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Everyone's got to start somewhere, and everyone includes Kan Naito.
Naito is better known as the founder of Climax Entertainment, the company behind Landstalker, Dark Savior, and Runabout, but he made his professional debut as a teenager back in 1983 with this MSX title. (He wrote about it in his column in Mega Drive Fan magazine.)
It's a rather simple game: Drive your car down the road, avoid other cars, and pick up fuel.
It's also somewhat counter-intuitive because the faster you drive, the less fuel you use. You need to step on the gas right away, or you will drain quickly.
Car Race was published by Ample Software, where Naito was working part-time. Yuichiro Itakura and future Genius Sonority president Manabu Yamana also worked there. Itakura left and started Zap, where he was joined again by Naito and Yamana. Naito and Yamana then headed over to Chunsoft, where they worked on Dragon Quest games, and the rest is history.
Post updated December 15, 2020
The Sharp X68000 is renowned for its high-quality arcade ports, but they can't all be winners.
Take Chase H.Q....please. Just look at it. The sprites are all pixelated, the scaling is choppy, and there are no branching paths. The music is pretty rockin', though.
One tweet alleges the X68000 version of Chase H.Q. was supposed to be published by Dexter under the name Chaser H.Q. So far I have not been able to substantiate that.
Instead, it was released as a genuine port via Brother's Takeru vending machines through Tierheit, which was actually a brand used by developer Falcon. Falcon did not develop it, however; it was by a group called RAY-NET.
I'm not sure if it's accurate to call RAY-NET a doujin group; the aforementioned tweet refers to them as an "amateur group." They also wrote tools and music drivers that were also used in games like the X68000 version of Pipe Dream.
(Presumably people have beat these games, just not on Youtube where we can all see it and get the credits.)
An obscure game even in Japanese circles, I think. It's a third-person shooter with a lot of text. Fortunately, I did find someone who said they worked on it at Gingham Soft.
Someday I need to write up a post about Wing Arms for the Saturn (or maybe this is enough). It's a 3D flight game featuring WWII-era aircraft where you shoot down other planes and ships and such. It was by a little-known developer called Bell that had some former T&E Soft members on staff.
Programmer Tetsuya Yamamoto revealed in The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers: Volume 2 that Wing Arms is essentially an update of a PC (Japanese DOS/V) game Bell made called Musashi. While Wing Arms has different missions, the sole mission of Musashi is to sink a giant battleship. There's very little information about Musashi, but I did find a page with some screenshots.
A few months later, I noticed another Bell programmer had a game called Formation Attack on his Facebook profile. I figured this was some other game. Then by chance I found an ad for it in Computer Gaming World Issue 121 (see right). It looks to be the US version of Musashi.
There's no proof this ever came out, and I've never even heard of Spunky Computers U.S.A. before. It's an odd name and an odd logo, and I can find no record of such a company existing.
Hmmm...I suppose this post had no point to it, but what else do you have to do?
I previously told you about a lawsuit Atari Corp. launched against Sega of America in 1993 that alleged infringement of a patent concerning horizontal scrolling (US patent #4,445,114; originally filed by Atari, Inc. back in 1980). As part of a settlement, both companies agreed to a cross-licensing deal. This meant Sega games could appear on Atari systems, and Atari games could appear on Sega systems. Would Sonic have his own game on Jaguar? That sure seemed like a possibility.
As it turns out, Sonic was not even on the table (see previous post on the lawsuit), and according to Atari president and CEO Sam Tramiel in a November 1995 interview with Ultimate Gamer, there was one additional catch — the games had to be at least a year old. He went on to say they'd have to wait for games like Virtua Fighter, even though the arcade version of that came out in 1993. Since this deal only seemed to apply to home games (again, see previous post on the lawsuit), they probably had to wait for the Saturn and 32X versions to become available.
This also meant Sega had to wait for — if they wanted it — Kasumi Ninja, which was released in December 1994 (or so the Internet says). In the meantime, they licensed some of Atari's arcade favorites — well, the home versions of them. These would be released in a collection for the Game Gear and Genesis simply called Arcade Classics.
Development duties fell to a small contractor near Chicago called Al Baker & Associates, which did Disney's Bonkers: Wax Up and Taz in Escape from Mars for Game Gear. From the old Al Baker & Associates website:
"Sega wanted three Atari classics converted to the Genesis with as much integrity as possible. Each game would have two play modes: the orginal [sic] game and an updated version.
