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KAKEXUN - the enduring legacy of Kenji Eno

The creativity of Kenji Eno lives on as friends and colleagues prepare to develop his game design ideas posthumously. Read more in this exclusive interview.

John Szczepaniak, Blogger

March 20, 2014

12 Min Read

26 March Edit: Since publishing this excerpt further details have been made available in Englsh. I have edited the piece and added these.

One of the many reasons for starting my book on Japanese game developers was the death of Kenji Eno. I had long been a fan of his work. All of it, not just the horror games which were localised. Apart from Real Sound, the Japanese audio-only game he developed, I made every effort to source all his titles.

Kenji Eno was a maverick who played by his own rules, never backed down, and his passing so young was a shock to me. I wrote the memorial page for him in Retro Gamer magazine. So it was a wonderful surprise while in Japan to be contacted by Katsutoshi Eguchi - a long-time friend and colleague of Mr Eno. I interviewed him regarding their work together, and also his plans to make the dreams of Kenji Eno a reality.

Their current project is the crowd-funded KAKEXUN. What's especially exciting, is this is just the start - if it succeeds, and proves the viability of crowd funding, it will allow further projects based on Kenji Eno's ideas to be realised. The crowd-funding is being done through Motion-Gallery. Even if the chosen platform is not the usual one you would use, please share these interview excerpts and information regarding the project as it becomes available.

It's difficult to describe the game. At the time of my interview last year they weren't ready to reveal details. Now there is a detailed write up, though it's currently only in Japanese. I used Google translate for the What Is, World and Guide descriptions. Though I suspect a proper translation will be shortcoming. Quotes taken from the English page are sounded by stars.

There is a detailed write up in English on what the game is about.

Below find excerpts from my 4 hour interview. Unedited, the original draft is 13,000 words at 24 pages. The full version will appear in my book of interviews, titled: The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers. I've had difficulties and set-backs, but I'm aiming for publication in June.

The full interview contains some incredible trivia on the Dreamcast prior to its launch, a heart-warming love story from Real Sound, and details of the posthumous game design award Kenji Eno received.

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll remember a legend.


INTERVIEW with Katsutoshi Eguchi

21 October 2013 - Tokyo

JS: Tell me about yourself, Mr Eguchi.

KE: I started as a punk musician at 19! I went to India for 6 months, in 1977. When I came back from India I got involved in the Tokyo Rockers movement, as a bass player. It was a collection of five bands. We used to play a lot of gigs together. After that the five bands were contacted as a group by CBS Sony, who said, "We want you to record one album, between the five bands." So we did that and released it.

JS: What was the name of your band?

KE: S-KEN. Then we did an album, called the Tokyo Rockers Album, which was the collection of those bands. After this we did a tour throughout Japan. Columbia Records re-released the album after the tour. And after that I stopped - it was the end of my rock career. I was a manager for a handful of bands. At one point a magazine publisher said they were going to found an independent music label. I was invited to join. I eventually went over to the UK, met a lot of people, and brought back to Japan music of bands from England.

          The name of the indie label by the magazine publisher was Captain Records. We used to help bands that were coming up through the Japanese indie scene - give them a foot up to get a big record deal. [... ... ...] I produced major records for about 20 artists or groups. Around 1990 I got five awards for my work, including the highest award from the Recording Industry Association of Japan.

          In 1991 I already had an interest in Martin Heath of Rhythm King, who made music but also game music in association with Bitmap Brothers and Renegade Software. Martin was the one who said to me, "I've got this game contract. Do you want to take a look at it?" The contract was with Renegade. Through Martin I met the guys from the Bitmap Brothers. They made Xenon 2 and Gods, and so on. My company obtained the distribution rights and released Xenon 2 and Gods in Japan through Nintendo and Sega under the label called PCM Complete. We localised them, as it were. Even now I'm in contact with Eric Matthews from the Bitmap Brothers, he's a friend of mine. That's why I got involved in the videogame industry. It started with Bitmap Brothers and, taking them as inspiration, I got involved with WARP and so on. I didn't make the music, I took the music from games to record companies to get them released as [OST] albums.

JS: When did you first meet Kenji Eno?

KE: I met him in 1996. I come from the music industry, and I founded a company to release game music and so on. When D came out I sent a message to Eno-san, asking, "Do you want to release the music for D, through our company?" As a music CD. That must have been in October 1996, and then after that everything else that came out, D2 and so on, my company handled all the music. So that's when our relationship started.

JS: Did you visit the WARP offices?

KE: Yes, they were in Ebisu, and I went a few times.

JS: Perhaps I should photograph the old office building.

KE: WARP moved within Ebisu, so its first location was in the south; out of the south gate, the south half of Ebisu. The second time was in the north of Ebisu. When I met him, Eno-san was in the north half, after they had moved. So I've never been to the original, south office. After that they went to a place called Gaiemmae in Aoyama, on the second floor of the building there. Then they went to Azabu-Juuban, in front of Columbian embassy! Then they went back to Ebisu, right in front of the station. They moved all over Tokyo, basically.

