Kickstarter Project: The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers by John Szczepaniak.

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By RoryM

Supporter (6)

RoryM's picture

28-05-2013, 12:09

Project Aim:
A book with more Japanese developer interviews than any other; a wealth of untold anecdotes from Japan's video game history in English.

Link to Kickstarter Page

From the Author:

"There have been many books on video games, alongside an ocean of interview material. There are, however, few which are in English and focus on Japan. Given the global impact of Japanese video games, and the country's rich history which is seldom documented in English, I feel this needs remedying. While there are plenty of books produced in Japan, seldom are they made available in English.

There are so many Japanese developers from over the decades who have fascinating stories, but they don't have the opportunity to communicate with English speaking audiences. Even sadder, renowned developers continue to pass away, preventing further discussion.

My proposal: enact a solution akin to an ocean-bound icebreaker. I'll fly to Japan in September, hire the best Japanese/English interpreters money can find, and then - using my extensive list of contacts - make stuff happen. Interview as many developers as possible in less than three months, with a focus on undocumented information and developers who have never been interviewed before. Transcribe the English interpretation, then edit, design and create the most extensive, most comprehensive, most ambitious book about video games ever envisioned. This epic tome will contain trivia and stories of Japanese video game history never documented anywhere else in English.

I've interviewed over 100 people in the last 9 years. The list of publications I've written for is extensive, my work extremely popular - one of my articles on The Escapist was Slashdotted. Those who frequently read Retro Gamer or Hardcore Gaming 101 will know my work, and the passion that goes into it. I also have the determination and - most importantly - the industry contacts.

This year marks the 30th Anniversary of Nintendo's Famicom and the MSX home computer - now is the time to create such a book. If you like the idea, please share it. We just need to get the word out there, and make history. The more backers, the bigger this project can be!

Let's make this happen - let's spread the word."

John Szczepaniak.

Pledge Info:

For a Digital Download pledge £12 or more. A printed copy of the book including international postage requires a pledge of just £25.

Limited edition printed copies, signature editions and DVDs containing photos, audio interview recordings and special video footage can be obtained for pledges ranging from £35 upwards.

Make your pledges here. :)

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By Szczepaniak

Expert (87)

Szczepaniak's picture

28-05-2013, 19:11

Erm... Thanks Rory. Smile

I was actually going to ask permission from a mod and then start a topic. But since one has already been started, I thought I'd pop by and say yes, I'm working on a book. I've spoken a little with Sander Zuidema, regarding the MSX 30th anniversary, and now really is the perfect time for more Japanese coverage. I've already got a few MSX 1 & 2 guys on board, so there will be coverage of the system. Though the topics covered will be diverse.

If anyone has any questions, please do ask.

By Manuel

Ascended (18958)

Manuel's picture

28-05-2013, 21:42

Interesting, but I have many questions indeed:

Who do you have on board? Smile
Who do you want to interview regarding MSX?
How are you going to arrange that anyway?
How much of the book will be spent on (MSX) related stuff?

By Szczepaniak

Expert (87)

Szczepaniak's picture

28-05-2013, 22:56

Hello - good questions!

* Who do you have on board?
All the Japanese contacts on the Kickstarter. Quite a few who worked on the Metal Gear games for MSX. I interviewed them before, and hope to do so again. For example, Toshinari Oka from the original Parodious team. Naosuke Arai and Yuichi Toyama are both from Tecnosoft, so some MSX coverage there.

* Who do you want to interview regarding MSX?
Kazuhiko Nishi of course! I have contacted his office, but have not had a reply.

* How are you going to arrange that anyway?
Interpreters are already organised in case the KS succeeds. As for contacting developers, I contacted some, and then they put me in touch with friends, and so it continues. There's a few developers I have not listed yet, since although I have been promised an introduction by their friends/colleagues, I have not spoken to them directly yet (for example the original programmer on "The Cockpit").

* How much of the book will be spent on (MSX) related stuff?
Hmmm, an important question for this forum. I would ideally like to balance the coverage in the book equally between computers, arcades and consoles, with consoles also being subdivided between TV consoles and handhelds. So I want to say that Japanese computers would be 33%. However, there is also the PC-88, Sharp X1, MZ-700 and so on. So it won't only be MSX1&2. But then again, the MSX range was very popular, and it is the 30th anniversary so developers will be nostalgic... Difficult to say. I'm inclined to think that of the computer coverage, the MSX will stand prominently alongside probably the PC-88.

