Here is the complete transcript of our interview with Ted Woolsey from Episode 16. If you have not heard the interview yet, you can check it out here. (The interview starts around 43:30.) You can also subscribe to our podcast by clicking this iTunes link –
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Chris: This week we got the chance to speak with Ted Woolsey, who is currently the general manager of Real Networks’ Online Game Initiative. But old-school gamers will know him better as the guy who translated many of Squaresoft’s big 16 bit hits. Stuff like Final Fantasy III, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Super Mario RPG and a bunch more.
Not only that, but he was really the first person to legitimize the translation departments of many video game publishers. Though his work is not always praised by the most hardcore of RPG fans, he paved the way for the quality localizations that we have today.
Since Final Fantasy VI Advance came out for GBA last week, we thought it would be a good opportunity to talk with Ted about the translation for the Super Nintendo version, which was called Final Fantasy III at the time.
Chris: I want to start off by asking if you can tell us a little bit about your background before you joined Square.
Ted Woolsey: Yeah, immediately before joining Square I just finished a master’s degree at the U. of Dub., in Japanese lit. My first kid was born that summer, and I thought I would take some time off. A little Japanese company was hiring in Redmond and I just figured what the heck, I’ll just do this for a little while and then get back and finish my dissertation when I get around to it.
But my background is basically in writing, in English, as an undergrad. And I lived in Japan for about four or five years, did a bunch of stuff over there, studying some things. And pretty much just a heavy culture trip, I was really into everything Japanese at the time and certainly if you are inclined that way the best place to go is to hang out in Japan for a while.
Chris: So were you a gamer or a fan of Japanese RPG’s before you joined Square?
Ted: I really wasn’t, the only game I played much of was a game called Rad Racer, which it turned out was made by Square…but it was a 8 bit game. Do you remember that game?
Greg: Oh yeah, that was a big game for me when I was a kid.
Ted: Yeah. And a guy named Nasir Gebelli who also was a programmer on Secret of Mana, he was the guy that created the disappearing horizon line and all the effects for that game. That one really took me.
At the time I had a Macintosh, a pretty powerful one, it had two floppy drives and used to play a bunch of pretty little games. I remember one called Crystal Quest. So I certainly knew the addiction, I played coin op certainly to blow off a lot of steam that way as well. But I really didn’t know what an RPG was until I got to Square.
Greg: So did you bother going back and playing any of their older ones? Like, I think Final Fantasy was the only RPG they had out at the time when you joined up with Square. Did you bother going back and playing that at all before you started?
Ted: Yeah. Square actually licensed that to Nintendo which did a pretty good job of getting that out there. I think they might have hit somewhere between 800,000 or a million units, using all their muscle.
And I think that that would have been the preferred route for Nintendo with II and III, but… Certainly once I started getting into this I was amazed. That really hit the cross hairs for me, of comic books and stories. I’m a big fan of both science fiction and fantasy. So when I started playing these things I was blown away, especially with Final Fantasy II when it came out in the States. And then the first time I saw Final Fantasy III as it was launched here–very cinematic, lots of very interesting and diverse scenes, I was totally taken by the whole thing.
I played a lot of competitor’s products too, a lot of the Enix titles I thought were fantastic. So I actually logged quite a bit of time playing these games, it’s one of the great perks of the job.
Chris: So what was Square’s localization process like before you got there?
Ted: They really didn’t have one. They had a person who spoke some English and she did her best with Final Fantasy II, which was her game. I didn’t have a chance to work on that game. When I talked to the guys that that hired me, the senior VP and then the finance guy, they basically had spent some 24 hour blocks of time late into the evenings, trying to rewrite the text as best they could without ever having played the game. They found so many issues with the screen text when they started reading it, they figured they should take a shot at it. So it was a mess. I think that’s why Sakaguchi-san and others said, “Hey we need to try to fix this.” I was brought on board and it turned out I got to do an awful lot of things. But certainly the main focus for me was to look at the manuals and the screen text and translate those things.
Greg: Just to clarify for people, did you do anything with Final Fantasy II or was that mostly done by the time you got there?
Ted: That was all done, in fact at the time there was about a two or three-month manufacturing process to have all the ROMs created. They were being manufactured and the manual was all done, there were some spectacular boo-boo’s in the manual. One of the descriptions for a magic effect was “blows wizard.”
Ted: As opposed to be “blows blizzard,” which it should’ve been, or something like that. So there was little things along the way. Because the Super NES was launching and they wanted to accelerate that, Nintendo said “OK, let’s just get this thing through.” Once you get one of these games through it’s pretty hard go back and start massaging the screen text and other parts of it because things just break so easily.
