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All Roads Lead to GTI'09

Speed Driver 2 - IGS
Speed Driver 2 - IGS
A show that has grown in importance over the years (as the Taiwanese and Chinese market have dominated a growing slice of the amusement market), the Game Time International Expo (GTI) 2009 saw a sizable attendance of leading amusement executives from across the globe, hungry to be first to sign up the next big thing; a change in economic conditions making manufacture in this territory a serious consideration.


The 16th Game Times International Expo (GTi) 2009 took place in May in the midst of swirling changes reshaping the international amusement scene. An opportunity to shine and gain wider penetration seemed to be in the sights of the Taiwanese trade gathered at GTI Asia Taipei Expo.

Again taking pride of place, International Games Systems (IGS) showed a major new development with their new title 'We Dancing Online', the three-button-bashing music rhythm game, incorporating graphics similar to the 'Love & Berry' style of female dancing contest, but incorporating more of the Konami 'Dance Dance Revolution' and Namco 'The idol M@ster' play narrative. The game includes a detailed online aspect with images captured of winning players (some sources speculated that this game was attempting to attract audience from the Asian phenomenon 'Audition Online'). The mixture of button-pounding dance action proved a very popular game at the show, with IGS running a show player competition during the event. Indeed, IGS were making a big song and dance of the game, even running a public competition at a local arcade.

Breaking Stinger News - The Stinger revealed in our Korean G*STAR event coverage in 2007 that the developer T3 Entertainment launched an official amusement license of the mega-hit MMOG with 'Audition Game'. This game is based on the Audition Online (also known as X-Beat) multiple player online rhythm game avatar competition, with an estimated 300million worldwide player base. The T3 amusement system was to have been launched with a 2,000 connected unit penetration of Korea during 2008. The game disappeared from sight after its launch at G*STAR'07 - the appearance of 'We Dancing Online' may not be an Audition license, but will benefit from the game's momentum and market penetration.

Launched at last years show, 'Speed Driver 2' offered high-speed street racing action, in the same vein as Namco's 'Maximum Tune' and SEGA's 'Initial D' series. The latest software version of Speed Driver was avidly played at the IGS booth, this latest version incorporating a smart card element. The companion racer at the booth was 'Speed Rider', the motorbike racing game that seems to be similar in its interface style to 'Super Bike' and 'NIRIN'; the mixture of different race locations offered a frenetic competition for up to four networked riders.

Other games at the IGS booth included the video game 'Ocean Force' (also known as 'Battle Station' internationally), which was shown following its launch last year with an updated cabinet and improved play since the IAAPA'08 appearance in an attempt to distance itself from the 'Sea Wolf' redemption title. The company also had their casual gaming unique low profile cabinet with a selection of games for the younger audience. IGS also had the latest installments of their music game series with 'Prevision Master 2008' and the children's version of the series.

Breaking Stinger News - Only hours before going to the wire and it was revealed that the Taiwanese based IGS had signed an agreement to work with SEGA of Japan on a number of exclusive video amusement projects for shipment into the Chinese market. Shipment to begin in the third part of 2009, these machines will be specially localized for the Chinese sector. Information was revealed regarding this ground breaking move by the Chinese edition of Economic Daily News, and reveals the importance of emerging new markets to future success - it is already known that Bandai Namco has invested in Chinese amusement with mixed results.

Continuing the music theme at GTi'09 and there were a number of titles vying for popularity along with 'We Dancing Online'. Launched in 2008, 'DJ Max Technika' received a big showing at its home-town show, the popular touchscreen music rhythm game has generated an international following, though availability to the international distribution scene has been mixed. Music games seemed to be the trend of GTi'09 with a new drum game system, 'Beat Attack' offering a professional drum kit platform, building from the popularity of Rock Band in the consumer sector

The motion video amusement game sector was represented by InJoy Motion and the latest updates of their big release last year. Addressing concerns following the original game's presentation last year, and showing at IAAPA'09, InJoy showed the latest upgrade of the game 'Power Boat GT V 2.0'. The company had on display the big two rider XP360 (3 Degrees of Freedom (DoF)), and their XP2 (2 DoF) and XP2m (compact 2 DoF) cabinet configurations of the game.

At the HYPAA booth, a new interactive game concept was presented. 'Touch Mania', takes the coordination and fast response concept to a new level, incorporating a large flatscreen display and mesmerizing graphics while testing player reaction times. The game is based on HYPAA's new MultiTouch 'AK Force' cabinet.

