Konami Bemani Up On Jaleco
Very interesting goings-on over in Japan this time round, as a patent infringement lawsuit rages between two of the biggest Japanese game companies. On June 7th, Konami, maker of Beatmania, applied to stop all manufacture and sales of Jaleco's VJ arcade machines.
When I was last in Tokyo I had a chance to play VJ quite a bit. The game was quite prominently displayed in a number of arcades, and even then I marveled at how Jaleco could get away with it. A number of different lines traveled down the screen in time to the music, and when the line reached the bottom of the screen, you had to press the right button to play the note. In short, the functionally is identical to Beatmania.
With the Bemani series still one of the hottest things in Japan, Konami had to act to protect its franchise. On July 23rd, the lawsuit was dropped after Jaleco agreed to stop making the title - which may be an indication of how obviously in the wrong Jaleco was. Re:Tokyo goes into a little more detail regarding the patent history, but the synopsis is that Konami first applied for a Beatmania patent in September 1997, and was finally granted a patent number in April of this year.
This isn't the first time there's been patent controversy in the game industry. Companies have filed wide-ranging game patents since the early days. Sega has one regarding multiple configurable camera angles back from the Virtua Racing days, and I know there've been attempts in the U.S. to sue famous game-makers on the basis of ancient patents (that apply to most games in existence nowadays).
In this case, given Jaleco's wholesale borrowing of a unique idea, I think Konami was fairly justified in asserting itself. However, not content to go after Jaleco, the company is now using lawsuits to get existing machines out of arcades in Japan. The first targeted arcade owner is Namco, whom Konami hit with an injunction application on July 23rd. Konami suing Namco, huh? Vociferous, but effective. We'll keep you posted.
New Zelda Outside Nintendo?
Just recently announced/leaked is news that a new Legend of Zelda Game Boy title will be at the Nintendo SpaceWorld show - and the game hasn't even been developed entirely in-house! Legend of Zelda: Fruit of the Mystical Tree is on the list of exhibits, and apparently Flagship (the company formed by Yoshiki Okamoto, the guy behind Resident Evil) is handling the story. Intriguing. We'll have to see how this builds on the recent Zelda DX on Game Boy, or if this game is going somewhere else entirely.
Other games of interest announced for showing at SpaceWorld include Mario Party 2 on N64 (woohoo! more drunken multiplayer madness is always welcome), Daikatana on N64, and F-Zero X Expansion Set on 64DD (rumored for a long time, and should include a track editor if as originally specified). We can't wait.
Dreamcast Support Spreading?
If the most dire industry predictions are true, this should be the time that new Dreamcast titles stop being announced and the DC crumbles into nothingness. And whilst the long-term prospects still aren't looking so rosy, it's worth noting the number of new titles announced recently. The Japanese are bothering with DC development, even though PlayStation 2 devkits are beginning to become quite available. Of course, things will look a lot better for Sega if plenty of new DC games continue to be announced in a year's time. So here we go with some of the newest DC announcements.
As is, many were expecting Soul Calibur to be Namco's last major game on the DC format. As it is, the company is now hinting that two more DC titles will come out this year and that at least one of them will be an arcade fighting-game conversion. Wow, can it possibly be Tekken Tag Tournament? We can only hope.
As for officially announced titles, Sega continues its strong first-party support by announcing the Naomi title Zombie's Revenge: the Final Fight, which is boasting spectacular 3D graphics. With additional modes, secrets, and weapons (above and beyond the arcade version), this looks like another good title, although possibly a little shallow in the long-term. There's also Virtua On 2 and Crazy Taxi is still heavily rumored.
Taito has announced a Dreamcast version of the infamous train game, Densha De Go!, for release in December along with a custom controller. This will be another decent title for the console and is sure to be a massive seller in Japan - especially with the graphics so much more enhanced than the PlayStation version.
Konami's Castlevania Resurrection looks like the most graphically gorgeous Castlevania title to date, and has some great real-time lighting effects contributing to the spooky mood. Again, this kind of high-profile license combined with an original game and storyline will only attract more people toward Dreamcast as the year comes to an end.
Koei has announced The Seven Secret Chambers, a very intriguing-looking original title where you can play two players simultaneously, with one player being more action-orientated and the other more puzzle-orientated. Vaguely based on the survival horror genre established by Resident Evil, this game comes from an established and respected company and is another strong Dreamcast announcement.
Namco's Dreamcast beat-em-up Soul Calibur has received a perfect 40/40 in the notoriously difficult-to-please Japanese game magazine Famitsu. It seems the only other title to get full marks in recent years has been Zelda 64, so this is a major fillip for both Namco and Sega. The game is already out as you read this (August 3rd in Japan), so run, don't walk, to your local importer now!
Ken Kutaragi apparently confirmed in an interview that the "next-generation PlayStation" will definitely have the word "PlayStation" in the title of the console. So will it be PlayStationMax? PlayStationExtra? Just PlayStation 2? We may find out at the Tokyo Game Show next month.
As reported as a rumor last time, Sega's Shen Mue will indeed have a special version including custom packaging and an extra music CD when released on October 28th. It's also confirmed to come on 3 GD-ROMs, which makes it fairly hefty and the biggest DC title so far.
An interesting tidbit: apparently the Dreamcast version of Biohazard: Code Veronica is being produced in-house at Sega Japan, with Capcom staff overseeing the product. This method of the large hardware manufacturers getting big licenses by taking development in-house seems to be spreading, with Namco's Ridge Racer 64 in-house at Nintendo, too.
The Japanese Top 10 (for the week ending July 18th)
This time round there's a new No.1, as Square's sumptuous 2D RPG, Legend Of Mana, crashes into top spot with over 400,000 sales in the first week alone. A fairytale come true for Square, maybe?
Also busting into the top three are two other new RPGs, a new version of the old Enix favorite Ogre Battle for the N64, and a sequel to the phenomenally popular (and still not released in the West) Duel Monsters on Game Boy. (There's just been a PlayStation version of the Duel Monsters sequel announced, by Konami, with full 3D graphics. So watch for it - will it be a Pokemon for the PlayStation?)
Further down the list, Dino Crisis is still selling very well, and Frame Gride, the mech-Dreamcast shooter that seems surprisingly good, hangs around too. Virtua On 2 is confirmed for Dreamcast release later this year, though - will that blow Frame Gride out of the water?
Konami has just announced that both Dance Dance Revolution and Beatmania have both surpassed 1 million sales in Japan. Pretty darned impressive, especially as DDR was only released in April, and is still hanging around the Top Ten. Guitar Freaks, the PlayStation version of the next in the Bemani series, just received 34/40 in Famitsu and it wouldn't be surprising if that title tops a million in time, too - watch for it in the charts in the next MGT issue.
Simon Carless is a game designer/project director at a UK games developer. His game credits include design on PC and Playstation titles for (amongst others) Eidos and GT Interactive. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Simon would like to thank Magic Box, Re:Tokyo, Gamespot, FGNOnline, Core Magazine, and his other Japanese sources for the information that helps to write this column.