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Replaying Japan 2018

These notes are about the Replaying Japan 2018 conference in the National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham, UK.

The programme is here.

As always these notes are written live and so they will be tirelessly mediocre. I work hard to type live sense, but nonsense creeps in, especially when things get interesting.

Day 1:

Panel on Music

Alex Wade: Accelerate Your Mind: The Soundscapes of Pac-Man

He started talking about pinball and the relationship between the machine and the body. Pinball also lends itself to certain social arrangements.

Then he looked at arcades and things are different. The play surface is more private. It is harder for children to play. It becomes more a terminal that you peer into. Darkened caverns which people peer into. Freund in 2004 talked about the "Technological Habitus".

Space Invaders (1978) is the first arcade game with a sound track. The four notes that speed up. The music mimics heartbeats and speeds it up. How do we keep up? Pills ... like the pac-man ... running around eating pills.

Pac-Man has a darkened room that you run around listening to electronic music. Much like the rave scene where people dance to electronic music in darkened rooms.

Pac-Man Championship Edition (2007) is Iwatani's true sequel. There is lots of quantification that mimics the economics of the time.

Wade talked about rave culture and the way they were also in darkened spaces (like arcades) where "naughty things could happen." They were, like arcades, a counter culture. In 1992 it reaches an apogee, Power Pill (Richard James) creates a Pac-Man EP that makes connection between game and pills and raves.

He then makes a jump to Silicon Valley economics based on micro-dosing (pills) and pushing the body.

Timothy Summers: The Music of Mother (1989) and the Powerful Aesthetic of Naiveté

Summers is a pioneer in ludomusicology. The flowering of the JRPG was in late 1980s. Nintendo came out with Mother in 1989 which was not translated into English (a sequel was, EarthBound Zero). Itoi wanted the experience to be emotion using especially music. Various characters and objects made music - fragments that when brought together make a melody. At the end there is a battle where one can sign to the alien. The melody as an attack is the only thing that will defeat the alien. "How could I be defeated by a song like that?"

It is not only in the fiction of the game that music has power. Music is an emotional tool that lets us engage with fictional characters.

Dragonquest and Final Fantasy games that serve as a model draw on two types of music:

  • Holywood movie music
  • Romantic or baroque music

Mother uses a naive aesthetic instead. Instrumental pop song language for humans. Aliens have uncomfortable music. The composer uses nostalgia in various ways. The music is childlike and the players have to recall music over the game. Fragments are discovered in the game.

Mother's sound track was released as an album in 1989. This was not an afterthought. The main melody on the CD comes in different forms like an arrangement with orchestra and choir. "Take a melody, simple as can be ..." Lots of associations with childhood. The music was included in a Japanese curriculum.

Mother presents music as powerful both in the plot and effectively to players. Mother uses the limitations of the game hardware to produce a naive style. Naive style allows and influences use of music in real world. Music lets us share subjectivity with characters.

Martin Picard: The media ecology of video game music in Japan

Picard talked about music and media mix. Media mix is the Japanese word for "transmedia." Transmedia is now being used as a buzz word in music world.

in Japan game music is a major business in and of itself. Game composers are like rock stars. Cherie Hu ("Is Video Game Music an Art") talks about the unique situation in Japan that led to game music being big business. Since the 1970s there has been deliberate media mix strategies in Japan (book, film and music, for example.) The Japanese buy a lot of recorded music (second after the US.) They have been slow to adapting to digital music sales. Japanese also buy a lot of their own music. Music is important economically. The history and music culture in Japan is one that has evolved with the technologies. Rythm games are big. Vocaloids are also big. There is a participatory side of game music.

There are two genres of music now:

  • Electronic music, chiptune piko piko - nostalgia, authenticity
  • Western classical tradition - legitimacy, educational, popularization

Early history: Yellow Magic Orchestra 1978 Computer Game theme from The Circus. Then Video Game Music 1984 - a mix of samples of game sounds. Kunihiko Murai. Murai later produces a Game Music Organization album(s). There is, from 1984 an explosion of albums of game music published. Game music issues of magazines began to come out like BEEP which had special issues.

