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Review of The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers v.2

by marurun Mon Aug 21, 2017 12:27 pm

I wrote this some time ago and ElkinFencer10 was kind enough to provide an editing pass on it, but then I got busy and the review sat in my Google Drive folder for weeks. But now I'm finally sharing. Hopefully it will be useful to someone here on the forums. And my apologies that I added just a little bit more text after the editing pass, so if something is still wrong, it's totally my fault, not my kind editor.

John Szczepaniak’s The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers series is the product of a Kickstarter that promised much and delivered more and less. Basically, backers expected one volume with lots of content, which they got, but the interviews Szczepaniak pursued resulted in more than one volume. Kickstarter backers only got the first volume, however, and in my opinion that first volume is very much the lesser of the two released thus far. This review covers volume 2.

Volume 2 is much better organized than the first as it at least attempts to put developers together related to their historical company connections. The table of contents, while still incomplete, is much less lacking than the one in the first volume. The author omits an index which is probably wise given the first volume’s index was not thoughtfully constructed and was thus largely useless. The author has retained his penchant for 2-column layouts with relatively small line-font text, which means readability is not much better than the first book. Pictures and images are better laid out with the text, however, and have been better adjusted to be more intelligible when printed in grayscale/monochrome. The author also does a much better job referring to images in the text and captioning or otherwise identifying the pictures he uses. The author does make some odd editing choices, though. Instead of following normal convention, he decided to underline game titles instead of italicize. He also sometimes changes layout styles slightly and messes with font sizes for some interviews. The end result is that, while perhaps not as easily readable as it could be, this book is certainly tolerable and far more readable than the first.

The content in Volume 2 is also better written than in Volume 1. The author notes that all the interviews were retranslated from audio transcripts to improve quality, and this difference is notable. Also, the author has been more aggressive in rearranging bits of the interviews to flow better, and this effort is appreciated. There are far fewer awkward blocks of text or disorienting topic changes, and fewer notes are required to help put the interviews in context. The author then goes ahead and gives us contextual notes anyway, and the notes are better than the previous ones. The end result is that these interviews are easier to read and more entertaining. They have a better flow, in terms of both language and narrative. There are still odd decisions, such as leaving in meaningless incidental comments by the interviewer (the author himself) that neither inform the interview nor prompt a meaningful response from the interviewee. On a few occasions he remarked something unimportant in Japanese in response to an interviewee’s comment and decided we needed to know that his remark was in Japanese, and then he helpfully translated it for us so we can appreciate how very much we didn’t need that bit included in the interview we’re reading. These kinds of annoyances are fewer in Volume 2 than in Volume 1, but I still wonder why they were included. I cannot see what helpful or informative purpose they serve for readers of this volume.

The final bit readers should know is that this volume presents a better portrait of the author’s personality. The first volume struck me as highly unprofessional, unentertaining, and largely unreadable due to the multitude of poor decisions. The improved readability, both in structural and content editing, makes this volume feel much more professional and entertaining reading experience, but the author undercuts some of this with his introduction and a few bits of editorializing. The author paints with a rather broad brush, claiming gamers are libertarians and railing against, well, at times censorship, and at other times simply against those with other views, calling out the Japanese government, critics, and I guess feminists as authoritarians for trying to influence what content creators put in their works. He lumps himself in with game creators, insisting that he has created the book he wants to create and will pay no mind to those who would criticize him. Putting aside the questionable wisdom of attempting to put a wide range of gamers into a small box, I don’t understand why this rant is in the book. It feels out of place and both egotistical and whiney at the same time. Ultimately, despite the improved quality of this volume, the author still comes across as rather unprofessional through this occasional editorial self-sabotage. His semi-political screed in his introduction feels like a reaction to many of the criticisms of his initial book, despite the fact that this book is better as a result of addressing many of those criticisms.

John Szczepaniak’s The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers Volume 2 is a more concise and more entertaining follow-up to Volume 1, and manages to correct many of the problems that rendered the first volume frustrating, despite the author’s attempts to unprofessionally insert his socio-political views into the narrative. This volume is better enough that it is a recommended read, though you’re probably better off getting this through your local library’s interlibrary loan service than buying it.
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