Soft Vendor TAKERU: The world’s first App Store

Soft Vendor TAKERU was the world’s first PC software vendor machine developed by Brother Industries, Ltd. In 1986. It is a page in the Japanese PC history books. It also made a big contribution to Japanese early indie games. But there are few web pages which describe TAKERU. Today I’m writing about this revolutionary machine.

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As its name suggests, Soft Vendor TAKERU was a software vendor machine launched 30 years ago. It has a touch-paneled display to order software. I’m explaining how I bought software from TAKERU. At first, I choose PC system (in that time, there was no Windows and no Mac, but many kinds of PC systems there; PC-98, PC-88, MSX, X68000, etc.) and PC software which I wanted to buy. I was X68000 owner, and my model had 5-inch floppy disk drives, so I choose “X68000” and “5-inch.” on the touched-panel.

Next, I needed to insert cash to pay for it. Credit cards were unacceptable, and I didn’t have it because I was a kid.

After payment, the TAKERU gave me some blank floppy disks. I received the disks from a disk outlet and inserted them into an embedded floppy disk drive on the left side. It means TAKERU didn’t have something like auto disk changer. (Such a equipment was so expensive!)

And then TAKERU started receiving software data from the server via a telephone network, formatting the disk and writing data into the disk. In general, PC software consisted of many floppy disks, so I needed to repeat it several times.

How was manual? TAKERU had a laser printer in its body (under the monitor) and printed out manuals on the fly. The printer could print only text. That was simple.

Finally, a box outlet gave me a box to contain the floppy disks and the manual with label seals. I needed to write down the title of software on the labels myself and stuck them on the floppy disks and the box.

A lot of PC shop located TAKERU. It was very convenient for me. 30 years ago, buying PC software/games was tough, especially for minor PC system users. PC-9801 or PC-8801 was major PC system in Japan. PC shops have a lot of software for PC-9801 and 8801. But I was MSX and X68000 users. These PC systems were good for gaming and learning game programming, but minor. However, TAKERU provided MSX games and X68000 games. It made me happy.

TAKERU made a big contribution to Japanese early indie game developers. TAKERU dealt in indie game developers! It needs following steps. Indie developers, Japanese called them Do-Jin (同人) game developers, sent a copy of their game with the manual to Brother Industries, Ltd. They checked the quality of games and added their catalog if the quality was not bad. Developers relieved 70% of sales revenue. That’s interesting. The rate is the same as AppStore!

I loved TAKERU, as a gamer and then a developer. Until I met TAKERU, PC magazines were the only way to publish my game. I had sent the source code of my game to a magazine, and the magazine listed my source code on the magazine. TAKERU changed everything! I got to deal with binary data directly(*). It means I draw graphics, made music and sound and then saved them as binary data on a floppy disk to load later.

(*) In a case of sending the source code to a magazine, I needed to serialize data and embedded them in the source code or make data on runtime like a kind of procedural technology.

By TAKERU, I could earn money from my game. It made me feel confident. This confidence was an illusion, but I left the university and went to Tokyo to find a job in the entertainment industry.

TAKERU stopped all of their services by 1997. The business of TAKERU was in the red, but Brother Industries, Ltd. reused their infrastructure and technologies for JOYSOUND, which is the most popular KARAOKE system in Japan. It has been supporting our entertainment life.

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Kings Glaive Final Fantasy XV

I watched a movie, Kings Glaive Final Fantasy XV, last weekend. Have you heard of this title? This film is a computer-animated film made in Japan. The story and the world is based on Final Fantasy XV (FFXV) which is the latest title in the Final Fantasy franchise which is one of the most popular video game franchises in Japan. Kings Glaive is the 3rd film of the franchise.


When Square Enix Co, Ltd. announced the film, I was not interested in that. Their first Final Fantasy film, The Spirits Within (IMDb), was notorious for the quality. The second film, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (IMDb), was not bad, but it required the experience of playing Final Fantasy VII.

