Famicom: July-Sept. 1988

1988 Summer Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago

Family Computer Magazine covered the 1988 SCES with an almost 100% NES focus. There's not much that's unusual or unreleased to see here, except for Chesterfield by Vic Tokai, and the fact that Fist of the North Star was originally going to be named just "Ken."

Dungeon Hourouki

This unreleased game was a Roguelike ("randomly"-generated dungeons with a limited view of unexplored rooms) with a weird cast of characters and enemies, and an automapping facility.  It had you and your adventurer trainees, team name Mandrake, delving into the more than 30 floors to retrieve the Tree of Sephiroth, and return alive.

The graphics are a little spartan, but not so bad for this type of game.  It was announced in July 1988.  Dungeon Hourouki was set to come out for 6,500 yen, first in November 1988, but this was pushed back to February '89, then March, and then it just... disappeared. It's a shame it didn't come out.

A fair amount of footage and audio of this game was shown in the movie "Youjo Densetsu '88", which I suppose was a bit of a cross-promotion for Dungeon Hourouki, the movie, and ASCII themselves.  More about the whole movie below.  And some in-movie snapshots too.

But first, a massive image dump.

Title Screen & Dialogue
The close-ups above show the man who bids you to begin your quest, and the lady shopkeeper who provides you with items.

Enemy close-ups & earlier version
The earlier version of Hourouki appears to have blue (wooden) text boxes, while later versions (below) have brown or orange ones.

Map View
The promotional material says that there are over 60,000 different, randomly-generated map layouts.  Here are but 3 of them, then.

More Advertisements & Previews
Of course, the previews in Famicom Tsushin (published by ASCII) seemed to have the most glowing praise of this Roguelike's innovations.


About that film...

Youjo Densetsu '88, (translated to Legend of the Siren '88) was a paranormal mystery-thriller that got a theatrical release on September 23, 1988 in Japan.  It's the story of a programming whiz-kid, Keita, who is contacted one night through his computer's modem line by the ghost of a wronged woman.

As Keita communicates nightly with this mysterious woman, he becomes obsessed with her, and she descends on his life like a succubus, avenging her death through various hosts.  He becomes distracted from his work, puts his team's project in jeopardy, and ultimately is driven to the brink of madness/suicide by her.

It's your typical late-80s Japanese technophilia/phobia spiritual/paranormal drama, with slightly above TV movie-level production values.  The ghost story itself is not all that interesting, involving shinto prayers & spirit-channeling gobbledygook, dramatic ray lighting, and "scary" facial close-ups with wind-tossed hair.

No, the actual interesting parts of the movie are the scenes at Keita's job, where he and his co-workers are busy assembling a Famicom game (Dungeon Hourouki, for those that haven't been paying attention) which has a rapidly-approaching deadline.  It is most interesting to catch a glimpse of game production right at the zenith of Japan's bubble era.

It appears to be a fairly accurate portrayal of a small (4-person) development house, where everyone is involved in character, map, and ad design, where bugs glitch and crash the game while the programmers pore over printouts, and where the team's female manager composes the game's tinkly soundtrack on a Casio keyboard.

The stress, the infighting, the all-nighters, and the bored but frantic debugging that takes place, while slightly romanticised, have an authentic ring to them.  It's easy to see how, since ASCII reportedly had lent their computers, dev stations, and materials to Dungeon Hourouki for the movie's production. The dev office set was modeled after the one the real dev team used, and the film even had a few scenes shot inside of ASCII Corp's building.

It's fascinating stuff for retro dev enthusiasts.  And yet, to my irritation, every night the action cuts away from the Famicom development drama, and back towards the turgid love story enveloping Keita in his apartment.  The ghost story, while goofy and slightly mesmerising, frustratingly distracts from the more interesting historical & social depiction of that era that we so rarely see in a full-length film.

This movie has its own succubus.

Right: The game's poster is seen in one scene from a production still.
Far right: Filming on-set.

Youjo Densetsu '88 Movie Snapshots Featuring Dungeon Hourouki
(Apologies for the small size and quality of these shots.  The tiny YouTube video is all I can find for now.)
Original drawings for the main character & NPCs
The team excitedly unfurls the first proof of the game's poster. "Now on sale!" it optimistically exclaims.
The wizard's mouth animation is shown being worked on.
The The map screen has some glitches...
... and the game's still buggy.
The sprite CHR graphics are worked on...
...as are sprite animations.
The game still crashes. We need our protagonist!
A church, an armour shop, and a cave are seen as they lay out the screens.
The game's hero(ine) can go off to heaven in this ending sequence...
...perhaps it has some larger significance to the characters in the movie.
The debugger actually shows bus activity each machine cycle. Looks like they borrowed ASCII's own dev hardware for use in the movie.
An intense moment of debugging.
The game is complete! Pull the board out, plop the source code floppies on top, and courier it to Nintendo!
Assistance from ASCII, NEC, etc.

Earlier Rockman 2 title screen: