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Q&A: WOOMB.net's Sander Zuidema on MSX Revival

Q&A: WOOMB.net's Sander Zuidema on MSX Revival

December 20, 2006 | By Alistair Wallis

December 20, 2006 | By Alistair Wallis
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The WOOMB.net service, established by Dutch partnership Bazix, offers translated Japanese titles from the MSX computer system for PC download. Most of these games are available in English for the first time, with the service also providing translations of the manuals and other associated extras.

The MSX computer, made up of a standardised architecture proposed by Microsoft, was released in Japan in 1983, and was discontinued in its final 1990 iteration, the MSX Turbo R, in 1995. Over that period, it became hugely popular in the region, but failed to find worldwide sales.

Bazix, a representative of MSX Association, note that their plans also extend to translating titles from other Japanese “retro” platforms, as well as the possible distribution of titles on mobile phones, PDAs and the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console.

Gamasutra spoke to Sander Zuidema, one of three partners in Bazix, about the translating and licensing titles for the WOOMB.net service, and their future plans for the service.

When was Bazix formed, and what are the aims of the company?

Bazix was formed in 2004, shortly after we had become the official representatives of the Japanese company MSX Association outside Japan. Our aims are related to retro gaming in general and the MSX computer system in specific. Our first consumer service, WOOMB.net, has just been launched. On this website we offer retro-games from various developers, originally released on different retro platforms - starting with MSX.

Our aims are to preserve a large variety of retro gaming software and their manuals, and to bring the Western and Japanese (retro) gaming market closer together by translating existing computer games from Japanese to English and vice versa. Furthermore, we intend to enhance the familiarity and popularity of the MSX brand, increasing its user base by distributing and (sub)licensing merchandise, MSX emulation and software for Windows, mobile phones, consoles - and even new MSX computers.

How did the company become official representative of the MSX Association, and what kind of responsibilities does this entail?

Bazix became the official representative of MSX Association after several meetings with Mr. Kazuhiko Nishi (formerly ASCII - and with Microsoft the founder of the MSX computer standard in 1982) and Mr. Hidekatsu Yokoi (MSX Association and D4 Enterprise) in Europe and Japan. Since 2001, they have been involved in a project called the "MSX Revival", which entails the activities described above, but it was limited to the Japanese borders. The Japanese counterpart of WOOMB.net, Project EGG, had already become very successful - offering hundreds of titles to thousands of members. Our knowledge of both the MSX computer system and the Japanese language made us the preferred partner for bringing the MSX Revival, including an English counterpart of Project EGG, to countries other than Japan. As the representative of MSX Association, our responsibilities are related to the trademarks and copyrights of the multi-million selling MSX computer system.

When was WOOMB.net set up?

WOOMB.net was launched on October 2006, after a period of preparations during which we implemented D4 Enterprise's Digital Contents Protection system, translated several MSX games and their manuals from Japanese to English and arranged licensing for several European MSX games.

What kind of market do you believe there is for translated games like the ones on WOOMB.net?

WOOMB.net games are there for everybody who likes to play computer/console games. Boys and girls, men and women. We aim not only at nostalgic fans, or fans who have been wondering what those nice looking Japanese games they tried to play years ago were all about, but also for people who have no nostalgic ties with the games - or original computer/console it was released on - whatsoever.

Gameplay, original game concepts and - in the case of RPGs - often very exciting storylines make these games worth playing by themselves, despite the fact graphical standards have changed drastically over time. It's like classic pop records: just because they were recorded on old equipment, on only a few tracks and in mono, doesn't mean a young audience can not enjoy, e.g. a Beach Boys, Bob Dylan or Miles Davis record. In the games industry, technology has advanced even to more extremes than in the music industry, but that does not change the fact that many retro games are in essence very cool and addictive games to play.

What kind of scope for profit is there with a service like this?