Chris: So nowadays many localization teams will be working on the English version as a game is still being developed in Japan. Was that the case for Final Fantasy III?
Ted: No it wasn’t. They pretty much had finished the game. I had the benefit of some rough draft of some of the strategy guide that had some pictures of what the things looked like (it wasn’t done yet), but basically the game had been finished. I asked for a complete set of videotapes which I never received. But at any rate, that was pretty much it. I was given a short amount of time to do it and given the game cartridge, and they said “go”. Also of course I was given the files. I can talk about that a little more later but there were probably 70 to 80 discrete files that have screen text in them, and it wasn’t contiguous.
Greg: Wow. That would be very rough.
Ted: [laughter] It was a challenge.
Greg: So back then of course, you couldn’t just burn a new disc every time, how long did it take for you be able to get playable code that you could check your work in. Could you do it as you went or…?
Ted: No, unfortunately they couldn’t work it that way. Final Fantasy III, they actually had a remake staff and there were some really bright folks. Part of the dev team and some folks brought in specifically to help with the localization for the English and European versions of this. Their job and was to rework some of the memory allocation and clean up some of the areas they wanted removed, some things that Nintendo wanted removed, and some other odds and ends. I had a small team over there to work with, but basically I was not able to do anything with the text until I got it down to a size where it would fit. There wasn’t really such a thing as compression at that time. It was a very crude algorithm that they used. So I translated the game, I took a lot of care doing that. I was given 30 days to do it, which is not a lot of time. I think there were about 1,300 pages of text and it wasn’t contiguous. It was broken into pieces. People who were scenario writers would just take a chunk of scenario and dump it in. They would put in the code-in/code-out piece or headers there and they didn’t care where it was. They just stuck it in a file and balanced it so it all fit in the different pieces. At any rate, I had to do my best to keep in mind all the different pieces of the game. Of course I played the game through and had beaten the game, so I kind of remembered generally. The thing was huge, so it’s hard to keep all that in your brain.
Greg: Especially because there were side quests and things like that as well.
Ted: That’s right and some of those things I didn’t even hit the first time. I went back and played the game again several times and found new things. Certainly along the way I saw things that were boo boos that were kindly and otherwise, pointed out to me by folks in the industry and fans.
Ted: At any rate I had to get the thing done. I pounded through that as fast as I could and unfortunately my first deliverable to Tokyo, they took it and saw it was three or four hundred percent too big. And I was dumbfounded because I tried to be very concise and I think I did a pretty good translation. I felt really good about having captured a lot of the scatological humor, which of course would have to be expunged anyways for Nintendo’s purposes. Some of the references to pop culture stuff that I thought were pretty cool and clever had to be ditched for branding and licensing and registration issues and stuff. At any rate, they said go back and shorten it. So I did another pass at the text and gave it back to them and it was still much too large. So I went back again and this time I threw my original translation in the trash can and just looked at each section and tried to re imagine it. As you can imagine, these things are all pre scripted so I couldn’t change the encounters and the way the characters popped up and did things. I had to make sure the timing was still there. Basically, I’d read something, close my eyes and then remember the information and stick that in there and so that that ultimately got me into the first shot that were just fit.
Ted: That’s when they were able to dump that in the ROM and I was able for the first time, to get a play through.
Chris: Is the translation not fitting more a matter of just English being a more clunky language than Japanese?
Chris: At least for screen text.
Ted: Basically it was double-byte-enabled stuff and even the English double-byte. As I recall now, and I’m having a flashback, kind of a horrific one, but as I typed a word in I would have to hit the space bar to enter the English words of the text. I was using a Japanese input system, it was all double-byte English Romanic script. But at any rate that was just a tad on the kludgy side. Spacing was always an issue because you have proportional fonts, and you have a lot of those things you had to keep in mind. There were something really extreme gating factors I had to work within, as did everybody doing translations at the time.
Greg: Speaking from personal experience and actually, anybody who works in media like CJ and I did, know Squaresoft fans tend to be some of the most passionate and generally hateful fans when they think their games have been wronged. Have you ever gotten any really hateful e-mails or anything like that? The fan reaction sometimes can be pretty venomous to the original Final Fantasy III translation. What did you think of it then and now?
