For some of you younger Gen-X’ers or older millennials, you likely remember the Bomberman series between the 8-bit and 32-bit generations. For those of the same age group, a lot of you probably watched Nick Arcade on Nickelodeon, and you were exposed to games such as Bonk, or the TurboGrafx-16 console. So, what do they all have in common? They were all made by Hudson Soft. Besides making original software titles for just about every console you can think of up until it was absorbed by Konami in 2012, they collaborated with the Nippon Electronic Company, or NEC for short, to make the PC Engine, or the TurboGrafx-16 in international markets. So, what’s the history behind this company, their franchises, and their mixed success/failures of their hardware? Read today’s Editorial Tuesday to find out!
A Ham Radio Shop in Hokkaido
The beginnings of Hudson trace back to May 18, 1973, when the Kudo brothers, Yuji and Hiroshi, were running CQ Hudson, an amateur ham radio shop in Sapporo, the capital of Japan’s Northern Hokkaido prefecture. Yuji was a graduate of Nihon University’s engineering program and prior to opening CQ Hudson in Sapporo, he worked as a company employee in Nagoya. In his youth, Yuji attempted a side business of selling photos he took of trains, and called his business Group Hudson Production, with the Hudson name taken from the Hudson train in New York.
With no prior experience handling or gaining capital funds and having trouble finding people he could trust invest into his business, Yuji’s initial venture immediately failed and he went back to Hokkaido. As to how he and Hiroshi started CQ Hudson, they initially wanted to open a café, but because the space they were renting at already had one, they decided to open a ham radio shop. Due to Yuji’s previous failures with finding trustworthy investors when attempting his train photo business, Hiroshi, his younger brother, dropped out of Hokkaido Gakuen University law school during his second year to join him. Due to their lack of knowledge and education on business, their store never made any money, but they kept going.
Japan’s First Ever Big Name Software Provider
Towards the end of the decade, the home computer started to enter the mainstream and in 1978, Yuji started to sell computer software in his store. So, what inspired him to get into computers? Yuji saw how the PC hobbyists were booming in the US during those times through a magazine, and he took a trip to America and brought back a PC. Then at the dawn of the 1980s, he was selling and developing then state of the art software such as Hu-BASIC, an interpreter of BASIC for Sharp’s computers, most notably the Human68k, the operating system for Sharp’s X68000 PC series. The “Hu” from “Hu-BASIC” actually came from the first two letters of Hudson.
At the same time, nobody in Japan back then really knew how to program software so the Kudo brothers recruited programmers from local universities to help program their computers to sell. One of the programmers they recruited was Shinichi Nakamoto, the creator of Bomberman, who was a dropout of Hokkaido University’s engineering department. Thanks to Nakamoto’s help, CQ Hudson was in the software selling business. Eventually (at the recommendation of Sharp), they were selling their software through magazines and every time someone from the post office showed up to deliver their money, the company nickname for the post office worker would be Santa Claus. Shortly before midway into the 1980’s, Hudson Soft was Japan’s biggest software provider.
They were big to the point that they had contracts with SoftBank (which is now one of Japan’s top three mobile providers), and Joshin Denki, one of Japan’s biggest electronic store chains. To this day, Son Masayoshi, the founder of SoftBank, acknowledges that without the Kudo brothers, Softbank wouldn’t be where it is today. When you see where SoftBank is today you have to give kudos to the Kudo brothers.
Nintendo’s First Third Party Supporter
When Nintendo was first developing their Famicom, or internationally known as the Nintendo Entertainment System, they turned to Hudson Soft for some programming software. For the console, they provided the Family BASIC program as a development software kit, which was an offshoot of their Hu-BASIC programming language. Their debut hit for the Family Computer would be a port of Brøderbund’s and Doug Smith’s Lode Runner in 1984, which would later get a North American release in 1987.
When Nintendo and Hudson had Donkey Kong on the Famicom for display at Marui-Imai, one of Hokkaido’s biggest chain supermarkets at the time, the way kids reacted to it made Yuji convinced that they were looking at the future of computer gaming. Upon taking care of the paperwork guaranteeing annual royalties for sales, they were in business. They made games for the Famicom and started a national caravan tour promoting their debut titles such as Ninja Hattori-kun, Doraemon, Lode Runner, and a game based on The Legend of Momotaro, which is from Japanese mythology. Their relationship with Nintendo would still continue to prosper as they made the first eight installments of the Mario Party series.