The game companies began to create bands. Junko Ozawa talked about this in a previous Replaying Japan. These would play concerts. There were also concerts associated with specific games. There is a Japan Game Music Orchestra. The concerts have also exploded.

He talked about chiptunes. See Discoll and Diaz, Endless loop: A brief history of chiptunes. And then we have idols and so on.

There was an interesting question about the relationship between game music and karaoke and other industries.

Panel on Comparative

Aki Nakamura: Comparative Case Studies on China’s Pan-Entertainment Practices and its adaptation of Japanese entertainment companies

Nakamura talked about transmedia in China. In China they call it Pan-Entertainment. He presented Jenkins' definition of transmedia story telling. He compared it to tetris and the fitting together of media. Ohtsuka (1989) and Itoh (2005) have defined media mix more as an ongoing trend.

He then switched to the situation in China. How has the Japanese media mix model transferred? Nakamura did a number of interviews with Chinese and Taiwanese firms. Pan-Entertainment is having one IP that unfolds over multiple media platforms. In China intellectual property is looser.

He showed a chart of various phases. The first chaotic phase has adaptations of originals to specific media to take advantage of popularity - it is an opportunistic media mix. He gave an example, Jin Yong contents. They start as martial arts novels (in 1955) that use stuff from history. They get turned into films in 1958. In 1976 in Hong Kong they get TV drama. In 1998 there is a Japan Animation that is hired by Hong Kong producer to create an animation. Games come in uncoordinated way. This first phase is not coordinated. It is opportunistic where Jin Yong owners get asked for licenses.

He then gave an example of Legends of Sword which is more coordinated. It is a Taiwanese company. Qin's Moon is a Chinese venture company that is well coordinated. They embrace the idea of cosplay and then use fan fictions in books.

The final example was the Candle in the Tomb series. The content is licensed to different film companies. They make money as quickly as possible.

How has Japanese companies adapted. Square Enix started by just localizing their content for Japan. Now they are working on co-creation with Chinese companies. They are creating content that will only come out in China.

BandaiNamco started with co-development and are now trying to create content in China. SNK is another case study. This company was bought by a Chinese company. Now they have all sorts of products from apps to e-sports.

Aniplex china is a case of a faithful adaptation of media mix model to China. There are issues now of censorship in China. China is now the largest market and Japanese companies are trying to adapt.

Stefan Bruckner: Examining Differences in German and Japanese Player Experience: A Grounded Theory Approach

Bruckner started by talking about user experience and from that player experience. Bruckner is asking about the difference between how Japanese and Germans experience games. There is an issue of Japaneseness in games. (See Consalvo 2006 and Consalvo 2016).

There is some empirical research into differences using reviews. Bruckner is used grounded theory. They collect data, code it, and develop theories. They looked at JRPGs like Persona 5. They looked at review scores and created text corpora from user reviews. They used MAXQDA to do coding and so on.

He then talked about their results. The German players were much more positive than Japanese players. The Japanese found the story repetitive while the Germans found it grand. The characters were found in Japan to lack depth and in Germany to be well developed.

He talked about differences in the structure, level of detail and writing styles between Japanese and German reviewers. They are now looking what conclusions they can draw. There are cultural differences between review cultures. With localization, they are not playing the same game. Dialogue would have been totally rewritten.

They are now looking at think-aloud protocols to have players record their experiences.

Tomás Grau: Mukokuseki and ludic traditions: a problematization of the interpretation processes of Japanese videogames

Grau's thesis was on the analysis of Japanese video games. He was trying to quantify what Japaneseness could be and then measure it over various decades. Of course, he found he was wrong in sorts of ways. It was impossible to quantify what Japaneseness was (in Spain.) Different interviewees had contradictory views. Orientalist depictions were alive. He then reconceptualized his thesis and looked at "geemu" and interpretative communities.

He talked about a new form of orientalism that is more mediatized. He talked about Mukokuseki - the absence of ethnic characteristics in Japanese fictional characters. This is the deliberate attempt to make cultural products more attractive to non-Japanese audiences. It means "without nationality". As a result some game genres carry more about Japan depending how much the games are globalized.

