BitSum­mit ris­ing

On the floor of the event that’s chang­ing Ja­pan’s in­die cul­ture

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Now in its sec­ond year, BitSum­mit saw a ma­jor in­crease in size and at­ten­dance when it was held in Ky­oto in March. Pre­vi­ously a one-day, busi­ness-only event, this year’s show was held over three days at the Miyako Messe con­ven­tion cen­tre, with over 100 de­vel­op­ers, live mu­sic and pre­sen­ta­tions. The first of two pub­lic days drew 1,000 cu­ri­ous pun­ters, from the hard­core to fam­i­lies with young chil­dren. And al­though Ky­oto gi­ant Nin­tendo was con­spic­u­ous by its ab­sence, fi­nan­cial sup­port­ers in­cluded Sony, Mi­crosoft and the pre­fec­tural govern­ment.

“Since last year’s BitSum­mit, a lot of us have come to re­alise that we are in fact part of an in­die scene,” says Takumi Nara­mura of Nig­oro, whose plat­form-ad­ven­ture se­quel La-Mu­lana 2 was re­cently crowd­funded on Kick­starter. “Many de­vel­op­ers heard about last year’s BitSum­mit and made the ef­fort to get in­volved this year.”

The na­ture of that re­al­i­sa­tion might seem sur­pris­ing to western indies, whose cul­ture of co­op­er­a­tion and idea shar­ing has fos­tered a boom in the scene over the past half-decade. In Ja­pan, even the no­tion of a ‘scene’ is new and the idea of shar­ing was, un­til re­cently, ab­surd.

“It’s more fun for me than Tokyo Game Show, be­cause of all the dif­fer­ent types of games you get to see,” says Dy­lan Cuth­bert, whose Ky­oto com­pany Q-Games was in­volved in the event’s pro­duc­tion. Many of those games have al­ready se­cured an in­ter­na­tional re­lease. Some, like La-Mu­lana 2 and Keiji Ina­fune’s Mighty No.9, raised funds di­rectly from fans, while oth­ers have taken ad­van­tage of Sony’s in­creased hunger for in­die games, such as puz­zler TorqueL and mecha re­make As­sault Suit Leynos ( Tar­get Earth). Small main­stream pub­lish­ers con­tinue to find their own route to mar­ket, such as O-Two with its cute 3DS kitty run­ner Mew Mew Train. On­line plat­forms such as Flash game repos­i­tory Mori­tapo Game Lounge and global store Play­ism had booths show­cas­ing mul­ti­ple ti­tles. For the smaller de­vel­op­ers, it was a rare op­por­tu­nity to watch their peers and mem­bers of the pub­lic play their games.

“When you’re mak­ing a fight­ing game, it is ex­tremely use­ful to have the op­por­tu­nity to watch people play for bal­ance tun­ing,” says Masahiro Onoguchi, cre­ator of moddable 3D fight­ing en­gine EF-12, re­cently Green­lit for Steam. “Some very skilled play­ers gave me their feed­back yes­ter­day and I was able to im­me­di­ately im­ple­ment their sug­ges­tions last night.” Around half the games on show were made by hob­by­ists. Many felt like tech demos or proof-of-con­cept pieces with rudi­men­tary game­play, or straight copies of clas­sic ti­tles. Ina­fune might have no­ticed his own work in Rokko Chan, King Soukutu’s Mega Man homage.

That’s not to say these mi­cro-in­die games were bad – 2D Fan­ta­sista’s Flock is a re­lax­ing am­bi­ent bul­let-heaven shooter for PS4, while mad­cap Flash plat­former Shippo Neko and a game called ChChoCoooCoCo (which uses a pump-noz­zle sham­poo bot­tle as its con­troller) raised smiles. This was dif­fer­ent to the kind of spec­ta­cle you

“It’s a good thing Ja­pan can bor­row strength from western­ers to put on an event like this to­gether”

find at strait-laced TGS, and with a Ja­panese sen­si­bil­ity lack­ing at GDC.

Still, games with the depth of Jour­ney or the con­cep­tual com­plex­ity of Gone

Home were scarce. The ex­cep­tions were usu­ally games made by Ja­pan-based stu­dios with largely western staff, such as Q-Games’ Nom Nom Galaxy. There were also few women de­vel­op­ers, and those who were there tended to be tout­ing vis­ual nov­els, or were in sup­port­ing roles, such as The Girl And

The Ro­bot il­lus­tra­tor Ayaka Naka­mura.

Nara­mura was one

of sev­eral devs to say that Ja­pan’s in­die scene is trail­ing the west’s by a cou­ple of years, and or­gan­iser James Mielke says this was why he in­vited western indies such as The Be­he­moth and Me­tanet Soft­ware to show off Cas­tle Crash­ers and N++. “I think Ja­panese de­vel­op­ers can take away a lot from be­ing ex­posed to those games,” he says. “[They] will see some­thing like

Over­growth, N++ or Galak-Z and think, ‘Wow, I can add an ex­tra layer of nar­ra­tive or a cool new me­chanic; I can do some­thing dif­fer­ent’. It might take a few years, but I think we’ll get there.”

Ina­fune, who an­nounced a new 3DS game at BitSum­mit – Inti Cre­ates’ Azure

Striker Gun­volt, on which he is ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer – tells us he be­lieves that the sim­ple mix of western and Ja­panese or­gan­is­ers o was a key fac­tor be­hind the show’s s suc­cess, and a rea­son so many Ja­panese J de­vel­op­ers were will­ing to risk the t not-in­signif­i­cant in­vest­ment to at­tend.

“Hav­ing Mielke in charge gives it an in­ter­na­tional i feel­ing,” Ina­fune says. “It’s a good g thing Ja­pan can bor­row strength from f western­ers to put on an event like this to­gether. I was sur­prised by the scale of ev­ery­one’s am­bi­tion.”

NomNomGalaxy, Q-Games’ soupcre­ation sim­u­la­tion

From top: BitSum­mit or­gan­iser James Mielke; Takumi Nara­mura of Nig­oro

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