The Tokyo Game Show is one of the biggest consumer-oriented events for video games worldwide. It has also traditionally been a big place for business, and all the major Japanese game announcements. But over the years, the show has evolved from one of announcements to one of catchups – these days, more games are announced at E3, or Gamescom, or even PAX.
At the same time, over the last year or so, the game press has declared that “Japan is back!” Hits, or at the very least interesting games like Persona 5, Final Fantasy XV, Yakuza Kiwami, Nier Automata, and others, have given players the feeling that Japan is back on its proverbial game.
But how do Japanese game developers themselves feel? And how does the Tokyo Game Show reflect these changes? We asked four venerable developers – Naoto Ohshima (Sonic the Hedgehog), Hidetaka "Swery" Suehiro (Deadly Premonition), Kotori Yoshimura (Star Cruiser), and Tak Fujii (Ninety Nine Nights) to give us their thoughts.
Naoto Ohshima has been making games for decades. He’s best known as the character designer and artist for Sonic the Hedgehog (and director of Sonic CD), but he’s also worked on dozens of other series throughout the years, such as Blinx, Blue Dragon, and most recently, Hey! Pikmin, under his new company Arzest. He has attended TGS many times throughout his career, so makes the perfect interview subject.
How did you feel about this year’s TGS in general? How would you compare it to the 90s, when you were exhibiting Sonic?
"I feel there’s nothing new and challenging being made in Japan. I got the feeling that only games with strong existing IP and characters were being shown."
Ohshima: I feel there’s nothing new and challenging being made in Japan. I got the feeling that only games with strong existing IP and characters were being shown.
Back in the 90s we were always tackling new challenges, breaking ground with new technology, which you can see in early 3D games like Virtua Fighter. We were bringing a more cinematic experience to games, and and tackling the challenges that came with that.
I am hoping Mr. Shigeru Miyamoto will revive and bring us something new. I think we still need new games and new ideas in order for the industry to survive.
How do you feel this year’s TGS reflected the current state of the Japanese game industry?
Ohshima: Japan has become a place where the smartphone is the main platform. So if you want to make something new, that might be the best platform to tackle.
On the other hand, since smartphone games basically have to be free, players will leave if they aren’t having immediate fun 5 minutes after they start playing. This means it’s very difficult to make a new challenging game on the smartphone platform.
And how do you feel about the future of the Japanese game industry then?
Ohshima: The business of making new games in Japan is going under water. We have to challenge ourselves to fight against this tide.
Arzest recently developed Hey! Pikmin for Nintendo
Hidetaka "Swery" Suehiro
Swery, Buddhist monk and developer of Deadly Premonition, D4, who has also worked on games like The Last Blade and Drakengard 3, came to TGS without a game this year. He’s currently crowdfunding a game on Fig (The Good Life) that’s in its final days. As he ran around doing interviews, he gave us his thoughts.
How did you feel about this year's TGS versus recent years' TGS?
"There were even bigger booths and wider aisles compared to last year. It gave me the feeling there might be fewer exhibitors than last year."
Suehiro: This year's TGS has even bigger booths and wider aisles compared to last year. It gave me the feeling there might be fewer exhibitors than last year.
Also, I felt that there were more visitors from Asia than last year. Especially the creators from Taiwan, China, Hong Kong were seen to be moving in a small group.
If I focus on the Indie booth… It might be bigger than last year. A lot of visitors were playing their indie games and talking about publishing or something. But that was only during the business days [the first two days of the conference]. Regular Japanese users were not as interested in them as I thought.
How do you feel TGS reflects the current state of the japanese game industry?
Suehiro: Aging, and declining birthrate. And also it might became more like the Galapagos.
What do you feel is your place at TGS as a newly independent developer?
Suehiro: I couldn't show anything for this year. Because we started only 6 months ago. I could only talk about my FIG campaign The Good Life [right]. I had 5 or 6 interviews during TGS and I shot some video program for French media. I hope that I can show something to you guys at the next TGS.
And just to my fans -- at the time of writing this, the FIG campaign may not be doing very well. But... please don't quit helping us. Please continue with support.
If the FIG campaign of The Good Life fails, the result of how many supporters supported us is very important. The more options there are, the more options to find a way we have. And the possibility that the strangest and supercute video games The Good Life will be released into the your world will increase.
So please do not give up! And please continue with support! I absolutely will not give up. I promise!
Sorry for my poor English. Thank you for your time. I love you all!
Kotori Yoshimura may not be a household name, but she has done a lot of pioneering work. She was the co-founder of Technosoft (makers of the Thunder Force series), and made some of the earliest 3D PC games in Japan – most notably Star Cruiser, a 3D FPS space opera RPG, made in 1988. As an Assembly language prodigy, she even did optimization work on Intel’s Pentium 4 processor.
Through her long career looking at the bleeding edge of game Japanese technology, she has a unique perspective about the Tokyo Game Show.
How did you feel about this show as opposed to years past?
Yoshimua: Starting around 2010, the Japanese mobile phone industry became almost entirely “social games,” and the entire industry got pulled along with it. Because of this, it feels like more and more games are about “gatcha,” where people with more money can get further ahead.
