2017 End-of-the-Year Q&A Extravaganza Blog! #5

It’s time for our last Q&A blog of the year. It’s been a fun time answering all these questions–you guys had some seriously good ones!–but now it is time for us to chill out and celebrate 2018. Hopefully we can give you guys good reasons to celebrate 2018, too!

For our final Q&A blog, we have answers from:

Ken Berry, Executive Vice President / Team Leader
John Wheeler, Assistant Localization Manager
Ryan Graff, Localization Lead
Liz Rita, QA Tester
Nick Colucci, Localization Editor
Brittany Avery, Localization Producer
Thomas Lipschultz, Localization Producer

Question: Does working on a game affect your enjoyment of it in any way? Do you anticipate playing the full package after it is done or do you play through it beforehand anyway? Have you ever been spoiled on a game through work and if yes how severe was it? – @MizuUnNamed

Brittany: It definitely does. It’s like the difference between babysitting a kid over the summer vs. giving birth to that kid and raising them till they leave the house. Even the most frustrating things about a game will somehow become something you love in a weird way, because it’s your kid and it’s your responsibility to raise it right. When you’re localizing a game, you’re choosing every single word, and every single decision you make for that game will shape the experience for the thousands of people who play it. Characters I’d normally hate as a player become characters I love because figuring out their dialogue is a joy, and stuff I never thought about in localization are now very particular to me because I want my kid to go out into the world looking its best.

I will always play the games I work on. Sometimes I play them in Japanese beforehand, but there are days where I edit a file while playing line-by-line just so I can look at a character’s expression and match the line written to the face. Then I replay it a few time as the English builds come in, tweaking it bit by bit, because it feels different to see the English on a sheet compared to seeing it in-game. It takes a ton of time, but I’d rather have a final product I can be proud of than to give up because something requires extra work.

Liz: When I started working here the first thing I tested was Corpse Party PC. I played it for like 200 hours and that game is much shorter than that haha. I loved every second of it, and recently got to test it again for the Linux + SteamOS release. Oh boy, that was a treat <3 I also got to work on Cold Steel II and at the time I didn’t have the consoles the first released for, so I just watched playthroughs online… bless Cold Steel PC! I don’t think I’ve ever been spoiled on a game through work before…. except maybe for Book of Shadows? But I don’t even remember that spoiler so does it really count?

Nick: This is going to vary widely from person to person. For me…admittedly yes, working on a game does impact the enjoyment I’m able to derive from that game as a finished product. I understand, going in, that simply by virtue of working on a game, I will know its plot from beginning to end, see all the character development (including optional stuff that you might not even be able to view in a single playthrough), and in general become a subject matter expert on its world and lore. I’ll have knowledge of all the optional events and the items it’s possible to get – and sometimes, even a few that exist but were never implemented.

Working on a game is usually a months-long endeavor, during which we often end up playing the game in various stages of beta (or even alpha) readiness. We experience bugs we hope you never will; all the times text isn’t displaying correctly, voice or music isn’t playing right, or the battle system is falling over foaming at the mouth. By the time a game is ready to be sold, we’ve spent more time with it than would probably be considered healthy from a consumer perspective.

Outside of post-launch support/tweaking I’ve done for games like Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection, I’ve never picked up a game I’ve worked on here after it launched. They’re good games, and I’ve been proud of each project I’ve worked on so far – it’s just that I’m someone with a low tolerance for repetition. You know – the sort who would get sick of even my favorite movies if I watched them every day for a week straight. As cool a game as Trails of Cold Steel might be, I’m in no hurry to sink 80 hours into an RPG that I focused all my attention on for the better part of an entire year.

While it IS perhaps a bit regrettable that I “ruin” my ability to enjoy a game in a normal-player context by working on them, I feel it’s a small price to pay if I can help deliver something that players will really enjoy their time with.

