Gaijinworks Interview – How Victor Ireland and Crew are Localizing the Rarer Games

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We had the chance to sit down and chat with Victor Ireland, founder and president of Gaijinworks, at this year’s E3.

Before we jump into the interview, we have a message from Victor himself:

Without further ado, you can find our interview below:

Brandon Orselli: So we’re here with Victor Ireland from Gaijinworks, who some of you might know. For those who don’t, however, could you please introduce yourself, and talk a little about your work?

Victor Ireland: Well, I’m the president of Gaijinworks, and we’re essentially doing Working Designs pickup work. Just roleplaying games for fans, basically. We bring over the non-obvious choices for video games.

Brandon: Excellent! So, right now you guys are working on Summon Night 5 (editor’s note: featured above) and Class of Heroes 3. Could you talk a bit about how you guys got those licenses? How hard were they to acquire?

Victor: I’ll start with Class of Heroes. For a long time, I worked with John Greiner. He was TTi, Turbografx, and then he went to do Hudson Soft and Hudson Entertainment. We stayed in touch over the years and worked really well together, and so we decided to meet up again and start work on bringing over some PSX classics to PSN, since he knew I had the licenses from when I was at Working Designs.

And so, we were the first company to set up the Import Store on PSN. It started with us. After we ported over some kooky Japanese games from the past, he was like, “Why don’t we do some newer stuff?” So we started talking to Acquire, and they showed us their dungeon crawler. I’d never done one before, but it was cute and anime and had all the things Working Designs games were all about in the past. So we chose to bring over Class of Heroes 2.

Class of Heroes 1 was terrible, so bad. It was so lazily localized, Atlus did a terrible job with that.

Brandon: How so? It was that bad?

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Class of Heroes 3

Victor: Yeah, they know they did. It was so lazy. I was seriously offended by how lazy it was.

We knew 2 was better, and 3 was even better―literally, Class of Heroes is one of the only games from Japan where each iteration was an improvement. Part of that is because one started so low. (Laughs) But by the time you get to 4 and 5, you’ll start getting some pretty good ratings. I’d say 2 and 3 are 7s and 8s out of 10.

Anyway, in Class of Heroes 1 they didn’t even translate the monster attacks―like, when a monster hits you and it’s all, “Boom, pow, biff,” or whatever? They left it all in Japanese! I was like, “C’mon guys…” Ours are all translated, because everything should be.

We really enjoyed doing Class of Heroes 2, though, and there was barely enough support to get the third game going. We do need to hit really modest targets when working on these kinds of games, since they take a huge amount of time to localize. It’s a huge investment. If we only sell a few copies here and there, it’s just not worth it. If Class of Heroes 3 doesn’t garner enough support, we’re just gonna stop and do something else, basically.

Summon Night 5 was a direct result, 100 percent, with the support we got on Class of Heroes 2, and the job we did with those games. I knew some people at Namco, and we got the deal started. Negotiations took forever to get done, and I thought it wouldn’t happen, so we kept stopping and starting our work on the game. Of the year and a half we had the game, we really only worked on it for about 4 months.

Once we got the contract, we had to rush to finish, but when it got done, we were pretty happy with the end result.

Brandon: Awesome. So, when Summon Night 5 comes out, do you think that’ll lead to more Bandai Namco localizations?

Victor: I’m hoping so! I really hope they see what we’re doing with the game and they like it. We’re doing the typical sort of Working Designs packaging, really giving it that A+ presentation our fans have come to expect. It is on the PSP, and we know the sales figures are going to be tiny, since the PSP is long dead in the US. But we think the hardcore fans will really get a kick out of it.

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Summon Night 5

Cody Long: So, weird question, but I’ve heard that a few years ago, you were in some sort of guitar tournament, and you won?

Victor: (Laughs) Oh, that. That was Rocksmith actually! And it wasn’t really a tournament. Basically, you watched their show, and tweeted out something about it. It had to get almost nothing by way of responses, because I can’t believe I won. I was at E3 and got this call from a random number I almost ignored. They asked, “Did you enter the Rocksmith contest on Twitter?” I said yeah, and they told me I won. Which was pretty awesome, since I got an expensive Gibson guitar out of it. But it sucked at the same time because I had to carry it around all day and it was heavy.

