INTERVIEW: Aksys Games — Russell Iriye, Marketing Manager

Friday, June 14th, 2013

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Aksys Games logo

I recently had a chance to sit down with Russell Iriye, Aksys Games‘ Marketing Manager, who was willing to briefly discuss their new IP, Magus, and some of the difficulties of the localization process that their team encounters.

Scott: What’s up with Magus? I know it’s going to be a big press reveal soon, but…I still have to ask.

Russell: Magus [“May-jus”] is an action RPG. It’s our first co-developed IP that we’re doing. It’s with a development company called Black Tower. The owner is an American guy who is based in Japan, so you’re probably go to see elements of Western- and Eastern-influenced RPG styles in it. It’s a third-person game. Basically, Magus is a magic user, and you also have a companion character named Kinna, who is basically your tank and who will go forth and do her thing while you attack from a distance.

In terms of the story, you’re Magus, and you’ve been locked up in a tower in this cell, in this prison tower, for a number of years being tortured, and you don’t know why you’re there or why you’ve been captured. And one day, this girl, Kinna, comes and helps you escape. You have this innate ability to absorb three colors—purple, green, and red. And using those colors, you can throw out special magic attacks. It’s not necessarily elemental in any case, but purple lends itself to dark magic, green lends itself to life-type magic, and red tends to be fire magic.

The cool thing about this is that you don’t need to master all three colors. With these colors, you can switch around and, for example, throw out a purple magic, which might be a vortex to send you to another part of the room, and then shoot out a green magic, which would be, for example, a tornado. So you can do these kinds of combination attacks. I like to think of it like magic cards, if you remember Magic: The Gathering, where there are different types of decks. I was always a burn type of guy with red when I was a kid. So, you can do that—you can be just red or just purple or just green, or you can master them all. So, the spellbook itself is not yet completed, but from what I’ve seen and what I’ve played so far, it’s actually pretty extensive, and you can do some pretty cool things with Magus.

It’s for the PS3 and is due out at the end of this year. We’ll be releasing the assets in the next coming weeks. We just wanted to tease it, though.

Scott: When did Aksys decide to try its hand at game development? What is Aksys contributing to the project?

Russell: We started thinking about this project…I would say it’s almost been about a year since we started talking with Black Tower and kind of developing this game. In terms of contributing to this project, we’re handling a lot of the business side, since we are a publisher, but also some of the creative aspects and the editing and helping with the story. Black Tower is definitely doing much more of the development and coding side of the game.

Scott: Can you share some insight into the localization process that Aksys goes through with a given title?

Russell: When we decide to do a title, after the licensing and stuff is done, generally, the translators and editors work together to basically translate and edit the game. I think one of the things that makes Aksys great is that the translators and the editors really try to get to know the game. They really go into the character and think about how this character is speaking in Japanese and what that means, and what are the nuances behind those words. For instance, is he being sarcastic, and if he is, is it translatable into English, and if it’s not, then how can we get that feeling across?

There’s always a constant battle in localization. Do we straight-translate it, or do we get the feeling of it more? So, for example, like with Virtue’s Last Reward, Noba, who is the lead translator, and Ben, who is the lead editor, they both got to speak with the creator a lot and really communicate with him about the script. For instance, they could ask, “What did you mean, exactly, by this statement? What were you trying to get at?” Those three really connected, and they actually have a pretty good relationship. And that’s basically the localization process, and it’s not easy. I’m glad I’m in marketing, let’s just say that.

Scott: How does Aksys choose a game for localization?

Russell: One of the great things about Aksys is that we’re a small enough company that in terms of how we choose which games to localize, it’s obviously dependent upon if the developer of a Japanese IP wants to license it to us and whether they want us to localize it, but also, internally, what we think about the game and if there’s a market out there for it. And we’re known to take some risky ones. Like Hakuōki, for us, was, well, you know, a really risky game because otome titles out here are basically nonexistent. We’re one of the pioneers of bringing otome games out here and it actually got really good reception.

There is obviously a very fervent fan base out there that wants Hakuōki and otome games, and that’s why we followed them up with other Hakuōkis, but also, we’ve announced Sweet Fuse, which is another otome title, and with that, the reception has been really good, so we recognize that there is a niche community out there that really wants them. It’s a very kind of rigorous process of going back and forth and talking about whether or not we want to do this, and if we do, the business side goes off and does their thing, and that’s how it’s decided.

Scott: I assume it’s based on many factors, but generally speaking, how long does it take a game to get localized?

Russell: That is a difficult question. It depends on the workout; how many words there are in a given title, but also in terms of testing… If you notice, for example [he pointed at a dialog box in Muramasa Rebirth], how much space do you have to write something down? In Japanese, one character means a lot, but in English, you might have to write an entire sentence for that one word, so how do you balance that out? That’s really important. So, it can be anywhere from three to six months to fully localize a title.

Scott: What sorts of roadblocks are faced during localization?

Russell: Like I mentioned, the spacing in any given game and whether or not to straight translate or get the feeling across—those are just some of the roadblocks that they face in terms of translating and editing. It’s a very back-and-forth process, even between Noba and Michael Angler, who does Ragnarok—he helped out with BlazBlue, he’s doing Muramasa now—even between the translator and the editor themselves, they’ll go back and forth because the translator has to figure out, “What’s the connotation behind this word?,” and then they have to relay that to the editors, and then they have to figure that out. Those are just some of the roadblocks. I sit about two feet away from them, so I hear their “Oh my God, I don’t know what this means…” So, I can hear them talk it out.

About Scott MacDonald

I joined Oprainfall in August 2012 as a writer and reporter. After I proved myself, I became Review Manager and handled all reviews for the site. I then branched out and took over all PR duties for Oprainfall. Now I keep us in touch with publishers, obtain codes for official reviews, schedule interviews, and tackle other assorted PR responsibilities. I'll play anything, but I view new releases with a cynical eye.