As gaming has evolved, the medium of “video games” has broadened considerably. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that a wide variety of disparate markets have started to overlap and mingle.
One of the most interesting things about gaming today is the wide variety of experiences we can enjoy from creators all over the world. Here in the West, for example, we can enjoy more quality games that hail from Asia than ever before thanks to the sterling efforts of localisation companies — despite the occasional controversy, of course!
But then there’s the odd company out there who does things a little differently; the odd company that “thinks global” right from the beginning rather than making sharply delineated distinctions between “East” and “West”. And one of those companies is Inti Creates.
Back in the early days of gaming — like, the really early days — most people tended to play games that originated from the same place they were from. In America, people played Atari consoles such as the 2600. In Japan, the Nintendo Famicom was dominant. In Europe, home computers from companies such as Sinclair, Commodore and Atari were dominant. Other platforms were available — and trends changed over time, particularly in the US, where Nintendo’s NES overtook Atari’s platforms following the “crash” of 1983 — but for the most part, people seemingly tended to favour home-grown efforts.
There were a variety of reasons for this, of course, including the prohibitively expensive nature of importing technology and software media from overseas, but also the fact that communication technology we take for granted today didn’t yet exist also played a part. In some cases, even games from neighbouring countries were regarded as exotic and exciting; in my home country of the UK, for example, 8- and 16-bit home computer games from French developers and publishers such as Infogrames and ERE Informatique were very distinctive experiences that clearly set themselves apart from what appeared to be the “norm”, for want of a better term.
Personally speaking, I first became conscious of Japanese games as a distinct “thing” in their own right in the SNES era, though it was really the previous generation of consoles with the NES and Sega Master System where we started to see a lot more experiences from our friends in the East coming over. There were still a lot of unlocalised Japanese games, mind — particularly in Europe, since many Japanese titles that made it to North America subsequently never made that second trip across the Atlantic right up until the PS2 era — but in the 8- and 16-bit eras, a lot of gamers started to become aware of Japanese games as something interesting and distinctive.
And yet all these years later, there are still an awful lot of Japanese developers and publishers who seem hesitant to fully embrace the Western audience. It’s not surprising in some ways; localising a game into English from Japanese is a significant undertaking, particularly in the case of something as wordy as an RPG or visual novel, but this is, of course, why specialist localisation teams have been on the rise over the course of the last few console generations. Localising is still seen as a somewhat risky prospect in some instances, however, so there are still plenty of Japanese games we never see in the West.
In 2014, Inti Creates decided to do things a little bit differently with regard to the worldwide market. The company hired Matt Papa.
“I joined Inti Creates in September 2014 right after Tokyo Game Show,” Papa tells me. “I was the first person the company ever hired to interact with the Western world, so my responsibilities are quite extensive, and cover everything from non-Japan based event manager, liaison between Inti and non-Japanese developers/companies, international marketing, and more. That of course doesn’t include my roles as a producer and localisation director. You could say I wear a lot of hats.”
The stereotype of Japanese industry in general being rather insular and self-contained is popular for a reason: there’s a certain degree of accuracy to it. But Inti Creates’ decision to hire Papa, much like similar decisions made by a few other trailblazing companies out there, demonstrated a clear commitment to the international market — even if, in Inti’s case, it was partly based on practicality.
“We’re still small enough of a company where having a dedicated US/EU branch office like some other companies do isn’t quite feasible for us,” Papa explains, “so we operate entirely out of our office in Japan. I think in this day and age, in order for a Japanese game company of our size that makes the kind of games we make to really survive and thrive, you cannot solely focus all of your efforts on the Japanese market and ignore the rest of the world.”
Indeed, as we’ve previously seen, Inti’s early games were Japan-only affairs, and the company found itself struggling somewhat up until it partnered with Keiji Inafune and Capcom on the Mega Man Zero series — a new take on a franchise that had clearly demonstrated itself to have worldwide appeal. As such, the company had been conscious of the need to think a bit more globally for quite some time — particularly as advancements in gaming technology meant that the kind of games it specialised in were starting to fall out of mainstream favour.
