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How Role-Playing Games Arrived In Japan With Black Onyx

Unknown Lamer posted about 8 months ago | from the traIlblazers-don't-always-win dept.

Role Playing (Games) 50

eggboard writes "Henk Rogers was a Dutchman who arrived in Japan in the 1980s following a girlfriend (later, his wife). An inveterate D&D player, he became enthralled with the NEC-8801, and nearly killed himself trying to create a D&D-like world that he released as The Black Onyx. No one initially knew what to make of it, and the game sold slowly at first. Through savvy pricing, packaging, and press attention, sales grew, and the game jumpstarted RPGs in Japan. Rogers got left behind, though, as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy hit a local nerve better than his efforts. 'I also realized that I didn't quite understand the Japanese aesthetic and way. These games were quite different to mine, and just struck a more effective cultural chord.' Rogers went on to license Tetris to Nintendo, though, so he did just fine."

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License? (5, Insightful)

o_ferguson (836655) | about 8 months ago | (#46087305)

"Rogers went on to license Tetris to Nintendo, though, so he did just fine." That's the most interesting part of the story - how the best video game product of communism got sidelined into the capitalist computer paradigm.

Re:License? (-1, Flamebait)

Rick in China (2934527) | about 8 months ago | (#46087357)

Basically he's a thief? I found that the most interesting part of the story too - and hope this dude rots.

Re:License? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46087411)

Over a video game. Goddamn, you're a horrible person.

Re:License? (2)

ButchDeLoria (2772751) | about 8 months ago | (#46087663)

People wish ill on others for less. See: FOSS license arguments.

Re:License? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46087945)

Behead those who insult Gentoo!

Re:License? (0)

Rick in China (2934527) | about 8 months ago | (#46087691)

No - over essentially stealing and profiting off of another person's hard work without permission (which is the case here). Whether it's a video game or anything else is irrelevant.

Re:License? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46088655)

I'm not seeing evidence presented of a lack of permission.

Re:License? (3, Informative)

rk (6314) | about 8 months ago | (#46087499)

Black Onyx III was never finished. Then in 1988, Rogers, who had left programming to hunt for successful foreign games to bring to Japan, encountered a game called Tetris at a Las Vegas computer show. Rogers arranged a license from the Soviet Union government, which he sold to Nintendo. Tetrisâ(TM)s success forever changed the course of his life.

Nope, but thanks for playing.

Re:License? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46087577)

Really? Based on what?

Here's Wikipedia's version:

Rogers discovered Tetris during a Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas in 1988. At the time, the game was being distributed in several countries under a master license agreement which the original licensee had not honored. Rogers went to Moscow (without an invitation) to see if he could obtain rights to distribute the game. Two other companies were simultaneously bidding for the same rights. Rogers brought Nintendo on board and secured the exclusive rights to market Tetris on video game consoles. Nintendo successfully used this grant to squeeze its rival Atari out of the market, as Atari had sought to market Tetris based on the original (invalid) license.

During the negotiations in Moscow, Rogers also became friends with the game's Russian author Alexey Pajitnov. In 1990, he helped Pajitnov move to the United States and set up a new company, AnimaTek, to develop new computer graphic technologies.

So what reason do you have to disparage Rogers?

Re:License? (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46088423)

He made money off of non free and non open source software.
Obviously he must be hanged.

Re:License? (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 8 months ago | (#46091581)

So what reason do you have to disparage Rogers?

'cause he didn't hide away in his mom's basement!

Re:License? (1)

Megane (129182) | about 8 months ago | (#46089759)

He had acquired the licensing rights to Tetris on consoles.

Re:License? (1)

Jonner (189691) | about 8 months ago | (#46096979)

"Rogers went on to license Tetris to Nintendo, though, so he did just fine." That's the most interesting part of the story - how the best video game product of communism got sidelined into the capitalist computer paradigm.

That's a very odd way to put it. Most of us would never have heard of Tetris if it hadn't been "sidelined." It's not as if the Soviets were exporting copies of Tetris all over the world to support the global struggle against oppressive capitalism. Also, the use of the word "best" implies there was some competition. Can you name any other "video game product of communism?"

Re:License? (1)

o_ferguson (836655) | about 8 months ago | (#46097421)

Gorodki, Konek-Gorbunok, Magistral, Balls. I'm sure there are more.

