Branching Paths : A journey in Japan’s independent game scene

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Branching Paths - 1st Anniversary Comments

Alvin Phu (Dot Warrior Games)

Please tell us about the changes that the Japanese indie scene has gone through in the last year.

There have been a marked increase in the amount of people in Japan publicly making indie games, and of much higher quality than the past. Besides that, there have also been a lot more companies publishing Japanese content to the west. I would say it is still very difficult to break out on your own and go full time indie in Japan though.

Please tell us about the changes you went through in the last year.

I'm still running Tokyo Indies which has grown a lot over the past year as well as moved to a new venue. We regularly have about 80-90 people coming every month now. Besides Tokyo Indies, I have since started a new game development/publishing company called Hanaji Games. We have a few titles in development and have published a few Japanese indie/doujin games to the west. I have also since helped out with Tokyo Indie Fest that happened earlier in the year.

What do you think will happen in the future of the Japanese indie gaming scene?

I think the Japanese indie scene will steadily keep growing. I go to Tokyo Indies every month and still continue to see new faces who are motivated to make their own games. It's a bit of a slow start but there are more and more Japanese indies who are trying to go professional indie as well. The experiences being shared by more successful indies to newcomers has also helped the scene a lot.

What is your goal/direction in the future that you want to pursue.

I hope Tokyo Indies will continue to grow as a community. Outside of that we would possibly like to do other events such as game jams/focused workshops in the future. As for myself, I of course would still like to continue making games as long as I can.

Baiyon (PixelJunk™ Eden)

Please tell us about the changes that the Japanese indie scene has gone through in the last year.

My impression is that titles in the indie game scene that still remain with us today are titles that have clear direction and production quality.

Please tell us about the changes you went through in the last year.

I joined Q-Games as its creative producer in April of last year. I’ve been preparing since then, working on several projects including Eden Obscura, I hope everyone will enjoy what’s to come!

What do you think will happen in the future of the Japanese indie gaming scene?

I’m personally curious about how indie devs will approach the massive mobile user space. That could impact the direction of how indie games could potentially change its course to something different.

What is your goal/direction in the future that you want to pursue.

I strive to capture the essence of what games are in my games, but I also have an interest in working on experimental games and apps, perhaps fusing it with installation artwork, taking video game potential to go beyond what we already know.

Yoshiro Kimura (Onion Games)

Please tell us about the changes that the Japanese indie scene has gone through in the last year.

At a glance not much seems to have changed, but I believe change is progressing steadily beneath the surface.

Please tell us about the changes you went through in the last year.

I've brought Million Onion Hotel, which made an appearance in Branching Paths, close to completion. Once it is finished, I would love for people around the world to play this game.

What do you think will happen in the future of the Japanese indie gaming scene?

I think we'll see an increase of Japanese developers breaking the language barrier and becoming active overseas.

What is your goal/direction in the future that you want to pursue.

I want to continue giving form to the images and worlds I imagine. I like weird and cute things.

Million Onion Hotel

Takayuki Yanagihara aka. Nanmo (FPSA)

Please tell us about the changes that the Japanese indie scene has gone through in the last year.

For gamers, I think the release and sale of indie games has become something of the norm. For developers, I think the environment in which we work has improved somewhat, but this is only a small change compared to the above.

Please tell us about the changes you went through in the last year.

In 2016 I worked independantly to get TorqueL available on Wii U. Now in 2017, I am working (again, independantly) to get TorqueL on Xbox One. While adapting TorqueL's controls to the game controller, I'd like to take on some new challanges too.

What do you think will happen in the future of the Japanese indie gaming scene?

Even if a creator puts their heart and soul into a game, players are faced with an increasing number of games that can compete with it. More and more, players see those games as just a single option among many. For that reason, being able to turn games that were already legitimately good to exceptionally good will become crucial. I feel that the key to this lies in cooperating with those who can bring new knowledge to the table.

What is your goal/direction in the future that you want to pursue.

I've no doubt that video games are at the root of the way I think. Having once made an analogue game, I'm always thinking about what is suitable as a means of expression. I'd like to continue developing games at my own pace. Yesterday saw an increase of digital downloads; as the right holder I want to continue distribution as much as possible, and make sure to stay in good health.

Takumi Naramura (Nigoro)

I don't know about changes this year, but I never thought parts of our game we weren't able to include in the Branching Paths documentary would still be unfinished even now. It's been a while since I experienced releasing a game, but I'm actually looking forward to how seeing how completing and unleashing a game to the world will compare to all those years ago. For our previous work we were asking questions like "How do we advertise our game overseas" and "Is there no way to market indies to mainstream consumers". It's wonderful that now, these are all unnecessary concerns. And as a result, I feel a number of possibilities have opened up to us.

Yuichiro Kitao (Gemdrops)

Please tell us about the changes that the Japanese indie scene has gone through in the last year.

