Destructoid Q&A: Drone Tactics localization team

Should you be of that oh-so-tiny subgroup of gamers who isn’t enticed by (A) DS games, (B) turn-based strategy, or (C) gigantic robot bugs, you will find little to enjoy in this interview. For the rest of you, who I’m sure live much fuller and more satisfying lives than those other douchebags, you may find the following interesting.

We love Atlus here at Dtoid, so we were more than a little curious about Drone Tactics, their new turn-based DS strategy title. The game, which comes out on March 25th, seems to function as a quirky combination of Advance Wars-esque gameplay and — of all things — card battling.

Hit the jump as we get the skinny from the localization team.

DESTRUCTOID: What is Drone Tactics all about?

SCOTT STRICHART (EDITOR, DRONE TACTICS): Drone Tactics is a turned-based strategy RPG with an unusual twist–instead of the standard tanks and planes you might expect to be deploying, the units you’ll be commanding and destroying are gigantic mechanized insects, ranging from beetles and praying mantids, to butterflies. Every unit is also very specialized, which really adds depth to the tactical element. You may have only one bee in your army, but its strengths and weaknesses are different from all the rest of the units in your army.

The game’s story is also one of its strong features. It follows a young boy named Yamato, who is asked by talking insects to come and save their home planet, Cimexus, from the invading Black Swarm. He agrees readily, but quickly finds out that there’s more to fighting a war than destroying evil bugs with guns and cannons. Genius, isn’t it?

DTOID: What can DS owners expect from it?

SS: Aside from finally being able to play with bugs without getting yelled at by their appalled mothers, even veterans of the genre can expect this title to deliver on its tactical challenge. While it has an easy mode available for beginners, even the normal difficulty setting on Drone Tactics isn’t going to let you swat blindly at your foes and win. In fact, if you don’t plan carefully, you’ll be the one getting crushed under the AI’s heel.

The game also has a great deal more replay value than a standard SRPG, with a huge assortment of additional “challenge” maps to take on, and a head-to-head option where local friends can pit their custom armies against each other to see whose strategy reigns supreme.

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DTOID: With Advance Wars being as ubiquitously popular as it is amongst the DS-owning community, why should they be interested in yet another turn-based strategy game?

SS: There’s no arguing that Advance Wars set the bar for DS strategy RPGs. It laid out a lot of the standard conventions for what makes a solid entry into the genre. But, while those standards are present in Drone Tactics, the game takes enough of a detour from what’s “normal” to make it stand out on its own. The ability to customize your army’s weaponry is almost unheard of in strategy RPGs. The player can redesign each unit to play up its strengths or compensate for weaknesses, so no two Drone armies will be the same.

The Battle Card system is also completely unique; the cards a player brings into battle and how they’re used can mean the difference between victory and defeat. The Advance Wars storyline has also recently taken a rather heavy and more mature detour, while Drone Tactics is a light-hearted and fun journey through the eyes of a boy who’s just like many of us were when we actually still went outside.

DTOID: Most gamers tend to think of “localization” as nothing more than a synonym for “Japanese-English translation” — what kind of work goes into your job that the average gaming public isn’t aware of?

SS: Our jobs would be considerably easier (and I wouldn’t have one) if localization was as simple as slapping a direct translation of the Japanese text into the game and providing it to the American public. Translation is only the beginning. From there, it goes to an editor, whose job is two fold – to keep the finished product as true to the original as possible, and make the story as accessible and entertaining to an American reader as it can possibly be.

This often involves eliminating redundancies, making dialog sound more natural and idiomatic, and to a lesser extent, finding equivalents to Japanese cultural inferences that are something the average American player can identify with. Finding a happy medium between all of those things can occasionally be challenging; sometimes a single line of dialog goes through up to four people before it’s finalized.

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DTOID: What sort of difficulties do you face in localizing a game like Drone Tactics? Is there anything inherently different in the way Japanese gamers play their strategy games versus their western counterparts? Were there any unexpected creative issues you had to overcome?

SS: One of the major obstacles in the localization process for any title is the character limit. The Japanese language is naturally more concise than English, so we had to work with the developer in order to maximize the space for our text. Simple fixes like changing the font and resizing the dialog window gave us a lot more room to work with. One example of the size disparity are the words “Victory Conditions,” which are 18 English letters (including the space), but are typically written as only four Kanji. We have to be creative to find solutions to problems like that.

Outside of that, Drone Tactics didn’t prove very difficult to localize, and the “problem” spots were identified in the early stages. In one scene, the characters discussed what the names of their Drones meant in English, a perfect example of an area where we had to make minor adjustments. The direct translation of that scene would have been something along the lines of, “Honey bee means honey bee,” so the issue there is fairly obvious. As far as the differences between the way Japanese gamers play SRPGs, I admittedly find myself hesitant to speak on behalf of an entire culture. That’s the cool thing about a good strategy RPG; the game affords every player the opportunity to attack it in a way that suits their personal style.

DTOID: Given that Drone Tactics seems to take a more lighthearted approach to the genre than Advance Wars does, is it more — for lack of a better word — fun to translate that sort of lighthearted dialogue versus much heavier, darker stuff?

SS: How much “fun” we have with the localization process is a direct result of how well the game is written in the first place. Whether the story is light and whimsical, or dark and brooding, if the story is good, and it usually is, we enjoy our jobs. That being said, Drone Tactics was an all-around good time to bring to life for American audiences.

We had some creative input on the character Gonbei for instance, who I had the pleasure of giving an “old-timer” dialect and some colorful metaphors. But the office favorite is hands down the Black Swarm’s General Hydel, who really steals the show whenever he’s on screen. He’s not a character that any explanation would do justice; you’ll have to see for yourself.

DTOID: Thank you for your time.

Anthony Burch