“We want people around the world to play and enjoy our games, and thanks to things like the digital marketplace that exists now for console games and PC, we are able to do that easier than was ever possible in the past,” Papa continues.
Indeed, his point is one that is often also cited by Western independent developers, who feel that the digital distribution revolution brought about by platforms such as Steam, GOG.com and the console-based storefronts has been instrumental in improving the overall diversity and breadth of the games industry. Many games that would never have got the green light from publishers in previous years can now be either self-published or released as digital-only titles at a lower price point. This is seen as less “risky” because there are fewer overheads involved — most significantly, the removal of the need to manufacture physical editions and get them distributed to retailers.
That said, something interesting has happened in the last few years; many gamers who are primarily interested in the “triple-A” end of the market, or simply playing the latest and greatest games as soon as possible, have become more interested in acquiring their games digitally to start playing them the second they release, while those with a passion for more niche-interest titles have shown themselves to be willing and able to pay up for physical releases as a means of showing their support for creators they love. Inti has embraced this fully.
“Since we don’t have a US or EU branch, we need to work with publishers on the ground in those territories if we want to publish physical versions of our games,” explains Papa. “And thankfully, we’ve found great partners to help us do that, such as PQube and the work they’re doing with the Gal*Gun series.”
Gal*Gun Double Peace actually proved to be quite an important title for Inti’s worldwide efforts, as it happens. While, like most Japanese games of its type, it ultimately received relatively mediocre reviews from the mainstream commercial press, it proved to be something of a favourite behind the scenes at Inti, with specialist enthusiast critics (including yours truly) and with its eventual audience of dedicated Japanese gaming enthusiasts in the West. More importantly, it allowed Inti to find a reliable partner to get its games in stores as well as on digital marketplaces.
“You can personally blame me for Gal*Gun Double Peace getting released in the West,” admits Papa, laughing at the memory. “I pushed for this game’s Western release from day one of joining the company, and it took a lot of effort on my part to convince the team that this game has a fanbase outside of Japan, and that a Western release could succeed.”
How did he convince them? Well, quite simply by asking that prospective audience directly. There’s no better way to understand what the fans want than by asking the fans themselves, after all.
“The day Double Peace released in Japan, I asked the Internet a simple question on the company Twitter,” recalls Papa. “‘Would you like to see Gal*Gun localised someday?’ The Internet went ballistic. I couldn’t believe how massive and positive the reception was to this idea, and at the time, that tweet completely shattered records we had for Likes, Retweets, views and so on, not to mention all the articles and threads that appeared all over the Internet. I showed this to the team, and that was the last bit of proof I needed to get this off the ground. We then hooked up with PQube, and the rest is history!”
Indeed, the game proved successful enough for the subsequent sequel — due later this year at the time of writing — to be developed under the apparent assumption it would be released both in Japan and the West, with no need to ask the Internet this time. Part of this was down to the fact that the game itself was a lot of fun with a ton of hidden depth, but some credit definitely needs to be given to PQube, too.
The publisher went all-out with the release, offering not only the standard edition of the game itself on both PS4 and Vita formats via a variety of retailers (including brick and mortar stores), but also an impressive and affordable limited edition available through its partner Rice Digital that included the game, double soundtrack CD, fabric wallscroll, art book and official striped panties. Sorry, “screen cleaner”. The sequel is, as you might expect, following suit with a similarly elaborate collection of goodies.
Successful as it was, the Western release of Double Peace presented its own challenges. Not, as you might expect, from the censors — although the game was denied a rating in New Zealand and thus was unavailable for sale in that region — or indeed, for once, from the more puritanical end of the modern commercial games press, who largely ignored the game for the most part. Rather, it was the localisation of the game that provided Papa and his team with a number of issues to overcome.
“You absolutely need to give your localisations some character, otherwise they can easily come out looking boring and uninspired,” explains Papa. “This can, of course, be done while staying true to the original Japanese, but if you just always do a completely literal one-for-one translation, well, that’s not really localising, now, is it? I always do my best to keep the English in lock-step with the original Japanese, but that’s not always possible at every turn, and you need to come up with creative ways to give players the same feeling that Japanese users would get, but in a language they understand.”
