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[In this in-depth interview, Gamasutra talks to Mother 3 fan-translator Clyde 'Tomato' Mandelin on working on the unofficial translation of the Nintendo classic, his day job in translation, and his localization heroes.]
"We know what we're doing isn't 100% legal. But even so, we try our best not to step on companies' toes. In fact, I've received a number of e-mails in the past from professionals inside major game companies giving their thanks, offering to buy me drinks sometime, stuff like that. What we do is appreciated, but in a hidden way, I think."
Clyde Mandelin is a Japanese-to-English translator. As a professional, he's worked on video games such as Kingdom Hearts II and Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas as well as a slew of well-known anime series including Dragon Ball, One Piece, and Lupin the 3rd.
But just as notable is Mandelin's work on lesser-known games, all of which he translates in his free time and without payment.
You see, Mandelin is a fan translator, one of a niche but revered group of game fans who hack into those 8- and 16-bit Japanese video game treasures that never saw a Western release, translating them into English before finally releasing a patch onto the Internet.
Using this patch, gamers can play the game in English via an emulator, experiencing those forbidden fruits previously withheld from Western eyes.
In this underground world, Mandelin is better known by the moniker, Tomato, and it's thanks to his work that RPG fans have been able to play Square and Enix titles such Bahamut Lagoon, Star Ocean and, most recently, Nintendo's Game Boy Advance sequel to fan-favorite Earthbound, Mother 3.
The latter title attracted a huge amount of attention this autumn; the translation patch receiving over a hundred thousand downloads in the first week of release.
"Yeah, it was definitely a nice surprise," he explains. "The response was a lot bigger than we expected, and it was awesome how excited and positive everyone was during the project. I originally thought we'd get a couple dozen thousand downloads total, but we quickly passed the 100,000 mark after the release. With off-site mirrors and such, the real number is probably like double that. When I think about that, I'm just like, 'Damn.' It's really cool that this little project on the Internet could make so many people happy."
Mandelin's in his twenties and works for FUNimation and Babel Media, the popular game localization agency. When he was a boy, he lived in Hawaii, an experience that he believes sparked an interest in Asian culture and language.
A gamer since the Atari 400, it was playing Japanese-developed Super Nintendo titles like Earthbound and Chrono Trigger that first inspired Mandelin to mess about making his own games. But it wasn't until he was leaving college that he decided what he wanted to do with life.
"I had absolutely no idea what I really wanted to do with my life after graduation. I would switch majors and still not be happy, so I eventually decided take out a loan and spend a year studying in Japan to get out of my rut. It was an expensive gamble."
"While I was there, I heard about some ROM hackers who needed help translating scripts, so I offered my services. The first day I started, I instantly knew I wanted to do this for a living, and after that, it became a kind of quest to constantly improve my skills. That feeling of finally knowing what you want to do is so good."