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Tokyo Game Show

Wednesday, September 21, 2005
I'm back from an epic adventure in Tokyo, a three day grueling marathon of overnight buses, video games, and not showering. In the end, was it worth it? Even with the medical side effects?

Yes.

I went down to Fukuyama on Saturday afternoon, planning to meet up with my two JET traveling partners. They weren't getting into the city until 7 in the evening so I met up with Liz, another JET who happened to be in Fukuyama that day. Fukuyama is the second biggest city in Hiroshima prefecture, so it was pretty surprising when we ran into a JET and her boyfriend, also in Fukuyama for a day. We went out for a drink at a bar they knew, then out to dinner at a Thai place. It was really nice to be around a lot of people, to smell a city, to have more than two restaurants to choose from, and to go to a bar where the average is below 45. I felt like I was a part of a little JET community spread across Japan, like no matter where I went I would probably be able to find someone who knew where the cool bar was, who knew their way around. A good feeling.


Mihara station, on the way to Fukuyama.

I met up with my companions after dinner, and we boarded the Etoile Seto bus to Tokyo. The bus was fiendishly hard to photograph, so you'll just have to imagine it. A huge coach bus, tall enough that there was a staircase down to the bathroom. Three seats across, with an aisle between each seat, and seats that recline way back. In front of you, where you would stick your feet under the seat in front of you, there was a door that opened a carpeted compartment that went way under the seat in front of you, so that fully reclined and extended, you were almost laid flat, at an angle. The bus pulls away from the station at 9pm, and after about 20 minutes they ask you to please close all the curtains, one of the drivers closes curtains across the front and back, and then they turn off the lights.

Once all the lights are off, the bus is pitch black. Cracks in the curtains let in little slivers of light and color, but it's silent and dark and much like being on a pitch black airplane. As I fell asleep, I periodically pushed the curtain open to see what was going on outside. There was a full moon right out of my window, and silvery mountains were slipping by, every time I looked it was the same: the moon shining on gray mountains and hills, no towns or lights that I could see from the bus. When I closed the curtain and started falling asleep I liked the idea of these mountains going by in the night, as we hurtled towards Tokyo.

We got in at about quarter past six and started making our way to Makuhari Messe - the Nippon Convention Center, which is misleadingly outside of Tokyo, in Chiba prefecture. About an hour and a half on two trains put us at the convention center. We started following the stream of people (a lot with small rolling suitcases which I later found out carried costumes for cosplay). We rounded a bend and in front of me was a sign I had been seeing on gaming news websites and blogs, but I hadn't really expected to see myself.



We got our international visitor discount tickets and got on line. This line was no joke. The convention center was expecting about 60,000 visitors on Sunday, and it looked like they could have held that number in the lines outside. We walked around the entire convention center complex, then finally hit the end of the line. The doors were going to open in a half hour, and already the line stretched as far as I could see.



People gathered in groups playing their Nintendo DSs wirelessly, PSPs were everywhere, people who had neither PSP nor DS were taking pictures with their phones, frantically texting, or leafing through the guide that came with the tickets. At 10, the doors opened.

There's no real way to describe the first thing you see, or feel or hear as you walk in. You walk past stacks of free magazines and booklets, as you grab them there are press photographers shooting the lines of people grabbing magazines. You turn into the main hall and suddenly there's a wave of noise as you hear every TV at full volume, every speaker blasting, giant screens flash and blink and you try to get your bearings.



We all split up, agreeing to meet back at the entrance for lunch. As I made my way across the main hall, people started handing me things. Magazines, CDs, DVDs, posters, and then I realized why people were carrying big shopping bags around. I saw a lot of people with Xbox 360 (the new Xbox) bags, so I angled over to the enormous Microsoft booth. Booth? It was more like a complex, but in the lingo, it is the Microsoft booth. Either way, I headed over there. I got a giant shopping bag (which was subsequently mostly destroyed on the way home) and I started putting the "swag" I was getting into my "swag bag." Over on the far side of the Microsoft booth, I found something pretty amazing.



Microsoft had set up about six little living rooms, each with a home theater setup, an Xbox 360, a tech guy and a girl in skimpy Xbox outfit, and room for one or two people. You got on line, then a girl would come get you when it was your turn, she would explain how to play, she would sit next to you on the couch, and then politely give you a present and usher you out when your ten minutes were up. It was painfully awkward looking, with some of these girls looking so bored, the guys playing the games paying attention only to the new system, and it all repeating all day. Of course, I did it, and it was really strange and slightly awkward.




The Xbox 360.

The Xbox 360 was the only "next-gen" system available to play on the show floor, and while I applaud Microsoft for getting their system and games out there, I have to say I was very disappointed with most of the games. All three driving games I played were terrible, the action games were not much better, and except for Chrome Hounds and Dead Rising (Brendon, this game is made for you) the system was something of a disappointment.

Sony had about a third of the main hall, the Tokyo Game Show is basically Sony's home turf, so no big surprises there. They had huge sections for the PSP, the PS2, and the PS3.


People waiting on line to play PS2 games. Shadow of the Colossus (in the front) was running with very poor framerates, I hope it's not indicative of the final game.


The new white PS2.


The Playstation 3. There's a little tag next to the controller that says "Conceptual Design" and I hope it's true, because when you see that banana of a controller in person, it looks awkward, uncomfortable, and those two analog sticks are about the size of big pencil erasers. The whole thing is tiny and looks bad. At least the Xbox controller hasn't changed much since last time.


A closeup of the stupid, stupid controller.


