Localising Dark Souls
When FromSoftware creative director Hidetaka Miyazaki began development on acclaimed action-RPG Demon’s Souls, his love of western fantasy literature made him determined to cast British actors for the parts. This ambition would eventually lead him to UK-based localisation partner Frognation, whose sterling reputation and ability to handle voice recording in addition to translation made it an ideal collaborator. The firm would go on to localise Dark Souls too, and while Miyazaki was in London recently overseeing a voice recording session for the bonus material on Dark Souls: Prepare To Die edition for PC, we sat down with him and Frognation translator Ryan Morris to discuss the process, and value, of localisation.
Was any of Prepare To Die's bonus content existing material that didn’t get used in the console release?
Hidetaka Miyazaki It was a while after Dark Souls was finished and on sale that the idea for the PC version came about. So it’s all new. We felt we’d put everything we had into Dark Souls when it came out; it was the perfect state of the game. It was actually quite difficult to come up with new ideas, as it was a new project.
How is your English? Do comprehension issues ever hinder your ability to judge how pleased you are with drafts of Dark Souls’ localisation?
HM I’m not competent in my verbal abilities at English, but my reading and writing are ok. Because Dark Souls isn’t the kind of game that has a huge volume of text, I’m able to go over it closely. With Ryan and [his staff] working on the drafts and being involved very early in the process, there have never been problems and I have a lot of confidence in them to do their part in making it all work. And it helps that Ryan is a gamer himself and understands what needs to be explained or foreshadowed in dialogue.
You’ve spoken at length about your love of Western fantasy literature. And Ryan, you’ve been a fan of Japanese culture from an early age. Does that reciprocal cross-cultural interest aid the localisation process?
Ryan Morris It’s much more than you usually get. There are a lot of cases where clients are not aware of, or interested in, the fact that you need to have that sort of dialogue to really get it done well. There are a lot of times where we just have to go with text and not enough context and ask questions through email, and not get satisfactory responses. It comes down to a lack of understanding on the client’s part about what needs to go into a localisation if you really want to do it right. There are a lot of good translators out there who aren’t provided with enough context to do the job properly.
Does the sparseness of dialogue add extra pressure to the localisation effort, since each line has to carry more weight in conveying story and gameplay direction?
HM One of the goals of the Demon’s Souls concept was to tell more with less, and so the sparse dialogue becomes very important. We did our best with the localisation. I’m not confident that I’ve perfected this method of storytelling. There are probably things that weren’t clear enough, or could’ve been done more effectively. When I was young and reading fantasy novels – and this is at an age where I could only understand maybe half of what I was reading – there was an allure to not knowing entirely what was going on. So I had this idea that perhaps there would be some way to create that kind of feeling in a game. My method of storytelling comes from that inspiration, from the shadowy parts of a story or a legend that you can’t make out.
From Software’s Hidetaka Miyazaki (left) and Frognation’s Ryan Morris began working together when the director decided he wanted a UK-based localisation firm for Demon’s Souls
Many studios working on RPGs will employ a person to keep track of continuity in the game’s story. Games that stretch out over several entries might even have a so-called bible that lays everything out. Do you have a lore bible for the Souls games?
HM It does exist. I create the whole story and worldview so it’s a very shorthand, rough document of my own. It’s inside my computer and it also includes photographs of whiteboard layouts from the FromSoftware meeting room, but it’s mostly text. I really like reading that type of background thing, like if you can get your hands on the bible for this or that, I really like that kind of document.
Is that something he shared with you as a contextual aid during the localisation process?
RM I saw some early documents.
HM I’m embarrassed to show it to anybody. It’s too rough: it reveals too much about me.
What about Game Of Thrones?
HM I really love it. I’ve always been such a huge fan of George R.R. Martin that it overwhelms me. His approach to fantasy is kind of like the Romance Of Three Kingdoms, the Chinese historical-political drama, which I’m a fan of as well. The political elements are a lot of fun, and the drama is done really well too.
RM He bought the Game Of Thrones Blu-ray in Vegas! The TV drama hasn’t been translated to Japanese yet.
Political drama is obviously harder to pull off in a game, as it’s less action-orientated.
HM There are different types of fantasy, ones that are better told in games and others that would be better in a drama. That political human drama – the relationships between people and stuff – is better suited to a book. I don’t think it would be possible to tell that story with a game, or at least I wouldn’t want to attempt it.
Tags: Action, Adventure, Dark Souls, Demon's Souls, From Software, Hidetaka Miyazaki, Localisation, PC, PlayStation 3, Writing, Xbox 360