Greetings one and all and welcome to the first of…some…maybe…missives from the dank, dark depths of the localization gulag that spawned the might, the majesty, that is Blazing Souls Accelate. My name is Mike Engler, and me and the multitude of voices in my head will be your guides through the nebulous, sometimes chaotic, but ultimately mostly harmless process that turns an obscure Japanese strategy RPG into an obscure (yet now mighty and majestic) Japanese strategy RPG that can be played, and hopefully enjoyed, by the vast English-speaking gaming audience.
Before I continue, I probably should talk a little bit about the game. For those not in the know (i.e.: all of you…), Blazing Souls Accelate is a strategy RPG that being released by us here at Aksys Games in the very near future. The story revolves around one Zelos, a contractor with a heart of lead who would be considered apathetic except for the fact he can’t bring himself to care even that little, and his eventual promotion to the role of extremely reluctant hero.
What separates Zelos from your typical RPG hero archetype is the fact that he never really embraces the role, and in fact is almost forced into be a nice guy by those around him, despite his increasingly desperate attempts at remaining an abrasive, unlikeable bastard. In the end, expect lots of pathos, romance, drama and the possible redemption of the human soul. And of course, the occasional highly inappropriate joke…
Now that the obligatory story overview is out of the way, it’s time to delve deep into the sordid underworld of game localization. Here at Aksys Games, there is a list of absolute requirements that each of the localization drones demand must be met before we even deign to look at a game. These would be:
1) A reasonable deadline
2) Well-organized text
3) All of the Japanese sound files (Dialog, battle call-outs, potential cell-phone ringtones, etc.)
4) A chance to play the original game
5) An ample supply of beer to deaden the pain of not having any of the above ever happen.
As you can see by #5 on the above list, the first four demands almost never happen, or at least never happen at the same time. And the Blazing Souls project was no exception. While the original deadline was generous enough and the text was more or less well organized, that’s where the happiness stops and the overwhelming destruction of the soul begins. You see, Blazing Souls emerged from its little hollow in the ground and took its first tentative steps into the world just in time to be buried whole by the terrifying avalanche known as BlazBlue. And like an avalanche, BlazBlue never stopped coming.
Every time I thought I was done with that game, a new onslaught of text, voice direction, and random translations would descend upon me like a pack of starving wolves and I’d have to put BSA on the backburner. Thus, what started out as a pretty reasonable deadline quickly turned into an exercise in insanity, lost weekends and the grim realization that I might have to edit text well into the debug phase in addition to write dialog while doing voice recording. Luckily, thanks to a bit a luck and the assistance of the Aksys Localization Overlord Mike Manzanares (AKA Mike01), I was able to make the final deadline.
Another fun wrinkle that popped up when I first dove into the main script (all 8,000 Excel rows of it) was that while all of the lines were there (more or less), none of the speakers were identified. To put it simply, there was no way to tell who was saying what. As you can imagine, this would make editing the dialog and adding characterization a wee bit difficult. The developer thoughtfully sent us an additional file that identified all of the speakers and their lines, although it was by sound file number.
So before any editing could be done, me and the translator (Asuka the Infinitely Patient) had to manually match up character names to the appropriate line of dialog. As an extra bit of entertainment, there were lines that were in the script that weren’t recorded or had alternate takes, so occasionally we’d have to listen to the sound file (if it was available, which often times it wasn’t) and try to match it up with the related text. Oh, did I mention that a few of the lines were mislabeled…?
Once this little disaster was taken care of, it was time to dive in and start working my magic. But of course, yet another tiny issue reared its ugly head. As I had to devote a great deal of time to BlazBlue stuff as well as the upcoming game <rottweilers wearing top hats!>, I wasn’t able to devote any time to playing through BSA, meaning I wasn’t really too familiar with the characters. However, I remained undaunted and began to plow through the text.
For those not familiar with the process, editing text for a game is a fairly time-consuming and complicated affair. In addition to cleaning up the raw translations, adding characterization, and coming up with western equivalents for untranslatable Japanese puns and in-jokes, you also have to make sure that all of the programming codes and line breaks are where they should be, that all of the text is within character limits, and the dialog you do write will fit within the time allotted for the associated sound file. This was especially important with Blazing Souls, as almost every single line of dialog is voiced.
Another thing to be aware of is the gender of the character you’re editing. As I said, I wasn’t familiar with the characters of the game at the time, so I went with the way they spoke both in the translated text as well as the original Japanese. Some characters spoke with a decidedly masculine manner, so I wrote them as males. Imagine my surprise when we finally started getting art assets and voice files that a couple of the characters I had written as manly men…weren’t.
So began a feverish round of re-editing, although I did leave of the characters as is because I thought it’d be amusing. A sparkly vampire pony to anyone who can guess which one…
Well, I’ve droned on enough for now. In the next installment of this little exercise in self-promotion, I’ll go into more detail about what localization means (complete with examples from the actual script!) as well as the voice recording process and why things sometimes sound like they do. So stay tuned for Episode Two: The ballad of Mr. Tiddles, or Why did she just call out SPOON?!
Let’s seeing each the other time!