Question: When you brought over Rune Factory 4 to Europe, what difficulties did you encounter? How was the process? – @Marower

Brittany: Hey! This is perfect for me! We really wanted to bring RF4 to Europe, but with the developer now shut down, it wasn’t possible. We spent ages looking for a programming team who would be willing to help us that also had Marvelous Japan’s blessing, and then it became my little pet project. I had zero experience with the process, so it was a lot of learning and guidance from my boss, Ken. We were able to update the text a bit to fix typos, but because we would never be as familiar with it as the original team, we wanted to touch the game’s code as little as possible since we didn’t want to risk breaking the game.

I tried to reproduce this one rare bug that causes the game to crash at the end of arc 2 (this is present in the Japanese, too, so it wasn’t introduced in English), but it was impossible. I started the EU version from scratch and went up to that point. There were rumors that soft resetting the game caused the issue since it really wasn’t programmed to handle soft resets too much, so I did that as often as I could. Nothing. Oh, man… I wish I could’ve found the pattern that caused such a weird crash. It’s rare, but no one wants a crash in their game.

NA only has one rating, but Europe requires several different ratings, so that’s an interesting process. The store pages all require various languages, too, depending on the region. I learned that because you could palette-swap character models to simulate gay marriage that the game had to be 18+ in Russia. 18+! For a Rune Factory game! All of the processes take a bit longer, but it was mostly a lot of communication, paperwork, confirmations and such. All worth it to finally get that game out there!

Question: What process leads to additional content in localized releases? Things like additional voices for Trails of Cold Steel on PC. How do you decide which titles get “a little bit extra”? – @Baust528


Me (messaging programmer on Skype: hey are you up
Sara (programmer): Yeah. What’s up?
Me: lmao wouldn’t it be awesome if we could put x in the game
Sara (ten minutes later): It’s in the game.

That happens a lot. As a more serious answer, since we try to localize games we’re personally passionate about, it’s easy for us to see what we’d want as a fan, too. So we’ll sit around and go, “Wouldn’t this feature be nice?”, and we’ll see if it’s doable. If it is, we’ll do it.

The extra voice acting in Cold Steel PC came about because we wanted to do it for PS3/Vita, but it wasn’t possible. I asked if we could put the games on PC one day, the boss worked out the numbers, and we realized that avenue was perfectly possible. We thought adding new voices would be great, because the English cast was very well received in English. Turbo Mode and ultra widescreen were both Durante, though. Those were awesome.

Generally, if our programmers have an idea they’d like to add to the game, we allow it. They’re programmers! They know if it’s possible, and if it makes the game better, who are we to say no? That’s how the Sky games have gotten so many improvements over the years, too. We’re incredibly fortunate to have Sara as a programmer, because she takes each project very personally and still finds ways to improve them years after launch.

Tom: There are a lot of factors that go into things like this, but one that’s come up a couple times now has definitely been our inability to license the Japanese voices. We figured, if we can’t offer dual voice to players, why not use whatever budget we may have set aside for that to give them something a little extra? It may not be exactly what they want, but it’s at least something we can offer them to show that we truly did put our best foot forward with this release

Nick: As weird as it may sound, it starts with just someone asking, “Hey, could we do this?” Sometimes, what we’ll want to do is evident due to what’s perceived as a shortcoming in a game. Trails of Cold Steel had a lot of voice acting, but weirdly left protagonist Rean silent in a number of scenes where all the other characters were voiced. That was the initial impetus for us wanting to get back into the studio for the PC release and record all the voicework we couldn’t for the PS3 release (in which we could only supply voices for lines that were voiced in the Japanese version).

Similarly, when I was planning out the recording for Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection, I thought, “We’re having people in to record these battle voices and we’re gonna pay them a minimum session fee anyway, so…why not add some story scenes onto that?” So in the end, we managed to include a solid amount of voice acting in there for a game that, in its original version, had very little.

Question: Have you ever considered localizing otome games? It would be nice if you can bring us some handsome boys. *^^*) – @NymphNayade

Brittany: Hmm.

Question: Can you comment on the difficulty in trying to get Japanese developers to support same-sex couples/marriage in games like Story of Season or Rune Factory? – @atelier_michi

Brittany: XSEED’s always been very openly supportive of adding that. I don’t know what difficulties there would be in Japan, but I try to think of how much progress we’ve made to be able to openly ask for same-sex couples/marriage in games. It wasn’t long ago that the idea was ludicrous. I remember when Ellen DeGeneres came out in the ‘90s and it affected me very strongly, especially since my parents would actively tell me, “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” So even if it’s not in the current SoS games, I’ll ask for the feature every time I visit Japan, because I think being open about it is an important factor to making progress on that front. Nothing will happen if you don’t fight for it.

