Email interview with Jeremy Blaustein
Translator of Snatcher & Metal Gear Solid
Jeremy Blaustein is a freelance translator and video game production director. His work includes the English language versions of Snatcher, Metal Gear Solid, Suikoden II as well as upcoming titles from Enix and Konami.
NK You are in a rather unique position, being perhaps the only translator in the gaming industry who is known by name to fans as well as having translated both of Hideo Kojima's games which were released in the US. Any words for your fans?
JB I really have fans? That's the first I've heard of that. But if there are people who admire the work I've done, I can only say it makes me very happy and grateful to be appreciated. Thanks and keep cheering me on!
NK Could you tell us a bit about the process of translating a game?
JB Well, translating a game can be easy or hard depending on a lot of things. First of all, a collaborative effort on the part of the translator and the development team is necessary to do a truly good job. Also, it is important the translation materials (from the developer) are well organized. For example, if I receive an RPG game and it is broken into 1,000 different files, and furthermore if it is not even indicated which character is speaking what line, I'm sure you can imagine how difficult it is to do a decent job. An example of this poor preparation and cooperation would be Suikoden 2 which I translated (unfortunately) under those very circumstances with a tough deadline in addition.
NK How many people work on a game translation?
JB It depends. The fewer the better, but sometimes clients just want it done as soon as possible. In this case, we may use up to 5 or 6 translators. Needless to say this leads to inconsistencies of style as well as phraselogy. Better to do it yourself (like Metal Gear).
NK Do you work through an agency or do you work directly with the publishers of the game?
JB I work directly with the publishers of the game.
NK Are you given a copy of the game to play, or just the extracted text/script?
JB: I am almost always given a ROM to play. If I can't have that, I will at least insist on having a game play video.
NK Do you prefer to try to preserve/explain concepts which are "culture specific" or do you adjust them for the target audience?
JB My personal feeling is that I like to encourage gamers to learn about the culture where the game was made. I also think that game players are interested to learn (something large Japanese game companies sometimes have a hard time believing), I only adjust for the target audience if I feel that any translation simply couldn't be "pulled off".
NK Have you ever worked for a translation company or have you always been freelance? If you have worked for a translation company, could you describe the difference between being full time and being freelance?
JB I have never worked for a translation agency. Recently, a friend of mine and myself have decided to start a Japanese company of our own which does game localization (All post production necessary to convert a game, including translation, finding voice/acting talent and directing the studio sessions). These days, I am as much a director of voice-over sessions as I am a translator.
NK How/when did you get started as a translator?
JB I started as a freelance translator when I left Konami Japan about 6 years ago.
NK What was the first game you worked on?
JB The first game I worked on was while I was in Konami, and that was Snatcher for the Sega CD.
NK Have you always worked on games or have you done other translation work?
JB In the first couple of years as a freelancer work was sparse, so I was translating things like semiconducter patents, medical stuff, legal stuff, etc, whatever work I could find. Believe me, games are more fun to translate (but surprisingly not always easier!)
NK Any words of advice for anyone who wants to be a translator?
JB Yes, I would say obviously study your language hard, but more importantly you have to believe in yourself and hold yourself to a high standard of work. Also, if anyone out there reading this would like to translate games, please contact me. I would say that if you're good, there's a good chance of work in your future.
NK How closely did you work with Kojima-san while translating Snatcher & Metal Gear Solid?
JB For Snatcher, we were not close at all. He was not involved in the Sega CD conversion himself and I think he was very busy with Policenauts at the time. But for Metal Gear Solid, he followed the translation closely and I was able to work with him quite a bit.
NK Which version of Snatcher was the Sega CD version based on?
JB Hmmm. I suppose it was based on the PC-Engine version, wasn't it?
NK What was left out?
JB Well, we had to change Katrina's age for example. She was only 14 in the Japanese version and has a nude shower scene. There were also other opportunities in the Japanese version to basically sexually harass Katrina and Mika Slayton. For example, you could sniff Katrina's panties, you could stare at Mika's breasts until she complains. There's also a place where you can watch a porno video. We also changed the character's in the bar scene to avoid breaking copywright laws and some other names for copyright reasons. Some gore was removed like a dog's twitching intestines, etc.
NK What was put in?
JB Well, I know we added some stuff like the new bar characters, a fixed up ending, as well as lots of hidden stuff for the vidphones, etc. I can't really recall more offhand, but I believe the ending is quite a bit more complete than the original.