Though they were Nintendo’s first official third party supporter, they still continued to develop for other consoles and PC systems mostly exclusive to Japan such as the MSX, PC-8801, and the ZX Spectrum. So, what would be their international break out hit?
Nintendo has Mario, Sega has Sonic, and Capcom has Megaman. So, who did Hudson Soft have? While their company logo would be a bee, their breakout hit was Bomberman. While it is famous as a console series, it made its debut on Japanese PCs in 1983 under its Japanese title, Bakudan Otoko. The purpose of the Bakudan Otoko game was to demonstrate Hudson Soft’s Hu-BASIC programming language. It was a unique strategy game of trying to figure out where to put bombs within a single screen stage and get your enemies in its line of fire. Like Pac-Man, you can’t physically touch enemies or you’ll die. If you’re within the blast range of a bomb you placed, then that will kill you, too, so you had to think carefully.
When it was ported to the Famicom in 1985, it was given numerous upgrades you wouldn’t believe between the original and what we see today. The Bakudan Otoko game felt more like Pac-Man, but the Famicom version was just something different and it became the franchise as we know it. Shinichi Nakamoto has commented that the Famicom version to Bomberman represents his true vision, and would later port that Famicom version to the PC it was originally released on. As crazy as it sounds, Nakamoto actually solely made the Famicom port in 72 hours!
Apparently, he got threw it together by chewing bubblegum and when he didn’t have any more gum to chew, he would start to chew pencils. Thankfully, that work paid off because the Famicom version to Bomberman would sell over a million and pave way for a long lasting franchise! We encourage you to look up the original 1983 version to Bomberman on YouTube to see how different it was from the Bomberman it is now. Not only would it become a successful game series, it would get its own anime series, Bomberman Jetters.
Takahashi Meijin, the first ever video game spokesman
Long before Sega had Hidekazu Yukawa, one of their top executives during the late-90s to promote the Dreamcast, Hudson had Takahashi Meijin (real name Toshiyuki Takahashi), another one of their executives and programmers, to promote the Hudson name. He became famous for his trigger speed on game controllers. In his prime, he could fire 16 shots per second on a controller, and exploited it through old shooting games such as Star Force and and Star Soldier. Due to his fame in Japan, he was featured in some of Hudson’s games. Americans and Europeans may remember a Master Higgins in their Adventure Island series when in fact, it was Takahashi in the original Japanese release! Not only has the company paid their respects and paid homage to him, so has anime such as Gintama.
As for the man behind the character, Toshiyuki Takahashi’s journey into the gaming world is unique in itself. Like the Kudo brothers, Takahashi is also a native of Sapporo in Hokkaido. While attending a community college that specialized in motor vehicles, he worked part-time for one of Hokkaido’s biggest supermarket chains at that time, Sapporo Food Center. Three months into college, he dropped out to work for Sapporo Food Center full-time.
After being promoted to becoming a supervising manager in the spring of 1981, he happened to come across one of Sharp’s computers, the MZ-80. Intrigued by it, Takahashi wanted one and taught himself BASIC, quit his job, and became a programming instructor. By working with his students, his knowledge continued to grow and at the encouragement of a student, he interviewed for a job at Hudson (which was still based out of Hokkaido) and got it. Thankfully, he got the job around the same time Hudson got the Famicom contract with Nintendo, and he was tasked with working on Famicom games, and his career took off front here.
As for the Meijin name, Meijin is a title Japanese people use to refer to masters of go or shogi, traditional Japanese strategy games. Due to showing off his skills in March, 15, 1983 at an event on the roof of the Matsuzakaya Department store in Tokyo’s Ginza district, he got the nickname Takahashi Meijin by showing his mastery at video games.
The PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 (The Console War in Japan)
As they found success with software, they found their way into the hardware business when they collaborated with NEC, or Nippon Electronic Company (the 4th biggest PC manufacture at the end of the 1980s), to make the PC Engine console. As to what Hudson contributed to the PC Engine, they made the CPU (known as the HuC6820), and the HuCard format for the console’s software, as opposed to using cartridges. The PC Engine made its debut in Japan in October of 1987. While many non-Japanese gamers will forever associate the 16-bit Console Wars of the 1990s between the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo, the war would be waged between the Super Famicom and the PC Engine in the Land of the Rising Sun.
