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Maps to the Stars (of development)

Project yourself astrally through space and time, and imagine what it was like standing inside a game developer's studio from the past

For all volumes of my book series, The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers, I asked interviewees to sketch the layouts of their offices from that time. A surprisingly high number of readers don't get why I did this. In fact, from what I can tell, most readers seem to regard the energy of acquiring the maps as somehow wasted. To paraphrase and amalgamate comments from a bunch of reviews: "What is up with the author's strange obsession with office layouts?"

Anyone who needs to ask why has obviously never read Philip K. Dick's The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. The purpose of the layouts is to induce a hypnotic trance-like state and project oneself, astrally, through the barriers of space and time, so as to experience vicariously the history of game development within a mutually consensual hallucination.

As I state on page 273 of Volume 2:
"I want every reader, when absorbing these interviews, to really be there. Can you do that for me? As you read the words which describe these places, take a moment and close your eyes: notice the desks and windows, imagine them around you as you hold this book. You're not sitting in your home or on transportation, you are in that game developer's office, the papers around you contain concept art, the air is rich with instant-ramen vapour and nicotine - YOU ARE IN JAPAN RIGHT NOW."

Failing that, the layouts also reveal a lot about a company's workings, how it functioned, how it structured its workflows, how it regarded certain employee positions... Some make no sense whatsoever, and are reflections of archaic computer technology. Hard drives needing a "clean room" for example, forcing programmers to walk a flight of stairs between their desks and workstations.

Get 50 people to draw 50 maps and you'll likely find 50 different ways to run a company.

I am giving permission for these maps to be reproduced elsewhere, on websites like MobyGames or Wikipedia, or in print media, on the following conditions: the original map artist is credited, and an Amazon link to Volume 2 of my books is provided with cover image, explaining this is the source of several maps.

The following maps are presented in a semi-random order, and are sourced from Volumes 1 and 2, and the as yet unpublished Volume 3.

 

MAPS TO THE STARS

Capcom by Kouichi Yostsui (creator of Strider)
Drawn by a pixel artist this map itself is quite beautiful, and shows how much emphasis Capcom placed on creating graphics. Ten desks in a dedicated room, taking up at least 1/3 of the entire floor, with a comparatively smaller planning room adjacent. There's also the typical WC and "crash room" for tired staff to sleep in. Top of the map is Tokuro Fujiwara, creator of Ghosts 'n Goblins, in his own office.

 

Westone by Ryuichi Nishizawa
This is where the original Wonder Boy was developed, later remade by Hudson as Adventure Island. It was a rented apartment, and the abandoned skateboard on the veranda directly led to the skateboard mechanics in-game. In the centre is the Digitizer graphics utility loaned by Sega. This map shows that even humble surroundings can lead to timeless classics.

 

Kenji Eno's WARP offices by Katsutoshi Eguchi
KE: "This was in Aoyama, on the 4th floor. There's three elevators in the entrance. There was a receptionist, and there was a TV. The WARP logo would loop on that. In this next area there were five raised platforms made of silver, like large stepping stones, surrounded by gravel or pebbles. It resembled a zen temple. This is a lake, or like a pond, and this area had a shrine or garden-like design. They had one of those wooden temple ornaments. They're made of bamboo and slowly fill with water, and then go *clonk* when full. You would walk along these stepping stones, and it was like Enemy Zero, in that your steps would make a sound, like *kon-kon-kon*. While the water would make a sound like *chara-chara-chara*.
            "Adjacent this area were three rooms. This was the entrance to the meeting room. Here was where the designers were, and this was Eno-san's office. To get to Eno-san's office you would go down all the stepping stones and then past the Japanese garden display, and that's how you pass through the office. He could hear the *kon-kon-kon* sound as you approached. It had a very Kyoto-style, zen garden feel to it. It cost twenty million yen. Photographs of this office were shown in business magazines in America, as examples of office design. Works of design art.
            "Here in the corner they had a tatami mat room, about 8 tatami in size, that was designed so people could have a sleep. Because the programmers were working very late. But everybody would just sleep at their desks, put a jacket over their heads and just crash out. There was always someone working at these desks, 24 hours a day. Essentially the people lived in the office. Eno-san would basically live in the office. They were not made to stay in the office, and I don't think the hours they had to work were that long, but because it was rendering video - especially back then it could take 20 plus hours - what you would do is, you would hit 'render' for the bit you were working on and then just go to sleep. Then four hours later you'd wake up, go to the next one, hit render, and that's what a lot of people did."

