Posts Tagged ‘videogame’

Babysitter Mama: Infant care via Wiimote control

Monday, September 27th, 2010

The new Wii game aimed at tots from Office Excite

Baby Sitter Mama is a new Wii game aimed at tots from Office Create

Move over Tiny Tears, there’s a new tot in town. At Tokyo Game Show last week Office Create, makers of the successful Cooking Mama series, unveiled a game that takes playing mommy to new heights of sophistication. Made for the Wii, Babysitter Mama allows young children to hone their parenting skills on a stuffed baby doll that comes included with the game disc.

The games begin after you’ve unceremoniously stuffed the Wii remote into the doll’s back, making the pretend infant sensitive to movement. Hold and rock it gently and your baby will slowly drift off to sleep onscreen; drop the brat and all hell will break loose, as the speakers in the remote emit a lifelike simulation of an unhappy baby crying out. The nunchucks double as a bottle with which to feed the infant and a rattle to make him/her laugh.

The fun doesn’t stop there. There are around 40 mini games to play that allow you to practice other homemaking skills. The games include: making soup; giving your child a ride on a seesaw; and getting the washing in from the garden on a rainy day. There’s even a two-player mode for competitively minded young parents. Throughout the game play you can take photos of your smiling baby’s face and compile it into an album to coo over during quieter moments.

While the mama of the title appears as a woman onscreen, according to Game Watch, Office Create is marketing this product, with appropriate political correctness (and perhaps with an eye to the global market) at young boys as well as girls. Further indications that the makers eventually hope to go global with the product, is the fact that the doll’s ethnicity is indeterminate, leaving it up to players to choose the skin tone of the virtual baby that appears on screen.

Baby Sitter Mama goes on shelves in Japan in December, with a ¥6,090 price tag. With so many bells and whistles, the game looks set to take the baby doll market by storm; meanwhile yesteryear’s plastic tots quietly shed a final tear at the back of the toy closet.

Pulsations (7.22.10)

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are . . .

Big (Only) in Japan? ‘Greensleeves’

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Please hold and listen to "Greensleeves" on an endless loop

Please hold and listen to “Greensleeves” on an endless loop

Japanese bureaucracy is one of the most efficient (and at times efficiently frustrating) in the world. If you know the rules of the game – registering as a foreigner, paying for national health insurance and pension, registering a personal signature stamp, etc. – then you should have no trouble with life in Japan. However, if you don’t know or don’t like the written (and unwritten) rules, then you may chafe under the societal differences, and when you call the local office to ask why you’ve received yet another bill to pay, your frustration may only increase when they put you on hold and you are forced to listen to a MIDI version of the famous English folk song “Greensleeves.” Video gamers will recognize the tune from the “King’s Quest” series of games, and history buffs will be well familiar with the 16th-century ballad that is referred to in Shakespeare and Chaucer.

For whatever reason, the tune is one of the default melodies on telephone systems in Japan. Not that the tune is the only one available; this Brother fax machine, for example, offers over 30 different selections, including “fun” songs like “It’s a Small World” and “seasonal” songs such as “Hotaru no hikari” (also known as “Auld Lang Syne”). But Greensleeves is listed in the “soothing” category along with classics like “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” and “My Old Kentucky Home.” A closer look reveals that this particular model is advertising melodies for the arrival of faxes – not necessarily hold music. Whether or not Greensleeves deserves to be put in the “soothing” category is a debatable issue, but another model from the same company, however, makes it very clear that in Japan, Greensleeves = hold music.

Perhaps there is some unknown connection with “King’s Quest.” Perhaps a freelance MIDI artist was just producing a ton of different music and Greensleeves tested very “soothing” in the market studies. Even Japanese are baffled by this. On Yahoo Japan, a questioner asked “Why is ‘Greensleeves’ so frequently used as hold music?” The single response says, simply, “Maybe because average people like it.”

