“From hardware to software, controllers to culture,”
May 18, 2018 8:56 AM   Subscribe

How Japan changed video games forever [CNN] “Japan didn't invent the first computer game. That accolade goes to "Space War!", a game created in 1962 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States. But ever since then, Japan has embraced gaming culture with an almost unrivaled passion. From the Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog games that became cultural giants, to the Sega Mega Drive and Game Boy consoles which were symbols of their time, gaming was led by Tokyo for decades. "Without the contributions of Japan, we wouldn't have a video game industry," Blake J. Harris, a video game expert and author of "Console Wars," says. "Or, at least, not one that resembles what we have today in any way. ”

• Ebb and Flow - Conversations on the Recent Momentum of Japanese Games [YouTube]
“This is Ebb & Flow, a 40-minute documentary about the resurgence of Japanese video games that features interviews with people like Katsura Hashino (Persona), Yoko Taro (Nier) and Toshihiro Nagoshi (Yakuza).”
• How Japanese video games made a comeback in 2017 [The Verge]
“So what changed between 2009 and today? The current video game crop is diverse in genre — role-playing, action-adventure, rhythm — but what unifies the projects is how they embrace many of the modern trends of Western games, without betraying the techniques that helped launch Japan’s most popular franchises decades ago: an abundance of creativity, a willingness to take risks, and a respect for the mechanics that underpin classic games. Whereas Western games often favor immersion and spectacle, thrusting players into worlds that are increasingly lifelike and trimming away “gamey” visual design, Japanese games often embrace their inherent mechanicalness. It’s not unusual to see complex menus, reams of text-based dialogue, or arcade-like action in modern Japanese releases.”
• The Fall and Rise of Japanese games [IGN]
“Since 1983 almost all of video game terminology, iconography and representation to the wider public has come from Japan. However, I don't blame you for letting that fact slip your mind, given that during the seventh console generation Japan took a backseat to the West in terms of gaming software. Oh, the hardware sold alright with the PS3, 3DS and Wii killing it at retail outlets. But as far as games were concerned, only the 3DS had a strong collection. And it too relied mainly on Nintendo’s first party franchises and Pokemon. As for the PS3 and the Xbox 360, Western games were what sold those machines. Shooters, WRPGs and open world adventures ruled the landscape and sales charts, pushing traditional Eastern games off store shelves, or relegating them to subtitled curios on digital storefronts. And before anyone comments that Western games have always been more important than Eastern ones, tell me that more people bought a PS1 for Tomb Raider or Grand Theft Auto 1 than for FF VII.”
• Japan's return to growth is good news for everyone [Games Industry]
“The success of Switch is undeniable, but the upturn in the market overall is a testament to broader strength; Sony is doing fine, the 3DS is chugging along, and Switch has built on top of that firm foundation rather than cannibalising attention for existing systems. This change in the fortunes of Japan's games market isn't just a feel-good story about Nintendo (and Sony) doing well in their home territory. It's important to look at the context and understand why console revenues have declined here for over a decade, because the picture will be hauntingly familiar to people in markets all around the globe. Japan may have specific tastes and preferences in games to some degree (much to the chagrin of Capcom and Square Enix, it's unlikely that Monster Hunter and Dragon Quest will ever dominate charts in other territories as they did in Japan last year), but the background factors underpinning change in game consumption are broadly universal - making their reversal during 2017 into a story with relevance for everyone in the industry.”
posted by Fizz (7 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

Other than the Pokémon themselves, is there anything Japanese about the development of Pokémon Go?
posted by davros42 at 9:07 AM on May 18, 2018

I think Dragon's Dogma was kind of a weird harbinger emblematic of this trend. It's a Japanese studio taking a Western approach; the game was explicitly a response to Western RPGs like Skyrim. But at the same time it had the meticulous combat and idiosyncratic mechanics (like the pawn system) that are often markers of the best Japanese games.

Another way it's a harbinger; the game was not a huge commerical success, but found a cult audience and then a new life when released on PC. Japanese publishers have turned it around with PC ports and its putting their devs work in front of a new audience.

Capcom ultimately took the lessons of the game and packaged them into Monster Hunter World (which it shares an engine with), just as Western audiences seemed to be warming to Monster Hunter. The result was a big success for a company that badly needed one.
posted by selfnoise at 11:37 AM on May 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

The article doesn't even mention LCD games which... eeehn. We all played this one in the 80s before the SNES came.
posted by sukeban at 11:39 AM on May 18, 2018 [4 favorites]

I kinda wish Namco and Konami were more active. Both released some of my favourite games on the PS1 and PS2 but on the past gen it felt they were a lot less active. I think the increases on dev costs and diminishing arcade returns kinda finally caught up with Namco, and Konami... who knows what's on their heads.

And before anyone comments that Western games have always been more important than Eastern ones, tell me that more people bought a PS1 for Tomb Raider or Grand Theft Auto 1 than for FF VII.”
Hey now. It's true Japanese-developed games make a lot of the backbone/prime rib of the PS1, but are we really going to compare an exclusive title to multi-platform releases? Tomb Raider shifted around 7 million units on the PS1, versus FFVII's 10 (give or take) if this is correct, and for a while, Lara Croft was even the mascot of some sorts of the PlayStation, which was amazing considering it was not an exclusive title. GTA was not a massive hit until the following generation - GTA 2 didn't even break the top 50, while III (8 million), Vice City (9.6) and San Andreas (17) are all on the top 10.
posted by lmfsilva at 8:19 AM on May 19, 2018

Many games predated "Spacewar!", some as early as 1950.

Sure, but Spacewar directly inspired two important efforts -- Larry Rosenthal's vector technology, and Atari's Computer Space (which became Pong, then Breakout, which directly inspired Space Invaders, and all of the above informed Asteroids). I'd go with Magnavox's Tennis game as the other important ancestor.

Also, I think it's weird that both Pac-Man and Donkey Kong were inspired by Popeye.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:26 AM on May 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

And of course, there's Pokemon, which is the only game that makes me wish that the characters were real.
posted by Social Science Nerd at 8:58 AM on May 20, 2018

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