Let me be the first to say that I, your faithful bucket-headed webmaster, am a lucky gaijin bastard. If anyone could have preemptively told me that our rabid little gaming blog would some day make its cameo in Bomberman Live on the Xbox 360, I’d say they were optimistic … but terminally nuts. Had someone also said that this partnership would also place me in Japan to play with Hudson”s new toys and games in their native headquarters, I’d say that was as likely as a nobody in Miami randomly starting up a popular gaming site. Stranger things have happened, I guess! I had always been hoping that a trip this epic would come up in my life for some random reason, and sure enough the moment came. This stuff happens to people and today ... I'm that guy!
Last month I spent some quality time gaming in the place where Hudson got its start over 30 years ago. From scenic Hokkaido (pictured above) to the big city of Sapporo and then all the back to their new headquarters in the Konami tower in Tokyo. I saw, I gamed, I ate things most sane people would never have the balls to sit next to in a bus -- and lived to blog about it. Much fun and indigestion was had, in that order.
The primary agenda was to tackle a towering pile of upcoming games: Bomberman Land, Otada Master, Teku Teku Angel (a pedometer/digital pet), vague embargoed thing 1 involving the cleansing of flying vessels, working game 2 involving pew-pew-pew and time, Deca Sporta, and Dungeon Explorer. I would also get to meet some key people as well: Master Higgins himself Takahashi-san, Hudson Entertainment President-san, Head of the Mobile-san, and big teams of people (sans) that do everything from sound design to Wiimote programming. I also ate as much delicious and repulsive strange food their beautiful country would dare feed a curious sharp-dressed man in a home-made robot helmet.
Sure, I could have gone out there and just blogged about the games. But how typical would that be? If you’ve ever wondered what taking a trip with a big gaming company like this might be like across the ocean, I invite you to embark on the trilogy I’m about to relay which can only be described as Mega Happy Fun Hudson Week GET!
From Sapporo to Tokyo with the bee: Press week at Hudson, Japan
Pictured: Stopping by Hudson at TGS. I did a little dance with a giant Bomberman. It was hot.
Let me tell you about my week with Hudson … and everything else in between. I debated on leaving out the non-gaming stuff in this feature, but really, how many bloggers can honestly say they’ve discussed the future of the gaming with borrowed/stolen gold-buckled shoes and fresh fish semen with a CEO? Oh, what fun it is to work in the video game industry. The following post links to some asides scribbled in my community blog if you’re curious about what I did when we weren’t in the office.
Though lucky bastard I may be, this streak of fortune did not extend to my pocket electronics – the wafer-thin memory card I kept my writing on didn’t survive the trip back: all of the (drunk) perspectives that I had scribbled following epic evenings in and out of the city were completely lost. Have you ever written significantly on a topic and lost all your work in the blink of an eye? It is like buying the girl of your dreams expensive dinners for a week only to discover that the hard-earned vagina approaching your face was surgically replaced with a barbecue grill. It stings, people! You simply don’t want to re-invest the charisma that goes into going through all that work again right away. So, however late, here’s a sober version of my memoirs.
9.14.07 – Press junkets are evil or do journalists just need to grow some nads?
Not pictured: Me not significantly much taller than anyone in Japan. Tom Selleck’s mustache lies!
While I should have been celebrating, all I could think about after the invite sunk was how much controversy there is in the game industry about press junkets. This invite is to junkets as the Nacho Chili Bellgrande is to a dose of Doritos: A giant portal would open up and suck you into junket hell if I said yes, right? I mean – hell, I’ll write my heart out about what will happen out there, naughty or nice. But oh, that press police. Am I kidding myself? Could I be really objective after an offer like that and produce a terribly bubbly article in a cramped hotel room?
I mulled over it for what seemed like … heh, seconds. When in doubt, I often fall back on the hidden wisdom of Lethal Weapon -- the scene where Gibson is invited to Glover’s house for dinner and hates his wife's cooking and, after they leave, they laugh about how bad it was. The wrong thing would be to throw up on his wife and kick her in the taco on your way out. Hudson: am I signing up to like your wife’s cooking? No. If in the end I dislike the products, I can criticize them with the best intentions in the hopes that my feedback is considered before they go to market. This is responsible, no matter who foots the bill. Beers clink, laughs are had, and life goes on.
Pictured above: Extremely serious video game business deemed highly illegal in some other gaming publications. The more beer on the table, the more serious we became. I made the picture in grayscale to really capture the seriousness of how extremely serious we seriously got. The food was also so incredibly delicious in Hokkaido that there’s almost none left on the table. The crew from left to right: Hugo from WGWorld, Hudson America’s President John Greiner, Bomberman production princess Sabina, and the crew from The Electric Playground: Victor Lucas, Jose, and Enzo. Off camera: Dai Kudo, a professional surfer terrorizing San Francisco.
