by Steve Schardein and Greg Schardein
Lords of localization Rich Amtower (Localization Management, NOA Treehouse) and Mark MacDonald (Executive Director, 8-4 Ltd.) sat down with us to discuss, among other things, their recent work on Glory of Heracles. Check out what was said below.
Q: Hey guys—thanks for taking the time to sit down with us Chumps. To kick things off, could you tell us a little about yourselves? Maybe a little about your position specifically and your journey to that spot.
[Mark MacDonald, Executive Director of 8-4, Ltd.]
8-4: My name’s Mark MacDonald, and I worked in various roles in the gaming press for a little over 10 years before moving to Japan and into game localization here at 8-4, Ltd. a couple years back.
[Rich Amtower, Localization Management, NOA]
My title's Localization Producer/Manager. I mostly do the same stuff I've always done—among other things, that includes rewriting game text and occasionally running teams of contractors or outsource groups to localize games for us. I started as a writer/editor, and that job is still part of my duties. I've just got more stuff on top of that. My favorite part of the job is still the writing, but it's pretty fun getting to sit back and watch John and Mark do the work for me.
Q: Glory of Heracles was yet another classic RPG that DS owners can stuff into their library. Was it difficult trying to bring a game to American shores that had already seen four installments in Japan?
8-4: In this case, it wasn’t as complicated as you might expect. Glory of Heracles stands on its own as a unique title, even in Japan, so there really weren’t any characters, items, or plot elements that had to be aligned with previous games. So we had something of a blank canvas to begin with.
Q: We understand that Treehouse gets pretty busy from time to time, and very few people can pull off localization like you guys do. Rich, what’s it like selecting someone to outsource for a project like this one?
Whenever we look at outsourcing tasks like this, we think about who's the best fit for the project, who's going to nail the tone. We've worked with 8-4 before, on Baten Kaitos Origins and Mario Tennis: Power Tour, so we knew the quality of their work, and they knew our standards and our approach to localization. And those were their relatively early days. We've followed their work since then as well, and we've always been impressed, especially with their take on story-driven, dialogue driven games like RPGs. That's a big bonus for us: we've seen what they've done, and we've seen how much their philosophy is in line with our own.
Q: What were the most significant changes you recall that had to be made to Glory of Heracles to make it fit for an American audience?
8-4: In terms of story, there really wasn’t much. The Japanese version already had this really fun, lighthearted story, so outside of playing certain elements up or toning them a bit down, that part of the game just needed a good localization, without any real radical changes. In terms of gameplay, one element I think we all agreed upon was that the battles should be sped up for a western audience, with some added features to let those who wanted to take a more hands-off approach to combat.
Q: What would you say to jRPG fans looking to give the Heracles series a whirl?
8-4: I’d say I think you’re going to enjoy the story and the characters—it’s not your typical JRPG fare, which is definitely a nice breath of fresh air. Think of it as a sort of Dragon Quest Lite, and you should have a good idea of how the game feels and plays.
Q: What do you think the odds are that we’ll see any more action from the franchise here in the states? We understand Japan’s already got two VC releases.
You never can tell. (How's that for a dissatisfying answer? Sorry, but it's all I've got.)
Q: Mark, we know you’re no stranger to gaming—but what was it like transitioning from “lowly” (heh) game critic (like ourselves) to someone involved directly in the production of videogames?
8-4: I know you're just kidding but I definitely wouldn’t call being a game critic lowly! It serves a really important function to people without the time and access to games (like me, now!).
But to answer your question, I’d say the biggest adjustment is getting used to getting more deeply involved with fewer games. Whereas before I might have spent a few weeks with a game at the most if I was doing a cover story on it, I might now spend an entire year on the same one title to localize it. So there’s less variety, but of course you have more control over the final product.
Q: Of all the positions you’ve held, which do you find the most challenging?
8-4: Sorry for the lame answer here, but all of them were challenging in their own ways. I will say some of the challenges editing games are the same as in my old jobs in the gaming press, though, such as trying to say something substantial and (hopefully) entertaining in a limited amount of space. Or knowing, where, commas and different types—of punctuation would work best.
Q: Want to come work part-time for DigitalChumps? We’re hiring, but we don’t pay anything. ;-) You do get a wicked cool T-shirt though, and an email address.
8-4: Sure! I hereby volunteer to write your reviews for any and all games that 8-4 works on. In fact, I can just give it to you right here: “Amazing game, best localization ever, will play again and again. How does 8-4 do it? Verdict: 14 stars out of 5.” …Now where’s my T-shirt?
Q: Rich, you’ve overseen a ton of localizations to date. What would you say was the most difficult of all?
Animal Crossing remains the most challenging, from a creative standpoint… I'm sure you could google up a dozen interviews with Treehouse staffers who worked on these games, so I might be repeating myself, but Animal Crossing had a fantastically elaborate text system. Conversations could jump from one topic to another depending on what you were wearing, who you were talking to, what time of day or year it was, what the weather was. Accounting for all of that to write a conversation that made sense took a lot of work. And then, as more iterations of the game came out, we had more writers and translators on the project, so maintaining voice consistency became a lot of work.
But I say that was a difficult game because we all love the series so much—we work our tails off to make the text fun and to reward the player for stopping to read the dialogue. It takes a lot of thought and a lot of attention to detail. By the time you're done localizing a game like that, your eyes are bleeding and your fingers have been worn down to little nubs, but you're still giggling to yourself because you've just found a pure vein of comedy gold one of your peers tucked away somewhere. Seeing what the game brings out in the translators and the other writers is such a huge payoff for me.
Q: Last one, for both of you! Personal favorite jRPG of all time?
8-4: Oh, tough one. I’m still a sucker for some of the first games that really got me into the genre, so I’ll say Final Fantasy V for gameplay, or Final Fantasy VII as an all-around package. John’s favorite (John Ricciardi, who oversaw the GoH localization here at 8-4) is Dragon Quest V or Dragon Quest III. He’s a big DQ nerd, if you didn’t already know.
First and foremost, I deeply love the Golden Sun series. Oh, and dude, this is totally self-serving, but Vagrant Story, absolutely. (Wait, those are both self-serving answers…)If not Vagrant, thennnn… Panzer Dragoon Saga, really. I got into jRPGs a little late, so I think my first real jRPG was Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. I have a deep, unsettling love for that game. I know, you wanted my favorite, and instead, you got a list—but it's hard to pick just one.