p21.JPG ['Quiz Me Quik' is a weekly GameSetWatch column by journalist Alistair Wallis, in which he picks offbeat subjects in the game business and interviews them about their business, their perspective, and their unique view of life. This time - a translation project for the unreleased in the West PS1 Atlus RPG Persona 2: Innocent Sin.]

It was suggested to me by Simon recently that this column could possibly be renamed, to reflect the apparent focus on hacking and translation. Oddly, while I realised that I have been conducting a number of interviews based on these subjects, it wouldn’t really have occurred to me to centre the whole column on them. I wouldn’t actually describe myself as being particularly obsessive about homebrew or fan-translations or hacked level-sets or graphics patches.

It’s actually the obsessional behaviour of the people who do these things that interests me most. Not everyone’s obsession is unhealthy, exactly – though I did have an interview request declined by a young lady who had written well over 250,000 words of Sonic fan-fiction over the past six years. Most times, it's actually really cool to see what people are spending their time doing. The amount of work put in by the people I've been talking with lately is nothing short of amazing, not to mention the level of creativity involved.

Also, to be fair, I kind of like the name Quiz Me Qwik.

Anyway, case in point: Gemini's ongoing translation of PlayStation RPG Persona 2: Innocent Sin. While the project was begun some time ago, he's only been working consistantly on it since January, and already has around 80% of the work done. That's a pretty amazing effort, but then, Gemini is pretty passionate about the game.

The Persona games started with Revelations: Persona back in 1996. The next iteration was split into two installments, Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment, with a story that spanned both games to a degree, though the former was never released outside of Japan. Depending on who you believe, this might be because of the optional homosexual relationship that the main character can engage in, or possibly because of the story that focuses on the resurrection of Hitler. Or neither.

[UPDATE: Commenter Baines also notes another possible reason for the game not debuting in the States, something Kurt Kalata also mentioned in a 1UP article: "At the beginning, your characters band together and kill their high school principal. Sure, he's a murderous lunatic who's threatening their fellow students, but in the wake of the Columbine incident in 1999, schoolyard violence could not be taken lightly."]

In any case, while there have been multiple translation guides for the game, there's never actually been a full patch. With the first one presumably just a few months away from release, now seemed like the perfect time to chat with Gemini about the project, and his Persona fandom.

GSW: When did you first encounter the Persona series?

Gemini: Sometime near July 2001, the day my cousin bought a copy of Eternal Punishment in English. Unfortunately his copy was a bootleg with the whole debugging code still active, so it was almost impossible to play.

GSW: Weird! What kind of stuff would it do, and when did you get the chance to play through it on a normal copy?

G: It's a retail version with some more menus to do weird stuff like altering character stats in battle, explore any map - including debug rooms - watch movies, etc. It has even a neat utility to create temporary maps with the characters you want.

I played the actual retail version about two years ago, a couple months after I started getting interested in Innocent Sin.

GSW: Did you ever play the first one?

G: Yeah, I did play the first Persona, if that's what you mean by the first one. I played a little of both Japanese and North American versions, but I found both pretty boring. I guess first person dungeons aren't really my thing.

GSW: Have you played through the untranslated Innocent Sin?

G: I'm still playing it. The Japanese used in this game is quite complicated, so it takes a little to read and understand all dialogues. On the other hand, my translator played it completely with the clock counter maxed out to 99:99:99, so I can get from him all the information I need.

p21.JPGGSW: That's a hell of an effort. I guess this translation is for you as much as anyone. What's your Japanese like, by the way?

G: Well, this is like the hardest project I've ever worked on, so it's important to me as a challenge to my programming skills. As for my Japanese level, I've been studying it for about five years: first year on my own, and then I took it as my University major.

GSW: Do you think Innocent Sin greatly enhances the experience of playing through Eternal Punishment?

G: If you are the type of player who loves to understand everything about a game, it's definitively a yes. Eternal Punishment contains many references to Innocent Sin that you can't really catch if you didn't play the games in order. It's nice when [Innocent Sin protagonist] Tatsuya Sudō mentions the "other side" and you actually know what that it is and what happened back then.

GSW: How would you rate the Persona 2 games in comparison to the rest of the series?

