Interview/Text: Kaze no Iona
Photography – Noriaki Watanabe
Profile – Starting out in the game industry with Hudson in 1982, he was in the PR department when Hudson began releasing games on the Famicom, and was known to the media as “Takahashi Meijin”. Since leaving Hudson in 2011 he’s appeared on broadcasts as a game presenter, established his own company called DokiDoki Groove Works, and has otherwise continued to be active in the industry.
30 years ago, the name of the era changed to Heisei. What was the game industry like during that first year? We took a look back on it with someone who was on the front line as an employee of Hudson, Takahashi Meijin.
The Hector 87 (Starship Hector) Caravan Event Was His Final Time in the Famicom Meijin
During the first year of the Heisei era (1989), you appeared in the media as Takahashi Meijin while continuing to work in Hudson’s PR department, right?
(Meijin) That’s right. Hudson was focused on the PC Engine at that time, and I was mainly in charge of the creation of software manuals. I did this for both HuCard and CD-ROM titles. In order to help bring third parties to develop on the PC Engine, we also told them we could make their manuals for them as a negotiation point. So I was also making manuals for software from other companies that was being released on the PC Engine as well. Of course there were also others doing this as well, so it’s not like I was doing all of this by myself.
Speaking of PC Engine software, the packaging design was exactly the same size as music CDs, right?
(Meijin) We had plans to release CD-ROM software on the PC Engine from the very beginning, so the packaging of the HuCard software was designed with that in mind.
You were one of the Famicom Meijin, but when the PC Engine released you became known as PC Engine’s Takahashi Meijin. I think the first year of the Heisei era is just when all of that was happening.
(Meijin) It was. I was a part of the Famicom Meijin up until the national Caravan event for “Hector 87” (“The Starship Hector”) in the summer of 1987. The PC Engine was released two months later, on October 30th. So I purposely didn’t make any appearances during those two months. It’s not like I could just say “Yesterday I was a part of the Famicom Meijin, but today it’s the PC Engine Meijin”, because I didn’t want what the real meaning behind that come out for another 6 months or so.
You appeared on PC Engine TV programs as well. Was there anything different in going from a Famicom Meijin to a PC Engine Meijin?
(Meijin) The main publication that we got exposure and advertised in during the Famicom era was CoroCoro Comic, but Shogakukan also launched Monthly PC Engine (Gekkan PC Engine) magazine for us after the console was released. So even though our relationship with them continued on, the magazine that I primarily interacted with did end up changing.
The Gunhed (Blazing Lazers) Movie Tie-In Happened Just After Development Completed
Hudson’s national Caravan events continued on after they switched over to the PC Engine. Power League (World Class Baseball) was the first sports game to be featured in the event, during the previous year of 1988. But shooting games returned the following year with Gunhed (Blazing Lazers).
(Meijin) Three of those events in a row all featured shooting games during the Famicom era, so we wanted to try changing the genre up with Power League. But you can’t really have people play a baseball game for just one inning. I wanted three innings to be played at the very least. And so it took awhile for matches to end, resulting in less people being able to play per day. 500 people were able to play per day with a shooting game, but with Power League it was only about 100. That led us to thinking that maybe it wasn’t a good game for tournaments, so we went back to a shooting game for the next year.
And so that game ended up being Gunhed. Why did it end up being named after the movie?
(Meijin) Kawada Meijin (who was with Hudson at the time) was the game’s director from the beginning, when it was being developed as Super Star Soldier. Our boss in the PR department had been talking with someone at Toho Pictures, and so the title of the game was changed to “Gunhed” to support the opening of the movie, just after the development of the game had been completed.
How sudden! That would explain why the Gunhed game seems to have nothing to do with the movie at all.
(Meijin) And that’s because it was a game that was developed having nothing to do with the Gunhed movie at all. The only thing changed was the title, and it wasn’t even a month between when that was decided and going to master.
But still, I’m sure changing the game to be tied to an existing property made it more valuable.
