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Sense of Wonder: Indie-fying Japan

November 2, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

I've encountered a number of people who comment on the humor of Rose & Camellia. Does having a well-defined humorous or whimsical atmosphere help a game to stand apart from the crowd?

B: In speaking with game designers like this, I increasingly come to the conclusion that it's vital to be involved in activities, like the representation of humor, that feel like they're derived from somewhere outside of the industry. This doesn't seem to be a popular opinion. I myself do a lot of things aside from making games, and I find I speak the same language as people who view the industry from an outsiders' perspective.

TN: A journalist from overseas asked me why I insisted on having humor represented in my games. My answer was that it's an important part of my personal style, and to a certain extent I've grown bored with commercial releases.

Games used to be much more fun, more of an active experience. If a game didn't move you, it wasn't worth your time. For me, the quickest way to avoid creating a passive experience for the player is to connect with them through humor.

In the Flash game Rose & Camellia, the faces that your enemies make when you slap them are intended to be funny. The idea is that it's a fighting game, but part of the challenge is that if you laugh too hard you'll lose. Comedy can be a part of your difficulty settings.

What are the most significant advantages that download games have over retail titles and vice versa?

TN: It's difficult to imagine a small company like ours getting our foot in the door in this industry without the existence of digital distribution. It gives me hope that others will follow suit. Nothing would make me happier than to be surrounded by a surfeit of talented independent developers. As for the biggest disadvantage that digital products have going for them, even modern hardware has its technical limitations. I was expecting a better programming environment for console developers, but grappling with memory restraints remains a source of frustration.

Echochrome II

TS: Seeing as in Japan the demand for digital downloads remains modest, it's difficult not to be influenced by the retail market. Eventually, digital content will be the norm. If you look at CD-ROMs, which required several thousand yen to manufacture, these once needed to be sold for upwards of 10,000 yen [$124] to turn a profit. Today, in the context of a worldwide market, you can have a commercially successful title sold for a thousand yen [$12]. The disappearance of physical packaging has recognizably reduced overall production and manufacturing costs.

This platform for distribution has been commonplace in PC and freeware circles for some time, but now it’s finally gaining a foothold in console markets in Japan. If you look at the iPhone, the same phenomenon is taking place in fast-forward. The gestation period, where inspiration creates actual products, is getting shorter. While it's a good sign that so many concepts are finding expression these days, there is also the unfortunate reality that many of the same ideas are being recycled over and over again. For downloadable titles, I think there is an even greater need to innovate.

B: I agree that there is a surplus of new games being produced today. As with music, it puts greater pressure on digital labels when the market is saturated with content. In such a context, it makes it difficult for anyone with aspirations of becoming an independent game designer to be noticed.

What use do events like the Sense of Wonder Night at the Tokyo Game Show or the Independent Games Festival at the Game Developers Conference have? Are these kinds of meetings important to the industry?

TS: My title Trash Panic appeared at the first Sense of Wonder Night.

B: I also participated in that event, and last year was my first time taking part in the IGF. Our team didn't receive any prizes at the Game Developers Choice Awards, but we received four nominations. The IGF is brimming with excitement, so it's easily my favorite part of GDC. I'm also inspired by the sight of Kiyoshi Shin from IGDA Japan putting so much energy into organizing the Sense of Wonder Night to help promote experimental game concepts. It's rare to see such a free and spontaneous exchange of opinions related to game design.

TN: We've been to the Tokyo Game Show two times to participate in interviews. My first impression is that it's a surefire way to tire your legs. I'm hoping it might become more interesting if a greater number of smaller developers start turning up and lending it more of the vibe of an indie music festival. That would be preferable to finding yourself in one corner, surrounded by all the gargantuan game companies.

TS: The Tenkaichi Computer Cowboy championship in Japan is attempting to fill that void. That event is mainly a competition for technical demos submitted by programmers.

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