Ted: It was interesting. It was sort of a groundswell. Initially I got a lot of fan mail — people enjoyed it, they loved the games, they talked about how their kids for the first time had read more than a single line of text or something. So I was kind of tickled. The game was reviewed fairly well and not because of the screen text, but because of the beautiful engineering behind it. Just the way the game was crafted by Square. So I was very pleased. It sold in well, it sold through well at retail, it was reordered several times… in that way it was very successful and I think that the number that sold through was very good at the time. It was one of the top selling games, definitely one of the top RPGs, although I think Square was never happy with what we were able to achieve with it.
I started seeing things on the Internet and you know, there were issues. There were things like side quests I had never even seen before I had translated them without knowing whether it was a she or a he that was doing the actions. In Japanese there is no he or she. It’s just a person doing something and it’s the context usually that provides the indicator whether it’s feminine, neutral or masculine. Or a name or something like that, but… So on some of these little side quests I just wasn’t sure so I just took my best guess. So I started seeing things and it’s kind of funny, it sort of just grew to a swell. It was a lot of the same people and then some other folks jumping in and echoing their distaste for what I’d done. I get that. I’m a fan of music and a bunch of other things like audiophile recordings and stuff that’s faithful to the original. One thing that I just had to bust up on was, I saw one translation in which the whole game, it must have been a thousand pages long, all done in the Japanese syntax with the verb at the end. So like, “I you and they want and have a good time to go.”
They felt they had really preserved the essence of Japanese by having that syntax that was for them very special and that was the charm of them reading Japanese. You know, Japanese don’t perceive the language that way. It’s perceived more the way that most translators write it, which is digesting it and putting it out in English that makes sense.
So anyway, there were quite a few reactions, some of them were the hate, “kill Ted Woolsey, kill, kill, kill” things were… interesting. I’m sorry that those people reacted so negatively. I encourage them to play the Japanese original, and learn Japanese, which some people I think were driven to do based on some of the reactions to the different games at the time.
I was a little surprised by that and I think nobody really knew at the time the degree to which these games would have a life of their own and the users would come to own them and be very defensive about them. And possessive.
Chris: Has anybody ever approached you personally and said, at E3 or something, and either said good things or bad things?
Ted: Yeah, I guess I’d walk around and people would see my name tag and they would ask me if I was Ted Woolsey (this was back when I was working for Square), and if I had worked on the game, I’ve never had somebody come up with a bludgeon and try to take me on. Hopefully that won’t happen and people get beyond these things in life.
By and large people have been pretty nice about it. I’ve talked to a lot of people and I’ve tried to get a lot of people involved in the industry over the years. I’ve tried to make a lot of introductions and do what I can because I think it’s a really cool industry. I still love Japan, I spent probably a good month there last year alone on four or five different occasions so I still travel there and work with my team over there.
I feel very lucky that way to still have my finger in the pie. But no, I think most of these folks have taken their shot online and then gotten it out of their system or not, but I just haven’t happened to meet them in a dark alley.
Chris: [laughs] That’s probably good.
Greg: I hope you never do. So you’re saying that you had 30 days to get through the translation for Final Fantasy III, right?
Ted: That’s right. I was given a schedule. We were trying to hit a late summer deliverable. There was still a two- or three-month manufacturing window at the time for these cartridges. There was still a lot of engineering work to do to break the memory allocation and the ROM; to allocate that in a different way and have it work with English and be more efficient.
Greg: So how did that schedule compare with working on other games after Final Fantasy III? Did you find it got better?
Ted: Yeah, they were almost always kind of rush jobs. On Secret of Mana they were writing the screen text as I was translating in Tokyo. I was flown over for a month or so with my family and we hung out at a cool little condo just outside of Shinjuku. I’d go into work every day. It was frustrating because stuff I’d translated the day before would be changed. I’d have to go in and find it and tweak it and then there were edits made by people who were also on the remake staff, some of which weren’t up to my standards at the time. That particular project ended up being much more of a mish mash than I had hoped, Secret of Mana.
By and large, Chrono Trigger was very complicated because there were so many branching storylines. At that time they had hired a couple of folks on to help with the translation but they were just getting their chops wet on translating for video games and there were still a lot of issues. I basically was asked by Sakaguchi-san to retranslate that and craft that and work on it from scratch basically. I logged another month in Tokyo and I started from scratch reworking that game as best I could to get it out in the time provided.
It would have been great to have two months, two and a half months to really work on that stuff. I think at the time, as one Japanese person explained to me, they were toys for kids and chill out; let’s get this thing out the door. When in fact they were really art objects, cinematic stories for adults. These role playing games skewed older.
