In his talk at the Game Developers Conference, Capcom’s localisation director, Andrew Alfonso, revealed how the processes used at Capcom when localising Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate went far beyond the simple translation of text.
Since the development of Dragon’s Dogma in 2012 every major in-house Capcom title has been appointed a localisation director to work alongside the game lead and development team. Their brief encompasses everything from translation and adapting scripts to project management.
“At Capcom the localisation director is focused on creating an interesting and stress-free game for the user,” began Alfonso. “We want to make a game that doesn’t feel like it’s been localised.”
Work on Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate began in November 2013, with a release date locked-in at no later than March 2015. By Alfonso’s own admission this didn’t leave a huge amount of time to localise a game that contained over 500,000 words.
Although the Monster Hunter series had seen an increase in popularity in the West, it had yet to break the one million sales mark – something Capcom wanted to achieve. A high quality localisation was an important element in achieving that goal.
The reception for the previous game in the series, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, was broadly positive but the quality of the localisation was only referenced by around 10% of the coverage it received. Again, this was something Capcom sought to improve.
“When it comes to localisation you never really get mentioned for just doing your job. If you do an average job, no one is going to say anything about it,” said Alfonso. “You’re going to get noticed if you do a really shitty job, or a really amazing job. And I wanted to go for the latter, rather than the former.”
The approach was to keep things short.
“In Japanese, dialogue and design are filled with natural redundancies. They are a real pain to get rid of in English but we had to do our best to reduce them,” said Alfonso.
And in many cases whole lines of text were removed from the game.
“The most important thing is that we didn’t cut out any meaning from the actual Japanese. We kept everything that was relevant.”
Making the game easy to understand was a constant challenge. As the game was primarily designed in Japanese, the available screen estate was often not sufficient for languages that have a higher percentage of long words. German, for example.
One element that helped in this respect was the choice of font. Changes were made based on the feedback the team had received for Monster Hunter 3. For a game as text heavy as Monster Hunter 4 it was a significant piece of work
“On the Wii U the font was crisp and matched the style of the game really nicely but on the 3DS, not so much. A lot of users gave us feedback and said it was very difficult to read. They couldn’t decipher between an ‘a’ and an ‘o’, for example.”
As it wasn’t possible to localise the game completely in-house, resource was also challenge for Alfonso.
“I would have loved to have localised Monster Hunter 4 with a 100% internal staff but the game was much larger in size than other games, like Ace Attorney and Dragon’s Dogma,” he said. “If we were to localise this game only with internal staff we would’ve had to take resource away from every other game in development for a couple of years.”
Fortunately Capcom were able to parter with companies such as 8-4 and BinariSonori. Not only were their translations of a high quality, they also offered valuable feedback on adapting the game for a global audience.
While 8-4 and BinariSonori took care of the base text translation, Alfonso’s team at Capcom handled editing, managing schedules and other localisation aspects. Despite outsourcing some of the work, the importance of nurturing internal localisation talent should not be forgotten, says Alfonso.
“Personally I think it’s really important that we don’t centralise the knowledge to handle this kind of game just to one person. You have to spread your knowledge out.”
Alfonso then focused on specific changes that would make the game approachable to audiences outside of Japan. Not every suggestion was well received – mainly due to the impact on costs and resource – but many did make it into the final product, the tutorial missions being one example. In the Japanese version of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate the player has to repeatedly venture back and forth between the village and the hunting grounds at the start of the game. This results in a glut of loading screens which cause pacing issues. Alfonso explained how this was adjusted.
“What I decided to do was instead of having four separate quests you just put them all into one gigantic quest and you can do it all in one shot.”
Negotiating these changes with the core development team was no easy task. Alfonso learned much about gaining trust from designers, programmers and project managers. Only once the seeds of his ideas were planted would he approach the game director.
“It’s absolutely vital to get buy-in from the other people in the conversation. You want to go behind the scenes and get a consensus from everyone before you approach the top guy,” Alfonso said.
Alfonso also discussed how other aspects of the game were changed to suit its target audience. In the West, the Monster Hunter series mainly appeals to players aged between 19 and 34 – 90% of which are male, mid-to-hardcore level players.
“I had a good idea of what kind of needs we would have to meet and the most important of them was time, or, lack thereof. Most people in this audience either have a full-time job or they’re at school. We have to respect their time.”
One example can be found in changes to the game’s tutorial system.
“In the Japanese version of the game you get a prompt asking if you want to read a tutorial again and this option defaults to ‘Yes’,” said Alfonso. “So if you’re like me and you’re mashing the button to skip ahead, what do you think’s going to happen? Yep, you’re going to repeat the tutorial over and over again!”
When Alfonso enquired about this design choice he found out that the Japanese audience for the game skewed very young. The game’s designers wanted to make sure that players had a second chance to read the instructions before moving on. Alfonso negotiated the green-light to remove this from the game.
Other changes between the Japanese and Western versions of the game included an increase in the speed dialogue is displayed and the addition of visual icons to replace other text elements. The game’s demo was also carefully configured to nurture new players into the Monster Hunter experience.
Ultimately, Alfonso is satisfied with the level of work the teams at Capcom, 8-4 and BinariSonori were able to achieve.
“This time around nearly half of the reviews praised the high quality of the writing and localisation. It was a huge step up from the reviews we got in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate,” he said.
“This is huge for us as a localisation team as it will affect how much influence we have in future titles. And most importantly we earned a lot of trust with the Monster Hunter team because we went above and beyond with the game.”
Want to see how good the translation is? Get Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate from Amazon.