December 20, 2015

Legends of Localization - Book 1: The Legend of Zelda (Part 2)

Check out Part 1 if you missed it.

After the First Quest, the Second Quest is explored. There are a bunch of differences between the gameplay, so naturally there are a bunch of text differences as well.

Items are looked at next. A basic list of Japanese and English names for items are placed side-by-side for comparison. A few are looked at more in-depth. Rupee vs. Rupy, Wooden Sword vs. Sword, Recorder vs. Flute, and Book of Magic vs. Bible for example.

Next are enemies. These include Wizrobes, Like Likes, Zoras, Darknuts, and Manhandla. The origins and surprises of some of these enemies was very interesting. Mato has definitely done his homework.

The second large chapter of the book discusses the manual. Obviously, the FDS and NES are totally different formats, so there's a lot of expected differences there. This includes loading times and saving your game. Outside of that, though, the text is mostly the same. Promo art is also the same, although screenshots of gameplay are different.

The manual and the game localization were most likely handled by an entirely different team, which is why there's so many discrepancies between the two. Since there was only so much space on a game cart/disk, a lot of extra information was included in the manual. This was one of my favorite parts of this book. It's also not hard to see why there are so many inconsistencies throughout, as "translating games without playing them first is very common...most translators get a few spreadsheets with text to translate and that's it."

The penultimate chapter looks at items outside of the game for reference. This includes promotional material (often provided by companies outside of Nintendo), prototype versions, board games, Game & Watch, guide books, magazines, and TV commercials among other things. Very cool stuff.

The final section is a little bit of personal thoughts from Mato about the whole thing. It's not very long, and is a nice final touch for the book. There are also a number of places shown to explore more game history, as well as additional Zelda lore.

It's really nice that Mato touches on games that had an influence on Zelda or vice versa, and includes screenshots and examples to illustrate the point. It's also great that he digs into the "why" of things, instead of just stating "they translated it this way, the end." He really wants to reader to understand why certain changes were made, because there's usually a good reason.

And again, Fangamer outdoes itself with the quality of this tome. Hardcover with gold foil imprinting, and cool obi strip. The book clocks in at just over 200 pages.


This books works extremely well for two reasons.

  • Mato is very knowledgeable about Japanese translation and localization.
  • He knows the game itself inside and out. He could probably write a book just on the gameplay/secrets/etc. and not touch localization at all.

It makes the whole thing a very engaging and insightful read. It's not too dry, but it's also not too loose. It's a really good balance. He has a good voice, and speaks succinctly while at the same time being very informative . I can't recommend this book enough. Pick it up!

Legends of Localization - Book 1: The Legend of Zelda (Part 1)

Secret power is said to be in the localization.

Clyde Mandelin's site Legends of Localization is a gold mine for anyone interested in the Japanese side of video games released worldwide. He is living the dream that I'm sure many people have: being able to translate video games, manga, and anime professionally. His site has been up for years, but it's only recently that's he published a book in collaboration with the wonderful people at Fangamer. I'll only be talking about the book in this post, but I highly encourage you to check out Mandelin's site for a huge amount of content.

Mato (as he will be referred to from now on) starts off by telling the reader the book isn't going to be a boring text book, but rather "...a good mix of serious research, critical analysis, and a casual, laid-back attitude." Thankfully, he delivers. There have been more than a few books about video games that rely way too much on personal nostalgia and biographical info of the author, which really take all interest away from the subject at hand (I'm looking in your direction, Boss Fight Books). Mato keeps the biography stuff short and sweet. It's right in the Introduction and only runs for a few pages. Fine with me. The only other spot for personal tidbits is tiny little captions here and there. I can't praise him enough for keeping his personal life out of the writing. It's The Legend of Zelda, not The Legend of Mato, so thank you for keeping it that way.