Japanese culture often gets treated as an enclosed media mix. Difference is maintained even while Japanese game designers try to remove ethical characteristics. Westerners consume Japanese games as Japanese. Japanese commondities are fetishized. Japan acts as a symbol market for foreign audiences. Japan remains a homogenous and idealized entity in the global imagination.

Panel on Development

Shuji Watanabe: The Design technique to misunderstand as self-creation and self-growth for questions

Watanable began by talking about the College of Image Arts and Science and their curriculum. Then he talked about "nan-i-do" or the degree of difficulty. He talked about the role of difficulty and how parents will adapt the difficulty to encourage their children. In digital games it is hard for the game to adapt to the player. Difficulty engineering is a matter of making every player think they are the only one who can solve a game. He talked about testing companies like Enzyme and the use of the Mario Club.

Watanabe talked about the different levels of difficulty control. There is the design, then the testing and then the final adjustments by the player. The goal of the creator is to make player "win by a nose".

He talked about how in the 1st generation of game design there was observation of physical world of play and generalization to games. Designers designed for themselves. The jump with the body is different from jump of a character on a screen. Real bodies are fixed while a virtual body can be designed. The jump in a mario game is not like the real world jump.

He talked about difficulty synthesizer that allows different aspects of the difficulty to be controlled.

Play and fun is the best way to deal with diversity of players.

His slides are at

Note: See the bottom of these notes about the demo of Watanabe's ideas.

Juhyung Shin and Mitsuyuki Inaba: Constructing Multicultural Learning Environment and Collaborative Serious Games in Metaverse

Inaba started by talking about the objectives of the research, which is to promote (cross-)cultural learning based on a collaborative serious game. They are also trying to provide situated learning in a metaverse.

They create spaces where more experienced people enter into dialogue with learners in virtual spaces. They created a virtual space for learning about hidden christians in Japan. They recreated one of the sites in Japan.

They then ran a number of tests wth Chinese and Japanese students. Shin described the experiments. They found sustained and active conversation happened between newcomers and old timers. Due to freedom of participants they discussed many different things. This can be a problem or advantage. The also found that the facilitator was important.

Panel on Platforms

Kieran Nolan: JAMMA Arcade Platform: Interface Constraints and Aesthetic Affordances

Nolan is an artist researcher from Ireland. He talked about JAMMA, the Japan Amusement Machine and Marketing Association. It was set up in 1981. There is also a JAMMA interface standard for connecting the PCB to arcade cabinets. The industry wanted to be able to reuse cabinets. The JAMMA interface connection is a 56 pin connection - the JAMMA wiring loom which provides power and signals. He then talked about the JAMMA hardware. The cabinet supplies power and inputs and monitor and speakers.

JAMMA Superguns are devices for hooking up to arcade PCBs instead of a cabinet.

There are no more records as JAMMA seems to have gotten rid of their records. Thus people have had to reverse engineer the standards.

There are now PC driven indie JAMMA arcade games. NAVE Arcade is a group that designs and circulate games like Videogamo 2015. They design and circulate single games at festivals so the playing is site specific. They play wit the arcade game aesthetic.

A second example is Skycurser by Griffin Aerotech 2015. they make pixel art using a purist approach (by eye and hand with no modern tools.)

Both of these are well documented.

He then talked about JAMMA media art that use the JAMMA arcade hardware. VJ VisualLoop 2009 is an Italian work designed to be projected by a VJ.

The last work is his own work where he looks at the arcade games as physical form. He talked about arcade raids where people rescue arcade equipment. Sometimes the games are behind glass and can't be played.

Nolan's project is a VR Supergun Prototype (2018). He took plans (that are online) of cabinets and created them for a virtual space and pieced together the virtual cabinets. The result is a VR game of an arcade cabinet with a game playing on it. You can play the game in the VR.

JAMMA is not one thing, but a family of platforms. It is a common architecture that is open. It continues to survive, especially for creatives.

Mikhail Fiadotau: Digging into the Game Engine: A Selective Archaeology of Hobbyist Game Development in Japan

Fiadotau started by talking about conceptualizations of various form of making like participatory culture (Jenkins), peer production, modding, maker movement etc. Lev Manovich has an idea of cultural software and we have the idea of platform studies. He then talked about the game maker phenomenon like the Pinball Construction Set (1982), War Game Construction Kis (1983), and Thunder Force Construciton.

