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On Japansoft: An Oral History

January 16, 2020 ・ Blog

An artful photograph of Japansoft: An Oral History

It’s finally out. Japansoft: An Oral History is a new book I’ve edited that’s based on interviews by John Szczepaniak with Japanese game developers of the 1980s and early 1990s for his series, The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers.

But it adds a few more interviews that I conducted to fill in some holes, including Harumi Fujita (Bionic Commando), Manami Matsumae (Mega Man) and Noritaka Funamizu (Street Fighter), all Capcom stalwarts. I also managed to get John Romero’s permission to print his interview with Nasir Gebelli (Final Fantasy), and we got hold of an interview with Space Invaders creator Tomohiro Nishikado, which provides the backbone to its introduction.

Japansoft is structured around companies, from ASCII to – it’d be so neat if it covered Zainsoft, but it doesn’t, so – Westone. And now it’s done, I think it works! It was my solution to the editorial challenge to make coherent and comprehensible a book that covers an entire Japanese game industry at its creative height. It helps that the visual side is so great, with scene-setting contemporary photography, collections of box art and adverts, Yu Nagaba’s illustrations, and Leo Field’s design.

An artful photograph of one of the two-colour process pictures in Japansoft

You can definitely read it from cover to cover, but I think it’s best experienced by browsing. There are so many little stories about and insights into that vibrant world, which mixed overwork and exploitation with profound creativity. Some highlights for me would be the story of members of Tokyo University’s computer club who accidentally invented the stealth genre and injected new ambition into Japanese game design at ASCII.

There’s the story of how as a kid, Yutaka Isokawa created a puzzle game called PITMAN. Because his parents only let him use his MSX on weekends, he had to write its program out on paper during the week, but he got it published in a magazine and forgot about it until, years later, he was asked for permission to make into a game for Game Boy (Catrap).

An artful photograph of the opener for the chapter in Japansoft about Nihon Falcom

There’s Roy Ozaki of Mitchell Corporation railing about being ripped off by pirates, his tales of hawking Street Fighter arcade machines, and his tips on being a great salesman. Ah, and there’s loads more. I’m extremely proud to have gotten to work on this book.

You can get a feel for Japansoft with this version of the chapter about ASCII Corporation (which includes the highlight above). And you can buy copies directly from the publisher, Read-Only Memory. Let me know what you think!