While developers are easier to reach thanks to Twitter, some Japanese game creators from the 80s and 90s have left the video game industry entirely. Tracking those developers down to talk about their work can be a challenge. Enter Professor Hiroshi Ishikawa, creator of Kagirinaki Tatakai which was published by Enix for the Sharp X1. Ishikawa stopped making games and is now a researcher, but John Szczepaniak tracked him down.
"In the 1980s Enix held competitions to publish home-made computer games. A teenage Hiroshi Ishikawa submitted one and his game was published, with his name and photo on the back of the box. The game in question, Kagirinaki Tatakai, was discovered when various gamers tried to find the true origins of Bangai-O. They were going through all the Sharp X1 games and looking for candidates. The real inspiration was Hover Attack, but I played Kagirinaki Takakai and really enjoyed it," Szczepaniak recounted.
"After noticing Ishikawa’s name on another game (Brain Breaker), I wondered who he was. He was always credited as H. Ishikawa. So I asked on a forum how the Kanji of his first name was pronounced. Once I had this, I discovered there were a lot of people with the name Hiroshi Ishikawa in Japan. I managed to narrow it down by cross-referencing the 20-year-old photo on the game box, with recent photos online. Eventually I found a Professor Hiroshi Ishikawa at a University, along with a faculty photo. The rest went from there and I got a great interview."
Szczepaniak will write a book about "The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers" and is raising funds for the project through Kickstarter. His plan is to interview Solomon’s Key creator Michitaka Tsuruta, Aziz Hinoshita who translated a number of Square Enix games, Catrap creator Yutaka Isokawa, Little King’s Story creator Yoshiro Kimura, and many others.
"In another instance, which has yet to yield results, I tried to contact the original designer on the first Castlevania game, for Famicom. The team was never credited, but a friend from Konami gave me a list as best he could remember. I then trawled online until I found a patent registration by said developer, while employed at Konami, with a home address. The address is nearly 30 years old, but I still sent five letters to it. Since the area code wasn’t listed, I looked up all the area codes for that particular area in that city – there were five different listings attributed to it. So I hedged my bets and sent five identical letters, the only difference being a postal code for one of five areas in the city. I haven’t heard back. Maybe he moved years ago," said Szczepaniak.
"In truth, most of my recent contacts didn’t require so much work. I spoke with Japanese developers I already knew, and many of them put me in touch with others. Additionally, I have a friend with a large collection of Japanese magazines from the early 1980s. I asked him for recommendations on people to search for, from the old days. He gave me a few names, and luckily several had personal websites," Szczepaniak continued. "I’d say the most important tool for tracking down developers is contacts. Even if they’ve moved into a different field, unrelated to games, chances are they’re still friends with old colleagues. Some developers though, such as Masaya Hashimoto of Quintet, seem to have disappeared entirely, without trace. In a case like this I will try to contact former colleagues, and see if someone knows someone else who can put me in touch. There’s some definite detective work involved."
A printed copy of the book will cost £25 and a digital copy only available through Kickstarter will be £12.