NK What is Operation Rug Hunt?
JB Operation Rug Hunt? Oh man, I really don't know. It was never explained. Ask Mr. Kojima please. He'll probably say the same thing though.
NK How long did it take to translate Snatcher?
JB Something like 2-3 months, I think.
NK How closely did KCEJ/KOA supervise your work?
JB Well the original translation was done by a guy named Scott Hards. I reviewed and edited his work. He did a great job. As far as supervision, at that time, there was no KCEJ, only one big Konami of Japan (KOJ). KOA did not supervise the translation and had no hand in it at all. It was all done at KOJ in Tokyo.
NK How early in the development process did you start working on Metal Gear Solid?
JB I can't say for sure, but by the time I started, the Japanese script was already set in stone.
NK What was the toughest part of translating MGS?
JB The toughest part was the technical jargon in the game. There is technical stuff regarding nuclear technology, genetics, international relations, medicine, law enforcement, military affairs and weaponry, not to mention Native American/Eskimo issues. I had to extensive research on all these issues to be certain that I was translating them correctly. Mr. Kojima is interested in a wide variety of subjects and he likes to explore them deeply. It took me 6 full months to translate MGS and the recording sessions which I assistant directed under Kris Zimmerman took about 12 days.
NK What sort of changes were made between the US & Japanese versions?
JB In MGS? No changes at all. Remember the "Integral" version has both Japanese and English. They are the same or as close as possible.
NK Was MGS easier to work with than Snatcher?
JB Well, MGS has about 11 hours of voices on it as opposed to Snatcher's perhaps 45 minutes? MGS was undoubtedly a tougher translation because we knew the size of the audience for it. As for Snatcer: Sega CD, I think that counting you and me, the game only sold a couple thousand units at most in the US. I know the Sega CD sucked and had no software available for it, but where was everyone when Snatcher came out!? Boy, was that embarrassing - having it fail so badly.
NK Do you think Kojima was more aware of his US audience than with Snatcher?
JB Absolutely. Completely aware of it. MGS was made with the foreign (especially US) market in mind.
NK Please feel free to add any comments regarding either game.
JB I'm very proud to have been able to work on such fine games. I mean it. I remember when they asked me to play the PC Engine Snatcher and give my opinion as to whether it would sell in the states. I couldn't believe what a great, absorbing game it was! I'm so glad that I was able to communicate such great games to the US and English speaking audiences and I'm so proud to have people recognize that it was a great localization effort on both games (with no budget for Snatcher I might add).
NK Do you know if there is any truth to the rumor that Policenauts was partly or entirely translated for a planned US release?
JB It is false as far as I know. I was in the international business dept. at Konami when it came out and I never heard of any plans to release in US, then or since. Of course there was that petition that the fans wrote, but nope, don't think so.
NK Have you been contacted by KCEJ regarding translating MGS2 Sons of Liberty?
JB Yes, I was told that someone else is doing it (perhaps a Japanese translation company). I'm sure you can imagine my disappointment. As far as the reviews I read, they almost universally said that it was the greatest voice/text localization job done to that point. It's hard to imagine why they didn't ask me but I fear it was some behind the scenes backstabbing by ambitious people within the company. Oh well, if the translation and voice-over recording is not as good as MGS you will know why, and I would be overjoyed to have people send me their opinion about the localization job of MGS 1 vs. 2 at any point. Hell, send them directly to KCEJ of you like.
NK I'm sure many Snatcher fanatics are wondering, how are Chie & Kiwi?
JB Well, my wife Chie is great and that damned cat Kiwi is more of a crazy bitch then ever since we moved to the States. They've been joined by 2 kids and another cat. Thanks for asking. By the way, did I succeed in turning anyone onto Buddy Guy?
NK Any closing comments?
JB Yes, thanks for the support. It means a lot to me. I want to keep working hard to make the best games I can. I just recently finished 2 projects which I look forward to your reviews of the localization job. One of them is an upcoming Enix rpg which involves lots of Norse gods, know the one? Well, it was a tough job with impossible time and budgetary constraints (for translating and recording) and very difficult Japanese. But we think we pulled it off in any case. Maybe you'll recognize the voices of the actors! After that, I just finished directing voice and motion capture for a certain scary, fog-bound sequel by the big K. I also wrote the English screenplay and I promise it will be a masterpiece.
Neokobe.net would like to express our gratitude to Mr. Blaustein for taking the time from his work to answer these questions.