When the PC Engine made its debut, it was outselling the Famicom towards the end of the decade! Compared to its American counterpart, the TurboGrafx-16, the original Japanese design was unique and compact, and easily accommodated the smaller Japanese households. By gaining strong third party support from Namco and Konami, the PC Engine was a hit in Japan.
After finding tremendous success in Japan, NEC wanted to sell it in the US. Though the PC Engine may sound cool from a non-English perspective, to a native English speaker, it lacks that kick and the American branch of NEC saw that it needed to be changed to suit the market. Also, the American branch didn’t like the original Japanese design and wanted to make it bigger. Lastly, they came up with the name TurboGrafx-16, in reference not to its CPU, which was actually 8-bit, but to its 16-bit GPU.
Due to the ill-timed release in conjunction to Sega’s debut of the Genesis in 1989 in the US, it just failed to catch on. Hudson didn’t see it as a loss because NEC had to pay them royalties whether the consoles were sold or not. As a result, they didn’t get the same third party support as it did in Japan. Seeing as it failed in America, NEC didn’t bother trying the European market. They just modified the American models to run on PAL TVs, and the American HuCards were made compatible with the European consoles. However, a French import retailer was able to find considerable success by selling the original Japanese PC Engine consoles for its respective gamers.
The collaboration between NEC and Hudson did a lot for gaming though it was mostly successful in Japan. The PC Engine was a hit to the point that it got handhelds such as the PC Engine LT, which played HuCards, and this was long before Sega released its Nomad, which was a handheld that played Genesis cartridges. It was also the first to release a CD-ROM add-on in December of 1988 in Japan. The PC Engine prospered until it was discontinued in 1994. NEC followed it up with the PC-FX, and Hudson’s role with that console was to make games games based on then popular anime for it despite contributing some CPU hardware to it. Due to NEC’s new policies, Hudson couldn’t develop previous PC Engine games for the FX such as Bonk or Bomberman. For the most part, the PC-FX would largely be popular for being one of the very few home consoles to have hentai games and would be in production until 1998 and wouldn’t have the same success as its predecessor.
Even when they were working with NEC on the PC Engine, Hudson was still developing and publishing games for numerous consoles. Bomberman would still find a home on the Super Nintendo, the Genesis, and consoles following the 16-bit era, and is still made to this day. Bonk would also be featured on the Super Nintendo as well, so Hudson was never really exclusive to one company the same way the old Square was.
Merge With Konami
Despite Hudson’s contributions and success, that doesn’t mean they were subjected to sudden financial problems. This traces back to when Hokkaido Takushoku, their bank, collapsed at the end of the 90s. Shortly after, they became a publicly traded company, and Konami bought 5.6 million shares in August of 2001. Prior to Konami buying these shares, they already had a history of collaborating back to the 1980s. For example, Hudson worked on the MSX and Famicom port to one of their arcade classics, Pooyan.
Due to Konami having majority ownership, Hudson would become a subsidiary of Konami in the coming years. In the next ten-plus years, the Hudson name would slowly phase out. Hiroshi Kudo would resign in November 2004 due to financial difficulties, Bomberman creator Shinichi Nakamoto would leave two years later, and in 2011, Takahashi Meijin would leave the company. Considering that many of its key players were now gone, there was nobody left to carry on its legacy. By 2012, Hudson and Konami formally agreed to officially merge, and many of Hudson’s games became Konami’s.
As for the old CQ Hudson electronics store that was opened in the 1970s, it stayed in business until 2001. With Hudson gone, where’s everybody these days? Yuji Kudo now enjoys making dioramas based on the old days of Tokyo, and enjoys the culture in Tokyo’s Asakusa tourist district. Hidetoshi Endo, a former executive to Hudson, is presently the president of NDcube, a subsidiary of Nintendo and much of the staff happens to be former staff of Hudson as well. Takahashi Meijin is presently working as an advocate for e-sports in Japan. For Shinichi Nakamoto, he started a mechanical module production company. Around the same time, he also served as a securities and risk evaluator for SkyMark Airlines. As you can see, there are some who are still active with the industry, and some that have moved on. Even so, gamers should never forget that without Hudson and the people behind it, gaming as we know it probably wouldn’t exist.