So whatever, I’ll write from the gut and if I have nothing nice to say, the worst that can happen is not getting invited back. Well … that’s not true. The worst thing that can happen is writing the whole thing on a wafer-thin memory stick in your back pocket on a 12 hour flight, finding that it totally crapped out when you got home, and then having to re-write the whole damn thing from memory. Ahem. And so, this sober and belated wall of text was in the making. Lucky for me, there's no way in hell I will ever forget everything that happened on that trip!
09.20.07 Morning – Holy crap, I’m in Tokyo! PANTS-CHUB-SHORYUKEN!!!
There was no way in hell that trip would materialize, nor would it be preceded by me sneaking around a public bath with a dozen naked Japanese people in 50-degree weather on the side of a volcano wearing towels on their heads. Surely some polite email would immediately follow and I’d go back to thinking it was something I’d like to do someday. It couldn’t possibly actually hit my calendar.
And yet, I have done all of these things.
Let me tell you about Hudson’s press day in Japan, a two week opus into the heart of one of the longest-running prolific video game companies in the history of the industry. These are the guys that put DOS on the Famicom for Nintendo back in the 80’s. The LodeRunner people. The guys who will never get the credit they deserve for their work in so many games published by other companies, or all the pachinko machines, pocket electronics, and some other stuff involving musical thugs and farmers that you wouldn’t believe. Yeah, there’s a lot going on in Milon’s Secret Company.
Did I actually just actually write that? Wow, I’m such a dork. Let me revel in this.
Pictured above: One of the many long corridors of the fish market. I’m the one acting like a tool on the left and Hugo from WGWorld. The boxes behind me contain flash-frozen fish hauled by carts.
We spent the first early morning trying not to get hit by speeding fish mongers in the open air fish market. This is essentially a series of warehouses interconnected to receive frozen and fresh fish that city restaurants and hotels source daily. To my surprise the place smelled great and was incredibly clean – the presentation of everything was also amazing. It’s not cheap stuff either – most filets were about $20.
I eat sushi all the time back home and love it, but I wasn’t ready to jump straight into raw tuna at 7AM in the morning though, so we chickened out and went to McDonalds. The portions were so drearily appropriate! I ended up ordering two large meals to appease my artery-clogging American appetite without apology. Too early for a McPork though!
09.20.07 Afternoon – Let’s Tokyo Game Show! Destructoid robot GET!
Pictured above: WGW’s Hugo, me as Mr. Destructoid, and Dai Kudo, business analyst for Hudson, Japan.
You know, you’d think that running into a guy in a robot helmet in a busy train station would cause some heads to turn. NEGATIVE! In Japan it is rather rude to make eye contact with strangers, even if they are dressed like a cross between Miami’s Tony Montana and Japan’s resident Smoking Robot.
Nevertheless, some people at the station couldn’t help but whip out the camera and laugh it up with us. As the train shot us across Tokyo I was pretty much about ready to jump out of my skin. I’m actually in frickin' Japan going to the Tokyo Game Show! AAAHHHHH!!!! I am a robot!?? Not exactly how I had pictured it as a kid, but in addition to games I get to also mess with people at the show. This couldn’t possibly get any better. I was so not ready.
Somehow in my excitement to arrive I had all but completely forgotten about the epic quantity of booth babes. Never in my life had I seen so many women who had never enjoyed a Bacon Quarter Pounder in their lives.
We’ve already blogged extensively about TGS, so I won’t go into all that again. Specific to my business there, I was surprised that the very first booth walking in the door was actually Hudson’s – they had set up an utterly gigantic two story booth with a sports arena in the front full of Wii’s staffed by the girls in the white outfits, an upstairs area running a raffle and some kiosks, and a giant musical stage in the back where an energetic rapper with a gigantic afro (his name escapes me) was performing (Apparently, Hudson has a music label in Japan and just signed him). The show was something like the DJ stage right out of Rhythm Tengoku – I was amused. After that show was over, the real life Master Higgins (Takahashi Meijin, which we interview later) took the stage showing off his 16-shot: a little gadget that lets you challenge his ability to tap a game button 16 times in a second. Me? Maybe 9 shots per second in… embarrassing.
Anyhow, while there was a mountain of mobile games to also check out we went straight for the Adidas-sponsored Deca Sporta Wii game – a game that looked like a clone to Wii Sports at a glance, as we saw people swinging their arms like they were wielding tennis rackets. On closer inspection I noticed that they were actually playing Badminton and the characters on the screen weren’t Mii’s. What the hell is this?
The graphics were marginally more intricate: these characters had necks and arms! The attendant explained that Mii’s are a Nintendo first-party only thing, so they had to improvise. We had some hands-on time with the game and were able to play it with little instruction: it was extremely self-explanatory and a casual pick-up-and-play game: an unofficial spiritual successor to Wii Sports with different kinds of activities like Kart racing, snowboarding, beach volleyball, figure skating, and soccer – ten sports in all, none repeated from Nintendo’s offering.