The first section is focused on audio. The differences between the FDS and NES hardware is briefly explained, and is followed by several examples of where the music is different. To make things easier, Mato provides a QR code (or you could just go to his site and listen) for the actual audio comparisons. Next, some sound effect changes are explored. These include Sword Shooting, picking up rupees/hearts/items, doors opening, enemies dying, and the like. Some of the changes are not that big, while other sounds could not be more different. It's pretty interesting. There are also waveform comparisons in the book, which I suppose is the next best thing to the actual audio. The NES seems to make way more use of the DPCM channel in an attempt to compensate for the lack of channels the FDS supports.

Next up is graphics. Obviously the title screen is different, but there are some font changes as well within the game. This whole section is pretty short, and it covers tiny miscellaneous things like the Name Entry text, the Zora sprite, and a couple of other things. Honestly, this section could have fit neatly into the chapter titled "First Quest," especially since the title screen and text are covered in more detail anyway. It kind of stands weirdly on its own.

Gameplay is next. Mato discusses why English text is so prevalent in Japanese games, and why they choose to use certain English quirks a lot of the time. Most of this section focuses on differences you'll encounter before really even starting the game, as well as how hardware difference affect the game itself (à la Pols Voices). Each subsequent port of the first Legend of Zelda is either based on the Disk version or the Cart version. And whichever the case, it carries over the same minor gameplay differences from the source material. There has never been a solid "definitive version," which I think is pretty neat.

Finally, we reach text. This is probably where most people think localization takes place first. Since Mato is a professional translator and has the résumé to back it up, he is a fully credible source to discuss this (not to mention write this book in the first place). Firstly, he talks about how Japanese people use different speech patterns and dialects based on gender, age, politeness, etc. and how it can get lost in the translation process. He then explores various instances where the translators did good jobs and bad jobs of conveying the original intended text and nuances. This is the longest section in the book, so there's too much to explain in this post. Countless instances of what was changed, the reason(s) why, and whether or not the localization succeeded. Players often think of the poorly translated lines first since they stand out so much. What are the actual original lines in Japanese? Do they make more sense in their native language? Surprisingly, sometimes the answer is still "no."

Continued in Part 2...

November 22, 2015

Push > Start

The Art of Video Games.

Push > Start is a large art book showcasing a wide time span of video games. There are a total of 215 games showcased, starting way back with OXO (1952) and finishing with Halo 5 (2015). Since it covers over sixty years, there are a few games that aren't covered (*gasp*).

However, the focus isn't on the games themselves, but rather the art and style presented within each one. Each game is showcased by only one or two screenshots. That's it. The only information provided on each game is the platforms it was released for, year, developer, and composer. The only block text present is a short introduction at the beginning of each chapter and some philosophical explication at the end. The chapters are separated as follows:

  • Early Games
  • Arcades
  • 8-Bit
  • 16-Bit
  • 3D
  • HD
  • Video Game Platforms
  • The Art of Video Games

All in all, it's a nice simple snapshot of each era. Clearly, it's difficult to make a statement like, "I'm going to narrow down the entire 8-Bit era to fifty games." But for the most part, the games chosen were pretty safe.

As the book nears the more recent time periods, though, it becomes much more subjective. Games can be a cash cow, and publishers know that. It is not (and has not been) a niche market for a large number of years. It makes it way harder to determine which games have blood, sweat and tears put into them to make them "artistic" and which ones have enough money/manpower/marketing to give it the illusion of being so. Or maybe some of them are anyway. Who can say? Nobody, because it's not a fact, it's an opinion, so quit your whining. Everyone likes their own thing, and there's way too much to be able to see everything.

The philosophy stuff is a little tiring, and thankfully there's not too much. People trying to quantify things that can't (and shouldn't) be quantified into "fact." Here's a taste:

"A game is art because it adds a new element to the "vocabulary" of design. One day, the artists who created this pure, controlled image space may well be mentioned in the same breath as Michelangelo or Leonardo."

