Digital Games Expo 2021 was held in Akihabara UDX on 14th November 2021. The Digital Games Expo is an event dedicated to indie and “doujin” games.
Official website: https://digigame-expo.org/
While doujin games used to be exclusive to PC, the ease of development in recent years has resulted in a diversity of platforms, and we saw games for PC, phones, both contemporary and retro game consoles, and VR.
|What ARE doujin games, though?|
|While western indie games came into the limelight in the late 00s, Japanese hobbyists had been creating and distributing games for platforms such as the MSX and X68000 on a large scale since the 80’s, at events such as Comic Market (some even argue that the history of doujin games goes back as far as the 70’s).
Japan thus has a rich history of independent developers and hobbyists working on games, as well as a large following. For the most part of their history, however, doujin games were mostly distributed on physical media at local events, meaning that they had low visibility outside of Japan. This has been gradually changing in recent years, with the advent of digital storefronts that distribute such games, and publishers willing to pick them up.
Some famous franchises even have their roots in doujin games: For example, Type-Moon, famous for the Fate series and especially Fate/Grand Order which is one of the highest-grossing mobile games of all time, was first made famous by their doujin game Tsukihime (which had a retail release for its remake earlier this year).
The boundary between doujin and indie games is ambiguous, but the rule of thumb is that indie games are generally created to be products by professionals or semi-professionals, while doujin games are generally created by hobbyists for fun, but one can find many exceptions to this, and the difference (or lack thereof) between the terms is a frequent hot topic for discussion.
Today, doujin games account for 5% of all doujin (fan/hobbyist) works altogether. While this might not initially sound like much, one should consider the sheer scale of doujin activity in Japan, with Comic Market 97 having 32,000 participating doujin circles, and a total of 750,000 participants in the event overall.
Digital Games Expo 2021 was the ninth time this annual event was held since 2013, and had over 100 participating entities – Companies, “doujin circle” hobbyist groups, individuals, and even a “multimedia content creation club” of students from a university from a different prefecture.
Due to the sheer number of participants, it would be hard to cover all of them, and so we are only able to show off a fraction here: Anyone who is interested in seeing more should check out the complete list of participants available on the official website.
Capricorn is a doujin circle that makes fan games of various genres for the PC, such as Mega Man-style action games based on the Toho series (Toho Rock Maiden) or a King of Fighters-style fighting game featuring characters from various visual novels (The Queen of Battlers). Their games are also available as downloads on digital storefronts such as DLsite, and several are available in English.
Jeddom (@Jeddom on Twitter) is an independent developer who had an interesting idea to show off at the event: A running game where the character runs forwards automatically, and the player times and controls jumps using an arm bar (a gym tool typically used for training chest muscles). Appropriately, the game is named “Macchorun”, and the character is a bare-chested macho man.
Project ICKX is a doujin circle that specializes in Ace Combat-style flight action games. They develop primarily for the PC, with games available on platforms such as DLsite and Steam, but they have also recently started developing for the Nintendo Switch as well. Their latest game, Vertical Strike: Endless Challenge is available in English on multiple platforms, and allows the player to pull off all sorts of crazy post stall maneuvers.
Tabibito no Uta Games
Tabibito no Uta Games was showing off Wulong no Cha wa Oya no Kataki to Nikushimi no Aji, a visual novel that was developed for a game jam to commemorate the release of a book about developing visual novels with Unity, that won the grand prize. The game can be played in a browser for free.
OHBADO is a doujin circle that is currently developing Magusphere, a magical girl TPS for the PC and PS4, in which the player controls a magical girl who takes on scores of enemies with a magical tank turret.
Hitorixon is an indie developer that works primarily on iOS and Android, and were at the event showing off their latest game, Oyajirium 3, in which the player manages a terrarium filled with bizarre creatures that look like middle-aged men (“oyaji” in Japanese). This is the latest entry in a series of games that have also been released in English on both iOS and Android.
CUBIC STYLE is a doujin circle that uses Raspberry Pie to develop for retro portable consoles like the Game Boy and Game Gear, and also sells resources (both how-to books and hardware) for other people who want to give developing for these consoles a try: In addition to events like the Digital Games Expo, they also sell these online via Booth. They have also recently started working on supporting the Famicom as well.
Throw the warped code out
Throw the warped code out is an indie developer that was showing off their latest game, Demolition Robots K.K., a four-player (couch multiplayer) arcade action game in which each player takes control of a giant robot tasked with demolishing a city and competes to demolish more than the others to get more points. The game has built-in Twitch integration which allows viewers to use the overlay to help or hinder individual players, creating a huge chaos factor which scales with the size of the audience.
As a prominent sponsor of this year’s event, Inti Creates also had a presence at the Digital Games Expo, with demos for Azure Striker Gunvolt 3 and Luminous Avenger iX 2 available for the public to try out.
As stated before, the sheer number of participating developers means that this article is only able to show off a small fraction of what was available at the event: Anyone whose interest was piqued by the snippets here should definitely check out the complete list of participants available on the official website.