I’d really like a whole variety of relationships in the SoS. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, or even a unique relationship outside of sexuality like dating a single parent or supporting your partner as they transition. It’s that sort of variety that makes life interesting and great, and I think introducing these concepts in a series as darling as SoS normalizes them and helps children to perceive them as innocently as heterosexual relationships and concepts. It’s very educational. Normalizing it more would teach people to ask more questions, too, instead of rejecting any type of orientation or relationship that seems foreign to them.

I remember for the first SoS game we published, Hashimoto-san said he had animals die in the game because he wanted children to be introduced to the natural process of life and death. It wasn’t meant to be a bad thing, but something we should be comfortable with because that’s part of what it means to be alive. Something to that, lol. Anyway, I’d like for just as much heart to be taken to represent more kinds of people in life, too.

Question: A rumor is going around that you guys are avoiding publishing fanservicey games outside of Senran Kagura. This came in wake of you guys seemingly passing on Valkyrie Drive. Is there any validity to this rumor, and if so, why? – @WaywardChili11

Brittany: did people forget we did a game with literal strawberries and a banana as a costume

That’s a weird rumor. It’s also dumb. We’ve done fanservice games in the past, and we’ll decide on whether or not to do them on a game-by-game basis. We’re not necessarily passing on them because of fanservice, but I also don’t think fanservice is core to the XSEED brand, so it shouldn’t be a given for us to do fanservice titles just because we’ve done them in the past. Many of us enjoyed Onechanbara and we have some SENRAN KAGURA fans in the office, so we published those because we originally liked them as games that happened to contain fanservice.

We’re also not big on censoring games, so I’d rather pass on a game than work on it after it’s been censored. If I were to localize a title and actually choose to censor it, I’d piss of people who don’t like the fanservice content, I’d piss off the people who want that content, and then I’d be pissed off because if I felt something was so horrible that it needed to be censored, then I probably didn’t want to work on the game.

That doesn’t mean every fanservice game is off the table for me, but I would need to evaluate it to see if the game is for me, as I would any other genre. Like, Lord of Magna is overall a super-cute game, but it also has an out-of-nowhere hot springs scene. I felt that scene detracted from the game because the rest of the game was adorable and innocent. That said, I didn’t remove the scene, and I still loved working the game. It’s a game with fanservice I would still happily play again.

Meanwhile, SENRAN KAGURA sells on fanservice, but the gameplay is pretty good. I admit that I prefer the older titles for DS/3DS which were more ridiculous titillation with a good story than the more overt modern titles, but again, that just means the series is no longer for me, and that’s fine. We still have SK fans in the office, and they enjoy working on the series.

Another factor is gaming trends and our overall rep as a company. Fanservice games weren’t always as hot as they are now, and XSEED started off with a variety of genres, with our niche eventually falling to RPGs and such. Every trend has a rise and fall, and if we pick up every fanservice game regardless of quality just because it’s hot now, we’re alienating the audiences that love us for action, RPGs, and so on. We may even alienate retailers or future marketing opportunities for the games we license outside of that genre. We’ll have shot ourselves in the foot if the fanservice trend falls when we made it our bread and butter. I like having a job.

Tom: We certainly don’t have any problems with fanservice, as I think we’ve proven quite thoroughly at this point. But we also don’t ever back a game simply BECAUSE of its fanservice. When we release a game, we do so because (1) we like it, and/or (2) we see some really good potential in it. If it happens to have fanservice, great! If not, also great.

On the flipside, we also turn down games for a variety of reasons. Maybe we hated the story. Maybe we hated the gameplay. Maybe we felt it took its themes a bit too far, or that it had a lot of wasted potential that it never quite lived up to. Maybe we put in an offer on it but were outbid, or the developer appended unusual terms to the license that we weren’t willing or able to accept. Maybe the developer simply didn’t want to work with us for some reason, or we didn’t want to work with them. Maybe we didn’t have time to work on that title, or maybe we simply felt someone else would be able to do a better job with it. Tl;dr version, there are a LOT of factors that go into licensing decisions!