The difference is, Miyamoto wasn't some hipster sitting at home trying to avant-garde the crap out of the industry/society. He went to school, got a job, and was tasked by his superiors to make a product that would sell, and so he based it off of existing popular things. Yes, he was innovative. Yes, he was smart. Yes, he had skill. But he wasn't sitting down saying to himself, "God, I'm going to make such an artistic statement out of this thing." But he put in real, full effort, and it turned out great. So we appreciate it. End of story.

The book itself is gorgeous and high quality, not to mention huge! It measures approximately 11" x 11", and weighs over six pounds. The cover is embossed with a checked pattern and includes an obi strip. The organization is great, as the index is up front for easy navigation.

There is also a vinyl record included in the back with generic "big game" music remixes on it (think Super Mario Bros., Castlevania, Street Fighter, Mega Man 2, Tetris, etc.). Not a huge deal, and the remixes are fairly lackluster. I would guess that they did remixes since putting the source music on there would cost way too much money. But with a remix they can argue artistic license or whatever.

It's definitely an "artsy" art book rather than a diagnosis of the art of video games. Worth it? Well, it looks really nice. Not any huge surprises, but aesthetically they nailed it. So if that's what you're going for, spend away.

November 1, 2015

Super Mario Bros. 30th Anniversary Encyclopedia

Super indeed.

This book follows in the footsteps of Hyrule Historia and the Kirby 20th Anniversary Book in that it celebrates the main points of Mario's game history. It covers the following:

  • 1985 - Super Mario Bros.
  • 1986 - Super Mario Bros. 2
  • 1988 - Super Mario Bros. 3
  • 1989 - Super Mario Land
  • 1990 - Super Mario World
  • 1992 - Super Mario USA
  • 1992 - Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
  • 1996 - Super Mario 64
  • 2002 - Super Mario Sunshine
  • 2006 - New Super Mario Bros.
  • 2007 - Super Mario Galaxy
  • 2009 - New Super Mario Bros. Wii
  • 2010 - Super Mario Galaxy 2
  • 2011 - Super Mario 3D Land
  • 2012 - New Super Mario Bros. 2
  • 2012 - New Super Mario Bros. U
  • 2013 - Super Mario 3D World
  • 2015 - Super Mario Maker

It clocks in at 255 pages, and is quite a good read. Granted, it cannot go super in-depth for all of the above titles, because that would take a much larger volume than this. But it is a great book nonetheless.

There are a ton of visuals, which is a huge part of what makes this book stand out. Each game has official artwork from the manual/guide book/etc., as well as many screenshots. Personally, it's great having so much of Shigefumi Hino's high-quality artwork in one place. Super Mario World still has my favorite design out of any Mario game, and I love that the current official 2D art style has gravitated back to that era.

The book design is very well thought-out and the whole thing has a nice flow. Each game is split into four sections:
  1. Introduction
  2. Characters
  3. World
  4. And More
The "Introduction" gives a brief synopsis of the story, what's going on, why Mario is there, etc. Pretty self-explanatory. The "Characters" section presents all the good guys and bad guys, along with a short explanation of each. The "World" section shows all of the areas Mario will travel through, as well as environmental hazards and objects he may encounter. Finally, the "And More" section has some trivia facts, secrets, and even some ways to glitch each game. Neat-o.

It's pretty crazy to look at an entirety of a Mario game over a few pages. It makes you realize how much content there really is inside of each one. I tend to spend the most time in the retro games section, because that was the period in which I grew up, and it's where I have the most interest. I imagine younger readers are more likely to stick to the newer games.

Even though this book cannot cover every Mario game in detail, there is a section in the back that lists almost every game he has appeared in. It even includes cameo appearances in games like Majora's Mask.

The only ones missing are the really obscure games of which we do not speak.

There are also small sections scattered throughout of interesting facts, merchandise info, and interviews. Just makes the book that much more worth it. I will note that Tezuka seems much more open to interviews than Miyamoto as of late. Which is totally fine, they are both right up there in the creative process. It's just interesting to note.

