The Taipei Game Show in Taiwan is the largest games expo in all of Asia, yet usually receives remarkably little coverage outside of China and it's neighbors. Naturally we love to change those sorts of things. Held in the Taiwanese World Trade Center from February 21-24, Josh Hsieh is our man in the streets (as it were) at the TGS. It's an event traditionally over-populated by online PC titles and online software. China has a remarkable 9.3 million online gamers according to the China Center for Information Development, and internet cafes are quite popular there (recall the rash of recent net-cafe deaths). But console makers are also venturing into the great east, with the X-box making a particularly vibrant presence this year. A word about navigation: most games with linked titles lead to further images. The sidebar also features the full set of images. And so, read on!
Day 1 –
Arrived outside the Taipei World Trade Center, amid a medium-sized crowd milling around the building and in and out of the various exits.
The Price of Admission
As I walked towards the ticket booth, I was pleased to see reasonable fares of entry, say NT$ 200, which is just under US$6. For a variety of cultural and socio-economic reasons college students are a distinct and respected class in Taiwan society, which aids them with discounts such as the special TGS student fare of $NT150, or about US$4.50. Little ones get in for NT$100 or under $US 3.00. Obviously this is much more affordable than the E3 show, whose general fare of admission could pay for over 30 people at the TGS. I was most pleased, however, by the going press rate of NT$0.
Even more pleasing was the convenience with which I got my badge, or should I say small round XBOX sticker. I only needed a business card to verify my claim as press. Some of these stickers could be found fallen upon the ground outside the entrance. Suffice it to say it’s relatively casual at TGS.
Both inside and outside, the crowd was much smaller and more contained than I expected, but there was an undeniable buzz of excitement and energy in the air. The entrance is setup so that you must pass the XBOX booth, which is easily identifiable by its neon green sign and more notably for its Dead or Alive girls. Console wise, the TGS 2003 sponsor Microsoft was the only game in town, the newest game being Metal Gear Solid: Substance, and the majority of games being older titles such as Halo, Project City Gotham Racing or recently released titles such as Mech Warrior, Blix and Lord of the Rings. No Panzer Dragoon, but a physically impressive booth despite the absence of any unreleased games. It makes perfect sense, if Microsoft’s goal is to sell the Taiwanese public on console gaming, then it should not matter.
Taiwan gaming is online-oriented. You can see this in the hundreds of Internet Cafes, not arcades that are packed all night long in Taipei. Traditionally the TGS is an online gaming convention. The fact that Microsoft sponsored the 2003 TGS shows how much clout is necessary to break into this scene. Microsoft sees their Ethernet ready XBOX and XBOX Live network to be a great auspice for its chances in Taiwan’s gaming market. Even the games were displayed on PC monitors. There was a sizeable and steady line behind the XBOX consoles, though, which only grew with each day, and it is clear that Microsoft piqued the interest of many into its system.
The spirit of Sony lived on in Sony Online or So-Net (see pic), however, which had a big display for Everquest, which is being co-produced and marketed with Gamania and Ncsoft.
Speaking of Gamania, it has an excellent original title in Cococan, which is a Worms like game whose characters have lots of personality. I knew it would be even better if I understood all the Chinese characters. Check out the pics, and/or the game’s website at www.gamania.com/cococan. It has a kiddy look, but anyone can play this one.
Something that is decidedly aimed at a younger market is Pet Realm, an online game where you build your own pet characters. Check out some Pet Realm Pics.
I maneuvered into Digicell (pics forthcoming), an online game maker with a fine assortment of online games. Gamania also had a good showing, particularly with a worms like game.
Unalis had a strong presence, as it touted such heavyweights as Shadowbane, a Warcraft like game they publish, along with the long awaited Chinese language version of Warcraft III! This game is quite the phenomenon in Taiwan. Top teen singer Jay Chou sings the theme song for the Chinese version, and hopes to represent Taiwan in the national competitions. Unalis also takes care of Ubisoft’s console duties in Taiwan, and on display were Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell and Lord of the Ring for the XBOX. The Unalis booth was huge. Its strength lies in its ability to negotiate and fulfill some excellent deals as a publisher for foreign games in Taiwan.
I figured the atmosphere to expect over the next few days would be full-bodied but not suffocating. I was in for a surprise.