The HYPAA stand also included a number of third party videos. SNK-Playmore had a representation at GTi'09, with 'The King of Fighters 89 Ultimate Match'. The old Astro City cabinet version of the game was demonstrated. Although questions regarding the exact relationship with SNK-P, were not answered, HYPAA did show a poster for the coming release 'The King of Fighters 2002 Ultimate Match'. The UM release is an upgrade of the original KoF 2002 fighting series, running on the System Board Y2, released by AQ Interactive and launched at AOU'09 (see Stinger #690). Also in Astro cabs were the Ideal Factory and SEGA Toy puzzle game 'Dog Puzzle Tea', as well as the other Ideal Factory title 'Jigsaw Puzzle Hero'.

MegaNet showed a brand new cabinet design and impressive graphical brawler from EXAMU, 'Daemon Bride'. Shown as a sample game and cabinet release, the six-button fighting game is based on the EXAMU ex-Board architecture, while the new cabinet was also running the games 'Arcana Heart 2'. Also on booth was the 'Parse Rorunpe: Prelude' witchcraft broomstick riding game that had been seen at AOU'09.

Regarding the other games on display from local developers, Borden Technologies showed the punch game 'Boxing' launched at last year's show, now with a stiffened cabinet. It was made clear that this game was only for Taiwanese application with no international plans. GameArt (Hong Kong) had the latest throwing ball game to come out of the Chinese market, 'Ball 2', while a matter of meters down the hall 'Pang Pang Mini' was showing another of the ball throwing brands, this time in a compact cabinet configuration.

A brand new track-ball game was shown on Taiwanese developer K-King's booth with one of the largest track-balls since 'Virtual Bowling' with the game 'Ancient Orb'. An updating of the classic Atari title Marble Madness, the player navigates a ball along a tortuous number of mazes and hazards on a dedicated cabinet with prominent audio. K-King (founded in 1990) is an amusement development house and service company to the Taiwanese market. The company had shown Ancient Orb at the JAMMA'08 show, but this marked the big launch of the title. The company also had a Soft-Air shooting game of their own 'Shooting Mania'.

Saint-Fun had 'Skee Daddle' on their booth, a brand new video redemption game in the mould of their last button-pounder. A unique concept from TecWay was 'Buy or Sell' - unique as in it is a near identical version of 'Deal or No Deal' but with an Asian spin favoring a pirate theme. No word if this game was worked in conjunction with ICE in America, or if this is another Asian homage to a US concept.

The importance of the Taiwanese (and indirectly Chinese) market to the big amusement factories was illustrated by the big booth appearance for the second year of Namco Bandia Games, the company bringing the latest version of 'Razing Storm' 2-player gun game blaster. With the IGS Speed Bike across the show floor, Namco brought their own motor cycle racing game 'NIRIN' to GTi'09, but it seemed overtaken by the Taiwanese release. In a surprising development Namco brought to GTi'09 four GunDam simulator PODS running 'Mobile Suit GunDam: BattleField: Ver2.03' attempting to promote the robot simulator attraction; all this along with their popular drum game ('Taiko no Tatsujin 12').

Breaking Stinger News - An example of the reinvestment into amusement projects by the new Namco Bandai Games operation is illustrated in Japan with news of the development of 'TANK! TANK! TANK!' Tagged as a "Physical Experience Battle Party Game", it celebrates the popularity of tank combat in amusement, from the 1974 Kee-released 'Tank' to the more recent (and player popular) Namco 'Tokyo Wars' from 1996. Namco, under pressure to revive the player popularity of the 1996 release, is building on the 'Mario Kart' cabinet (though with the monitor in portrait aspect), and hopes to start testing of a new turret blaster in Q4 2009 - expect to be seen at Preview'10 and JAMMA'09. One source reflected that the cute tank game with a vertical screen presentation was reminiscent of the 1993 Konami game 'Poly-net Warrior' which also provided for cabinet network tank action.

SEGA also made the trek to GTi'09 with a booth and the first international presentation of their satellite terminal game 'Sanguozhi War 3.0'. This medieval Japanese combat card game uses collectable cards and a player IC Card. Also across the booth, the 'Initial D 5' street racer took on 'Speed Driver 2' on its own turf.

A SEGA partner, based in Korea, SimuLine made the trip to GTi and brought the 'Mini Rider II' and their twin-rider racing attraction 'Aqua Race Extreme', fresh from its launch at AOU'09. The high speed boat racer was in an updated cabinet closer to the proposed production version (interestingly incorporating the flatscreen display into the body of the motion cabinet, actually moving the screen with the riders); the game included additional levels since last seen. The SimuLine presence was represented by their new sole Asian agency, JJ Union, to sell their systems, in particular 'Aqua Race Extreme'. The fact that a sole agency was now in place seemed to confirm the original rumors of a separation of sales support from previous partner SEGA. Whether they will continue to be distanced from SEGA support at other international events remains to be seen.

