m7kenji with his NuVJ gear at a playground in Koenji

This weekend, game creator m7kenji will reunite with world famous chip musicians for this year's Blip Festival Tokyo event, where he will be projecting sprite art visuals during live sets as a VJ. It will be the third time Kenji has joined Blip, having played the New York chiptune gathering earlier this year.

As the artist has thrown himself into the scene, he has come away with techniques for channeling its vibrant low-fi aesthetic into his apps for smart phones. His free iOS game, called Ringo, attracted an enthusiastic niche audience for its sweetness and simplicity. Unburdened by enemies or obstacles, the player explores a harmless 8-bit space by tapping on the touchscreen, collecting fallen apples.

His latest release, for iOS and Android devices, is an interactive concert program for the imminent Blip party at Koenji High. Free to download, it's the killer app for those lucky enough to be in the area to grab tickets at the door.


Prior to his collaborations with the 8bitpeoples collective, Kenji was performing as a VJ in and around Tokyo for several years. It is often mentioned that the combination of efficient public transportation and plentiful variety of clubs make Japan's urban centers ideal homes for performance artists. Before long it became clear that his visual style, informed by the sprite art of Game Boy games, was a perfect match for the city's Cheapbeats chip music shows.

blip2011_logotn.jpg"When I was a kid, all I played was the Game Boy," says m7kenji.

"While my friends were being converted to Super Famicom and PlayStation, my parents were more strict when it came to buying me game consoles. Still, I loved tinkering with the Game Boy Camera, recreating Zelda pixel art using that software."

That pastime has come in handy while performing at Blip with chip stars Bit Shifter, Starpause and Sabrepulse. Through his involvement in the chiptune scene, Kenji has also had the experience of sharing the stage with one of the Game Boy era's most influential creators, Hip Tanaka.

Kenji describes his process creating live visuals as an extension of the tools that Tanaka helped design, bringing user-generated content to the Game Boy camera. His sprites are built in Photoshop by arranging pixels on a 120 x 160 resolution grid. Those shapes are converted into GIF or Flash animation file formats. They are then manipulated in real time during live music sets using a NuVJ video controller.

"He had an influence on me," the artist says of Hip Tanaka's music, "especially EarthBound."

"The Mother games convinced me that RPGs didn't always have to be a Medieval fantasy. You could tell that kind of story even in a more familiar, modern setting. That has given me a lot to think about as I make games today."

[Japanese language content forthcoming. Translation by Yoshi Miyamoto. Photo by Jeriaska. For more information on the concert, visit the Tokyo Blip Festival website.]