Then he switched specifically to Japan construction culture. The console market didn't lend itself to making. Nintendo restricted access to development. There were copyright issues and publisher supervision. Homebrew was mostly for PC gaming. In the 1990s there were games that the users could modify. Athena created a game that could be modified in 1991. There were lots of ingenious creations made by players using this limited authoring.

RPG Maker (Tsukuru) started as a type-in program listing and improved into commercial software for RPG making. It came with assets and creators could distribute their creations. Some games created with it even got distributed. Eventually RPG Maker was distributed in English. It enabled dojin and indie gaming.

NScripter (1999) is a freeware visual novel engine that has been successfully used. There are Lua extensions. Important titles showed up using NScripter like Higurashi-no Naku Koro-ni. This inspired other visual novel making tools.

These tools can be seen as prosumer tools. Fiadotau has created a typology:

  • Dictatorial prosumerism
  • Supervised prosumerism
  • Expressive prosumerism
  • Subversive prosumerism

He concluded by talking about how game engines have shaped the games created with them. Hobby making is a synthesis of making and playing.

Keynote: Masaya Matsuura: Music, Sound, Play

Matsuura developed PaRappa the Rapper one of the first modern rhythm games.

Matsuura started the group PSY-S a group that released about 10 albums and disbanded in mid 1990s. He has given honest interviews about his game development projects that he encouraged us to check out.

Now everyone recognizes the importance of game music and the difficulty. Designing a music game is even harder. People think of music as a way of expressing emotion - but there is much more. There is abstraction and in music games one can have interaction.

Matsuura's rule for rhythm game is that the actions of the player should lead to a change in music. Many smartphone games don't have this. Many games where you just hit buttons in time aren't really music games either.

Freedom of music expression is important to music games. He talked about how games that appeal to everyone may not be as interesting. Music games should respect different cultures. He was questioned about a game about rap as if that was a problem.

He then talked about how 80s creators struggled with trying to make cliche songs interesting with unusual changes. The words might be cliche, but the music could have some some unexpected turns. This is like interactivity - or interactive music lets player do unexpected things to music.

Vinyl records are not nostalgia. Digital recordings will all become out of date. They change quickly. The vinyl record won't. It is a form of monument.

Parappa the Rapper is being repurposed for PS4. Alas there is a latency to the new machines due to filters on the screen side. This is a problem for rhythm games. The remastered game doesn't keep the identity of the original. He keeps the identity by keeping the PS1 and game together. He reflected on the need to preserve not only the digital content, but also the physical game machine.

Matsuura then talked about Apple Bandai Pippin. At the time Apple separated the hardware and software and Bandai created a game platform using Mac OS of the time.

Matsuura talked about his performances today. He keeps his performance team small. His expression depends on computers. He dreams of performing with a computer. Alas a real human player can adapt in a way a computer can't. When you improvise with humans you have ways of knowing when to stop. He would like to try that with a computer, but doesn't want to develop the software.

Game is a great media for imagining the infinite possibility of music.

Day 2

Panel on Music 2

Jason Bradshaw: The Golden Age of JRPG Music: MIDI Masterpieces

Bradshaw talked about how MIDI tracks were important to JPRGs from the 1980s. He then talked about critical code studies (CCS) and how that can show us the humanity of software. He introduced the assumptions of CCS:

  • Code has meaning embedded
  • The practice of crafting code for specific uses and on specific platforms influences the artist's methodology
  • Code is not hidden and in a vacuum - it is of its time and context

He then introduced the MIDI format and how he could read the MIDI track for Chrono Trigger. He then read the MIDI of one of the main themes.

He there returned to the three assumptions and showed how a close reading of MIDI unpacks them.

He closed by reflecting on the place of this music. It is the music of a generation who are now in power. Perhaps the popularity of the music is a form of nostalgia.

Hiroshi Yoshida: Early History of Epistemic Sounds in Digital Games

Yoshida is interested in aesthetics. He talked about ecological function of audible elements in games. Our eyes and ears operating very differently in 3D games. Sound helps us understand the confusing environment of a game.

