) Everything else on here should hopefully either jog memories or be completely new to you lovely readers. So put on your Reebok Pumps and bootleg streetwise Looney Tunes shirts, and get ready for a game music time warp!

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Cool Runnings: The Underappreciated Speedruns of Awesome Games Done Quick 2015

If you’re anything like me, you had the Awesome Games Done Quick charity speedrunning marathon running throughout most of last week. The great thing about AGDQ is that, since it runs 24/7, there’s always something going on. However, since our frail humanoid bodies require things like “food” and “sleep” and “jobs through which we acquire necessary funding to live,” it’s almost impossible to watch everything that looks interesting on the AGDQ schedule as it airs live. While a lot of us make time to watch the speedruns of really big games, there are a lot of smaller titles with really fantastic play that get shown as well. But since they’re at odd times, or they’re of relatively unknown titles, or they’re not really viral-video material, they have a tendency to kind of happen and be forgotten. Even people who see the schedule and think “Yeah, I’ll watch this later” may likely forget them amongst all the other stuff happening that week.

But personally, I think there were a lot of really noteworthy speedruns at this year’s AGDQ that I worry a lot of folks missed out on. Yes, we all saw and enjoyed stuff like Tetris TGM and the Megaman X race and Boshy and Shovel Knight and blindfolded OoT, but just because you missed it and it wasn’t trending on Twitter doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great run. Here are some of my picks for the best runs of AGDQ 2015 that you might have missed!

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