Sunday, July 31, 2011

Whom can you really trust (with Pac-Man)?

Some of you might remember the column about my confusion regarding the market impact of Richard Garriot's Akalabeth and the importance of Black Onyx as a mediator of the RPG genre in Japan. I recently stumbled over another contradiction. While that old post was all about information passed down orally vs. (the lack of) reliable data, this time it's testimony vs. testimony about the intentions behind the world's first survival horror game:

I never cared much about Pac-Man. I enjoyed playing it as a kid, but I hadn't thought much about what went into making it. This changed when I read Frank Cifaldi's article "A Real Ladies' Pac-Man" in 1up's feature magazine 1up Presents. Here Mr. Cifaldi explains—likely based on creator Toru Iwatani's talk at GDC2011, which is definitely worth a look, despite the somewhat overburdened synchronic translator in the first half (be sure to start the video from the beginning after switching the audio, or the synching might get all messed up)— the five-steps that made Pac-Man the first video game with an explicitly female target audience:

The truth, though, is that every minuscule detail that went into the making of the original Pac-Man was laser-focused on just one thing: attracting women.

The initial concept, so goes the story, originated from the observation that women loved food, and thus Pac-Man was designed as a game all about eating stuff:

In 1979, trying to tap into the female mind and come up with an irresistible concept for his next game, Iwatani spent a lot of time listening to women to find out what they were interested in.
Mostly they talked about romance and fashion, he says-neither of which were particularly compelling gameplay concepts-but a eureka moment came when he heard two ladies talking about eating desserts. Girls, he thought, love eating.

"Cool," I thought, "I didn't know that." And went on with my life, keeping in my subconscious the new-found truth about the forebear of Barbie Horse Adventures and Cooking Mama. Then I bought a discarded library copy of a really old video game history book called Video Invaders by Steve Bloom, and my world view was shattered all over again.

Written in 1982, when Pac-Man was still hot in arcades, Bloom of course didn't have direct access to the wisdom of a Japanese game designer locked away in Namco's basement (as was the common practice back then, according to my vivid imagination), so he talks to Hideyuki Nakajima (whose name he transcribes as Nokajima) and some guy called Yoko Yama. Nakajima led Namco's US operations at that time, later he should become owner of the Atari Games Corporation and found Tengen. I've got nothing on Yoko Yama other than the book cites him as a representative of Data East, Yokoyama might be his actual surname, maybe Bloom got it wrong or he was calling himself Yoko Yama in America.

At any rate, Bloom got quite a different story from Nakajima. The book agrees with the modern day Iwatani/Cifaldi duo insofar as Pac-Man has been wildly popular with women and brought big changes to the arcade clientele in the US, so much that in in result:

Though it clearly was not intended that way (as we will see), Pac-Man is even now hailed by some as the first "women's" video game.

Video Invaders Illustration
by Howard Cruse

Well, while it's easy to conclude "original developer voice > overseas managing guy voice," let's consider for a moment the amount of time that lies between both accounts: Almost 30 years (Although Iwatani has been telling the story for at least the last 10 years, so let's make that 20 years. I couldn't find any sources before 2001, though). Nakamura might not have known about Iwatani's motives, but why explicitly stating the opposite, when it's already established that the game works that way, and works extraordinarily well; When Ms. Pac-Man, possibly the first example of blatant sexism in a video game, is already out to cash in on the trend (without the involvement or even awareness of Iwatani)?

Iwatani, on the other hand, could have a reason to tell the story differently than he would have two decades before. I'd never accuse him of lying, but memory is fully capable to form this kind of "invented history" narrative in your mind over the years. If you tell a guy for years that he made a game for women, he'll probably conclude that he did. While that is still very shaky ground to doubt Iwatani's statements, what really fueled my doubt was the way his motivations for creating a ladies' game are described.

How does Pac-Man look in your memory?

Japanese game centers in 1979 were dank, smelly denns of vice just for adolescent boys, a place only the bravest girls dared enter.
Designer Toru Iwatani, a man not interested in video games so much as designing things that make people smile, wanted to brighten up the atmosphere inside the arcades. He wanted to turn the man caves into a place where not only might a guy bring his girlfriend on a date but, Heaven forbid, said girlfriend might even come back to on her own.

Whereas Video Invaders tells us:

Pac-Man wasn't designed for women. Over in Japan, where the game was invented, women had always played all the games - from space battles to car chases - as fanatically and skillfully as the men. By 1980, the question of Japan's games community was not how to attract women, but how to rekindle flagging player interest in general.
Namco's Hideyuki Nokajima describes Pac-Man's genesis. "People were fed up with space games. So we started to dream up games that would make them laugh. For instance, in Japan, puck is the sound you make when you eat something good - like munch.

So, while there's no doubt that a game developer will know his design concept better than anyone else—at least at the time of creation—this rises the question of who'd have a better picture about the situation in 1970s Japanese arcades? Two Japanese guys in 1982 or a Japanese guy in 2011?

Iwatani has showed around his original design document for Pac-Man on a few occasions. Does it contain any references to the supposedly female orientation? It's impossible to tell from the available photos. Now how do we get him to publish hi-res scans of the whole thing?

Iwatani and his Sketchbook, photo taken from Control

Discuss on the Forum.
(I will quote comments made here on the forums, but not vice versa.)