Re:License? (1)

Jonner (189691) | about 8 months ago | (#46097467)

Gorodki, Konek-Gorbunok, Magistral, Balls.

I'm sure there are more.

I don't suppose you have any links to back that up? I suppose the failure of communism at the state level means we'll never be able enjoy the plethora of video games uncorrupted by capitalism.

Makes crappy game, blames culture. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46087307)

Dude, your game didn't do as well as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest because it wasn't as good. Japanese culture has nothing to do with it.

Re:Makes crappy game, blames culture. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46087653)

Dude, your game didn't do as well as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest because it wasn't as good. Japanese culture has nothing to do with it.

And Final Fantsy and Dragon Quest are good because ?
JRPG are what is wrong with videogames now and then. The player basically grinds and grinds and grinds to his death. And from time to time he engages in turn based battles. Western RPG were always superior to the shady copy the Japanese manage to make. If you want to enjoy an epic RPG you simply do not play JRPGs.

Re:Makes crappy game, blames culture. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46088601)

Considerings the ripped the ideas and ideals of both of those games from ultima and wizardry, yah.

Re:Makes crappy game, blames culture. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46088709)

JRPG are what is wrong with videogames now and then. The player basically grinds and grinds and grinds to his death.

This is a cultural difference, Japanese developers believe gamers want to work for / earn their fun rather than be given it easily. Western audiences generally disagree but the games are popular in Japan.

And from time to time he engages in turn based battles.

Western RPGs were turn based first. All RPGs originated from the table top equivalent (e.g. D&D). Western RPGs like Ultima were turn based until pretty far into their run. There's also the Zelda RPGs which use real-time battles but are Japanese, the first one of those was around 1990 which was before most of the Western ones as well.

Western RPG were always superior to the shady copy the Japanese manage to make.

This is hilarious.

If you want to enjoy an epic RPG you simply do not play JRPGs.

The classic "I do not like X, therefore liking X is bad" claim. Not everyone likes JRPGs, that's fine, but don't try to pretend that you are the ultimate arbiter on everything that is or is not fun. You are not God.

Re:Makes crappy game, blames culture. (2)

antifoidulus (807088) | about 8 months ago | (#46088895)

This is a cultural difference, Japanese developers believe gamers want to work for / earn their fun rather than be given it easily. Western audiences generally disagree but the games are popular in Japan.

Huh? JRPGs were actually quite popular during the mid-90s up until about the previous console generation. If you look at the top grossing video games of all time [wikia.com] you see that there are quite a few JRPGs on the list, and it certainly wasn't only Japan that was buying them. But take a closer look at the year, you will see that almost all of them were released between 1994 and 2004. Then compare it to all the other genres. You will see a much more diverse range of years. Now granted the pre-16 bit RPGs can be given a bit of a pass since technological limitations really limited gameplay, but what about modern JRPGs, why have their sales basically tanked?

I think it's largely because they simply haven't kept up with the times. It has nothing to do with "working"/"earning" your reward, there are plenty of puzzle games that are incredibly popular in both Japan and the west that certainly make you "earn" your rewards. And it isn't that "Japanese" made games are unpopular, there are a lot of recent entries in the best seller lists that are made in Japan, just not RPGs. No, the OP was right, the problem with JRPGs is that they simply haven't kept up with the times. Modern hardware offers the capacity to make incredibly engaging experiences, but all most JRPGs do is just make the same grindy experience that we had 20 years ago, but shinier. They need to really shake up their formula or else they will basically never be able to expand beyond their own small devoted fan base.

Re:Makes crappy game, blames culture. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46098069)

This is a cultural difference, Japanese developers believe gamers want to work for / earn their fun rather than be given it easily. Western audiences generally disagree but the games are popular in Japan.

I can't say I disagree, as a Westerner; I'd much prefer having fun right off the bat with a game that challenges me to think hard to overcome obstacles, rather than play a game that requires me to do a repetitive chore for hours before getting to the fun of...uh...cutscenes?

