Red Bull Music Academy has produced a great series of documentaries about the little-known world of Japanese video game music.
The series is called “Diggin’ in the Carts” and so far parts 1 and 2 have been released. Each episode is around 15 minutes long and have English subtitles.
Composers featured in the series include Hirokazu Tanaka, Hitoshi Sakimoto, Shinji Hosoe, Hiroshi Kawaguchi and Takenobu Mitsuyoshi (both above), Masahi Kageyama (below), and many more.
The series highlights how important video games and their soundtracks were for the generation growing up in recent years, and “yet for most of us the composers behind these timeless melodies remain faceless”. The central thrust of the series is to put a face to these undervalued composers and argue that video game music has been probably Japan’s largest musical export to the rest of the world.
Here is Episode 1: “The Rise of VGM”.
In this episode we look at the birth and rise of music in video games. From the earliest sounds and melodies to the first fully formed continuous music to be pioneered in the arcade games from Namco. We meet Junko Ozawa, one of Namco’s earliest sound team composers, and also the legendary Hirokazu ‘Hip’ Tanaka, who joined Nintendo in 1980 and was responsible for composing some of the giant’s most loved classics like Metroid and Tetris.
The series is directed by Nick Dwyer and Tu Neill.
For some reason they have elected not to put the other full episodes on YouTube (yet?) but they exist as heavy videos on their own site that don’t really embed well.
The first episode was released in early September. Episode 2 is called “The Outer Reaches of 8 Bit” and is out now. The final three episodes are scheduled to go online over the next few weeks.
Watch the rest of the series when they are released and see other bonus content over on the Red Bull Music Academy website.
On a side note, one of the most famous composers of Japanese video game music, Mamoru Samuragochi, was exposed as a fraud earlier this year.
It was supposed to be Sony’s big advert for the Project Morpheus HMD system at the Tokyo Game Show (public days on September 20th-21st).
Instead, Sony Computer Entertainment just canceled the “Summer Lesson” demo.
Officially Sony says it has made the decision because it received so many inquiries about it after they announced the virtual reality demo on September 1st that it fearer it would not be able to cope with the anticipated demo from the media and the general public at TGS.
Our guess is that the backlash was so strong they wanted to have a re-think.
As soon as it was announced there was a strong intake of breath. Sony had chosen to go with a demo made by the team behind Tekken that showcased the virtual reality headset’s technology in a way that could be described at best as, well, creepy.
There were many at home and abroad quick to apply other adjectives. The “Summer Lesson” demo features a loosely dressed schoolgirl at home that the player can, to be blunt, ogle up close.
It certainly lives up to the stereotype of Japanese male gamers being perverts and is bound to be a big hit with a specific demographic. But the TGS is the most important event in the industry and this was Sony’s chance to fight back after being in the economic doldrums (billion dollar losses for fiscal 2013).
Rather than going mainstream, it went with a divisive and (to many people) sexist demo.
Officially Sony is saying that it is considering a new date and venue to showcase its demo, though we have our suspicions that “Summer Lesson” may not see the full light of day in its current state.
Mario to the rescue? The mustachioed plumber is going to become a toy figure — no surprises there — except that this is going to have NFC technology.
Kyoto-based Nintendo are calling this “Nintendo Figurine Platform” or “NFC Featured Platform”, or NFP for short, and it will debut at E3 in LA in June in an attempt to build up interest in Nintendo’s consoles in the wake of the Wii U disappointment and three years in the red.
A series of toy figurines will harness the Wii U GamePad’s near-field communication (NFC) features. Like the Skylander game series, the NFP toys can read and write game data across different titles.
It seems like a step backwards in some ways for the troubled game company. Normally you move on from the small toys you play with as a kid for the more visceral excitement of a video game. But Nintendo has tried this before with Pokémon Rumble U and toys with NFC for the Wii. Mario is also an impossibly popular character and maybe even older “kids” will like to have a toy of him around, especially if he is performing some connectivity function.
Mario won’t be alone. Nintendo is planning a range of NFP character toys from the end of the year. You can “customize” your own NFP but storing your game data in it, watching it “grow and develop”. Could this catch on? We’re not sure.
NFP will be usable for multiple Nintendo games and the company is also going to install a NFC reader-writer on the 3DS, so you can use the NFC toys not only with your Wii U (assuming you have one).