Lady Priest Lawnmower – Windows PC

I’ve programmed a new game, with vocal song! You'll love it.

Feeling in a bit of a retro mood on Saturday I spent a couple of hours coding a spiritual successor, pseudo sequel and pretend remake to Advanced Lawnmower Simulator, a phenomenal ZX Spectrum game by famed taxidermist and Jazz dancer Duncan MacDonald, of Your Sinclair fame.

I call it (click to download):

The story came to me in a vision while using Twitter, which I later refined over several days. The gameplay mechanics were inspired by many different circles, such as Vaudevillian theatre, The BlueMan Group, my time as a Saucier to Prince Guthry Trombert, Treasure’s Gunstar Heroes, but mainly hero to us all, Jazz Dancer Duncan MacDonald and his game Advanced Lawnmower Simulator. Or Duncs as we used to call him, the man made a fine cup of tea round the office and could play polo more than you’ve had hot dinners, son. I remember we once put a bunch of horses in the local public swimming pools to do our bit for charity.

I know a lot of retro purists complain when remakes change things too much, so I’ve kept the classic gameplay mostly as is from Advanced Lawnmower Simulator, but updating the visuals and sound for the modern age – even arranging the recording of a hard-rocking punk theme song. I also added a high-score for competitive play. Mostly though I’m proudest of the story that’s been implemented, a fine piece of gaming literature I’m sure time will judge it to be.

I like to think of it as The Brothers Karamazov for the modern age, examining religious faith while at the same time weaving a complex tale of love and redemption in a time of confusion. It follows the struggles and tribulations of woman priest at a time when she questions her purpose in life, there’s an obvious love tension with Sergei, who is also her kidnapper – but! By the end of the narrative becomes her psychological saviour, helping her to come to terms with her beliefs and desires in a conclusion that I’m sure no one will see coming.

Of course if you’re less interested in story and just want the most realistic lawnmower simulator of our time, then you too are catered for. Please read the included History images detailing the origins of Advanced Lawnmower Simulator. Otherwise try my updated version, Lady Priest Lawnmower.

More Tea, Vicar?

* Authentic 8-bit graphics
* Over 11 colours used ON SCREEN
* HYPER-Mega 340 by 200 pixel graphics!!!
* Post-rendered Blast porcsession
* Super Audio Phonic Sounds
* Vocalised theme song by new indie band The Punk Yaks
* 180 minutes of voiced dialogue speech (may be condensed)
* Dynamically tuned pick-up-and-play control scheme
* Easy to learn, even easier to master
* Unique story script, edited down from an original draft of 2000 pages
* Tragic tale of love, redemption, faith and a woman turning into a lawnmower
* Runs on OFFICIAL Microsoft Windows Operating System
* Is NOT a virus
* Beards!

This game is freeware and can distributed and copied as much as desired.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Snatcher Da! - A Parody Comic

When I was in Super Potato, I stumbled upon this insert from a 1992 issue of Monthly Magazine PC Engine. It was "discounted" to 1200 yen, still pricey for a thin 24-ish page pamphlet, plus it was sealed, but I took the chance since I love Snatcher so very much. Most of it is character bios and pictures - standard magazine promo stuff - along with an interview for one of the voice actresses, one of those Japanese obsessions that confound everyone else in the world. I think she played Isabella, who was an extremely minor character anyway. What made it worthwhile, which I haven't seen anywhere on the 'net, was the two page "Snatcher Da!" parody comic, which I've scanned after the jump.

The title is a reference to "Parodius Da!", the second game in the Parodius series and probably the most widely recognized. Seeing the Snatcher cast dressed as Parodius characters hammers this home - notice the Snatcher Moai on the left side, along with "Pen-Gillian", the Vegas dancer Mika, the sexy Jamie as the famed "nearly naked girl with blanket", and the apparently unrelated "Fugu" blowfish in the corner.

My Japanese isn't good enough for a really proper translation, so let me give the gist - Gillian and Jamie are on a TV show telling the public how to deal with the Snatcher menace. In relating where to look for them, they check under the sink. The guy acts suspiciously, so Gillian blasts him - luckily, he is, in fact, a Snatcher. Gillian reminds the audience that the Snatcher wreckage is not burnable (the Japanese separate their trash into "burnable" and "non-burnable" i.e. whether it can be recycled or not) and tells the viewer to put it out for collection on the proper day.

The last panel leads into the next story, where this guy, presumably a Snatcher, has come up with a clever disguise to shield him from sunlight. (Snatchers have faulty artificial skin which doesn't work well with UV rays.)

Random identifies him, obviously, and Gillian and Jamie rush to the scene to report. However, another guy dressed in exactly the same manner, overcoat and all, sneaks in and flashes Jamie, and Gillian immediately shoots him. Gillian then reminds the viewer that speed is of the essence to exterminate Snatchers, while Randam and Jamie muse that the person he shot was, in fact, the human. The last panel just shows Jamie in her Parodius "sexy" pose, asking for forgiveness (in that coy sort of way), while Jean Jack Gibson fires Gillian.

On an unrelated note, while googling around to see if this comic was already scanned, I discovered that someone out there had done a Snatcher / My Little Pony crossover. I'm an expert at the internet, and even I am flummoxed.

