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TGS industry parties offer special treatment to chosen few

by Daniel Robson

Far from the chaos of the Makuhari Messe exhibition center, which was filled with tens of thousands of gamers plus noisy games and event stages, members of the press, privileged bloggers and select VIPs saw a different side of the Tokyo Game Show.

New products were unveiled in conference halls and swanky hotel ballrooms, where the favored few could spend quality time playing new games, view special trailers and interview world-famous game directors. At guestlist-only parties, they ate, drank and schmoozed before collecting a bag of freebies to take home. It was a world away from the crush of the expo floor, and an important — if indulgent — component of the multibillion-dollar game industry.

The pick of the parties this year was undoubtedly Capcom’s. The Osaka- headquartered game giant — think “Street Fighter,” “Resident Evil” and “Monster Hunter” — took over the Nishi-Azabu branch of restaurant Gonpachi, where guests were treated to a complimentary buffet of Kobe beef, tempura, sushi and more, as well as free drinks served by waitresses in kimono-styled mini-dresses.

At one stall, a chef made Mega Man- and Okami-shaped sweets to order, while elsewhere, the mostly non-Japanese guests could have their name written in kanji. DJs blasted techno, while performers dressed as ninja fought in front of a video screen showing 8bit-style pixilated visuals. The take-home bag included a bottle of sake and a “Monster Hunter” charm shaped like a daruma.

Oh, and the company also revealed some new games — entries in the “Devil May Cry” and “Dead Rising” franchises, and the gory action title “Asura’s Wrath.” None of them could be played, though, so the booze and chat seemed to take top billing.

Earlier the same day, California behemoth Electronic Arts (“Rock Band,” “FIFA” and “Command & Conquer”) unveiled several new titles in various halls at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku, with video presentations followed by an extended hands-on session where members of the media could get stuck in to as-yet-unfinished games such as multiplatform first-person shooter “Bulletstorm,” a Move-enabled version of “Dead Space: Extraction” on PlayStation 3, and kid-friendly multiplatform puzzle game “Create” — all while sipping free drinks and tucking in to a lavish buffet.

Most exciting was an exclusive gameplay demo of “Alice: Madness Returns,” the long-awaited multiplatform sequel to 2000′s “American McGee’s Alice,” a frightful reimagining of one girl’s adventures in Wonderland. McGee, the game’s eccentric creator, even flew in from his Shanghai base to field interviews.

Some parties were simply that: a party. The annual pre-TGS bash thrown by Tokyo-based localization firm 8-4 at Vanity Lounge in Roppongi drew many of the global industry’s movers and shakers, while Microsoft threw a low-key drinking session Thursday. Held at Always Irish pub in Makuhari, between the train station and the Messe, it was a game-free zone where Phil Spencer, the corporate vice president of Microsoft Game Studios, was spotted unwinding with colleagues and media representatives mainly from overseas.

There were plenty of private presentations held during TGS, many of which took place on Thursday and Friday in an annex of Makuhari Messe. Journalists and bloggers were treated to group interviews with the creators of future hits such as “The Last Guardian,” “Gran Turismo 5,” “Virtua Tennis 4″ and so on; a particular highlight was a hands-on (or should that be hands-off?) opportunity with the forthcoming Kinect title “Child of Eden” and interviews with its director, celebrated game maker Tetsuya Mizuguchi (“Rez,” “Space Channel 5″).

The exclusive previews and interviews held at TGS will appear online and in print outlets over the coming days and weeks (many of the headlines are already yesterday’s news), and will contribute to the game industry’s considerable wealth over the coming 12 months. No wonder the major companies spend so much cash on buttering up the media. Now, where did I put those gratis Electronic Arts-branded folding chopsticks and “Gran Turismo 5″ USB sticks?