By Maggoo

Paragon (1216)

Maggoo's picture

29-05-2013, 13:54

This is a great project, I hope it will materialize! When do you expect the book to be completed?

By Szczepaniak

Expert (87)

Szczepaniak's picture

29-05-2013, 15:49

End of April 2014 is estimated delivery date. (yeah, quite a while away still)

By SkyeWelse

Champion (471)

SkyeWelse's picture

29-05-2013, 16:00

Hi John,

You already know me pretty well and I've already sent you a couple of emails about this, but I just wanted to mention that this is quite a fantastic project and I wish you the best with this and I hope that the project gets funded. I will choose my Tier level to back soon. As I mentioned earlier, I did just buy a Zemmix Neo Lite - 1 Chip MSX recently... so I'm stretched a little thin in terms of my "allowable buying power" at the moment. Smile

Let's see, if you do happen to speak with Kazukiko Nishi, I know that there is one question that would be on all of our minds. What does he think about regarding how MSX Computers are still being appreciated and developed for even today by a active global community after 30 years? And does he have any possible plans for this legacy he has created going forward?

Also, many of MSX users here are interested in carrying the MSX Standard forward into further development projects, and possibly into a true MSX 3. Not sure if you know the history of MSX already, (Wikipedia has a pretty good article on this already explaining a lot of what has happened since the death and attempts at commercial revival that might be helpful to study up on) but from what I've understood in my own research is that the MSX 3 would have more or less been a 16 bit computer and would have supported new video hardware (V9990) and a faster processor chip (R800) which is found in the MSX Turbo R's. A variation of this video hardware was actually made and still being experimented with in the form of the GFX9000 and equivalent V9990 Powergraph extensions have been released to expand our MSX units into MSX 2+ TurboR / 3 hybrids. Even the 1-Chip MSX that was released back in 2006 has had variations of new hardware releases and improvements. In other words, MSX is always constantly evolving, which is what makes it such a unique computer scene.

If we as a community knew what an MSX 3 was envisioned to be or even had the overall specs, there is a scene now that will make it happen in time. That's almost a certainty.

Last I had heard, (Thanks to Latok from an earlier thread here at MRC) he was one of the professors at Shobi University and the Headmaster of Suma Gakuen Highschool.


By sd_snatcher

Prophet (3557)

sd_snatcher's picture

30-05-2013, 02:14


Great project! I hope you succeed! I have some MSX-related questions to suggest:

- We already know that Konami used cross development on HP-64000 machines, but what about the other companies? What kind of development tools they had? And what about the music composers & gfx artists? It looks like the music/graphic composers had a completely different environment from the programmers, and the final product was a merge from those three different sources.

- Konami and Namco seems to have had very good documentation on the MSX standard, as they programmed according to the MSX guidelines. But what about the others? Did they had a good documentation on the MSX? Or it was link a blind flight like most western companies had, with scarce MSX documentation available and having to resort to disassemble the BIOS? For those who had the docs at hand, what was the programmers opinion about coding according to the standard guidelines?

- Japanese software companies released a lot of good games for both MSX1 and MSX2. But when the MSX2+ or even the MSX Turbo-R came out, they just ignored it and continued releasing games just for the MSX2. Why that happened? Did they felt disappointed with the machine's capabilities? It's akin to the Playstation-3 being released and everybody continuing to release games just for the Playstation-2: It doesn't make sense. It can't just be the number of machines available, as this thread proves that quite a lot of MSX Turbo-Rs were sold. And even more MSX2+, with 8 different models from 3 different makers.

While interviewing Nishi, there are some unknown parts of the history that a lot of people would like to know:
- What events lead to the Microsoft/ASCII break up after the MSX2?
- Why there were so few improvements on the MSX2+, even 3 years after the previous generation? The MSX1->MSX2 was a huge improvement, but for the MSX2->MSX2+ it's basically the same machine. Why not at least 128KB of minimum RAM? Why they didn't upgraded at least the sprites, or at least a faster Z80 by default? The electronics present on all MSX2+ models contain chips that clearly support 7.14MHz, and the V9958 was also clearly designed a turbo design in mind. Why did ASCII desisted on the turbo on the last minute? Panasonic was so ready for this that they decided to release the turbos on their own. The Sony MSX2+ machines have a jumper (hardwired to closed) to that allows the CPU clock to come from other source than the VDP, which proves that at some stage they intended to have a turbo too. I never analyzed the Sanyo MSX2+ machines, but it wouldn't be a surprise if they had similar vestigial parts. BTW, not even a FM chip was part of the MSX2+ standard, and the makers decided to include one by themselves on 7 of the 8 MSX2+ models released.