The HG101 Guide to Retro Game Shopping in Japan 2011

If you regularly read a site like HG101, then you will probably be interesting in shopping for video games in Japan. They hold unquestionably the best game stores in the planet, sometimes with a number concentrated in the same area, and visiting them is an unforgettable experience. I've been to Japan twice - once in 2007, and more recently in 2011, and this guide chronicles my experiences in the stores I've visited. Keep in mind that I'm not exactly an expert, being a tourist rather than a local, but this should be a good primer for game shopping. Keep in mind that this is largely focused on retro stuff (pre-current gen), as well as soundtrack CDs, though many of the places listed here also stock used HD and portable software as well.

Also take note that some of the best places to scrounge for stuff are the so-called "junk" sections. "Junk" doesn't actually mean that it's trash in the literal sense, but rather that they're aren't the best condition - usually loose carts - and haven't been tested. (Usually the clerks will remind you of this.) However, given that this is the same way practically all cartridges are treated at game stores in the US - even the ones that cater to collectors, somehow! - most Westerners will probably not have a problem with this, especially since the games are very cheap, usually less than 300 yen, and usually much less. For some reason, I ran into copies of Phantasy Star: End of the Millenium several times for less than 100 yen, which is saddening, given that it's one of the best 16-bit RPGs out there.

It's interesting to see how popular various stuff is on the retro scene - for example, Famicom stuff still seems to be in, but no one much cares about Super Famicom a whole lot...which is pretty much the opposite here in America, where SNES stuff is some of the priciest. However, the general apathy towards Mega Drive/Genesis and Nintendo 64 seems to be global.

As some random travel tips, remember that many ATMs will not work with non-Japanese bank cards. However, post office ATMs will work, as well ATMs in 7-11, which are practically on every block. Your local bank will usually assess a transaction fee (mine was $6) but the exchange rate is generally a bit better than if you'd exchanged currency from your bank in your home country. (At least, mine was.) People will continue to say that Japan is a cash society and many places will not accept credit cards, but this is really not the case anymore, as practically any store that isn't a tiny hole in the wall will accept plastic. Take note that your credit card company will also usually attach an international transaction fee (typically 3%), although again, the exchange rate probably won't be too bad. Keep an eye out for banks that do not have a international transaction fee, like Capital One - I got one of their cards specifically for this vacation.) However, also alert your banks you are going overseas, or they may freeze your account for suspicious activities.



For years, I've read that Akihabara (shortened to "Akiba") has been going downhill. I don't know what that's in comparison to or what it means, precisely - I think it has something to do with the influx of anime/manga culture, meaning lots of maid cafes, lots of porn (which has probably always been there) and stuff like that. Still, it's by far the best concentration of gaming stores in Tokyo, so it is still unquestionably worth visiting.

Akihabara is very easy to get to - it's one of the stops on the Yamanote line, a loop which visits most of the major areas of downtown Tokyo. If you flew in from Narita and took the Keisei Skyliner into the city to Ueno, it's a mere two stops down. Most of the interesting stores are to the northwest of the station, either along Chuo-dori or in the small grid of side-streets to the west of Chuo-dori. The spot highlighted on the map is Super Potato, which is one of the most popular.

Super Potato

Whenever anyone posts in a forum about shopping for video games in Japan, inevitably half of the responses point to the world famous Super Potato. This is both right and wrong - for decor and experience, it's one of the best, but if you actually want to buy something, you might want to look elsewhere, because stuff here is on the pricey side. Keep in mind that it's "pricey" only compared to everything else in the area - chances are whatever you'll be looking for whill be cheaper here than on eBay, internet import stores, or the few Japanese retro game stores (like Japan Game Stock) that bother to ship outside the country.

Granted, if you're looking for something rare, it's going to be expensive anywhere, but general in-demandish loose Famicom carts run from 1200 - 2000 yen, when you could potentially find them for 800 - 1200 if you look elsewhere. Similarly, boxed games are generally 500-1000 yen more expensive than other places. It's not a ridiculous markup, though, and if you have limited time and can only go to one place, this is the place to go, because chances are they'll have it. I think this place has the best stock of systems, too, if you're in the market for a Famicom Disk System (or Twin Famicom) like I was. One of my quests this trip was to find a copy of the excellent Gimmick! for the Famicom. What I didn't realize is that it's extremely pricey - when I eventually stumbled across a few copies, they were boxed and were over 10000 yen...which is still cheaper than the copies I've seen on eBay, which run about $250, or about twice the price.) I gave up and just bought one of the Sunsoft compilations on the J-PSN that featured the game, since it was 600 yen. (Remember to buy a Japanese PSN card, which you can find at any 7-11 - you'll need them to buy stuff, and most importers attach a heavy markup, beyond the already awful exchange rate.)

The store inhabits the third, fourth and fifth floors of the building. It's not too hard to find - just follow the Famicom music that it pumps into the streets. The third floor has mostly 8 and 16-bit stuff (along with Dreamcast and Saturn) and a small junk section by the register (where they had dozens of sealed copies of Shen Mue for 500 yen each), while the fourth floor is MSX, soundtrack CDs, PlayStation, strategy guides and various other stuff. The fifth floor is an awesome retro arcade with a Solid Snake statue. There was a throne made of Famicom cartridges but appeared to be under construction.

There's a lot of character to this place - the stairways leading up has the mascot stuck in various retro games, like the Game Over screen from Shadowgate.

Here all of these Wind Waker Link plushies are kept in a cage. "Break out Link!", the sign (sort of) says. There's also a small sign of Link saying "Save me!".

