Game Frontiers: Epoch’s Hiroshi Hara

This is a translation of an interview originally published on AsahiNet.

For the fifth installment of Game Frontiers, the series that discusses the history of home video games, we spoke to Hiroshi Hara of Epoch’s games and toys division. Mr. Hara has been involved in the development of numerous electronic games, particularly the Barcode Battler series which is well known for ranking on the Nikkei’s list of hit products. But particularly memorable to us classic game fans are the handheld game Dracula House, and Kikori no Yosaku on the original Cassette Vision.

Masayuki Horie discussed hardware configuration in this same series of articles, back in 1997. Mr. Hara was involved more on the software side of things, so we spoke to him at length about the development of electronic and video games. Will he answer questions like “Mr. Hara, what were you thinking as you developed those games?” or will he not be able to remember much about those old topics? Let’s find out…

Warning: Please refrain from contacting Epoch or the author about the contents of this article.

The Laboratory and Electronics Team

Hiroshi Hara joined Epoch in 1979, and was 2 years the junior of the previously interviewed Masayuki Horie. At that time he was mainly in charge of the planning for electronic and video games, and currently serves as the assistant director of the toys and games division. In this interview he’s also joined by assistant director of marketing Mochizuki and assistant director Horie who is currently in charge of OA systems projects.

(Teramachi) Did you want to work in development from the very beginning?

(Hara) Well, I didn’t have anything in particular in mind at first, but they asked me what my motivations were during the interview. So I remember reading the room and answering “I’d like to go into development”

(Teramachi) Oh my! (Laughs)

(Hara) And then, I believe it was the head of that department at the time, who said, “You can’t go into development right from the start. Everyone goes into sales first”

(Teramachi) That seems to be the way it goes.

(Horie) But this was around the time you ended up getting into development.

(Hara) I first entered the development department of the remote controlled toys team.

(Teramachi) Epoch also makes things like board games, and I believe they’re divided up into all sorts of different departments.

(Hara) That’s right. But at that time they had a single development department that was made up of different sub-teams within it. There was a team that worked on electronic games, and, for example, a team that worked on board games. That was the golden age of board games, so they had an entire team dedicated just to making those. Then there was a team that made toys like Delta-X or Play-Doh, and one that made specifically action games for things like baseball. There were all sorts of divisions. I guess Epoch had been making a lot of electronic games since just before I joined the company, so there was a team for those. And development had an additional laboratory that had…how many people were there?

(Horie) About 3 or 4.

(Hara) It was 3 people at first, and then Igami came in afterward.

(Teramachi) Did that team work on both video and electronic games?

(Horie) It was more like they worked on designing the circuit boards inside both of them. Hara worked more on software design.

(Hara) Video and electronic games both fundamentally use hardware that requires electronic design: Basically which chips and boards to use. We had no idea about any of that, so we left those tasks up to them. In short, we decided the details of how the gameplay would work. For example, saying “this is what the game will be about” or a general plan or outline of what it will be. Then we worked on actually implementing it alongside the developers that worked in the laboratory.

(Teramachi) So Mr. Hara, you worked in software development.

(Hara) You could call it software development…but basically I was on the electronic games team. And that team primarily came up with plans as to how the actual gameplay would work. At first I was on a completely different team that was responsible for remote controlled toys, but I wasn’t even there for 1 year…maybe about 6 months later the electronic games team got really busy, and myself and one other person from the remote controlled toys team transferred over there.

Original Epoch Developer Room Photo
A snapshot from the office during the development of the Cassette Vision (1981). On the left is Mr. Horie, and on the right is Mr. Hara. The equipment near the person on the top right are most likely a synchroscope on the bottom and a device for measuring resistance and capacity of capacitors, called a bridge, on the top.

The Making of Electronic Games

(Teramachi) When you were first transferred over to the electronic games team, the first game that you worked on was called Digicom Football.

(Hara) Wasn’t there an LED game that involved chopping bamboo before that? Basically it had 5 or 6 LEDs and they’d light up in sequence and end up stopping somewhere once you pressed a button. That was pretty much the gist of it, but it was like 8-sided? Or 6-sided?

(Teramachi) Ahh, I know what you’re talking about! It was silver, right?

(Horie) Thin film deposition.

(Hara) That may have been the first thing I worked on. It may have overlapped with that, but then there was the football game that used a vacuum fluorescent display (VFD). The game itself was fun, but unfortunately it had very little to do with actual football.

(Teramachi) There were other games in the Digicom series before that, so were you asked to write-up a plan for a new one?

(Hara) We already had plans for one involving football, so I feel like I was just put in charge of that.

(Teramachi) So then it was already decided it was going to be a football game, did you then have to think about how it would play?

(Hara) I was told we were doing it because this was a sport that was popular overseas, so I thought about how to arrange it into an electronic game.

(Teramachi) So you had to reference existing games in order to make it?

(Hara) Yes.

(Teramachi) A game by Mattel, or something?

(Hara) I believe it was by Mattel…but I can’t remember exactly. The electronic games released overseas were very advanced at that time.

(Teramachi) So you were thinking about how they should play as you referenced existing games. Did you write a specifications document and submit it to the laboratory?

(Hara) Yes. I thought about how the game would play and wrote up the specifications…then we outsourced the actual programming to an external development house.

(Teramachi) Oh, that was outsourced?

(Hara) So the game was designed in that way, and all that was left was the hardware portion. The design of the plastic casing was done by our department, but we consulted with the laboratory on everything internal.

(Teramachi) Fluorescent tubes have their own limitations: For starters, they’re small in size, and they can’t be used together in multiple quantities. I believe those probably were the type of things you were thinking of when creating the software.

(Hara) Yes.

(Teramachi) This is for my own generation, but Dracula House really left an impression. I think that was the golden age of Epoch, that and Space Defender. I had Defender and my cousin had Dracula House, and we let each other play them.

A TV commercial for Dracula House

(Hara) There was a big pattern back then of us working on games that had to do with space alongside original titles as well. Space games just really sold.

(Teramachi) I see!

(Hara) I tended to be in charge of more original titles, and I’d happen to see a lot of the hit titles that my co-workers were working on.

(Teramachi) Oh no! (Laughs)

(Hara) I feel like Dracula just happened to sell well amidst all of that. I think it sold 200,000 or 300,000? And with that pattern, Space Defender would have passed 1,000,000.

(Teramachi) Wow! 1,000,000 copies!?

(Hara) Probably something like that, right?

(Mochizuki) Yeah, Defender really sold well.

(Hara) Super Galaxian sold a ton before that too.

(Teramachi) I’d like to ask you some more questions about Dracula House. For example, where did the Dracula theming come from?

(Hara) I don’t really remember all that well! (Laughs) But I feel like it had some basis in arcade games.

