Developer Interviews - Primary Sources for Video Game History
There is an amazing wealth of information about Japanese video games that has never been shared with the West. This lamentable state of affairs has started to change in recent years thanks to the internet and the efforts of games journalists, but before 2000, only a miniscule fragment of information reached us.
I spent last summer organizing the vast amount of untranslated materials I had available to me. You can see the results in this list:
At nearly 1200 interviews, it's a veritable treasure trove of game history, from major companies like Nintendo, Sega, Capcom, Konami, and Square, to smaller but important developers like NMK, Love-de-lic, Sunsoft, Wolf Team, and many more. Interviews with individual game composers are also heavily featured. There are even a number of industry-focused developer interviews that shed a new light on the console wars of yesteryear.
Two Goals - Education and Enjoyment
For me shmuplations has two missions, both equally important: (1) educating people about game history and game design through these primary sources, and (2) helping players enjoy the games more deeply and intimately. I started doing these translations because I loved noticing all the design details I'd missed in a favorite game, and I wanted to share that feeling of deepened appreciation with others.
Consequently, I don't take an overly academic approach to this material. I leave that to people working in bona fide game history studies, for whom I hope these interviews are a helpful resource!
Translation and Crowdfunding: The Perfect Match
In many ways translation is the perfect example of the "tragedy of the commons" problem: everyone loves reading an interview about their favorite game, but very few individuals have the money to pay a translator for the many hours a quality translation requires. And it makes perfect sense for a translation, which will eventually be read and enjoyed by many, to be funded by many. That's where Patreon comes in!
Rewards and Goals
Those who pledge $2.00 a month or more will be able to participate in bi-monthly posts where I solicit feedback about which interviews to translate next.
Right now, I can do an average of 3 translations per month, updating about once a week. With more funding I can increase that number proportionally, and if the patreon campaign really takes off, I'll be able to start doing new original interviews with game developers.
By day (and often night) I'm a professional translator, working mostly in the legal industry. I have a degree in Japanese from U.C. Berkeley, and like many before me, I then moved to Japan to continue my studies. Right now I live in the SF Bay Area, though I regularly return to Japan for both work and pleasure.
The connection between Japanese and gaming goes back deep for me; I actually started learning Japanese as a preteen because I wanted to play Dragon Quest V and Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon on the Super Famicom. I remember spending hours with those games trying to decipher the hiragana and katakana (the horrors of kanji were yet unknown to me). My work with shmuplations is therefore a kind of "full-circle" for me, and I happily do all this translation well below market rates because I simply love doing it. I've cherished the time I've had in the last couple years to do all this for free, but for it to be sustainable going forward, I'll need the support of the community. Thank you!
Q. Can I send you materials not on your list?
A. Yes! Although I retain some editorial discretion here, I'm always interested in unearthing new game history documents, particularly from the print-only era of the 80s and 90s. Although the list I've compiled here is impressive, I don't doubt that more awaits to be discovered. Anything you send will be added to the list, available to be voted on.
Q. Do you translate things other than developer interviews?
A. Yes, but developer interviews tend to have the richest and most interesting content, so I focus on those. Shmuplations currently features a few other things, notably superplayer interviews and game-related manga scanlations. Occasionally an interesting article will warrant my attention, but shmuplations will always be focused on primary sources like developer interviews rather than secondary sources like editorials and articles. I am available for separate commissions for such work, however.
Q. Can you explain how voting works?
A. Every month, those who pledge at $2.00 and above are entitled to vote in a monthly survey (http://shmuplations.com/patreonsurvey/) on what they'd like me to translate. I will then take the top picks and translate them that month; half of my work in any given month will be dedicated to these patron-selected interviews.
Importantly, votes are carried over month to month. This means that your vote is never wasted; if you continually vote on an interview, it will probably eventually be translated. I'll announce the results of the prior month's voting (including the standing of all games with votes) on the first of the month.
Q. How much time does each translation take?
A. It really depends on length, complexity, and my familiarity with the game/genre. On average, I would say that a single translation can take anywhere from 6 to 12 hours when all is said and done.
That includes research as well as publishing, which is a whole other matter. Undoubtedly things would go more quickly if I did pure text dumps, but that would make for both unattractive and potentially confusing reading; many of the insights in these interviews are best appreciated with accompanying visuals or music, all of which must be hunted down, formatted, and arranged in an attractive article format. That said, the bulk of the time is always spent on the translation itself.