(Given the hockey variations included [and the fact it's called Ultrapong in-game], Pong appears to be based off of Atari's Ultra Pong (Doubles) system.)
Keep in mind when Sega's compilation was released. The year was 1996. It was the early days of emulation on PCs, Digital Eclipse's Williams Arcade Classics was out, and the Namco Museum series was on its way. Retrogaming was on an upswing.
Then again, this was also the twilight period after the Saturn came out when most people, and even Sega, stopped caring about the Genesis and Game Gear. For that reason (not the lack of games), and that reason alone (because everybody was itching to play Pong again), Arcade Classics — the only product to come out of this Sega-Atari licensing deal — was quickly forgotten.
Post updated May 29, 2022
Back in 2010, I interviewed programmer Scott Marshall, who worked on Ghoul School, R.C. Grand Prix, and Genesis Frogger, among other games. He also adapted the Game Boy version of Monopoly (originally developed by Sculptured Software) to the Game Boy Color. I posted his comments on Frogger years ago, but not Monopoly. Here's what he had to say about the "colorization" process:
Colorizing Monopoly involved:
Monopoly was one of several monochrome Game Boy games re-released for the Game Boy Color by Majesco. (See our Morning Star Multimedia entry for more adaptations.) This Cutting Room Floor article compares the different versions of Game Boy Monopoly including another Game Boy Color update that came out in Japan months before the US release. (I did not ask Marshall if he had anything to do with that.)
This is what I would call one of the quintessential TurboGrafx-16 games, as far as the US market is concerned, because it makes me question the judgment of those who decided to release it over other, better games.
Deep Blue is the saga of a "Fish Attack Sub" that takes on evil aliens and the aquatic life that have been mutated in their wake. It's like Darius...kinda.
As soon as you turn the game on, you're immediately struck by the ostentatious presentation. Music worthy of any undersea epic accompanies large, detailed graphics that make for great screenshots on the back of the box. It's clear why NEC decided to bring this one to the States.
Unfortunately, all that 16-bit, next generation flair is undermined by the game design, which consists almost entirely of shooting at wave after wave of enemy fish that move in repetitive patterns. They don't shoot; they just ram into you. If you're not careful, it's easy to get overwhelmed.
On the plus side, you have a power gauge and can take multiple hits. You also heal automatically over time. If you can get the hang of things, this is a playable game, but it's understandable why most people don't like it.
Deep Blue was originally released in Japan by Pack-In-Video. The developer has been harder to pinpoint because there are no credits, but it was a company called Hi-Score Media Work, publisher of the game magazine Hi-Score. (You can read more about Hi-Score Media Work in my Zombie Hunter post.)
A writer who once worked for Hi-Score magazine tweeted the following in 2021:
"When I was working at Hi-Score, I remember K-san was working on the program in the development room next door. I often saw him being rushed by his superiors, as the development seemed to be lagging behind. By the way, the editorial department was not involved in the development of the game, and I remember that we only played it briefly. (We were not asked to debug anything.)"
He also said in 2020 that "K-san had little knowledge of STG [shooting games]."
In 2017, animator Itsuki Imazaki posted sketches and a design proposal (written by the aforementioned K-san? ) on Twitter.    According to the replies here, he was working in the Hi-Score editorial department at the time.
Yasuo Torai did the original package illustration for Deep Blue, as well as the original source character design, logo design, and manual cover illustration for Zombie Hunter, and illustrations for Hi-Score magazine.
Post updated May 11, 2021
Someone posted a nice little surprise on Twitter — two lists of Atlus games they received when they interviewed at the company years ago.  The first is a list of games developed for other companies going back to 1986, when Atlus was established. Well-worn ground on this site, but it's nice to have official documentation straight from the source. Yes, Atlus toiled away as a contract developer in its early years, making games like Karate Kid for LJN in between bigger projects like Megami Tensei and Xexyz.
Games like Megami Tensei showed that Atlus had more going on than a lot of contractors, which brings us to the second list. These are original titles that were self-published, starting in 1989. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Below is a translation of the lists, followed by some notes and observations: [more...]
In this combat racer from publisher Victor, you assemble a team of cybernetic cyber punks, then drive around a track and earn points by hitting and wrecking your opponents and just not bumping into stuff. Afterwards, you can upgrade your vehicles' parts and weapons. And every character looks like a cyber version of a bonafide celebrity.