I found this Alex Kidd board game in the "junk" section on the fourth floor, without a price tag. When I asked the clerk, he didn't know, but couldn't sell it to me. I returned a week later and hoped that someone had priced it, but it was still sitting there, taunting me. If I weren't afraid of getting deported I probably would've stolen it. (Also it probably wouldn't have fit in my suitcase anyway.)


There's more than a dozen of these stores located in Akihabara. They generally seem to focus on figures and other toys, but one of the locations, a few blocks north of the train station, is one that focused on retro games, mostly on the second floor.

I'm hesitant to recommend this place. Back in 2007 (which is when the above picture is from), this place had great stock and decent prices, but in 2011, the stuck had been cut back to about 1/3 of the floor, along with a small section of music CDs. The rest was all anime and idol garbage. Assuming they don't get rid of it totally, though, it's still got some decent stuff.


This computer store chain has more than a few stores in Akihabara, and I can never keep track of which ones I've visited. I remember in 2007 I found one with a decent retro selection, but I couldn't replicate that success, finding only "junk" corners. (Which at least served me with a 100 yen copy of Night Trap for the Mega CD and a 30 yen copy of D's Diner for the 3DO.) However, for current-gen games, they seem to offer some of the better prices. I managed to snag the Metal Gear 20th anniversary collection (which includes every canon game up to and including Portable Ops) for 4800 yen or so, so that's pretty awesome.


Another prolific store, also good for current gen games. One of them along Chuo-dori has a decent retro selection too, and probably the best "junk" corner of any of them. I only stumbled on it as I was leaving so I didn't get a full chance to look around much, but they also had a lot of systems, and any place that can offer me a 50 yen copy of Square's Tom Sawyer is OK by me. Alas all of their games are keepered, which, while understandable given theft, sort of hinders the shopping experience.


This store is slightly off the beaten path, relegated to one of the larger side streets on the north side of Akihabara along Chuo-dori. It's next door to G-Front, a spot for buying arcade boards. (You can't really browse around that store though - there's only a small walking area with some display stuff and a bins of Neo Geo MVS carts - otherwise you need to know what you want beforehand to get the clerk to get it for you.) Anyway, Friends is totally devoted to retro games, unlike Trader, Liberty or Book Off. It doesn't quite have the personality of Super Potato either - the second floor was staffed with a somewhat out of place older woman, while the third floor had two guys who were caught in the Sisyphean task of testing their huge stock of games. (One of them was wearing a Pink Godzilla shirt, making me think they're associated with the Seatlle-based retro game chain which recently had to change its name to Pink Gorilla due to copyright concerns.)

ANYWAY. This place is quiet and rarely trafficked, but is generally pretty great. Prices are cheaper than Super Potato and the stock, while not quite as large, is comparable. I think it had the best stock of loose FDS titles too. The second floor has 8 and 16-bit titles, while the third floor has Saturn, Dreamcast, PS2, strategy guides, and soundtrack CDs. The above picture is part of the Mega Drive/MSX selection, one of the only areas I could snag a picture of without getting yelled at.

As a side note, around the corner is the cat cafe Neko Jalala. Cats are adorable (I have four of them) and the idea seems enticing, but people tend to forget that most cats are actually anti-social jerks who'd rather sleep than play, and indeed, around 4 PM practically all of its denizens were napping, except for the one who desperately wanted to break into the kitchen. Still, I'll take their authentic indifference over the insincere pandering of the maid cafes a few blocks down. (Also, the way some of the advertisements for those things look, and how pushy those maids on the street can get, I'm always afraid of getting roped into a brothel.)

Book Off

I'm sticking this in the Akihabara section, but really, you can find Book Offs practically anywhere (as well as its off-shoots: Hard Off, Mode Off, etc.) The Akiba one is located in an out of the way section by the train station, almost beneath the train tracks. (There should be signs in the station that vaguely point to where it is.) Book Off stocks pretty much anything used, including books, manga, DVDs and so forth, which also includes video games. Also worth checking out is the one in Shibuya, which is quite large - it's not directly by Scramble Crossing but if you walk down some of the streets you'll stumble on it eventually.

Their retro selection varies from store to store - it's a bit larger in Akiba - and while you might find something decent (like a complete copy of Ladystalker for the SFC for 105 yen), and the current gen stock isn't too bad, the real reason to go here are the PSOne and PS2 games. Many random PSOne titles are only 105 yen - most of the more popular ones are 500 yen. Rarer ones demand more, although they are not exorbitant - Dracula X: Gekka no Yasokyoku was about 1500, Sexy Parodius was around 2500, and Moon: Remix Adventure was about 4500. Same goes with the PS2 stock - there's a lot of cool, interesting stuff to be had for 500 yen, making it easy to take a chance on any random game that might catch your eye.


This is technically a manga/anime goods store. It doesn't stock regular games or CDs, but it does have lots of doujin games and stuff. However, the scene has largely been taken over by Touhou and Touhou spinoffs, so don't expect to find much here anymore, unfortunately. In 2007 I found a bunch of EasyGameStation stuff (including Gunners Heart, Chantelise, and Duo Princess), along with some doujin CDs for Final Fantasy XII and Cave. This time I just got those two Touhouvania games because there wasn't much else. The store in Ikebukuro was better for this kind of stuff, because they still had copies of the excellent shooter Crimson Clover, although it's still mostly all Touhou all the time.

