Game Market 1983 - Chapter 63
After having a light meal at the hotel, we hopped in a taxi and headed to Myeongdong. Various historic buildings were coming into view as we traveled through the north street.
The year 1995. As a part of President Kim Youngsam’s ‘Correcting history’ initiative, this building would be demolished, so I felt a sense of sentimentality seeing this building again.
During the period where plans were being made to demolish the building, per the presumptuous request of Japan to allow them to relocate the building because a Japanese architect had built it, Korean president Kim Youngsam released a video footage of the building being demolished to the whole world in a fit of anger.
Although his actions were unfitting as the president of South Korea, his decision still resonated with me.
Yuki who was staring out the window together with me focused her attention on the building and asked.
“So that’s the building being used as a museum?”
“Yeah. The building behind that used to be the palace of our king.”
“Wow… To think my countrymen would erect a building like this in front of a palace. I feel ashamed as a Japanese for
“I told my parents about going to this trip with you, and my father told me this story. Japan had made a grave mistake against Korea this time. He labored the point that it wouldn’t be enough to atone for our sins even if the entire nation of Japan apologized.”
“Your parents must be truly compassionate people telling you this.”
“Actually… I haven’t told you yet, but my mother is Korean.”
“Yes. This is why my father is happy whenever I talk about you.”
… It looked like I had somehow gained Yuki’s father’s blessing without even meeting him. But Yuki was almost 20 years old now and she said she also had an older sister. Marrying 23~24 ago to a Korean woman definitely must have been a difficult decision for him…. I can see where Yuki’s fearlessness came from….
A while later. The taxi driver had dropped us off at the opposite side of Myungshin gate in a relatively narrow street. A small hill called the ‘100 year mountain’ would appear after walking down this path, where I would sometimes go to play as a child. But the sentimental part of this trip was over, I wasn’t here to visit the 100 year mountain.
After stepping off of the taxi, I hoisted a heavy backpack on one shoulder.
“Oh this? Hmm…. You can say it's a business tool.”
At this point in time, I did not have the slightest bit of influence in Korea. Video games were still in its infancy here. Of course, Mintendo’s Family and ‘Game Bear’, a rebranded version of the NEGA Disk was being sold through official licensing by the S Corporation.
No, arcade machines that carried illegal copies of titles from Mintendo were the most common form of video games right now. However, the illegal copies of Family games that were being made in Taiwan were better in some ways.
Anyways, the person I was about to meet was a future member of the developer team in Korea that would go on to produce a plethora of popular titles in the 90s.
As I stepped into a shop near the Myungshin marketplace, a long forgotten PC store from my childhood came into view.
This was the place that would find the latest copy of Dragon Warrior 4 and lead me down the path of games. The interior of the shop was seemingly no different than a small convenience store with the plain looking show windows displaying only a handful of cartridges. At that moment, Yuki who had been looking in through the show window shouted to me with an excited voice.
“Mr. Junhyuk, there is a copy of Dragon Emblem here!!”
Oh! This was a surprise. The Dragon Emblem cartridge that was in one corner of the display under the tag ‘Rare Japanese Import’ was showing a price of 100,000 Wons. ($100) Second-hand stores in Japan were also selling for around this price range. I stared at the Dragon Emblem cartridge that I found on Korean soil for a while and entered the shop.
A man in his 30s greeted us with his raspy voice as he came out of the curtains from the backroom. The Mantra Computer shop was a dual purpose infrastructure with half the shop being a game store and the rest being a workshop for the owner. He must have been eating lunch right before we came as the aroma of bean-paste noodles were permeating throughout the interior of the store, and I could detect hints of cigarette smoke mixed in with the smell of the noodles creating an unpleasant stench.
“We want to sell some cartridges for the Family console to you.”
“Oh… really? I opened this shop recently so I’m low on funds, but could I see the products first?”
As I plopped a heavy bag on top of the counter, a loud crash reverberated around the tiny store.
“... Just how much stuff did you bring…”
“Around 30 units?”