Brandon: Now here’s an interesting question. Zach Meston―is he still working with you?

Victor: Nooooo. I can’t say a whole lot about that, but no. We had a pretty bad falling out. We had to get a restraining order to keep him quiet, because he was telling a lot of lies and just doing bad things after he was fired. And on the record, he was fired.

It was sad because he was a cool guy, and we were very symbiotic. He wrote very similarly to the way I write, so writing was a dream. But the less said about the ending, the better. It wasn’t good.

Brandon: Yikes. Well, moving on, Class of Heroes is a dungeon crawler. These seem to be getting more popular in the west as of late. Would you be interested in localizing more games of this type in the future?

Victor: I’m not against them, personally. But I’d like to do a variety of different types of games. It’s funny because dungeon crawlers actually started in the west, Wizardry and what-not. And now it seems like a more Japanese thing.

A lot of the bigger dungeon crawlers from Japan, like Demon Gaze (editor’s note: featured below), Etrian Odyssey, Elminage, etc, are based off of the Wizardry core. Some of them even have Wizardry code in them! It’s just strange how that came to be.

Cody: Definitely. Our writer Carl had a question actually, it’s about an obscure game called Serpent’s Kiss. Whatever happened to that?

Victor: Oh yeah, that was a PC game from Taiwan. It kinda just…went away. We weren’t really ready to do a PC game―the problem with PC at that time is that you had a gazillion different drivers and video modes. You had a ton of different flavors of Windows, too. It was too hard to make it compatible. We weren’t big enough to test everything thoroughly enough.

Cody: Think it’d ever be possible to bring a game like Serpent’s Kiss back? Or is it too far gone?

Victor: Nah, it’s too old now. That game is like 17 years old? I doubt it’s aged well.

Cody: Aww. Well, in Cosmic Fantasy 2, there was a steamy shower scene. Was there any kind of worry about backlash back then with that sort of thing?

Victor: Well, not for that in particular, but I was pretty naive back then. There’s this one part where Nova, one of the boss guys, attacks you. A text bubble pops up and is like, “Nova’s pissed!” And for me, I didn’t think anything about it. He’s pissed, he’s angry, he’s mad. It was just my vernacular.

But people really got upset that I used the word, “pissed,” in a game back then. By today’s standards, that’s nothing. Anyway, yeah, the only thing we ever -had- to change was when a character flips off a robot. We didn’t do that on our own though, we were mandated to do that by NEC.

Brandon: Well, coming off of that―what are your views on censorship? And even self-censorship.

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Victor: Situational. In general I’d give censorship a NO. But I’d also argue there are cases where self-censorship is probably appropriate. People get really upset when games, and especially hentai games, are censored. But there are some things you just cannot do in the US, they aren’t appropriate.

For example, and I’d love to do this one: THE iDOLM@STER. Those are great games, but they have some stuff that I don’t think would fly here. Basically, it’s borderline pedophilia. Those scenes, like it or not, are gonna either be removed entirely or repurposed for something else.

Cody: I’ve actually worked with two games that were censored for the US release. Criminal Girls (editor’s note: featured above) was one of them.

Victor: I think Criminal Girls’ censorship was pretty justified, though. I mean, half those girls were underage, and you’re spankin’ them and stuff. I just think that sort of thing doesn’t work in the US.

Cody: The other was Starless. It was made by the same people who made Bible Black, I don’t know if you’re familiar.

Victor: Oh, yeah.

Cody: Some of the stuff they cut out included: Beastiality, scat, and “something getting cut off that isn’t supposed to get cut off.” I’m assuming they meant dongs.

Victor: Well, leave in the scat. You could just explain it away by saying they had too much Olestra and couldn’t control themselves. (Laughs) It was accidental!

The other two are pretty cut and dry though. Really, if you’re that much of a purist that you absolutely need those things, learn Japanese and import the game. We had people complaining about some of the stuff we cut out in other games to make them more culturally relevant to the US, too. For people wanting direct translations, I’m sorry, but you’re just not the market.

We’ve never been mainstream, but we still want to try to appeal to as many people as we can in the niche we’re already in. We need to make enough sales to keep going. And we do give 100% to the stuff we put out. Boxed physical releases with all kinds of cool stuff included are par for the course.

