"We constantly have to revisit 'Why would Donkey Kong do this?' or 'Why would this environment be like this?' And then we start thinking: 'We're making a game about a gorilla wearing a tie.'"
-Michael Kelbaugh of Retro Studios on Donkey Kong Country Returns
"I have to say it's kinda scary how much you know about this game."
-Nicolau Chaud creator of Marvel Brothel
Andrew Dice is the founder and project director of Carpe Fulgur. His success with Recettear has brought attention to Japanese indie game localization in the west. With two games under his belt and a third on the way, he has become a new face to the indie scene. Transcribed below are a few thoughts from his Formspring account. If you have your own questions be sure to send them his way.
Were you guys at TGS?
Both Robin and I were at Comiket, scouting for new potentials and meeting with a rather huge number of devs. We met with both Lizsoft and EGS to discuss The Future(TM), and we also met with other devs.
It's possible not much will come of this *particular* trip, as our slate is looking pretty full for the next year or so. But it was still very important for making contacts, and we intend to extend that further in the future.
Seeing how the western indie scene is developing rapidly, is there a great amount of interest in western indie titles from the Japanese?
A fair bit, yes; the doujin scene is definitely aware of the western indie scene, and not a few of them have taken note of the fact that the production values for "indie" games over here tend to be rather substantially higher than "doujin" software. (This is actually a bit problematic, but that goes beyond the scope of this question.)
There's definitely interest, though, and a lot of indie devs in Japan are keeping an eye on the overseas scene more and more.
So then, what exactly is problematic? Do they see western titles and go "OMG THAT'S AMAZING" and get discouraged or something? Because I'm sure they must know how much more money western indies pour into their projects...
It's more the resources (which is to say, yep, money) and traditional attitudes. Indie/doujin development has long been seen as a kind of "hobbyist" thing; it's something done as an aside to your 'real' job. There are exceptions - EasyGameStation had taken it to the next level a few years back - but as a general rule, indie game work (or music or manga work) in Japan is something done in free time as opposed to a "real" job. If you become an "actual" manga author due to your indie work, for example, you explicitly aren't "doujin" any longer.
A few of the developers we spoke to over our trip, however, acknowledged that the way western "indie" development is working nowadays is different, however, that there's a new layer between "hobbyist" and "corporation-bound professional", that you can still be a "pro" while being mostly independent. This is a pretty new concept in the doujin scene, however, and the big problem is going to be this: matching what a lot of indie devs Stateside and Euroside are doing is going to take a rather significant financial investment, since a lot of the higher-quality developers (like Supergiant or Playdead) either have existing fortunes used to kickstart their groups from industry jobs (and thus a fallback strategy if things went south) or were simply willing to bet the farm on one game. A lot of existing indie devs in Japan may not be willing - or able, really - to throw down that kind of money easily. Risking bankruptcy when it isn't easy to get back into the corporate world if you leave - especially in modern Japan - is a lot to ask. (That being said, the *idea* of being a game developer not bound to any large corporate entity and yet still being "pro-level" DEFINITELY seemed to appeal to a lot of guys we spoke to over the trip.)
It's still a thing a number of devs over in the Land of the Rising Sun have realized, though, and they still want to do something about it. It's more a question of how to go about it without risking homelessness for intrepid young developers in the process.
How would CF feel about seeing other small companies localize other dojin soft games, or even indie games from other nations, over to the west? (i.e. view it as healthy competition, glad to see spread of dojin games, etc.)
STEALIN' AH BIZNEZZ
Actually we'd definitely welcome it to some degree, especially for languages/markets we can't cover yet. It'd mean we get to play games we've never tried before, and that's always cool!
The only worry I have is a "gold rush"; people trying to imitate our success and rushing the J-indie market, for example, trying to snatch up all the games and then doing a shoddy job on them, killing confidence and crashing the market. I'm still kind of worried that might happen. We'll see.
Why in particular did you choose Recettear for your first project, and how difficult was it to get in touch with EGS, and work out all the fine details?