(Teramachi) There was an arcade game called Dracula Hunter, and another company released a fluorescent tube game based on Dracula. But this is definitely a different game from those.

(Hara) I’m not sure if I took hints from those, and back then I was doing nothing but these sorts of original titles…I say original titles, but really I mean things people know about like Dracula or Frankenstein, versus themes that people had never seen before. But then after that I worked on a game with a completely original theme called Zig-Zag Monster, which was a massive failure! (Laughs)

(Teramachi) That’s the game where you were dropping rocks and growing apples, right?

(Hara) Yes! (Laughs) Apart from that…I’d do games based on things that people were somewhat familiar with. Or I’d see a movie and unconsciously make something that was sort of based on it. I can’t really think of any examples, sorry about that.

(Teramachi) Normally you’d go from the first level, to the second, to the third. But what caught my attention with Dracula House is that any one given level had three variations. Then you would take out enemies as you ate the dots…and such.

(Hara) Yes, yes, that’s right.

(Teramachi) When designing, did you just do it all in one go? Or did you go back several times and revise things? I ask because unlike video games, there are separate discrete hardware and software components at play here. I’m curious how far your versatility as a designer went.

(Hara) Let’s see, I think I went back and revised things a fairly normal amount. But then again, back then people weren’t too particular about the content of these things…(he says as he looks over at Horie, who nods)

(Horie) That’s because you couldn’t really modify things on the software side all that much. The display was completely hardware-driven, after all. There was a timing to it all.

(Hara) This was a time period within the company where if you sold over 1,000,000 units per year, you had a big hit. So in a sense, it was a period where Epoch’s electronic games were really on the rise. I remember our style being one in which we were very much standing by the side-lines hoping that the games would do well, because we’d already done everything that we could. I felt that we’d advanced to the top of the electronic games market.

(Teramachi) The nature of a game’s…well it’s like what we’d call game design today. How did the idea that there were four coffins and you had to figure out which one had the cross in it come about? I’m very interested in the story behind that. Was it all just sort of haphazard?

(Hara) Well…I came up with the theme, and thought about what style I wanted to present it in. It was probably based on the types of games you saw in arcades back then, so I think I just took cues from various titles at the time in regards to the movement and such, and just picked and chose aspects. It was based on Dracula, so there were werewolves, crosses, coffins, etc. I feel like it was then just trial and error in how I wanted the story to unfold between screens, and it ended up the way it was. And thinking about it now, I feel like I may have put a few too many things into it! (Laughs) There are four screens…(he spreads his thumb and forefinger apart slightly) and the first one takes up this much of the game (Laughs) It was all very heavy handed.

(Horie) When thinking about games, another thing is making the different segments into a matrix. Then people think about things within the limitations of that matrix. It makes things much easier to wrap your head around, because each one is a block. And it’s because of limitations like that.

(Hara) That’s true, we thought about it in terms of blocks. In a single pattern…

(Horie) Because everyone had a science background! (Laughs)

(Hara) It was around that point when that first football game was brought to the laboratory. The fluorescent display was going to be done this way, we can’t have them overlapping in this way…they had all sorts of rules! (Laughs)

(Teramachi) But in something like soccer, you have character settings. In one segment you have two kicker characters, and that’s overlapping! (Laughs)

(Hara) We thought of all sorts of different patterns, and many of them didn’t work. All sorts of things were discussed as we were putting the finishing touches on.

(Horie) The artwork was about 10 times the size, wasn’t it?!

(Hara) Yes! (Laughs) It was huge!

(Teramachi) Did you have to shape them into something resembling human characters?

(Hara) It was back and forth with me saying things like “Can you move this dot over just 1 millimeter? That will make them look much more accurate”

(Teramachi) There were fine details, like the eyes on the werewolves.

(Hara) To a certain extent, it was flawed from a design perspective. Given the pattern we were working with, we ended up wondering why hands were so fat, and such. I didn’t want there to be gaps between the parts of the characters, but we had to have them there in order for each one to move independently. There were all sorts of things like that. Then I think it was NEC that made the fluorescent display…

(Horie) It was NEC.

(Hara) We had all sorts of meetings with NEC’s engineers, and asked them to make that technology better.

(Teramachi) Like changing the MPU pipeline’s width from 0.25 to 0.15.

(Hara) Right, though those weren’t quite the dimensions. We were constantly having meetings like that.

(Teramachi) I see. Things like that happen in every time period. And there are points in which this segmentation is different from the grammar of video games, right?

(Hara) That’s right. 

(Teramachi) Were there aspects of the design process that you were especially peculiar about? Though I realize that may be a bit of an abstract question…

(Hara) Hmm…

(Teramachi) Not just the game itself, but for example, the game’s sound?

(Hara) I don’t…really remember what the game sounded like (Chuckles) Let’s see…

Marketing and What we Thought was Interesting

(Hara) If I have to pick something, I feel like I might have hung up on originality back then.

(Teramachi) That’s clear with Zig-Zag Monster.

(Hara) Even though that didn’t sell well! (Laughs) I might have been more hung up on it because it didn’t sell. I felt that even though it may not do well, it was an original work.

(Teramachi) Epoch may not have had any of their own versions of arcade games at that point. Even if you look at Space Defender, it’s a completely different game than the arcade game Defender. And PakPak Monster…well just like with Pac-Man, it’s true that if you get the pattern then you can play a perfect game…

(Hara) (Laughs) That’s how the industry was. To a certain extent, everything was based on interesting arcade games. These VFD games were intended to bring part of the arcade experience home, so I think they naturally took cues from those same arcade games. But even so, I think we introduced small amounts of our own originality into them.

(Teramachi) Even Bandai even put out the electronic version of Nichibutsu’s arcade game Frisky Tom. I get the impression that these all had their own unique characteristics. By the way, would you say that so many hints were taken from these arcade games because the kids playing handheld games were so into them at the time?

(Hara) Yes…I think that’s the case.

(Teramachi) For example, even if arcade games had targeted salary men, kids would have been the ones buying Epoch’s games, right? This is going off on a bit of a tangent…but what I was thinking was that it was because kids played arcade games that Epoch’s games were modeled after them. But surprisingly, I don’t think that’s actually true, is it? Isn’t it because arcade games had such a wide audience beyond just kids that you pulled from them?

(Hara) I don’t remember all that clearly, but the thing that’s very different now is that you have to be very aware of what users are thinking. I think things have advanced, in that way. Back then, I’d say that it was the game developers that were taking that initiative, and they were putting into their games whatever they found to be interesting. So in a sense, we were creating games based on things that we actually found interesting.

(Teramachi) I see.

(Hara) I don’t believe that way of thinking is as common these days.

(Teramachi) That’s true.

