Counting Roses
February 26, 2013 4:30 PM   Subscribe

Iconclastic game designer Kenji Eno passed away last week.

Kenji Eno, founder of highly idiosyncratic studio WARP, is most widely known for D, an interactive film/horror puzzle adventure game following a woman's pursuit of her homicidal father and subsequent unraveling of her own naturally unsettling lineage. The game featured at the time shocking content including cannibalism, something Eno pushed through by switching a slapped together "censored" version of the game with the original just before production.

Eno shortly had a falling out with Sony (during which he punched a Sony representative) after a deal to produce 100,000 copies of Eno's Enemy Zero fell through to only 28,000, and signed an exclusive contract with competitor Sega to produce games for their Saturn system.

During the production of Enemy Zero, the now Saturn exclusive thematic followup to D, Eno caught wind of a visit by minimalist composer Michael Nyman to Japan. Being a fan of Nyman's work and needing a soundtrack for his game, Eno allegedly harassed Nyman in his hotel room for six hours until Nyman finally caved and agreed to score the game. Still not satisfied, Eno pushed Nyman until he'd produced a score Eno found personally acceptable.

Eno's commitment to the Saturn is legendary. Promotion of Enemy Zero took the form of a limited run deluxe edition, delievered personally by Eno himself, packaged in a crate and containing stickers, t-shirts, condoms and sundry other merchandise loot. Following Enemy Zero, Eno serendipitously discovered that games were enjoyed by a number of visually-disabled persons, and set out to make a game in which the experience of a sighted and blind person are identical, managing a deal with Sega to donate 1,000 Saturns packaged with the game to blind persons. Real Sound: Kaze no Regret (Wind of Regret) follows the separation and reunion of two lovers over the course of several years, and mechanically takes the form of an interactive radio play.

A sequel to D had originally been planned for Panasonic's ill-fated M2 console. This version of the game had intended to be a Zeldalike adventure following the original protagonist's son as he explores a Transylvanian castle and bonds with his sinister father. A number of videos and screenshots detailing early footage have surfaced.

An actual sequel materialized some time later for Sega's Dreamcast. Following another version of "digital actress" Laura (the shared protagonist of D and Enemy Zero) after a plane crash in northern Canada, this version takes the form of a light RPG with strong a horror/science fiction influence and wilderness survival elements. The plot is difficult to summarize, Dickian and deeply strange--angels, evolution, impending apocalypse, addiction, reality-warping drugs, God, doppelgangers and simulacra, sentient plants--and climaxes in one of the most memorable endings in videogame history.

After D2, Eno left the industry for a decade, focusing instead on music. 2008 marked his return to the industry in a collaboration with Kenichi Nishi (Incredible Crisis, Chibi-Robo).

Apart from his work in games, Eno was an accomplished musician in his own right, composing the hauntingly original scores for D and D2 along with several other games. Eno also produced music outside games, collaborating with The Cinematic Orchestra and beautifully covering Sakamoto. Musically, his typical style is electronica influenced minamalist classical.

He died of heart failure on February 20, 2013.

Japan's Wayward Son, the 2011 1Up interview (Eno's first in over a decade) is well worth reading in its entirety.
posted by byanyothername (15 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Some miscellany: Christian Nutt's Memories of Kenji Eno is also worth reading.

The Happy Videogame Nerd liked Eno and talks about him here: D
Enemy Zero

Fumito Ueda, now renowned for Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, got his start in games by working as an animator on Enemy Zero. He has not worked on any other games.

Editorializing like crazy, but that Nyman score is easily one of the most beautiful things to grace a game. Eno's own compositions are their equal, which is even more impressive; D2's score is also full of gorgeously melancholy minimalism.

Counting Roses seemed an appropriate title here.

Eno was 42.

posted by byanyothername at 4:36 PM on February 26, 2013

looking at his wiki page, "You, Me, and the Cubes" is one of my favorite wiiware titles. it's perfectly suited to what the wii does well. also, weirdly, i spent a good part of my morning researching kenichi nishi, love-de-lic, and everything that spawned after that in all directions.

42 is too damn young.
posted by nadawi at 5:11 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd never heard of Eno or any of his games before he died, but I now have a pretty good idea what I'll be playing soon.

