Interview: Jessica Chavez, Senior Editor/Community Manager, XSEED Games

Jessica Chavez is a 29 year-old localization specialist who has a love of Japanese culture and gaming, a penchant for the sarcastic/absurd, and an unholy love of bacon. She has worked at XSEED Games for nearly three years as an editor and is primarily responsible for inserting crude and shocking witticisms into unsuspecting treasure chest messages. She has been lead editor on several projects of questionable humor such asHalf-Minute Hero, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony and Rune Factory: Frontier, has labored with great justice on works such as Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces and Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, and has slaved mightily over the text-heavy monster that is Ivy the Kiwi?. Most recently she tackled The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky during a nine month stint where she was chained to her home desktop and allowed neither sunlight nor the joy of human company. Her current mental state is considered ‘extra crispy’.

Geek Woman: We have some things in common, I also have an unhealthy love for crude and shocking witticisms, and *sigh* bacon. How important do you think it is to use language ‘for adults’ in games ‘for adults’?

Jessica Chavez: Pig-candy IS such a lovely compliment to sardonic statements. ^_-

As for using adult language in games, I think it’s paramount actually. While I do localize with an aim to convey the original intent of the game, which can mean simpler language for younger titles, I don’t like removing or simplifying intelligent games just to appeal to a wider market. If by “adult language” you’re also touching on swearing, I think there are times for it and plenty of times where a well-turned phrase works even better than a crude expletive.

They told me that you were chained to a laptop for nine months, so that must mean you are a writer?

Nine months of having one’s face melt off from the screen glare doing rewrites, terminology checks, and basic clean up certainly qualifies me for editor (or masochist), but aside from the “Treasure Chest” messages it was all translated text. While I’d love to do more purely creative writing, “localization” calls more for working over other people’s text much like one would hammer an aged steak into tender jelly.

Do you find it difficult that so much of gaming is censored because “Oh, the children might hear.”?

Hmm… Sometimes it’s better to use less frequent swears in order to meet certain ESRB criteria (an area of some flexibility when localizing text), but I actually feel that gaming, at least our genre anyway, holds its own pretty well without kid-ifying the language. I’m not aware of any real censorship, at least not in our games. I mean, we’re more than happy to throw around an errant (but emphatic!) “fuck” where it suits, as well as moderate sprinklings of “bastard,” “bollocks” and “skin-chandeliers.”

For those who might not know, what does a localizer do?

Localizers are a kind of human sieve. In XSEED’s case this works like a set of bright-eyed, fleshy colanders that you dump a Japanese game into and get a native English version dripping out the bottom. An easy way to imagine it would be as such:

Niche Japanese Game Name
Editor (Me!)
QA (Quality Assurance)
ESRB/Master Submission

So basically, localizers of Japanese video games take Japanese products, like The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky for example, and make it palatable for the gaming/RPG enthusiast in the states. We try to render it as close to the original as we can, but in our native language.

How hard is it to localize language for games?

Some games are easier than others to localize because of the setting or theme. Usually fantasy RPG-type games are easier than very Japanese-esque titles to localize because gaming fantasy themes between Japan and the states carry over somewhat. Wizards, magic, etc, are all things that are very clear on both sides of the ocean. There’s no need for a lot of rewrites to help the audience understand the material or characters.

On the flip-side, a title like the Persona series from Atlus probably takes quite a bit effort to localize because of its very Japanese setting. Localizers on a game like this would have a lot of work trying to make sure that the audience understands what’s going on in the game without sacrificing the very things that make it Japanese. Choices like whether or not to use or remove the honorifics –san, -sama, -chan, etc, in the text or whether or not to rename products that are famous in Japan but have no meaning here are just a few of the tough decisions the localizers would have to make.

Is it true that a lot of content lost in translation?

Only if the localizers aren’t doing their job right. Some things will always be lost in translation, but the job of a localizer is to make sure that as much of the original ‘meaning’ or ‘intent’ of the game shines through. The jokes or some details might change, but the game should, at the end, be representative of the game you started with.

Are you bilingual?

Somewhat. I lived in Japan for three years, and I know enough Japanese to carry on conversations, do day to day stuff and insult people with some verve, but I’m not truly bilingual. I know just enough to make me dangerous, I guess. I’m by far the worst in the office, but I can still catch mistakes in the Japanese text while I’m editing, so they haven’t fired me yet.

Do you find it easier to understand spoken language over written language?

DEFINITELY. My sense of Japanese is very nebulous. I’ll understand about 30% of a gaming meeting clearly, catch a few key words here and there, and then using a bit of common sense, I’ll be able to piece together what everyone is talking about. I can even catch the jokes at times because I can ‘feel’ the flow of the conversation. The written language, sadly, affords me no facial or intangible mood clues to help me out.

What did you do on The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky?

On The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky I was lead editor, which basically means that I was the conductor of a very small orchestra. This game was so large (~1.5 million characters a.k.a. kanji or symbols) that it called for the work of three separate translators, help from two of my other coworkers, and the moral support of an overfed house cat. When translations would come through for the various chapters of the game (these were divided into .csv files for translation/editing) I would go over each and every line (cell) in the game to make sure that A) it made sense, B) it wasn’t a fiesta of typos and run-on sentences, C) it had consistent terminology, and D) it had a single ‘voice’. Working with three different translators, all with very different writing styles, makes it imperative that a single person line things up so that it doesn’t feel like a patchwork game. I also make it my job to add a bit a textual mischief where possible.
Aside from my main job as text overlord, I also had other less exciting chores that will make my job sound way less glamorous and probably bore everyone to death. One of them involved a microwave. And maybe a staple gun.