Recettear was chosen as a result of serendipity and perceived appeal; it was pure luck that we even found out about the game, and once we tried it we realized that it was unique enough to stand out from the pack and appeal to people, and might, just might, be unique enough to make our sufficiently famous to turn this whole thing into a job.
Getting in touch with EGS was a simple matter of firing off an email to Muracha of EGS and hoping for the best. This isn't the 1980s, where you have to go travel to Japan to meet the dudes in person or something; email works just as well over there as it does here. We ARE going to be traveling to Japan, but for that first contact, a simple email was all we needed. The details were also worked out over the course of a few months in 2009 over email; it might seem a little amazing that none of this was worked out face to face, but they had no reason not to trust us and we had every reason to be honest and forthright.
How did you manage to go up to EGS and say "Hey we're two foreigners you've never heard of with no qualifications or experience, let us translate your game and release it in a foreign market." Are you guys the most amazing negotiators ever or what.
Evidently, we ARE, or something. There are days I sit back and think about what we did and just go "okay how the fuck did the we actually pull that off, seriously". We've got an indescribable amount of love for EGS for being willing to take a risk on a pair of nobodies who couldn't promise anything other than the fact that they'd give Recettear the love it deserved.
Do you ever wish you could implement significant design changes with some of the titles you localize and/or are looking to localize? As in things like combat mechanics, content, etc.?
We haven't yet really come across a game where we want to make sweeping changes to the design of a game; generally, if we wanted to do this, we'd ask the developers if they agree with doing it, rather than try and get it strong-armed in ourselves.
Interestingly, the few design changes made to our releases to date have all come unilaterally from the developers themselves; EGS made the alterations to our release of Chantelise unprompted, and Lizsoft will be making some difficulty adjustments as well, and we didn't even bring the idea up!
I notice you mentioned difficulty changes for Fortune Summoners. Is it safe to assume this is normalizing difficulty so it won't drop or spike randomly?
It's actually an adjustment to the difficulty settings in FS; the "easy" modes will be even easier now. This is actually an adjustment Lizsoft made of their own volition; when I played it I thought the difficulty was just about right. We aren't questioning the original designer on this, though!
And just to reassure, the *harder* difficulties remain untouched. If you want to rake yourself over the coals to Make A Man Out Of Yourself, you still have the option of doing that... and trust me, FS is pretty merciless on the harder difficulties.
How do you plan on handling the Multiplayer component of Fortune Summoners?
Since we only have the base game, none of the "online" functions (mostly the leaderboard for Arche's Arena) are in what we'll be releasing. If/when we get to do FS Plus as DLC or whatever, we'll talk more about that in detail.
And to head off the obvious question, we'll also discuss how the crucial online multiplayer component of Territoire will work once we're much closer to an English-language release of that title.
How long until the Project Four reveal?
I... honestly don't know. It'll depend on a lot of factors. There are reasons we can't talk about it yet, let's put it that way. I'd LIKE to reveal it within six months, maybe, but I can't guarantee that at all.
Territoire is not project 4?
It is not. Territoire hasn't been "officially" signed yet, so it isn't a going capital-P Project just yet (although the chances of us getting it are somewhere in the 90% range). Territoire will - probably - be Project Five. This is another one we intend to announce more or less as soon as the ink is dry.
Can you at least tell us whether or not Project Four is for the PC?
Amazingly, I can't... because we're not even sure what platform it'll be on yet.
Really, all we can say is that Project Four is A Thing and that it's why we aren't working on other things at the moment. We'll talk more about it when we can.
Have you guys ever considered localizing Western games to the Japanese market?
We've been ask this before, and the essential problem with doing this is that there isn't a Bizarro-SpaceDrake for the process; Robin can handle translating stuff from English to Japanese well enough, but to really follow the CF Method we've established, there would need to be another set of eyes on the script, one with good knowledge of how Japanese works and how to make everything sound snappy and characterful in the target language, and we don't have that.
COULD we do it? Maybe. Would it be up to the standard of quality we set for ourselves? At the moment, no.