Whatever the reason, “Greensleeves” approaches a sort of symbolic value much like “Auld Lang Syne,” which is bigger in Japan than “Greensleeves” and used across the country at stores just before closing time (to signal that they are closing) and at graduation ceremonies (to signal that the kids are finished). “Greensleeves” signals, soothingly to some and annoyingly to others, that the caller is being made to wait. Just a few more seconds and they’ll be back. Almost there. Wait for it. Wait for iiit – omatase-shimashita.

With Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, is a hit for the PSP at hand?

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Gamers at Yodobashi-Akiba playing their PSPs at a PlayStation Spot

Gamers at Yodobashi-Akiba playing their PSPs at a PlayStation Spot

Sony’s PlayStation 2 has had a remarkably long life for a home video game console. Released in 2000, it has sold over 140 million units. In Japan alone it has sold over 21 million units, and game developers continue to release new titles, even after Sony debuted its next-generation PlayStation 3 in 2006.

The times are changing, however, and handheld consoles are more and more often becoming the chosen platform for game developers.

Peace Walker: The newest game in the Metal Gear Solid franchise

Peace Walker: The newest game in the Metal Gear Solid franchise

By offering games that casual users are interested in, such as “brain training” games and cooking games, the Nintendo DS, released in 2004, has already surpassed the number of PS2 units sold within Japan for a total of 30 million consoles, or one for every four people in Japan. In turn the huge success of the console has attracted game developers who covet the large market.

The most surprising example of the change the DS has caused is Dragon Quest IX. The Dragon Quest series, which had been a home console staple for years, chose the Nintendo DS for its ninth installment, which was released last year to enormous sales.

The success of the DS has also made it difficult for other handhelds in the market; the PlayStation Portable (PSP), Sony’s handheld video game system, has sold half of the number of units the DS has. Possibly to help prop up the PSP in its battle against the Nintendo DS, Hideo Kojima, director of the incredibly popular Metal Gear Solid video game franchise, opted to release Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, due out in Japan on April 29, on the PSP rather than the PS3.

Kojima is a big proponent of handhelds, making it clear that he treated Peace Walker like a true game in the series, on the same level as a Metal Gear Solid 5 rather than as just a side story. Recently he stated that he believes the death knell for home consoles has sounded: “Gamers should be able to take the experience with them in their living rooms, on the go, when they travel – wherever they are and whenever they want to play. It should be the same software and the same experience.”

Kojima’s scouts must have been monitoring the action around Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara, a mecca for portable gamers. The front of the store is often the gathering place for groups of gamers who take advantage of the multiplayer functions of handhelds. Inside, there are PlayStation Spots where PSP users can connect and download demos. The release of Dragon Quest IX prompted huge crowds all searching for in-game items that required wireless interaction with other players. Peace Walker might be the next title to try and emulate the phenomenon.

Last Wednesday Konami held a media presentation that revealed the tie-in products for Peace Walker. In addition to Doritos, Axe, Pepsi, Mountain Dew and the Sony Walkman, Peace Walker will feature other video games. Video game magazine Famitsu leaked details of a tie-in with Capcom’s Monster Hunter series, and Konami confirmed this at the presentation. The lead character, Snake, will be able to hunt dinosaurs and roast meat as in the Monster Hunter series. There are also collaborations with Square Enix’s Front Mission Evolved and Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed. While the Assassin’s Creed tie-in is just a small part of the game, the combination with Monster Hunter, another popular game for the PSP with ad hoc multiplayer features, and Front Mission Evolved seem to imply that there will be a large multiplayer aspect to the game. Uniqlo/UT has also been recruited by Konami. They will release Peace Walker-themed T-shirts that players can load into the game. By entering a number from the barcode on the tag into the game, players will be able to have their characters wear a digital version of the T-shirt they just purchased.

Konami already has the next Metal Gear home console title in development (the title is Metal Gear Solid: Rising), and surely it will be a success, as most of the games in the franchise have been over the past decade, but unless gamers decide to start schlepping their PlayStation 3 systems out and about in Tokyo, it has no chance of becoming an ad hoc wireless phenomenon. With the help of dinosaurs, assassins and Uniqlo, Peace Walker still may.

