Interview with Daryl Pitts
Jade Cocoon's Levant
After the lukewarm response to Shadow Madness and the concurrent disbanding of Crave's in-house development team Craveyard, many wondered just where the relatively young publisher was headed. Would the company develop future titles? How would it affect games currently in localization? Suddenly, all eyes turned to Crave's first RPG since Shadow Madness, Jade Cocoon.
Thankfully, from all indications, Jade Cocoon is shaping up to be a spectacular title, merging a Pokémon-esque monster capture/breeding system with a beatifully crafted RPG experience. The game's July 28 release is only a few short weeks away. Eager to learn more, we sat down with Jade Cocoon producer Daryl Pitts to discuss the game and what it's like working in the world of video game localizations.
GIA: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Daryl. To start off, what did you do before you started working in the gaming industry? How did you find yourself in the industry?
Daryl: Before I worked in the gaming industry, I worked at a localization company in Yokohama, Japan. We did software translations and conversions for the big U.S. companies like Microsoft, Apple, Symantec, and Claris. I learned a lot about finding the best translators and editors, implementing glossary/terminology management systems and the overall rapid foreign text/audio/video integration process.
GIA: What is your position with Crave? With respect to Jade Cocoon? What other
titles have you worked on?
Daryl: My position is Producer, and that is also my title on the Jade Cocoon project. My main responsibility is to release high-quality games on time and under budget. To facilitate this, I also do some translation, programming, graphics and QA to help out the team wherever possible. Secondarily, I'm also involved in helping Crave discover and evaluate potential Japanese project acquisitions.
Before Crave I did a lot of freelance Japanese translation/localizaton stuff, and I also worked at Activision where I was the Localization Producer. I was involved in one way or another with the localization of most of their games for the two years I was there.
GIA: How did you learn the Japanese language? Many RPG players want to learn
Japanese - any advice for them?
Daryl: I studied Japanese when I was at UCLA, and I spent my junior year abroad at Sophia University in Tokyo. After college I lived in Japan for another 4 years. I worked as translator/interpreter for the Japanese government for 2 years, and then as a localization engineer for another 2 years.
For people who can't spend 5 years of their life in Japan, books are a great place to start. You may want to check out a neighborhood college so you can get some formal instruction. Most colleges also have a language exchange program, where they will match you up with a Japanese student. You agree to practice English with them and in turn they will teach you Japanese. Another idea is to actually go to Japan. If you're a native English speaker and you have some kind of college degree, chances are you can get a job as a English teacher in Japan. You don't need to know any Japanese, or have a teaching degree. Most schools prefer that you teach your entire class in English.
Here's a couple links I have that might be interesting:
GIA: What's your philosophy when translating a Japanese game? How do you balance
fidelity to the Japanese with the clarity of English text?
Daryl: The importance of maintaining the fidelity of the Japanese language is overrated. Whether it's anime or videogames, I think what American consumers really want is natural, native English. They should never be aware that the title was ever in another language. I always try to make Jade Cocoon and all my games as natural as possible without straying too much from the original Japanese meaning.
This is where a lot of game companies lose time. They end up translating too close the original Japanese, and then they have to do a lot of rewriting so that their text makes sense. We started Jade in February, and as of this writing in June we've already received Sony manufacturing approval. That was 5 months for a darn big game. I've already figured out how I can shave off some weeks, so my next big Japanese PSX project will be totally localized in 4 months. I guarantee you Crave localized products will have the fastest turnaround in our industry.
I also believe that the story content should be modified as necessary to be easily accessible to the majority of consumers. Unless we are dealing with a specific Japanese universe, such as a medieval samurai game, or modern Tokyo, I also try to twist the text to be as natural as possible.
GIA: Jade Cocoon is a unique sort of hybrid traditional RPG / monster raising
title. How does this combination work? Which aspect will Crave be stressing when pushing the title?
