Before E3 started, we asked Siliconera readers to send us questions to ask Aksys… and we have an army of Aksys staff to answer them. This interview was so gigantic it’s split into two parts. Today, we’re going to focus on publisher relations and their "sleeper hit" Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.
Aksys started out by releasing many Arc System Works titles, but now you branched out and localized games from Acquire, Idea Factory, Cave, and even Chunsoft. How do you pick games to localize.
Frank "Bo" deWindt II, Director of Production: Basically, our boss will go out and talk to other developers in Japan to see if there are any titles they are interested in letting us publish. He’ll bring them to us and we’ll evaluate to see if we’re interested in pursuing them or not. Depending if we’re interested or not we’ll get the ball rolling or say no thanks.
Mike Engler, Editor: Also, if we see a title in the wild we’ll also bring it up like ‘hey this would be a great idea, is it available or not?’ We’re all gamers, as well, so if there’s stuff that catches our eyes and we want to do it we’ll look into it as well.
Aileen Viray, Assistant Marketing Manager: Yeah, we all have our fav. games that we look at. We have our opinions and give them our boss.
How do fan requests and what they say on the Aksys forums and other sites affect what games get picked up and do not?
FW: They bring it to our attention if we don’t already know about it. Most often, we already know about it.
ME: From the fan side of it, it’s mainly awareness because there are certain titles that are ‘ah! that would be interesting to do.’ From the most part it’s more from our side just because fans tend to be very vocal. There will be fans and certain people who really want a title, but they will be the only ones who really want that title. Some of the stuff we can’t talk about because the censorship in our heads kicks off and we’ll start talking about dogs. [Laughs.] There’s a lot to it. We don’t ignore fans, by any means, but it’s very, very complicated. If there’s a game that we might have overlooked and a request comes up like ‘hey how about this’ at the very least we do take a look at it.
Ben Bateman, Editor: There are a lot of other factors that contribute to whether we do something apart from interest. We pay a reasonable amount of attention to what people are saying, but if there is something a bunch of people saying ‘we would really like to see this’ and it doesn’t happen; it’s not necessarily because we’re ignoring what those people say. There are a ton of different factors that determine whether or not we can get a game. Fan interest is one of them, but, you know, we can’t do everything.
AV: We try though.
FW: We try hard.
So… about those otome games…
FW: [Laughs] Funny you should mention that…
AV: Otome games? You should come to Anime Expo, maybe attend our panel.
FW: You could learn a lot there and might be of interest.
BB: It will be of interest of someone who might be interested.
FW & AV: Keyword otome.
Aksys has relationships with so many publishers. Cave has started to do things on their own now, but is Aksys planning to work with Cave on any future projects?
FW: There is always a possibility, but as of now we don’t have any plans.
ME: I mean just getting a game there is so much around it that we can’t predict the future. So, it’s not one of those things that ‘we’ll never do it again’ on the other hand we can’t say ‘we’re definitely going to do this.’
FW: It’s a myriad of factors.
What about shooters in general. G.rev has titles that perhaps you could bring over too…
FW We’re not against shooters, obviously, we brought Deathsmiles, Castle of Shikigami III, and Cho Aniki. Everyone forgot Cho Aniki – you should buy it on PSN! [laughs] We’re interested in all genres, shooters are definitely up there, but nothing in our immediate future.
What about your relationship with Marvelous?
AV: Come to our panel! [Laughs]
FW: We love Marvelous! If you like Marvelous, as much as we do, maybe come check out Anime Expo… [Laughs]
And when I say Acquire?
FW: We loved working with them on Gladiator Begins. We would love to work with them again, but unfortunately we don’t have any titles as of yet. Possibly in the future something maybe will come afloat, but right now nothing is planned.
Chunsoft has been more active in Japan self-publishing games now. Have you thought about picking up Shiren or one of their quirky games like Loveable Zombie?
FW: There’s always potential for that, but we haven’t pursued any of those at this time.
