Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tokyo Game Show 2007 - Overall Experience and Impressions

I'm a little late with this, and I'd originally planned on writing a bit more about the Tokyo Game Show (it was the main reason we went to Japan at this time, after all), but I'm going to close out my "coverage" of this year's show with an overview post giving some general impressions and views of the show floor.

First, if you haven't already, you might want to read my 7-year belated show report from TGS 2000. Then remember that I also have reports from this year about the campaign girls and the line wait - yes, the line is worthy of its own post!

For those who have never been to the show, a short primer is in order. The Tokyo Game Show is not actually held in Tokyo - it's held in Makuhari, itself a city of 800,000 people just a bit further down Tokyo Bay. It's a fairly large but otherwise quiet city - sort of the San Jose, CA of Japan. For some reason that I'm not aware of, it was chosen as the home to the Tokyo area's largest (though not only) convention center, a truly mammoth complex known as the Makuhari Messe. A sort of virtual city of hotels and shopping centers has now sprung up around the convention center and the neighboring Chiba Marine Stadium, home of the Chiba Lotte Marines baseball team and also host to various major concerts and other events.

The show itself used to be twice yearly, but the attendance levels weren't high enough to justify that. Around 5 or so years ago, the organizers cut the show to once a year. Since then, attendance has risen pretty dramatically.

It's a two day event, with now two extra days for the press. TGS is and always has been a show for the public - the press days were instituted only after the media complained that they couldn't cover the games properly having to compete with the public for play time. So the CESA (the event's organizers) initially opened the doors a day early for the press - but when I did this seven years ago (hard to believe it's been that long), it literally was like walking into a building still under construction. There's no actual show, and half the booths were still being built. These days it may be different, but still, the show proper does not actually begin until the public days. That's when all the game stations are turned on, all the events are scheduled and things really start hopping.

We got to the show at around 9:45 on Saturday and made our way into the convention center right around 10AM. By that point, there were probably already about 60,000 people inside, and we decided to just take a few minutes to survey the floor. For some reason, the table nearest us when we walked in was not stocked with the official TGS info guide, so we were sort of walking around blindly for a while. Luckily, I did at least remember the layout of the convention center, so I knew basically where I was going - just not the location of any of the actual booths I wanted to visit.

This is 1/3 of the Tokyo Game Show

We wandered through halls 1-9 - the entire building - and then just decided to have something to eat before the little cafe corner got too crowded. By then, it was around 11AM and we'd done exactly nothing and played exactly no games. I think we were both feeling a little overwhelmed already.

We wandered back through, passing a huge line at the Squaresoft merchandise booth (this was a theme of the show; massive lines for god-even-knows-what) and then huge and still-growing lines for all the games I wanted to play - NiGHTS for the Wii, basically any Squaresoft game, Metal Gear Solid 4, etc. We did stop on the outer edge of the Sony booth to play some Heavenly Sword - basically the only game Sony had that wasn't jam packed with people. We took most of our campaign girl photos on this pass through the convention center before ending up back at hall #1. We sat down, already worn out and sweaty, but still having played no games. My wife finally asked a woman sitting near us where she had gotten her floor guidebook, and she just gave hers to us. Gotta love that about Japan - this is not uncommon there.

I read through the guide and mapped out some games I specifically wanted to play - including the new Bangai-O for the Nintendo DS, several PS3 games in the Sony booth, and another try for NiGHTS. We first headed over to the D3 Publishing booth for Bangai-O, where I managed to get some playtime without really any wait at all. Not a big surprise, I guess - this is a niche shooter, but from one of my favorite developers (Treasure), and a sequel to one of my favorite Dreamcast games. It seemed fun, but I couldn't get much of a sense of it from the small amount of time I had. I remember the Dreamcast game being similar - it's not until the later levels that it starts getting into some mindblowing destructive action.

Along the way to the Sony booth, I noticed Namco-Bandai was showing both a new Space Invaders game (the annoyingly titled Space Invaders "Extreme") and a new Arkanoid for the DS. There didn't seem to be much of a wait, so I got in line for Space Invaders. It turned out to be really fun! There have been numerous updates to the original Space Invaders over the years, so it's not as if it was an entirely new experience, but there were a lot more features and just a lot more going on in this new game than any other Space Invaders I've played - and it makes good use of the system's dual screens. For completing a level, I won a prize that turned out to be some sort of cheap Space Invaders tapestry.

We finally made our way to the Sony booth and literally got stuck in a foot traffic jam. The booth was packed - it couldn't have been any more full, literally. Elbow to elbow people. We couldn't even tell where the lines for the games ended. It took us about 15 minutes just to make it from one side of the booth to the other, and I didn't even try getting in line for any of the games. My wife told me later that she was actually getting scared she was going to pass out. It was pretty ridiculous.

The Sony booth
We got the hell out of there and then took stock of the situation. By this time, it was around 1:15 and things seemed only to be getting worse. I had no confidence that I was going to be able to try any of the games I wanted to try, and there weren't all that many I wanted to try anyway. My wife actually looked sick, and I wasn't feeling all that well either - a combination of dehydration, feeling dirty from the sweat, the moist, stagnant air and noise inside the convention center, and the crowds. We decided to just take a few more general photos and then go. And when we did, it felt like being liberated from some sort of sadistic prison.

Some overall impressions:

* TGS is much, much more crowded than it used to be. In 2000, I went on both the press and public days - neither were anything like what I experienced this year. Something's going to need to be done about this if this show wants to continue expanding. Maybe add another public day - even a weekday. That way, people who really want to avoid the crowds can just take a day off from work. Either that, or rent out the second convention hall building and expand physically. There is just not enough room for this show as it exists now, even in the massive main hall.

* The most crowded booths were Sony, Squaresoft and Sega.

Level 5 also had a large line. Microsoft's booth was almost completely empty when we first arrived (other booths were already full), but the spillover from the other booths filled it up eventually. It seemed like a reluctant crowd in their booth, though - like they just had nowhere else to go. It's no secret that the Xbox 360 has not been doing well in Japan, and that was reflected at their booth.

* Every large exhibitor had some sort of stage show this year. In 2000, this was the exception, but it was a big hit for the exhibitors that did it and now everybody does something similar. Most of them are just dumb little song-and-dance routines by the campaign girls, but a few are larger productions.

In addition to the publisher-sponsored shows, there were larger shows too - one of them by idol group AKB48, whose main claim to fame is that they represent the Akihabara otaku contingent. Perfect for a game show. We missed that - I actually kinda wanted to see it, just for the novelty factor - but we didn't want to wait around.

* The Makuhari Messe really needs to invest in a decent air conditioning system.

This was going to be the centerpiece of our trip, but it actually turned out to be a pretty minor event for us and not one of the most fun things we did. I'm glad I went, though mostly just to be able to say I did. I didn't really get a whole lot out of the show itself. Luckily, we left pretty early, which left us most of the day to do other fun things. Watch for more posts coming soon!

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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