September 9, 2010 | By Kyle Orland 3 comments More:
[New import publisher Carpe Fulgur has brought quirky Japanese 'item shop' indie RPG, Recettear, to PC digital distribution services, and talks to Gamasutra about localization challenges and plans.]
Indie games have had a major presence on the major American digital distribution channels for a while now. But indie games from Japan are a bit harder to find on these services, with companies like Rockin' Android localizing shooters for PC and PSN, but very little support for indie RPGs.
A pair of independent American localizers are setting out to change that state of affairs, however, by forming a new company, Carpe Fulgur, focused on bringing relatively complex doujin (Japanese indie games) to English-speaking audiences.
Carpe Fulgur Project Director Andrew Dice says it's been his dream to "be the dude who brings over Japanese games to an American audience" ever since he first heard about Ted Woolsey, the man who expertly translated many of Squaresoft's early-'90s-era RPGs.
"Once I heard that such a job even existed, I pretty much knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life," he said. "Because that sounded like the coolest job in the world, taking a game from another country and making sure that people in America or Britain or wherever could play it or understand it as well as possible."
After an unsuccessful interview with a localization company in Southern California, Dice recalls talking with Internet friend (and Japanese-language expert) Robin Williams (no, not that Robin Williams) about potentially breaking into the industry on their own.
After briefly considering approaching Gust Corporation about translating their Atelier series of games, Williams suggested reaching out to the developers of an odd little doujin RPG he'd heard about, called Recettear (pronounced Reh-sah-teer). "My reaction was, 'Rece-wha?'" Dice said.
You Want To Do What, Now?
The 2007 Japanese release focuses on a girl who takes over an RPG-style item shop to help pay off her father's debts. With anime-inspired visuals, an old-school, 2D overhead look and a main character that's a fairy, the game doesn't exactly scream American blockbuster. But that didn't hinder Dice in his efforts to bring the game across the ocean.
Recettear's Japanese developer, a group of independent game-makers that goes by the name EasyGameStation, was similarly eager to bring the game to the American market, Dice said. But they were a little wary of Carpe Fulgur.
"It was something of a challenge to convince them that a pair of guys that didn’t even live in the same state together and had no verifiable previous work experience in the game industry were the best people to localize their game," he said.
But Dice said the two independent-minded companies gelled over their outsider status. "[EasyGameStation] operate like a lot of other groups in Japan because they are unincorporated, they are basically just a group of friends that like to make stuff together," he said. "There's sort of a shared mentality there. Once they understood that we were two guys that were mainly doing this because we wanted to, that really helped establish some faith and camaraderie in us."
Once the translation started, Dice said the Carpe Fulgur team found subtle ways to add their own touch to the game. For instance, in the original Japanese, main character Recette constantly repeats the Japanese word for "Yay!" ("Yatta"). In the American translation, Dice changed these outbursts up with silly suffixes, transforming a simple "Yay!" into a "Yayifications!" or a"Yayperoni!" for instance.
"When you actually scripted it out and looked at the original script, it got a little bit repetitious," Dice said. "It wasn’t really unique enough to be a catch phrase, but it was still something that she needed to say, but if you just left it alone it would be monotonous... it would just probably bore the reader a little bit. So I decided to get a little bit creative with all those vanilla 'Yays.'"
There were some odd bits of Japanese culture that were changed for the move across the Pacific as well. For example, the main characters' casual preference for Japanese foods didn't really fit with the game's old-fashioned fantasy French village setting. "It was a little bit weird when you’d have Recette and Tear talking about the poverty of their food, and then they’d be talking about rice and tofu and they were surrounded by very obviously French and Western buildings," Dice said.
What Dice had hoped would be a four-month translation effort on Recettear took roughly twice that long, he said, thanks to some "real life intrusions" and the trials of telecommuting. "I actually still think that if we had been in a central office -- if [Williams] and I didn’t live across the country from each other and have to rely on the internet for networking and what not -- that things could have gotten done a lot faster," he said.
Dice said he hopes a successful release for Recettear in the American market would allow him to move out to Oregon and start a real office with Williams. Of course, success for Carpe Fulgur is measured on a different scale than it might be for a larger company. With bedroom offices and a budget for Recettear's localization "that can best be expressed in three or maybe small four-figures," according to Dice, it wouldn't take much for the pair to recoup their investment.
The fact that the pair could complete the project at all on such a budget is a testament to the promise of digital distribution, Dice said. "We wrote off a long time ago the possibility of getting in to any brick and mortar store. Not only would the printing costs and the distribution costs make it prohibitive, but there’s an ever-decreasing amount of space on the shelves for PC games, especially in places like Gamestop."
"We’d be trying to shove off things like World of Warcraft or The Orange Box, all those huge huge titles from the shelves, and that just wouldn’t work. Digital distribution is essentially the only way we can get any real exposure and sales at all."
Dice said he thinks 10,000 North American sales forRecettear in the next six months isn't an unreasonable expectation, thanks to the game's relatively unique premise. "A whole lot of people like to bang on about how 'Americans like guns in their games, they like violence and decapitations, RAWR!,'" he said.
"But having been an American PC and console gamer for going on two decades now, what I’ve observed is that above all what the Western gaming audience likes is a unique experience. If you can give them something they’re rarely tried before or never tried before, they’re very likely to go for it. If you give them something where they can say ‘That’s fun, I’ve never really done something like that before,’ then they’ll tell their friends, their friends will all enjoy it, and you can be successful in the market."
If sales live up to expectations, Dice says Carpe Fulgur might yet support him and Williams in their dream job well into the future. "It’s really a question of whether or not if we’ll be able to continue to do this for a living and whether or not we can turn Carpe Fulgur into a growing interest that can bring over more games," he said.