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Lunar: Silver Star Story

Brandon: Speaking of―there’s definitely a concern that games on legacy platforms like the PSP won’t sell very well. Do you think that factors into the games you decide to localize? Is there a balance between something that’s obscure and something that’s marketable?

Victor: The goal is to make our market as broad as possible in the niche we occupy. At Working Designs, we put up some pretty good sales numbers with games like Lunar. Where we’re at now is very niche, and we intend with successful releases to grow broader.

PSP is definitely dying out now, and within the next year will probably be dead. We’re really working to transition into the PS3, PS4, and Vita by then. A lot of people didn’t like Class of Heroes, but they bought it anyway just to support us with future releases. Those people directly helped Summon Night 5 happen. And that’s a big title!

Even if you’re not interested in some of the games we put out, buying them will definitely help us get to the next game. And it will definitely be games that other companies won’t touch.

Cody: Awesome. So, Working Designs had always been super huge when it comes to awesome physical releases. How do you feel about games shifting more toward digital only?

Victor: I HATE IT. I hate it. Hate it. I hate digital artbooks. I hate digital downloads for soundtracks. If it’s digital, it isn’t a soundtrack. It’s just a collection of MP3s on your hard drive. Call it, “mp3 download,” or something crappy, because it’s crappy! If it’s a real physical thing, and you rip it yourself, fantastic. But if it’s digital swag, or just a crummy costume in game, I hate that stuff. HATE IT.

It’s not a collectible. It’s just a marketing bullet point.

Cody: I see! Well, at Niche Gamer, we’ve been pretty wary as of late when it comes to pre-orders, and pre-order bonuses. You’ll get these things with your pre-order that are of, well, dubious value. How do you feel about that sort of thing?

Victor: Well, I can’t say I’m against it, because we do pre-sale, which is worse than pre-ordering. But the reason we do that is because we want to know exactly how many to make. I’m not really against pre-ordering as a whole, but I’m definitely against that Gamestop sort of practice where they only order as many copies as people have pre-ordered.

Like, how are you even in business if you’re not stocking titles?

Cody: Very good point. This one’s a fun question. I’ve heard you did some voice acting for a few things that Working Designs localized? Can you talk a bit about that?

Victor: Basically, I don’t do voice acting, as a rule. I’m kind of just a fill-in guy. We get to the end, realize there’s a part without voices, and I quickly just fill it in. Or, if we wanna do something funny for fans to find, we’ll do that.

I did the, “Hey hey,”s in the opening song for Lunar. I did one of the soldiers from Vasteel for the Turbografx. I also did a dog, but I can’t remember exactly what game that was in.

There were also the hidden tracks for the Turbografx games we put out, so that if you put it in your CD player, it wouldn’t blow your speakers out. I also put a hidden track on the PSX Lunar games, and the only way you could hear it was if you ripped the audio. What we did was, we made a voice track of me speaking, and I was doing this Satan voice. “He,” just said that he knew what you were doing, and that ripping mp3s was illegal, and he liked it and told you to keep doing it, because he’s Satan.

Cody: Were there any more secrets you hid in your games?

Victor: All I will say on that is that there are hidden things in some of our games that have never been found. Even today. As a gamer, I dig that kinda stuff. If we have time, I usually like to stick little easter eggs in.

I will tell you one. In Vay for the Sega CD, there were two animations that were never finished. They were half-finished with pencil. We put a secret room in the game, in the starting area. You have to enter a key sequence on the wall, which I don’t remember off-hand. However, once you do so, you unlock a media player where you can play all the animations in the game, including those.

Brandon: This is probably a tough question, but what would be your dream game to localize?

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Victor: I can’t say, because other people might want it too. I used to be very vocal about this sort of thing back when I worked in Working Designs, but I found out other companies would be taking notes. People who weren’t interested in certain obscure titles were suddenly very interested when I started talking about them.

I will say iDOLM@STER, though, and more specifically the newest one (editor’s note: iDOLM@STER: All For One, which is featured above). I really don’t think anyone is gonna touch that game, considering the difficulty. But I think I have a way to make it work.

