pandoras-vox.jpgTwice a year hobbyists from around Japan make their way to Tokyo for Comic Market, a festival where thousands of independent creators sell homemade manga, music CDs and the occasional PC game.

Anyone with a reservation can set up shop, and over its three-day run the massive gathering draws half a million visitors to the Tokyo Big Sight convention center at Kokusai-Tenjijo.

A PAX-like exuberance predominates during Comiket, with cosplay abundant in the halls of the cavernous convention center. The booths themselves can be viewed as a carnivalesque exercise in entrepreneurship, where anyone with a CD burner or access to xeroxing can be a retailer, if only for a day.

An audio team whose game titles range from Ridge Racer 3D for 3DS to Prismatic Solid for Xbox Indies, SuperSweep has been a loyal supporter of the event for years. The presence of pros like these, elbow-to-elbow with the aspirants, serves as a reminder to would-be studio heads that all companies start off somewhere.

This article takes a look at three Comiket regulars and how their activities relate to the emergence of independently funded games in Japan.

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Season of the King(winter) © u(yuu) / The door of Arcadia

Any seasoned developer can attest to the burden of issues that attend getting an indie game noticed through digital distribution. To go a step further and attempt to package a micro-budget game in the age of Steam and iOS devices might be viewed as adding insult to injury. And yet there are a smattering of PC games for sale at Comic Market, most of which are solely available in physical form.

Last year hobbyist game designer Danjyon Kimura showed up with a Dragon Quest-style RPG called Solitary Island Rigure. Burned to a compact disc and packaged with the 19-track chiptune soundtrack, the effort was a multifaceted homage to the past. Everything from the anime quality of the cover illustration to the style of the sprite art reflects on the vibrancy of the 8-bit era. Kimura says of the Game Boy music that influences his activities, by way of explanation, "It may have been simple, but there were so many inspired songs."

Other artists at Comic Market focus more intently on individual elements of game design. Yuu of the art studio Door of Arcadia creates illustrations for full-color prints that without any modification could serve as the basis for an ambitious game title's concept art. Like Yoshitaka Amano and Tomomi Kobayashi before her, her designs capture glimpses of dreamlike scenes. She counts among her influences the Art Nouveau and Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, whose breakthroughs have often been attributed to the discovery of the Japanese woodblock aesthetic.

To gain exposure among a wider international audience, Yuu has expressed interest in collaborating with an overseas indie game studio. Branching out into game concept design sounds like a natural extension of her standard production schedule. Contributing to k-shi Studio's six Debutante vocaloid albums, Yuu meditated on the concept for each installment, devising a visual motif to suit its representation, and completed each project in time for the Comic Market deadline.

Perhaps what makes the artists of Comic Market most equipped to create inspired indie games is love for the medium. Door of Arcadia art has already appeared on the cover of the music album Istoria Musa, which features original pieces by the composers of Shadow Hearts, Monster Hunter and Romancing SaGa. "I love RPGs," Yuu says, regarding her experience on the project. "These days I find myself short on time, but when I was a child I played the Final Fantasy, Mana and Fire Emblem series as if in a trance."

kaze_atsume_200.jpgKou Ogata is among the many artists who come to Comiket to sell recordings of game soundtrack arrangements on compact disc. Practiced in the use of Irish and Scottish instruments, his albums feature his performances on the tin-whistle, fiddle, bouzouki, concertina, flat mandolin, bodhran and bagpipes. k-waves LAB, the musician's home studio, has put out Final Fantasy XI and Chrono Cross albums that rival the quality of officially licensed releases, while developed for a fraction of the costs.

Recently Ogata has made more of a concerted effort to distance his material from the threat of copyright infringement, turning his attention to the safety zone of Touhou shooters. These independently developed PC games are the products of a programmer / composer who has chosen to apply a sweeping derivative work agreement to all of his soundtracks. The license allows hobbyist musicians to remix his music and sell their CDs without paying royalties, even going as far as to depict the games' protagonists on remix album covers.

k-waves LAB's latest Touhou arrange album will be on sale August 13 at Comic Market 80, for purchase at booth 東シ-52a.

"Selbina" from Final Fantasy XI. Composed by Naoshi Mizuta, arranged and performed by k-waves LAB.