(Hara) You define your target, and it begins from looking at what kids are thinking about or reading at that time. That’s the theory behind it, and that’s why games turn out the way they do. I think that’s a very interesting style in its own way as well. Back then it was different, there weren’t quite as many things for kids, so it was fine as long as it was interesting. I mean of course it had to actually be interesting, starting with us believing that it was ourselves.

(Teramachi) I see. That was a very valuable confession, just now.

(Hara) There were arcade game shows back then, but from our point of view it was more about us seeing them as fun, instead of just kids.

(Teramachi) I see.

(Hara) And so the thinking is that we’d make kids understand these things that we found interesting. Though looking back on it, that may have been a conceited way of thinking.

(Teramachi) Nowadays the process flow is marketing to reach the amount of copies you want to sell and deciding on a budget. Though I think TV programs work the same way too. Didn’t you do any market research toward kids at the time?

(Hara) We didn’t do much of that at all.

(Teramachi) Ahh, I see. That was a question I really wanted to ask.

(Hara) I say we didn’t do much of it, but by that I mean we did hardly any at all. We just kind of made whatever we wanted.

(Teramachi) (Laughs)

(Hara) On the other hand, there were a lot of very interesting people making these games. They weren’t your average people, many of them were quite peculiar. There weren’t any that you’d call otaku, but none of them looked like your average salary man. Some of them would lay down and sleep at work! (Laughs) Though no one on the electronic games team.

(Teramachi) Ahh, so these people are how those legends came about.

(Hara) A lot of interesting things happened, and they were very capable people. There was a relatively high amount of freedom of expression, and it felt like we were providing all sorts of interesting forms of entertainment. Nowadays everything is all based in theory and data, so it doesn’t matter as much how you look at it…

(Teramachi) Like the conversation just being “That’ll sell!”?

(Hara) Well you’re actually asked to prove why something will sell! (Laughs) “Why will this be a hit? What are the reasons? What’s the background” (Everyone chuckles) It just wasn’t like that back then. We’d all just say whether we thought it was interesting or not.

(Teramachi) Could the reason for that be not having as much leeway? Like in budget, or something like that.

(Hara) Leeway or just now being…

(Teramachi) A different time?

(Hara) It is a different time. There’s already so much out there, and you have to come out on top amidst all of that. You have to attract the attention of kids amidst all of the products lined up on shelves. Back then you only had to worry about 1 or 2 other competing products, but these days it’s more like 20 or 30. So you really have to have some sort of system for getting attention on your product.

(Horie) This is just theoretical, but honestly, it’s risk avoidance on the part of the person deciding. They decided based on this reasoning in order to avoid making mistakes, to put it simply. They did it with this reasoning up until now, but…

(Teramachi) But it was wrong…

(Horie) Well, this is theoretical.

(Hara) Well in a way that’s still saying that there’s not as much leeway. If they had more, it would be a situation where you don’t know if something is wrong or not, but just putting it out there and seeing.

(Teramachi) I’ve heard that the Tamagotchi is back and they’re getting really popular again. But a business magazine did a very thorough investigation and…and I think it was female middle and high school students that said devices that communicated through infrared were really fun, so they decided to adopt that into Tamagotchi and I get the impression that they succeeded through exhaustive marketing. And honestly, I think that’s a form of success.

(Hara) That’s just…not the direction that we’ve gone in.

(Teramachi) How do you approach it now?

(Hara) Of course we’ve gone somewhat in that direction. But we don’t place as much emphasis on marketing as other companies do.

(Teramachi) Oh really?

(Hara) Maybe that’s why we sometimes release such odd things.

Experience Games, Where Kids and Parents Compete

The Birth of Epoch’s Experience Games

(Teramachi) Is it alright to change things up and ask you about some of your more recent work? Epoch has a series of plug-and-play games called the Experience Game Series, and they’ve been around since 2000. They were derived as alternatives to mainstream consoles like the PlayStation, but Epoch was the first company to release them…right?

(Hara) It was us. Our first one was Excite Stadium.

(Teramachi) How did those products come about?

(Hara) The basis for them was just how expensive video games were at that point. There was the console and the software, with the console hardware often costing more than 10,000 yen just on its own. We made an offer from the time the chip was being developed, since it was a very inexpensive one. With that chip you could create a piece of all-in-one hardware, something that was inexpensive and gave you everything you needed to play a game together with someone. I think they were priced at 5,980 yen at that point? And that was because they were single games that didn’t require you to buy any additional hardware.

(Teramachi) That was SSD Company Limited that made the chip…right?

(Hara) That’s right. They developed a very new and inexpensive chip, which began the collaboration between us. You couldn’t play games without a console, so you had to choose which one you wanted. Someone might have a Super Famicom, but not a PlayStation. So we thought why not create something like we had back in the day with TV Vader or TV Block, where there was no extra hardware so you could play it as soon as you bought it. But of course we knew that price would be the issue. It was an inexpensive product to make, so we could price it the same as a single piece of software. We thought that it would make a big impact at that price point. After all, video games were growing more and more complex at that time, and gamers were getting older as well. That made us realize that there may have been an entire generation that was left behind with this, and we tried to capture their attention with the Experience Game Series. So thinking about what we could do to make something that was more simple but still fun to play that would still fit into the framework of video games…we realized that tiny little portable games might not be the best things for adults to be playing.

(Teramachi) (Laughs) They probably would have been seen that way, wouldn’t they?

(Hara) Adults would have felt that way for themselves, and they wouldn’t have welcomed them for their kids either. They would have been locked up in their rooms playing them all the time. My own kids did that, after all! (Laughs)

(Mochizuki) So for parents who felt that way, we thought of making something that would give you a little bit of exercise in order to combat that dark image of video games. And then we realized that with something like a batting game, even if a father played it with his kids he probably couldn’t win against them.

(Hara) (Laughs)

(Mochizuki) Even so, there’s an aspect of feeling like you can’t lose as long as you shake the bat enough.

(Teramachi) Ah-ha, so that’s where it came from! Kids and parents playing together…

(Hara) That’s right. The idea was for parents to drag their kids out of their rooms and out into the living room to play this together as a family. That’s why we thought of making them family games from the very start.

(Teramachi) They were quite the sensation, given that they were used on TV programs and everything.

(Hara) And this was our own justification, but we’d done a lot of baseball electronic games over the years and wanted to mix things up with a video game version. And that’s how we ended up with what we did. So Excite Stadium seemed an appropriately themed product for Epoch to release, given our history with baseball games.

A TV commercial for Excite Stadium

(Teramachi) Yeah, I see what you mean.

(Hara) That sort of thing tends to happen a lot in this industry.

Pleasurable Games

For this portion of the interview, we brought in Ougi Kobata from the toys and games division. Kobata is currently the producer behind Epoch’s Experience Game series, with Mr. Hara performing management duties. In other words, we have the old and new generations of Epoch game designers sitting at the same table. And what’s more. Mr. Kobata is a big fan of the game Kikori no Yosaku, which Mr. Hara designed.

