Tom Lipschultz is Xseedís resident translator for the Japanese developer Falcom, makers of the Ys RPG series, and the newest addition to their localization team. I had a chance to chat with him about what itís like to localize niche role-playing games, how to get a career in making sure a video game never has a line of text that reads ďAll your base are belong to us,Ē and more.
Louis Garcia: What do you do at Xseed?
Tom Lipschultz: Iím a localization specialist. As Xseed is a fairly small company, I tend to do a bit of everything. We all sort of pitch in and help out with each otherís jobs. You never know what each day is going to be here. My primary job is translation and editing.
LG: What is the localization process like?
TL: One of the things I think a lot of people donít understand is that Xseed is a localization house; weíre not a programming house. So we donít actually do the programming side ourselves, we actually work with the developers of the original game for that.
The first step is to secure the game, get the licensing and get in touch with the developers. Then itís a matter of getting a text dump. For a lot of them itís an Excel fileÖit depends.
Once we have a hold of the text dump, usually one person will translate and one person will edit. Sometimes there will be multiple translators or multiple editors. Sometimes it will just be one person doing both. It depends on the project and the complexity of the dialogue.
Once thatís edited, we send it back to the developer and itís put into the game by their own programmers, and we receive an English ROM that we then get to test and run through QA process to fix up typos and things.
LG: How large is the localization team at Xseed?
TL: (Laughs) Pretty small. Weíre a company thatís barely in the double digits as far as the number of people here. Officially the localization team is three people, but we do often get outside contractors to assist us. We have a few trusted outside contractors and freelance translators that we like to work with.
When three people are not enough -- which is often the case -- we will get some outside assistance from trusted sources.
LG: What is the importance of localization?
TL: The big importance -- especially when it comes from Japanese to English -- is that Japanese and English are notÖtheyíre kind of mutually exclusively as far as nuance goes and natural speak.
If you take a line of Japanese and translate it 100 percent directly into English, itís going to sound stilted, itís going to sound awkward, and it might not even make sense. You really need to know the nuances of the language, and you really need to be able to take something thatís in Japanese and translate the meaning rather than translating the words. You need to basically figure out what is being said in the Japanese and figure out how to express that same idea in English rather than translating it word for word.
If you donít do that, youíre going to have a game thatís kind of difficult to get into because youíre constantly breaking the fourth wall. Youíre constantly aware that your reading something that is translated instead of something that might have originally been in the language.
LG: What makes a good localization: staying true to the source material or putting in your own pop culture references?
TL: It depends on the source material. The Ys games -- Iíve been working on the Ys games since Iíve been here -- are a really great example.
For instance, Ys Seven does have a few pop culture references, and theyíre subtle ones, but we tried to put a few in there. The game also has a certain tongue-in-cheek kind of humor, and itís because the game lends itself to that; in the original Japanese the text was very simplistic with a few goofy, almost breaking the fourth wall things on purpose. It leant itself to that kind of translation, whereas Ys: The Oath in Felghana -- the game which we will be releasing by the end of this year -- is very much like a stage drama the way the dialogue is done.
Itís very melodramatic and soap opera-esque. As a result, yeah there are a couple humorous interludes in the game, and I do actually have a couple of references I put in the humorous parts of the game, but theyíre kind of few and far between. For the most part itís a very soap opera thing, so I tried to stick to that sort of general feel.
From left: Translator Tom Lipschultz, taskmaster (localization manager) Kenji Hosoi,
and editor Jessica Chavez are totally metal.
LG: How do you guys go the extra mile to make sure the localization is up the quality youíd like it to be? Do you guys do a lot of research?
TL: If weíre not experts, we try to become experts before we work on the title. Weíll play through the game. Weíll research it. Weíll find out about previous iterations.
For instance, with the Ys series, everybody kind of enjoyed the games, but very few of them knew much about the series, and thatís part of why I was hired, actually. Iím kind of Xseedís resident Falcom expert. I donít know if I can call myself that; I kind of feel weird saying that.
Xseed has a partnership with Falcom as of right now. [Xseed] wanted to make sure they had someone on staff that really knew the material. Part of my job is to go over any advertising material they come up with, any trailers to help out with footage, and look over them and just make sure everything is consistent with the series legacy.
To go back to one of Xseedís earlier releases, Brave Story: New Traveler, was a game based off of a novel in Japan. The novel was also translated separately from Xseed, but we wanted to make sure all the terms in the game and all of the names of locations and such matched what was in the novel. We worked with the novelís translator to ensure there was that sense of continuity between them.
Tom Lipschultz and Jessica Chavez
LG: What are some of the most difficult things you encounter when localizing a game?
TL: The biggest challenge is if youíre not 100 percent sure where a line of dialogue is spoken -- context isnít always there to help you. Japanese can be a very vague language.
You may have heard that Japanese is a language that doesn't really use pronouns, and if you donít know where a line is spoken and there are no pronouns, itís kind of hard to figure out who is being talked about and who is doing the talking. One of the biggest challenges is tracking down the source of those stray lines where you just have no idea what is going on.
LG: What would you tell someone who wants to be a localization writer or editor?
TL: Thatís actually a really good question. I kind of feel like I lucked into the role, but I think part of what did it for me was I have a degree in English and East Asian Studies, which is a good combination for localization. I knew English literature quite well, and Iíve studied Japanese quite extensively.
Iíve also done quite a bit of freelance translation and fan translation in the many, many years before looking into a job at Xseed.
I had a bit of experience I pursued on my own, which I think really helped. It looked good on my resume and to be able to say, Yeah, Iíve done freelance translating, and Iíve done fan translating, and hereís my portfolio" -- it looks good to show that you take initiative like that.
I think if anyone else is looking to become a localization specialist, they should probably start picking out a game or an anime or manga or something and just try translating it. Send a text file around to people; let them see what youíre doing. Try to get on some websites like Translator Cafe where you can register to become a freelance translator and have people pick you out and hire you for things. It helps.