TGS 06: The masses descend

Japan's largest game-themed event opens to the public with record number of displays, but is it the calm before the storm, or has the storm already passed?

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TOKYO--Although game-industry and press personnel got a sneak peek the day before, the morning of September 23 marked the first day the 2006 Tokyo Game Show was open to the general public. To get a feel for how the average Japanese gamer might get to the venue, we took the bus from our hotel near Makuhari Hongyo Station to Makuhari Kaihim Station--about a 15-minute ride. The bus was packed, but it is hard to tell if this was due to the show or was simply business as usual on that particular line.

Hope these guys are wearing deodorant.
Hope these guys are wearing deodorant.

When we got off the bus at Makuhari Kaihim, the station nearest the Makuhari Messe convention center, the place was swarming with attendees. They were easy to spot as they were all moving in a concentrated mass toward the Messe. Attendants with megaphones shouted directions to the convention center and warned that there would be at least a 30-minute wait to get in. Although blessed with press passes, we took a look at the general entrance to the venue. The queue looked more like a 45-minute to a one-hour wait.

And you thought the DMV was bad...
And you thought the DMV was bad...

At this point, our camaraderie with the commoners failed us, and we made a beeline for the press entrance, which was nearly deserted. The entrance is also available to families with small children, and there were many there, kids in tow, taking advantage of the privilege to beat a hasty path to the show floor. It would be interesting to see how many of said kids had dragged their parents along--and how many had been dragged there by their parents.

Japan's Computer Entertainment Supplier's Association (CESA) has been billing the TGS 2006 as the biggest ever, with 148 companies displaying more than 650 games--the most ever for this show in its 10-year history. According to CESA's TGS Web site, this is also the most international TGS ever, with 58 exhibitors from countries other than Japan, including the US, Israel, Australia, Canada, Korea, Taiwan, and France. In a city as international as Tokyo, it's rather hard to tell who's foreign and who isn't, but going by the languages we could identify on the floor--Japanese, Chinese, Korean, French, German, and various flavors of English among them--it indeed felt like a cross-cultural event.

Move along! Nothing to see here.
Move along! Nothing to see here.

Moving to the show floor from the airy second-story lobby entailed descending into a sea of warm bodies. It was just inevitable that one stepped on toes, or had one's toes stepped on in the crush of people below, which was a frotteurist's dream. However, as the day went on, the crowd just became another occupational hazard.

I didn't know video games were a full-contact sport!
I didn't know video games were a full-contact sport!

It was an especially good day to observe the photographers of what the Japanese call "booth companions," the vast majority of which are what Americans call "booth babes." Out in force, the photogs could often be seen toting huge, high-end cameras, roaming the floor, and photographing each and every "companion" from multiple angles. Some even carried pens and paper around and conducted brief interviews with the more intriguing companions. Surveying the shutterbugs, it was impossible to discern who was a legitimate photojournalist, a mere hobbyist, or a straight-up stalker.

Send in the cosplayers!
Send in the cosplayers!

Another time-honored TGS tradition is the cosplay crowd. These young men and women can be seen in elaborate, usually handmade costumes that faithfully reproduce the outfits of their favorite anime or game character. There are gaps between the main halls that form long, narrow courtyards. This is where many of the cosplayers, when not roaming the floor, gather to show off their lovingly crafted costumes and be photographed. The cosplayers have become such darlings of the show--overseas journalists seem to love shooting and interviewing them--that CESA is rather protective of them. They actually issue written warnings to attendees asking them to protect the cosplayers' privacy and not shoot or publish photos of them without their consent.

"Uh, this is a game convention, not a hair salon."

Although most of the booths seemed to be doing fairly brisk business the first day, there were a few that really stood out.

Sony
Riding a wave of warm feelings created by the announcement of a Japanese PlayStation 3 price drop, Sony's booth was all but inaccessible due to the enormous mob in front of it. But even without yesterday's bombshell, the booth probably would have been packed, due to the high number of playable next-gen games on display. There were 10 playable PS3 games, including such headliners as Hot Shots! Golf 5 and Gran Turismo HD.

Staff at the Konami booth present...
Staff at the Konami booth present...

Square Enix
A huge screen at the booth's corner reeled off a Final Fantasy XIII trailer, but inside the booth it was all about mobile content. The fans were lined up to sample a half dozen or so mobile-phone games as well as the publisher's numerous Nintendo DS offerings. One of the most popular was Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker, which had over a 30-minute wait to play.

Konami
The Elebits and Metal Gear Solid 4 trailers were, of course, very popular here. In addition, there was a wonderfully bizarre Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops competition. The players wore helmets with back-pointing cameras that filmed their faces as they played. The feed from these cameras was projected onto a big screen so that onlookers could see every grimace, triumphant smile, or expression of slack-jawed surprise. Meanwhile, Konami staff commented on how they were doing.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, obviously. Microsoft, Sega, and Namco Bandai also put on spectacular shows. Koei offered some juicy Fatal Inertia footage, and Capcom drew enormous crowds with its Devil May Cry 4 footage.

By 3:30 or so, people started filing out of the Makuhari Messe. The exodus continued for a couple of hours, as fans loaded down with booth flyers and logo-covered bags, parents and children, and even some senior citizens headed for the station or nearest bus stop. Despite the exhausting ordeal, many would be back the next day for more.

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