Day 2 –
I had a good time recuperating from the claustrophobia of a day of TGS and a night of clubbing.
Day 3 –
Good fortune smiled upon me as I recruited the tall and trustworthy Taiwanese translator Andrew Lin. We entered into what was now a lion’s den at the TWTC, saw and sought the sights of new games and beautiful women, heard and hurt by the loud array of sounds, and got packed and pushed by what is currently the most dense and energetic crowd in all of gaming conventiondom. Andrew and myself swam with and against a literal current of people, who split us every which way. Fortunately, he being a 6’2’’ Chinese male and I being the Single White Chinese male, it wasn’t too hard to find each other.
I casually decided to interview IGS because they are the most prolific and creative Taiwanese maker of arcade cabinets. Although the periphery of their booth was adorned with cabinets of their new title, Rock Fever Solo EX (read the review), the core was their first PC online game Fong Shen.
Relative to America, Taiwanese society is less jaded. I suppose that is how it must be when you’re living each day on a prayer. They were all too eager to accommodate me, speak English and/or bear with my Chinese when for all they knew I was just a vagrant fan who had strayed too far from home. I quickly got myself in touch with the sales rep, who handed me a copy of Fong Shen. Our foot was in the door to one of the premiere Taiwanese gaming companies. Had it not been for Andrew Lin that foot might have been in my mouth.
THE INTERVIEW (click to read)
INTO THE FLOOD AGAIN
Downstairs again we saw many an alluring Asian woman clad in superhero/creature costume, and decided to take a photo or two (see Andrew's photo) for shits and giggles. We walked through the PC side of the convention, which was mostly just sales of PCs and peripherals, no Macs (see pic). There were a couple of neat gadgets, and advertising ploys. Although subtle, sex appeal is used oddly, like in the print outs for a photo printer.
You can’t go far in Taiwan without politics coming up. As Andrew and I mulled through the piles of online PC games at a Unalis booth, we saw a middle aged, middle sized man chewing gum and standing on the stool who looked like he was running things. I asked how much the games were for.
Beetlejuice: San Jiu Jiu! (NT$399).
Ni shi Meiguoren?! Are you American?
As he said this I could see several red particles in his teeth and lips. He was chewing Beetlenut, a red chewy nut implanted with an ash center that is pretty much Taiwanese Tobacco, only it bleeds red Beetlejuice that stains anything it touches, like my white shirt he was spraying. Don’t ever chew folks, it ain’t attractive, it’s repulsive.
JH: Yes I am.
BJ: American and Taiwan are good friends!
JH: Yes we are.
BJ: Taiwan! Not China!
JH: Huh, heh, yeah we’re friends!
BJ: Taiwan good, China bad!
I smile and politely slide away to the register to purchase some games and assess the dry-cleaning bill.
We purchased Meteor, Butterfly and a Blade and Master Lee, Flying Sword. Here are some pics of Meteor, Butterfly and a Blade. Suffice it to say its an awesome, incredible game that mixes Jedi Knight II: Outkast and the acrobatics and aesthetic of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. A review on this is pending.
Master Lee and Flying Sword weighs in as a 2.4Gig, 3 Disc game that given the right hardware, is an excellent RPG whose gameplay is martial arts fighting utilizing a point and click control scheme that makes for something akin to a 3D Chinese Chrono Trigger. It’s a bit cumbersome, but cool nonetheless. For a link to Interserv’s website, click here.
After this purchase, we glanced one more time at the XBOX booth, the beautiful stranger, and pondered the future of console gaming in Taiwan, wondering if XBOX’s much vaunted online capabilities would find the perfect bride in Taiwan’s online oriented gaming scene. Taiwan and South Korea are microcosms of a larger trend that is spreading like a tsunami across the Pacific from East Asia to America. It’s taking the console oriented gaming industry of Japan by surprise, and is one of the reasons behind the Enix-Square merger. I had a good time with a bunch of good gamers and people. Taiwanese gamers may dance to the beat of a different drummer than America or Japan but they dance nonetheless.
From the R.O.C – Taiwan...
Joshua Hsieh with a special hsieh hsieh to Andrew Lin for his awesome translation.
More updates and news bits as they come! Next up - a Preview of Fighter's Club, and a review of Meteor, Butterfly and Blade, not to mention more images, games et al. You can still view Josh's supplemental photos and impressions here.