The biggest difference was that the point of view was often a distant third person, so in the case of badminton you’re actually looking at yourself in a mirror projection across the net instead of standing behind a split-screen view. This sounds like it would cause your brain to melt, but it worked – and let them put more detail into the environments. I’d recommend it to anybody that enjoys sports games and doesn’t demand intense mechanical game play: the only thing I could fault the game on was the extremely simplistic play control and the occasional weird blank stare from the more humanoid-looking Mii replacements.
For example, the archery level involves literally pointing and clicking at the TV with your Wiimote. Kart racing seemed to lack the G-force feeling in other cart games and didn’t have WiiConnect 24 functionality. That said, if you loved Wii Sports, you’ll like Deca Sporta. The game is destined to come to the States with a new name. Hudson is actually curious what people think of the name and may run a survey to have gamers involved in that process. I personally liked the logo – maybe dropping the A for an S? I asked John to let me run a poll on the site about the name before they localized it, maybe it works as is. So we'll do that in the future.
The game web site is decasporta.co.jp – we’ll be posting an in-depth hands on impression in 2008 when it arrives on the Wii. I found it a little too simple for my single player anti-social taste, but in the company of my dad and nephew we’re going to tear this game up. Imagine that, the Wii gets yet another casual party game! At least it doesn’t have turds in it like The Game of Life, for better or worse. Canadians will go nuts over this – there’s a curling game in it! Americans: Look it up.
The other big title they were buzzing about was Dungeon Explorer, an updated 3D dungeon crawler based on a legacy IP from the late 80’s. The new polished version is scheduled for both the DS and PSP due later this year. Destructoid was supposed to receive review code, but Amar Gavhane (The Hudson Entertainment Associate Brand Manager) secretly despises me for trying to dress exactly like him throughout my life. Lucky for him I can’t grow a beard on demand so he’s safe from being completely assimilated.
So enough games, let's talk chow. Overall, the food in Japan is phenomenal. Small portions, but everything is tasty and complex. The service is also great despite that there is NO TIPPING. If you try to give someone money for service they’ll look at you like you’re trying to start trouble. Restaurant staff will come by when you shout at them. It works! The pink neon stuff on the table is WHALE BACON which tastes like slicing thin slices from a bike tire in soy sauce. Not a fan. I figured since I was out here that I would sample all the weird stuff available to me, and that I did. Dai-san also took us to a place that only served boiled or fried beef tongue. That was awesome! However, I woke up the following day feeling like I had digested a plank of wood. My subtropical stomach is not intended to dine in Japan.
Did I mention that John Master Lee and I ran around documenting everybody else’s booth babes and weirdos at the show? The entire gallery can be seen here. Booth babe wrangling is serious business, people. What, you think this has little to do with video games, you feminist? Please refer to the following diagram:
Pictured: John “Fingercuffs” Lee and a robot disturbance at the Deca Sporta booth
So the first couple of days blew by like a typical press event does and then it hits me: I'm here with Hudson for another week and a half. It made me chuckle: do these guys know what they're getting themselves into with me here? A 10 day press junket is very revealing, like a first date that lasts 2 weeks long. You know that after a certain point, someone's true nature will come out and you're either going to get along great or it's going to be like Pearl Harbor (the horrible movie, which was arguably more tragic than the actual war).
Seriously though, it's easy for a company to put on a one day show, and share the latest "image" a company wants people to see. But when the show is over, and you get to meet the people in their natural setting, you really start to see what drives them. So aside from new games and new experiences, this was going to be my goal: to paint a portrait of Hudson for the world. I'm imagining myself as a stubborn little kid propping up an unapologetically sloppy drawing in front of my art teacher.
Hudson didn't bring me here to produce a polished piece of journalism, and I can't wait to show it to my friends at home. This is going to be the real deal -- I'm going to turn in the honest sketches of what really went down. Before I could reel in my conviction it was time to jump on an airplane from Tokyo to Sapporo, a populous city in the island off the coast where Hudson headquarter staff and the guys from The Electric Playground were meeting up with us to film. Heh. Who said playing video games doesn't get you places?
On the way into the airport John Lee, my now partner-in-crime, reminded me of a little factoid he shared before the trip begain. "It had been ten years since Western press had been invited to Hudson." Jeez. We laughed about it and my eyebrows must have shot up as I traced the slate lines on the floor trying not to think too hard about it.
"No pressure, Niero."
[And so this concludes part one. Running around naked in the mountains with a towel, diseased crabs, shady business, and more is incoming as Mega Happy Fun Hudson Week GET! continues tomorrow! ]