“30 units? I don’t know if I would be able to… purchase them all…”
“Please look at the product first before you make any decision.”
I took out a cartridge from the bag expecting the store owner to be surprised. It was a Dragon Emblem cartridge in a black case unlike the normal copies sold in Japan. As I handed the package to him, the store owner opened and closed in eyes in disbelief as he examined the package closely.
“Dragon Emblem? But this is…?”
There was only one reason the store owner was surprised at the familiar Dragon Emblem logo.
The case was in Korean…
“Is this really a Korean version of Dragon Emblem?”
“You can turn it on if you have any doubts.”
The store owner inserted the cartridge into a family console with a slightly trembling hand. Yuki made a questioning face at the Dragon Emblem cartridge from my bag and turned her eyes to the TV screen. And moments later as the familiar Dragon Emblem logo appeared on the screen in Korean, the owner exclaimed as if he had seen a miracle.
“It… it’s Korean!! Korean~!! Wow~ I can’t be dreaming? Am I?"
Seeing the store owner dance in happiness as if he was a kid again, I felt that I repaid just a little bit of the kindness he’d shown me when I was in his store. It was because of the store owner that I found myself enamored with the Dragon Warrior series and remembered when he had given me a free copy of “Ice 2 Special” that he programmed himself. (Of course, the game was riddled with bugs, so I had to go back several times to have it fixed. Thinking back on it, I’m wondering if he used me as a free beta tester.)
“I felt a little disappointed when I heard that the developer of Dragon Emblem was a Korean, and there wasn’t a Korean version of the game. Seeing a Korean version of Dragon Emblem truly makes me ecstatic. Did you translate the texts yourself?”
After responding, I glanced at Yuki before continuing.
“Because I am the developer of Dragon Emblem.”
Contrary to my expectations, Yuki was the first to have a reaction. She must’ve gotten the gist of what I was saying from studying Korean for a year.
“Did you really make Dragon Emblem?”
“Yeah… Sorry for hiding it from you…”
“Then you beating the game in one try in the event was because….?”
“Well, I created the stages so I knew exactly how to clear the game.”
“Oh my god…”
Yuki looked at me with a completely enthralled expression. The store owner was making the same face.
“So you really are the developer of Dragon Emblem?”
“Sorry for the late introduction. I’m Kang Junhyuk, currently working at Mintendo. The latest game I released was…”
“Could it be Psychic Battle?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Of course I know this!! I even flew to Japan to get a hold of the title knowing a Korean developer made it!! Wow~ I can’t believe you’re in my store… Where is my pen…”
The owner started looking around for a paper and pen.
“You… really don’t have to do this.”
“Are the 30 cartridges inside your bag all Dragon Emblem copies?”
“Yes. It would be difficult for me to translate Psychic Battle to Korean since it belongs to Mintendo.”
“Keuh~ Is that so. It’s a pity, but I’m mighty satisfied with a Korean version of Dragon Emblem… I have to ask. Does this copy have a data deleting system as well?”
“It is implemented into the game to keep the integrity of its history, but I added a data recovery function in the cartridge.”
“Alright. Now how should I go about selling this.”
“Actually, the reason I came here wasn’t to sell my cartridges to you.”
“Are you interested in being the first game publisher in Korea?”
“Publ… What did you say?”
My plan was simple. I would start the first video game publishing company with the owner of Mintra Computers, whom I had a bond with from my childhood. Publishing games entailed importing the software from abroad and acquiring the appropriate licensing for it before selling the game domestically. However, an official channel of distribution for games was non-existent in Korea. It couldn’t even be said that there was a video game industry at all as the country was littered with street vendors selling imported copies.
Korean console users could only try and guess what the Japanese text meant as they slowly inched their way through the game. The only relief to them was the English version of a few games which they could somewhat understand.
The reaction of the store owner wasn’t exaggerated at all since the first Korean versions of games would arrive much later in the Super Family era.
“So what you want us to do is to establish a publishing company to translate foreign games into Korean and create an official channel of distribution?”