He then talked about diegetic or extradiegetic sounds - sounds that you consciously hear are diegetic while those that are environmental are extradiegetic. Yoshida's view is of "epistemic sounds":

  • Sounds uncovers infromation providing cues
  • They constitute essential parts of the game
  • They are embedded in almost all works - beyond just 3D games

He is borrowing the idea of epistemic action from pragmatic action. He is using the idea of affordances (Gibson 1979). The sound in a game provides affordances. Sound that is a decorative is not epistemic. Sound that you need to hear to play is more than decorative - it is epistemic.

He then gave examples like Pong and then Circus and Space Invaders. He showed the differences between interactive and reactive sounds. Space Invaders has an epistemic sound for the first time - a sound that helps the player. Then he talked about Battle Zone where you sometimes get attacked from behind. When you are attacked from behind you have epistemic cues that warn you.

Then he talked about the NES game, Excitebike which due to the platform was limited in sound. A later version had better engine sound which sounds more realistic. Then he showed Famicom Baseball which had a sound for balls that fly which gives you a sense of 3D.

What makes it epistemic? It is epistemic if there is something hidden that is revealed.

He concluded by talking about epistemic sounds can be found in 1980s games.

Konstantin Freybe: The Singing Chat Of “OuterHeaven”

Freybe started with his methodology. He is using grounded theorising (as opposed to theory.) He talked about the relationship between researcher and fan communities you study. He studies Twitch. The video is live, he recorded the video and chat simulataneously. What he wanted to study is what it takes to turn a streaming channel into a career. His hypothesis is that it takes a mix of skills and that you have to play and talk at the same time. He thinks the singing chat channel is exemplary. Twitch is a social live-streaming service that is owned by Amazon. It is a space for the professionalization of play through audience labor.

The particular channel is a team channel called The Singing Chat | What is OuterHeaven? They focus on Metal Gear, especially "Kojima-made". They do full series marathons. They try to show everything. Metal Gear has had 31 releases. Outer Heaven is a setting from Metal Gear 1 (?). The singing chat is music that plays during a boss battle.

He showed screen shots of the Twitch-chat while the boss fight is happening. The player extends the fight to hear all the music and allow the chatters to "sign" along. They sign along during specific places. The fans maintain a community performance.

Nathan Altice: Four Ways to Play in Hell: Makaimura Board Games in Translation

Altice talked about Makaimura (Demon World Village 1986). He asked "what makes Makaimura Makaimura?" There are lives, platforms, weapons and scrolling. There are gatekeepers (boss) and six levels. Your princess is taken and you have to recover her. It is hard game and cute (demonology). Something about this worked and so it got ported. The localization was called "Ghosts'n Goblins". There are adaptations like manga, notebooks and a Bandai board game.

He then talked about particular ports starting with the Famicom port which has become more popular. Then he talked about the board game adaptation. Bandai has a Joy Family Series of board games that ran from 1980 to 1994. These board games were "cardo" or card games in the sense of using cards rather than dice. Bandai made over 300 and they seem to be ignored in game history. Bandai also made a game of Makaimura. They reference the Famicom version. You have the monsters, items, armour and underwear of the videogame. Altice showed the board and how it mapped to the game. It was a snakes and ladders-like board.

He talked about boards as a form of platform. He pointed out that map makers made the first boards. Then he drew a parallel to historic Japanese maps. There is also a Japanese "race to the finish" tradition - sugoroku. The sugoroku maps/games were a form of democratization of knowledge. The board game of Makaimura might be the only way to see the whole area of the game as the videogame is so hard. He talked about sections of the Makaimura board and how it provided sugoroku-like experiences.

He talked about the rule book. The rule book talked about how you can make your own rules.

Altice then talked about a second board game which was closer to the videogame using screenshots. There were even hints for the videogame in the board game - a strategy guide.

What does all this mean? First, it raises questions about what makes an adaptation. Are adaptations a secondary part of game history? Or are they weirder and more interesting. Second, he talks about secondary remediation or retrograde remediation. He doesn't think retrograde remediation really explains the phenomenon.

