Kenji Eno (飯野賢治) was one of the video games industry's most reclusive and mysterious developers. He entered the industry at a young age as a composer and went on to own Warp. He has left a legacy of games, often developed for failed consoles, that are classified equally as strange and innovative. After his final game, D2, was released for the Dreamcast, Eno left video games in 2000. He is known for his unpredictable behavior, eccentric tastes, and controversy. In 2008, he announced his return to video games. With the release of You Me & the Cubes in 2009, Eno returned to his roots, designing and producing video games. He died in February 2013.
Eno had a life long interest in video games, citing a special attachment to the 1978 game, Space Invaders. This interest spurred him to develop a game, in an effort to explore synthesizers and techno music, a hobby he could not afford. His game won a competition, but he failed to take his interest in programming any further until his adult life. After dropping out of high school, Eno was initially unsuccessful in acquiring a job, until he applied for the position of programmer with a small company called Interlink. He got the job on the strength of his childhood game. Programming had passed him by, so he was moved around the company until he landed in the sound division, where he was able to make his mark.
I applied as a programmer, and I hadn’t programmed anything since I was in elementary school; everything had changed. That’s almost 10 years between when I won and when I was applying for this job. I was like, “What is this hard…hard disk? Wow, great! What, this is MS-DOS? Wow, Microsoft has good ideas!” My boss said, “Maybe you can’t program.” I was almost let go. I said, “But I can compose! I can do planning!"
Early Video Game Development
At Interlink, the first game Eno helped produce was the Japanese only Famicon title Ultraman Club 2. The company grew over his first year at Interlink, and citing the expanded size of the company as a cause, Eno quit. In 1989, Eno formed his own independent company called EIM ("Entertainment Imagination and Magnificence"), which set to work on Famicom games. After working on licensed titles in his previous position, Eno felt a strong urge to create his own independent properties. Only a few made it to the United States, including Casino Kid 2 and Panic Restaurant.
During his time with EIM, Eno began development on a Superman game for Sunsoft. However, due to the nature of Superman, Eno was unable to design a proper game. His efforts then moved to Sun Man, which was finished, but never saw release. Reportedly, a ROM is available on the internet.
Despite his independent spirit, Eno was forced to include licensed characters in his games, an issue that caused him to be "mentally unstable". This eventually led him to close EIM. Eno spent two years outside of the video games industry as a consultant for an automotive magazine. After attending a couple events where Eno met independent game creators that shared his counterculture and anti-authoritarian leanings, he was inspired to return to video games.
Upon returning to video game development, Eno started the company Warp. He had a team of six people, and he personally handled game planning, production, direction, and sound. Programming and design were left to his team. While he was veteran in developing games for Nintendo systems, Eno decided to create games exclusively for the American developed 3DO. This was a unique choice for a Japanese developer, but such behavior is characteristic of Eno.
In order to provide a balanced catalogue of games, Eno set Warp's development to a disparate set of projects. These included Totsugeki Karakuri Megadasu!!, a sumo-inspired robot fighter, and Trip'd, a bizarre puzzle game with off the wall aesthetics, and D, a disturbingly bizarre point-and-click psychological horror game. These titles were followed up by Oyaji Hunter Mahjong, where young women were saved from perverts through mahjong games, which involved Macross director, Ichiro Itano. D was the breakthrough title for Warp, pushing the boundaries of video games, with first-person survival horror, FMV pre-rendered movement, puzzle-solving gameplay, disturbing atmosphere, and taboo content such as violence and cannibalism. Eno himself subverted the approval process for the 3DO game by submitting by hand a clean version past deadline. The story elements were added after the game was nearly complete, so the flashback sequences, that featured murder and cannibalism, were not submitted for approval.
This off beat way of dealing with publishers followed into his next game. Sega was vying for a Warp exclusive, and Eno agreed under the condition that they would give a thousand Saturns to a thousand blind people. Fittingly, Warp developed Real Sound: The Wind's Regret, a game with no visuals that was experienced fully through sound. This was followed by Short Warp, a mini game collection for the 3DO. Eno used the game as a cathartic release, as he was becoming "mentally unbalanced". It was limited to 10,000, all hand numbered by Eno and each copy included a condom.
Eno continued his bizarre antics at a Sony press event. There, instead of announcing that Warp was going to develop games for the PlayStation, he announced that he was going to develop for the Sega Saturn. This was punctuated by an on-screen graphic of a PlayStation logo morphing into a Sega Saturn logo. This behavior is attributed to a mistake Sony had made during the manufacture of the PlayStation version of D, in which they produced far fewer copies of the game than promised and failed to meet preorder demand. Eno saw this as betrayal as something like this can be highly damaging to an independent developer.
I was very mad at Sony. When I released D on the PlayStation, Acclaim was to publish it. So the sales people gathered orders for a 100,000 units, but Sony had given their other titles manufacturing priority. So Sony told me that they had only manufactured 40,000 units, and I was very mad about that. But then, in the end, they had actually only manufactured only 28,000 units, which is very bad. So the sales people had gotten 100,000 preorders from retailers, but Sony wasn't able to manufacture all of them. I was very pissed about that, because one title like that for a small company is very important. If that game doesn't sell well, then that's very bad for the company, so I was very mad about that.
After this announcement, Eno headed up the development of Enemy Zero, which continued his trend of producing bizarre and different games. Enemy Zero featured an innovative gameplay mechanic with invisible enemies who had to be detected using the sound from D protagonist Laura's radar, as well as a purposefully grueling save/continue system, and a combination of adventure and first-person shooter gameplay. To work on the game's animations, he hired Fumito Ueda, a protégé who would later go on to develop the influential titles Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.
Once Enemy Zero was completed, Eno and Warp set to work on D2, a game designed for the 3DO successor, the M2. However, halfway through development, the M2 was cancelled, so Eno completely reworked D2 for the Dreamcast. While it was in step with the original D, the American version was censored. This, in combination with Eno's mentally instability and a soured business relationship with Sega, caused him to leave video games in 2000.
After Video Games and Return
Eno spent the following years continuing to work with technology and design through his new company, From Yellow to Orange (FYTO), established in 2001. Amongst his various projects was a system to buy soda at a vending machine using a cell phone, cigarette marketing, designing a hotel, and designing a restaurant.
In 2008, Eno announced his return to video games. He was developing sound and music for Newtonica, which was released on August 28, 2008. The game was briefly #1 in the Japanese iTunes App Store. In 2009 he released the iPhone game one-dot enemies and later released You, Me & the Cubes through his company FYTO for the Wii Shop.
Kenji Eno was found dead in his home on February 20th, 2013 from apparent heart failure. He was 42 years old.