Daryl: RPG gamers are the most sophisticated of the console consumers. They don't need targeted marketing or flashy packaging to sell them a game. They read reviews online and in the print mags and listen to their friends to make their buying decisions. The quality of Jade is such that Crave doesn't need to do a hard sell to the RPG guys. The monster raising/combining element is what we're really playing up. This it to attract more of a mainstream audience. We'll have more original creatures available than those other monster ranching games, and the combining feature (which actually changes the way your creatures look and behave) literally raises our monster total into the billions.
Besides the main story, there is an Arena Battle mode and a Hunting mode where you can collect new monsters, merge them, and do a two player head-to-head battle against your friends. So even for those who don't like RPGs, they can have limitless fun with just the monster ranching.
GIA: How many monsters are there in the game? Are any of the monsters your
"favorite"? Have you ever "morphed" a monster you're personally proud of?
Daryl: The exact number is somewhere between 150 and 200 . We'll leave it to you to try to find as many as you can. Let us know! I really like the three-headed dragons. It's really cool how when you morph one of them with a four-legged creature that the legs take the place of the heads. It makes for some really interesting new creations.
GIA: Kondo's work (such as the recent Princess Mononoke) have always had a sort
of "deeper" theme or moral for the audience to take away. Does Jade Cocoon
have an overriding "theme" to it?
Daryl: If I was to chose one word to describe the Jade story it would be 'balance'. But it's probably best to let the player figure out how this theme manifests itself in the game!
GIA: Kondo's distinctive artwork certainly adds a lot to the title. Has he done any previous game design? Is there any more in his future?
Daryl: He's never done any game design. He never even used a computer before starting on this game. This freshness in art direction is what makes Jade stand apart from other games. I think his not knowing the limitations of technology helped to extend his broad vision, he really pushed the graphics quality to the edge. I hope Mr. Kondo would agree to come back and do another game.
GIA: How long would it would take most gamers to complete the quest?
The RPG market is more crowded than ever. Why should gamers choose Jade
Cocoon over Brand X RPG?
Daryl: For the average gamer, if they take the time to enjoy the story and interact with the supporting characters, I think will take about 30 hours. But the two-player Arena Battle, and the Hunting modes allow the player to keep playing even after they finish the quest. For the intense gamer, they may spend hundreds of hours finding all the monsters, building their creature's levels up to massive proportions and raising them for head-to-head battle. But realistically, we expect the average player will play for about 50-60 hours.
GIA: Did you get a chance to play Shadow Madness? What did you think of it? Do
you think that Crave will ever get back into original game development?
Daryl: Yes. Considering the size of the team, and the fact that it was their first attempt, I think Shadow Madness is good game. It has a riveting and funny story that actually holds together quite well! Those are two features which the Japanese RPGs often neglect. This alone is worth the price of admission. Crave will definitely be doing more original game development. We are already working with outside programming houses to develop some new ideas.
GIA: What are your favorite console RPG and adventure game titles?
Daryl: My favorite RPG is either FF7 or Xenogears. I admit, I'm a sucker for good graphics and special effects.
My favorite game otherwise is either Metal Gear Solid or Resident Evil 2. No two games have ever moved me as much as those two did.
GIA: Any advice for gamers looking to break into the videogame industry?
Daryl: If you're not already an artist or programmer, just join any company nearby as a game tester. If you kick ass you'll be promoted within a year to production position. And then it's onto stardom as the next Mark Cerny or Shigeru Miyamoto!
GIA: What's next for Crave - and for you?
Daryl: Crave will continue to acquire the best game titles from around the world and bring quality releases to the U.S. and Europe. We will also be developing some of our original properties and publishing them on CGB, PSX, PSX2, DC, and PC.
GIA: Any words of wisdom you'd like to leave us with?
Daryl: I don't think I really have anything profound to say. But I hope people can take a look at some of the good previews we've been getting for Jade and be convinced to run out and buy it when it hits the shelves on July 28.
We've gotten some really awesome previews!
If you have any questions about Jade Cocoon you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interview by Andrew Vestal, GIA.