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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

John Szczepaniak, Blogger

April 14, 2016

29 Min Read

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.



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.


Love-de-Lic by Yoshiro Kimura
YK: "Here was the music composer's room, with keyboard and computer. The living room with two sofas... We were discussing things or eating lunch here. <gestures to upper left of sketch> Oh, and there was a TV, which we played games on. Nintendo 64... We played Starfox, four players. And Goldeneye! Here was the boss, the manager. <points to beneath the lounge room> But there were two company presidents. <points to second president's room beneath the music room> Here was the kitchen. During our Love-de-Lic era, the manager, a woman, made lunch or dinner quite often. Almost every day. We were all eating together, like we're a big family. I'm counting... <counts to self> About 12 or 13 people? Of course I was working 12 hours every day, but this was for our artistic creation, so I didn't mind at all. To maintain a high quality though, I would not stay up all night. So I was sleeping properly every night. That moment at Love-de-Lic was a very special time, because the whole of our team was young, and we could work 12 hours every day, no problem. The graphics were done by just two guys - one person was drawing all of the characters, and one person was drawing the whole map. So it was very special. It's impossible for them now, to do it like that."


Masaya x 2 by Satoshi Nakai and Masayuki Suzuki
The company which gave us Langrisser and Cybernator. These maps went through several revisions, since Masaya/NCS changed office quite a lot. They used PC-98 or Epson computers, and desks had portable 14in TVs on them. Sleeping bags were often left in the emergency stairwells. When asked about crunch times:

MS: Yes. That happened a lot. <laughs> We would often sleep at the company working overnight, but sometimes the president would stop in, already drunk, and drag us off to a bar! <laughs - to SN> And you were furious! You would talk back to the president, saying, "What are you doing? We're trying to get work done!" <laughs>
SN: On cold nights, we would spread out cardboard flat on the floor and stuff newspaper into our clothes to stay warm. <everyone laughs>
MS: We almost looked like homeless people. <laughs>


Microsoft Japan by Bill Gates
(Legal disclaimer: not actually drawn by Bill Gates - artist wished to remain anonymous.)
BG: "I belonged to a development studio, and we were located on the 3rd floor and 4th floor of one building, and our marketing team and third-party team were located on the 7th and 8th floors. I was sitting on the 3rd floor - so is it OK if I draw that floor only?"
            Interesting points with the Microsoft map are the large smoking room, the even larger testing room, and the massage room sandwiched between multiple meeting rooms. Apparently Microsoft employed a professional masseuse to help employees remain stress free during work. There's also the usual kitchen and bathroom areas.


Namco by Professor Yoshihiro Kishimoto
There are two startling aspects to Namco's office: firstly, programmers have to walk down a flight of stairs to the computer room to program; secondly, there was a shortage of computers in the early days, forcing them to take turns.
            YK: "Here's 1984. So that's 8th floor, 7th floor, and 6th floor. Game planners were on the 8th floor of a particular building. Programmers and hardware engineers were on the 7th floor. The two divisions didn't get along! <laughs> And this was the room where they had the HP64000 units, it was the "computer room". Those were the days where there was no security card, so it wasn't like you swiped a card as you entered. <laughs> There's a little button or something, on the top of the door, and you would have to press it to enter. This building was the kind of building where anyone could just walk in. This computer room though had a very special door, with a special locking system. You had to press the button to open the door.  When I joined the company there was only one of these systems, [with stations allowing up to five people to work simultaneously]. And then four new people joined the company. So if one of the sempai, someone who had been working at the company for longer, was using one of the five stations, we had to wait at the back of the room for them to finish. We would work on the 6th floor and when we wanted to take a break, we'd go up to the 7th floor. I think back in those days we were still drawing out flow charts for programming. So we would draw the flow charts on the 7th floor, and bring them down to the 6th floor to program with. "


Sega (Shinobi) by Yutaka Sugano
As I discovered when collecting maps of Sega's offices, there was strict segregation between divisions for arcade games (see Morita map below). Programmers, artists, and planners didn't even know what was going on in the other sections. This division also carried over between the Arcade and Consumer divisions, with an intense rivalry. Here we see the office of the first Shinobi game, for arcades. It's interesting to consider that despite what appears to be an inefficient workflow pipeline, Sega still produced an enormous number of arcade classics.


