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Sounders: Natsume (Where Are They Now)

CRV (talk) 05:07, 11 August 2016 (CEST) [permalink]

Natsume logo

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.

Kiyohiro Sada

Kiyohiro Sada worked at Konami from 1986 to 1989, where he worked on many Famicom and NES games like Contra and The Adventures of Bayou Billy. He joined Natsume in 1988 and continued to work for Konami. He became a full-time employee at Natsume the following year.

Sada's best-known works with Natsume, at least outside Japan, are probably Abadox and S.C.A.T. Abadox seemed particularly influenced by his former employer's Life Force, and Sada's distinctive sound no doubt helped it feel that way.

Sada left in 1993 and formed his own sound production company called Pure Sound, which he still operates today. Pure Sound has worked on many games over the years including the Summon Knight series, Half-Minute Hero, Robo Pit, and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages.

Iku Mizutani

Iku Mizutani also came over from Konami (MSX Metal Gear, NES Rush'n Attack). His first game at Natsume was the NES conversion of Heroes of the Lance. He continued to work on many more games across many platforms including Shatterhand, SNES Power Rangers, and Mobile Suit Gundam Seed: Battle Assault.

In 2006, Mizutani started Sound Fountain, which worked on The King Of Fighters XIII, DS/3DS Medarot games, and various games by Osaka Natsume offshoot Bullets.

Hiroyuki Iwatsuki

Hiroyuki Iwatsuki joined Natsume in 1990 and is still with Natsume Atari today, working at the Nagoya office. His titles include fan favorites like Wild Guns, Pocky & Rocky, and SNES Ninja Warriors, as well as more recent titles like Omega Five and Wild Guns: Reloaded.

Kinuyo Yamashita

Kinuyo Yamashita is yet another musician who left Konami (Castlevania, Nemesis 3, Arumana no Kiseki). The difference is, Yamashita was never a Natsume employee; she has worked mostly as a contractor since exiting Konami. Her profile is also quite extensive. Among the titles on which she was involved are GBC Croc 2, SNES Power Rangers, Pocky & Rocky 2, and Mark Davis' The Fishing Master.

A subarachnoid hemorrhage sidelined Yamashita in 1998. She eventually recovered, however, and continued to make music. She now lives in New Jersey.

Yamashita's arrangement of a track from Medarot 3:


Shinya Kurahashi (倉橋真也) (Shimono Masaki no Fishing to Bassing, Zen-Nippon Pro Wres: Fight da Pon!) was with Natsume's Osaka division for a while, but little is known about him. Not much is known about Kouichi Yamanishi (山西浩一)(Dragon Fighter, Shadow of the Ninja), either.

Credit to the creators/uploaders of the videos above. Photos sourced from Videogame Music Preservation Foundation Wiki.

Gale Racer (Saturn)

CRV (talk) 05:33, 3 August 2016 (CEST) [permalink]

Seen here: Chicago's world-famous palm trees

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 moon from Sega CD Mansion of Hidden Souls (left) appears as an emblem in Gale Racer (right). That may be because Gale Racer was largely outsourced to Mansion developer System Sacom.

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.

Sega of America was at one time planning to release this in the States; they name-dropped it in a press release announcing the Saturn's early release. According to an issue of GameFan, the US version was supposed to "be completely repaired to mimic the arcade game perfectly." Not sure what they were planning to do to fix it, but obviously nothing came of it.

Credit to the creator/uploader of the video above

Change of Heart: Secular Developers Turned Christian

CRV (talk) 05:36, 30 January 2016 (CET) [permalink]

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.

Wisdom Tree

Wisdom Tree logo

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.

See also:


Credit to the creators/uploaders of the videos above

Japanese-Developed Digitized Fighting Games

CRV (talk) 00:58, 24 December 2015 (CET) [permalink]

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.


Floating Runner (PlayStation)

CRV (talk) 23:11, 5 September 2015 (CET) [permalink]

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.)

1a) Your default weapon shoots in an arc, and you have a projectile limit. If too many fall over the edge of a platform, you have to wait a second or two for those to dissipate before you can shoot more.
1b) Other weapons are available, but you actually have to find them at their particular location in one of the worlds. And they also shoot in an arc. And they use gems that enemies leave behind, which you lose when you die, which is often.
1c) You can also stomp on enemies, but they tend to move around a lot.
2) You have but two camera angles that you can switch at will - an overhead angle and a slightly higher overhead angle, which is only useful in maybe a couple situations.
3) When you continue, you only have half your health, and there aren't too many health potions around. (Yet the first stage has five!)
4) The stage layouts can be disorienting. (The camera might play a role in that.)
5) Jumping from platform to platform can be tricky.
6) The game just feels tedious after a while.
Floating Runner manual

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.

Panzer Dragoon Mini (Game Gear)

CRV (talk) 16:35, 24 June 2015 (CEST) [permalink]

Panzer Dragoon Mini title screen

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.

[CORRECTION: Hitoshi Sakimoto's works list says he only created the sound driver, so we don't know who actually arranged the music.]

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!

Panzer Dragoon Mini Panzer Dragoon Mini Panzer Dragoon Mini Panzer Dragoon Mini

Pinball Spirits (Windows)

CRV (talk) 04:48, 14 May 2015 (CEST) [permalink]

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.

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