Japanese Amusement Blastoff! (Part 2.)
The veteran amusement corporation showed a brand new image to the AM business with the Taito GM development group 'Team Frontline' (still no word on the status of GM4 division after the 2008 launch of this new division?). The booth filled with new Mid-Size attraction cabinets offering big entertainment. 'Elevator Action: Death Parade' (Type-X2 Hardware), the unique two-player shooting cabinet had been previewed last year, but little had been seen of the game. Now the 60 per cent complete version was shown on a single cabinet at the show. The unusual element is the fact that the action is physically represented by the opening and closing of lift doors that reveal the big screen action. The cabinet uses two screens - one for narrative above the main screen representing the action. The cabinet also uses new audio system (Taito TX Surround Sound) and impressive recoil pistols.
The homage to the 1983 original bore little of the storyline - favoring a more 'Time Crisis IV' style game play, the graphics being the equal of the current genre. The action is split between frantic blasting and button pounding to avoid the enemy. Why only a few levels were available to play was a question raised by many - but what was available proved popular with the players at the show. Questions on how the sliding doors would hold up to player abuse was another matter.
The other big Taito cabinet presentation at the show was 'Haunted Museum' (Type-X2 Hardware). Taito had been rumored to be working on a number of new big cabinet games and AOU'09 did not disappoint - housed in a big enclosed cabinet (theater enclosure), this ghost-based blaster seemed to be Taito's answer to the KDE 'Silent Hill' title - in a cabinet reminiscent of the 'Castlevania' enclosure. Taito's new cabinet tech team has relented to place a view port on the curtain. The game narrative seemed to borrow from the 2006 film 'Night at the Museum' with ghostly exhibits coming to life. One observation about the 2009 AOU booth from Taito was the target that the R&D team at the corporation had set themselves - now supported by Square-ENIX funding - at Konami, clearly a target that they want to beat.
More dedicated action on display included 'Oppopo Booom' (Type-X2 Hardware). A totally unexpected and off-the-wall game came from Team Frontline for the show - a two-player swiveling body game, the players twisting as if moving a giant tail in the game. The unique cabinet and style of the game pointed towards the intense physicality that is being represented in the post Wii amusement scene. The game was in a very early, unplayable prototype form with no information on release date, or final game application. More dedicated action included 'Music GunGun' (Type-X2 Hardware). Another surprise game from Taito - but continuing a theme for super cute and cuddly titles; this time the two-player gun game offers cartoon musical characters to blast in set patterns to achieve points. A highly stylized cabinet and fun presentation, this and other 'no thinking' style titles propose a new extremely casual construction and simple play. One aspect of the new 2009 Taito line-up is the major change in design and development that is rocking the company - beyond the application of the Team Frontline development crew. There is the new 'Taitotech' cabinet design and manufacturer with all the cabinets sporting the name of this group.
Taking their space on the open floor plan of the Taito booth was 'Nippon Senorita!' (Type-X2 Hardware). The game that had been shown at JAMMA was a three player mini game experience, pounding buttons to match the unique Japanese style action on screen - a game offering mini-games representing modern-day employment in the country. Of all the games shown at AOU - this has the least possibility of ever seeing the inside of a shipping cabinet for international consideration. Another game that was seen last year in pre-production form - 'Hopping Urodo' (Type-X2 Hardware) is a unique pogo-stick style hopping game based on the WiZLAND toy characters. A definite feel-good game aiming for the widest possible player audience, it's hitting the Taito arcades in spring. Littering the outskirts of the booth were a number of VEWLIX cabinets housing third party content - such as the shooter 'Trouble Witches Episode 1' (Type-X Hardware) developed by Adventure Planning Services / Studio SiestA. Another VEWLIX was populated with 'Mile of the Sky' (Type-X2 Hardware), one of only a few puzzle games on the show floor, developed by Fuuki. Another puzzle game from the developers was 'MAX Crime Case' (Type-X2 Hardware). The VEWLIX cabinet range was the prominent platform of choice at AOU'09 with both the 'VEWLIX-F' and lower cost 'VEWLIX-L' litter a number of booths of other exhibitors. However, the VEWLIX is now under stiff competition from other new LCD flatscreen display cabinets.
Breaking Stinger News - Just before the AOU show, Taito AM facilities increase their prices by 20 per cent in their home island amusement sites during February; this in answer to increased costs and economic conditions. This news came as the corporation revealed that their amusement facility profits rose for the year from its 1,792 internationally based facility operation. The AM division in Japan had already carried out its blood-letting of unprofitable facilities in 2008 and so benefited from the renewed investment. This move was supported by Taito, publicizing at AOU'09 their new "Happy Project" initiative for their amusement space - following last years Red re-branding (Taito Station) of their facilities. The new Happy Project will be applied across all their sites creating a mechanism to evaluate the satisfaction of the players and guests to the company sites - a tool to be used in addressing the slump in the amusement arcade market; improving the ability to attract new customers by improving the serviced provided. A three-star evaluation on the service provided will be used for in-house research.