Sega (Phantasy Star 1) by Kotaro Hayashida
The original Phantasy Star for Master System was a new and ambitious project, launched off the success of Dragon Quest for the Famicom. In these nascent days there was no guarantee that it would be a success. Phantasy Star was given its own section, with planners and artists working side-by-side.


Sega (Panzer Dragoon Saga) by Manabu Kusunoki
Sega's epic four-disc RPG for the Saturn had a large amount of resources poured into it. The movie rendering section of the team was almost as large as the section which made the non-FMV cut-scenes. Battles and overworld map sections of the game were handled by separate sections adjacent each other.



Sega arcade division (1994) by Masamoto Morita
The designer here means artist, rather than planner. As you can see the arcade division circa 1994, years later, hasn't changed much since the days of Shinobi.
            MM: "I was in the amusement R&D division 1, and there were divisions 1, 2 and 3. And also there were Consumer Divisions 1, 2 and 3. We were in the same company, but the culture of each division was so different. It was like completely different companies, but we were all together under one roof. This sketch is from 1994. It was laid out project by project, by division. The AM1 division had a planner section, art designer section, and programmer section. It was completely separated. You could not instantly tell who was involved with which project, because everyone was sitting. The programmers were seated all together, programmer, programmer... Then the art designers all together, and the planners all together. Sometimes programmers and designers sat very close, when they are involved in the same project, but basically we were all separated."


SNK by Masaaki Kukino
Of all the maps shown here, SNK has the largest number of artists - even more than Squaresoft below. Which isn't really a surprise, given that SNK's games are renowned for their spritework, and this was around the time of shifting the King of Fighter's series to HD. The QA or testing room is equally large, though appears to be less organised than the neat rows of artists in the development section. When pressed on how many artists worked there, Mr Kukino laughingly replied that perhaps he shouldn't divulge the exact number due to NDA. The impression was that it was a lott.


Sony (Ico) by Yoshihide Kobayashi
This seemingly doesn't reveal much about Sony, until you consider the fact that Ico was technically by Team Ico, yet housed in the same building as Sony's in-house teams that made Ape Escape 2 and Lifeline for PS2. They each also had roughly 25% of the floor space, with the last quarter dedicated to the mysterious sounding "outside development teams". In the interview Mr Kobayashi explained how Ico was originally a PS1 game, but he shifted it over to PS2 to expand the game's quality, and act as a showcase for the soon to be released hardware.


Square (Live-a-Live) by Takashi Tokita
Notice how very neatly organised Squaresoft's layout is, with each person segregated by role in their own mini cubicle. Also, there appears to be more background designers, or artists, than any other role. Which explains why Square's 16-bit games looked so gorgeous - they dedicated a lot of resources to it. Mr Tokita, the director, has his seat at the back of the work area overseeing all. Interestingly, the ROM writing equipment seems to have its own dedicated cubicle/area. Overall a very efficient set-up!


T&E Soft by Yasuo Yoshikawa
Growing to become one of Japan's largest software houses, T&E Soft had not one but two reception areas. Attached to the main building was both a tent and warehouse for storage. Notice the bedroom on the upper floor for sleeping... This is the office where Hydlide was made.


T&E Soft by Tokihiro Naito
Here we see the same upper floor from the previous map, albeit drawn the other way around (the bedroom position is now the lower left rather than upper right). Amusingly we also see the HAMACHI room here. In Japanese hamachi is a type of fish... However, when we explained the room, most developers sheepishly admitted their offices had something similar.
            TN: "That's where we hid all the prototype hardware we received from manufacturers for testing. When you entered the room, the door was locked from the outside. Sometimes we'd throw a programmer in there, lock the door, and say, 'We'll let you out once you finish your code!' <laughs> It's the room where people went to work during crunch time, so it's 'crunch' (kaihatsu ni HAMAtta) plus "people" (hitotaCHI), which is shortened to the 'hamachi room', or crunch room. Another theory was that the people who got tired and were found rolling around in their sleep on the floor looked like freshly caught hamachi, a type of fish. <laughs>"


