Click to View: HuMAN (PDF) I Am Yutaka (PDF)

Hudson Soft was one of the most important publishers and developers in the history of
video games. The company behind Bomberman and Bonk can be credited with some eye-opening accomplishments:
• It was the first third-party publisher of games for the Famicom (the Japanese version of the Nintendo Entertainment System).
• It was the co-developer of the PC Engine game system (known in North America as the TurboGrafx-16).
• It published the world’s first video game on CD-ROM: 1988’s No-Ri-Ko for the PC Engine CD. (Yeah, I know that Fighting Street came out on the same day, but that was just a port of the existing Street Fighter arcade game...and No-Ri-Ko was assigned product number HCD8001, which precedes Fighting Street’s HCD8002.)
• It created the world’s first high-definition video game (1993’s Hi-Ten Bomberman, a ten-player tournament edition of Bomberman that ran on one of the earliest models of widescreen HD monitors).

You’d think that such historical and technical achievements would be attributed to a giant, faceless corporation, but Hudson Soft was actually a family-owned business that often tried to connect with its customer base in a very personal way. Its annual “Caravan” events brought organized game tournaments to locations across Japan, allowing Hudson employees to speak with players and gauge their reactions to new games while making celebrities of the country’s most skilled gamers. This type of human interaction is stressed in the corporate brochures that I have scanned for this
article (see above links). Both brochures are undated, so I used clues in the text and photos to guess at their original dates of publication.

The earlier of the two brochures is titled “HuMAN: Soft Touch for Human Beings.” Other than a pair of photos from the 1987 Caravan event, there’s not a lot in its pages to excite game historians. With its cloying sentimentality and lush photography, it basically reads like a long-form greeting card. (“Staring, smiling, talking, cheering up a friend...Hearts become as one, and eyes sparkle with delight.”) The “Hudson Soft Corporate Concept” outlined on Page 14 seems awfully benevolent, especially for a company that made games about spaceships blasting aliens, men blowing each other up with bombs (albeit in a very humorous fashion) and cavemen who change their sex after eating meat!

The second brochure is much more interesting. It tells the story of the work and personal life of Yutaka Nagayama, a scenario writer at Hudson whose game credits include a variety of titles from Ys Book I & II to Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales. Through a series of diary-style musings and candid photos, we learn about Nagayama’s
then-current project, Mitsubachi Gakuen (a sort of spiritual sequel to No-Ri-Ko). We see him interact with other Hudson employees, find out a little about his personal philosophies and watch him participate in a variety of hobbies outside the office.

Even though Nagayama is not a household name and I’ve never played Mitsubachi Gakuen, I still find this brochure fascinating, if only for the little details it reveals about what it was like to work at Hudson Soft HQ in Sapporo during its peak years. The photos are all obviously posed, but you can see game magazines, ashtrays and Famicom cartridges scattered on nearly every horizontal surface. Nagayama has a photo of Jimi Hendrix taped to a shelf above his workstation. On Page 5, he is shown talking to “John,” who is obviously an American because he has a copy of The Art of Walt Disney and a VHS tape of Universal Studios’ Star Trek Adventure on his desk. (“John” is John Greiner, a longtime Hudson employee who later served as the president of the company’s U.S. division.) Page 6 has a great photo of Hudson president Yuji
Kudo riding on the miniature steam train that ran on tracks on the roof of Hudson building…and I’m pretty sure that the guy in the background with the yellow PC Engine sweatshirt is none other than Toshiyuki Takahashi (a.k.a. Takahashi Meijin, a.k.a. 16 Shot, the legendary rapid-fire button-masher who inspired the Master Higgins character in Hudson’s Adventure Island series).

My favorite shot, though, is a photo from a “PC Engine World” event (Page 9). It shows a crowd of kids milling around, clutching promotional plastic Peachboy bags and checking out pre-release copies of Hudson games—note the big prototype circuit boards in the cartridge slots of those PC Engines! As a Hudson staffer in Bonk garb and maekake (work apron) looks on, a little girl in an SD Ultraman T-shirt shakes her controller, the way people do when they’re caught up in the moment and unaware that
doing so does not make your character jump higher or shoot faster. This photograph perfectly documents the appeal of video games in the Hudson Soft era, before game designers became obsessed with polygons, military operations and the color brown.

I don’t remember how I obtained these brochures, so I can’t really tell you why they were printed or where they were distributed. What do they accomplish, really? The Yutaka Nagayama story comes across like a recruitment tool more than anything else; it seems to say, “Check out our company. Wouldn’t you love to work here?” If that was its purpose, it’s pretty successful at conveying that message. (You can see how excited this guy was about his job and—in particular—the possibilities offered by the then-new CD-ROM storage medium.) The other brochure...not so much. I admire Hudson’s altruism, and I respect its New Age observations about love, individuality and the progress of civilization. But I can’t say that I was moved by the company’s expressed desire to “improve the human condition,” as outlined in this publication. After reading its 16 pages of Jack Handey-style prose, my only thought was, “Man, I wish I had a TurboGrafx T-shirt like that kid on Page 4!”  
© 2011 Chris Bieniek. Certain video game images, characters and logos on this Web site are copyrighted or trademarked by their respective publishers.