To be honest, I was biased against recently Final Fantasy franchise. Early titles of the franchise was a pretty good fantasy RPG, but recently titles introduced Sci-Fi and changed the design concept for teenagers. Heroes look like a J-pop or K-pop singer, not a warrior or magicians. They speak difficult words, and their motivation is a little difficult to sympathize.

But my friends who watched Kings Glaive praised the film. And my Twitter timeline was filled with positive comments about the film. So I changed my mind and decided to try watching it.

As a result, Kings Glaive was purely one of incredible fantasy action films. The computer-animation quality was sophisticated. I can’t believe this computer-animated film is made in Japan. The film is located as a prequel of FFXV, but the film didn’t require the knowledge of Final Fantasy. The story of the film ends up in the film. The hero in the film was middle age. His motivation was understandable and sympathizable. He sweat, injured and struggled like other action films’ heroes. Unfortunately, the official trailer doesn’t tell it to you.

Unbelievably, the film was made as one of the FFXV advertisement campaign. Square Enix need to boost the exposure of FFXV until its release day because they spent about ten years to build this latest game and will launch it at the end of September. But I feel that the film was not limited by the advertisement campaign.

Maybe Kings Glaive will be available in your country as a retail disk or stream (maybe PSN). You should watch it, even if the first Final Fantasy film and the second one had let you down, or even if you are not interested in the Final Fantasy franchise.

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I wrote a Unreal Engine 4 book

A year ago I published Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) book in Japan. The title was “Unreal Engine 4 De Kiwameru Game Kaihatsu” (Unreal Engine 4 で極めるゲーム開発”). The direct translation of that might be “Game Development Master Course with UE4.”

UE4Book_Jacket

Overview

The book covers both the Western game development process and practice of simple 3D action game development. The process described is based on Epic Games’ one and used by my previous UE game project. The practice of game development goes through this process.

This book is intended to serve as the text for a boot camp in Unreal Engine 4 game projects. It can also be used by students, amateur game developers, hobbyists, self-taught game developers alike. In Japan, some game colleges and some game courses in universities adopted the book as a textbook.

The readers shouldn’t be familiar with programming because the book doesn’t require C++. The game development in the book uses only Blueprint, which is a visual script language in UE4. If Blueprint is hard for a reader, s/he can skip chapters handling Blueprint. Every chapter shows Disciplines Icons indicating what discipline should read the chapter. Even engineers should read the book to understand who works on what in UE4 game development.

FIRST PART “BEGINNING”

  • The first part of the book explains game industry disciplines and an effective game development process (Western style) and how to operate Unreal Engine 4. If the reader had only an experience of Japanese game development process, which is notorious for its ineffective, s/he can renew what an effective process is.
  • The book tries to go through a real game development process. But the book sometimes had to put easier/essential chapters before harder/application ones. So chapter 3 shows a difference between a real process and book’s one.

SECOND PART “PROTOTYPING”

  • The second part start with a graybox methodology. Graybox means a draft level design consisted of simple meshes; boxes, sphere, pre-designed stair meshes and so on. Gray-box methodology makes level designing rapid and iterative. (Sometimes Graybox is called as Whitebox.) UE4 supports BSP features for a gray-box. The readers learn how to use BSP and design their first level.
  • Like this, the readers are supposed to learn knowledge and then operate UE4 to implement it on their game in all chapters.
  • After designing a gray-boxed level, the readers import game assets from downloadable source assets, set up the assets, convert grayboxes to invisible collisions and put static meshes within the collisions for the final version. (Meshing shortly after grayboxing is not right way, but chapter 3 and text warn this disorder as I said.)
  • The book is going into a Blueprint part. Blueprint is a visual script language for game designers and artists. The readers try to implement small game mechanics with Blueprint because a real game development process starts from prototyping phase. My book recommends that the readers prepare difference test levels for difference mechanics. They are learning various UE4 features (trigger, event, physics, collision, AI and so on) and hooking up them to her/his game with Blueprint.

THIRD PART “PREPRODUCTION & PRODUCTION”

  • By the end of the book, the readers add contents on their game having fixed level design and fixed game mechanics and polish the contents. They work on animations, materials, lighting, VFX and SFX.

RICH APPENDICES

  • The readers can download source assets for a practice of importing, projects for each chapter and final project data.
  • Video tutorials replay all operation steps described in the book.
  • Six Appendix PDFs have totally over 160 pages and the same quality as the book. The PDFs handle more deeply topics; Character Movement, Construction Script, Camera, UI and Build. Like the book, the readers can learn knowledge and operations and then integrate them into their sample game.
  • (In a fact, these PDFs were written for the books. But the publisher didn’t have much paper to print them, so they and I decided to serve them as PDF.)

RECEPTION

  • Amazon.co.jp Review 4.4 (14 reviews)
  • When the 3rd impression of the book published, it got official text authorized by Epic Games Japan, a Japanese branch of UE4 developer.
  • Some game schools and game courses in universities use the book as a textbook.
  • It had been translated into the Korean language and published in South Korea.

THANKS

A structure of the book follows “Game Development with Unity.” It’s a good book written by Michel Menard and translated into Japanese in 2011 by my previous colleagues and me. Good points of her book are to teach readers correct step to developing a game. I respected the concept of her book, so I polished her ideas and wrote my book.

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OSAKA WHEEL: The heightest Ferries wheel in Japan

I went to Expo’70 Commemorative Park and rode in the Ferris wheel last weekend. Its name is OSAKA WHEEL. The Ferris wheel is 123m tall and the height Ferris wheel in Japan.


The ticket costs 1,000 yen (about $9.5) per seat. The fast pass costs more 500 yen. The Ferris wheel has two VIP gondolas that costs 8,000 yen for a gondola that has eight seats. It means that a VIP ticket is to rent a gondola entirely. It sounds useful to ride in a gondola without other groups. But unless the Ferris wheel is not crowded, one gondola is assigned to one group, so VIP ticket should be used for anniversary or propose.

OSAKA WHEEL was very fun but scary a little because the floor of the gondola was see-through!

The photo can’t tell you real fear. Next time I will use my stereoscopic camera.

OSAKA WHEEL is located in Lalaport Expo City that is a large shopping mall. I wrote about 4DX theater before. The 4DX theater is located there, too. There Expo’70 Commemorative Park is a good site for sightseeing because there are both of commemorative buildings and modern buildings.

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Scanning books to downsize

I’m scanning my books to turn them into PDF recently, because I want to downsize.

I moved from Yokohama to Osaka about 3 months ago, giving me the chance to downsize. I discarded many things but my books, because I want to keep them to read again.

However, I will move to the U.S. or Canada eventually. It means I have to discard these books some day. So I decided to scan all my books. Japanese people call this activity “Jisui.” It originally means “cook for my self”. But the internet slang vesion of Jisui means to scan a book to create an ebook by onself.

A couple of years ago, there was ebook readers in Japan, but without ebooks. (e.g.When kindle was released in Japan, Amazon Japan stocked a few ebooks.) I guess this is the reason why Japanese people have Jisui habit.

How do you scan a book?

At first, a document scanner is required. ScanSnap made by Fujitsu is popular for scanning books.

Next, books that I want to scan have to be cut out to pieces because the document scanner can scan only per page. Some people own a big cutting unit to do it themselves but I don’t. So I go to Kinko’s ask to cut out my book. They offer the service to cut out books. 1cm thickness costs 100 yen. It’s reasonable.


Kinko’s is a little far from home. It’s the only problem. (Kinko’s in the U.S. was renamed FedEx Office, but Kinko’s in Japan keeps its name.)

After scanning books, I discard pieces of the books on the collection day for used paper. These papers will be recycled. “Scanning books and discarding the original” might be illegal. But I have no choice.

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The common point between “The Flash” and “Ultraman Leo”

I’m watching “The Flash” on Hulu recently. It’s really fun. The Flash is based on DC Comics character “Barry Allen / Flash”, but I haven’t seen it. This streaming show is my first “Flash” experience.

I cannot believe that this is TV series. It shows good script, amazing actions and rich VFX like a movie! Everything is completely different from Japanese TV show.

Many episodes of The Flash have the following common sequence. I love it.