Improvements in quality across the board, and I think there's been an increase of professional developers going indie. We cannot afford to be idle.

Please tell us about the changes you went through in the last year.

I had the opportunity to work together with other indie creators, which was extremely motivational. We released our company's original VR game Headbutt Factory.

What do you think will happen in the future of the Japanese indie gaming scene?

The era where all one had to do was simply get a game out there is no more. We have entered an era where we have to do a substantial amount of promotion to make our games known. Indie games are no longer judged less-harshly for the sake of being indie, and the fence between development of indie vs non-indie games is gradually disappearing. In order to further close that gap, I imagine indie devs will want to take advantage of the autonomy and flexibility they have, more than ever before.

What is your goal/direction in the future that you want to pursue.

I'd like to have a company that bridges the gap between indie and non-indie development, which operates through business but consists of individual creators. Also I'd like to make games that are not limited to Japan but will be enjoyed by the whole world.

Toru Kawakatsu (Petit Depotto)

Please tell us about the changes that the Japanese indie scene has gone through in the last year.

I think the single-price, full-game model of game design is becoming more popular.

Please tell us about the changes you went through in the last year.

I'm making games based more on what I want to "play" than what I want to "make".

What do you think will happen in the future of the Japanese indie gaming scene?

I think we are entering an era that demands self-promotion. Indie creators must think for themselves, do as much as they possibly can. That and securing a good environment for improving our skills, is all we can do.

What is your goal/direction in the future that you want to pursue.

I want to create an environment where the team and myself can continue to make fun games.

Makoto Goto (Bishamon)

Please tell us about the changes that the Japanese indie scene has gone through in the last year.

It seems many new young indie developers are appearing in the indie game scene. There are also indie developers moving over to live in Japan from overseas. Their achievements might appear small next to mainstream games, but their impact may be spreading bit by bit.

Please tell us about the changes you went through in the last year.

I was not making progress with development on a personal project, so I want to get serious about it.

What do you think will happen in the future of the Japanese indie gaming scene?

For indie developers, the struggle to earn a living is still a reality. I think most indie developers are employed and work on their games in their spare time. I imagine that the new generation of developers will come up with a completely new approach to the flow of development. I am sure they will make use of game engines to come up with entirely new approaches to game design, working together to lead us to an important new era of games.

What is your goal/direction in the future that you want to pursue.

I won't give up to the younger generation of developers. I intend to take on the challenge with my own game design.

James Mielke (Bit Summit)

Please tell us about the changes that the Japanese indie scene has gone through in the last year.

While we've yet to see anyone collate any specific metrics regarding the increase of sales of Japanese indies games in the West, I can at least say that their visibility is significantly greater than ever before. I see Japanese indie games appearing on every possible digital marketplace, from PSN to XBLA to Nintendo's e-Shop(s) and of course on Steam and PC. So in this way things are moving in a very positive direction.

Please tell us about the changes you went through in the last year.

My work with BitSummit is geared towards finding new ways to bring excitement to the festival and to hopefully continue to spur interest in our annual event. I think we've done a pretty good job of raising awareness of Japanese indies and also in exposing Japanese developers to Western indie games. This can only lead to even better games down the road, but we still have a lot of things we can do to create an even better event.

What do you think will happen in the future of the Japanese indie gaming scene?

Now that the games are being picked up by 3rd-party publishers or self-published, I'm hoping for a breakout hit (a la Cave Story) to further draw attention to the Japanese indie scene. If there's anything Japanese developers have shown at BitSummit, it's endlessly creative ideas and innovation. Now let's see some of this translate into commercial success. That's what I'm waiting for.

What is your goal/direction in the future that you want to pursue.

My personal goal is to continue to help BitSummit transform into something greater than its current form (which is already pretty good). Hopefully we can continue to take people by surprise. That'd be enough for me.

Anne FERRERO

Please tell us about the changes that the Japanese indie scene has gone through in the last year.

One year after Branching Paths release, we could see that japanese indie games and foreign ones continues to be represented in Japanese game medias which is a very important and necessary. Two of the main character of the documentary, Kimura Yoshiro and Moppin got their games Yuusha no Yamada-kun and Downwell released overseas, and a know working on new projects like UFO 50 for Moppin. Others games such as Fata Morgana no Yakata got a great reputation once released overseas, and i was very happy that Sakuna of Rice and Ruin, the new game of Nal from the circle Edelweiss, made its way from the Comicket to E3 this year. I’m looking forward to see how the situation will evolve.

Please tell us about the changes you went through in the last year.

