The Little Guy

The Little Guy
Doujin A Go Go, Baby!

John Szczepaniak | 9 May 2006 12:02
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Many turn to indie games for an alternative to what is found on the shelves of the average games store.

If your commercial tastes lean toward import games, Japan's doujin games (doujin soft) scene is likely to be the focus for any indie engagements. Doujin soft to indie, is very loosely what Manga is to graphic novels.

For newcomers to the doujin world, though, the astounding amount of free titles available (not to mention the complication of commercially sold doujin soft), often coupled with pages of incomprehensible Japanese text, can prove very confusing and ultimately alienating. English language websites like Insert Credit and Canned Dogs help matters to an extent by reporting on big events that occur and pointing people in the direction of particular highlights. This increased English coverage, along with doujin games catering to now-ignored genres, has resulted in growing appreciation beyond the standard niche groups of intensely dedicated followers.

There is so much information, that this brief feature can only hope to be an introduction for the uninitiated. And despite being a huge fan, I am by no means an expert. So, allied with a fluent translator, I tracked down France's residing doujin expert, Mr. Roni, who is also the head of leading online resource Doujinaroni. He was eager to speak of things, including the perceived East and West dichotomy. "The principle difference is the market and public's demand. In the West, the indie scene isn't really followed by the public, whereas in Japan there are many fans of the scene, so the games can be sold and distributed in specialized shops, not only online. Over there, it's a true alternative to mainstream. Another major difference is, of course, the unique Japanese influence; whether it be in the style or [artistic] form, or in regard to the dynamics of the gameplay."

But he was also very quick to address the West's occasionally perverse fanaticism for a Japanese auteur. "In our countries (U.S.A., France, etc.) there is sometimes a 'mystification' of the Japanese doujin developers. Sometimes, when I read articles about the doujin scene, I want to say, 'Hey man, get back to Earth, doujin games are not made by Shaolin monks who live on Mount Fuji!'" I assure him of my wish to remain focused on the facts; the truth is, such creators range from bureaucrats to students mostly working in their free time. Many have wives and kids and don't even concentrate much on the scene beyond their own creations; like Takase, the one-man-team behind Arm Joe. Some are even professionals in the games industry, such as certain individuals from Capcom who cannot be named. According to Mr. Roni, only a few live a fully "doujin lifestyle" encompassing everything they do.

He also elaborated on the numbers involved in development. "It can be done by one person alone, who is in charge of everything from programming to graphics and music (like Omega with Every Extend, or Kenta Cho). But a Doujin game can also be developed by an enormous team of people, like Melty Blood or Eternal Fighter Zero. For a game like EFZ, there are multiple graphics people, animators... In the end, there's no point hiding it: [These guys] aren't there to have fun, they want the pro status. We can't really [describe them as] amateur developers. They were [amateurs] many years ago, but today, they're the best on the scene. With Melty Blood, you can clearly see it's professional work. Neither SNK nor Capcom could have done better." And with pro status comes greater exposure for doujin games which are commercially sold. The Melty Blood PC CD-ROM will set you back 3000 Yen ($25). Fighting fans regard it as the best of the genre on Windows. It was so popular, an update was ported to the arcades, and there are rumors of an imminent official PS2 port.

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