[As Western and Japanese game development continue to combine and contrast, Gamasutra's Brandon Sheffield takes a look at the TGS show floor - surprises and expected appearances both.]
There's no denying that the Tokyo Game Show is a smaller event this year than last. Though the show still fills three halls of the Makuhari Messe in Chiba, Japan, one is merely a kids area (which will open on public days). In fact, the "sales" area of the show, where companies can sell game-related goods, has been moved on to the proper show floor to fill space.
This is partly due to the rampant consolidation in the Japanese game industry - Namco and Bandai, Tecmo and Koei, Square Enix and Taito, Hudson and Konami all used to have individual booths - now each merged unit has one booth between them.
But shrinking or otherwise, TGS is still a huge consumer-facing show with high profile companies revealing high profile projects, the likes of Capcom's new Devil May Cry
, Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden 3
, and EA/Grasshopper Manufacture's Shadows of the Damned
It will be especially interesting to see how many game fans the show will attract during the consumer days, but the first business-oriented day was certainly a bit slower than usual.
It may be related to the fact that the price of entry has skyrocketed from 1,000 yen last year (around $12) to this year's 5,000 yen (around $58). The consumer ticket only went up a small amount -- to 1,200 yen.
You Move Me
The big hardware manufacturers were out in full force - and by these I mean Sony and Microsoft. Nintendo traditionally avoids the show, and in fact the 3DS was not allowed to be shown by any company at the event. The focus for both Microsoft and Sony were naturally their respective new motion control devices, which did seem to make a good impression on attendees.
Microsoft was particularly attention grabbing, as it showcased Konami's Dance Evolution
on a big stage above its booth. Crowds gathered, and the general buzz at the show was that the game (and associated peripheral) were rather impressive.
On top of that, the company had its usual Tokyo Game Show fare: a mixture of high-end triple-A titles like Vanquish
and Mass Effect 2
, and small, niche-oriented shooting games from Cave and 5pb, and the odd Gal Gun
, in which you have to shoot hearts at girls (in the right places) in order to keep them from grabbing onto you.
On top of Move, which was shown in a series of rooms on the floor itself, Sony also unveiled a new trailer
for The Last Guardian
, which was not playable on the show floor, but was shown to be playable behind closed doors.
Also confirmed was the HD pack-in remakes of Shadow of the Colossus
, the team's previous two games on the PlayStation 2. Sony's actual booth was less targeted than Microsoft's, with a wider variety of games shown across the PS3 and PSP. But as it's far and away the more popular console in this country, the company can afford to take a more scattershot approach - and also had a large display dedicated to its upcoming 3D-with-glasses initiative.
Though almost every company had a variety of games to show, I'll discuss what struck me as most interesting. In the left-most portion of the show floor, relatively tucked away was the Softbank booth. Softbank is a Japanese mobile provider which distributes not only the iPhone, but also Android devices.
The company decided to have two booths next door to each other, one dedicated to iOS games, and the other dedicated to the Android platform. Each drew a crowd for different reasons - the showcased iOS games were of a higher quality, but the Android booth had an informative mini-conference throughout the day, showcasing how developers could potentially use the platform for their games.
Level 5's booth was absolutely gigantic once again - the company seems determined to take over the entirety of the Tokyo Game show, and essentially built a giant house in the middle of the floor, primarily in order to showcase its new Inazuma Eleven
and Ni no Kuni
games, the latter of which sports lovely animation and character design from animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli.
Capcom wisely privileged its newest Monster Hunter
iteration, Monster Hunter Diary: Poka Poka Airu Village
, in a very clever kiosk that calls to mind a mythical traditional Japanese diner, appropriate for the Monster Hunter
On the other hand, Square Enix's booth looked decidedly Western-facing by comparison, with Lara Croft, Gunloco, Front Mission Evolved,
and Fallout New Vegas
all on display in a row (Square Enix is distributing the latter title in Japan). The company did have its traditional RPG fare on display as well, but the greater Western focus compared to years prior was a bit more striking.
Sega's booth was all about Vanquish
. Certainly there were a number of other games there, but Vanquish
was definitely the focus, with dozens of kiosks available for play. Curiously, the company has also revealed that it is releasing Virtual On Force
, a 2001 arcade game, for Xbox 360. The most curious thing about this is the complete lack of graphical changes. It looks 100% like a game from 2001, or even before, and not even in a purposeful retro-aesthetic way. It simply looks ancient. But with a game like that, the visuals aren't necessarily the selling point.
Konami's booth was less focused on Dance Evolution
than was Microsoft's, but Microsoft was likely better prepared to highlight this anyway. The new Castlevania was shown, but much more emphasis was placed on Hideo Kojima and his Metal Gear
Events and video loops were held nearly all day, in which the creator spoke at length about his thoughts on games, his new title, Metal Gear Solid: Rising
. Ubisoft was also in attendance, but didn't seem to be generating much buzz on the business days, due to mostly having released titles on display. I expect this booth to be busier on the consumer-facing days.
Ignition Entertainment was there as well, showcasing one title only - the visually stylish but not-yet-together El Shaddai
, which marries sparse dreamlike landscapes with 3D fighting and 2D platforming sections. With an entire booth dedicated to one game (and its partnership with Edwin Jeans, in which one of the game's characters had had his jeans made into an actual clothing line), the focus was sharp. Attendees generally had a positive-ish outlook on the game, but it certainly felt early.
The Changing Tide
One scenario for me was particularly telling, in terms of the differences inherent in the current Japanese market. I was waiting in line to play Tecmo Koei's soon-to-be-released third person shooter Quantum Theory
, and was watching the players before me take their turns. It was eye-opening to be reminded of just how little Western-style games have penetrated the Japanese market.
Players were having an awfully difficult time playing this incredibly easy demo - not because they're poor players, but because they simply don't understand how to control or enjoy a third or first-person shooter. I watched about 10 people play, and of those, six couldn't consistently figure out how to use the right stick - they would move with the left stick until the target reticule was near the enemy, then blast away - rarely moving the camera's perspective unless in a moment of desperation.
They weren't using cover, let alone the special attacks the game offers. They were running right into groups of enemies and getting shot from behind without understanding the visual cues of the shot indicator. And (likely because Tecmo Koei is familiar with this scenario due to user tests) these players didn't die - the game demo was nerfed to where if they kept on pressing through until the end, they would get there somehow.
It's not the game's fault, per se - all these things were communicated via text, sometimes even via gating, showing players how to complete each element of the gameplay. But there's an inherent disconnect - this isn't yet the kind of game that Japanese audiences know how to enjoy.
This demo that I, a not-too-accomplished TPS player breezed through in a scant couple minutes, was taking some players upward of 10-15 minutes due to their lack of understanding of the genre. Meanwhile, Kinect and Move put smiles on the faces of all in attendance - the way Nintendo has connected with Japanese audiences via the Wii is clearly legitimate, and carries over to other movement-based platforms as well.
As the Japanese and Western game players and makers continue to figure out where they have commonality and where they diverge, it will be interesting to see how the next generation of HD games shape up. With the possibility of multiplatform movement-based games, the advent of glasses and glasses-less 3D, there are starting to be multiple venues for this sort of entertainment. What Japan chooses to do in this space will be fascinating to watch over the coming years.