We know that Japanese puns and references don't translate so well into English, so the script will usually get changed significantly, but is the Japanese localization of English titles handled the same way considering that English is so popular in Japan?
Funny. You. Should. Ask!
Oftentimes, English games that get Japanese translations WON'T have such things changed and are translated "straight"... and, surprise surprise, the results are often cringeworthy. That's another part of the reason a lot of Western titles struggle in Japan, because a number of companies are infamous for providing really shoddy loc jobs for their titles. The Halo series, for example, was until fairly recently infamous for having absolutely horrid translation and voice work.
To answer the wider question: yes, we think our philosophy to localization should go *both* ways, as English often sounds totally nonsensical when translated straight into Japanese. A lot of the time, that's exactly what happens with games, though, and it can really hurt import titles in Japan.
How does CF feel about translating and releasing visual novels? If given the chance, would you?
If you mean releasing VNs like the JAST or Mangagamer does, no, not on the cards. Reminding readers, of course, that we don't work on games with erotic content, pretty much ALL of the distributors we work with at the moment - both announced and UNannounced, little news drop here~ - have essentially no interest in carrying VNs. At all. Ever. This is due in part to the fact that previous releases from some companies - as the wall of shame on SomethingAwful (NSFW) demonstrates - have poisoned the well of public opinion in a way that is hard to describe in words. You say the words "visual novel" to a lot of industry guys these days and they will literally recoil as though you just admitted you are, in fact, Satan. There is pretty much no way to meaningfully get such games to market, and no way of getting information about them out there to consumers so they know what they can even buy. VNs on the PC are dead, dead, dead.
If VNs have a future outside of Japan, it's going to be on non-PC platforms, especially mobile devices. The Ace Attorney games were really successful on the DS, as was 999, and I think there MIGHT be some potential for success on iDevices and Android. But on the PC? No. That bridge was burned to ash a good decade before Carpe Fulgur even entered the industry.
Would you ever consider (if the chance arrived) to bring over fames like Sengoku Rance?
Carpe Fulgur doesn't do erotic content. Full stop. It is the Mark of Cain, the touch of death in America. Were we ever to work on a game that could be rated AO by the ESRB, all of our distributors would de-list our entire catalog the instant they got a whiff of it and would never speak to us or speak OF us again. The media would pointedly ignore us. We would essentially become pariahs, with only a tiny handful of companies even willing to acknowledge we exist, never mind work with us.
So it's simply not something we can do. If we ever bring over otherwise really neat games which have "ero bits" in them (the Baldr Sky games are ones that caught our attention for example), we'd have to excise any trace of overt eroticism from them in order to actually sell them. So fans are going to have to think long and hard about whether or not they're actually "playing for the gameplay and story" when asking us for these games. 'Cause you sure as hell aren't ever getting anything titillating from us.
I have quite a few reasons to suspect so, yes. We've been turning a *lot* of heads over the past year or so, and a lot of developers in Japan and import companies are keying in to the fact that there's an entire market segment being left unfurnished and that the potential for making money is... significant. Never mind that PC development and release has a number of attractive features for niche publishers that make the process easier and the profits per-unit greater than console releases. If anything, should NISA (and, shall we say, 'others') succeed at their upcoming experiments I think you can expect to see a generalized shift toward the PC and other "open" platforms for JRPG importers and the like. It'll require some porting, which would be the biggest hurdle, but if a string of successes proves it can be profitable...
I would expect more announcements of this sort in the coming months, and let's just say that's a bit more than idle speculation.
Do you have any recommendations for those wanting to get into Indie development?
Make things. That is key above all else; there's a lot of dreamers out there, but a shockingly small number of people actually willing to find the time and energy to DO things.
This applies for any creative endeavor, really? You want to make art? Draw/sculpt/model in Maya/whatever. You want to write? Bang on that fucking keyboard. In the end, you can only learn art by doing, and you can only learn to create better things by creating things in the first place.
"Funding", "crowdsourcing", "value propostions", it's all a bunch of sheepdip. Step one of working in games - indie or otherwise - is to do stuff. Do stuff, prove you CAN do stuff, and you'll get a job.