The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers: Volume 2 review was a mammoth task that was entrusted to me and given the number of pages in this book: a whopping 390 of them! I was asked to take a “time out” to read and cover this book on behalf of RVG’s exclusive book reviews, so here I will be covering Volume Two of the book whilst you can read the review for Volume One of the Untold History of Japanese Game Developers HERE. This book was written by John Szczepanink, someone I had the chance to meet in 2009 while at the “Retro Reunited” event that took place in Huddersfield, Manchester. John is a distinguished writer and has published many articles for magazines such as Retro Gamer magazine, Games™, Official PlayStation magazine and Hardcore 101 (http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/), making him a no-brainer choice for writing The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers (volumes one and two). The books starts off with a breakdown of the front cover’s artwork in a drawn, staged process which is how the books builds up most of its content. I thought this was a nice touch for this type of book. It is fitting that one of John’s colleagues from Retro Gamer Magazine, Martyn Carroll, wrote the introduction to the book where he talks about his take on the book’s content and what this history of Japanese developers means to him. He even outlines a short anecdote regarding Capcom’s 1985 arcade hit “Commando” and relates the story of how English game developer Elite Systems secured the rights for many Japanese arcade hits for home computer conversions. There is also a mention of Martin Picard, PhD and his discussion about Japanese popular culture and video games, which I found a nice read.
The book proper begins with a nice collection of interviews with key designers, artists and programmers who were responsible for many of the famous Japanese arcade and console game hits to ever grace the “Western Front.” The first interview to appears with with Nananshi Hideo who relates his memories of working at Sega after the company acquired the rights to the Batman franchise from Warner Bros in order to be the first to market with a game. Unfortunately, they were beaten by Konami of Japan who released a Batman title for the Super NES and then Sunsoft who released their own versions of the game for the NES and the Sega MegaDrive. I found this to be a fascinating read and this was just in the first few pages of the book! While I found the questions asked for the interviews were good and provided much information, they did seem to be rather random and did not show a good flow. I did not expect this from a professional publication but this may have been intentionally done this way by John. Regardless, there is plenty of inside information to be learned and there is even mention of the Japanese Mafia, the Yakuza, which I had never before seen mentioned in any video game related interview. Kudos for this inclusion here and throughout the book. Each interview is pretty long and takes various pages and this may be what gave me the impression of the book feeling like a “rough cut.”
The wealth of information with this book is phenomenal, which is continued from one interview to the next. You owe it to yourself to get both volumes of this book so you can get a proper insight into what John intended to do with this project. Despite all the positives, there are always some flaws even in projects like this. As I mentioned before, the presentation of the interviews seems rather unorganized. It seems that little was left in the “cutting room” during editing which makes the book very text heavy. This is something that may not appeal to everyone. The format of the book comes across as having a lazy layout and design which is not well structured. It’s almost fanzine-like in its formatting with big dumps of information that may become taxing for the reader to follow. Just be sure you have a good bookmark so you know where you are if you choose to stop while reading.
For this review, I was given a PDF version of the book so I cannot comment on the quality of the printing of this publication. I’m also limited in regards to the imagery used as the PDF only has JPEG versions of the images which is not the best format for quality. I can only assume the print version has higher quality images. As for the digital version, if you can overlook the issue with the image quality, you can just enjoy reading what is a text-heavy book (particularly if you enjoy reading this type of book). After all, this is all about the information in the book, right?
There were a few good things during my reading that I truly enjoyed. Among these were the sketched drawings from these designers that even included drawings of the physical structure of the offices they worked in. This is stuff you won’t get anywhere but with a book of this nature. I also respect that John required a Japanese translator during this process and the translations are superb throughout the book to the extent that you would believe that they were all extremely fluent English speakers..hahaha.
With a massive amount of interviews (30 plus) and Software company profiles covered through the book, this is quite a huge achievement from John and his team. I can see why this information is incredibly important for the preservation of Japanese game development and its influences on the Western video game market. Another nice aspect to this book is that the majority of the images are in colour (PDF Version only) when it comes to company profiles and their software titles. All in all the book is a fascinating read from page to page with its continued reveal all new, untapped information until now. You will quite frankly be overwhelmed with facts and happenings that you could never dream of. This is why this is a must-have book if you want to find a starting place as a video game historian. If you can look beyond the “congestion” of text, you will find probably one of the best resources of information on this subject matter. With that, I highly recommend this set of books. If you’ve read the first volume then you know what I’m talking about here.. Quality stuff…
Obtain your very own copy of the book HERE: or get both Volume 1 & 2 together for your collection you won’t regret it.
Colour images are only in the PDF versions of this book.
Creator of forth coming Coin-Op:Arcade Guide and creator of the Atari Gamer Magazine and the Atari ST Gamer Magazines. Retro gaming expert & fact finder.