Anyway, hindsight is always better than 20/20 and it would have been cool to have some more time but that’s not how things worked then.
Chris: How much contact did you have with Sakaguchi and the Japanese team while you were working on the game? How much back and forth was there with certain lines?
Ted: Well again on a lot of the games I worked on, huge chunks of the teams were already on to the next project, completely off the project I was working on. Sakaguchi-san was always pretty engaged in these things. I would usually meet with him before I translated something. We’d sit down and talk about the schedule. We’d look at marketing materials. We’d look at a bunch of things, because I also ran marketing for Square. We used some localized commercials even for some of the games like Chrono Trigger and some other things.
So, he’d get his point across where he wanted things to come out and he expected a lot. At any rate, he certainly deserved a lot. The guy was very smart, had some great people working for him and I always tried to do my best. But once I started working on something it was up to me to figure it out. There weren’t a lot of people resources to throw on this. I think it’s different today. Today there are teams of people that do these, but basically I had to do all of it and try to keep all the different story lines in my head as best I could. Sometimes I’d have strategy guidebooks or rough draft versions of those printer’s marked-up copies to look at.
The requests came pretty quick and I just… There wasn’t a lot of daily or weekly communication with Sakaguchi and the team. There was later. Once the text was translated and down to a size that fit, that’s when there would be some more time where I would spend time playing the game as many times as I could and starting to do a lot of edits and there were recommendations made. I would ask some questions about items or different things to some of the engineers. Yeah, that’s pretty much it.
Greg: In the actual game itself there are a few different moments in RPG history where people point to, and of course the opera scene in Final Fantasy III is the big one, the first big one. Did you approach that moment any differently than any of the rest of the game? Did you do that for any other moments in the games that you did?
Ted: Yeah, that one in particular I knew when I was playing it in the Japanese version that it was very unique and very interesting. It was one of those things that when you’ve completed that scene and you’ve beat up the bad guy and you’re off on your way, you realize you just accomplished something pretty amazing.
So I did spend a lot of time on that. That is one again where there were multiple files that combined to provide that experience. There were battle texts, there was the opera text displayed during the different cinematics on the screen. Then there was the usual screen text and they had to work in concert. So I think that’s one where I spent a lot of time after I had translated the whole game going back in and trying to think about blocking that out in a way that seemed more poetic as best I could in the space provided of course to get the feeling out there.
But that was just one of those wow moments where you… It’s the willing suspension of disbelief thing where you forget you’re looking at these little kind of weevil characters on a screen and you’re sort of in there with the story. It’s kind of cool.
Chris: [laughs] Hell yeah. What are some of your other favorite scenes in some of the games that you’ve worked on Final Fantasy III and the others?
Ted: There was a Ghost Train scene in Final Fantasy III that was very cool. You worked through this haunted forest and all of a sudden you’re on this train. There was something about that scene, that series of events I found pretty engaging. I thought that the suicide scene, which I couldn’t translate as such in the second world of Final Fantasy III, was pretty interesting, and the build up to that. I liked the final battle with Kefka. That was pretty interesting in the way he evolved and in the way he looked. That was pretty evil.
As far as other games for the Square stuff, I liked Chrono Trigger. That’s still one of my favorite games. I loved some of the different story lines, some of the characters, the visuals. That’s a very cinematic game and I never heard any super-critical comments with regard to that particular game but I think it just never attained the legend status that Final Fantasy did, even though I personally find that one of the most satisfying games I ever worked on or played.
I thought Mario RPG was pretty cool. That’s another one where I kind of had to blow through a translation but it was fun because of all the different characters and coming up with voices and figures of speech for some of them, except for Mario of course who didn’t talk. I think that was just engaging because it sort of drew you into the game with the little button commands and the mashing you had to do to get the character to do certain things.
I think one of my favorite games was Final Fantasy V, which I had almost all translated, but which they opted not to ship because they didn’t feel the US market was ready for a second flagship RPG. They’d shipped FFII and they felt in Tokyo that they needed something else to get people trained up on that style of gaming, and that became a game called Mystic Quest. It was a little 4 MB game, which is basically a Game Boy game that was put out on the SNES.
When that one came about, we were in a board meeting and Sakaguchi-san and [Square founder Masafumi] Miyamoto-san and some other folks kind of immediately said they had to fix this. They called the guy who was waiting around the corner outside the office to come in. It turns out he was the new head of the Osaka development team, and they said, ‘You will make a game for America.’ He’s like, ‘OK, I’m doing it! Great’
So I was a little bit more involved in the writing of the story on that one, just to try to shape it better but as a 4MB ROM, there was just an excruciatingly small amount of space there to spin a yarn as it were.
