“We’re just going to play video games, all day?” my nine-year-old asks. “Pretty much,” I reply. “I’ll have to talk to people, too, and you should write down what you thought of the game.” Since I don’t work in an office, Bring Your Kid To Work Day doesn’t exist. Instead, I brought him to BitSummit.
My son, the middle of three boys, looks out the window at the Kyoto countryside. He shot out of bed at 5 am, saying he was ready for BitSummit. He’s been talking about it all week, but right now, he’s quiet. His eyelids start to get heavy. Out of the three kids, he’s the most active, but if he’s not playing sports or doing stuff, he usually konks out. In a few minutes, he’s bound to—nope, there he goes. He’s out.
I have family history with BitSummit, Japan’s biggest indie gaming event, first conceived by former game journo and current dev James Mielke. My oldest son, who will soon be 15, went to the first BitSummit all those years ago.
It was a different show then: a bunch of card tables packed in a small auditorium, with many of the indies handwriting the signs at their tables. Now, there are Nintendo and Sony booths, though not massive ones like at E3, as well as tables with a variety of indie games. “This is the best game show in Japan,” Jeremy Parish of gaming podcast Retronauts fame says as I pass him in the hall. In a way, he might be right.
If you visit Tokyo Game Show on the business days, you’ll get to play stuff. If you go on the public days, you’ll get to stand in line. At BitSummit, there are either no lines or super short ones. If you’re bringing a kid, this is a show for them.
The walk from Kawaramachi Station to the Miyako Messe convention is around 30 minutes (well, 35, because I stopped in to see a place that was making rice vinegar). My son is wide awake and excited to hit the show, asking what it was like when his brother went to BitSummit. The sky is blue, the leaves are a vibrant wakaba (若葉) or “new leaf” green, and I spot herons nonchalantly hanging out on a bridge.
I’d scheduled a handful of interviews, but the sign-up form didn’t say that they were spread out on Saturday and Sunday. Sunday is Mother’s Day, which I’m not working on, so I had to nix all but one. The rest of Saturday would be playing games and hanging out. I let my kid pick what he wants to play but just asked him to write down what he thought. That is the day’s plan.
As soon as we walk into the convention hall, my son gravitates towards the Nintendo booth. He walks around it, studying the games they have. “They don’t have Arms?” he asks.
“No,” I say. “These are all indie games.”
“What does that mean?”
“It depends, really, but it usually means they’re not made by a massive corporation. Though, that’s not always the case.”
He inks the Lumines Remastered stamp and presses it down on the first page of his notebook. It’s the first time I’ve seen stamps like this at a game event, and it’s only the Switch games that have them. Later, Jon from Nintendo Life says it reminds him of “stamp rallies” you see in Japan in which there are stamps at certain locations, sometimes different train stations, kids can collect.
“You want to play this?” I ask. He already has the controller in his hand, so I’ll take that as a yes. “Your mom really liked this game when your older brother was a baby,” I say.
Daddy is good at this.
If you line up four, six, eight, or ten [blocks] in the puzzle, that’s okay.
It’s fascinating to follow my son around the show. I feel like he’s looking at the games slightly differently than I would. He doesn’t care if the game has already been released or if it’s being debuted for the first time, as you end up doing when covering a show. He’s stopping at whatever catches his eye.
“This looks neat,” he says, stamping Shu on his notebook.
“Yeah, you’re an owl and you can fly around.”
“Can I play this?”
My son is at the end of the line, which only contains two people. The guy in front of him appears to be stuck in the game. A few minutes pass, maybe five. The guy is doing much better now, but he’s still taking a long time. My son looks up at me. “If you don’t want to play this, you don’t have to,” I say. “Or we can keep waiting. You decide.”
“I’d like to play something else.”
I didn’t play it.
He loops around the Dangen Entertainment booth. Founded by former Capcom localizing head Ben Judd, the company localizes and publishes Western games in Japan.
My son stops in front of The TakeOver, a side-scrolling beat ‘em up.
“This reminds me of Final Fight,” I say.
“What’s Final Fight?” my son asks.
“It’s this type of game,” I reply. “When I was a year or two older than you, my friend Adam and I beat at the arcade. It took a roll of quarters, but we did it.”
My son waits patiently for the guy in front of him to finish playing. We sit down together and start playing co-op. My son picks it up rather quickly and is soon bossing me around. “Go over there and pick up that hamburger,” he says as he releases two consecutive hadouken-style attacks. Later in the day, he’ll return to play The TakeOver some more.
I recommend this.
It’s a go-get people game.
“Look, there’s a ninja game,” my son says, making a beeline for The Messenger at a nearby table. It’s a take on Ninja Gaiden, so I know he’s about to discover something: This game is probably hard.
He goes through the first stage, trying to master a slice and then jump move. He can’t do it. He tries again. No sir. Again. Nope. But then, he finally nails it, jumping higher.
This was slightly difficult for me.
It wouldn’t be a Ninja Gaiden hommage if it were easy, right?
Lunch is onigiri and melon bread. We sit outside and are joined by Liam from the Final Games Podcast. Liam brought along his work computer, which has an endless runner he made, Salaryman Suzuki-san. While I finish my lunch, my kid plays Liam’s game, touching Enter to make his salaryman jump over blocks as he runs through the Japanese countryside.
“He made that?” my son asks later.
“It was a lot of fun. And Liam is nice, too.”