G: IS and EP are the best for sure, with Innocent Sin being the best in both the series and the RPG genre. And to tell you the truth, I don't like the rest of the Persona games at all, especially Persona 3. It lost so much without [producer Cozy] Okada and [artist Kazuma] Kaneko, and Persona 4 doesn't look much better either.

GSW: Seems like a lot of Persona 2 fans don't like Persona 3 that much. I haven't played Persona 2, but I do like Persona 3 a lot. What's the problem with it, and what could Persona 4 do to make up for it?

G: I can't stand the game's setting and character design in Persona 3. I also hate the strong dungeon crawler aspect they gave it, which never was part of the Persona series. The problem is that Persona 3 - and [expanded edition] FES, too - is completely alien to the series, as if it was a completely different game with just the Persona label on it, to make it look cooler; more appealing or something. Persona 4 looks a little better, especially the new dark TV plot, but it looks too similar to the third one, so I will probably just ignore it. No Kaneko and Okada, no party.

GSW: Is the subtitle of your translation blog - "Where Atlus fails, we don't" - tongue in cheek, or do you really consider it a failure of Atlus to have not released the game?

G: It's nothing actually serious, just a crazy catchphrase. It refers to the fact that Atlus never released some of its best titles, like Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, as well as Innocent Sin. I know they were only a small company back in the PlayStation period, but it's strange how they didn't fix this problem now re-releasing them on the PSP, since Atlus is a lot bigger and stronger.

Marketing works in a weird way, but maybe I'm just a retro gamer freak, who knows?

p21.JPGGSW: I guess it's just that they feel the money spent on localisation wouldn't be worth it, considering the amount of sales a PS1 RPG would generate on the PSP. It does seem like they're doing a better job by their fans these days though, wouldn't you say?

G: Yeah, Atlus is doing really fine in these days. They are probably the only company to release many titles in the States with some of the best translations ever. It's fun to see how companies like Square-Enix can't even release quality translations with all they money they have.

GSW: How do you explain the fact that Innocent Sin was never translated?

G: Some pointed out Nazis and homosexuality being the major problems, but I think it's just a marketing affair. Atlus US didn't have much money at the time, so they probably had to choose which of the two episodes to bring to the States, and they went for Eternal Punishment as it's the conclusive Persona 2 chapter.

GSW: You mean you think it would have been an issue with marketing if the game had been released?

G: That's just my theory, so I may be wrong. But considering censorship wasn't really a problem in the PlayStation period, I believe it was just a marketing issue involving money.

GSW: When did you start work on the translation?

G: August 2006, but I kept working on it for no more than two or three months, as I had to move to Japan for a little while. The project officially restarted in January 2008.

GSW: You've made some pretty serious progress since January, then.

G: Absolutely. Hack-wise, most of the recent progress comes from all the new tools I developed for my previous projects. Also, experience plays an important rule in all this magic.

GSW: How many people have been involved with the effort over that time?

G: I'm not for huge teams - I hate coordinating many people - so it's mainly two: Tom and I. Tom is the main translator. He's incredibly fast and accurate, probably the best translator I've ever seen, and his style is so good it doesn't even need much editing.

GSW: That's pretty impressive, man. I mean, you must be aware of the just how many translation projects are started and not finished - did you ever worry that this might not get finished?

G: I did at a certain point, which is the gap between December 2006 and January 2008, when my translator wasn't available for the job and I was working on other projects, like Dracula X and Tales of Phantasia, both for PlayStation.

GSW: What made you decide to work Eternal Punishment's Black Joker persona into the game? How much of a challenge has this been?

p21.JPGG: I have a fetishistic love for the Black Joker, and the cause is probably that it's one of Kazuma Kaneko's coolest artworks with this Joker in his first form. It wasn't really difficult to import his files into Innocent Sin, since Eternal Punishment's format for character animations is very similar to IS.

Unfortunately the work on the black Joker hasn't been completely done; currently he's only a graphics swap for Apollo. I'm not even sure he will be present in v1.0 of the patch.

GSW: Does that leave it open for other hacks of this sort?

G: It does, it does. I was even thinking about some crazy ideas on how to recycle the P2 engine to make "something", but it's a secret for now.

