Tokyo Game Show 2005 or a month in Japan (part the fourth)

Note: I compressed the thumbnails too much when posting this, so please click on the the images to see the full-size, full-quality versions.

Saturday 17 September

Even though Tokyo was 2 hours and about 3000Â¥ in train fares away, I could hardly not go, given that I’m a videogames researcher and all…

Makuhari Messe, where TGS is held, is, in fact, not actually in Tokyo, but about 30 minutes away, in Chiba prefecture. Getting out there requires changing trains at Tokyo, and crossing to the new platform takes a good 10 minutes. The two different lines are nearly 1km apart, and there are airport-style travelators for lazy commuters to take between them. The Chiba area is quite nice, since a lot of the buildings are newer and less cramped than in Tokyo, and the presence of the bay near parts of the train-line impart a feeling of spaciousness that I haven’t experienced too often since I came to Japan.

The convention-centre area in Makuhari. Note the clear blue sky, which is not a regular feature of Central Tokyo.
Another shot of the Makuhari area. Most places in Tokyo don’t look this new or this clean.

Entry was cheap at 1400Â¥, but considering I spent around 4000Â¥ on train tickets, it didn’t end up being a cheap day.

Inside, I was struck by a mixture of awe and disappointment. TGS is an internationally significant trade show, and this year had never-before seen footage of games like Metal Gear Solid 4 (for PS3, no less) and a load of demo pods with playable games for the as-yet-unreleased Xbox 360. Despite that, though, it’s still a trade show, just on a larger scale than anything I’d seen in Melbourne.

The most impressive thing about TGS, dare I say it, was the booth-babes. (I’m fully aware that if Sam still reads this blog, she’ll have a field-day with that.) Seriously, the publishers showing at TGS had hired some of the finest looking women I’ve ever seen to pimp their brands. What was particularly striking about them was the toned-ness of some of the bare legs and bellies on display, though that may just be a consequence of the Japanese physique and lifestyle. There were loads of guys decked out with digital SLRs taking photos of the booth-babes. I can only hope they were photo-journalists, but they were probably more like the owner of this blog, whose hobby seems to be travelling around taking photos of race-queens and booth-babes. For myself, I was too modest to take photos of them, so for a representative shot, I have to poach from the race-queen guy:

Taito Booth Babe, TGS 2005
Taito probably had the most ridiculously skimpy costumes of any booth.

On the games side, it took me a while to figure out what was important, just because everything was treated in such a blazé fashion.

Though I hate Microsoft’s desktop software as much as any other *nix-loving, markup-language-coding computer geek, I’m ready to give them credit for the best showing of TGS 2005. Microsoft put in a lot of effort, and came up with the best-designed booth based around a concentric-circles design concept. It featured a digital-lifestyle showcase in the vein of those mock rooms at IKEA, a giant screen for show-reels, and most importantly, banks of actual Xbox 360s for playing demos on widescreen, flat-panel HD monitors.

The front of Microsoft’s stand.


The digital lifestyle area, from far-enough away that no-one would stop me taking photos.

The Microsoft stand from above.
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One of the Microsoft booth-babes. I’d say the concept for this costume didn’t quite work. It’s a shame I wasn’t taking pictures of the girls, because there was a woman in a great one-of-a-kind outfit behind the Microsoft desk, who no-one on the web seems to have got a photo of. It was in the vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey: kind of 1960s air-hostess, but in white and green.

Unfortunately, the Xbox 360 itself doesn’t seem to live up to the best-of-show booth design. It’s nice to see high-resolution graphics on the HD monitors, but at such a level of detail, it’s easy to see some of the graphical shortcomings of the first-generation titles. They’re beautiful, but I can see the PC catching up with Xbox 360 in a year or so.

Harder to catch will be the PS3. Showcased by the MGS4 demo on show at the Sony booth, PS3’s capabilities are a massive jump from PS2, albeit with a disturbing indication that, like PS2, the PS3 has inadequate on texture memory. Next to near-photorealistic character models, blurry textures on close-up wall surfaces were an extremely unwelcome sight.