Chris: Was it a matter of sales from the previous Final Fantasies that they thought maybe the games needed to be easier to reach a wider audience?
Ted: Yeah. They wanted a million units. That was their number and they were starting to get that in Tokyo with every release of Final Fantasy, and of course Enix would always outdo them with its release of its next game so there was big competition that way.
In North America, FFII, the first RPG for SNES I think, did well in the early days of Super NES because the installed base was small and the percentage of users that were buying the game was relatively small. Yeah, it did not play out as they had hoped. I think Nintendo said hey you guys will be out there as one of the best games. You’re going to sell a ton of software. I think that they just felt that the game was too complicated and not mainstream enough. So that was the reason that Mystic Quest came to be.
I thought FFV was spine-tingling with the sound of the wind and bells in the background and dragons to ride on. That was where I really got hit deep into this style of RPG.
Chris: Yeah, that was a great game and so many people were waiting for that one after FFIII and it’s kind of a shame that we didn’t get that one until much later on the PlayStation.
Ted: The sheer fact of not being able to bring that one out here, that’s where I was worried about being met in a dark alley by someone who was pissed off. I would have understood being bludgeoned for that. That was a mistake. We should have brought that out I thought. But then I championed that idea. I did ultimately send my screen text to them. I’m not sure if they were ever used for the translation. I should go check that out. I think it did come out in the States didn’t it on the PlayStation?
Greg: PlayStation, yeah.
Ted: OK. But at any rate, I’m glad it finally made it this part of the world.
Greg: So going back to something you said in one of your earlier answers you said that one of the scenes that you liked in Final Fantasy III had to do with suicide, but you couldn’t translate it as such. There has been a lot of venom on the Internet about things like this fellow named Holy being changed to Pearl and that sort of thing.
Greg: What was the reasoning behind all that?
Ted: Well there definitely was a sheet that was distributed by Nintendo that as a licensee there were certain things you absolutely could not put in games, you could not say in games. Religious terminology was definitely one thing, as were iconographic things that were sometimes built into these games that had to be removed before they were shipped to North America. I think a lot of people haven’t really even seen the difference in some of the games that were shipped here.
But so, I can’t remember specifically why I changed that to Pearl. It actually could have been a boo-boo on my part. But at any rate, you’d be going through so many hundreds and hundreds of items and magic spells and things that had to be translated. They had to be brought down to I think it was…some of them…it depends on the format that the text was presented to me. I could either have five characters, I could have seven characters or I think in some cases I could have maybe nine. But it depended on how they were encoded into the story.
I mean, Holy and Pearl, obviously there wouldn’t be an issue there. I think that was obviously just the word Holy and just trying to avoid being dinged by Nintendo. Any time you submitted a game to Nintendo you had to take the entire screen text, which for Final Fantasy was 50 or 60 hours of having one of your testers do that for you. Then you had to submit the print out, the entire screen text, the ROMs and do all that stuff and give it to them and they’d spend time going through it. If you had something like that, that stopped the submission you were in trouble. It was very expensive and you could miss your deadline to ship.
A lot of companies just decided to err on the safe side, which is probably unfortunate but just to strip out as much as they could in advance just to reduce the time to market.
Chris: One of the other things that I’ve read on the Internet is people spewing venom about character names (like Crono without the ‘h’). I was just wondering if that was just because the Super Nintendo couldn’t fit it in there or was there any other reason why some character names were changed?
Ted: Part of it I think was just trying to get the squeezing and squeezing space. It’s one of those things where you translate a bunch of stuff and then you’re told that you’re at 125% capacity and you go back in and you start shortening everything. I didn’t think much about it. In some cases I would just go through and I would just run through sheet after sheet after sheet trying to squeeze stuff down to get things in. I’d give it back to the engineers and they would compile it. Then I’d be 104% over and they’d give it back to me. I’d go back again and squeeze and cut and shape and finally would go in and it was like, my god, it’s finally in there. That was when we’d try to do some final polishing on it.
But, yeah, there was the opportunity to move sideways from the original text by doing all these different rewrites and shortening exercises that we were forced to do.
Greg: So why did you ultimately leave Square?
Ted: Well, I was invited down to do Final Fantasy VII, you know, work on the localization and it was my intent. Quite frankly at the time, we had a kid and we went down to LA, we were invited down, Sakaguchi was there, the whole team was there and we were looking at the new headquarters, at the buildings down there on the water. It was kind of a nice spot. We went looking for houses, rental places just to get a foot in the door. My wife actually had lived and went to UCLA for four years.