Messe Sanoh

Not really a lot of retro stuff here, but it's worth mentioning regardless. The first floor is small, stocking more recent titles, along with areas devoted to various goods (artbooks, soundtracks) to Nippon Ichi and Cave. These guys also ran a store devoted to doujin goods, but it was shuttered up when I was there - I don't know if it was temporary or permanent, but there's also a small selection of doujin stuff in the main store, more palatable than Toranoana.

Most interesting in the second floor, which is focused on Western stuff. Strangely this place was better stocked with PC software than any store currently in the US (though not Europe). I saw a copy of Deus Ex with a little tag on it proclaiming how awesome it was, and it warmed my heart. My favorite thing I found here was a series of books focusing on Japanese adventure games and RPGs from the 80s. They were brand new, even though the books themselves must've been published over twenty years ago - maybe they were reprints? Who knows, but they were less than 1000 yen apiece, so despite the weight they added to my luggage, I bought all five. I look the visuals of adventure games from this era - Japanese or otherwise - and provided a good start for future HG101 articles. Most of them were walkthrough-style guidebooks, but there are tons of pictures, and even some sheet music for a few songs.

Keep in mind that there is way more in Akihabara to see than just this - these are only the places that stood out the most. I remember a place called Media Land, closer to the train station on Chuo-dori, with a small retro selection on the second floor, although nothing much. There was also a street level store with a long hallway filled with retro stuff, and a Famicom out front, with lots of common, junk titles bundled together for about 500 yen. However, outside of that, most of the games inside were on the pricey side. At any rate, just keep an eye out for the words "retro" (レトロ) and "used" (中古), and adventure around a little bit, and you're likely to find something interesting.

Now we will leave Akihabara for...


A bit off the Yamanote Line, you can easily reach this place from either Shinjuku or Akihabara via the Chuo-Sobu line. (You can take the Rapid service from Shinjuku too, since it stops there.) You can follow Chris Kohler's guide over at Wired (though it's so old that the pictures are broken), but this is very easy to get to - when you exit the train station you'll see the Nakano Sun Arcade right in front of you (pictured). Follow this all of the way through and you'll reach tbe Nakano Broadway Mall. There are a few floors, and many of them have stores overrun by Mandarake.


Mandarake is a chain that deals in used goods generally aimed at the otaku audiences. This includes manga, doujinshi, figures, toys, CDs, and pretty much anything aimed at a collector, niche audience, thereby seperating it from the broader reaches of Trader, Liberty or Book Off. They have an online store and do ship overseas, although the selection pales (PALES) in comparison to what they have in their stores.

The video game store here is Mandarake Galaxy. It's smaller than the places in Akihabara, but they still manage to have a great stock, and the prices are decent too. A boxed copy of Gradius 2 for the MSX? Less than 3000 yen (though the box wasn't in the best condition.) I think the most amount of money I spent at a single store, I spent here. Their selection of rare and pricey games is also comparable to Super Potato, if you feel like dropping lots of cash on something particularly noteworthy. All of their stuff keepered, though.

There are a couple of other Mandarake stores in Tokyo, although the game selection varies greatly. There is one in Akiba, though I didn't visit it because back in 2007 it only sold doujinshi. However, in 2008 they opened a much larger complex, though any posts I've read about it talk mostly about the anime and manga content, rather than the games. The one in Shibuya (pictured above) is definitely worth visiting, since it's something like two stories underground and feels like a massive basement worth of awesome goodies. (The walk down the steps is interesting - it has strobe lights, thumping music, and disembodied mannuiquin's more like entering a club.) However, the game selection is slim pickings. I did stumble upon a Famicom 3D system for about 800 yen, though, and the music CD selection, providing you can find them, is pretty alright.


Mandarake also has a used CD shop in the Broadway Mall, which is worth visiting, but my favorite store here is Recomints. It's smaller, but the prices are cheaper. I found a copy of the Suikoden OST for about 1100 yen, Mario and Zelda Big Band for 1600 yen, the Thunder Cross OST for like 800 yen, and random other stuff for decent prices too.


Chiba Kanteidan

Okay, I actually didn't visit this place. I found out above it from this Retronauts video, who found out about it from an episode of Game Center CX. Further googling also found a post on the Digital Press forums with tons of pictures. I didn't visit it because it's sort of out of the way - something like an hour and a train few stops away from the closest store to the Yamanote Loop (there are something like six stores or so), and the general impression I got from both those Digital Press posts and Retronauts is that it's very big, but disorganized, overpriced, and generally not worth visiting unless you really have lots of time to sort through stuff. It's the sort of place I'd probably love to live by and visit on a weekly basis to go treasure hunting, but when there's a bazillion other things to do in Tokyo (beyond all of the other game shopping you'll probably be doing), and both Akihabara and Nakano are already extremely well stocked, there didn't seem to be a reason to venture out there. At any rate, since I didn't go there I don't actually know how to get to any of them, although it appears that the Urayasu location is one of the closest to get to.

These are the places I know of in the Tokyo area, so now for Kansai. Also check out this video from Retronauts for a video tour of Super Potato and Mandarake Galaxy.


