Scale models are an excellent source of detail for lesser-known Japanese vehicles. Not only are they useful in their own right for tabletop wargaming or simple display, thanks to 3D scanners and digitizers they are also an excellent source for someone looking to add digital assets to a computer/video game – http://preview.tinyurl.com/zp24po3
They also fire the imagination not only for Japanese vehicles that certainly participated in battle like the Chi-Ha medium tank below, but also for lesser known vehicles and prototypes for which visual references are hard to find.
Model companies like Tamiya, Hasegawa, and FineMolds have been making detailed scale models of Japanese vehicles for decades and are well-known in the modeling community, but you may need to look a bit farther to find something that has never been introduced to a game before. Examples include Japanese domestic model makers Pit-Road and Fairy Kikaku, and European model companies Armo and Chorozsy Modelbud (particularly on the latter for unusual early airplanes). These model makers are generally reliable in their physical depictions of vehicles and provide good detail even for “what if” vehicles that could be used in games.
Kurogane with mounted machine gun
Scale models are particularly useful when reference photos are difficult to find on the Internet. Fairy Kikaku, in particular, seems to regularly release very unusual vehicles of which there are few photos and little information is available.
A good example of an unusual find would be Kit 72016 – “Manchukuo Type 93 Armored Car.” This model lists a Japanese (technically the puppet-state of Manchukuo, the assembly paper lists “Daido” but it should be “Dowa” automotive 同和自動車工業) Armored Car with a mounted 37mm gun (most -9*likely a Type 94 37 mm Gun, added for additional firepower and fortification-busting to the passenger side compartment, possible anti-armor use). This is unusual since most Japanese (or Manchukuo) armored cars had only machine guns mounted, and could add some much-needed firepower for Japan’s ally in a game.
Researching rare vehicles from scale models can also be a source of fun in itself. A little more searching around the web for answers yielded the following photo below of Manchukuo armored cars below, of which at least 3 can be seen. This elevates the design above so-called one-off “improvised” armored cars, in my opinion – making it potentially one of the unique Manchukuo-only armored vehicles, an excellent add for games!
Note however that there may be some differences – some details in this photo differ from those above, such as the fact that the vehicles below have 4 wheels, squared-off fenders, and 2 machine gun ports per side. Did Fairy Kikaku base their details on an incomplete photo? Or did they have another image source reference of the side view? Perhaps your own continued research will unravel more!
“What if?” models can also be interesting, often offering details like markings or suggesting camouflage patterns on vehicles that never left the prototype stage, such as the Japanese Kikka jet “Otsu” here:
Scale models offer a chance to bring to life vehicles that are rarely seen in media, of which only a few – if any – photos exist. The creativity and skill of experienced modelers can be a great reference point, but the simple assembly of the bare plastic models themselves can offer an excellent point for conversion to 3D models.