She just woke up and we had a talk early one morning and just decided that we just didn’t want to be living in Los Angeles. With all due respect to LA, I love going down there and hanging out. We went to E3 in the past and all these other things. We’ve got friends and relatives in that part of the world, but we like living up here. We love the rain, the fog, the depression, and all that stuff.
I also had the idea of wanting to be more of an entrepreneur and try doing a game on my own as it were. So actually Square was very helpful, they helped sub lease office space and sell equipment at very low rates to us and a bunch of other things to kind of get a group of us up on our feet to give it a shot up in Redmond. So that’s what we decided to do.
In retrospect maybe that was a big mistake to walk away from that brand, but life is kind of like that. You look back. I don’t know about you guys but sometimes in life you don’t even know how you got where you are today. Had you been looking with a peculiar kind of goggles into the future 20 years ago, you’d just go, my god, I’m not going to be able to hack that. How am I going to get from here to there knowing all the things I have to do? So anyway, it’s just one of things that kinda happened along the way.
Chris: So it didn’t have anything to do as some people on the Internet speculated that Secret of Evermore’s sales affected your departure in any way?
Ted: No. I actually had nothing to do with Secret of Evermore, other than just helping to do the TV commercial for it and some of the package art and some other things. There was a dedicated team that was brought on board to build that game and they did it. It was the first game for most of those guys. I think the folks at the time at Humongous said that Square’s biggest gift to them was firing the entire team because they were already trained up on one game. They knew all mistakes and errors they made in one game and they went on to make a whole bunch of franchises for Humongous. Unfortunately Evermore does not live up to the vision in Tokyo. They had hoped for a US-flavored, role playing-style game that would sell a million units. A million was really the catchphrase. If it wasn’t a million it was a failure.
Chris: Now maybe you can tell us a little about Shadow Madness. Which is the RPG you built from scratch after leaving Square.
Ted: That was one where we got to get funding from a Japanese source who was interested in the scenario. At any rate, I just wanted to give it a shot. It kind of ended up being a very different game than I think it was originally intended. It’s one game that a bunch of folks had helped put some ideas against while at Square in Redmond. So it had an odd existence. It started out there with some owners and then it was transferred to another team with me driving it. It was changed in many ways and the visual feel and the play was changed. But had we gotten that game out about eight to ten months earlier as we had hoped, it would have been much more interesting proposition for us but as it was coming out against Final Fantasy VIII. Which, you know, had two or three hundred people working on it and was just… It was an incredible game. Anyway, it was a first shot for us, it’s had its people who’ve liked it, unfortunately it was not a commercial success. What can you say? You give it a shot. The smart team that was working on it, all those guys are gainfully employed at a variety of companies in the industry.
It would have been nice to have another crack at that but that’s when Crave basically said we’re moving everything to LA and it was kind of a rehashing of the other Square scenario. Do I want to go down there and work for Crave in LA? That’s when I was able to find a job here at Real. Real was starting to get into digital distribution, which was very interesting for me to be able to distribute a game without going through a first-party company like a Nintendo or Sony. Doing it with much smaller design teams, trying to get back far more interesting and novel games and what that whole business might look like. At the time Real was flying. They were the dot-com darling child…. Seemed interesting to me. Of course there was the toboggan ride to hell that happened in 2000 2001. The stock slipped and the whole world kind of fell apart. Of course it wasn’t just Real, it was the dot-coms in general. So I opted to step into this new space and leave the game design area behind try something new.
Greg: Post-Craveyard, it was reported that you weren’t involved in games anymore so was there any truth to that? Was there a time when you said, I got to get out of this business altogether or anything like that?
Ted: No, actually. I’ve always liked games. It wasn’t that. I actually was involved. I have seen that quote. Someone pointed it out to me once. I went right from the Crave experience into Real games. We’ve built quite a nice casual games business here. It is much different than console obviously. It’s not anywhere near the Cadillac or Marquis style of gaming that I had come from, through Square. At any rate it’s been interesting to me to see the evolution of this and to see the Web and what it can do to distribution models and in particular, the last couple of years, playing a lot of games from Korean developers, some Chinese developers. Their multiplayer games are really quite fascinating. It gives you an insight on how the future for online digitally distributed games might look like.
Chris: What do you think of your work when you look back on it now? Do you have a favorite project that stands out?
