Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers

I didn't receive any videogames for Christmas this year but then again, I didn't ask for any either so that's probably why! Between my tastes being too obscure or specialist to guess and actively not encouraging my pile of shame to grow any taller, it was genuinely a good thing that I only got the usual assortment of socks, smellies and chocolates a.k.a useful stuff that I won't need to spend my own cash on for a month or so at least. One thing I did get however was the second volume of John Szcepaniak's The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers, a most excellent book which is pictured here with the first volume (something I already had on the shelf).

So why do I like these books so much? Well, I'll tell you.

These hefty tomes are chock full of interviews with Japanese game developers who work on 8, 16 and 32bit machines but more importantly, Japanese home computers which are rarely mentioned alongside the European and US computer scene. There is a wealth of history and undocumented information which is slowly but surely being lost forever and this collection of interviews is a labour of love on the part of John who funded his travel to Japan (and associated accomodation etc.) through the original Kickstarter project. The passion and dedication of the author is clear when reading these books; they haven't been produced solely because he wanted to but because he feels that somebody needs to do this job - somebody needs to interview these people and make a historical recording before it is simply too late. After all, much has already been lost.

The content inside is all black &white and with the small text, often informal transcripting of the interviews and epic footnotes, a quick flick through might give somebody the idea that these are dull reference books but that couldn't further from the truth. The informal nature of the interviews works really well because it makes reading them a far more interesting and engaging experience. Another selling point of the books is that John pushes for info on unreleased games, secrets from within the development environments and generally the kind of fascinating industry anecdotes and stories that we would otherwise be oblivious to. Volume 2 for example opens with an interview detailing the Yakuza's involvement in Japanese arcades and an unreleased HD Golden Axe remake that was set to resemble the beautiful work of Vanillware (Dragon's Crown, Odin Sphere, Muramasa: The Demon Blade).

The sad thing is that the author has enough content from his time in Japan to fill up many volumes of these books but the publication of further installments is completely reliant on the sales of the others. Volume 3 for example won't likely happen unless Volume 2 sells well enough which is why I'm doing my small bit to encourage others to give the books a chance. Both existing volumes are available from Amazon (which is where both of mine came from) and I can't recommend them enough to anybody with even a passing interest in videogame history or culture.

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