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8-4, Ltd. on why Nintendo ‘gets it’ with localizations, translating Fossil Fighters

With everyone busy playing/praising Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land, it was easy to overlook that Nintendo put out another portable title recently: Fossil Fighters: Champions, the Pokemon-esque RPG about collecting and battling “vivosaurs” on Nintendo DS.

I would have forgotten about it too if I didn’t hear 8-4, Ltd., who run the awesome 8-4 Play podcast, handled the localization. They helped translate a number of notable games, like Monster Hunter Tri and Nier, and also worked on several DS RPGs for Nintendo: Dragon Quest VI, Glory of Heracles, and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon.

We got in touch with the 8-4, Ltd. team and talked to executive director Mark “Gaming Jesus/Peanut Butter” MacDonald and creative director John “Chocolate” Ricciardi (as well as Nintendo Treehouse’s Richard Amtower for a quick minute) about Fossil Fighters, how they approach game localization, and what it’s like to work with Nintendo versus other publishers on projects.

Why did Nintendo of America decide to use an external localization team for this project?

Treehouse localization manager Richard Amtower: Oh, man. I wish I had an interesting answer for that, but it’s really just a matter of time and resources. We work on a ton of titles every year, but we’re still a relatively small department, and we’re constantly busy.

We wanted to make sure Fossil Fighters: Champions was ready for a holiday release, and as you’ve seen, we’ve had a pretty full release schedule lately. This is where 8-4 comes to our rescue — we know we can trust them to do a great work so that the other writers and translators at NOA can focus on getting their titles ready for the holidays.

Do you approach localization of a Nintendo title differently than another publisher’s? Are there special tone considerations or any other processes that are different?

8-4 Ltd. Mark MacDonald and John Ricciardi: We approach every game we work on with the same amount of enthusiasm and desire to see it done right, but one of the things we really love about Nintendo is that they very much “get it” — quality is their #1 concern, and they do everything they can to provide us with the tools and resources we need to do a top quality job on their games.

We see eye-to-eye on almost every step of the localization process, too, which is such a relief. You’d be surprised at some of the battles we have to wage to get really basic concepts across to certain developers in Japan, but this is never, ever a problem with Nintendo.

John R. (left) and Mark M. (right)

Working on someone else’s property, where I’m sure there are restrictions on how you manage the characters and plot, is there room for any creativity beyond just finding the most accurate translations?Can we see any of 8-4’s creativity or personality in Fossil Fighters: Champions?

8-4: Absolutely there’s room for creativity. We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we just turned over a straight/accurate translation, after all; the goal is for us to try and provide a truly “localized” experience like the kind you’d expect from Nintendo themselves.

Fossil Fighters is a pretty fun/wacky franchise to begin with (by the end of the first game, you’re fighting robot dinosaurs on spaceships while time-traveling…), so we tried to inject some humor and personality into pretty much every NPC in the game.

Have you changed any conventions from the first game in localizing the sequel? Will kids once again have their dinosaur poop humor?

8-4: What is a dinosaur game without poop humor? ‘Tis a question for the ages, no doubt.

No, we didn’t really change any major conventions; consistency is super important in sequels and franchise titles, and we always do our best to maintain that. The first game already had a stellar localization that Nintendo did in-house, so we used that as a base and basically tried to follow and improve upon it wherever possible.

Nintendo’s internal localization group, Treehouse, has a reputation for putting out exceptional translations. Is there anything from that division that you’ve been able to learn from, by working with Nintendo, or is there anything specific from that team that you strive to emulate at 8-4?

8-4: “Absolutely. Paper Mario was one of the first games that really opened our eyes to how much a great localization can really add to a game experience.

Generally, Nintendo’s localizations are like Pixar movies: they have this really massive, super-wide appeal, yet somehow they don’t feel dumbed-down at all. Most people probably don’t realize how incredibly difficult that is to do — to make something that kids can understand but adults don’t feel insulted by. They do it with clever wordplay, they do it with incredible characterizations, they do it by coming up with great names for everything — they do it in all sorts of different ways.

To be honest, it can be frustrating to work in an industry where all too often simply translating text “good enough” to be understood is seen as good enough. Sometimes we still wake up at night in a cold sweat screaming “YOU DEFEATED.”

Nintendo isn’t like that. They shed blood, sweat, and tears on every aspect when they bring their games into English, and it shows. They give localization the love and respect we think it deserves, so yeah, you could say we are fans.

…Also, they are a client. And they pay well.

Buy: Fossil Fighters Champions

Find: Nintendo DS/3DS release dates, discounts, & more

See also: Fossil Fighters: Champions

[Image via Law]

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