Sony’s booth also had lots of PS2 and PSP software on show. Of the PS2 stuff, Level 5’s Rogue Galaxy and Capcom’s gorgeous Okami caught my eye. Despite most gaming news outlets complaining about a dearth of PSP gaming software at the moment, there seems to be a lot in the works, judging by TGS, including online titles like a PSP version of Capcom’s Monster Hunter. The software on display looked extremely polished, shaming the software on show for Nintendo’s underpowered, but conceptually interesting, DS.

Also worthy of note were some new or developing trends in evidence. Mobile gaming is huge in Japan, and there were loads of booths dedicated to mobile software, some of it of very high quality, like Taito’s port of Ys, a scaled down version of the latest PSP version. Square Enix’s mobile iteration of the Code Age IP could also be interesting. There was also a huge array of online games, many of them from Chinese, Taiwanese, and Korean developers. Several colleges offering courses in game-development and game-related graphic design also had booths at TGS. It’s pleasing to see that there are now plenty opportunities for formal education in the area, although there’s arguably still no better way to learn a skill (like game development) than by practicing it as a hobby while working in some soulless part-time job.

So that was TGS 2005. Not bad, but I’m not sure I’d go back next year if I wasn’t already in Tokyo. Seeing new games and hardware trimmed with hot Japanese booth-babes is fun, but it’s no substitute for just sitting down with a good game, which is the heart of the videogame experience.

Sunday 18 September

After going back to Ôta after TGS, I again came into Tokyo to meet some friends from Melbourne in Ikebukuro. The end result of so much travelling was that I spent about 12000Â¥ over the weekend. Ouch! Though there’s nothing to do in Ôta, the expense of going to Tokyo was really hurting me.

I met up with Jim, Hamish, and J***** (I’m so sorry J: I messed up your name when I met you, and I still can’t remember!), in Ikebukuro. The two J’s are animators, and had just finished a big job on the upcoming Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows before heading to Japan on the pretence of going to TGS for work. Our first stop was Gyoza Stadium at Namco World, a sort of theme-park inside a shopping centre. Gyoza stadium is basically a hawker centre that sells nothing but a bewildering array of gyoza, and drinks. I could only afford to sample the daiichi megumi (if I recall the name correctly – 500Â¥ for 5 pieces), but they were pretty good.

After that, we went to Harajuku, where we walked through the Meiji-jingû shrine and surrounding gardens before taking to the busy shopping strips.


A giant shrine-gate at the entrance to the Meiji-jingû area.

The guys did want to check out the famed ‘Harajuku girls’ that get costumed up and show off on the bridge outside Meiji-jingû, but it was too hot for many of them to be out. Something worth noting about the bridge and TGS is that of the apparently significant number of men who like doing cosplay in women’s clothing, most if not all are quite ugly to begin with, and make horrendous-looking girls. [Shudders…]

After Harajuku, we headed for Akihabara so the guys could check out the huge stores there specializing in comics, animation, and related paraphernalia. In one store, I found this great example of Engrish:

What a jerk!

Then it was back to Ikebukuro, where we watched some Family Guy and talked about geek culture. :-) The guys went to check out Shibuya in the evening, but sadly I had to leave about 8pm to make sure I’d get the last train out to Ôta.

That was probably the best weekend I had while living in Ôta. (Was? Past tense? Stay tuned…) Thanks to Jim, J*, and Hamish: Japan is the most fun when you’re in good company.

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Author: Ben Hourigan

Ben Hourigan is a novelist from Melbourne, Australia. His books Kiss Me, Genius Boy and My Generation’s Lament are Amazon category bestsellers, and are available wherever good books are sold online. Ben also works as an editor, copywriter, and self-publishing consultant at his own firm, Hourigan & Co. For news and book release updates, sign up to his email newsletter.