(Kobata) I’ve nabbed one of our products from this year, please accept it as a gift! (He hands me Super Dash Ball)

(Teramachi) Wow, thank you very much! You said that you nabbed it…yet another interesting person! (Laughs)

(Hara) That sort of spirit is still alive and well here.

(Teramachi) That’s good to see! (Laughs) Our core topic is, as Nintendo’s President Iwata said, that games have become more complex due to higher performance and graphical fidelity, which limits their player base and leaves a lot of the general public behind. In other words, it’s important to have basic games that anyone can play.

(Hara) That’s right. Systems like the DS walk that line.

(Teramachi) So now that second-generation baby boomers are at the center of expenditure, I believe this is the correct time to re-examine the current generation of video games.

(Mochizuki) That said, Excite Stadium was more of a “pleasurable game”. The pleasure of hitting the ball down the dead center in Excite Stadium or hitting the ball just over the net in Excite Tennis just brings about…a reaction. It’s not shocking, but there is a very pleasant reaction that happens as a result. And the ball bounces around to mirror that feeling.

(Teramachi) Do you mean like the experience of actually tilting your body without thinking about it when a 3D object comes flying at you?

(Mochizuki) Yeah, there’s that too, but I mean just how good it makes you feel. There aren’t many things that make you feel good in the same way when playing a video game. I think those early Experience Games had the same budget and capabilities as something on the Famicom? And what about the graphical capabilities? What should you do to make people feel pleasure at that level? Those are the types of things we were looking into. It was the same thing with Excite Ping Pong, even though I’ve never smashed the ball all that well…

(Teramachi) (Laughs)

(Mochizuki) It simulates the pleasurable experience of hitting a ball on your TV.

(Hara) Ping Pong, Tennis, and then Excite Soccer as well.

(Mochizuki) But the word “pleasurable” is something that you often hear.

(Teramachi) Yeah, it’s a bit easy to misunderstand the meaning of! (Laughs)

(Hara) In terms of baseball, if you don’t have the feeling of the bat hitting the ball then you don’t get a very realistic sensation from it. It feels like you’re really hitting the ball when you have the right sound and can see the ball flying through the air. What an interesting thing it is that those things trigger that optical illusion.

(Teramachi) I hit my TV with the racket when I did that! (Laughs) That sort of thing happens, right?

(Mochizuki) It does, we’ve been hearing about it more and more.

(Hara) When I was presenting it to the executive board, our executive director swung as hard as he could and hit the TV.

(Teramachi) (Laughs) Just as I’d expect!

(Hara) I thought for sure that he’d broken the TV. So everyone should be careful!

(Teramachi) That sort of thing might be bound to happen with this sort of a virtual experience though?

(Mochizuki) One aspect of that virtual experience is pinning down those feelings.

(Hara) (Whispering) There’s a lot of know-how involved in getting that ball to fly correctly (Laughs)

(Teramachi) (Laughs) These sorts of details can only be found in Epoch’s games, not anyone else’s.

(Hara) There are aspects like that which don’t immediately stand out.

(Teramachi) Mr. Kobata, did these feelings overtake you as well? (Laughs)

(Kobata) Excite Stadium certainly was made with a lot of detail in mind. It didn’t occur to me to ask whether or not the development team that worked on it here had played PlayStation games or not. Of course it was fun to play, but to me it felt like it wasn’t just a toy or playing a baseball game on your TV, it was like playing a video game version of the real thing. It made me wonder if we thought of it as a combination of a retro game and a new product from the very beginning.

(Teramachi) How many units has this series sold overall? Just approximately.

(Mochizuki) It sold 300,000 in the first year. And that went for about 3 years, right?

(Hara) Stadium was out for 3 years…and then DX came out.

(Teramachi) Parents and children competing against one another is a very inspiring thing. That’s a sensation that’s coming out in the mainstream a lot these days. It makes me happy that the sensibilities held by the first generation of game designers, like you Mr. Hara, have been so successful.

(Horie) They span a wide range.

(Mochizuki) These are games that families really can play together.

(Teramachi) What a great conversation this was.

(Mochizuki) It really was a pleasurable game! (Laughs)

Cassette Vision (Hardware)

Expensive Connectors

Hara and Horie
Hara and Horie during the interview

(Tearmachi) Now at long last, I’d like to get into discussing the Cassette Vision, which you worked on Mr. Hara.

(Hara) And I don’t remember the details very well! (Laughs)

(Teramachi) First off, when planning out a large product like a video game, what’s the flow of events that lead to the development team hearing about it? For example, does the department head call everyone together by shouting out “We’re going to do a video game!”, or something?

(Hara) It’s not really from any one person…it’s decided by development. It’s not demanded from up top, it comes from below, right?

(Horie) That’s true.

(Hara) Back then, particularly. TV Tennis, TV Baseball, and TV Block were already out by the time I joined the company…I think? So there was already a base setup for games, and the development had already started as sort of an extension of that. And it just kind of felt like…well what’s next? It was just sort of an assembly line of games, cranking them out year after year.

(Teramachi) An assembly line?

(Horie) For some reason or another, it was an unspoken rule that we’d just do them! (Laughs)

(Hara) In short…and it’s still this way…if it had a good debut, and the next one did well, then of course there’d be another. And then we’d just sort of set up an assembly line around them. That was how things were when I joined.

(Teramachi) Right.

(Hara) And the Cassette Vision was our first cartridge based system. It was right around then that the evolution of video games was changing. The Super Cassette Vision came out later, but that was the second generation of that hardware. Putting games on cartridges was a big turning point for us. And as you know, we weren’t the first company to do that. There were other companies that did it first, including ones overseas, but we may have been the first to do it on a larger scale. None of those other companies stuck with it for very long.

(Teramachi) The flow for Epoch went…from the TV Game System 10, then came Atari.

(Hara) I thought more companies did more one-offs too.

(Teramachi) So for the Cassette Vision, Epoch had their own products, then there were some cartridge-based ones that came out overseas, and you just figured it was about time?

(Hara) We did think it was about time for Japan to have its own cartridge-based system. But back then such a thing would have cost a lot…

(Teramachi) Yeah, that’s true.

(Hara) If we were going to do it, we hoped that we could keep the cost as low as possible.

(Teramachi) I think the price was a real killer. It was 12,000 yen with a 1,500 yen AC adapter.

(Hara) I was in charge of the cost management for the Cassette Vision, and I really agonized over that.

(Teramachi) Wow.

(Hara) We left our own laboratory to worry about the electronic components, but the connector for the cartridges cost hundreds of yen just for a single unit.