First, Branching Paths got screened in various countries’s festivals such as the United States, Canada, South Korea, Israel or Lituania for example. In some cases i got to speak with the audience and it was great to see the reactions about the Japanese indie scene they barely heard most of the time. When reading the comment on Steam and social networks, i noticed that Japan’s situation echoed very well in countries where the scene is blooming or who have the same problems. Then, i’m still working the program « toco toco » which is my main project for the sixth year now. It’s a short documentary program where various Japanese creators or artists introduce place they like or inspire their works. This year we had various game creators featured such as Suda 51, Toyama Keiichiro, Ishiwatari Daisuke, Iida Kazutoshi, Yoko Taro or Mizuguchi Tetsuya. « toco toco » is aired on Youtube in Japanese language with english and french subtitles and on tv in France. I think that people who like Branching Paths might like it as well https://www.youtube.com/c/tocotocotv

Episode with Mizuguchi Tetsuya (Rez Infinite)
Episode with Yoko Taro (NieR: Automata)

Also, I work on other projects like « The Manga Concierge » a short manga recommandation show, and a video series about Japan’s art scene called « New Territories » directed by the painter Charles Munka.

The Manga Concierge Youtube Channel:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJm8nWTp3Kd4s2K48fyzrsA

The Manga Concierge - Theme: "Find back your work motivation"

New Territories Vimeo Channel: https://vimeo.com/newterritories
Part 1: https://vimeo.com/227721142

What do you think will happen in the future of the Japanese indie gaming scene?

Actually, i’ve been asked this question many times and i’ll probably give the same answer. I still think it’s necessary for Japanese indies to develop relations with developers from other countries and especially english-speaking countries. Japan is a small market, it’s really very important to get help from overseas in terms of marketing, word of mouth, network, information and many other aspects. Also, i hope that they’ll be more useful ressources online like a Japanese version of Vlambeer’s toolkit :
http://www.vlambeer.com/toolkit/

What is your goal/direction in the future that you want to pursue.

For the moment, I’m focusing on working on « toco toco » and the other programs and I hope I’ll be able to speak about my new projects soon, which are still centered about Japanese culture.

Scenario

The Japanese video game industry lead the world in creativity and innovation from the 1980's to the mid-2000's, but in recent years Japanese studios had been unable to keep up with advancements in technology, and many have shifted focus away from risky projects and unique gaming experiences.

All around the world, many players long to play games like those that inspired and excited them in their childhood.

For industry veterans and young talents who aspire to the pursuit of originality and creative freedom, going independent is the answer.

Japan has a history of independent creators building lively communities, even within industries where large media companies rule. Comic Market, and events like it attract more than 1 million attendees yearly.

For the last several years, the Japanese game industry has begun to recognize the power of independent creators and the momentum of the fledgling scene, and in 2013, the Tokyo Game Show created a pavilion to feature indie creators for the first time in its history.

Will this be the beginning of a new movement? With this question, we began our two-year journey through Japan’s Indie scene. Branching Paths is a mosaic of the developers, publishers and people who gravitate to indie games in Japan.

Featuring in order of appearance:

Ojiro Fumoto (Moppin)
Yoshiro Kimura (Onion Games)
Katsuhiko Hayashi (Weekly Famitsu)
Hiroki Omae (Unity)
Takumi Naramura (Nigoro)
Takayuki Yanagihara aka. Nanmo (FPSA)
Nozomu Ezaki (Digital Game Expo)
Makoto Goto (Bishamon)
Takashi Nakamura (Kanagawa Institute of Technology)
Kaoru Yasuda (Comic Market)
Hirotaka Yoshida (Tora no ana)
Riki Iwasaki aka. RIKI (RIKI)
ZUN (Shanghai Alice)
Keika Hanada (Novectacle)
Devine Lu Linvega aka. Aliceffekt (100 rabbits)
Rekka Bell (100 rabbits)
Joseph White (Lexaloffle)
Nayan Ramachandran (Playism)
Josh Weatherford (formerly of Playism)
Kazuyuki Kurashima (Onion Games)
Tom Ikeda (Onion Games)
Takayuki Ebihara (Nigoro)
Horyu Samejima (Nigoro)
Masahiro Onoguchi (Quad Arrow)
James Mielke (Bit Summit)
Dylan Cuthbert (Q-Games)
Baiyon (PixelJunk™ Eden)
Lucas Pope (3909LLC)
Shunji Mizutani (Playism)
Toru Kawakatsu (Petit Depotto)
Keiji Inafune (Comcept)
Koji Igarashi aka. IGA (Artplay)
Akinari Ito (Sony Computer Interactive)
Daisuke Watanabe (Yakan Hiko)
Hisanori Hiraoka (Yakan Hiko)
William Chyr (William Chyr Studio)
Thomas Lilja (Friend & Foe)
Momo Murakami (nemk)
Alvin Phu (Dot Warrior Games)
Alexander De Giorgio (IPC)
Isao Murayama (Microsoft Japan)
Shoji Hibino (Astral Gate)
Nal (Edelweiss)
Jake Kazdal (17-bit)
Yuichiro Kitao (Gemdrops)
Chris Kohler (Wired)
Rio Tani (Gamespark)

BRANCHING PATHS - A journey in Japan's independent game scene

More to come soon

For any information, please contact us at info@branchingpaths.jp