One of my favorite parts of this book has to be the front inside of the dust cover. It is the same illustration of the Super Mario Collection official guide book printed way back in 1993! I prefer it over the dust cover. I'm sure it helps that Shogakukan has been publishing official Nintendo guide books since the Famicom era. Too cool.

I am hoping this book will be localized, and I would think that if Hyrule Historia can have it done, so can this. Nintendo seems to want to celebrate Mario's 30th Anniversary equally around the world, so there is still hope.

Returning from Super Mario Maker

So awkward.

So I have been enjoying the hell out of Super Mario Maker. Even though it has its shortcomings here and there, it is one of the most enjoyable Wii U games I have played this year. I continue to dabble pretty much every day I can find some time, and have managed to download a decent list of stages that are not crap. There are some real gems out there among the garbage. Great learning opportunities for designing my own stages.


I remember back before the game was launched, Tezuka was stating how core movement/gameplay mechanics would be "modernized." This sent up a red flag for me. I hate it when games get a re-release of sorts, but have things altered simply because it's a re-release, without any rhyme or reason. See the Silent Hill HD Collection for a prime example of this.

Yet upon playing Super Mario Maker, I found no real control issues that I had anticipated. Nintendo does care about its IPs, and seeing as how Mario is the flagship one, I would expect them to take care of it, especially with the 30th Anniversary and all.


I decided to go back to playing SMB/SMB3/SMW just to get an idea of what makes a good stage. Nothing wrong with going back to the source to make my stages better. And thanks to the Virtual Console, I can still do it all right from the Wii U. So I booted it up and jumped right in.

Holy crap, it is ridiculously disorienting. It's like somebody turned all the adjustment knobs every which way, and sensitivity has been cranked up to freaking 11. I could not get over how awkward it felt.

Games I have been playing regularly for twenty years are suddenly very foreign to my brain and hands. I am making mistakes and dying like it's my job. Stages I have played a million times are making me look like I've never picked up a controller before. It was so embarrassing. So many core gameplay adjustments have been made from the source material, I couldn't place them all if I tried. It's just so weird! I eventually got it under control, but it took way too long.

That Nintendo could so radically transform its crown jewels and not create an uproar is a feat in itself. They did it so effectively that really no one has noticed or been bothered enough to say anything. They have done exactly what they said they would do. They have "modernized" three of the most iconic platformers in the history of the industry. But they did it so well, with such good intention, planning, and follow-through, that it could not have felt more natural.


(Seriously, go back and try one of those games after exploring Super Mario Maker. Mind = Blown.)

June 29, 2015

Showcase Presents: Strange Adventures Vol. 1

Hang on a second, some of this doesn't make sen--THE END.

Strange Adventures Vol. 1 presents the book's run from issues #54-73. There are about four stories per issue, which means that they're all really short, coming in at six pages or less.

This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. There are plenty of DC stories from the same time period with good short stories. However, Strange Adventures doesn't even seem to try in terms of narrative. Here's what the process feels like:

WRITER: "Hey, I've got the start of an idea!"
EDITOR: "You have twenty minutes to get the full final copy on my desk."

Almost every single story is a half-thought idea that really doesn't go anywhere. It seems like they threw whatever was left over from other books into this one. The fact that writers come and go every single issue makes the case even stronger.

Somebody was paid to come up with this "idea."

I wanted to like this book so bad. I love the goofy Silver Age stories, but there was absolutely no substance to any of these. The only good thing about any of them are the titles. Just by reading some of those, there is so much wasted potential:

The Gorilla who Challenged the World
The Day the Sun Exploded
I Hunted the Radium Man!
The Invisible Masters of Earth!
The Super-Athletes from Outer Space!
The Man Who Remembered 100,000 Years Ago!
I Was the Man in the Moon!
The Man Who Discovered the West Pole!
The Flying Raincoat!
The Talking Flower!
The Man Who Couldn't Drown!
The Man with Four Minds!
Raiders from the Ultra-Violet!
The Man Who Ate Sunshine!
The Skyscraper that Came to Life!