Taito (PS2 era) by ZUN
Taito no longer exists. Not properly anyway. It's now been absorbed into Square-Enix. Which makes this map akin to an ancient relic describing the lost city of Atlantis... Or something. Only a few games are listed, but there were many in development at Taito, as ZUN explains: "I also worked on a bunch of different games, which I don't really recall. Some of them for PS3, some of them for the Wii, but none of them got released. Eh... There are a lot of things that I can't tell you. For various reasons. <nervous laughter> Bujingai 2 was in development and looked really good, but never got released."


Tehkan (Tecmo) by Michitaka Tsuruta
This is a fascinating insight into how some early arcade developers operated. There are clear divisions between Management, Sales & Distribution, then the software development section, and finally a bespoke area for designing arcade exteriors. Note that while Sega's early arcade divisions kept graphics and planning separate, Tehkan treated them as one section to start with.
            MT: "This is the office layout for Tehkan. The company occupied two floors. The first floor or ground floor, and then the floor above. On the ground floor there was the sales section as you walk in. There was a reception desk, then the president's desk would be there, and the sales managers or general managers. The president would be in the back. And the head of the sales divisions would be sitting there. The planning section was here. Back in those days the planning and graphics design sections were one and the same. Nowadays planning and design is its own section, but in those days, if you were part of the planning, you were also doing the visual design or drawing. This is what I did, so I was in this section. This is where Ueda-san was sitting. <draws circle on paper> The physical design section was in here, and they would work on the design of the arcade cabinet, the how-to-play diagrams, things like that. The artwork and outer casing. And then there were Ediputer machines, three or four of them I think, installed or set-down here. It's a portmanteau of "edit" and "computer". The original founding members of Atlus were Harano-san, here, and Ueda-san, and then the head of the mechanical design section. <laughs> Mr Okada's desk. He made Megami Tensei."


Telenet by unknown
Illustration found in the instruction manual for a Telenet game. Probably not 100% accurate, unless the company actually worked in a hedge maze overseen by demons... Imagine, this is where Valis and El Viento were made!


Totai "room" by Hiroshi Suzuki
This is weird. Taito hired this room for student game developers to make games, and each game they made would be paid for... And yet Taito never did anything with the games. Some of the members who worked here would later go on to form Game Arts. In the corner there was a leak, and so smelly fungus ended up growing on the Tatami mats.


ASCII office by Masakuni Mitsuhashi
This next office belonged to ASCII and is where members of TOTAI migrated to, before later forming Game Arts. It was basically a two story house, filled with coders all working on their own computer games. The AX series started here and revolutionised the computer software market in Japan. One of the games in the AX series was Olion, made her, which later went on to the influence the creation of the first Shining in the Darkness game.


Umihara Kawase development office by Toshinobu Kondo
We've seen houses and apartments used as offices to make games, but Umihara Kawase was made in a dance hall, with an entire wall covered in a large curved mirror. Interesting to imagine that the cute platformer with fishing rod physics was created in a space normally reserved for things such as ballet.


Zainsoft by unknown
The Japanese computer game equivalent of Compact Films (not an exaggeration!). Ironically, while this layout claims the company looked after its staff, it was quite the opposite. Teenagers worked long hours (breaking labour laws), while fulltime staff were locked in until work was completed, and would risk a physical beating from their boss, Mr Miyamoto, if caught snoozing. It was hellish environment of three month development cycles followed by a single month for conversions. The company's games never reached the West, but are fascinating to examine. DIOS on PC-88 is probably the best.


ZUN's bedroom by ZUN
Famous for the Touhou series, ZUN works all on his own from home. Many indie developers will recognise this kind of layout. Fridge full of beer, bookshelves full of coding books, two computer monitors, and a musical keyboard complete the one-man set-up.

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