You, Me, and the Cubes is another game he released recently for WiiWare that looks fascinating.
posted by 23 at 5:16 PM on February 26, 2013

nadawi: If you're just looking into Lovedelic, there's a blog and twitter account worth checking out, though both are updated only infrequently.
posted by 23 at 5:19 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nishi and Lovedelic are my other major art game crushes. If anyone is getting into either right now, I'd recommend looking at the Dreamcast. Nishi's LOL (Lack of Love) and Eno's D2 are among the most polished games either produced, and coincidentally thematically related (both are unusually melancholy--if not outright despairing--for games). The game also has very beautiful music by Ryuchi Sakamoto.
posted by byanyothername at 5:40 PM on February 26, 2013

Liz Ryerson (previously) tweeted something recently to the effect of: Consoles are prisons companies put games in to keep people from playing them.

Hyperbolic certainly, but I have to admit it's the first thing to come to mind after hearing about his passing. I have only heard of some of his games and have played zero of them. D2 sounds especially interesting but I assume that unless I manage to bump into a Dreamcast somewhere it will be highly unlikely that I'll get a chance to play it anytime soon.

When people actually manage to produce creative and/or artful games it become even clearer how much of a shame it is that the systems are locked the way they are.

posted by sendai sleep master at 5:42 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Supergreatfriend's LP's of D and D2 are good ways to enjoy the games if you've never played them. prev iously

Very sad to hear

posted by dagosto at 6:17 PM on February 26, 2013

thanks for the heads up about the other games and blog and twitter! i had found some of the information on random fan boards and such, but it's nice to see it all collected. it looks like full english translations are still in the works for the lovedelic games?

also, i hear that modern computers are perfectly capable of playing backup copies of games that came out on older than current gen consoles.

back on topic - seriously, you, me, and the cubes - i know i said it upthread but i just have to say it again - it's frustrating and beautiful and perfectly made for motion control and a lazy sunday afternoon. the only wiiware game i like more is orbient.
posted by nadawi at 6:30 PM on February 26, 2013

I had a Saturn and a Playstation at the same time (they were gifts from my sister who loves me very much, and had just landed her first full-time job.)

I enjoyed the hell out of the bundled Saturn games, Nights into Dreams, Virtua Cop and Virtual On... and loved wasting time on Sonic 3-D, Panzer Dragoon and Bomber-Man. I kinda liked "Eggs of Steel" on the Playstation, and couldn't get into Spiro or Crash or Resident Evil.

I wish I could remember what I did with my Saturn, so I could find a copy of Enemy Zero and D.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:39 PM on February 26, 2013

Every console except the Saturn has had a decent emulator come out shortly after desktop PCs caught up. The Saturn took longer but it's gotten there.

nadawi, looks like at least the Moon fan translation is still in progress, but the Lovedelic games probably didn't sell well enough to justify official translations. Yoshiro Kimura does talk about the old games sometimes in PoriPori Club, the game designer chat video show thing he does - they just gave away the last set from the game someone who still worked on it had around New Year's. Most of the old Lovedelic guys have somewhat active Twitter accounts and they're friendly, though they don't use English much.
posted by 23 at 6:53 PM on February 26, 2013

The Saturn had two RISC processors in addition to three custom GPU's and three sound chips - there were Unix workstations on the market at the time with less horsepower. The development system was, I understand, terrible, and you had to have a truly above-par team to develop anything worthwhile for it. Even the above-mentioned Enemy Zero had some really, really bad modeling and rendering, saved entirely by the gameplay and plot.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:04 PM on February 26, 2013

23 - oh yeah, i totally meant fan translations, i don't expect anything else. looking at the conversation about the moon translation there seem to be plans to do the others.
posted by nadawi at 7:06 PM on February 26, 2013

posted by SageLeVoid at 12:37 AM on February 27, 2013

Man, his games were moderately playable at best and slightly entertaining at worst, but he had some novel ideas and the gaming world is poorer for having lost him.

posted by NEW Eccentric Girl at 6:13 AM on February 27, 2013

Er, slightly embarassing. Whoops.
posted by NEW Eccentric Girl at 6:18 AM on February 27, 2013

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