- The MSX Turbo-R is a puzzle in itself. DMA, 20-bit addressing: so much unused potential on the R800 chip. What happened?!

- There are also some questions to some of the biggest MSX makers:
- Panasonic: Why did they decided to create the non-standard MSX-Music using the incompatible YM2413, when they could just have released a cheap MSX-Audio using a YM3526 or even a YM3812 and loose only the ADPCM compatibility (like the YM2413) while still keeping the FM compatibility? It can't be the MSX-Audio workRAM requirement, since the FM-PAC (SW-M004) has a custom controller and the same amount of SRAM/ROM as the FS-CA1 had. Was it a technical decision, or some pointy haired boss meddled in? :)
- Sony: You were one of the biggest supporters of the standard since the beginning. Why didn't you released a MSX Turbo-R machine? Everybody was expecting that.
- Victor/JVC: Why on earth release one of the best MSX models ever made with a V9958 inside and restrict it to the MSX2 spec?! All it was needed was the 3.0 BIOS and the ridiculously simple F4h reset-status circuit! :)
- Sharp: You were part of the MSX consortium, and the only MSX machine you ever released was on Brazil!? The Hotbit is such a beautiful and well finished machine, why wasn't it released on Japan & Europe too? And why did you decided to release the black Hotbit model as a MSX1, when you already had the V9938 VDP being sold on 80 columns cartridges there?

Last, I would like to develop a bit more on the nice idea presented by SkyeWelse:

While talking to Nishi, ask his opinion about his opinion on a release of the MSX source codes. Even the once dominant CP/M have its source code already released to public domain (and from a patent troll like Caldera!), and I'm pretty sure that there are other similar cases, so would the venerable Nishi release the sources to the community? If he is still making a lot of money from licensing the main BIOS and logo to re-releases like Project Egg, then he could keep the copyright of those two (we would have to diverge to the C-BIOS then), but please release the source of the other forgotten parts like the MSX-Audio, MSX-Music, MSX-Midi, MSX-RS232, MSX-DOS2, DiskBIOS, MSX-Modem and MSX-JE.

A lot of documentation that was never released to the public would also be nice. Like the datasheets of the R800, S1990 and V99C37.

By Szczepaniak

Expert (87)

Szczepaniak's picture

01-06-2013, 00:38

That's a lot of questions! I haven't even heard back from him yet. I will continue to try though.

Also, technically, there is a tier if you want to provide a question, and another to guest edit an entire section. Wink

By SkyeWelse

Champion (471)

SkyeWelse's picture

14-06-2013, 23:34

Now it's my turn to bump this and I hope it's okay for me to do so, but it is at the half-way point in terms of days left to hopefully successfully fund this project. Only 15 days left! And it's almost at the 60% mark! At this stage it could really stand a good chance of succeeding or failing and I really don't want to see this project fail if at all possible.

Here's hoping that this gets some more exposure to some folks that perhaps haven't seen this already and for ones that were curious about this but perhaps had not acted yet, now would be a great time to back this if you were thinking about it! : )

This is something that hits home with me quite a bit and is very related to my interests. I firmly believe in this cause and I can vouch for John's ability to write excellent articles and to be able to discover a lot of detailed information through his research practices in a short time frame. I'm currently helping him write an article about the Xak series for HCG101 since I run the XyZ website and spent many years learning and researching all the little elements about the series, different versions, et cetera. In such a short time, John knows almost as much as I do about the series and it took him only a fraction of the time.

Anyhow, please consider this again if you haven't already decided to become a backer for this project.

Thanks for reading.


By jltursan

Prophet (2619)

jltursan's picture

15-06-2013, 14:36

Thanks!. I almost forgot about it oO .

Now there're 640 backers Smile

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