Let’s talk about 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. I think was a breakthrough for the visual novels in North America since it got the genre on the radar. How has it lived up to Aksys’ expectations?
FW: I think it was a **** hit, it definitely did well for us. It sold pretty well and I’m happy with it.
Did you say… super hit?
FW: [Laughs] "sleeper hit"
ME: If it was a super hit we’d all be wearing money hats right now!
BB: It worked pretty well.
Thanks in part to you [Ben]. [note: Ben Bateman was the editor of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.]
BB: Not all thanks to me, I didn’t write the game.
James Xie, Community Manager: You just gave it life.
BB: That’s very kind of you.
You gave life to the English words. The best localizations, in my opinion, are ones people don’t notice because they’re so natural even though they were originally in a different language. When you’re looking back at the fan reactions how do you feel about your work?
BB: I think it turned out pretty well. Like, anything that anybody does, I’d like to go back and change it. If you ask anyone who makes movies or works on video games and you can get an honest answer out of them they’ll tell you I’d like to go back and fix X and Y. Overall, yeah I was pretty proud of it.
One thing I thought that was good was there are moments in that game – there’s a lot of text in this game, I don’t know if you played it. There are a lot of words there. [Everyone laughs.] Even though I technically wrote all of them, I didn’t remember all of them. So, when I was reading things people said about the game I would come across things and people would be like ‘this part was great!’ and I’d be like I don’t remember writing that at all, but yeah that is hilarious!
There was one part with toilet paper when you examine it – ‘there are two rolls here one for pleasure, one for fun.’ I didn’t remember writing that at all, but I’m ;ike that’s great! [Everyone laughs.] Yeah, I’m pretty proud of it. It’s one of the best things I’ve done so far at Aksys.
What would you change if you had a chance to go back?
BB: There are no specific things – part of it is when I’m edited I’m looking at an Excel file. I’m not looking at the game. When you go and play the game and see how things actually appear in the game you realize things by how it flows and how it would make sense in a way when you didn’t before. There are some things like that I would change, that would have do deal with pacing. I would probably like to go back and, I don’t know how to explain it, but make it a little less wordy? For one, that’s how visual novels are to begin with and for two that’s how I read because I like to hear myself talk.
There are a lot of things because you do it on a cell by cell basis, it’s easy to loose track of the larger picture. So, you’re thinking, all right, they said about this much in this cell so I need to say that much. But, a lot of times, instead of just that cell you need to look at the whole conversation that’s going on. You need to think about how much really needs to be said? Who’s saying what? What’s the information being communicated? That’s something I’d like, if I had the opportunity and obviously I don’t, to tweak that sort of balance. I feel like that’s one of the things that’s really important to a quality localization. I’m pretty sure there are people out there who will disagree with me on this, but my feeling is that what’s most important with a localization is the meaning of what you’re saying. And that doesn’t always mean a direct translation – direct translation is a weird thing to say anyway because you can’t directly translate from one language to another, especially with languages as different as Japanese and English. When you were talking about having life in what you’re saying, in order to have life in what you’re reading it has to sound like something someone would say in English. If you write it directly from Japanese it won’t sound that way.
ME: I agree whole-heartedly.
BB: There are a bunch of things I could say like Japanese people really like to use names when they talk, Spencer, but in English, Spencer, we don’t do that, you know? I talk to Bo all the time, but I not to his face. That’s not how people talk. There are other things, I don’t know how to put them because they aren’t necessarily sentence constructs, sort of turns of phrases that don’t really make sense in English like ‘I’m going to go where Itachi is.’ I mean technically that makes sense because I’m going to go where that other person is, but you would never say that in English, but that’s a phrase I see a lot in Japanese translations. You see it a lot, but it doesn’t work in English, that’s the kind of thing in my mind that you need to change because it doesn’t sound natural.
That’s all for today! Tomorrow, we’ll talk about visual novels, Record of Agarest War Zero, and… ladders.