Re:Makes crappy game, blames culture. (1)

LordVader717 (888547) | about 8 months ago | (#46092551)

Grinding and turn based battles are what RPGs were originally all about. It was JRPGs which first pushed towards strong narrative.
Western developers/publishers almost completely lost interest in RPGs after the early nineties, and only recently have they made a comeback. Even so, the JRPG market is far bigger and more diverse than "Western" RPGs have been at any point in their history.

Re:Makes crappy game, blames culture. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46088767)

Culture has everything to do with it. Blaming the culture however is pretty much admitting to not understanding how to adapt his game(s) to another culture. After all no one will like your game if you can't somehow make it relevant to them on a personal or ideological level.

Tetris (1)

KPexEA (1030982) | about 8 months ago | (#46087315)

I don't feel bad for him, he made his fortune from Tetris

Re:Tetris (3, Informative)

KPexEA (1030982) | about 8 months ago | (#46087347)

Accidentally posted to soon, I meant to include a link to the whole Tetris story with regard to Henk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... [youtube.com]

Reminds me of Voyager, "Virtuoso" (3, Interesting)

Hahnsoo (976162) | about 8 months ago | (#46087335)

There was an episode where Robert Picardo's holographic Doctor introduces an entire planet to music. He becomes a celebrated singer, and even attempts to stay on the planet, but finds out at the end that the "music" that the aliens ultimately enjoy turns out to be far different. He starts a musical revolution, but is "left behind" at the end.

Re:Reminds me of Voyager, "Virtuoso" (1)

cliffjumper222 (229876) | about 8 months ago | (#46087497)

Yes, I remember that episode and it's a good analogy. Off topic, but that episode (baring the odd acting) was one of the better ones from a xeno-culture-clash perspective.

Re:Reminds me of Voyager, "Virtuoso" (1)

synapse7 (1075571) | about 8 months ago | (#46091209)

What happened to good TV, and that was even from an episode of Voyager.

Very nice deal ! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46087371)

... arrived in Japan in the 1980s following a girlfriend (later, his wife).

Got a tight Japanese pussy to fuck and then got Japanese pay him for what he does.

Very nice deal indeed !

Not the first RPG in Japan (5, Interesting)

Majutsushi (205979) | about 8 months ago | (#46087517)

RPGs did not "arrive" in Japan with The Black Onyx, that is just a popular myth. Here is an attempt to chronicle all of the JRPGs that came earlier:

http://blog.hardcoregaming101.... [hardcoregaming101.net]

Re:Not the first RPG in Japan (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46088447)

Come on, there is no way the Japanese could have developed video games without leaching from the great Americans who invented everything from the world wide web to the wheel.

Re:Not the first RPG in Japan (2)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | about 8 months ago | (#46088501)

Come on, there is no way the Japanese could have developed video games without leaching from the great Americans who invented everything from the world wide web to the wheel.

And queue the Al Gore jokes in 3,2,1...

Re:Not the first RPG in Japan (1)

OakDragon (885217) | about 8 months ago | (#46090611)

Come on, there is no way the Japanese could have developed video games without leaching from the great Americans who invented everything from the world wide web to the wheel.

And queue the Al Gore jokes in 3,2,1...

Al Gore's taking credit for the wheel now?!

Re:Not the first RPG in Japan (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46088869)

Well if you read the article, the distinction is whether the breakthrough game was one of two US-developed RPGs, or if it was Black Onyx, written in Japan by a Dutch-Indonesian from America, and a much bigger success than the earlier games. It's not the US v. Japan contest you apparently wish it was. Do you root for Ivan Drago when you watch Rocky IV?

Re:Not the first RPG in Japan (1)

Megane (129182) | about 8 months ago | (#46089915)

Admittedly this seems to have derived from a quote from the guy himself. Wizardry was mentioned, but with no acknowledgement that it was in Japan. On the other hand, I can't quickly find any dates on when Wizardry hit Japan, other than it had a mediocre translation.

“Next I looked at what kind of games were doing well in Japan,” he says. “It was immediately obvious to me that the core difference between the two markets was that there were no computer role-playing games in Japan. The US had Ultima and Wizardry. But there were no such adventures in Japan. I thought, I could do that.”

Perhaps part of the problem was that his lack of understanding the language made it harder to see what was already there. A quick look at that blog implies that a lot of those came out in 1983, so it was already starting to happen at the same time he was working on BO. It seems he was just there at the right time.