(Teramachi) Oh my god!

(Hara) We called up so many parts manufacturers to try to negotiate with them on prices. I remember toiling over trying to get the costs from these other companies down. And we had to think about their durability as well. In the end…I might not have gotten the costs any more than halfway down? I used all sorts of methods to get us there.

(Teramachi) If you were to take apart a Cassette Vision, there’s not too much in it. It’s like a large controller. That’s why I was thinking that the cost probably wasn’t that high.

(Hara) No, that’s not the case at all. We put quite a bit of work into them. If you opened one, you’d know that it’s basically spaghetti wiring in there, right? We might have been able to bring down the price if we’d organized that a bit better, but…I don’t think flat cables were around back then?

(Horie) They probably weren’t.

(Hara) If we were to do it now, we’d probably do it completely differently. Basically, you put chips on the circuit board. Which ones were in that console? (Horie answers that it’s modulators, power, and volume…) The brains of the entire thing are the cartridges.

(Teramachi) There are specs printed on this pamphlet.

(Hara) I think the connectors were what made it really expensive.

(Horie) It was the connectors.

(Hara) We put a really amazing heatsink on it. It was horribly large…At first, because I didn’t know very much about electronics, I asked what it even was! (Laughs) It was this big aluminum thing. It didn’t seem like it was connected to anything, so why in the world was it even there? (Laughs)

(Horie) It’s very likely you’re talking about the heat sink! (Laughs)

(Hara) This huge thing was just plopped in there to remove as much heat as possible.

(Teramachi) Was it a countermeasure for electromagnetic interference?

(Hara) No, it wasn’t anything like that! (Laughs)

A Very Difficult Development

(Teramachi) About how long did the Cassette Vision take to develop?

(Hara) We had a pattern back then of these things taking basically 1 year.

(Horie) We finished a single unit in 1 year. When was that again?

(Teramachi) I think it was June or August of 1981? TV Vader came out in December 1980…

(A short amount of time passes)

(Horie) It was probably a little less than 1 year.

(Teramachi) I guess there were all sorts of names for it at first, like the TV Cassette Vision.

(Hara) That’s right. It took a little while before we finally decided on a name.

(Teramachi) I already asked Mr. Horie about this previously, but if it took 1 year for a single unit, and you only had a single development unit, how were you able to produce a second one?

(Hara) A single development unit…was it just one? (Horie confirms that it was) Big Sports 12 came out too, right? Anyway, it was an amazing piece of hardware. As we worked on the console…I was writing out design specs and debugging, so it was very chaotic.

(Teramachi) (Laughs)

(Horie) That’s right. We couldn’t do debugging on a prototype in-house. We debugged on an engineering sample.

(Hara) Oh, you mean going over there to do that? I felt like we were over there for such a long time, and then came into work for just a little bit after. It was a software development house…is that what you’d call them? (Horie mentions that it was at NEC) Ahh, it was NEC where we did it.

(Teramachi) Was it originally hardware that was just developed in a short time, or was it developed as another piece of hardware first?

(Hara) Not at all. I believe we just made it work alongside our other new products and conversions. That’s why it’s such an amazing piece of hardware that we made in such a short time.

(Teramachi) It is a surprisingly polished piece of hardware.

(Hara) I was very passionate about it back then! (Laughs) I was incredibly engrossed as I was working on it, drawing patterns like this every day. I designed all the dot-patterns and all of the screens myself. And as a result, I didn’t have a single moment of free time. I constantly had a pencil to a piece of graph paper.

(Kobata) There’s the snake from Kikori no Yosaku.

(Hara) I even put a lot of thought into that snake! (Laughs)

Cassette Vision (Kikori no Yosaku ~ Galaxian)

Kikori no Yosaku

(Hara) It seems like Yosaku has a good reputation. You like it, right Kobata?

(Kobata) I went to a department store and played it quite a bit.

(The music from the game plays)

(Hara) Wow, that really takes me back! It really does. How long has it been since I’ve seen this, I wonder?

(Teramachi) Has it been that long? I guess you don’t really play it much these days?

(Hara) No, I don’t even have it anymore.

(A wild boar charges the player character)

(Hara) It’s so hard to believe that’s a boar! (Laughs)

(Kobata) It sounds weird to call it a national characteristic, but shooting is a popular sport overseas right? If you say Yosaku to a Japanese person, it sounds kind of old.

(Teramachi) A national characteristic? (Laughs)

(Hara) He just won’t shut up about Yosaku.

(They manage to cut down two trees, but get charged by the boar and float up to heaven)

(Hara) Even if you clear the level, it doesn’t end until the objects on-screen disappear. I’m not sure if that would be allowed today! (Chuckles)

(Teramachi) Time attack modes didn’t come until after this.

(Hara) The axe and the hand are just drawn together.

(Kobata) It’s kind of amazing looking at it now! (Laughs)

The NES Works Gaiden video on Kikori no Yosaku, Baseball, and just the Cassette Vision in general


(Horie) The screen is kind of unbelievable, right?

(Kobata) You might say that making a game like this has an aesthetic that doesn’t let anything go to waste?

(Horie) (Laughs)

(Teramachi) I really prefer games that are easy to get into like this.

(Kobata) You play it in the same way, nothing goes to waste. Games like this would just be so flashy nowadays.

(Horie) It isn’t really the kind of game that’s mentally stimulating.

(Kobata) It isn’t. But if you look at it more closely, it’s exactly the same as baseball board games: You’re just throwing and hitting the ball.


(Hara) I did the music and everything myself for this one.

(Teramachi) Huh? Really? You even composed the music?!

(Hara) I don’t know if I’d say that I “composed” it. It’s more like I ripped it off, in a way! (Laughs)

(Teramachi) But isn’t that ta-ta-ta-tan ta-ta-ta-tan an original? Was it in the source material?

(Hara) It was loosely based on the source, though you can’t really tell! (Laughs) There was this tiny electronic organ-like device that you couldn’t even play with both hands. I used my index finger to write this and had someone from NEC implement it into the game. That was good enough! (Laughs)

(Teramachi) I thought Galaxian’s fanfare and opening were done very well here.

(Hara) Even I was amazed by them at the time. It was so cool, like the curtain was opening or something.

(Teramachi) Yeah, it really is cool!

(Hara) Even though it’s kind of silly when I think about it now.

(Teramachi) Absolutely not! I preach it as being the first opening sequence made on Japanese hardware. It’s amazing given that you had no memory to work with! (Laughs)

(Hara) This is the part that I personally like best, these spider things. They kind of float around as they break apart, right? I was really happy with how that turned out.

(Teramachi) That’s a bit more close to Moon Cresta, as opposed to Galaxian, right? The way they just appear out of thin air.

(Hara) Yes, I agree! (Laughs)

(Teramachi) (Laughs)

(Hara) I don’t think this would fly these days.