 

Aquamarine (Kamaitachi no Yoru) office by Yasuo Nakajima
Kamaitachi no Yoru was a landmark release for Japanese visual novels, so it's sad to consider the company folded, despite the game itself seeing multiple re-releases right up to the present. Note the smoking room, which is common for a lot of Japanese developers, even today (NudeMaker has one!). YN: "Although I was doing work for Chunsoft, I was working at a different company office. <sketches> It was like this. We had this separate room for taking a smoke break. <laughs> And there was a partition here... This was the meeting room, this was the graphic section I think. The programming team was here. And there was a storage area here. And there was a kitchenette for making tea and coffee. I was there until around 1998."

 

Athena office by Aziz Hinoshita (company responsible for Dezaemon series)
The entire company existed on a single floor and at first seems quite organised, until you notice the large sections marked "junk" on the left and bottom sides. Apparently old computer equipment was just haphazardly piled up, slowly turning yellow from cigarette smoke. Employees were allowed to smoke at their desks, and the bottom of the map has a sketch complete with ashtray. As expected there are bathrooms, a kitchen, and sleeping area, for staff who basically lived in the office. Imagine living out the early 1990s entirely from this little bubble.

 

Chunsoft (Dragon Quest III) office by Manabu Yamana
Another landmark series in Japan, Dragon Quest is phenomenally important. Two things stand out from this sketch: the meeting room is huge, likely to accommodate the many members of Chunsoft, (developer), Enix (publisher), and Nintendo (platform holder) who would all meet to discuss the next instalment. Secondly, the development area is very professionally laid-out and expensive, featuring specially provided HP 64000 workstations with In-Circuit Emulators for interfacing with Famicom hardware. A lonely PC-98 sits in the corner.

 

Compile office by Yuichi Toyama
Planning, graphics design, and sound all get their own separate enclosures at Compile and, assuming this is reasonably to scale, they had quite a large air-conditioning set-up. Furthermore, individuals such as Yuichi Toyama appear to have their own separate work areas.

 

TechnoSoft by Mitsuakira Tatsuta
Not much is given away here other than the fact TecnoSoft had a mysterious "secret room", and the fact its sound department occupied a (quite literally) central role. However, compare this hand-drawn sketch with the following map of the same office...

 

TecnoSoft by Naosuke Arai
It's flipped round 90 degrees counter-clockwise, but it's the same area. It also highlights the fact that memories sometimes fade - the WC is in a slightly different position now. We also see that Thunder Force had its own section.

 

dB-Soft by Yasuhito Saito
This is the company that made Leila on Famicom; best known in Japan for its computer releases, nothing dB-Soft ever made came to the West. Like a lot of computer game developers it started off as a PC shop, incorporating this into its daily running. The bottom area is where development took place, on a bank of extremely expensive HP 64000 computers, much like Chunsoft. The little sign by the door shows you must remove your shoes. No smoking was allowed in this area, because the computers were too expensive to risk damaging!

 

Data West by Yasuhito Saito
A simple but effective layout, with programmers on the one side, graphics in the middle, and Saito creating the music on the opposite end. The company mainly created adventure games and 2D shmups for computers.

 

Early Falcom by Mikito Ichikawa (aka: Mickey Albert)
A sketch showing early Falcom by Ichikawa, who worked part-time when he was only 14! This would be around the mid-1980s. Notice how large the shop area is, effectively taking up 50% of the floorspace.

 

Later Falcom by Jun Nagashima
We're entering the 1990s and a new office for Falcom, and notice how drastically the shop has been downsized, with most of the focus on new game development. On the lower side we can see the area where negotiations for Ys I&II on the TurboGrafx CD-ROM were done by Hiromasa Iwasaki.

 

Game Arts 1 by Kohei Ikeda
The first Game Arts office (9.72sqm), from Dec 1984 to Feb 1985. The founding members  were  Misters Matsuda, Y-Miyaji, Ikeda, Uchida, T-Miyaji, Uesaka, Shimada, Okabe, and Koyama. All worked in this office except Mr Matsuda. It was so small the entrance and toilet became a workspace.
            KI: "The office was very small. So because of this, for all the work not involving a computer we would just get a ride on the Yamanote Line. You know the one that goes all the way around? You'd buy one ticket for one station's distance, and then you'd just stay in the train and do the work. For example, the drafts for magazine adverts were done in the train, because they didn't involve work on computers. Also we did some work in a tea or coffee shop. We originally didn't have an air conditioner in the office, so the Yamanote line was really an easy work environment for us. Because there was air conditioning on the train."

