Localizing Visual Novels: An Interview with MangaGamer

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

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We here at oprainfall love Visual Novels if you haven’t noticed. So as part of week long celebration of the genre, we were able to conduct two interviews with one of the largest publishers in the genre, MangaGamer. Responsible for localizing such titles as Koihime Musou ~A Heart-Throbbing, Maidenly Romance of the Three Kingdoms~, Tokyo Babel, Kindred Spirits on the Roofand NO, THANK YOU!!!MangaGamer has quite a lot of experience and knowledge when it comes to the genre. They’ve also been able to get two of their titles released onto Steam uncensored and continue to strive to push the envelope where they can.

This first interview will cover Visual Novels as a whole. While the topics covered are SFW, please be advised that some of the games mentioned here, as well as MangaGamer’s site, have NSFW content. Discretion is advised when traveling outside this page.

By:  Benny Carrillo (Questions/Interviewer), William Haderlie (Questions), Quentin H. (Formatting and Layout), Azario Lopez (Questions)

Operation Rainfall: What kind of company is MangaGamer and how long have you been around?

MangaGamer: Here at MangaGamer we’re a localizer, publisher, platform, community—all of those things combined. We were founded in 2008 by a group of Japanese developers who came together around the idea of bringing visual novels from Japan to the West, and growing the market for Visual Novels here. We’ve worked very hard to establish ourselves, bring the highest quality localizations to market, and really cultivate the potential we saw for these games.

OR: MangaGamer has seen quite a lot of success. What would you say was is the reason for that?

MG: Our dedication to quality, and our fans. We had a very rocky start as we were first learning and convincing our partners of what needed to be done. What got us through those times was all the support we received from the visual novel community and fans, all the feedback they provided, and our willingness to respond and answer their enthusiasm with our own.

It did take us a while to reach the levels of quality we currently take pride in, but I believe that everyone can see the difference we offer thanks to the passionate dedication our staff brings to each title. In addition to translation quality, our dedication to quality also extends to preserving the creator’s vision, striving to always offer a full, uncut, unaltered version of the original so fans can enjoy the works as they were meant to be.

MangaGamer | Cho Dengeki Stryker

Cho Dengeki Stryker (2014)

OR: For our readers who might not be as familiar with Visual Novels as a whole, what exactly are they?

MG: It’s very easy to compare a Visual Novel to a Choose Your Own Adventure story. Overall, the bulk of the game is in the text, with a series of meaningful choices left up to players which determines how the stories will branch out and develop. Their ability to tell a deep, interactive story is second to none, and they excel in character interactions, development and relationships as well.

Of course, if that were all to Visual Novels, then they would just be novels. What makes them different from novels and brings them closer to games, is the addition of the full audiovisual spectrum that games have to offer. The addition of music helps create and hone the atmosphere of every scene, the use of sprites helps add visual expression and animation to the characters and their interactions, the use of backgrounds deepens the setting, the use of event CG helps enhance and accent climactic and thematic scenes, and the use of voiceover breathes even more life into the existing characters.

It’s this unique combination of all those storytelling elements that truly makes Visual Novels a unique experience.

“…[W]hen it comes to Visual Novels, 400,000 words is easily an average sized project.”

OR: What about Eroge and Nukige? Where exactly do they fit in the Visual Novel spectrum?

MG: Eroge and Nukige are simply two ways of categorizing the many broad genres of tales that Visual Novels can share.

Eroge is a broad-reaching term. Originally short for “Erotic Game,” it applies to any Visual Novel which contains sexual scenes. A game like Kindred Spirits on the Roof, with its focus on romantic relationships and very tenderly handled scenes expressing the culmination of those relationships, would be considered an “Eroge”; as would a game like Kara no Shojo, which features only a handful of sexual scenes while the primary focus is on the deep, thrilling mystery characters are trying to solve. However, a game like Boob Wars, which focuses entirely on getting busy and enjoying sexy times, would be considered an “Eroge” as well.

The latter, Boob Wars, is what would be categorized as “Nukige.” “Nukige” are a subcategory of “Eroge,” and this category contains games whose primary purpose is to excite, arouse, and help the player relieve their sexual desires.

Obviously, not all visual novels fall under either category, and many contain great stories to enjoy.

MangaGamer | Kindred Spirits on the Roof

Kindred Spirits on the Roof (2016)

OR: Localizing these games is no easy task I imagine. In general, what is the process?

MG: After a license and assets for the game are acquired, then members of our dedicated staff are assigned to the title and set about their work. Our translators and editors work side by side to ensure the highest quality possibility. While the long process of converting text from one language to another is underway the rest of our team works on localizing any images to English, as well as checking the game engine for English compatibility and making or requesting any changes necessary to ensure proper functionality on English systems.

Once we have a build ready, it goes through testing and final tweaks before its ready to release.

OR: Does the process change with larger projects such as Tokyo Babel and Beat Blades Haruka versus smaller projects like Armored Warrior Iris?

MG: Not so much, no. If a project is extraordinarily long we may consider assigning additional staff to it, but when it comes to Visual Novels, 400,000 words is easily an average sized project. That being said though, we do take project length into consideration when setting goals and deadlines.

OR: MangaGamer has worked with fan translation groups before. Does this help the process or add any unique challenges to it?

MG: It can certainly vary. One of the best parts about working with fan translation groups is being able to work with people who share our passion for Visual Novels, and want to ensure that the final product is the best one possible.

The unique challenges often come from integrating people who may have very different production habits from our typical styles. Many aren’t used to deadlines, some have unique back-and-forth systems that work for them as a team, some may be accustomed to using software that may be unnecessary when official assets are available, and so forth.

There’s almost always some unique challenge, but as we work with them, and often integrate them into our team, we gain great assets to help us produce even more Visual Novels.

MangaGamer | NO, THANK YOU!!!

NO, THANK YOU!!! (2015)

OR: With as large and complex as some of these games get, what kind of work goes into the quality assurance and bug testing process?

MG: We typically assign a small team of testers to each game, and have them run through the entirety from start to finish. We provide them with tools like scripts, walkthroughs, and other options to aid bug and error reporting.

Since most of our games have already been thoroughly bug tested for domestic Japanese release, usually our focus on bug hunting tends to be centered around finding what breaks in English environments, why, and figuring out how to resolve it.

“Western stigmatism towards sexuality can make gaining positive press coverage a large hurdle for particular [visual novels].”

OR: Have there ever been any bizarre bugs that were discovered during the testing process?

MG: Absolutely. Some of the more hilarious ones have been caused from programming choices that were obviously made with potential localization far from anyone’s mind.

One example comes from DEARDROPS, where the first colon (:) of a line was used to signal name-tag text. When a line of narration caused for the use of colon, the name-tag text overflow caused the line to display indirectly—and broke all save files after that line! (The resolution for this was also hilariously easy—inserting an extra colon prior to the line to trigger a blank name-tag.)

Another fun challenge was figuring out how to adapt an engine that chose to use the standard comma (,) as a signal for commenting in its code. (This posed no problem in Japanese, where their double-width comma is a different character!)

How Japan views the Western Visual Novel Market, MangaGamer’s outreach to fans, and Visual Novel recommendations on Page 2

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