Re:Not the first RPG in Japan (3, Interesting)

plasticsquirrel (637166) | about 8 months ago | (#46090269)

If you had read the article...

The first Dragon Quest team went on the record praising Black Onyx as the influence for them investigating other western titles in the genre (specifically Wizardry). And so the RPG hacked and slashed its way into the Japanese videogame industry and consciousness.

The Dragon Quest team themselves credit The Black Onyx with causing them to investigate RPG titles like the earlier Wizardry, which is the reason why Dragon Quest even exists today. Just because Wizardry existed first doesn't mean that it had some universal impact throughout Japan.

Re:Not the first RPG in Japan (1)

plasticsquirrel (637166) | about 8 months ago | (#46096789)

Correction:

http://www.giantbomb.com/wizardry-proving-grounds-of-the-mad-overlord/3030-9180/releases/ [giantbomb.com]

It appears that Wizardry was not released for Japanese platforms until 1985, when it was released in Japan for the NEC PC-8801 and the NEC PC-9801.

Of course, this is after The Black Onyx was released for the NEC PC-8801 in 1984.

Re:Not the first RPG in Japan (1)

Megane (129182) | about 8 months ago | (#46090335)

I think the reference to BO in this particular article is relevant. It also mentions the edge-online article. http://blog.hardcoregaming101.... [hardcoregaming101.net]

I'm getting a strong feeling of all these things happening at the same time. BO had a few innovations (apparently pioneering the health bar), but it was no genesis of JRPG on its own. Also, BO was (IIRC) a 3D-maze-view game like Wizardry, while JRPGs generally went the Ultima way with a top-down map view, though I remember that Phantasy Star I had a top-down overworld, but a 3D-maze-view underworld.

Also note how Wizardry and Ultima came out at roughly the same time. Now my memories of the time around 1980 (my high school days) are a bit fuzzy, but among the nerdy types D&D was popular, and everyone with access to a computer wanted to figure out how to make it work on a computer. I sure know I did. But having limited RAM (16K being pretty standard in 1980, 48K-64K a year or two later), and limited storage (floppy disk drives were not cheap) were major limitations.

My gut feeling is that a similar thing was happening in Japan because of paper and dice RPGs, as well as the first wave of importing Wizardry and Ultima before they were officially released in Japan. There was this cool new type of game (both paper and dice as well as computer), and by 1983, everybody wanted to do it.

Better article (3, Informative)

mattack2 (1165421) | about 8 months ago | (#46087605)

One of the other external links from the Wikipedia article has more information: http://www.edge-online.com/fea... [edge-online.com]

(I added the other one mentioned in the summary to the Wikipedia page, though.)

Wizardry (2)

Hsien-Ko (1090623) | about 8 months ago | (#46087829)

says hi.

Re:Wizardry (1)

abies (607076) | about 8 months ago | (#46090241)

I suppose you mean this to indicate that Wizardry predates his work, so Black Onyx is not first computer RPG. Nobody claims that - if you would read TFA:
It was immediately obvious to me that the core difference between the two markets was that there were no computer role-playing games in Japan. The US had Ultima and Wizardry. But there were no such adventures in Japan. I thought, I could do that.

news for nerds? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46088557)

was, did, etc.. All verbs in the summary are past tense. How is this news?

"Japanese aesthetic" (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46088885)

A polite phrase for stupid, cutesy drawings of human characters, infantile plots, and an inability to appeal to a grown-up market.

Re: "Japanese aesthetic" (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46089085)

Nigga you just went full baka

What's new? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46090409)

I cannot figure out the fucking news in this story. What's so new about it? What fucking happened?

Bad article title. (1)

johnkzin (917611) | about 8 months ago | (#46091385)

Clearly, the article says "RPGs arrived in Japan with Dungeons and Dragons", not with Black Onyx. Black Onyx came later.

The article title should reflect that.

Virtually every game programmer owes him money (1)

BitwizeGHC (145393) | about 8 months ago | (#46098941)

Henk Rogers is one of the co-founders of The Tetris Company LLC, a company which asserts -- and has successfully defended -- copyrights over any and all video games involving falling n-ominoes. So if you ever wrote a Tetris clone, you owe him royalties.

I'd say he's doing all right for himself.

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