Japanese Dev Legend Goes from Riches to Rags

He developed some of the most successful, ground-breaking games ever. But today, game designer Yoshiki Okamoto's personal blog has vanished from the internet. Rumors say so did he.

Back in the early 1980s, Okamoto developed inventive shooters like Time Pilot and Gyruss for Konami. After joining Capcom, he worked on titles like 1942 and Forgotten Worlds. As head of R&D at Capcom, the Osaka-based game studio churned out hits like Street Fighter II and Resident Evil.

While Okamoto didn't design Resident Evil, he executive produced the first feature film. By 2003, Okamoto had left Capcom to form his own studio, Game Republic. With launch titles slated for both the Xbox 360 and the PS3, 2005 and 2006 were supposed to be banner years for Game Republic.

When Microsoft still had high hopes of success in Japan, Okamoto was one of the Japanese developers reeled in to make a launch title that was supposed to appeal to Japanese gamers. The result was Every Party, which featured art from famed manga artist Momoko Sakura.

The Xbox 360 has been a failure in Japan, and Game Republic's next title, the PS3's Genji: Days of the Blade was more memorable for the meme "giant enemy crab" than the game itself. Subsequent titles like Folklore showed promise, but never quite took off.

Game Republic proceeded to shut down its Osaka branch and Nagoya branch, and it also shuttered its board game division. Late last fall, the company stated its staff block would be suspended for the time being. Then, the high-flying Okamoto, who's always had a reputation for being wild, wrote a series of blog posts on his personal site that can only be described as depressing.

Japanese Dev Legend Goes from Riches to Rags

Okamoto blogged about moving to a new apartment, apparently separating from his family. He described the apartment as tiny, far from the station and the type of place you'd expect roaches to scurry out from. He wrote about getting fish, that didn't exactly look delicious, for dinner at bargain basement prices.

Japanese netizens lamented at the lows Okamoto, who had been a certifiable gaming celeb, hit. Gone was the acclaim, the sales, the regular column in mag Famitsu, and it seemed gone too was Game Republic. Today, Japanese forums and websites discovered that his long-standing personal blog has been erased.

Rumors swirled that Okamoto was deeply in debt, that he had borrowed large amounts of money from banks and then later far shadier operations. According to one rumor, things got so bad for Okamoto that he had to flee the country.

That doesn't seem to be the case. He, or someone operating his Mixi account, apparently continues to make posts on the Japanese social networking site, referencing what's going on, posting photos and whatnot.

Kotaku tried to contact Game Republic's Tokyo headquarters. The phone number had been changed, and calling the new number several times only resulted in a voice mail answering machine. Activity on the Game Republic website stopped last October, with insiders telling Kotaku that the company was operating with only a few staff to tie up lose ends.

One of Game Republic's titles, Clash of the Titans caused publisher Namco Bandai to rethink how it makes games after the game did only half the targeted business. Earlier this year, Game Republic's Knights Contract was released in the West, and the game was widley panned and described as unfinished. It probably was.

Few game developers had the pizazz that Okamoto did. Few have reached the heights he has. And few appear to have fallen as far.

(Top photo: Board Game Republic)