 

Game Arts 2 by Kohei Ikeda
The second office (right, 32sqm) was an apartment, where between 5-6 part-time staff plus eight of the founding members worked.

 

 

Old Hudson by Takashi Takebe
A sketch of very early Hudson, which had Intel computers set up. This was around the time the company first started, and would have been before the Famicom even launched! Notice the surprisingly large storage area...

 

New Hudson by Hiromasa Iwasaki
Several years later and Hudson has grown considerably, taking up multiple floors. This floor is for contracted staff to work on other company's properties (such as Ys).
            HI: "<noting map> Here is the entrance, and here is the elevator, and the coffee maker. Quite a bad coffee maker! <laughs> And the Ys team is here. <references middle top group> And here is the Ys team, and here. <alongside Ys team, middle top> It was Capcom's SuperGrafx game. Daimakaimura - Ghouls'n Ghosts. And here is the Battle Ace team. Near them was the Tengai I team. While here, <referencing lower right> this was the place for game designers and project management.  And over here, this was Momotetsu. The Momotaro team. And here was the Power Golf team. While here was Toshio Kawaguchi's adventure team. <referencing map, upper left> And back here, in the corner, were 'young people'. Newbies go here."

 

Human School by Ryoji Amano
"So this is the first floor, or the ground floor, and then this is in the basement below it. The development was done on the ground floor. One building, one floor. <points> Then one, two, three, four floors. This part on the ground floor is the office. These two sections [left and right] are connected. It was connected via something like a corridor. So it was decided that teachers would be hired for the school, and the school either rented or bought another building, or space in another building. So they moved out of this basement eventually, and that space was returned to  game development."

 

Human Entertainment '91 by Masatoshi Mitori
A slightly clearer sketch showing the walkway. However, the development and classrooms seem to have switched places!

 

Human Entertainment '94 by Masatoshi Mitori
After moving development offices, and the school becoming its own separate building, we see a more standardised set-up. Except... It seems that audio and visual people are in the basement, while programmers and designers are on the second floor, with the intermediate 1st floor having the business and PR people. The entrance is here, so presumably when arriving you either go up or downstairs depending on your role. Hopefully you'd have no reason to visit another section, otherwise you'd cover 4 flights of stairs going there and back!

 

Irem by Kazuma Kujo (circa PS2 era)
KK: "This is the Irem office. <writes in upper right> This was for meetings. And then here we had computer servers. <writes in centre of image> Here we have Main Street! We had flowers along here, Morning Glory flowers. <pointing to left side> Here we have the desks of development staff. Initially we had some greenery because the office looked really bare. After one of the Tokyo Game Shows, we had some artificial Morning Glory flowers left over. <pointing around the map> So we have the entrance here, the development staff here, and then the promotion staff and sales staff here. And I was here <sketches self reclining by desk>. I sat here and would overlook the office like this. <reclines in seat, as if surveying the land> I would have two chairs here, and I would sleep like this. And a different staff member was sleeping here, <sketches staff near Main Street> under the desk on the floor."

 

Kid (Pepsiman) by Kotaro Uchikoshi
The developer known as Kid had an interesting way of motivating staff...
            KU: "I was sitting in this, <gestures to star> it's called a writer's booth. This area was known as the area for people who could be booted at any time. It had the nickname of "The Edge of the Cliff." So, these guys could always be disposed of. There was a piece of paper here, like a poster, which said "Edge of the Cliff". <points> This is where the director was, the division director. This is the warehouse. This is graphics, and I think this was programming. The conference room, meeting room. And this area I think it was not Pepsiman, but the visual novels area. The same here, basically the whole area."

 

Konami (Osaka) by Toshinari Oka
More HP 64000 computers with ICE, usually a sign of a high profile developer, and they don't come much higher profile than Konami. This is from their old Osaka office. The computers at the top were kept in their own separate "room" sealed off with sheets of plastic to keep them clean. This is where the first Parodious game was made, and the first Metal Gear.

 

Enix (Lennus) by Hidenori Shibao
Though published by Enix, Lennus for SFC (aka: Paladin's Quest), was developed by a satellite team, much like the Dragon Quest series, and out of a rented apartment, much like Westone and several others. This highlights how fragmented development was for consoles in the 8-, 16- and 32-bit eras, with many software houses working in small spaces such as this, spread around cities like Tokyo and Osaka.

 

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