JS: Could you draw a layout sketch of the WARP office? Perhaps the office that developed D2?

KE: That's the Aoyama one.

This was in Aoyama, on the 4th floor. There's three elevators in the entrance. There was a receptionist, or reception desk, and there was a TV on there. 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. There was one of those. [Author: Shishi-odoshi, lit. "scare the deer"]

JS: Like on Kill Bill. These stepping platforms were made of actual gin - silver?

KE: Silver coloured metal, or silver plated. 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 passed the Japanese garden display. 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 (20,000,000).

JS: The big question I always ask is about unreleased games.

KE: After D2 was released, obviously we were all wondering about what would be our next title. What would be the next thing? Well, Eno-san went to Famitsu and said to them, "Right, we're going to make a game that will sell 300,000 copies, it will be an RPG. No problem." That RPG didn't even have a name, but they had a lot of meetings about it, and design specifications, or design ideas, were definitely cemented down. But unfortunately nothing ever happened. They never produced any content.

JS: Did Mr Eno have other ideas?

KE: Last year [2012], towards the end of Eno-san's life, we were talking about what we were going to do next. Through the discussion, Eno-san’s mind had been made up to go into some sort of education, to create a sort of learning institute. Eno-san also discussed the plan with Joichi Ito. In January of this year [2013], Eno-san approached me with a project, an idea. It was his last idea, it was his last project.

***** ***** *****


Online game KAKEXUN, designed by extraordinary game creator Kenji Eno, is an action art SF work in which a world is created using mathematical calculations. The entire multi-layered game world is based on the philosophy and view of the universe of Kenji Eno. This is a game in which players decipher the universe within the game using not words, but numbers, as well as using numbers to interact with and transform the world.

Players begin the story as the entities of “power” and “existence.” The player becomes aware of the surface of a faint world, which the player creates and transforms with the idea that concepts equal numbers. Before their eyes, a huge mountain range created by “power,” rises. The player begins to ascend the mountain range. At this position, the player can affirm their altitude, latitude and longitude using indicated coordinates. This first world is a world which continues to change appearance. Each time a player focuses on a visual point, creatures or objects materialize and transform. Climbing the mountain, players will face extremes such as disturbances from creatures and natural disasters, as well as absurd incidents coming at them one after the other. The fun in continuing to climb to the summit in this world.

***** ***** *****

JS: Please tell me more.

KE: This is ILCA. The design of it was by Eno-san, and the idea was to use these core concepts of Innovation, Learning, Creativity and Arts, to produce workshops and classes. Basically anything to do with entertainment, that's what we wanted to teach. Then in April of this year [2013] that's when it started, with this school, and they're still doing it now. Unfortunately Eno-san passed away in February, but something I am teaching at ILCA is a History of Kenji Eno.

          One of the things we did when we talked about the D2 project, in this introduction of his history, is we got everyone who was in the original WARP to come back, and talk about the challenges they faced. They all discussed what they had done, and talked about and remembered Kenji Eno. Once all these people got together, they realised they wanted to work together. So on 1 October WARP2 was founded, which is a new company.


***** ***** *****


The developers of this project, WARP2 Inc., include the main members of former WARP that worked together with Kenji Eno on every single game development project under former WARP. They gathered after Kenji Eno passed away and registered their new company in October 2013. Their goal is to realize the vision that Kenji Eno left behind. Four full time employees will work on this first game, led by the creative director, Naoya Sato (D, Enemy Zero, and D2). Other members of the team include Kazutoshi Iida, a game developer that was highly regarded by Kenji Eno, Ryoho Kobayashi, a game developer with a Ph.D. in Computer Music at Keio University Graduate School, and the producer Katsutoshi Eguchi, who had managed fyto alongside Kenji Eno, and had been friends with him for 18 years. Including other staff members, there are a total of 10 people involved in this project.

***** ***** *****

KE: What WARP2 are discussing right now is what else did Eno-san want to do? They're going through his old notes, and trying to remember all the things he spoke to them about, years and years ago. They're going to try to produce ideas of his that never got any momentum going. If they can find evidence, or if they can find writing about them, the team will potentially push ahead with a project.

          At the original WARP, they first started with the puzzle project and then moved toward the big D project. What they're doing this time at WARP2 is similar. They will produce some variety of smaller game first to get back into the original WARP mentality as it were. Probably their timeframe is that they're going to start making the smaller game now. Then maybe from next summer, they'll begin development on other big projects.

JS: Kenji Eno will always be remembered; his legacy will live on.

KE: He's still here, we can still feel him. Every day. Definitely, the decisions he made and the person he was, you can't work in this industry in Japan without feeling that. Even if you don't know who he is, he shaped it.


The English page is HERE.

An English explanation is HERE.

The official website (in Japanese) is HERE.

The crowd-funding project on Motion Gallery is HERE.

Step-by-step instructions in English to sign up are HERE.

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