Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A WARPed Retrospective: Part 1

 If you have been gaming for as long as I have, then the name Kenji Eno may be quite familiar to you. However, I'd be willing to wager that a lot of folks out there have never even heard of the man, or the work he has accomplished. If you fall into the latter, then you are in for quite a treat this week, as The Pigeon Coop celebrates the weird, wild, and wonderful works of one of Japan's most innovative and controversial developers.

Part 1: The Early Years

 Kenji was born on May 5, 1970. Video games became a big part of Kenji's life early on, as he tended to frequent local video game arcades from a young age. There, he would become enamored with Namco's Pac-Man and Taito's Space Invaders, and has often cited these two games as the inspiration for his decision to pursue a career in the industry. Kenji would also take an interest in programming and sound design, as he also had a passion for music. He would take to experimenting on his home computer, going so far as to create his own video game, Towadako Murder Case, which he had entered into a local contest and placed. At 17, he dropped out of high school and embarked on a journey throught the country. Unlike Michael Landon or Bill Bixby, however, he did not commiserate with the divine or mutate into an angry green giant. He would, however, begin to look for work in a local trade magazine. After two failed attempts at employment through a local Canon branch and a tele-sales company, Kenji would finally break into the game industry as a project planner, supervisor, and musician for a small company called Interlink.

Kenji's brief tenure at Interlink would have him overseeing the production of Ultraman Club 2: Kaettekita Ultraman Club, a Dragon Quest inspired romp where gamers would take control of Japan's legendary super-sized superhero Ultraman, as he roams the countryside to do battle with nefarious interplanetary invaders. Kenji would also serve as composer and supervisor for SD Hero Soukessen: Taose! Aku no Gundam, a crazy side scrolling crossover of the Kamen Rider, Ultraman, and Gundam universes. And finally, he would serve as the sound designer and composer for the Japan only NES port of Sega's classic arcade adventure Altered Beast.

 Eventually, Kenji would grow tired of his role at Interlink. Wanting to strike out on his own, he took his savings and formed EIM Ltd (Entertainment Imagination and Magnificence) in 1989. EIM was created as a game development contracting service, where companies would hire them out to create their software. Being the owner, Kenji would have more control over the products EIM would put out. His more notable works under the EIM label include Parallel Worlds, Panic Restaurant (which would actually make it's way stateside via Taito), and Time Zone.

 EIM would also be contracted by Sunsoft to create a Superman video game for the NES. However, due to conflicts with design, the game was cancelled. Sunsoft then asked the company to create another superhero based gamed entitled Sun Man. While the game was never officially released, a seemingly complete version would resurface on the Internet many years later.

 Kenji would also grow dissatisfied with his work at EIM. He had wanted to create entirely original experiences. And while forming EIM would initially give him that ability, the demands of his clients to include licensed characters and settings would ultimately get to him. It even got to the point where Kenji would avoid his office altogether. The thought of having to convince his staff of how great it was to create character and licensed based games, when he himself didn't enjoy making them, simply got to be too much to bear. Kenji would shutter EIM in 1992.

 What would become of Kenji's dream? Would he ever be able to create the types of gaming experiences he wanted to? The answers to this, and much more, will be revealed in part 2 of the Pigeon Coop's tribute to the one and only Kenji Eno. Till next time, birds!

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