National / Media | Japan Pulse

Exploring rural Japan from the comfort of your living room with 'The Inaka Project'

by Dylan Foley

Contributing Writer

Video games usually have some level of conflict or pressure — solve this puzzle, blow up this machine, defeat this monster and so forth. That’s not the case with Inasa Fujio’s “The Inaka Project,” a first-person narrative game that leisurely takes players through Japan’s idyllic countryside.

Fujio’s game amassed nearly 60,000 upvotes in Reddit’s largest gaming forum, as well as hundreds of thousands of views on Twitter, when snippets of gameplay footage from “The Inaka Project” made its way onto social media and users realized the game’s potential could be used as another way of “visiting” rural Japan.

The discussion on Reddit included users such as Eruptflail who were hoping to use the game as a way to venture back on past memories.

“It reminds me so much of where I used to live in Japan,” Eruptflail wrote. “Lots of these scenes felt so much like I was back there in my tiny little machi (town).”

Another user, VRisNOTdead, asked whether it would ever be possible to play the game in virtual reality.

Fujio admits being a little surprised by the reaction to date.

“My Twitter account was there just for logging my progress and it had around 100 dedicated followers for a year,” Fujio says. “Next thing I know, thousands of people are seeing my work and giving positive feedback.”

Fujio works under a pseudonym and the creator’s background remains something of a mystery, but he reveals that he was inspired by a summer spent at his grandmother’s house in Osaka where he spent time away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

“Popular tourist locations are flashy and exciting,” he says. “Those places have an appeal of their own but I just loved walking around residential districts and farms. I then decided to make a game to replicate that experience.”

Gamers in Japan may recognize the game’s similarity to Japan-based developer Millennium Kitchen’s “Boku no Natsuyasumi” series, with “The Inaka Project” placing a special emphasis on exploration.

“‘Boku no Natsuyasumi’ was the biggest inspiration for me,” Fujio says. “It’s a pretty popular game in Japan but, sadly, it was never localized outside of Japan, and so people who know about this game in the West are rare. The premise is similar: walking around the countryside talking to people until the day ends.”

Fujio’s game lets players walk past Japan’s rice paddy fields or ride a quiet train past traditional homes with tiled roofs. The game aims to be a relaxing and immersive adventure, with the bulk of the experience revolving around the player partaking in postman duties — delivering mail from house to house, chatting with locals and discovering forest shrines.

Repose and tranquility seem to be a common component of games within the so-called walking simulator genre. Similar to previous titles like “Gone Home,” “Firewatch” and “The Stanley Parable,” walking simulators are known as a cost-effective way of making indie games, offering a chance for new developers to try creating a world without having to fill it with enemies or complex mechanics.

“Most of my game development knowledge comes from YouTube tutorials and pre-existing templates,” Fujio says. “One thing many people don’t realize is that I am not a game developer nor studying game design at school. I’m studying illustration currently and am studying 3D modeling in my free time.”

Fujio plans on avoiding stress-related anxieties that often arise in game development as a result of outside pressures. Like the protagonist in “The Inaka Project,” Fujio hopes to maintain a peaceful approach to development and take in the scenery, despite the newfound demands from eager users on Reddit and Twitter.

“My work schedule hasn’t changed at all after everything, though,” he says. “I’m sticking true to my intention of keeping it as a relaxing hobby and something I work on whenever I feel like it.”

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