Wed. Dec 7th, 2022

Alleged footage of an emulated version of Tokyo 41.

Update: Paul Kilduff-Taylor of Mode 7 owned the marketing stunt in a blog post this morning and explained a little bit the reasoning behind it. “It’s incredibly hard to get attention for a smaller game these days, especially for a new platform release of something that already exists, so I felt like I had to push the boat out a little bit,” he writes.

Original story

The gaming industry is no stranger to accusations that a new game is just a slightly redesigned clone of another title. But there’s that, and then there’s the ‘cloning’ debate around it Tokyo 42 and its alleged inspiration, a 30-year-old ZX Spectrum and PC game called Tokyo 41.

As manufactured controversies go, this one leaves many skeptical. However, as clever marketing plans go, it’s an interesting public performance that touches on some real issues in modern gaming.

The first mention of a game called Tokyo 41 anywhere on the internet seems to come from a Twitter account from alleged developer Mark Followill. The same day the account was created, Followill replied to: Tokyo 42 Publisher Mode 7 Games with a couple from CGA-style screenshots from Tokyo 41. Those shots look a lot like Tokyo 42‘s isometric shooter gameplay despite Tokyo 41 reportedly originally published in 1987. “Obviously this game is very similar to my game Tokyo 41 of which you are clearly aware”, Followill tweeted.

Over the weekend, Followill started a WordPress blog and posted more details about: Tokyo 41‘s alleged history, including a video of an alleged updated and emulated version of the game. Followill writes of his frustration at trying to get Mode 7 to admit his debt to his earlier game:

Despite many attempts to contact the publishers and developers, I have not received a meaningful response. The press is silent on this matter, as British game development in the 1980s was forgotten with the corporatization of computer games, a trend that drove me out of this vibrant creative field at the time.

The legal protections for computer games are very poor, and my partner at Omen Barn Michael Hernandez has told me that he is not interested in bringing a claim against the perpetrators of these. Personally, I would like to get legal advice on this matter – I know there are many on the internet with a lot more expertise than I do.

Mode 7 Games’ Paul Kilduff-Taylor is public calling Tokyo 41 “obviously fake” on Twitter, speculate that it could be “some sort of extended trademark troll”. This morning he has wrote that he is “currently not commenting on THE THING because of OPINION, but enjoy all your points of view.”

The “developer” speaks

How can Tokyo 41 been around for 30 years without a mention by the hordes of classic PC gaming fans on the internet (or contemporary attention from the gaming press in the late 80s)? “We have only sold games in local stores and therefore they are not properly registered, with little information available on the internet,” Followill said in response to an email from Ars Technica. “Like I said, I want to promote the work of developers like ourselves if people only listen to what I actually say instead of misquoting me etc.”

Followill tells Ars that he co-founded Kent-based developer Omen Barn (yes, that’s corporate styling) in the late ’80s with partner Michael Hernandez. The company was “named after a barn near our homes that we found to be particularly foreboding in nature,” he says. “Barn is capitalized there because it was a big barn, even then this was the fashion.” Tokyo 41 was “inspired by my love for Tokyo and Japan that I developed as a young boy, visiting the blossom season and having adventures with the police,” says Followill.

While the ZX Spectrum version is lost forever, Followill says, the footage he posted is “based on an emulated version OF THE PC VERSION with MODERN SOUND and some changes. I’m using basic hardware emulation techniques in a C++ wrapper where I wrote myself to run the DOS CGA version of the game, and on top of that I added elements to present the game to a modern audience.”

That probably explains why the video outputs with better graphics and sound than would be possible on a 1987 PC. But Followill says he can’t share the emulated ROM publicly “for obvious reasons — who knows what might happen to it once it’s released. After this controversy, I don’t want more exposure for the game.”

An expert hoax

While the parties involved would do well to retain their character, hopefully it should be clear by now that the story surrounding it Tokyo 41 is an elaborate marketing hoax. The game’s lack of any contemporary paper trail or internet memory seems utterly unlikely for a game that a Mode 7 developer would know enough to steal. The “emulated” footage also seems way too advanced in some ways for a late 80s PC release (notwithstanding some changes).

Followill’s relatively recent internet presence and the timing of his accusations are suspicious enough, but if there’s still any doubt, the ending of Followill’s email to Ars reads like a thinly veiled marketing copy for the “copycat” game he’s attacking. . “There is now a lot of attention for me and I will say that I only want recognition for my work, not to interfere [sic] with the upcoming PlayStation 4 release of Tokyo 42 tomorrow, which as a game fan I look forward to, even if it will be bittersweet for me.” While some in the indie game scene to play by with the story on twitter seem to be many in on the joke.

So if this “controversy” is clearly fake, why write about it? First, it’s a fun twist on the trend of “demaking” a modern game by capturing the look or feel in a decidedly retro style. Recently, the demake trend led to a surprisingly playable 2D version of Breath of the Wildbut the concept goes back much further than that.

But more than that, we respect the sheer brutality of playing this kind of scandal in such a blatant and public way, with the tongue firmly in the cheek. Yes, you could argue that the Tokyo 41 hoax explains the very real problem of game cloning, which can be devastating when it actually happens to developers. There is also a fine line between playful marketing hoax and actively misleading the public that Tokyo 41 sits down uncomfortably.

In many ways, however, the fabricated controversy resembles an alternate reality game, adding a layer of “real world” fiction that places layers on top of the self-contained in-game world. When a marketing plan is put together with such cleverness and care, it’s hard not to be charmed.

View image by Mark Followill

By akfire1

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