Ted: I was one of the first people to be surprised by the degree of…. the fact that I’m talking to you guys today…. Just through my sheer connections and stupidity (or genius) I had to go over and interview at Square. Those guys were brilliant at the time and made great products and I just happened to pick the right company and the right game type. I have to admit, I still love… even my kids now will pull out those carts and play Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger and other games and just howl. They still love them because those guys did such a great job. You know, it’s been interesting. I enjoyed that period. I still love the 16 bit period. I thought that was very cool. I haven’t played as many games on the next gen consoles, N64 and PS3 and PS2 as I would have liked. It’s something to look back on and I’m very glad I had the good fortune to make the choices that I did. For my family and my own personal life, I’m happy to be doing what I am now. I think Real has been a really fun experience for me to be here. It’s a smart group of people. It’s a completely different business model and I don’t really have any regrets. I look back quite fondly actually, all those times I traveled back to Tokyo and just some of the crazy antics of all the people, the creative people and some of the folks in the industry there I got a chance to meet that I never would have otherwise. It’s been quite a ride.
Greg: Have any good anecdotes about any games you worked on or the times you were working on them?
Greg: That won’t get you arrested?
Ted: [laughter] OK, so I can’t tell you those ones! A lot of it is just the people I’ve worked with. I’m still in touch with Maekawa Yoshi who’s a designer on some Final Fantasy games and the director on Mario RPG. He’s a really fun guy to hang out with. Some of the music guys were amazing. Jeremy Soule, who did the music for Secret of Evermore has gone on to become a world class composer. He does movie scores and a bunch of other things. I’ve kept in touch with him. There are a lot of folks along the way that I think more than the games that I’ve I found very interesting and very engaging and have gone on to do pretty cool things. The game translations themselves were hard. It’s kind of like taking a dictionary… well that’s kind of a stupid example…It’s like taking a story of choice and turning it into a Reader’s Digest thing. You really don’t feel good about that. I wish there had been a way to have spent more time, to have a more faithful representation on a lot of the screen text. A lot of people that have done translations especially for RPGs probably wished that in the past. There is really no one thing, it’s the people in the industry who I’ve really enjoyed. It’s one reason I’ve stayed in it. Even at Real I’ve had the opportunity to go down and sample the different companies, Activision, EA, etc. I’ve had different fraternizations, different affiliations, friendships with folks. The industry is small. The industry is an orbit. People jump from one to the other, it’s fun to catch up and see familiar faces. Nothing really in particular stands out that I can share.
Chris: Any fun stories of going out drinking with Sakaguchi or anything like that?
Ted: Yeah, I mean…
Chris: Did he tell you his grand plans for the Final Fantasy series as a whole? That sort of thing?
Greg: The movie?
Ted: I think there really wasn’t one. I think that Final Fantasy I 8-bit did pretty well, II and III started to slip. If IV didn’t really hit then he was going to have to come up with a different sort of scenario. Final Fantasy IV was a home run in Japan. Even he experienced some difficulties, especially with competitors like Enix that were starting to produce some high quality stuff too. You know, we’d go out drinking in Tokyo, we’d go to the clubs and hang out. It was high times, people were just high on life. We were all much younger then and had lots of dreams ahead of how to take over the world and force the hardware makers to buckle under our combined wills.
To some extent that actually happened where some of the big software companies were able to go back and renegotiate terms and add some direction so that the hardware companies were producing things that were in line with where they wanted to go, where their vision went. I’m thinking of the N64 cart versus the PlayStation CD-ROM–there were a lot of discussions around that. So it was interesting.
There were times when we’d meet in Hawaii, where they’d just have the entire Square company fly over there. Those times people were just completely undone, just completely lit on the beach falling over having a great time. It was interesting to hear that people were running around and getting into trouble in Honolulu. Honolulu is an interesting place. There are lots of dangerous obstacles there, bad things and creatures.
So anyway there were a lot of things that happened along the way. People just did things and got too crazy but it was all in the spirit at the time so it was fun. Everybody was high on the whole thing. Then Square went public and boom, everybody that was in the senior management did quite well. Everybody got stock in the company, which was kind of cool for all of the guys making the games over in Japan. It was a big event.
Chris: You know Nintendo and Square are re releasing Final Fantasy VI for GBA. I was wondering if you had any plans to pick that up and play through and check out their new translation?
Ted: I think my youngest kid wants to get that. So once he’s done playing it I will steal it from him and give it a shot. It will be interesting to see what they’ve done, yeah. There are an infinite number of ways of approaching that. I’m not sure what they were able to do to pack more stuff in there or what they did. Have you guys played it yet?