At this moment our service is still far too young to give realistic scopes of profit. As our games library and the amount of supported systems grows, our service will become more attractive to a larger audience. At Amusement Center hundreds of games are already available for a wide diversity of platforms (MSX1, MSX2, MSX2+, MSX turboR, FM-7,
FM-77AV, PC-6001mkII, PC-8801, PC-9801, Turbo Grafx 16, X1, X68000 and Sega Mega Drive).

Our goal is to bring all these titles in English. We intend to introduce Western platforms and classics in WOOMB.net and - after translation to Japanese - in Amusement Center as well. We are convinced that this approach will make WOOMB.net a healthy and profitable service.

How are the games featured on the service chosen?

When choosing titles for WOOMB.net we take different factors into account, such as availability for (sub)licensing, familiarity in the market and the complexity of localization (translation from Japanese to English).

How often are new games appearing on the service?

During 2006 our goal was to release one game every three weeks. Throughout 2007 we intend to increase this amount, sometimes releasing several games at once, or single games at a higher frequency.

How do you sort out the licensing for the titles, and what have the reactions been from rights holders?

The licensing can be divided in two groups: Japanese software, where D4 Enterprise has already done most of the hard work for us, and non-Japanese software, where we have a lot of work to do. Many companies that flourished in the 1980s have changed ownership, merged with other companies, sold part of their copyrights or filed for bankruptcy. Finding out which copyrights belong to whom, and getting in touch with those companies (or people) in order to license the games for distribution in WOOMB.net and Amusement Center is a very tedious job.

Once we get in touch with the right people, the reactions are often very enthusiastic, especially after having a closer look to our services. The fact that we are able to introduce Western classics to the Japanese market, after Japanese, and our intention to support other platforms than Windows only in the future are often appreciated. That said, there still is a lot of work to do to get an as broad as possible selection of software and systems 'on board'.

How are they translated?

For most games the original source code and graphics are often not available, so we have to sort out how the game and their text routines were programmed (reverse-engineering) and replace them with English text routines - often using compression techniques and graphical replacement - to allow an as accurate and complete translation as possible.

A dedicated Japanese translator delivers the translations of the in-game texts. Our first and foremost goal is to leave the original context, jokes and atmosphere of the games intact - and prevent the familiar 'someone set us up the bomb'-like mistranslations. Depending on how structured and optimized the original game was coded, this can be either a very simple job or a slow and tedious process comparable to restoring an old and weathered painting.

At WOOMB.net, we also offer a high resolution PDF of the manual, which we intend to keep as true to the original as possible as well. This does not only involve proper translation, but also the preservation of the artworks and layout. Golvellius 2, for instance, features a nice manga style comic, whereas RPGs such as Hydlide 3 and Xak come with large manuals with a lot of background information and original artwork.

What is the WOOMB Launcher, and why do you feel it necessary to use a software launcher for the games on the service?

From the WOOMB launcher you can download and play the games you have bought at WOOMB.net, as well as read their manuals. This does not only tie the gaming experience to a user-friendly environment (and the WOOMB.net brand), but also incorporates D4E's Digital Contents Protection system that reduces the chances of software piracy.

Is the threat of users pirating the games on the service one that you feel would impact greatly on your business model?

Yes and no. The experiences with Project EGG in Japan have taught that the commercial redistribution and preservation of games can perfectly coexist with a vivid emulation scene. As you can see above, however, we have taken steps to prevent those with bad intentions to pirate our games and unique translations.

What are the company's plans for distributing games to platforms other than the PC?

In 2007, we plan to start distributing MSX games on the mobile gaming market as well, starting with support for Symbian Series 60 (v2 and upwards) compliant smart phones. Although we have the intention to support other Operating Systems and game consoles as well, we can not give a projected timeline yet.

What kinds of barriers do you face in licensing the software catalogue from WOOMB to the Virtual Console?

At this point in time we can not reveal information regarding the Virtual Console.

What other advancements will users see with WOOMB in the future?

In essence: more games from more retro computers and consoles, running on more different platforms.


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