You go to Kyoto for the Japanese culture, and not really for the game shopping. The downtown area is nice, though it pales in comparison to Osaka or anywhere in Tokyo. You should be visiting the shrines here instead, but if you're in the mood for shopping, most of the shops seem to be concentrated on a section of Teramachi Street, which runs off the downtown area, and isn't far from the Kawaramachi train station. There's a Toranoana here, along with another huge bookstore stock with enormous amounts of porn. (This will be a recurring theme in your quest for video game hunting.) A bit further down there are some computer shops, and a place called A-Too, which sticks the "Famicom" in its name.


The first floor is current gen stuff and seems to be a bit on the pricier side. The second store is retro stuff, though not a whole lot of it, along with music CDs and, like many of these stores, lots of doujinshi. I would largely say this place is relatively unremarkable, but they did have a whole chunk of cheap FDS games in the junk bin, so I can't begrudge them much. (I bought all of the noteworthy ones though, so don't expect a repeat.) There is a Book Off in town too, which is right outside the Sanjo station.


I was sort of disappointed with the game shopping in Osaka, although that was mostly because I was lead to believe that things here were cheaper than Tokyo. They aren't. Still, the whole area by Dotomburi River is incredible, and the city is still definitely worth visiting, so if you're in the area it's worth checking out. The Osaka station is about a 30 minute train ride from Kyoto, although it'll take a bit longer to get anywhere interesting.

Most of the video game stores are located in Den Den Town along Sakaisuji Street, which is part of Nipponbashi. While Akihabara is very easy to access, Den Den Town is not, and requires either a few subways changes or a lot of walking. Check out this guide for more details, but the gist is you'll need to get to Shin Osaka (where the Shinkansen stops), take the Midosuji line to Namba, take the Sennichimae Line to Nipponbashi, then take the Sakaisuji line to the Ebisucho station. Take exit 1A out and Super Potato is on the right, just outside the door.

Super Potato 7

Smaller than the one in Tokyo, the second floor is devoted to retro stuff. This actually might be more expensive than the one in Tokyo, in fact! I found it rather disorganized, too, though overwhelming in that classy kind of way. I didn't see much in the way of game CDs and there's no arcade either. I only bought a cheap copy of the Sunsoft GB game Trip World here.

Game Tanteidan

A few stores down from Super Potato is this store, which offers two floors of retro shopping. Cheaper than Super Potato, larger, and probably better overall, though still not really better than any of the places in Tokyo.

There's a Softmap along this street, along with an A-Too, apparently, like in Kyoto, though I didn't visit it.


The map points to a spot called Sun Bowl, because that's the only spot I could make Google Maps find, but this is the block you want to be going to, because it's right next to...


Closer to the more interesting parts of Osaka, in Amerika-mura, about a 5-10 minute walk from either the Namba or Shinsaibashi station, is another huge Mandarake store. Other than Galaxy in Nakano, this was the best Mandarake store I found for video games - they had tons of stuff, and this seemed cheaper too. A loose copy of Akumajou Dracula for the MSX2 for 1500 yen? Sure, why not! (I still don't own an MSX2 yet...I found a junk one at the Super Potato in Akiba for 3500 yen, but it was missing connections. The A/V cables are standard, but the AC adapter was not, and finding them separate appeared to be impossible, so I didn't bother.)

Unfortunately Mandarake tends to close early, at about 8 PM. Coincidentally, a block or two down the road is Space Station Osaka, a cool retro video game bar, opens at 8 PM, allowing you to make a smooth transition from game buying to game playing/booze drinking. I'll be writing more about this in a later entry.

Food suggestions

If you're visiting a totally foreign place, you might as try to eat something cool rather than McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken, right? Here are some good spots to check out.

Curry House CoCo Ichibanya

A huge chain, these places are pretty much everywhere, though the best one I went to was in Shibuya. My favorite thing is the ability to set the spice level - Japanese curry by itself can be sort of bland, but kicked up a few notches, it's excellent. Also note that Japanese soy sauce (technically called "shoyu", but most places just label it "sauce") is sweeter than what we typically get in the US, making it a nice accompaniment.

In New York City there's also a Go Go Curry - probably the best place to get Japanese curry that I know of in the US. There's one of these in Akihabara, at least, but I like CoCo better - the curry is a bit thinner, and again, the spice level.

Ichiran Ramen

Filled with single stalls, the ramen in this place is excellent. After buying tickets of all of stuff you want in addition to the standard noodle set, you sit down and are given a card to fill out to determine how you want your noodles cooked, how much fat content in the broth, how much of the restaurant's patented spice you want (hint: a lot), how much garlic and green onions, and so forth. After filling this out, you get a nice steaming bowl of noodles. If you leave some broth and paid for extra noodles, you can summon one of the workers to refill your bowl. Other than the extremely flavorful broth, the best thing about these is that they don't clutter the soup with bean sprouts, which every other bowl of ramen I had in Tokyo was subjected to.

There are a bunch of these around, with two that I know of - one on the outside side of the Ueno train station, just a quick walk north of the Keisei Ueno station (you could technically visit here if you walked off the plane from Narita, although it's not very large, so don't expect to find a place for your luggage) and one that's slightly harder to find in Shibuya, less than a five minute walk from the Hachiko exit. (It's in the basement of a larger building, so you'll need to recognize the logo to find it.) There is also one of these opening up in Brooklyn, NY in the near future. Hooray!