All of the stories end abruptly and unexpectedly. There are so many questions unanswered, and there's usually one panel that desperately attempts to cram in the "explanation" of the entire plot. But there is no plot. Just a huge waste of time. I walked away from each story feeling one of three things:

  1. Very mild amusement
  2. Anger
  3. Total indifference

Of course! How could I have been so blind?

The only counter-argument I find of why these stories are so lame is because they were written for young children. But even if I were eight years old, I would still be pissed at the total incoherency and lack of effort. The artwork doesn't offer much either. All of the people look the same, in the same static poses, never really doing anything.

Pictured: Logic, apparently.

Let me walk you through a story. I can do it quite fast, since there's nothing there to begin with:

1. The government is seeking defense against foreign guided missile attacks
2. An inventor creates a ray that will create a force field around a city
3. He tests it out. Inexplicably, gems rain from the sky, and people collect them
4. The gems exert telepathic commands, controlling people to take over the city
5. The inventor disables the evil gem by shooting his ray (in reverse) directly at it

I just want to punch someone.

Seriously, that's all there is to it. It's just so stupid. There are blind attempts to clumsily explain why shit is happening, but they never actually clarify anything. In fact, they usually just make it worse. Just thinking about it makes me mad.

There can be no other explanation.

Since this book runs smack-dab in the middle of the Atomic Age, nearly every story includes invasion by aliens, some kind of good/bad radiation, or the intense power of America's A-Bomb/H-Bomb. The very thinly veiled Soviet Union fear runs rampant.


Bottom line? Skip it. Just skip it. I am incredibly surprised that not one, but two volumes of Strange Adventures are included in DC's Showcase Presents TPBs. Why, when there are so many other worthwhile things?

June 19, 2015

33 ⅓: Koji Kondo's Super Mario Bros. Soundtrack

Ultimately a letdown.

According to their website:

33 ⅓ is a series of short books about a wide variety of albums, by artists ranging from James Brown to the Beastie Boys. Launched in September 2003, the series now contains 100 titles and is acclaimed and loved by fans, musicians and scholars alike.

This volume is slightly different in that it covers Koji Kondo's work on the original Super Mario Bros. (NES). While I vehemently agree that this work deserves to be broken down to its components and analyzed, the author goes out of their way to unnecessarily lengthen the book, and it's quite tedious at points.

Schartmann definitely has the musical knowledge and know-how to effectively dissect this musical work, and it shows. His analysis is spot-on and quite engaging. I thoroughly enjoyed that part of the book. Unfortunately, it takes nearly 50 pages to reach that point. Out of the 150 page count, only a third is applicable to the title. The rest is tangents attempting to make connections to unrelated or irrelevant material. There's too much speculation and trivial guesswork going on that's not even related to the Super Mario Bros. soundtrack in the first place.

The author himself states that Kondo is tight-lipped about his process and influences, but Schartmann attempts to guess anyway, because why the hell not? This often leads to a bunch of material that is neither engaging nor important. Schartmann will even end long tangential thoughts with a statement like, "Unrelated, but interesting nonetheless." Sorry, but it really isn't.

Any factual information about Kondo is pulled from other sources, and if you're buying this book, you most likely already know the information.

I didn't pick this book up to read Schartmann's personal thoughts, philosophy, and assumptions. I picked it up for a detailed analysis of the Super Mario Bros. soundtrack. He delivers it beautifully, but the book easily could have been crunched down to a third of its current size.

Also, there's quite a bit of music theory thrown at you. If you do not understand basic score reading, chord progression/identification, form, and notated rhythm, you're best off passing on this one.