Movie adaptations of video games rarely work.
For every Silent Hill and Resident Evil there’s a Final Fantasy, Super Mario Bros. or Prince of Persia.
But things go better when Hollywood isn’t meddling with the Japanese source material.
And so it is we wait with bated breath for the upcoming film version of The Idolmaster, the mega successful Namco Bandai Xbox game that sees players become Yasushi Akimoto-type idol producers. If you’ve ever wanted to be in charge of your own idol group, this is the game for you.
The Idolmaster Movie: Kagayaki no Mukogawa e! (The Idolmaster Movie: To the Other Side of the Light) is a brave choice. Although the franchise is immensely successful as a game and anime series, how do you turn such a subject matter into a feature-length film?
And without the interaction element of the game and the digestible length of the TV anime, will it be as interesting for the general public, enough to justify the larger budget?
There is always the problem of the fine line between satisfying the hardcore fans and also bringing in new audiences.
Here’s the trailer.
We will find out on January 25th when it premieres in Shinjuku.
How do you get new people into video arcades? That’s the dilemma facing Japan’s famed “game centers”.
The amusement centers are slowly but surely dying. Sales have been dropping annually for five years, with 2011′s figures 1.7% lower than 2010. A steady decline as people turn to other forms of entertainment like apps and mobile games.
But anyone who’s ever been in an Akihabara game center — or one everywhere in Japan — will known what a loud but vibrant place they are.
As the population here gets older, can Sega et al get seniors into the game centers to spend their national pensions on futile trials with the addictive claw crane? It might just be the solution to saving the industry.
Sega’s Galileo Factory 3: Planet Zero is a “medal” (coin) game that is relatively easy to play and get into — and has proved enough of a hit for the maker to continue the series to its current third incarnation (analog games are more popular with the age bracket, it seems).
Taito also introduced a game where you throw a large but light ball at a big screen to smash “castles” and “robots”. Capcom, says the Tokyo Shimbun, is targeting even younger consumers (55 and up!) with money and time on the hands, and is even considering offering tours where you can go around the game center and try out arcade machines for free.
This has been going on for a while, with the Asahi Shimbun reporting in 2011 that one game center in northeast Tokyo had started to see an increase in senior players two years before and they had since grown to be some eighty or ninety percent of the center’s daytime patrons. And already back then a savvy Namco was offering special deals for seniors on Thursdays at all its 200 game center branches where players could get double points.
CNN also did this nice report on the trend in early 2012, noting that membership stamp cards were switching back to paper versions rather than electronic ones that you might use via your phone.
The Kataokas, both 70, certainly feel the arcade is friendly for their age group. They come every other day. Teruo Kataoka plays about six hours. “It’s fun here,” he said, rarely taking his eyes off the video game. “It keeps my brain vibrant.”
His wife, Tsuneko, splits her time shopping in the mall and playing video games. “We’re bored. We have nothing to do. I don’t have anything to say to my husband anymore. It’s much better to come here than just sit in the house watching TV all day. We need some excitement, too,” she said. The Kataokas, like many of the gamer-retirees, prefer the more analog games at the arcade, which mirror more of the video slot machines in Las Vegas.
We’ve blogged before about how Japanese eyewear brands are pretty interesting in what they do to promote themselves to a circumspect but myopic public.
Now eyewear retailer ALOOK has got together with game franchise Monster Hunter to offer a series of glasses, Hito-kake ikouze!
Sounds like a bit of a mouthful but it’s a play on words using the video game’s catch-phrase, “Let’s go for a hunt!” (Hito-kari ikouze!) with the verb for wearing glasses (kakeru). So I guess it translates roughly as “Let’s go for a wear!” Right, in English it isn’t going to win any copywriting awards.
Monster Hunter is a hit RPG from Capcom and a new version of the game comes out for the Wii U very soon.
There are ten species in this new line-up of ALOOK glasses, each one based on a different character in the Monster Hunter beastiary.
Each pair of spectacles comes with its own special colored case and customized wipe cloth.
Curiously (or am I just being an unwitting snob?), it’s being presented as a stylish collaborative design eyewear accessory, not just yet another example tie-up merchandise trying to lure collectors and fans.