  1. A villiain starts criminal activities. The Flash saves citizens and policemen from the villiain.
  2. The Flash is defeated by Villain and escapes fast.
  3. The defeat sometimes depresses him. So his colleagues (who are a scientist in Star Lab) persuade him to fight again.
  4. The colleagues try to find some solutions based on science or physics to defeat the villiain. Some of the solutions require training to use.
  5. The Flash fights the villain again and defeats him/her.

That’s really fun but a little funny. Barry Allen sometimes looks pity. For example, I’ve just finished watching Episode 6. In this episode, he has been defeated 6 times.

At first, he was defeated by the villain who can transform his skin to iron. His arm was broken in the fight. His colleague built a training robot to strengthen him, but the robot knocked him down and made his shoulders out of joint. After that, he was punched by a suspected person and knocked down. And then he fought the villain again and was defeated again.

The episode has two flashback scenes when he was a kid. In the first flashback scene, he punched by his classmate and knocked down. In the second one, he was boxing training with his sister. But she dodged his all punch, hit his body many times and knocked him down.

Finally, The Flash got the knowledge and defeat the villiain.

When I watch The Flash, I remember Japanese old TV show “Ultraman Leo”. It has the same sequence; a hero is defeated at once and then train to obtain a new skill or knowledge. Ultraman is a famous hero in Japan, very strong and fight to protect human, but Leo was very weak.

Like The Flash, Leo was defeated by a villain at once. And then, his mentor gave him irrational special training to strengthen him. For example, his mentor tried to charge-attack him with the jeep. Leo dodged the jeep and shouted, “Stop! Please, stop!” but his mentor shouted, “Don’t dodge!”

I think he should dodge.

This crazy episode is known as “Jeep Special Training.” You can watch it here:

After the training, Leo obtained a new skill to defeat Villain.

Anyway, The Flash is fun, cool and a little funny. I’m really enjoying this. I started watching it with English voice and no subtitle for learning English, but now I’m addicted to The Flash. Watching The Flahs is a part of my study and my fun.

What TV program do you like? What do you recommend?

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Atami: Traditional Japanese Resort Town

I went to Atami after visited Hiratsuka. Do you know AtamiAtami has been known as resort town. It’s famous for hot springs, sight seeing, marine sports and candidate for casino. (Atami covet Casino. And Japanese government considered to permit it.)

Hakone, another famous resort town, is near by Atami. My impression is that Atami is marine resort town but Hakone is mountain resort town. Both of them is a great resort and popular for visitors, but  Atami may be easier to access than Hakone, because Japanese high speed railway Shinkansen stops on Atami station.

If you have a plan to visit Atami, I can advise hotels for you. You can find many hotels in Atami. But these hotels are a little expensive. So I recommend that you’re looking for a hotel south of Atami. Atami is located at the northern end of Izu Peninsula. In fact, Izu Peninsula (not only Atami) is famous for hot springs. You can move to other towns and find reasonable hotels and interesting sites.

In my journey, I went south among Ito line which connects from Atami to Ito. There are 4 stations between Atami station and Ito station. Each stations (Nagahama, Ajiro and Usami) are in each small resort towns. My destination was Ito, that is a middle scale resort town. There are many reasonable hotels, a small shopping town and a shopping mall facing the ocean.

By the way, I found a ruined hotel; Tower Hotel Shin-Matsuya. The ruins of a hotel was nearby a shrine in deep forest. It’s scary combination! (Shirne is divine site, but sometimes scary site for Japanese.) But it is a little attractive. I wanted to know the detail of this hotel and googled it but couldn’t know well the detail. Anyway this hotel was stand out in the town. When I opened the window in a hotel I checked in, the only building I could see was this hotel. The ruins of a hotel might be very reasonable but you can’t go in.


Stop talking about the ruins of a hotel. I’d like to talk about dinner. The hotel I checked in has good hot springs and serve beautiful dinner.

Next day I was tired to walk, so I checked in a “daily use” hotel. I rested there and enjoyed hot springs again. Daily use is offered by some hotels having empty room and doesn’t allow to stay a night, but is reasonable price. Some of offers serve special lunch or dinner.

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