The main avenue between Sony's area and the rest of the world.


I post this image only because on examining it after got home, I realized there were about 30 TVs in this one picture. Now imagine them all at maximum volume. Now imagine 60,000 people shouting to be heard over said TVs, now imagine a couple live concerts and game shows.

Now I have a couple of special photos, going out to some special boys.


That's for you, Brendon. As requested.


And this one is for you, Ross.

About these ladies. Almost every booth had "Booth Babes" - models and actresses who are paid to dress up in ridiculous outfits and promote things they could care less about. More strange are the crowds of photographers who surround these girls, taking hundreds of pictures. Why? I don't know.




(Furry fans, you are welcome)


Then there is this scary looking lady who is promoting a PSP add-on for Metal Gear Acid 2. Apparently the game will feature "Solid Eye" technology, which just means some 3d effects. The problem is that in order for the effect to work, you need to strap a contraption to your PSP, then hold the whole thing up to your face like a pair of binoculars. I think a portable system stops being portable when you have to strap it to your face.

The other approach is simply to hire a band of cute Asian girls to perform a live show in the middle of everything, just so that you can attract people with sheer volume.






They were actually good, playing live techno with a drum set, a xylophone, an electric cello and electric violin. I have no idea what games they were promoting, but at least I went to their booth.


I post this picture only because as I aimed my camera a desperate looking Japanese man in some sort of game costume ran in front of me and threw up his "No Photos" sign. You can see it there, being thrown. In the whole show, almost every booth had a no photos policy. When you started taking photos, you could usually get five or six shots off and then someone would politely ask you to stop, or they throw a sign at you. Either way, it was strange for a giant PR event. The Playstation theaters had ladies with signs on poles walking back and forth with a symbol for no pictures, no video, no cell phone pictures.

One of the really nice things about TGS was seeing the games that will never come out in the states, no matter what their success in Japan is.


This is one of those games. It is a simulation of driving a train through Tokyo's incredibly complex rail system, you can see the speed on the bottom left, with your target speed, distance to signal posts, on the right you see distance to signal lights, on the top left time and distance to station, and how far off schedule you are. My favorite part about this game is that it's for the PSP, so now you can drive your train around Tokyo while you ride the trains around Tokyo. Genius.


Ah Sega. They put on a decent show, with a really funny closing slideshow. First, there was this - a plain slideshow, with bullet points and flashy backgrounds, but Sega decided they needed more, so they put two girls in skimpy outfits on the stage, and they asked those girls to strike a pose for every bullet point.

As the crowd's excitement reached fever pitch because these girls' poses were so awesome, they brought out two taiko drummers and threw up the last slide.


In case you were having trouble reading that, Sega is the future because of:
  • Spatial Atmosphere
  • Heaviness
  • Degree of Shock
  • Nervousness
  • Euphoria
  • Sensuality
  • Sizzling Feeling
  • Realistic Sensation
  • Galloping Feeling
  • Refreshingness
What on earth does that even mean?


Some overviews of the different halls.




This is the space between the two main halls. This is where people went for a break from the crowds (ha) and for the cosplay fashion shows.



By the end of the day I was completely drained, and I had accumulated a pretty good bag of swag. This is just some highlights, I haven't even had a chance to look at it all yet.



Last time I said I would try to photograph what I've been eating. Food is an elusive subject, especially when you're eating it, but here is a meal in a Tokyo restaurant after the show. It's pretty standard non-sushi Japanese food, the sort of stuff you can expect to find in a "regular" restaurant.


We started off with an order of Edamame, and they give you a bowl of tofu with cabbage and sauce as a free starter (no free bread here, just tofu).


Then we ordered the spicy tofu. They tried to warn us that it was really spicy (It wasn't) but we survived. Also, worth mentioning that food in Japanese restaurants comes out bit by bit, and it's often expected that you will keep ordering through the meal.


What passes for pizza in Japan. Japanese people love it, and if you gave them a real pizza they probably wouldn't like it. Japanese pizza has a tiny bit of cheese, a thin crunchy crust, and whatever they think to put on it. This one had peppers, zucchini, some sort of fish, mustard, and some greens. Yum. Japanese people eat pizza with chopsticks.


File this under "try something new every day" when you see "Camembert Potato" spelled out phonetically on a Japanese menu, you order it to see what it is. It turns out that it is basically a giant fried potato croquette with cheese in the middle. Not bad.


And the ever present staple of meat on a stick. This is probably the most common food in Japan, you can get many varieties of chicken (in this meal, we had plain old chicken, chicken skin, and those dark chunks on the plate were listed as "chicken gristle" and were delicious, even if I have no idea what part of the chicken they are. The other two are pork rib.

And that's it. From the restaurant we got on the bus, I got back to Fukuyama at 5:45, caught the first train back to Takehara, the second Ferry to the island, and then scootered home. I had a scare yesterday that my leg was infected and would soon need to be amputated, but today I went to the doctor and he told me that swelling was normal for the lower leg due to the heavy trauma my shin suffered, and that I was probably not going to need amputation. I'm back at school teaching, and going on with my life.

Actually, one thing I forgot. On the nigh bus, leaving Tokyo, as I watched the neon signs and crowds of people out the window, I had a familiar feeling. I felt just like I did when I was still in school, after an art bus trip to the city. I'd revel in the noise and bustle and craziness of home, and when I got in that bus to go back home, I was leaving those crowds and those smells and I was going back to peaceful home, but it was never that simple. I'm happy here on Osakikamijima, but that doesn't mean I don't miss the city.