Keiji Amano: Gambling as Play: The Case of Pachinko

It is hard to distinguish gambling and games. Pachinko makes a good case study. Pachinko is extraordinary in Japan and the world. It dominate the electronic gaming industry. Legally in Japan, pachinko is not gambling because it is a game played for stuff not money, even if you can exchange the stuff for money. Amano described the "three shop system" where there is a prize booth near the parlour and then wholesellers for the prizes.

Amano then talked about the shift of attitudes of the Japanese towards pachinko. As long as losses are low they are seen as the cost of killing time. When the odds change and one can lose a lot (and win a lot) then attitudes seem to change to see the game as gambling.

He also talked about the transmedia tie-ins. Players are attracted to the parlour to get more content from a favorite franchise. This makes pachinko less of a gambling game and more of a way of consuming content.

Amano then talked about a survey of pachinko players that showed how much they spend of their income on pachinko. Many spend way over the average spent by Japanese on leisure (9%). Now with the legalization of casinos (integrated resorts) there is renewed attention on the dangers of gambling and addiction. This could affect the fiction that pachinko is not gambling.

Fanny Barnabe: Twitch Plays Pokémon: Reappropriation as a Fictional and Playful Matrix

Barnabe looks at a strange experiment where a version of pokemon on Twitch where people enter keys in the chat which then guides the game. You get a chaotic spectacle as some players try to make progress and some try to block any progress. There was always a joker to press the down key to jump off a ledge. So, the creator of Twitch Plays Pokemon introduced a voting system so that if most players voted for a sensible action, it would happen. All the players playing TPP then created all sorts of other media. There is a TPP mythology about the Helix Fossil which is useless in the normal game but became a pseudo religious object in the TPP.

She theorized that there are two processes of remix:

  • The deconstruction of original game code
  • The codification of new conventions

This is a process known in linguistics as "lexicalization". Here it is the language of gaming. TPP transforms Pokemon's interface. TPP turns the Twitch platform chatbox into a control - ie. part of the interface of the game. The chat combines two discourses - the comments addressed to other players and comments addressed to the game. This is Azuma's "hyperflat" world. You also get a deconstruction of the interface - a saturation - silent din - textual cacophony (Derine 2016). The cacophony creates a new game to win the noise and control the avatar. TPP also deconstructs the interface by making things like ledges a form of hell. TPP becomes unplayable. There is irony in ledges and trees. It becomes a game to achieve simple tasks.

She talked about repetitiveness and how it deconstructs fun. Finally, there is narrativization. Players have added a new motivation (the mythology of the Helix Fossil) that changes the story. Now the players are playing at adding a story to the chaotic game. The new narrative provides context for interpretation.

TPP is a remix of Pokemon Red that breaks the original structure and creates a new game with new conventions and new story. Why did TPP become the frame for such collective play? Do we have a new genre of games?

Derivative works always move through double move of deconstruction and codification (or a process of lexicalization.)

Peter Mühleder and Tracy Hoffmann: Tales of doing Research with Video Game Fan Databases: A data-driven Approach

Peter and Tracy talked about using fan databases to do data-driven research. They are trying to merge different databases about Japanese games despite different languages and different identifiers. The game titles are problematic as there are different titles in different regions.

They have being trying to create an algorithm to match titles. Fan databases use a lot of different titles so they may be useful. They have released their algorithm on github. They showed some visualizations of clusters of records that can help with manual disambiguation.

Some problems: "we don't know what we don't know". The link ratios are not very expressive.

Tracy then talked about how they are trying to make linked data statements. A link, for example, saying that one game in one database is the same as one in the other. Alas, there are different ways that games are conceived. Given how there are often special editions of games do you have one game or multiple record. Different databases differ on a conceptual level. To integrate the databases they developed their own ontology. (How does it match to FRBR?)

They conclude with some principles like:

  • no one model to rule them all
  • they want to add semantics

She talked about the long term infrastructure. The checking calls for a community - some sort of crowdsourcing approach. Their model is not related to FRBR. Tracy asserted that FRBR doesn't work for games.

Yuhsuke Koyama: The birth of JRPG and its own evolution

Koyama talked about issue of what a JRPG is. What is the beginning of JPRG. Dragon Quest may not be JPRGs. He showed a fascinating timeline with WRPGs (Western? RPGs). He sees JRPGs as separate evolution of RPGs.

