RPGamer Feature - Summon Night 5 Interview with Victor Ireland
Summon Night 5
Developer: Bandai Namco
Publisher: Gaijinworks
Release Date: 2015

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Back in April Gaijinworks, headed by Victor Ireland, revealed Summon Night 5 and Class of Heroes 3, both for the PSP, were coming to North America. Considering how old the PSP is, this would be a shock to most, but Gaijinworks has been specializing in bringing over games that most thought were dead in the water. We were able to catch up with Victor to talk about Summon Night 5, with the company currently running a poll to see how many people are interested in a limited physical release. We dive into the details on the game, but also the process involved in localization and how Gaijinworks works.

Michael A. Cunningham (RPGamer, Editor-in-Chief): Assuming we've read the description on the Gaijinworks site, could you give us a little more info on Summon Night 5? Specifically, could you tell us a little about the differences in the paths for Folth and Arca, their partners, and how things change?
Victor Ireland (Gaijinworks): The general story path is the same, but there are offshoots that are different depending on who you choose. The main characters, Arca and Folth, speak and sometimes react differently to situations. Their Crosses (you can choose one of these partners per playthrough) also have distinct personalities. Dyth is the logical mechanical being. Kagerou is the mischievous and fun-loving one. Spinel is the sweet and innocent one, and Pariet is the child-like one. They speak and react to situations differently from each other, so playing with Arca and Kagerou will have a slightly different feel than Folth and Kagerou, and so forth, even though the main story is the same. It also affects your affinity choices with other characters you meet in the game and talk to at the end of each day in "night conversations", which will dictate which of the many endings you will get at the end of a playthrough.

MAC: As it's the first mainline title to be released in English, what unique aspects does the Summon Night series bring? Will people be missing out having not played Summon Night 1-4?
VI: There is a large and well-developed mythology to Summon Night, but the game is crafted in a way that knowledge of what has come before isn't necessary to enjoy or be successful in Summon Night 5. However, fans that have played the Japanese releases of the prior games that never came here will be able to make connections backward to those other games as they play this, including recognizing some special guests. For localization, Summon Night 5 was the easiest place to start, because it was the newest and the source was complete. The earlier titles might still be possible, but source availability and fan interest would have to be worked out.

MAC: In 2015, PSP games are rare, so how did the deal with Bandai Namco for Summon Night 5 come about?
VI: We initially went to them with a number of games we wanted to do that we believed they were not bringing out of Japan. Since I had never worked with them before (now or at Working Designs) it involved the usual period of building trust, so instead of a number of titles, we settled on one — Summon Night 5, which I was pretty surprised we got. However, our pitch is that we're a one-stop shop — give us source code and we do everything and don't bother your Japanese production line developers — was attractive to them, and is something other localizing JRPG publishers can't offer, so we got our chance to show them what we can do. This is a very important title for us to rally fan support, because even more and better titles are in our future if we do well with it. In a "dead" PSP market, that's a challenge, but the fact that Vitas can play PSP games helps us.

This was also longest deal I've ever done, from first discussion to signed contract. We had source code pretty quickly and were working on the game not long after our first discussions, but the contract took so long and hit a number of snags, so I actually stopped work on it internally a number of times for many months each time when it seemed like the deal wouldn't complete and we weren't going to get a contract completed.

MAC: Most people have a very limited understanding of what all is involved in the localization process for a game. Could you give us a brief summary of all the steps involved from your end. For example, what work is required by the original developers and what you do you handle in house?
VI: We handle everything in-house. All of it. The original developer gives us the complete (at least we hope it's complete) source code and materials and we get a Japanese version of the project up and running on our side. Once we have that, we're pretty confident we have most or all of the source and can set about changing graphics, localizing text, re-recording songs, etc.

The actual text localization goes through "turns" that are like a filter. We start with literal translation, then first pass to make it read well and be entertaining, then second pass to fix formatting errors, spelling errors, and continuity errors, etc. On the final passes we try to catch any small thing we may have missed. By the time we're done, I've personally played a game we release to the end dozens of times, and others have played even more.

While playing the game starting somewhere in the second pass, it sometimes becomes obvious that certain things might need to be improved to make the game flow better. Hotkeys, shortcuts, fewer button presses, or battle menus that remember your settings from round to round are often good upgrades. Also, sometimes things like re-arranging the screens to make room for more English text (that tends to be a space hog) is needed. Because we do everything in house, we have the luxury of being able to change things like that to make a better player experience, not just turn Japanese text to English.