We have an hour and a half before the one interview I have to do with Tetsuya Mizuguchi, creator of Space Channel Five, Rez and Lumines. I’m amazed my son isn’t complaining about being tired. It’s been a big day so far.
“You okay, buddy? You want to take a nap?”
“Nope, let’s go play games.”
We make our way through the back wall, stopping at a shmup. It’s Rival Megagun, a shoot ‘em up in which two players face off against each other. My son calls it “the robot game.”
I was happy that I won a game. It was amazing that the guns keep shooting bullets but never ran out.
There’s no one playing Grip at the Sony booth, so we go over. His older brother loves cars and driving games, so that familiarity might have enticed him.
He starts the race and immediately gets turned around. “Wrong Way” keeps flashing on the screen, and he hands me the controller.
It was kind of difficult.
The interview is about to start, so we make our way down to the basement. On the way, I say, “Maybe you can think of a question you want to ask him?” My son nods in agreement. Mizuguchi is already outside the room. I tell him “hello” and introduce my son.
We sit down to do the interview. I’m asking Mizuguchi questions when I see my son from the corner of my eye. I watch my beloved child’s head slowly tilt to the side.
Looks like it.
My nine-year-old is taking an afternoon snooze. I’ve been interviewing people for articles since 2003, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen someone sleep in an interview. It’s also the first time I’ve brought any of my children to one.
Mizuguchi does not appear to notice. He continues talking, saying that his new studio Enhance Game is starting to ramp up production.
He has to notice.
My son’s head is now on the desk.
Mizuguchi is not fussed at all. He talks about people’s innate desires and instincts and how if you understand those, you can make a better game. It’s a fascinating talk, but I feel slightly embarrassed. I hope that he likes kids.
Finally, I figure the best thing to do is address the situation. “These wants and desires you mentioned are kind of like how my son wants to take a nap,” I say. Mizuguchi doesn’t miss a beat and continues his train of thought.
The interview carries on, even as my son wakes up. The kid then gets out his notebook and starts writing up his brief impressions of the games he’s played today.
Mizuguchi says that he wants to push tech, especially VR and haptic feedback, further. I’ve heard him say this before, but it’s never dawned on me why. Why, for well over a decade, has he had interest in this?
“Is the reason you say we can push gaming tech further, such as VR and haptic feedback, because even though we can preserve music, we cannot preserve or recreate the feelings we get? Is that why you are interested in that?” I ask.
“Yes, that’s it,” he says. “I want to leave that behind.”
I look over at my son, who is busy writing up his impressions of the “robot game.”
“This is the first Indonesian console game,” I’m told as we wait to play Ultra Space Brawl. That’s Mohammad Fahmi from Toge Productions. He says I know him from Instagram, but I’d never met him before and have no idea why I started following him. “There have been games outsourced to Indonesia, but this is the first Indonesian game.”
Ultra Space Brawl is based on Pong, but my son doesn’t know what Pong is. He calls it the “tennis game.”
I was happy I hit [the ball] well.
My son walks over to the PlayStation VR demo. I’ve been reluctant to let him play VR; his mom gets motion sick easily and sometimes he does, too.
“I want to try this,” he says pointing at Track Lab.
“If you start to feel sick or strange, will you tell me?”
He puts on the headset and starts looking all around. Up, down. Side to side. “Everything okay?”
He quickly turns his head, looking at me. The onscreen monitor shows he’s looking out into a void. He holds up his hand, and I take it. The demo station person hands him the Move controllers, and he keeps trying to grab a block and put it in a slot. He has to lean forward. Maybe his arms are too short? This goes on for several minutes, and I politely gesture to the demo person that maybe we should wrap it up.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“You don’t feel sick?”
I have him take a short break, just in case. He has some tea, takes a breather and then wanders over to play Pocket Rumble, which he calls the “karate game.” He starts to get the hang of it against me, somewhat, so when Dan Feit, formerly of Wired, passed by I ask him if he wants to play against my son.
I was surprised that Dan was so good. It looks like an old game. So, it was difficult.
That leads us over to the Pikii booth to play Save Me Mr. Tako! or what my son called the “jumping game.”
I was sad because I was in the same place the entire time.
The lights come up, and BitSummit’s first day comes to the end. “That’s James Mielke,” I say. “He started BitSummit. Maybe he can let you play his game real quick before they kick us all out.”
It’s Jupiter & Mars, another VR game, and my son keeps turning his head around to look around the ocean.
JUPITER & MARS
This kind of game was a first [for me]. It was fun.
We walk outside of the convention center. There are a bunch of Nintendo people in the walkway, who my son will spend the rest of the evening collecting autographs from.
“Did you make Splatoon?” he asks Nintendo dev Jordan Amaro, who’s wearing a Splatoon shirt.
“I love Splatoon,” he says as Splatoon team members sign his notebook and draw characters.
He spends the rest of the evening at the Q-Games afterparty getting signatures from anyone he can find—or anyone he’s told he should get.
He even starts collecting autographs from people who aren’t famous. He isn’t getting them because he thinks they’re worth something, but because he’s simply having fun collecting them as a record of his big day—like a school yearbook.
He’s wide awake on the way home, pressing his pencil in his notebook, but eventually, he drifts off to sleep, his head resting against the train window.
There were lots of different types of games, and it was extremely fun.
I met lots of interesting people.
I want to go to BitSummit again.
I wake my son up at our stop. On the way home as we head up the street, he stops and turns to me and says, “I never asked Mizuguchi-san a question.”·
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