(Kobata) Can you only rapid fire up to three shots at a time?

(Hara) That’s all we could do with the sprites.

(Teramachi) How did you manage to produce that squealing sound?

(Hara) No matter what I tried, I just couldn’t figure out how to produce a sound that felt like someone pointing their finger at you. The person across from me happened to really love games, and he came up with the idea and asked me what I thought. I decided to go with it, and we worked on it together. I’m quite attached to it.

(Horie) It was a type of sound that hadn’t appeared in anything on the Cassette Vision up until that point. It was just a single tone, even though it sounds like a chord.

(Teramachi) It really does sound like a chord!

(Horie) There wasn’t anything that sounded like that, it was really impressive. The person who made this put so much effort into thinking about it.

(Teramachi) Absolutely! But you know, when I was a kid I thought that the UFO sound was taken from TV Vader! (Laughs)

(Hara) (Laughs)

(Teramachi) The idea of having rapid fire in a domestically produced game was very ground-breaking. I think level 2 still holds up today.

(Horie) Sure.

(Teramachi) Did you also come up with the merging sequence, Mr. Hara?

(Hara) I did. Though it’s kind of weird as I think about it now! (Laughs) A whole opening up just for the purpose of combining. (Laughs)

Cassette Vision (Second Wave of Cartridges)

PakPak Monster

(Teramachi) This game was influenced by Pac-Man, but I feel like this could have been the next phase for Pac-Man if it had been even more popular. But weren’t dot-eating games difficult to make for the Cassette Vision hardware? I bet a lot of thought went into this.

(Hara) This one gave me a lot of trouble. The pixels were big, so we were hitting the upper limit on the sprites.

(Kobata) Why wasn’t it more vertically oriented?

(Hara) The hardware itself may not have been cut out for that. We made the movement more slanted out of desperation.

(Teramachi) It was a very astounding game to me. I couldn’t believe I was finally able to play a Pac-Man-like game on my TV at home.

New Baseball

(Teramachi) This was the sequel to Mr. Horie’s first baseball video game.

(Hara) This has “new” in the title, but what’s actually new about it?

(Horie) Hmm? I was told to take another look at that original piece of software. And when I did, I was able to clean up the programming a bit.

(Teramachi) You can bunt, there’s a player standing on the pitcher’s mound, and you can play single player.

(Horie) The CPU is really good! (Laughs)

(Hara) I don’t remember this one very well.

(Horie) Maybe someone else worked on it?

(Hara) I remember working on the packaging or something, but as far as the actual game…it doesn’t seem like there were any huge changes.

Monster Mansion

(Teramachi) Monster Mansion makes me think of the Monster Panic game that Mr. Horie mentioned previously, and Donkey Kong.

(Hara) There’s definitely some Donkey Kong in there.

(Horie) That’s true.

(Hara) Monster Panic itself pulled from Donkey Kong, after all.

(Teramachi) As you said before, it had one or two additional elements added to it. Like fighting a skeleton at the end, and picking up a sword beforehand. The thrill from that made it feel very different.

(Hara) Yeah, that’s true.

(Teramachi) And then there’s the level composition: The first one has you basically going up a stairway, and the second has you collecting objects. Do you remember having any difficulty with that design?

(Hara) Yes. There were limits to what could be done, so I remember approaching it in such a way where I tried to change the look of it as little as possible.

(Teramachi) Were there any elements that you wanted to put in, but didn’t?

(Hara) Sprites would disappear if we had too many of them in a row horizontally, like if there were 8 of them in a row or something. I seem to remember being limited in how I could layout the levels due to that.

(Teramachi) Was it specifically 8 of them? And they would disappear horizontally?

(Hara) That’s how I seem to remember it, but I’m not completely sure just how many it took. Just that there were some limitations.

(Teramachi) Is the line on the ground also a sprite?

(Horie) Yeah. I forgot whether it was a repeated sprite or sprites lined up in a row though.

Astro Command

(Kobata) Is this Scramble?

(Teramachi) This cartridge went on sale with the Cassette Vision Jr. Was it developed specifically to be played on the Jr?

(Hara) That was a part of it. The Jr. served exactly the purpose that you’d imagine.

(Teramachi) To prolong the life of the console, right?

(Hara) It was approaching the end of its life, to put it bluntly! (Laughs) We thought if we sold those two as a set that they’d do a bit better.

(Teramachi) I see. But the Jr. probably could have been priced higher than 5,000 yen, right? Were there any ideas from above to price it at 7,800 yen, or something like that?

(Hara) The Jr. came out…(Teramachi mentions that it was 1983) when the Famicom had already been released…

(Teramachi) I think it was just a little bit before.

(Hara) Well at any rate, we already knew it was coming. So if we didn’t have a big enough price difference, we wouldn’t have stood a chance. So we boldly sent it out to compete.

(Horie) The Super Cassette Vision had already entered development at that point.

(Teramachi) The Super Cassette Vision was 15,000 yen, so there was definitely a price difference there.

(Horie) But to think that the Jr. was only priced at 5,000 yen.

(Hara) At that point we would have only been making money on the software.

(Horie) The people making it were really surprised too. A cartridge and the system for 5,000 yen?! (Laughs)

(Hara) We were thinking “Can we really do this?”

(Mochizuki) No matter how you think about it, the price of the game couldn’t get any lower. If it had, it would have been volunteer work for us because we would have made absolutely no profit! (Laugh)

(Teramachi) So the higher ups told you to go with 5,000 yen?

(Hara) They did tell us to go with it, though it surprised me a bit. They told us to make it.

(Horie) And there were accessories that didn’t work with it.

(Teramachi) Right, so there were games you couldn’t play.

Monster Block

(Teramachi) Did you work on this, Mr. Hara?

(Hara) Yeah. This was based on something as well.

(Teramachi) Could it have been…Pengo?

(Hara) Yeah, that’s right. It was Pengo.

(Teramachi) Epoch released an electronic game called Penta too, right? This had an amazing amount of depth to its gameplay as well. Did you write the entire final spec right from the beginning?

(Hara) No, I gradually had more and more ideas as we were working on it. I’d be like “Can you do this? Can you do this?”

(Teramachi) It has a system where the 1, 2, 3, and 4 blocks are added up after you clear the level. Do you remember anything about that?

(Hara) No. That wasn’t in Pengo though, right? I wonder where I got that from?

(Kobata) Pengo had three diamond blocks that acted as bonuses.

(Teramachi) Here they’re divided into 1, 2, 3, and 4. And if you line two of them up, it doubles, or something.

(Hara) That’s very specific! (Laughs) Maybe I thought about it a little too much.