Our reasons for turning down a game aren’t really something we can ever outright tell you guys, due to the NDAs we all signed when we got hired. But suffice it to say, it’s never simply because of fanservice. Fanservice may potentially contribute to a larger tapestry of reasons for passing on a title in extreme cases (though they’d have to be pretty extreme!), but rest assured, we’ll never say no to a game simply because it shows a lot of skin. Good games are more than skin deep, after all!

Nick: Here’s the Nick take: Most of us here don’t mind fanservice. It’s fun, it’s saucy, and folks can have a good time with it. If you look at our lineup, you can see we don’t shy away from games that have fanservice (Oneechanbara!), and games that push the boundaries, as Senran Kagura sometimes does, certainly aren’t out of the realm of consideration. A boob, a bulge; it’s all fair game here.

But here’s the thing. The games a company releases become part of their oeuvre. We have a reputation for quirky Japanese games because we’ve released enough of them that it’s a noticeable trend. The same would happen if we opened our gates to every fanservice-laden game that came knocking. Speaking personally, I don’t want us to have a reputation as a publisher whose stock in trade is mainly cheesecakey fanservice or smutty games. That kind of pigeonholing doesn’t help us as a company, and at worst, might even preclude some future licensing opportunities.

I think a lot of people get the impression that we turn down fanservice-laden games for some sort of censorious or moral reason, but that’s not especially true. There ARE cases where we might think, “If we licensed this, the ESRB wouldn’t let it through without forcing us to censor enough that the primary audience we were licensing it for in the first place would be upset,” and there are times when a game might simply be in bad taste and we decide we don’t like how it handles sexuality.

Sometimes, iffy material gets through in spite of all that. The SENRAN KAGURA series has done well for us, so we continue to publish those games even though a number of us in the office have concerns about how each new game seems to push the boundaries further and further in terms of what’s allowable (either by the ESRB or by common decency). We keep a close watch on that, and we’ve communicated our feelings to Takaki-san and his team. We strongly dislike having to alter content in this way, so if a game is so stridently sexual that we think we’d probably be forced to do so by the ESRB (as was a going concern with Valkyrie Drive, iirc), that factors into our decision-making process.

More often, the mundane truth is that we’ll turn down a game of this type because our evaluation play-tests show it to not be very fun to play. It’s not uncommon for games in this vein to just focus on piquing prurient interests or trading in tawdry titillation while the actual game underneath feels janky to play, or has no depth once you get past ogling your favorite waifu. That’s something that can’t be conveyed through a screenshot or even game video, which leaves hopeful players confusedly thinking we passed on a game for reasons more related to its content.

There’s a solid balance to be struck between acknowledging and publishing content for a mature audience and turning down projects that don’t jive with us, and I want you guys to know that we DO put a lot of thought into keeping this balance healthy.

Ken: When we first published SENRAN KAGURA Burst in late 2013, it was a much stricter retail environment so we had to approach the title with caution. We needed to see if there was a market for the series in the West, and even if there was the absolute worst thing that could happen would be to start manufacturing only to hear that retailers suddenly don’t want them or want to return their units because of a complaint they got. Due to the success of the digital-only release of SENRAN KAGURA Burst we were able to release the next few games in the series physically at retail (so the “no physical no buy” people really need to thank their digital-buying colleagues), but that doesn’t mean that we get a free pass to release anything in the future. As each new iteration seems to push the envelope further and further, we need to be careful exactly how far we push – at some point if we push too far and the whole levee breaks, it could have repercussions for games that have already previously been released.

Question: Who is best girl and boy? – @MizuUnNamed

Brittany: Can I get Crow Armbrust and Crow Armbrust for $500?

Tom: Narcia and Pietro, of course. But only for each other.

Liz: Rottytops and Ludus! What did we do to deserve them?

That’s all, folks! It’s been a wild ride, but hopefully we answered your questions well enough.