"Last year, the number of people who wanted something that was interesting as a proper game, not just by charging and gatcha, became too large for game makers to ignore."
One or two years ago, all the users got fed up, and we had this thing we basically called the “social game exodus.”
Even so, the biggest successes were still successful, and continued to operate, while smaller companies tried to take overtake these higher level services with fewer resources.
But then there was a change, around last year. The number of people who wanted something that was interesting as a proper game, not just by charging and gatcha, became too large for companies and game makers to ignore. So a lot of the specialized social game makers went down in flames.
Some of those companies that specialized in social games have come back to making games for the PC and consoles.
That last change is more or less what I saw reflected in this year’s TGS.
Yoshimura's classic Star Cruiser
Do you see this as a lasting change?
Yoshimua: To me it feels like, with Japanese games, finally, we’re returning to the idea that no matter how much of a famous name you trot out in front of it, people will only react if the game seems good. That was the origin of games after all – it won’t sell if it’s not interesting.
Of course, it’s not like this doesn’t cost a lot of money to accomplish, so that’s why you’re seeing mostly these big titles reviving. I do wonder, in spite of all the money that’s spent promoting a game like Monster Hunter, if user expectations are still being met.
How does TGS reflect the future of the game industry?
Yoshimua: Well, I also saw the Japanese game school corner. Unfortunately it was totally uninteresting. Honestly if I’d seen just that part of the expo, I’d get the feeling the future of the Japanese game industry is not so bright.
"In the indie section, I saw strange, interesting games with variable budgets scattered about. So maybe the future of Japanese games is visible to me after all, in the form of these enthusiastic indies. "
Thankfully, in the indie section, I saw strange, interesting games with variable budgets scattered about. So maybe the future of Japanese games is visible to me after all, in the form of these enthusiastic indies.
I think that if we want to inspire future generations, we need to work harder. Right now in the current PC environment, there aren’t really many feature-rich options for free development. You can of course install Unity, but I think the difficulty level is still too high.
I think an environment in which children can create things easily should be pre-installed on PCs, from childhood. Environments in which children can make music with software instruments, or create 3D objects like building from clay or blocks. If these are organically connected to creation of PC games, I think this opens the door for children to create for themselves.
Right now I fear that a child who enters a game school will emerge as a “game creating warrior” for game companies to use, but not a true game creator themselves.
Tak Fujii is best known in the west for his “extreeeme” presentation for Konami’s Ninety Nine Nights — he also had important roles on the Pro Evolution Soccer and Winning Eleven series. Most recently, he unveiled his newest game, Gal Metal, at the Tokyo Game Show. It’s a rhythm game for Switch, in which a boy and girl’s consciousnesses share the same body (the girl’s), and they must play the drums in a metal band to defeat the alien invaders that merged them.
Fujii is struggling with an incurable, and only recently-diagnosed inflammatory disease called IgG4-RD, and is using games as a way to use his remaining years to create as much happiness for others (and himself!) as he can.
How do you feel about TGS compared to last year?
Fujii: TGS 2016 was called VR GANNEN (the first year of VR). Therefore a lot of attention was given to VR/PSVR and VR content. I had shown a VR tech demo at the DMM booth too. This year, most major exhibits mainly focused on regular console titles rather than new tech or hardware, in my opinion.
Of course VR content and developers had great exhibitions, and much better concepts and quality than last year, but they weren't the main focus of TGS. It’s back to normal at Tokyo Game Show: We show games.
How do you feel TGS reflects the current state of the Japanese game industry?
Fujii: It’s tough to say. Most big titles have been announced through E3 and Gamescom. Therefore TGS is the last location of the game exhibition world tour, and there is not much to announce, which leads less excitement as a game exhibition. On the other hand, TGS is the only exhibition for Japanese domestic titles. We all know Japanese titles are too domestic and hard to hit in global market, but at TGS, we all want to show Japanese games to Japanese players. We see lots of treasure titles which will never see release in the Western market. This boosts who we are and what we love. I see lots of indies coming up to TGS too and feel their passions for game dev. This passion leads the next generation of developers to the great future of Japanese game industry.
How was it for you showing a new game for the first time in a while?
Fujii: Brilliant. Nice to have a brand new title with new hardware.
Additionally I’ve been sick for 4 years and am still under medication, but games still give me a chance to have fun and motivation to live another day, and a chance to show my fun ideas to the world. Making games is a part of my life and will continue throughout my life. Japanese video game and manga culture is hype and I believe it does have a unique power give people passion to live another day for depressed people, like me in past few years, fighting and suffering from an incurable disease.
"Real life is tough but the imaginary game worlds we create can provide some little help to be motivated for tomorrow."
Games and manga can provide a unique vision of virtual worlds. We know it’s virtual, but it becomes hope for those in certain situations. We will be motivated to live for tomorrow because there is hope. Real life is tough but the imaginary game worlds we create can provide some little help to be motivated for tomorrow.
I might be stable with this condition for a while, or might have to enter to the hospital again soon... I can't control this so I decided not to think about my illness anymore and stay focused and thankful for extra days to live (TIME EXTENDED!), and think about how I can leave something after me.
Hopefully my work can be part of helping someone, and I want to spend rest of my short life to do so, and I want to tell the younger generation about the greatness of video games.