Wild ideas for new instruments

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

For those still in love with the blips and beeps of their favorite retro games, Bandai’s new Bousou (wild idea) Controller key chain, which goes on sale March 20, is a dream come true. Available for three games – Street Fighter II, Xevious and Family Stratagem – the controller is shaped like an old-school game pad and has a number of buttons that re-create the sounds of the dawn of the digital era.

Bandai's Bousou Controller out March 20

Bandai’s Bousou Controller out March 20

While many might deem these noises highly irritating, instrument designer extraordinaire Yoshi Akai has recently crafted a similar controller in order to demonstrate the musical possibilities of gaming noises. A video of a recent online performance broadcast on Akai’s YouTube channel can be seen here.

Akai’s oeuvre ,which experiments with interfacing digital with analog sound, is fast garnering attention with both digital and print media. Not only are his concepts innovative, but they are also gorgeously crafted with a lovely steampunk aesthetic. Take, for example his Wireless Catcher which translates Wireless Signals into analog sound (as seen the  video at the top). The catcher is a slender metal-plated device with an antenna attached to the top which picks up the wireless frequencies in its immediate range. The metal plating is beautifully engraved with the kind of design you might find one of Jules Verne’s futuristic machines. The device converts the waves picked up to an analog synthesizer which then plays a sound.

Akai's 3-channel lego sequencer

Akai’s 3-channel lego sequencer

Another of Akai’s designs that caught our eye is his 3-channel lego sequencer which allows you to build up sound by placing colored lego bricks on to a board, each different color makes a corresponding sound and the higher the bricks go, the louder the noise created.

Akai’s background is in textile design, which accounts for the exquisite craftsmanship of his machines. The loony genius of his design reminds us of Maywa Denki who, like Akai, not only create their own instruments but also perform internationally. If you’d like to know more about Maywa Denki and see one of their performances, see our previous post.

We’re going to be looking our for Akai’s live performances in the future, but in the meantime, we’ll have to be satisfied with making our own sweet video game music with the Bousou Controller.

Game makers take chances on real-world spin-offs

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

While Japan is home to numerous theme bars and restaurants, there aren’t many that are specifically based on any one computer game. Presumably the game makers keep a tight grip on merchandising of their products and have, until recently, seen no reason to branch out into the café or restaurant business. However, Jan. 28 will see game makers Square Enix opening a karaoke bar in Roppongi called Luida’s Bar. Based on a bar that existed – up till now – only in the popular game “Dragon Quest,” Luida’s Bar will serve food and drinks that reflect the game, such as slime nikuman (steamed buns) or “elf medicine.” Of course, the beautiful maidens who will be serving these concoctions will be dressed in ye olde fantasy world costumes.

Square Enix is not the first company to attempt a brick-and-mortar spin-off. Last year Polyphony Digital opened a Gran Tourismo cafe – right next to the Twin Ring Motegi race circuit – where visitors can play Grand Tourismo 5 while sipping their cappuccinos. But while Luida’s Bar had been opened hot on the heels of the release of “Dragon Quest 9” for the DS, some game fans were left wondering why the Grand Tourismo cafe opening hadn’t coincided with any notable activity for the game itself.

Even further back, in November 2005, Konami opened a game-themed café “Tokimeki Memorial Cafe” in Harajuku which was based on the eponymous dating-sim game. Drinks were served by hot young things in school uniform, presumably to a crowd of otaku too busy playing online games to notice the cuteness of the staff. While the game itself appears to be still going strong with “Tokimeki Memorial 4″ recently out for PSP, Tokimeki Memorial Cafe itself only lasted a year (it moved to Akasaka and became a “live house/bar,” minus the Tokimeki connection). Perhaps the real world version wasn’t as popular as the virtual space? If this was the case, Luida’s Bar might not be around so long.

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