Chris: I have not, no. But I’ve heard that they did change some things even from your translation. I think there’s a point where Shadow says that he would even kill his own mother or something. They changed that to brother in the new translation. It sounds like there is still that sort of Nintendo censorship thing going on. Just in different ways.
Ted: Could be. Could be. You know, family friendly and Shadow are not two things I think of in the same thought.
Ted: Shadow could have been made to be quite diabolical in his own way. But it would be kind of fun to re imagine a bunch of those characters with the benefit of age and reading more stories in life and really go back in and have fun with that.
But, yeah, it’ll be interesting to see what they’ve done. I’ll have to back and check that one out. That’s definitely one that my kids are hot on getting just because they are very familiar with the game.
Greg: So the Final Fantasy series post Woolsey? What do you think about the direction they’ve been taking?
Ted: To be honest I haven’t really spent much time playing them. They are visually beautiful. I played FFVII and enjoyed that game. I thought that was pretty cool. I’ve played some of the online adventures and logged a little bit of time. But it’s funny I guess I’ve just been trying to raise my kids and do other things and just haven’t really spent as much time doing some of that that I did in former years.
So sorry to disappoint on that account, I just really haven’t logged that much time.
Chris: I think the Final Fantasy VII translation got a lot more crap for adding in Ebonics and swear words and some other stuff that hadn’t been in the series previously.
Ted: They had a team of five or six or seven translators working on that one. They had a lot more throughput to spend time thinking about this stuff. It kind of goes to show that it’s pretty tricky work to retroactively fit in an English screen text where there was something that was really distinctly different. Especially with all the scatological humor and references to pop culture that often creep into the game in different areas. It’s an interesting puzzle to translate. It was always kind of fun that way, but frustrating too.
Chris: So, what are your current projects at Real and did you want to plug anything in particular that people should go check out?
Ted: Well, like I said earlier, it’s been really fun to be in the middle of the casual games industry, which has been maturing over the last seven years or so. There are a lot of fun games types in this as well. Especially after the last couple of years of intensely looking at a lot of the platforms in Asia and thinking about how we can bring some of the more community and multiplayer features and platform features from those types of gaming experience into North America and into the casual game space. That’s my focus right now. I’m the General Manager of the Online Game Initiative here. We’re looking at a lot of things right now.
It’s interesting; the casual game is a bit different in that it skews to 35- to 65-year-old women. What they’re looking for is just a respite from the world. They want to close the door to their den and just sit and play some of these puzzle games and things just to recreate.
But in Asia in particular a lot of the younger demographic is also discovering the charm of some of these casual games. They are fun things to go and play. Tic Tac Toe is a pretty drop dead simple game, but when you have a fun person across the table playing it with you, all of a sudden it’s a different experience. Some of these simple game types, when you put community around them or different kinds of competitive rules around them, become very fun.
So that’s really more what I’m focusing on now. Certainly come to www.realarcade.com and check out all the casual games. You can try them for free and just see a different variety of games from console.
Chris: Well, thank you very much for joining us here, Ted.
Ted: You bet. Thanks for setting this up and reminding me of the new translation that came out. I’ll have to possibly just go get that just for fun and to preempt them and check it out. That was just a really cool time. I think 16 bit for me was sort of the golden age of games. When I do play over the holidays I’ll still get a box of probably 100 games. I’ll sit and I’ll pull them out and play them. I still have to admit I just love playing those games. There was just something about them. Maybe it’s just my own memory and the fact of getting older but I still enjoy it. It’s every bit as fun as some of the games my kids are playing on some of the next-gen stuff today.
Greg: Yeah, I totally agree. 16-bit was the golden age I think.
Chris: And Final Fantasy III was the first RPG that I actually finished all the way to the end. I have great memories of that game.
Ted: Yeah, I’ve heard that a lot and again I apologize to those folks who feel like we just broke the egg there. But there were a lot of issues that coalesced to make that a very difficult project. At any rate, I did try my best. Anyways, you make mistakes in life. So, get over it.
Chris: I liked the translation. It was great. At the time we were comparing it to things that were way…
Greg: It was better than the “Spoony bard.”
Chris: Exactly. No Spoony Bard.
Ted: If nothing else, I think it was a little bit better than FFII so I got that going for them. [laughs]
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. [laughs] Definitely.
Ted: OK, well thanks gentlemen, I appreciate it.
Chris: Thanks very much. Take care.
Greg: Thanks a lot Ted.