(Meijin) Because the movie was tied in with the game’s marketing. So a world opened up to us for that project that wouldn’t have if this had been just another PC Engine shooting game. I believe the thought process was if you thought of the licensing fee as an advertising expense, it was a small price to pay.
And did the release of Gunhead result in a feeling that shooting games were still viable in the Heisei era?
(Meijin) Gunhed sold well, but regardless of that it did make me realize all over again that shooting games worked particularly well for the Caravan events. Most qualifying matches ending in about 2 minutes meant that the tournament progressed very quickly.
The PC Engine Used The Same Cables as the Famicom
The PC Engine seemed to be targeting an older demographic compared to the Famicom, but was that actually the case?
(Meijin) It actually wasn’t at all. But it was priced higher than the Famicom. And with the CD-ROM attachment it came to somewhere between 70-80,000 yen, so it may be that way of thinking was inevitable. But a lot of the software that came out for it was aimed at kids, like “Kato Chan Ken Chan” (“JJ & Jeff”) and “Bikkuriman World”. We also made it so that it could be hooked to the TV using the same RF switch as the Famicom, and powered with the same AC adapter. So basically it was made to use the exact same two cables you may already have plugged in for your Famicom.
I see, you definitely could the same cables!
(Meijin) It was unthinkable that a kid would go behind the TV and swap the different cables out every time they wanted to change systems, after all. There were still TVs being sold at that time without ports for composite video, so a lot of families were using TVs that didn’t have them at all. But it didn’t just have titles aimed at kids, it also had a good lineup of arcade ports that might appeal to people who were a little older. One of the big selling points of the PC Engine ended up being that you could make ports that were close in quality to those of the original arcade games.
Hudson Considered Developing on Sega Hardware From an Early Point…!?
Did Hudson ever think of developing for Sega hardware?
(Meijin) It’s not as though we never had any interactions with Sega. We considered developing software on their platform back then. But it didn’t end up working out because there wasn’t much of a time span between them releasing the Master System and the Genesis/Mega Drive. Even if we released some software on one of their platforms, if the next piece of hardware was out less than a year later…We felt that would be a difficult situation to deal with.
Nintendo also released the Game Boy at the beginning of the Heisei era. And Hudson released its first title on the platform in 1990, “Bomber Boy” (“Atomic Punk”).
(Meijin) The first time I saw it, I thought “We’re going back to monochrome now?”. Honestly I had real doubts as to whether it would sell anything or not. Hudson was widely recognized for Bomberman being its hallmark competitive multiplayer game at the time, and I felt it wouldn’t be right if we released a Game Boy version that wasn’t multiplayer. So we made use of the link cable and released it so that it supported two player games via that.
Boberman definitely is fun to play with two players. But all this time later, hardware from that era is being re-released in the form of mini consoles. What do you think about that?
(Meijin) There are a lot of great games from back then, and I think that making them easily playable today is a great thing. The PC Engine Mini was recently announced, and I’d love for it to include 80 games or so on it.
The Mega Drive Mini has 42 titles, so that’s quite an expectation! Lastly, thinking back on the first year of the Heisei era again, what kind of time do you think that was?
(Meijin) There was a lot of hardware on the market back then. The specs on PCs were gradually increasing, and it was an era in which hardware would be considered old after being out for just 3 months. You had to get new ideas out there that took into account the newest hardware, and there was no time to look back on the old hardware.
I also feel like there was a strong interest in new hardware and technology from the gamer perspective as well. The era just recently changed from Heisei to Reiwa, but what changes do you expect for yourself in the new era?
(Meijin) The first year of Reiwa will be my 60th birthday. Since the start of the new era I’ve been thinking about things like whether or not turning 60 years old will mark the start of a new life for me, and such. I’ve been thinking about what I want to be doing for the next 10 or 15 years.
I imagine you’ll continue on doing great things, like always!
(Meijin) I wonder about that! Once I start getting my pension, I might just go into seclusion! (Laughs)