GSW: Have you found the graphics translation particularly difficult?

G: Positively difficult. I had to ask somebody to draw a title screen for me. I'm not good at all with graphics jobs, unless it's a matter of a few pixels.

GSW: What kinds of problems has that brought up, then?

G: All the graphics tasks consist in removing the current text on an image, redraw the background, and then draw on it the English version of that sign trying to keep the style as close as possible to the original. I'm also having a problem with one of the shop preview thumbnails having a Japanese sign on a wall, even though the actual room has it already translated. I'm still looking for a solution for that.

GSW: Have you worked on any custom software to make the whole effort easier?

G: I have custom software for all of my translation projects. My translator currently works with an editor I made on purpose for him, so that he can have handy stuff like an in-game preview of dialogues. It's nothing as professional as programs like Trados, but it works fine for this project.

GSW: From what I've seen of it, wha you've put together is an impressive piece of software. Is it game specific, or could it be used for other translations?

G: For now it's Persona 2 specific, but my code is pretty easy to maintain, so it can be adapted to different games and text formats. I intend to recycle some of its features for an old project of mine which needs it badly.

GSW: What have been the biggest technical challenges?

G: Rewriting the way the game manages messages, which is still a work in progress. The original system is not suitable for any occidental language and it wastes a lot of space in memory, something vital for a good quality translation. Not enough space for new messages means bad or shortened translation, and that looks so not professional to my eyes.

p21.JPGThere was also another big problem with memory issues about text structures. Atlus used a very optimized - and crazy - method to force the game to refresh screen drawing several times when a message was being displayed, but it used a lot of memory for characters on screen and caused crashes with English text as it uses many more characters than Japanese. I found a solution to that problem that not only fixed memory issues, but made the game playable on PlayStation 2, since the high refresh rate caused a lot of lag.

GSW: So it performs better on PS2?

G: Yes, it does. It works a lot better on the PSP too, but unfortunately Sony's emulation core is heavily bugged so the game is unplayable and totally unstable when you enter in battle.

GSW: How seriously are you thinking about implementing an English dub into the game? I saw that mentioned in the comments section of your site just recently.

G: I think it would be cool to have an English dub for the translation, but for now I see it just as an extra and I don't want it to cause delays to the release date. Also, I usually prefer Japanese dubs when available, so I'm sticking to that for the moment.

GSW: You've also mentioned a plan to translate EP bonus content Samaru TV. Where does it fit into the series, and why is this going to be a relatively easy job to translate it?

G: I have absolutely no clue what it contains - I gave it a try only once. In fact we are still discussing whether to tackle it down or not. The disc is heavily based on Innocent Sin, that's why I think it would be relatively easy to translate. All the work on IS can be recycled on Sumaru TV, so it's some sort of copy and paste job rather than a complete translation project.

GSW: I guess it's a matter of seeing just how burnt out you are after this one, eh?

G: Exactly. No matter how strong your will can be, a translation project turns your interest into obsession.

GSW: What kinds of negative feedback have you had about the project, and how do you respond to it?

G: Some were bitching about spell names, because my choices looked somehow "wrong" to them, even though they were proved to be 100% correct in most cases.

To make a concrete example, I remember some dude claiming that the word "Meghid" (an actual word which derives from "Meghid-dohn") was plain wrong and that "Megido" was the actual transliteration, which also corresponds to Atlus' official name. And I'm sure some will complain about "Nameless" being referred in our version as "Nanashi".

GSW: Why not go with Atlus' official names though?

p21.JPGG: Because those are Atlus US' official names. R&D1's names represent what they were actually supposed to be. Anyway, most spell names we used are derived from Eternal Punishment's US version, so consistency is somehow preserved.

GSW: Are you finding that a high percentage of the negative feedback tends to be criticism of translation choices that you're making?

G: The only negative feedback I got was about the translation, but there is no way you can avoid this phenomenon. Nitpicky people and wannabe translators are always around the corner, no matter what you do. I've learned that there is no perfect translation, so I tend to ignore this kind of people and I focus on having the best possible results.

GSW: And, after all, the positive feedback has been coming in thick and fast.

G: Well, that's the best part of having a blog!