The Dreaded Debugging

(Teramachi) This is the last released game, but now let’s talk about Elevator Panic. It’s an extremely difficult game, but was it perhaps just going along with the trend of games becoming increasingly more difficult at that time?

(Hara) That was one part of it. The other part is that since we were making these in order, we felt that we had to make something more difficult. We had to include all sorts of different mechanics. If we didn’t have enemies that came from every direction, we felt like it would be too similar to games that came before it. We thought about how we could change the levels, and tried all sorts of things.

(Teramachi) I understand requests to add things, but were there requests to remove things as well?

(Hara) Yeah…they were few and far between, but there were some. We tried, but then when playing it during debugging it just wasn’t as fun, so we gave up on that.

(Teramachi) I feel like the hardware may have been very difficult to work with here.

(Hara) There was that. Ultimately we just didn’t know until we tried. At any rate, debugging was the scariest part. For everything up until that point, I’d just looked at things with my head and intuition. For this one, I wondered if it was actually going to come together as a game. And when I was finally shown the first level, it didn’t feel much like a game. I’ll never forget it, the timing was just all over the place. And from there I went through a lot of trouble to figure out how to fix it. So that’s why I hated it when we went into debugging, I fell into despair! (Laughs)

(Teramachi) The timing in Elevator Panic is very tight.

(Hara) There are times when games are released just based on things like that though.

(Teramachi) And that was really difficult hardware to work with, it wasn’t a microcomputer or anything.

(Hara) In some cases I’d sit next to the programmer and ask him to speed it up, and then tell him to slow it back down again after all.

(Teramachi) (Laughs) I see. That’s amazing, and it was mentioned previously that it was 1,000 yen cheaper.

(Hara) That’s true, I think that was due to surrounding influence.

The Unreleased Game, Grand Champion

Cassette Vision game number 10, Grand Champion, was unreleased due to bugs. Related parties have stated that they went through great hardships in trying to get this title out, but now we’d like to talk to people who were actually there during its making.

(Teramachi) The last game I’d like to talk about, is of course Grand Champion. Does not even a sample version of this game exist?

(Hara) No, there’s not even a sample. We destroyed all of those.

(Teramachi) Wow! (Laughs)

(Hara) I don’t even want to think about it! (Laughs) I believe that was the first time we actually destroyed any game. We just couldn’t sell it, but to be fair, it was our own mistakes that resulted in that. There were just too many bugs, and it was a big shock for us.

(Horie) Did it go into production?

(Hara) That’s why I said it was a big shock. We found these bugs after production, and it resulted in a situation where we just couldn’t release it. It was a pity, because the game was really fun to work on. It was an overhead racing game where you just kind of went all out driving, but the movement felt relatively light. It was very smooth. Normally in games like this, it’s hard to think about where you should be turning on a course. But turning on zig-zagging courses was easier with Grand Champion.

(Teramachi) Did the screen move vertically, like this?

(Hara) Just like that. The movement was very smooth though, so it had a certain feel to it. There was a map, which is reproduced here. There was also a bridge that split into two paths, parts where you could slip…

(Teramachi) This is the map, right?

(Kobata) Wow, this looks so fun.

(Teramachi) It looks like our characters here are saying that it looks fun too! (Laughs)

(Hara) (Laughs)

(Teramachi) This is a pamphlet.

(Hara) I thought these patterns were really well made, but they’d just stop.

(Teramachi) They’d stop?

(Hara) They’d stop. And like I said, there was no way to avoid it. Because the sprites would instantly disappear, they’d just disappear as you were driving.

(Horie) That was definitely a bug.

(Hara) Back then I definitely thought I was going to get fired for this.

(Horie) I’m sure the programmer was even more nervous about that.

(Teramachi) Now that you mention it, wouldn’t the responsibility for something like that have fallen on the programmer and not you?

(Hara) But I gave the final confirmation during debugging. I put my stamp on the paper tape, it said “Hara” right there.

(Teramachi) I see…well, these days those kinds of bugs are exposed through repeated play.

(Hara) It still happens. I’ve definitely had a few “Wait a minute!” moments on things I was working on. But nothing fazes me anymore! (Laughs)

(Teramachi) (Laughs)

(Kobata) It gets your heart pumping.

(Hara) Yeah, but this was really tough. I was 100% sure I was going to get fired because of Grand Champion. (Looks at Kobata) It wasn’t like now where we’re making 10 or 20,000. We were making hundreds of thousands at a time.

(Teramachi) As a Cassette Vision maniac, I’d love to play this game just once before I die.

(Hara) That might be difficult. There might still be some in a warehouse somewhere, of course. But even that seems crazy at this point.

(Teramachi) By the way, what kind of music was used in this game?

(Hara) The music sounded like this (he imitates it) It was really interesting. I worked on it over and over again until I got it where I wanted it to be. Nowadays there are sound designers and level designers. Then there’s someone that handles the story, and a separate producer to give directions…

(Teramachi) In a manner of speaking, weren’t the duties divided up between you, the people at NEC, and the higher-ups?

(Hara) In terms of the game content, it was me and two people at NEC…who were they again?

(Teramachi) At any rate, the people you worked with at NEC aren’t recorded anywhere?

(Hara) No, I haven’t been in contact with them at all.

I Did Everything I Wanted To

(Teramachi) Was there any other substantial software that you had ready to go? Even if it was never released.

(Hara) I…don’t think there was any.

(Teramachi) Nothing to do with Block?

(Hara) Block?

(Teramachi) Mr. Horie had previously mentioned that you were testing something that was a lot like TV Block.

(Horie) Ahh, there was some sort of pinball game, wasn’t there? The one that had an A pattern and B pattern. But if we released that as its own stand-alone handheld game, we figured people would have thought there were too many on the market. So we were working on it, re-creating it on the Cassette Vision, adding some content to it. Though we never had the chance to actually get it out. But we had the board for it. That’s why we were able to do pinball or block games on the Cassette Vision hardware.

(Teramachi) So were there any titles that you wanted to work on apart from that one, Mr. Hara?

(Hara) Hmmm…I did everything I wanted to back then. At the time of the Cassette Vision, Epoch didn’t really have any other competition, so they went unchallenged. And that allowed to do pretty much whatever I wanted.

(Teramachi) Wow. So you got all of your ideas out, I see. Though if anything comes to mind, we’ll definitely cover it as news! (Laughs)

(Hara) Sorry about that! (Laughs)


Whether or Not You Think It’s Interesting

(Teramachi) Well it’s about time to wrap up, so let’s get into final questions. Do you have any pet theories on game design and how to create good gameplay?

(Hara) Pet theories? Nothing so pompous as that! (Laughs) Let’s see…I feel like the really important things haven’t changed much from what they were back then. We talked earlier about things like data and marketing, right? Even though I think it’s natural to attach importance to those things in their own ways, I think the most important thing is whether or not you think it’s interesting, or you like it. If you don’t think it’s interesting, you won’t put any feeling into creating it, and in the end it won’t actually be an interesting game. I think that’s the most important factor.

