Greetings humans, Monki here with a pretty cool interview I did with a producer of Fullmetal Alchemist: Dual Sympathy. Dave "Degs" Degnan was kind enough to answer a few questions about the title and the process of importing games from overseas.
I've played the game all the way through and I enjoyed it. Like the few imports I have played, it is very cutscene heavy but weaves a very detailed and intriguing backstory. I'm sure fans of the show on Adult Swim would enjoy this game as it follows very very closely to the series.
So if you get a chance, check out this title for the DS. It is packed full of mini-games for you on-the-go types and a decent sized story mode that should keep you interested for hours. Enjoy.
Monki: A game like Fullmetal Alchemist has a drastically different feel from anything produced over here in the states. Unlike most American games the story seems to be the most important aspect of the game with the gameplay used only to supplement the story. What do you do to help in the translation for American audiences?
Dave Degnan: Well, I was the producer in charge of US localization (proper translation of the game). That being said I had to coordinate translation and adaptation of both the manual and the script, schedule the recording sessions for the American voice actors, work with marketing to get them the assets needed for our ad campaign, and make sure our Nintendo submission went smoothly. We had the fortunate chance to work with Okratron 5000 on this project, which is owned and run by one of the Fullmetal Alchemist voice actors, Chris Sabat (you may know him as Alex Louis Armstrong from the series). Having that asset made it very easy to contact all of the voice talent for recording the audio in the game.
Okratron's role was to help us with three things: translation of the script and manual, adaptation of the translated script to match the English series dialogue, and to schedule and record the voice actors. Then my job was to take all of those assets and make sure that the development team gets an easy-to-implement asset list. Since the developer is in Japan, we needed to be as accurate as possible with the translated assets we delivered to them. To the credit of both Destineer and Bandai, their development team delivered nearly flawless builds of the translated game.
Lastly Destineer's marketing, packaging, and PR team worked hard to get the ball rolling on the game. We commissioned the official Fullmetal Alchemist artwork creators Bones to make a unique box cover for our game. Along with that these teams, we efficiently got the manual and box together for our final submission to Nintendo of America for approval.
That covers the process we had to go through for the US localization of Fullmetal Alchemist: Dual Sympathy.
Monki: What goes in to the decision on which games to import over for American audiences? I'm assuming it's more than find an anime on Adult Swim and import it, right?
Dave: Well it's simple, really. The first thing you do is look at the popularity of a game in the foreign market. If the game is doing great you have to decide, “Is this game something that would both translate over to English well, and is it the type of game that US gamers find enjoyable?” Sometimes you get lucky and find that there is a franchise attached that hasn't been acquired in the US yet. Either way, you need to do a lot of research and look hard at the platform choice for the game. There is always a risk, but you can reduce that risk significantly by doing your homework and seeing what game genres are popular in the US.
What is the process of importing?
Dave: Well I covered most of this in the earlier question, but the process is usually quite simple in its flow. It goes like this:
Get in contact with the foreign publisher and make sure that the development team is available for the necessary translation.
Get the publisher to send over all menu, script, manual, and box assets for the entire game for it to be translated.
Contract a translator to localize the text from the original language into English.
Adapt the translated text to create the new game script, manual, and box (as it never translates perfectly from my experience).
Record any voice-overs, if they exist.
Send the assets to the developer to be implemented, so that they can send a translated build for testing.
Once the builds meet expectations, submit it to the proper console manufacturer for approval, in this case Nintendo.
Monki: How many people actually work on a title to get the game to work over here?
Dave: The amount of people that work on localization is usually quite small. Most publishing teams consist of a person from marketing, PR, packaging, distribution, production, and quality assurance. Quality assurance consists of multiple testers, depending on project size. Development teams, on the other hand, can range from 2 to 20 workers based on the project's size.
Monki: How many languages must one learn to get into that business?
Dave: Well, if you're not the translator you need only speak English thankfully! *laughs* I'll be honest though, it certainly helps to know Japanese if you're importing Japanese games. It definitely broadens your horizons and usefulness as your palette gets more versatile.
Monki: The actual story in the game is rather radical, involving two brothers trying to defy God and return the younger brother from his giant metal body to his original form. Having never seen the show or read any of the story prior to playing the game I was taken aback by the amount of anti-Church sentiment represented in this T for Teen title. Do you get nervous that the translation of the story may be shocking for people who have just picked up the game?
Dave: Absolutely not. In fact I'm not sure if I'd even classify the series as anti-Church, having watched the series multiple times. Ed's inner struggle with what he did brings up an interesting moral to the story: that the blasphemous act of human alchemy is wrong. The brothers also swear to never perform human alchemy again. If anything, I would say that the story in the end shows that science can't explain everything, rewarding the brothers for their faith and dedication to the ones they love and towards each other.
Monki: A lot of focus of the game is on the mini-games. From wood smashing to arm wrestling. How important are these bite-sized games in addition to the fuller story mode setting? Quick session gaming vs. long session gaming.
Dave: Well, the Nintendo DS is a portable gaming platform. That being said, you really need to make a game that is both easy and quick to pick up, but also able to be played in short bursts. Mini-games are a perfect way to not only split up the action of most games, but also to allow for short and addictive gameplay. You can still put in a long session of gaming on Dual Sympathy, but a good portable game also gives the user the opportunity to have save points more often than you'd find in a home console game (for things like road trips and so forth where interruptions or play stoppages can be common).
Monki: Was there anything in the game that caught you off-guard as you were playing it for the first time? Any spectacular Engrish or something that didn't translate in the move stateside? You set us up the Alchemist?
Dave: *laughs* There were definitely a few of those. Thankfully our script adaptor easily caught about 99% of them before the development team received the final script. I do remember a specific one during the fight with the Homunculus Greed. It was something along the lines of, "Now I get Greed you." Other than that, I only had to catch some character name misspellings/confusion for the US version, like Lyra/Dante being called Lila and Wrath being labeled as Sloth. Having a script adaptor really helped to avoid any big surprises once the translated builds started to come in.
Monki: How important is it for gamers to experience an imported title? Personally I believe that to get a full picture of an artform you must look at all different facets of work. If you study painting you don't only look at Picasso, you must look at Pollock as well. If you want to consider video games as an art form we must take a look at all titles from all over the world. What would you say to someone who had never played an import and picked up your game?
Dave: I'd say that the game type should be very familiar, which is a side-scrolling action game. The only difference is that the art form is based off of a Manga turned Anime. Although the influence is different, it is comparable to our comics and cartoons in many ways. It's hard to find people that don't know what Double Dragon or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are. Those were notorious side-scrolling beat ‘em ups that were originally created in Japan, but were blockbusters here. Fullmetal Alchemist: Dual Sympathy is a game that follows a style that has remained popular over the years, so I'm sure controls and gameplay will be easy to pick up for all users.
Monki: To deflate that last question a bit I'll end on a much simpler question, one that I ask during my interviews. Do you have any secrets or codes you can share with our readers that would work within Fullmetal Alchemist?
Dave: I did create a nice walkthrough for our quality assurance testers, but I'm not sure if it's worthy of submission to GameFAQ's or not. They do have a walkthrough with all of the secrets for the Japanese version however. Maybe in my spare time I'll spice mine up and submit my walkthrough for the US version of Dual Sympathy to that site. I guess time will tell.