Densetsu no Sutadonya

Its name is short for "Stamina Bowl", and I stumbled upon this randomly in Kyoto. Sort of like the gyudon (beef bowl) or butadown (pork bowl) you can get at any random Yoshinoya, Sutadon is a bowl of rice topped with slithers of pork. However, this pork is apparently the Italian pork used to make prosciutto, cooked in tremendous amounts of garlic and topped with green onions. It is DELICIOUS, though the second bowl admittedly gave me a stomach ache. There are apparently lots of locations in Tokyo, though I'm not sure where they are. You can read more about it here.

Other fun things to do in Japan:

-Mistakenly stumble into the girls-only area of the purikura (picture) booths in an arcade and get kicked out
-Be a girl, visit Harajuku, and confound the clothing store shopkeepers with your distinctly non-Japanese dimensions.
-Accidentally buy dickgirl porn
-Head to Otome Road (across from one of the exits of Sunshine City) and marvel at the shoujo slash pairings for all kinds of properties. I bought one for The A-Team!
-Take pictures of silly advertisements, like the Torys whiskey mascot. It's nice that he's found a girlfriend and appears to be happy, in spite of his obvious physical deformities.

-Be baffled at how the Japan classify and organize their games. They tend to stick them in genres, then by Japanese alphabetical order...but only sometimes, because they also organize by publisher (or vague publisher affiliation) and they tend to be weird. Like, most people would assume you'd stick Final Fantasy Tactics under RPG, but those types of games are actually Simulations...and they may just stuck in the Square-Enix section anyway. Answering the long standing internet debate of whether Mass Effect 2 is still an RPG, Yobodashi Camera sticks the game under the "action" category. Japan has spoken!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Chantelise in English now available

EasyGameStation's Chantelise, which we covered back in 2007, has recently been released in English thanks to awesome doujin localizing studio Carpe Fulgar. While the 3D graphics aren't exactly top notch - they rarely are in doujin games - it's a nice little action-RPG reminiscent of Ys that's unquestionably worth the $10 asking price. (It's $9 for the first week of release.) Grab it from Steam or GamersGate.

Interview with film director Kaizo Hayashi, who was script writer on 7 Blades for PS2

7 Blades was an interesting, early-ish PS2 game published by Konami, featuring sword-based combat for the male character and gunplay for the female. It was released in Japan and Europe, but strangely not the USA. Since I’m about to post my copy to HG101 overlord DiscoAlucard for an article, I thought I’d also put up this interview featured in the game’s manual, with Kaizo Hayashi. Developer interviews in game manuals, now that’s what I call classy! I wish all manuals had this.

Apparently Hayashi’s a famous film director. I’ve never heard of any of his films, but considering how utterly batshit insane and awful the 7 Blades story is, I can’t imagine they’re all that great. And I don’t think it was localisation problems, since 7 Blades features the original Japanese voice track with subtitles – it’s just honestly ridiculous. Not bad ridiculous, rather the kind of totally-super-radical-awesome ridiculousness that only videogames can get away with. You know what I mean, Kojimaesque writing.


Having said that, Hayashi does make an excellent point about how there are certain things that only games can do, which no other communicative medium is capable of (be it music, theatre, literature, cinema or interpretative dance).

Any way, enjoy the scan. I’m guessing few have read this since it wasn’t released in the US and his Wikipedia page doesn’t even list the game in biography. Which is just how we roll – bringing the obscure to light.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Irem officially deletes itself

Irem is officially deleting itself on 11 August. Read on for details!

If you haven't bought them yet, get those Irem games by 11 August. These are going to be pulled from PSN:

* R-Type Tactics (PSP)
* Mousukesu based on Carton-kun (PSP)
* Bumpy Trott Beagle Battle Tournament (PSP)
* Ikuze! Gensan Yuyake Daikou Monogatari (PSP)
* R-Type Tactics II Operation Bitter Chocolate (PSP)
* Sengoku Esatsu Yugi Hototogisu Ran (PSP)
* Sengoku Esatsu Yugi Hototogisu Dairan (PSP)
* Narisokonai Eiyuutan: Story of the Sun and Moon (PSP)
* R-Types (Game Archives)
* R-Type Delta (Game Archives)
* Gussun Paradise (Game Archives)
* Irem Arcade Classics (Game Archives)

Also, all Irem demos, wallpapers, games, and anything else connected to Irem is also being deleted, including PSN HOME related stuff.

Personally I am going to now buy all the R-Type game - if you have an interest in Irem's games it's best to act NOW. Might as well archive all their remaining websites while we're at it - they seem to be starting a bushfire in an attempt to remove all records of themselves. Quick internet people, prevent them from doing it!


EDIT - Correction from Adriasang:
Correction 7/24: This story originally miswrote that Irem is closing all its lounges. It looks like some lounges may not be closing. As noted by Mao in the comments below, lounges for Pachipara and Dokidoki Suikoden are not listed in Irem's list of closures.


I seem to recall Kazuma Kujo mentioned something about wanting to bring the Zettai Zetsumei Toshi games back (can't recall the source, may have been his twitter), plus he's been extremely busy lately. Could it be that his new company, Granzella, is buying up the rights to Irem's back catalogue of games? I have no concrete evidence for this, but it's a nice thought. Others speculate Irem is going bankrupt, and yet some one source mentioned a new Pachipara game they announced for 3DS. Still, even if they do die, the rights to their games will be ripe pickings for someone, so with any luck they won't be dead forever.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A look at some recent German gaming mags

Hardcore Gaming 101's effort to make everyone a cosmopolitan of video game journalism goes on. Introducing a couple of mags you can buy in Germany today.