(Teramachi) I see.

(Hara) No matter how much it may work in the modern world, things made reluctantly by the creator can only turn out one way. Regardless of whether one is aware of it or not. I think that’s the most important thing. This comes up when I talk to developers at our company about theory, even now.

(Teramachi) (Laughs)

(Hara) If you ask “what about it is interesting” and they’re just silent, it probably isn’t something that should be made. So the first thing is that should be interesting. Put something in because it’s interesting, and then work theory into it. I feel this can help point out if you’re making a mistake somewhere. I’ve thought that maybe the entire industry should think that way. I mean there aren’t as many new ideas or things that stick out as there were back then.

(Teramachi) Right.

(Hara) Also sorts of plans to just continue along established lines come out, and they adhere strictly to those lines, but I feel that there’s a degree of difficulty in introducing completely new and innovative ideas. That’s where I think the challenge lies. And Epoch should be a relatively atypical example of a software company amidst that…but…lately…that’s been a bit lacking. Though I still think of this as one of our defining traits.

The Ending

Hiroshi Hara

The Cassette Vision Was Like the Springtime of Youth

(Teramachi) I see…Finally I’d like to ask a wrap-up question on ‘80s video games and the Digicom series. However we summed it all up pretty well, so I feel like maybe it’s better not to? (Laughs)

(Hara) (Laughs)

(Teramachi) How about this…what was the Cassette Vision to you? Though you’ve not been able to play it much lately…

(Hara) I feel it’s something that’s been very important in my life. Pardon me getting a bit personal, but after working on it I escaped to the hospital for awhile (Laughs) I had some health problems.

(Teramachi) (Laughs)

(Hara) I wasn’t in the office for 2-3 months.

(Teramachi) What was wrong, exactly?

(Hara) It was a lung. They opened a hole in my chest. But when I was working on this, I got very into it. So in that way, it was a very meaningful job for me.

(Teramachi) It literally etched itself into your body.

(Hara) I absorbed all sorts of things, and really went at it with everything I had. I think it was a best-in-class product.

(Teramachi) It was the springtime of your youth. Even though you’re not exactly old now, or anything! (Laughs)

(Hara) Well, I don’t know about that! Anyway, you could put it that way. Though it makes me blush thinking about it! (Laughs)

Bonus: To All Kikori no Yosaku Fans

(Hara) I wonder why Kikori no Yosaku was the most popular.

(Teramachi) Right? I’m a big Galaxian fan! (Laughs)

(Kobata) It was the impact that it had.

(Teramachi) What were the feelings on it from a development perspective?

(Hara) I have no idea! (Laughs) I guess all the games up until that point were basically ports. So when this one came out, it felt like “What in the world is this?!” It may have had a big impact.

(Teramachi) I suspect there’s a factor hidden here that actually connects it to Famicom games.

(Hara) I can’t help but feel embarrassed when I look at Yosaku cutting down a tree! (Laughs)

(Teramachi) Really? But it’s so well animated, it looks so cool!

(Hara) The only one of those sprites I think looks good is the crow…(looks at Kobata) at least I think of it as a crow! (Laughs)

(Everyone) (Laughs)

(Teramachi) Is that a crow?

(Hara) It’s clearly flying.

(Teramachi) It’s a bird…

(Hara) Well a crow is also a bird.

(Teramachi) So then it’s a crow.

(Hara) It was created as a crow. But either way, it really looks good in flight.

(Kobata) Did you do the “Hey, hey, ho!” yourself?

(Hara) I did that by doing this (moves his fingers) across these musical notes.

(Kobata) It’s amazing how into it you were!

EX: Items from Mr. Hara’s Works

Yosaku (Flyer) – 1979

Yosaku Flyer

This is for SNK’s 1979 Yosaku, which has a direct connection to Kikori no Yosaku. Cutting down trees, wild boars, and the hey-hey-ho are all there. It was an era in which creating a new game heavily based on something popular in the arcades was still allowed. However, the game balance in this version wasn’t good, and despite being touted as a phenomenon at the end of the Space Invaders boom, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that it’s not as widely known as its name suggests. The Cassette Vision version wasn’t around yet, but I think Mr. Hara’s arrangement of this game ultimately earned player approval.

Digicom Series – 1979 – 1980s

Digicom Series

The predecessors to portable game systems like the Game Boy Advance and PSP, they were games that used LEDs and fluorescent displays. They’re commonly referred to as electronic or LSI games. The PlayStation had polygons and the Famicom had sprites and backgrounds, but the screens in these games are all backgrounds. However, it was still not the era where games could be enjoyed on dot matrix displays. In short, it was a primitive form where grid-like patterns, similar to Shogi or Othello boards, were carved out in advance in the shape of characters or other elements, and partially illuminated from behind. Therefore, it became a showcase of the skills of developers and designers to create a segment that could match the software and also had the versatility to express a wide variety of characters. Epoch’s brand for these electronic games was called Digicom (or Digit-Com). However, when people generally refer to the Digicom series, they have a strong impression of the initial six (+1) products that have names starting with “De”. Mr. Hara was in charge of not only Digicom Football, but also Digicom Soccer. Although these products were from the early 1980s, they were still being sold in stores around the time of the 1994 J-League boom.

Zig-Zag Monster – June 1983

Zig-Zag Monster

An electronic game where you defeat annoying monsters as you try to grow apples by watering them from a pump. Mr. Hara mentioned that it didn’t sell well, but these sorts of portable electronic games were already saturating the market in 1983 due to the second generation of home video games. So content didn’t always align with sales. You may think that the naming was meant to reference Dig Dug, but the game itself is completely different. Is that a trend?

Barcode Battler – March 1991

Barcode Battler

This is a handheld game that reads barcodes from various products and converts them into defense power, attack power, and vitality, and battles with them. The key point is that you can play an RPG yourself just by scanning barcodes. Rumors like “the barcode on that snack is really strong” stimulated the imagination and resourcefulness of children. As a result, it recorded sales of over one million units and became a mega-hit product that represented this era, with manga serialization in CoroCoro Comic and tie-in products from major manufacturers, both in name and substance. In this groundbreaking product, a super-compact barcode reader was attached to a guide and read in barcades (usually, it’s the reader itself that moves, right?). Interestingly, both Mr. Hara and Mr. Horie participated in the development. The “II” series saw the release of connection cables and compatible software for the Super Famicom, and the series continued for a while thereafter. 

Products that seamlessly combine analog and digital and can be enjoyed by both adults and children competing together…These were some of the tangible products that emerged from the spirit of Epoch, as covered in this interview. Please continue creating these sorts of products.