In the case of Double Peace, there were a few considerations here. First was the matter that the game, far from being a shallow experience, featured a large cast of characters, each of whom had a clear personality that was expressed through the way they acted, the way they dressed and the messages they left on the game’s “SakuraTalk” message board, primarily to ask the protagonist to do things. Not only that, but the game’s dating sim elements meant that there was a lot of dialogue between the protagonist and the main heroines, all of which needed to capture the feeling of a young man searching for true love under rather difficult circumstances.
The localisation ended up being fairly true to the original Japanese in terms of semantics, but it also incorporated contemporary English youthful slang in the translated text. The result was a game where its characters felt authentically “young” in terms of the way they communicated with one another, but the localisation thankfully managed to resist going too far off the deep end with references to popular memes and suchlike.
There were other challenges of a more linguistic nature to tackle, too. Japanese works rather differently to English when it comes to wordplay and puns, and some things simply aren’t directly translatable.
“I always use Kurona as an example here, because she needed a creative localisation solution to keep her character intact without getting lost in translation,” explains Papa, referring to Double Peace’s primary antagonist, a young and rather incompetent devil girl. “In Japanese, whenever she would use the word ‘desu’ (です), which is an extremely common word in the same vein of the English verb ‘is’, it would be written as ‘ＤＥＡＴＨ’ in the Japanese script, because the Japanese pronunciation of the English word ‘death’ is a homonym for [‘desu’]. ‘Death’ isn’t exactly a versatile word, so my choices were either lose that character trait and just translate ‘ＤＥＡＴＨ’/’desu’ as is and be done with it, or find a way to give her speech a similar effect in English.”
This is a common problem localisers run into, since a popular method of Japanese wordplay is to play around with the verb at the end of the sentence, usually a variant on “desu”. Cute and young characters typically overuse “desu” — Kurona is a play on this trope, since she’s a mischievous kid rather than a real threat to anyone — while princess types end their sentences with “desu wa”, Squid Girl uses “de geso” (“squid tentacles”) and so on. There isn’t really a direct equivalent to this in English because our sentence structure is so different, so Japanese puns such as this tend to get localised into jokes using homonyms or deliberately mispronounced words; the aforementioned Squid Girl’s English script, for example, features lots of variants on “squidn’t that nice?” and “that was ink-redible”, a tradition that the English ink-arnation of Nintendo’s Splatoon series proudly continues.
“I decided on having her use ‘HELL’,” explains Papa, describing how he tackled Kurona’s particular verbal tic in the original script. “She’s a demon from Hell, and the word ‘hell’ is a pretty versatile word I could find a way to work into pretty much every single sentence in which she used ‘ＤＥＡＴＨ’ in Japanese. Which was, like, almost every sentence she spoke. It was a HELL of an undertaking.” Quite.
Finally, I had to ask what Papa thought of the trend at the time of writing for the mainstream commercial press to treat Japanese games with ecchi elements with contempt, even going so far as to insult their audience at times.
“I’m by no means in the business of telling the media what to do,” muses Papa. “But I do believe that you should not label an entire fanbase something negative [like ‘sexist’ or ‘misogynist’] because they play ‘insert game here’. At the end of the day, they are going to do what they want, and we are going to keep making games the way we want, so we’ll just see how that plays out. We know that the Gal*Gun fans are awesome, so no matter what nasty thing someone on the Internet may say about them, Inti-senpai loves you, Gal*Gun fam.”
A healthy attitude to take, I feel, and a good representation of how the Inti Creates of 2018 approaches life in general. Keep on making things that you think are cool, and you’ll naturally draw in people who also think they’re cool.
Because ultimately, who cares about what the joyless people of the world think? If you’re having a good time with something you enjoy and it doesn’t hurt anyone, that’s really the most important thing.
Thanks to Matt Papa from Inti Creates for his comments. You’ll hear more from Matt over the course of the next few articles!
If you enjoyed this article and want to see more like it, please consider showing your social support with likes, shares and comments, or become a Patron. You can also buy me a coffee if you want to show some one-time support. Thank you!