From Seedlings To Spaceships

Without promotional fanfare, Nintendo released four new downloadable games for the 3DS’ StreetPass Mii Plaza earlier this summer.  Nintendo President Satoru Iwata told Toyo Keizai Online that in the first month alone, sales of the software reached ¥400 million.

When Nintendo released the Wii Remote Plus in 2010, it was bundled with Wii Play: Motion, a collection of 12 mini-games designed specifically for the new hardware. Several studios competed against each other for the honor of being included in the collection.  When it was time to expand the Mii Plaza, Nintendo held a similar competition.  Three of the same development teams are represented in the four new Mii Plaza games.  The studios may be small, but they are run by some of the industry’s most intriguing veterans.

Mii Force [Surechigai Shūtingu (StreetPass Squad)]

Kobe-based Good-Feel Co., Ltd. was exclusively a Japanese educational software company from 2005 until 2008, when they began working on first-party Nintendo titles like Wario Land: Shake It! and Kirby’s Epic Yarn.  Founders Shigeharu Umezaki and Etsunobu Ebisu were producers at Konami; both worked extensively on the Goemon series.  Good-Feel’s aim is simply to create games that “feel good”.

Shigeharu Umezaki (b. 1960) joined Konami in 1983, not realizing it was a video game company; they hadn’t started calling it that yet, since they were primarily making circuit boards for coin-operated roulette and slot machines.  He learned to program during Konami’s Nintendo era in the early eighties.

Etsunobu Ebisu worked at Konami for nearly two decades and was the inspiration for the Goemon series’ pudgy, eccentric recurring sidekick Ebisumaru.

Good-Feel is currently working on Yoshi’s Woolly World (formerly known as Yarn Yoshi), a 2.5D side-scroller for the Wii U.

Warrior’s Way [Surechigai Gassen (StreetPass Battle)]

Spike Chunsoft is the result of a 2012 merger between Chunsoft, founded by Enix veteran Kōichi Nakamura, and Spike.  Prior to the merger, the companies worked together on 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors for the DS.

Kōichi Nakamura (b. 1964) was a high school programming prodigy– he won Enix’s first annual Hobby Program Contest at 18.  He ported his prizewinning game (Door Door) to various PC platforms, earning ¥10 million in annual royalties while attending the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo.  He founded Chunsoft, employing four of his friends, during his second year at school.

After a few PC releases, Chunsoft started working with Enix on console games.  Nakamura met his fellow former contest winner Yuji Horii, with whom he shared a love of Wizardry and Ultima, and they became determined to make role-playing games.  They developed the first five Dragon Quest games, after which Chunsoft decided to focus on their own games.

Human Entertainment (1983-1999) was the developer/publisher/innovator of multiple genres on several platforms; they created Fire Pro Wrestling and the Clock Tower series.  When Human Entertainment folded in 1999, it splintered into a few studios: Nude Maker, Sandlot, Grasshopper Manufacture (headed up by notable Human Entertainment designer Suda51) and Spike.

Spike Chunsoft has localized many high-profile games for Japan in recent years (The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Saints Row the Third, and both Epic Mickey games).  They are currently finishing an anime action game for the 3DS, Attack on Titan: The Wings of Counterattack.

Flower Town [Surechigai Gāden (StreetPass Garden)]

Grezzo Games, Inc. was founded in 2007 by Koichi Ishii (b. 1964), formerly of Squaresoft.  He was a designer on the first three Final Fantasy games and created/directed the entire Mana series.

Ishii was hired by nearly-bankrupt Squaresoft as a cheap part-time designer working on the original Final Fantasy in 1986; he created the moogle and chocobo but didn’t achieve recognition until they agreed to develop his Mana (Seiken Densetsu) series, which he originally proposed as a Final Fantasy side story in 1987.  Square rejected Ishii’s idea before he could even finish planning it but resurrected it in 1990.

One of Ishii’s primary goals when he established Grezzo was to develop software for up-and-coming hardware, and their first project for Nintendo was the 3D version of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Gardening simulator Flower Town is only Grezzo’s second original game; the first was Line Attack Heroes for the Wii.  The plant breeding patterns in Flower Town are based on Mendelian inheritance in genetics, and the game features a character named Mr. Mendel.  The real Gregor Johann Mendel was a nineteenth-century Austrian monk who conducted hybridization experiments on garden peas.

Monster Manor [Surechigai Meikyū (StreetPass Mansion)]

Prope (pronounced PRO-pay) Ltd. is a small studio founded in 2006 by legendary programmer/designer Yuji Naka (b. 1965) after a 25-year stint at Sega, with their blessing.  Sega has a history of encouraging independent game developers; they put up 10% of Prope’s starting capital, although they maintain the right of first refusal for every game Prope makes.  Including Naka, eleven members of the Sonic Team ended up at Prope.

Naka skipped college (Namco rejected him for this reason) and taught himself to program by replicating and debugging video game code printed in magazines.  Sega hired him as a programming assistant in 1984; he went on to become the lead programmer on Phantasy Star, Phantasy Star II and the first four Sonic the Hedgehog games.  Sonic was the result of an internal competition intended to give Sega a mascot to replace Alex Kidd, Sega’s blond, overall-clad answer to Mario in the late eighties.

Naka has said many times that he never intends to return to Sega.  He founded Prope to stimulate a younger generation of gamers; their quirky Windows Phone/DS platformer Ivy the Kiwi? was critically acclaimed.  They are currently finishing Rodea the Sky Soldier, a sky-based action game for the 3DS.  (The fate of an earlier, completed Wii version is uncertain.)