The other Japanese amusement factories that made an appearance at GTi'09 included Konami Digital Entertainment, represented on the show floor on the Danaia booth, with their own button-punching game 'The BishiBashi', launched at AOU'09 and fitting the mood of the playing audience at the show with its network cabinets and image capture competition. Also at the Danaia booth, Taito presented their latest releases including the enclosed shooter 'Haunted Museum' and the pogo-stick madness of 'Hopping Road'.

While American amusement was represented on the ICT booth with a hoard of Global VR titles such as the 'ALIENS: Extermination' and 'Paradise Lost' mounted gun games (the same Taiwanese cabinet versions seen at GTi'08). Another company that brought an updated version of a previously released system to the show was QUBICA AMF with its latest incarnation of the shooting enclosure. 'Skiller M4A1 Carbine' upgrades the fire power of this Soft-Air ball shooting enclosure, with machine gun action rather than the previous automatic rife. The American system, represented by Tarok in Taiwan, was placed in their sports plaza venue.

Some interesting developments to be found off the beaten track, at emerging developers' booths, included a multi-player console system, allowing in this case Microsoft XB360 games to be hooked up to a large facility screen and played in a tied gaming environment. Four-player controllers combine into a game platform. Attempts to confirm the legality in the Taiwanese market of this continuation of the 'Converter' box principle for using consumer content in amusement failed to get a response.

Another consumer game application, this time with a unique interface, was the Nintendo Wii-inspired 'Game Pole'. The sensor mounted at the front of the system tracks the players' movements, and allows complicated movements to be carried out and represented on the screen. The marketing proclaimed the game as 'mat free � you are the controller'. Exact information on the release date and software license was not available at the time of writing (also no appearance this year of the 'Winner' Wii console clone from GTi'08).

This year's GTi saw a large number of gaming and video slot machines on display, an illustration of the power of this sector in the Taiwanese and Chinese amusement scene. Supporting this were a number of the latest medal (pusher) games, and a good showing of redemption style and kiddy games, the company Subsino having an impressive selection of kiddy cabinets and rides. The show also had the latest robot football systems. The diversity of the Taiwanese amusement sector clearly still represents a powerhouse of amusement innovation at work.

Breaking Stinger News - A number of sources approached during the show were very concerned by the number of games that seemed to skirt, if not break, Intellectual Property of competitive products. The GTi show in the past has gained a reputation for some of the 'questionable' releases that borrow ideas from others, but the global financial situation seems to have opened the floodgates for direct competition. In particular there was concern about the game 'Golden Fish', along with others that offered classic game content in a new cabinet with no notification regarding the manufacturers' gaining consent from the IP owners.

What This Could All Mean:

Though the show showed signs of the economic conditions impacting on the industry, with an exhibition pool smaller than last year's (said to be 50 per cent down on 2008), GTi'09 had an incredible attendance of international executives (calculated by InterGame as being 883 of the 3,500 attendance), with distributors and manufacturers rubbing shoulders on the show floor and in hotel bars, swapping stories about the association and business turmoil in their home markets. A lot of time and energy was spent in finding new releases that can be licensed for sale in their own home territories. This is a great example of how the economic downturn may have impacted home based manufacturer, but has hardly diminished the operator's thirst for new and unique development.

This move to start seriously hunting new content from Taiwan is a perfect illustration of the implosion of the sale and distribution structure, as companies now look to drawing up exclusive agreements on new games, rather than worrying about previous 'gentlemen's agreements' regarding who sells where!

Breaking Stinger News - Proof of the speed with which these games from the Taiwanese show have appeared as opportunities for the international market was demonstrated when Stinger sources saw 'Speed Driver 2' on test in the UK. The game was being evaluated for a full launch coming in at half the price of the equivalent street racer titles from the Japanese and American factories. A scramble to secure a distribution deal for the game was seen at GTi'09 - surprising as the game was launched back in 2008.

One new amusement machine manufacturer from China conspicuous by its absence from GTI'09 was Belrare Amusement Equipment. At the March'09 CIAE show the company had launched a group of brand new and original new video amusement titles that shook up the market. Titles such as 'Happy Ball Balance' and 'Super Hot Skiing' seemed to borrow from ideas seen on the Nintendo Wii (and Namco and Konami products from the 90s), repackaging them for a new audience. The company also showed a unique racing game 'Speed Flyer', again with a standing position play narrative, as well as an interactive touch screen game, 'Big Hammer'.

News Story with thanks to Kevin Williams.
Please visit:
www.thestingerreport.com for others.


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