Along the way, we may have a question about something we can't figure out in the code, and as a last resort, we'll send the question to Japan, because we try very hard not to bother them. Also we sometimes find we're missing small things like the source for a compiled code library we need to change the inner-workings of, so we have to ask for that, but that's the extent of the Japan-side dev team's involvement in the whole project. Our value proposition to Japanese pubs is worry-free, complete, often award winning, localization with no draw on their production lines in Japan, and we try very hard to live up to that. They hand us source and out the other end comes a finished game with a great package and excellent localization. As far as they're concerned, it probably feels like magic.

MAC: How is the interest poll for the physical version coming along? Seems tighter than those for Class of Heroes.
VI: We're doing better, compared to Class of Heroes 2/2G, but it's still a slog. We were aiming for 6000 users to indicate interest so we could keep the costs down, but even with the 4400-ish it seems like we'll end up with, we'll still be able to do it, but it will put the cost at the high side of our estimate, in the $44 range. Of course, this isn't for some terrible package with no manual and bad presentation. We're still giving physical version fans here more than any other publisher.

The interest poll is almost done, then we will transition to the presale period, the ONLY time a physical version of the game will ever be sold, and they won't be cheaper later on the secondary market. Checking our prior releases, Class of Heroes 2 is already 50% higher on the secondary market. Class of Heroes 2G is almost 100% higher than we sold them for. We fully expect Summon Night 5 to be in these ranges, as well. So supporting us now can actually save JRPG fans money!

MAC: How has Sony been involved in helping with the process of bringing this over? UMDs still being made in 2015 seems crazy, but I love it.
VI: Sony has been amazing in this process. Our account manager, Shane Bettenhausen, has moved heaven and earth to accommodate my crazy ideas about fan service. Just like with Working Designs, I'm working to push the packaging and presentation of our games so other publishers will have something to aim for. The physical+digital PSP releases are just one example.

The production time for UMDs is lengthening this year, so SN5 will be affected, but as long as that means we get a stay of UMD execution, I'm sure the fans are fine with that, too. Can't praise Sony enough for keeping this line alive a little longer.

MAC: I personally own over 140 UMD games, so that alone is enough for crazy people like me, but what else is coming with this package to get RPGamers excited?
VI: We're including announced things like a full color manual, full color UMD, one of two huge 14" x 19" posters, a serial-numbered hologram, and a digital code to download the digital game on PSN — essentially a 2 for 1 deal. And there are things I'm still trying to shoehorn in that probably won't even be announced. I want to save a surprise or two for the fans that are supporting this.

MAC: What's next after this? Class of Heroes 3 seems like it could be the last PSP game to make it over, but is there even a slight chance of more or is it time to move to other systems? Even if UMDs stop being produced, is Summon Night 4 as a digital only release even a possibility?
VI: More Summon Night is a definite possibility, but I can't stress enough how much support of this project by fans is in enabling us to get the other projects they want to see. Just like fan support of Class of Heroes 2/2G allowed us to get Summon Night 5's deal done, support of this title will open doors to other Summon Night fans want, and more and better other projects.

MAC: What about the Vita? Is it the system most likely for you to jump on or will consoles like the PS3 or PS4 more likely?
VI: We're actually looking at, negotiating for, or working on games for PS Vita, PS3 and PS4, so it's pretty likely you're going to see something from Gaijinworks on all those platforms. We're riding this PSP train to the bitter end, trying to rescue as many 'lost' or 'abandoned' PSP JRPGs as we can before that's impossible, but the curtain is coming down on that, so we've been working on the transition from a dead platform to merely a legacy platform, and then current platforms. You most-likely won't hear even an announcement about any of those until 2016, though.

MAC: Any chance you'd be crazy enough to bring over the last Summon Night game on DS?         
VI: We have no relationship with Nintendo at this time, so that would be unlikely, unfortunately.

MAC: Is there anything else you'd like to share with RPGamers around the world?
VI: Just to thank them for taking the time to read all the way to the end of this, and thank them for their support of this project. With their help, we're able to bring out JRPGs that would never otherwise make it out of Japan. That's a big deal, and they should be proud of their part in that!

RPGamer would like to thank Victor Ireland from Gaijinworks for his time in answering our questions. Read more about Summon Night 5 and show your support for the physical release here.

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