Developer Profiles, Hardware, Interviews, Memories, Retrospectives

Japansoft an Oral History — a MegaBites review

Japansoft Header

They didn’t see the need for a single developer to take the spotlight for a product,” revealed a Sega employee with the pseudonym ‘Ossale Kohta’. “They felt that the company should get the credit. If too much attention was given to the creator of a hit title, there was always the possibility that another company would poach them. Of course, I wanted to be recognised for my work”.

In the early years of the Japanese video game industry, Ossale Kohta’s story wasn’t uncommon. Even the most prolific of programmers, planners, artists and directors hid their identities behind alter-egos enforced by their employers. From Sega, to Capcom, Enix and Konami, the credit screens of arcade and console titles of that era were populated with mysterious nicknames such as ‘Phoenix Rie’, ‘Chanchacorin’ and ‘T. Oka’, to name but a few. But who were the talents behind them?

‘Ossale Kohta’ was none other than Kotaro Hayashida, the creator of Alex Kidd and the mind behind the very first concepts and gameplay mechanics of Sonic the Hedgehog. His is just one of the many incredible names whose stories and history are compiled for the very first time in Japansoft an Oral History.

The origin of the Japansoft title itself can be traced back to 2014 and the release of a series of books entitled The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers by video game journalist and writer, John Szczepaniak. Released in three volumes, Szczepaniak’s trilogy was a treasure trove of tales from the relative unknowns of Japan’s early gaming industry, filled with stories of unreleased consoles, games, and tales of the rise and fall of the country’s most prolific development houses. Funded by Kickstarter campaigns, The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers spanned three volumes. Certainly a passion project for Szczepaniak himself, for all its merits, the series was somewhat text-heavy, and lacked the polish, lustre and aesthetic it so rightly deserved. But as they say, you should never judge a book by its cover.

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Hardware, Memories

The Mini Tower of Power – A Mega Comparison

Head-to-head

The Mega Drive Mini is Sega’s first official in-house console launch since 2001. Bringing the Sega Mega Drive back to the masses in miniature format, the release has also resurrected a cult hardware combo — the awe-inspiring ‘tower of power’. Read on as MegaBites dives in for a close-up aesthetic comparison of the 2019 ‘tower’ and its mid-90s original.

Name a famous tower — the Eiffel Tower, the tower of London, the leaning tower of Pisa perhaps? Ask the same question to a retrogamer and the answer is likely to be Sega’s ‘tower of power’.

But what was the ‘tower of power’? In essence, it was a 32-bit CD upgrade of the Sega Mega Drive — a powerhouse made possible by combining the Mega Drive with the Mega CD and 32X. In essence, it was the Mega Drive at its most potent and powerful, if not a tad cumbersome.

Sega’s towering hardware combo promised so much — advanced 32-bit gaming, 3D graphics, smooth FMV, CD audio and the unique ‘Mega CD 32X’ disk format. For all the expectation, sadly, this tower toppled.

While the Mega CD had been available since 1991, the tower was only made possible following the release of the 32X in 1994 (Japan/USA) and 1995 (Europe). By this time, however, the Sega Saturn had already become Sega’s 32-bit showpiece, and the gaming industry at large was singing to the tune of Sony’s shiny new Playstation 1 release.

Requiring a combined investment in the range of £400 (!), young Sega fans at the time were looking at a lifetime of paid household chores to afford the ‘tower of power’ unit and its compatible titles.

With all these circumstances combined, Sega’s almighty tower was simply unrealistic and unattainable for the masses. Even today, the hardware remains an obscure anomaly to track down — until now.

Well, sort of…

 

Mini by name, mega by nature

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Fast forward to 2019 — a miniature replica of the ‘tower of power’ has been made available as an add-on for the Mega Drive Mini.

At the time of writing, the accessory is only available to the public as a Japanese variant… at least for now. However, Sega has unleashed European and US formats of the mini tower to a select few social media influencers and members of the press.

With my own full size European ‘tower of power’ in tow, and the odd piece of Japanese hardware thrown in for good measure, how do the elements of the ‘mini’ shape up against their 90s counterparts?

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