Very rarely does stuff here in Japan really stick out to me as “futuristic.” I think I’ve just become desensitized to it all, although I suppose in general things here are pretty technologically advanced when compared to back home in the States. That is, for the most part, because a lot of times, simple things (ie, anything that requires a form) generally take about 2 months on average to complete But anyways, Japan still has stuff like cell phones with video conferencing and voice-activated GPS, cars that parallel park automatically, and even toilets that play music and give your butt a shower. None of this is all that surprising to me. For the first time in a long while, however, this past weekend, I saw something that reminded me how advanced this small island nation really is.

It was a video game, although it wasn’t the PS3, DS, Wii, and of course not the X-Box 360. It was a game at the arcade from the popular Gundam series, this one called ガンダム:戦場の絆 (Gundam: Senjou no Kizuna), or something like Gundam: The Ties of the Battlefield. Oh, but this isn’t your average arcade came; no, not at all. attack of the POD peopleThis game lets you sit in a little pod and actually pretend you’re steering a giant combat robot. Sure there are a lot of games like this, right? Well, this pod brings on a whole new experience. First off, the place looks awesome. One of the arcades near Chiba station had the Gundam pods set up, and it was the most impressive set up I’ve seen in an arcade in a very long while. See the picture on the right? I nabbed it from the official website of this game. (For those of you who can’t read Japanese, it’s still worth looking at. Look at the main page and click on GAME to see some pictures of the pod machines and the actual gameplay.)
You can see on the right here the exterior of the p.o.d. (panoramic optical display) unit. There were 8 of these machines all in one section of the arcade, shiny and brand new. As you can see in the pictures, you sit in the pod, which is like the cockpit of a giant robot, and use the foot pedals and two control-sticks to move around in your Gundam and fight the enemies. The game is a bit like capture the flag, although it really is just running around shooting and slashing the enemies. It sounds basic, but the wrap-around screen and the controls really make you feel like you’re piloting a huge robot. Also, there is a headset in the pod that you put on, and you can talk with the other players on your team. You can plan your strategies and tactics this way, or yell obscenities when you get killed. Or maybe sing a song.

Bridge controlsThe game is about the same price as other high-end arcade games here, which is expensive by American standards, but the game is so fun it’s worth it. You also buy a Pilot Card which keeps track of your name, score, past battles, records, and points, so that you can keep playing to earn enough points to access more weapons, stages, and Gundam robots to play with. The card has some kind of re-printable surface on it, so everytime you update your card, the printed data on it changes. Really cool. Up to 8 people can play at once, in 4-vs-4 matches. Of course, if you just want to play with a few friends, then the computer players will fill in the rest.

This is seriously one of the coolest arcade games I’ve played in a while, and I don’t even usually like robot/run-around-and-shoot games. Also some sweet extras are the two consoles outside of the pod area, which let you insert your card to purchase new weapons, check our your scores, etc. The thing just looks really cool, with the most futuristic touch-screen interface I’ve ever seen. It seriously looks like something out of Star Trek. That’s it on the left there. There are also two huge plasma TV’s where you can watch people playing and also watch your battles after you’re done. Since you’re playing from the point of view of the cockpit, it’s really cool (and nerdy, I know) to watch the battle afterwards from a bird’s-eye view, and get to see yourself get slaughtered by the enemy, or maybe vice-versa.

So yeah, it is way nerdy to write an entire blog entry about an arcade game, but this Gundam pod game rocks and really reminds me that Japan is the world of tomorrow. I don’t know that much about Gundam, but it’s still fun to run around, jump on buildings, and shoot at the enemy robots. Also, it’s funny how into this game some people already are. There are teams of people who come to play this together, and they have maps of the stages beforehand, all scribbled on with their battle plans, etc. And no, these dedicated players (huge nerds) aren’t really college or high school kids. Most of the ones I’ve seen are salaryman looking guys still in their suits and ties, hanging around in the arcade at night living our their fantasies as Mobile Suit Pilots. I know I am.