He defined the concept of the JRPG. This is an imported word in Japan. It seems to be used to be critical of RPGs made in Japan. It is tied to Western views of lack of competitiveness in Japanese games after 2008.

JRPG began to diverge in the 1980s. They use anime/manga style art. They use command-based battle systems. There are two subgenres, field RPGs and Dungion crawls. He talked about the translations of Japanese game books that made it possible for westerners to follow Japanese games.

The key shift was when Japanese designers began to make games that were easy and long rather than having difficult puzzles.

His slides are here. There was a lot more to this talk than I could put down as my battery ran out.

Martin Roth: The spatiality of videogame production in Japan

What does Japan mean in terms of Japanese games - Roth wants to look at issues of reception and production. He has been trying to reconcile data about games and add information about the location of the companies. This is to try to look at how the game industry may be globalizing or not.

When it comes to question of spatiality - Japan is an invented category. He is looking at how mapping can help.

He has one initial dataset of 475 representative games over time. The records link to headquarters and map to japan where you can see the spread of game companies over time. In the 1980s they were all in Tokyo, Nagoya and Kyoto.

He showed some neat visualizations of roles - all the companies that are involved and how they connect.

Akito Inoue: Making Local video game history index

Alas I had no power and these notes are written from memory.

Inoue has developed an interesting dataset to figure out if the differences in reception of Japanese games between Japan and the West. His data is available at:

Keynote: David Wise

The keynote was provided by David Wise who composed the music for the Donkey Kong Country series among other games. He didn't use PowerPoint to present. Instead he used Cubase which he uses to compose on. He played music with game demos and then showed us some of how the compositions were put together.

He talked about how he works too. When he wakes up he spends an hour doing a "demo" or original composition. Then he moves onto the tasks of the day.

He talked about the challenge of composing for games. You have to compose a looping tune that will fit the playing.

Day 3

Panel on Game Education and Resources

Akinori Ito: A Practice Report on Development of Game Audio Research Method at Tokyo University of Technology

Ito introduced the Tokyo University of Technology as their programme in game development is unusual. They used to run vocational programmes. It is new university with the School of Media Science established in 1999. Dr Hideo Aiso (father of Japanese Internet) was the first dean. He believed that music and arts research was important to media sciences. They don't have departments, just courses to encourage interdisciplinarity.

It was difficult combining vociational and university curriculum so they created project based workshops that are flexible. The staff have a mix of backgrounds from traditional music background to industry experience.

Game education in Japan is mostly in vocational schools (diploma and non-diploma.) This is a challenge in Japan. Their university targets game design and production. They use the IGDA framework and they got the first certification from the government. The classes prepare students for the Tokyo Game Show where they have a booth.

The now participate in the Global Game Jam - they run the Japanese site. Their game jam curriculum is different from traditional curriculum in that it has lots of short iterations, not one big thesis project.

He then talked about how they support game sound research with students. He talked about ways of comparing music across games by quantifying it. Their students have found interesting results. A student has created a dataset about over 300 tunes - all sorts of information that can be used to compare different issues like timbre and instrumentation. He also talked about a project to look at how the music associated with the transformation of monsters in Monster Hunter. They found different patterns in the change of music.

A number of undergraduate theses have been presented in DiGRA Japan.

Hitomi Mohri: Research on User’s Information Needs of Video Game Resources for Subject Access

Mohri has been cataloguing games at Ritsumeikan. She talked about the need for better subject keywords for cataloguing. The traditional subjects for books don't work well enough.

There are different studies into what the needs of potential users are. The questions she is asking include:

  • Are the needs different from game genres?
  • Are there any needs for "characters"?

She did a qualitative text analysis using KHCoder (Higuchi, 2004) on data on Yahoo. They gathered thousands of queries. She cleaned out queries that didn't apply. She then looked for frequent words. Platform words show up a lot, but you see genre words like "otome".

She showed a network analysis of words. Worlds like otome linked to character. She then coded the words and her current list has 32 codes. She compared the codes to genres. Thus "character" correlated with otome. Words like platform are high for all genres.

She concluded that people interested in RPGs and otome games are interested in character issues. There are also real differences between needs for different genres. Because needs are different for different genres, a catalogue should have faceted subjects.