Brandon: Awesome. So, here’s a blast from the past for you. How was the culture when you worked at NEC America? They seemed really laid-back. Could you talk a bit more about that?

Victor: Well, there were two versions of NEC, one before and after the merger. Before the merger, they were laid-back to the point of incompetence. (Laughs) The second version was much more gamer-focused, but they were on a sinking ship, they were trying to plug the holes on the Titanic. I liked the second group better, since they were more about the games. The first group were just pencil-pushers, not gamers, and they just didn’t understand it, y’know?

Brandon: Definitely. So, here’s kind of an introspective question. It seems like the amount of Japanese games being localized since the PS2 era has kind of fallen off. There are a lot of games that have fallen through the cracks. Why do you think that is?

Victor: They dropped off the cliff about the same time anime became less popular in the US. Anime has really taken a dive, although it is starting to come back as far as popularity goes. I feel like it’s a cyclical thing, it’s popular and then it isn’t. Manga and anime were absolutely huge in the late 90s and early 2000s though.

Cody: On that note, I’m aware there were some games you were trying to bring to the PS2, but Sony was giving you a hard time. Can you talk a bit more about that?

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Growlanser II, half of Growlanser Generations

Victor: So, this is another thing I can’t say a whole lot about. But essentially, we got stonewalled. People at Sony now are like people at Sony back in the PSX era. They knew games, they were gamers, they were gamer-focused. Just fantastic. But around the PS2, into the early PS3 era, they became stuffed with those sort of corporate types that weren’t gamers. They were only interested in graphics and selling a lot of copies.

THQ’s The Cat in the Hat got approved, but games like Growlanser and Goemon did not. That makes no sense. There’s no comparison in regards to quality, none whatsoever. But we got stuck in this sort of morass where we tried to make them happy, and we were making these esoteric changes that made no sense from a gamer’s perspective.

And it killed the company. That’s why Working Designs died. We burnt too much money trying to get those games out, and we were paying two licensing fees for every game we sold, essentially. We couldn’t recoup the costs, and we shut down, simple as that. It was literally the worst experience of my entire life.

Brandon: Well, that’s definitely sad. I think we’ve got time for a few more questions, and then we’ll wrap things up. On a lighter note―what’s your favorite game that you’ve ever worked on?

Victor: Hmm. Probably Lunar 1, in both flavors, the Sega CD and PSX. I think Lunar is definitely my favorite, with Cosmic Fantasy being a close second. That was the first CD game we did, and it had a lot of nostalgia.

When we recorded Cosmic Fantasy, there was no digital editing. Our engineer Bill did a crazy amount of work on that. He would have to play the scene, start the recorder, and key in multiple tracks to layer them on top of one another. If it didn’t sync up when he played it back, he’d have to do it all over again until he got it right. He manually dropped in every layer for all those scenes. It was nuts.

People might not agree with my choices, but those are definitely the two that had the most nostalgia for me. I would love a chance to do an updated version of Cosmic Fantasy, though Sunsoft does have the rights to that one.

Brandon: One last question: To your fans, and potential fans, why should they support Summon Night 5 and Class of Heroes 3? What do you think your fans can look forward to in the future with Gaijinworks?

Victor: Well, even if you’re not interested in a dungeon crawler or a strategy RPG, if you help support us by buying them, it lets us get to that next level. Summon Night 5 happened directly because people supported Class of Heroes 2. Summon Night 5 and Class of Heroes 3 support will help us get to the next tier of RPGs that we’re trying to get the rights to.

We’ll also be able to move to broader platforms like the PS3, PS4, Vita, etc. It’s important to note that, being PSP games, Summon Night 5 and Class of Heroes 3 will be playable on the PS Vita. So if you have a Vita you can still play the games. But the goal is to get those games out and move on to the more recent consoles.

Brandon: Well, awesome. And thanks again for your time, Victor, it’s been a real pleasure chatting with you.

We’d like to thank Victor Ireland for spending time with us at E3 to chat about his upcoming games, Gaijinworks, and more.

Please make sure to check out Gaijinworks’ official website, as they’re still taking entries for the limited physical edition of Summon Night 5.

Niche Gamer regularly interviews developers on a variety of subjects—if you’re a developer and want to chat with us, please contact us!

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