After talking with the Fossil Fighters: Champions team about making dinosaurs collectable, Siliconera spoke to Mark MacDonald and John Ricciardi from localization studio 8-4. 8-4 are the wordsmiths behind the Nintendo DS game and a shelf of other titles you may have played including Nier, Tales of Vesperia, Monster Hunter Tri, and Dragon Quest VI.
These days it seems like there are more games designed specifically for a Japanese audience. Concepts like moe don’t have a broad appeal outside of Japan and maybe Taiwan. How do you overcome these cultural barriers?
Mark MacDonald (Miictured)and John Ricciardi, 8-4 Ltd.: We do all we can to adjust, or make suggestions to the developer to adjust, whatever we can do in writing — like the personality of characters, maybe some of the situations they find themselves in, etc. — if it seems like tweaking it will really help it work better for a Western audience.
But yeah, many times games might be stuck with artwork or fundamental aspects of gameplay that appeal more to Japanese tastes that just can’t be changed for one reason or another. If nothing else, we try to point these bits out to clients in the hope that, next time, they can design with the West in mind, create an alternate for the foreign version, or deal with it some other way.
Shingo Matsushita, Director at Nintendo: From the beginning, we strove to make a game that could be enjoyed by players all over the world, so we didn’t change anything in particular about the game [Fossil Fighters: Champions].
What are some of the challenges of communicating the meaning of what is truly being said when localizing a game?
Mark MacDonald and John Ricciardi (Miictured), 8-4 Ltd.: Context. Context is everything in making a translation sound natural, but sometimes you have little or no idea exactly what will be happening in-game when a line appears, so you have to be really careful about every little detail.
Take a super-simple example: a line where a character says they will open a chest. In the actual game, is the speaker close to the chest — should it be "this chest" or "that chest" or "the chest way over there"? How many chests are there — maybe "the chest" would be more natural if there’s only one, or "a chest" if it’s one of many? What have the people been talking about up until this point — if they already mentioned the chest, maybe just "I’ll open it" would be better? We could go on with this fascinating chest example, but you get the idea — it can be really tedious and difficult just trying to think of all the things not to say that would screw things up, much less finding just the right line for a given situation.
Other times it’s more a challenge of communicating what is not being said, explicitly anyway: nuance, subtlety, speaking style — those sorts of things are so important in conveying personality and keeping text engaging, but they are also typically the first things lost when moving something into another language — hell, even when you pass along a message second hand in the same language. If you aren’t careful you can have a "telephone game" effect on text as you translate and edit, where the original meaning is obscured or lost. Something like "Aw shucks, Pa, ya shouldn’t have…" can easily become "Alas, Father! How could you?!" if you aren’t careful.