GDRI (Game Developer Research Institute) is a website dedicated to researching the companies and people involved with video game development, especially the hidden world of contract development. To find out more about who we are and what we do, read our about page. Otherwise, please click one of the links on the menu to the left, or read our blog below. (For increased enjoyment, go to a random page.)
In the first edition of a new feature chronicling sound designers and production companies, GDRI catches up with some of the sound designers from Natsume (now Natsume Atari)'s 8/16-bit golden age.
The first game released for Sega's System 32 arcade hardware, Rad Mobile was pretty impressive when it came out in 1991. It would be three years until there was a home machine powerful enough to contain it. Enter Gale Racer for the Saturn.
Does it succeed? Not really, in all honesty. It's an early Saturn game, and it shows. The draw distance is lower, and the frame rate just isn't as smooth. They also decided to turn the other vehicles into 3D models. The whole thing has kind of a janky, held-together-by-duct-tape look to it.
The gist of Gale Racer, and the original Rad Mobile, is that you're driving across America, trying to claw your way to first place. While Rad Mobile moves seamlessly from locale to locale ala Out Run, Gale Racer pauses the game between stages to show you your time and load the next section. This really changes — some might say even ruins — the flow of the game.
There is one thing that hasn't changed: Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic made his first appearance in Rad Mobile, and he's still here, hanging from the rearview mirror. In Gale Racer, however, you earn mascot characters as you race. Earning enough mascot characters will turn Sonic into Tails and other characters in the Sonic universe.
Credit to the creator/uploader of the video above
A joke, circumstance, opportunity, a calling. Whatever the reason, some secular developers switched to, or at least tried their hand at, making Bible-based video games.
The most well-known example grew out of Color Dreams, a publisher and developer of unlicensed games for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Color Dreams founder Dan Lawton allegedly came up with the idea of doing religious games as a joke.
Early on, Wisdom Tree took the older, more violent Color Dreams games and inserted family-friendly, Bible-related content. Sunday Funday: The Ride (NES) is basically a hack of Menace Beach, while Exodus: Journey to the Promised Land and Joshua & the Battle of Jericho (NES, et al.) were based on Crystal Mines. Since then, Wisdom Tree has put out a number of original educational and entertainment titles and continues to sell them on its website. Color Dreams is still around, doing business as StarDot Technologies, making surveillance cameras and related equipment.
Credit to the creators/uploaders of the videos above
The success of Midway's arcade blockbuster Mortal Kombat birthed many imitators. Would you believe some of them came from Japan?
Reikai Doushi (1988, Arcade)
While Mortal Kombat was the breakthrough hit that influenced a lot of games, it was not the originator of the digitized fighting form. Neither was Pit-Fighter. No, that honor goes to this little number by Home Data (now Magical) featuring a colorful cast of grotesque Chinese puppets.
Hey, it's a 3D platformer that came out before Super Mario 64 and before analog control became standard on consoles. That's something, right?
In Floating Runner, you lead either adorable bounty hunter Lay or adorable priestess Cress on a journey to find seven crystals to save Crystal Land. As adorable as this game may be, it's marred by a lot of annoying little things, and they're not all attributable to the growing pains of the genre. Let's list them... (Plain old paragraphs are so cliché.)
But it's not all bad. The stage select system is unique - at the end of each world, the crystal cycles through different colors representing the other worlds. The frame rate is brisk. On a personal note, I find the game charming, despite its faults, and I don't have any desire to get rid of my copy. It's an interesting historical footnote. The music is nice, and I like the mix of flat-shaded and texture-mapped polygons.
Just who developed this historical footnote of a game? If you dig around the disc, you'll find a T&E Soft copyright and credits (none for sound, though). These don't appear in-game, and there's no other mention anywhere that the average player would see. The staff names suggest this was done at T&E Soft Osaka (which was computer game company Xtalsoft once upon a time), where Red Alarm and Blaze & Blade were also made.
Finally, let's take a moment to look at the Western packaging, especially the inside of the case. Yuck! At least someone had the good sense to use the Japanese art on the disc and inside the manual (see right).
P.S. I don't pay much attention to Games Done Quick stuff, but I was impressed by this speed run.
Towards the end of the Game Gear's life in Japan, Sega rebranded it the Kid's Gear in an attempt to market the system to children. One of the handful of titles released under this brand was Panzer Dragoon Mini. Besides maybe the dragons, there's nothing particularly cute here. This is Panzer Dragoon - stripped of just about everything anybody would have liked about the Saturn games.
After you choose one of three dragons to control (not ride, apparently), it's on to the action. You make your way through several stages shooting enemies, with either your regular shot or a lock-on laser. (There's no berserk attack despite the game coming out after Zwei.) Sometimes the camera shifts to the side, but that's about as interesting as things get. There are mid-bosses and end bosses, but their attack patterns primarily consist of moving back and forth spraying bullets.
The backgrounds and especially the sprites look nice, but the ground is made up of boring, rolling stripes. It goes without saying that the music isn't as good as the Saturn versions, but Hitoshi Sakimoto should be commended for producing these pleasant arrangements.Spoiler - here's the exciting ending:
There are no credits, so it's more difficult to pin down a developer. Evidence (as identified here) points to Rit's as the culprit, a company that made some original RPGs, most notably the Dragon Master Silk series, and worked on many of the old Shining games.
Some images from SMS Power!
I like me some video pinball; I've amassed a decent collection of video pinball games. So when I found out about a pinball game that involved GDRI veteran Opera House and only came out in Japan, I was interested. Actually, even if it isn't great, I want it.
But good luck finding it - not only is Pinball Spirits a Japanese exclusive, it's available only for Windows. There's a copy on Amazon Japan for under $60 US. Enjoy the cover shots at the link because that's all you're gonna see.
Such is the world of Japanese Windows games. They seem to be among the most poorly documented and poorly preserved, unless there's something going on that I don't know about (which is possible). At least shopping sites like Amazon have games listed.
There's more than just eroge. Did you know Konami released games like Henry Explorers (Crypt Killer) for Windows in Japan?
Fun fact about Pinball Spirits: It was produced in cooperation with the non-profit Tokyo Pinball Organization. Read more about them here.