Laura Iseut L. St-Martin: Dark Souls: Narrative, players, interpretations

St-Martin studied Pierce and William James and applies semiotics to the study games like Dark Souls. The game gives us little direct narrative so you need to build up your sense of the world using the small fragments around. She then talked about conjectural thinking, an idea from Umberto Eco and Charles Pierce. You have fragments and conjecture an interpretation. This is how you play Dark Souls - you conjecture new texts out of the fragments. What is interesting about Dark Souls is that this is done by a community. Thus interpretations involves generation of many ideas until a consensus emerges which then becomes the convention. The community actually creates conflicting interpretations. The players are forced to make up their own stories.

Philipp Klueglein: The Design and Reception of Characters in Japanese Free to-Play Games

He started with a proposition that Free 2 Play games have become the major way that people are consuming character today. (In Japan they are called "social" games.) He then talked about the F2P model. You have core actions that lead to resources with which to decorate or add to your "character". There is a gatcha element that

A unique feature of the Japanese market is that 72% of the mobile games are character collecting games. This is not the case in other countries.

Characters as objects. He talked about Disney Tsum Tsum which is based on the Disney franchise. The characters are just based on the plush characters. There is little narrative except in the collectible. Another game is Monster Strike - one of the most successful of all time. The characters are shot around the screen so they have to be readable. Again there is no narrative. None the less they become popular.

Then there is object as character. There is the Kantai Collection - ginka RPG game where warships are characters and players form emotional connection to objects/characters. There is a gatcha element. It is a clear example of Asuma's database animals.

Sega has an experiment called Pashamon that wasn't that successful where you could create characters using pictures of objects in your environment.

What does that mean for media mix. Characters are very flexible. He graphed the example games between narrative and sekaikan or world view.

Characters form a nodal point in game design. They structure design practices. They are flexible and can reduce or generate narrative. They can be data-driven. Characters are reshaping the flow of the media mix.

Gatcha has gotten so much awarness in Japan that it now has its own parodies.

Fate is one of the most popular games.

Rachael Hutchinson: From Karate Champ to Tekken: Nation and Narration in Fighting Games

Hutchinson talked about the Japaneseness of fighting games. She talked about Karate Champ an arcade game from 1984. This set the template for fighting games to be dominated by a Japanese cultural model with dojo training and so on. Karate Champ was released in the US and it was the same year as the Karate Kid movie.

Street Fighter (Capcom 1987) followed. Again the Japanese gi (fighting clothes). The main character is Ryu with an American Ken as a rival. Most fighting games of the 1990s had a Japanese protagonist and an American antagonist. There is an underlying Japan-US binary which was common in all sorts of arts. Backgrounds showed a lot of background story.

Street Fighter II, Capcon, 1991, had many playable characters so that Ryu is no longer the only playable character, but there are still ways that Ryu is a default. Even later games kept the first position of a group of possible characters for a Japanese character. Ryu is on the cabinet and in looping attract mode video.

Ryu's personality is normal compared to the other characters. He is serious and very masculine but a regular guy. There is still a Japanese-US binary.

This default position for the Japanese character is true of a lot of other fighting games like Akira Yuki in Virtua Fighter. She then talked about Namco Tekken series and how bits of the story of a family were revealed.

In all these games and idea of normative Japanese male identity and national identity is part of the aesthetic. The paper draws our attention to how ideology can be conveyed in videogames in a number of ways from background, cabinet, peripherals, and so on.

In response to a question, Hutchinson talked about how a lot of post-war Japanese works have a strong Japan-US element. Not just games.


Following lunch we had a poster/demo session in the lobby of the National Videogame Arcade which went very well. It was great having non conference folk wander through and look at what was happening. I was struck by the difficulty game that Watanabe demonstrated. He had talked about it in his paper, but I got the idea much better looking at the game.

The way the game worked is that you have two ideal players, an Easy player who wants the game to relatively easy and a Difficult player that wants challenges. You control different types of difficulty in a Space Invaders type game. The goal is to get both of the ideal players to a point of relative happiness. As you control the types of difficulty you see an AI playing the game in the middle. It is actually a really smart way to show the interaction of different types of challenges.



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