NO SHOW - The new TaitoTech direction showed an impressive selection of new game designs. However, the parent was not present this year with no Square-ENIX booth and no showing of the game 'Lord of Vermilion' (Type-X2) that received presentation last year. One game that had been expected to make a break at AOU'09 was the secret driving game that the R&D team has been rumored to be working on. Also 'Space Invaders: Beat the Attacker' (Proprietary Hardware) seems to have fallen off the map regarding placement. A third party no-show was from G.Revolution - their proposed 'Senko no Ronde Dis-United Order' was due to be presented at AOU'09 but in the end was left from the line-up and in a message on their web site was scheduled alternatively for a loctest. During March, following the AOU'09, Taito held a number of events to celebrate the anniversary of 'Space Invaders' and developments in publicizing the Taito brand. One of these events was the 'Taito Happy Station' event - during these public events that showcased classic coin-op titles form the company's history, a number of new products were revealed; one of these was the announcement of a brand new first-person-shooter title called 'Cyber Driver' (Taito X2 Hardware). With this news of a new release came confirmation that the company was working on a new version of its Type-X hardware.
A company that had been included at last year's AOU had an incredibly subdued 2009 showing. The Capcom booth focused nearly exclusively on medal and crane gaming. This proved the only Nintendo licensing at the show with 'Mario Party' a big crane game building off of the medal game developed on the franchise last year. Another showing was 'Fuji Mezase Chibi Maruko Chan' -- a medal multi-player finding popularity with show attendees.
NO SHOW - One of the biggest no-shows of the whole event was 'Street Fighter IV' (Type-X2) - the game that had caused 120 minute waits to play last year. The company strategy seemed to be focused wholly on the consumer release of the title that same month - with no spare cycles to think of anything else; the lack-lustre AOU booth pointing to this situation.
Breaking Stinger News - It was revealed in a press release from Capcom that the console version of the brawler had, within a matter of weeks, shipped over 2 million copies worldwide. First week sales in Japan were quoted in consumer media as over 37,000 XB360 units sold and over 86,000 PS3 units sold. In an interesting revelation, Capcom announced that the original 'Street Fighter II' franchise had seen 500,000 arcade unit sales - though it was not prepared to state how many SFIV arcade units had been sold at this point (or answer questions about rumored counterfeit systems).
Rumors from respected sources had spoken of a version update of the SFIV AM in the coming months - but with tacit refusal of this rumor by Capcom seeming to shoot this down. Another source spoke of a growing concern amongst Japanese operators that they were experiencing 'Ground-Hog Day'. The complaint was that, like with the first 'Street Fighter II' in 1991 - the need for an update kit version to support player demand was ignored by management, favoring their own private agenda. In the end, the vacuum had been filled by a hoard of black-market upgrades, such as the infamous 'Street Fighter II - Rainbow Edition', developed by chop shop Hung His Enterprises in 1992. Capcom's internal development was famously slow to comprehend the hunger they created. As 'Street Fighter IV' was in fact co-developed outside of Capcom by DIMPS, the concern is that another vacuum is about to be created! Will the boot-leggers fill this as well?
Another major disappointment at AOU'09 was the non-appearance of 'Tatsunoko Vs Capcom Cross Generation of Heroes' (Wii Hardware) - the game had been launched at JAMMA'08, and it had been hoped that along with SFIV, it would have made land-fall at this year's show. This speculation had also been linked to the hope that Capcom would have revealed its Nintendo affiliation at the event, beyond the licensed character medal games. An element of the reasoning regarding the no-show was given off the record by sources close to the company, saying that all previous plans to implement the new strategy had changed, following the new conditions that the Japanese amusement (and market as a whole) was experiencing. A glimmer of hope being that things had only been suspended and that AM-Show'09 in September may offer a better time to show.
The Amusement Marketing International (AMI) had an impressive booth space at AOU'09, continuing investment in third party distribution showing the best of other corporation's new releases. With no dedicated booth of their own this year, SNK-Playmore shared a selection of VEWLIX cabinets on the AMI booth, the company having the game that fuelled much speculation amongst the player-base prior and during the show, with 'The King of Fighters XII' (Type-X2 Hardware).
Celebrating the 15th anniversary edition with the tag line "KOF Re-Birth!", seven VEWLIX cabinets were constantly swamped by eager players - and they were not disappointed by the classic brawler action. All attempts to hide the fact that the VEWLIX cabs running Type-X2 hardware only support one-play (single stick) operation - the previous Taito source that claimed that the system could handle two-player operation seemed to have moved on! The game is expected for an June release, still later than previous stated at JAMMA and begging questions on SNK-P, who having shown King of Fighters '98 Ultimate March' (Type-X) last year, had stirred a player fury for this latest in the series. A definite make or break title for SNK-P. This release news caused consternation when it was revealed later in the month that the worldwide consumer release of the game was scheduled for July! Why release the game on the XB360 and PS3 a few weeks after the amusement launch? This ugly need for revenue showed how the game is a definite make or break franchise for SNK-P.