This is the last of the review machinery type publications I have any respect left for, maybe because it is the oldest suriving console-focused mag (started in 1993). Originally it was called Man!ac, but the name was changed about two years ago. I still keep my subscription, the good thing with that is that you get a better-looking cover without all that advertising headlines stuff. The current issue with the E3 logo is pretty ugly, so I put the last one next to it.

Then again, nothing says "your hobby still has some growing up to do" when the report about a major event starts out with a full page of photos showing all the scantily clad advertisement women.

The features make up for such sillyness, though. Each issue contains a 4-page "love letter" to a vintage device on which people used to play games, here the VIC-20 (VC 20 in Germany). Not much text, but a lot of images.

They also printed the first reasonable Duke Nukem Forever review I've read (for anyone who cares, their rating is 73 out of 100). Censored by me.

A few pages of space dedicated to download-only games. Censored by me.

Usually (not always, unfortunately) there is also a 2-page making of for a really old game, here berzerk. Notice how all retro related articles totally use the same color scheme as HG101?

Hah, not all of them! Here's one of my favourite columns: Each month they research about the first games that made use of a certain feature. This month: Optional vehicles. Somehow Ultima seems to have completely eluded them, though, as they give the prize to Front Line from 1982. On the right you see the explanation of the rating system. Another thing that gives the mag a nostalgic charme are the stupid faces that come with each editor's personal opinion (which a lot of German mags used in the good old days).


Next up is Games_Entertainment_Education, or at least that's what used to be written below the logo. Maybe now it isn't supposed to be an abbreviation anymore, I don't know. GEE was the most succesful of the "gaming as livestyle" mags that appeared in the early 2000s (first issue came out in 2003). You may notice the weird dimensions of the cover. That's new. Recently they have made a transition from print mag to iPhone/iPad app. The print version will be more of a digest in the future, to be published quarterly (originally it was 8 issues per year, the App thingy I think is done monthly)

They focus more on features than your usual mag and are not super crazy about covering every game that's released, but limit themselves to games someone thought they would have something interesting to say about, maybe a bit targeting the educated non-gamer or people who are fed up with the popcorn mainstream. Their biggest review this issue was Child of Eden, the most praise they give for the American McGee's Alice sequel, a game which has received mostly lukewarm reviews elsewhere.

Their writing is what purists would call pretentious, but others may call taking your medium serious. Christian Neeb (Editor-in-Chief, I believe) in his review for Goichi Suda's latest work Shadows of the Damned, for example, likens the game to the commercializing of punk rock and how it ended up having a diversifying influence on pop music.

Explanation of the term "Metroidvania" before reviewing three downloadable games that are vaguely inspired by the Genre.

This feature is pretty cool, an interview with a collector of gaming curiosities. Did you know that Rainbow Arts released a game compilation for C64 on CD, released in 1990? No CD-Rom mind you, the games were played by simply jacking an audio CD player to the C64. Complete with additional music tracks by Chris Hülsbeck. Awesome!

You've surely noticed the Transformers 3 cover above. The review comes with a retrospective on the history of the franchise.

Since they're an iThing app now, I guess they just have to spend a few pages on iThing games.

This is weird. Pixellated fashion by Kunihiko Morigana. For a "lifestyle" magazine, there's also the obligatory music, movie and gadget reviews, but only 2 pages each.

Finally, they usually print a classic review for one of the writer's most favourite games of all times. A lot of gushing ensues, at least in this case.


Another mag where one doesn't really know what the letters are supposed to stand for. It is a brand new mag done by the people from an online gaming site, but actually it's not really a gaming mag, but a "lifestyle" mag divided into games, movies, literature, art and stuff. Frankly, it does nothing of that terribly well, no features whatsoever, it's just a series of reviews whose writing doesn't bring anything particular on the table. Some reviews are ranked in a 5-star rating, others don't have a rating at all, quite confusing.

A pretentiously designed TOC doesn't make a good mag, no. Only reason I bought this is because I make a habit of grabbing first issues of mags when I spot them. I kinda regret it now.


Kinda the German equivalent to Retro Gamer, this is another quarterly. The first issue cover was so awesome, I'm sad I missed that one (wasn't in Germany when it was first published).

To no surprise, this is also mostly feature-driven. My highlights in this issue are the history of pinball games (did you know that Pinball was originally Pachinko? The levers were only invented about 20 years later) and a whooping 14-pager(!) on the many methods to upgrade your C64 with mass memory. The game is more leaning to the home computer side of things, because those were more popular than consoles in the 80s here. In the beginning, it was almost all about them, but console related content has gotten more and more over the years.

Article on the roots of computer adventure games & RPG, the Dunjonquest series is prominently featured. I wonder if the author read the HG101 article (their pedit5 screenshot definitely originates here, as it shows the name of my character ;) )

The reviews are only just a little more than a dozen pages, with two reviews of more or less recent games of retro interest (Child of Eden and Muramasa), this Evergreen/Nevergreen page with a game that's still great and a game that always sucked; afterwards there's just a bunch of short reviews with b&w screenshots, alternatingly old and new titles (the latter preferably inspired by some vintage favourites or straight remakes/sequels).