Here is the criteria for being able to fully enjoy this book:

  1. Fan of the NES
  2. Fan of Super Mario Bros.
  3. Fan of the music from the game
  4. Trained in essential basic music theory and analysis

That last point really destroys most of the potential audience, which is a shame. It really does a great job  of scrutinizing the game's music, and I truly enjoyed that part. I just didn't want a bunch of personal jargon to go with it.


June 12, 2015

Showcase Presents: Jonah Hex Vol. 1

"...he did have two companions: one was death itself...the other...the acrid smell of gunsmoke."

Jonah Hex Vol. 1 includes stories from All-Star Western (which was later renamed Weird Western Tales) #10-33. The Hex stories run from 1972-1976. Oddly, there are several Outlaw stories included as well.

The character of Jonah Hex was created by John Albano and Tony DeZuniga. The early stories are written and drawn by both of them respectfully. Hex is a staunch antihero. He's on the side of good, but just doing the good deed isn't motivation enough. There's usually some cash involved too, and he will never discuss with anybody lame things like "feelings." He's rough, gruff, and tough. His entire character and background plays out like a Greek tragedy, and are incredibly well-written. It is one of my top Showcase Presents volumes so far.

The early stories pick and choose from Hex's adventures. There's no solid timeline of events. This is totally fine, because each standalone story is great. All you need to know is presented up front. Hex is a bitter loner, master gunman, and bounty hunter with a past that he's not in the mood to talk about. There are many classic Western themes throughout this volume. If you've ever seen a "classic Western film," you can expect to find similar characteristics in these stories. And like most of those stories, bad things happen to good people. There's just no way around it. It makes all of the stories that much more tragic and real.

Thinking this literally right before she's murdered by a knife-wielding maniac.

At issue #22, Michael Fleisher takes over writing duties. He immediately starts to throw backstory and extended story arcs everywhere. It isn't necessarily bad, but it's too much too fast. He also, unfortunately, takes Albano's dialogue accents to the absolute extreme. Eventually it's toned down to tolerable levels, but for a while some of it's near unreadable.

Everyone. All the time.

There are several stories with human rights motives. They include Native Americans, women, and African-Americans. Hex is on their side, although he usually has to hide it since every white guy around him is heavily armed and on the opposing side. The stories really capture the untamed frontier that was the West. Even though people were "civilized," it didn't stop some of them from doing anything to get ahead or make a quick buck. It's a great snapshot of post-Civil War America at its best and worst.

The level of violence is quite high. There's a pretty high body count per story, and the main antagonist in each adventure usually gets what's coming to him/her. It could be anyone from a gang of outlaws to a corrupt judge. It's this sense of impending justice that made the Albano stories so good (plus that Hex usually has one last quip before he kills them). But it's not like Hex comes out on top. He is usually cast out from the town even though he just saved all their sorry asses. He never finds a place to settle down (if that's even something he wants), and even if he seems to, some event occurs that would make it impossible. Just when things start to look up for Hex, you can count on something smashing him back down.

Art duties fall mainly to Tony DeZuniga, who does beyond outstanding. Others that carried the art torch include Noly Panaligan, George Moliterni, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. It's all great. The action is presented wonderfully, and the variety of layouts and amount of detail really set this apart. I feel like the original coloring would have obscured some of the intricate line work, so I am more than okay with this being in black and white.

There's a great level of humor pervading almost the whole volume. Even though many of the stories are serious in nature, there's still room for a joke or two.

As stated earlier, the end of this volume includes the complete Outlaw adventures. I know they're still Western stories printed around the same time, but it's a little odd. I would guess their inclusion is to satisfy DC's "Over 500 Pages of Comics!" boast. These stories are quite forgettable, especially compared to the prior Jonah Hex adventures.

Bottom line? Absolutely worth checking out, even if you don't particularly care for Westerns. And you can find it relatively inexpensive, unlike some Showcase Presents volumes. I am pumped for Volume 2.