Breaking Stinger News - Just as the dust settled on the AOU'09 event, interviews were given by KOFXII producer in the build-up to the marketing effort on the game. This effort revealed some interesting game history - first off was that SNK-P had placed a considerable investment into the SEGA licensed A-Wave architecture developing the KOF series for the platform only to abandon it and move to a high-definition presentation on the Taito architecture - the current game being in development for a mammoth three years.
Also sharing the AMI booth this year was EXAMU (formerly Yuki Enterprise), showing their latest title 'Daemon Bride' (ex-Board Hardware) - building on the 'Arcana Heart' series, running on four VEWLIX cabinets at the event. The company was promoting the 'ex-BOARD' - PC based architecture with JAMMA compatibility - in the crowded sector. One of the quirky games on the AMI booth another third party release - this time from Success - was the picture puzzle game 'Idol Paradise' (SkoPRO Hardware) and opposite 'Dragon Dance' (SkoPRO Hardware) a mahjong game, sitting in VEWLIX cabs, promoting its own new PC based architecture. Veteran amusement and pachinko developer Success - founded in 1978 - launched these first titles on the 'SkoPro' hardware platform at AOU'09. This new hardware from Korean developer Skonec Entertainment (founded in 2002) - the company best known for their 'Psyvariar' (Type-X Hardware) series - has a Windows OS platform with the SkoPRO system claiming to have over four games in development for it.
This is a veteran amusement distributor and spares house -- fresh from their showing at ATEI'09. This Japanese company presented their 'Delta 32' cabinet - the streamline 32" LCD display screen, fresh from the London show. The company also used AOU'09 to present their latest cabinet, the 'New Delta' -- with a big 32" LCD screen combining a unique vertical and horizontal aspect display, with new sleek layout for multiple installations and a secondary repeat audience screen.
Also seen at ATEI'09 was the new game architecture from RS. The 'RSGA-2000A' is a Windows XP based platform hoping to offer a cost-effective solution for smaller studios. In this move towards offering a cheaper game development platform, RS also brought the Italian Genna Group, 'Play-ON.IT' system architecture from the Italian developer towards gauging reactions.
Other third party representation on the booth included 'Parse Rorunpe: Prelude' (PC Hardware) from MEGA NET&TECH CO.,Ltd., and developed by TURUGIYA SOFTWARE. The production version of the game shown now includes a touch screen along with the witches broomstick and saddle; as previous reported a flying game reminiscent of 'Prop Cycle' - scheduled for a summer 2009 release. Of the remaining videos on display, one unique system was the unusual four-player display table medal game 'Shabushabu JOY' (PC Hardware). Along with the video games, RS showed a big attraction of their own - with the 'Indoor Golf Range' (IGR) simulator hoping to offer something different.
The influential Japanese amusement house was acquired by Takara in 2004 and then in 2007 by Index Holding, having since then diminished its amusement presence. The 2009 AOU marked a return to video amusement business based development (a raised profile from last year), leaving many consumer media lost for words on trying both to talk down the amusement scene but also to explain why there were so many new hot games!
The new ATLUS game was 'Gogetsuji Ichizoku: Senzo Kuyou' (Type-X Hardware) (the series known internationally as 'Power Instinct'). The 2D fighting game series was first launched in 1993, the last amusement incarnation on the then SNK Neo Geo had been developed by Noise Factory (2003) - the game was shown in a 30 per cent complete state. This game was housed in a new JVS (JAMMA Video Standard) Multi Cabinet design from Saint Muse, called the 'G-Balance' 32" widescreen LCD display. The company announced that summer 2009 was the intended release schedule for the game. The booth also included 'MaruBot Football League' - the latest 4-player incarnation of the IR (Intelligent Recreation Robot) amusement robot system. The new robotic players including sleek LED face expressions to add to the fun. This system is not to be mistaken with the 'Robot Football' system that was shown on the Crown Direct booth. The company continued to show its 'Triple Catcher Ice Twin' -- though a major NO SHOW for their SoftAir gun game 'Vulcan Wars' (PC Hardware).
Breaking Stinger News - Though not revealed on the floor at AOU'09, a few weeks later and ATLUS would reveal a momentous move for the company, cementing their restructuring. The company that originated the 'PhotoSticker' [in Japanese 'purikura'] craze of 1995 (with their 'Print Club' phenomena), announced in April 2009 that they would no longer release any more sticker machine lines or play a part in this sector. The company has long since lost the lead in sticker machine development and that a hoard of new developments (incorporating mobile phones and online elements).
News Story with thanks to Kevin Williams.
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