If you dig that cyberpunk aesthetic, you might enjoy the presentation of Metal Fangs. But once you get past the title screen and menus, it becomes apparent that the game can't possibly live up to all that. (What could?)
Then there's the fact this was delayed for well over a year. It wasn't released in Japan until December 1993, yet the ROM build date is June 1992. It doesn't seem like that time was used to improve the game.
Further digging hints at what might have caused the long wait — a change of format. JVC, Victor's American counterpart, was planning on bringing Metal Fangs over on CD. It was even on display at Sega's big press event for the launch of Sega CD in October 1992. It was also listed for Sega CD in a Sega newsletter. In the end, it was not released outside of Japan in any form.
The development of Metal Fangs is commonly attributed to Sega or Sega AM2. One reason for that may be the music, which sounds like it was crafted by Sega maestro Hiroshi Kawaguchi né Miyauchi (see also Sword of Vermilion and Rent A Hero). Sound is credited to an "H.M". Programming appears to have been done by a former AM2 programmer and founding member of Genki by the name of Tomoharu Kimura, credited as "T.K". Following that track, the graphic designer is "M.T", who could be Genki founding member/graphic designer Manabu Tamura (Burning Soldier, Robotica).
So might Genki have been the developer? The company was started in late 1990, and the game was supposed to come out in 1992, which would mean development probably started in 1991. However, it was never listed on their website.
One other hypothesis is that Metal Fangs was originally a Sega game that they dropped at some point. Maybe members of Genki took it with them when they left Sega? That would mean development started in at least 1990, but there's no evidence Sega was ever involved.
UPDATE: An unused Yonezawa copyright notice was found in the game's graphics. Yonezawa was a toy company that, under the Party Room 21 label, published games for Famicom, Super Famicom, and Game Boy, but not for any Sega systems. In 1994, it was taken over by Sega.
Video/World of Longplays
In case you don't know, Starblade is an arcade rail shooter released by Namco in 1991. Unlike their earlier Galaxian³ attraction, Starblade's impressive 3D graphics are done entirely in real-time and do not rely in any way on LaserDiscs. After the initial hoopla died down, it was then some poor developer's turn to make this game run on a home machine that had no business running it.
On the Mega CD/Sega CD, that developer was Technosoft. Yes, the same Technosoft that made the Thunder Force games. Ex-employee Naosuke Arai gave a brief technical explanation in the book Untold History of Japanese Game Developers Volume 3: "The indestructible background elements were indeed streaming off the CD based on the player's coordinates. So it was partially real-time, in a way. Other elements were real-time, but there were no actual polygonal calculations." It doesn't sound like FMV was used as some previously thought.
Arai also said he believed they were working through a middleman, but he didn't say which one. Japanese Internet posts say it was Telenet Japan. Strangely enough, GameFan reported in their very first issue that a number of Mega CD titles were in the planning stages in Japan including Starblade from Wolf Team, which was owned by Telenet Japan. (Golden Axe 3, Thunder Force V, and Shining Force 3 were among the others named.) This might just be a coincidence, however, as they indignantly dismissed these claims in issue 4, claims they made, while bashing other magazines' international coverage.
(I should also note that another former employee tweeted in October 2017 that Starblade was their last game at Technosoft before they left.)
Koriyama added that "it was a big job" for the graphic designers and programmers. The animations were huge, and files totaled over 100,000 during production. He gave most of the credit to Yuji Shingai, who he described as a "real genius programmer." Shingai, who was also a contractor, was formerly a colleague of Koriyama's at Game Freak and later contributed to games like Intelligent Qube. On Starblade, he was responsible for retrieving all 3D vertex data from the arcade machine using an in-circuit emulator. This took several days, as Koriyama recalled, but the data was then used by the CG team to render the FMV with LightWave 3D using Amigas and Raptor workstations. Most of the original programming was done by Shingai, while Koriyama mainly programmed tools and edited the audio and video.
All that effort paid off because the effect is quite convincing. I've put together a side-by-side comparison video (see below) of the FMV from the first segment of the game and footage captured from 3DO hardware. You have to look very closely, but you can see shootable objects peek out from behind the FMV.
The PlayStation port, called Starblade Alpha, was also developed by HighTech Lab. Japan. This seems to use at least some real-time 3D graphics. (Koriyama helped a little bit with programming, but he is not credited.)
Post updated June 24, 2022