– Discussions with people in the Japanese media localization industry –
Can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Shawn Wylie. I’m a professional freelance JtoEN game translator/localizer and media localization community builder based out of the Kansai area of Japan. At this point, I’m going on two years of experience. In that time, I’ve also had the opportunity to be lead translator on three smaller localization projects.
I primarily work in game localization, which also happens to be the work that I garner the most fulfillment from. Working on games had long been a dream of mine ever since childhood. So you can imagine how happy I was when I figured out that a good way to use my own brand of abilities was in game localization.
Alongside programming and design, localization is an integral part games. Especially of the inner mechanizations that ultimately make a game (or any form of media for that matter) accessible to an audience. Localization is just as important to the logical, blueprint construction as it is to the creative, architectural design of a work.
I care about games. A lot.
Games were a big part of my childhood, especially portable games, and helped me through some tough times. Actually, being able to have a full-fledged game experience on the go is still really novel and important to me (I love my Nintendo Switch!).
When I’m not engaged in work, playing games, collecting video game soundtracks, or keeping up on my Japanese; I find myself reading/watching/playing the media worked on by my colleagues in media localization.
Creativity is one of the most important skills along a localizers skill tree; I try to encourage myself and others to put as many points into that as possible through staying engaged with the work of others and boosting the signal.
How did you get into localization and what led you to video games?
To be honest, I’m still wondering how I ended up here myself.
Games being a specialization naturally followed from my childhood dream of working in games. But how I got to localization is a more involved story.
I guess it all started when I failed out of Calc 2 early in my time at college. I ended up rethinking my plans of being a video game programmer. (At my school that class was required for a major in Computer Science).
What followed was something of a stereotypical college-age, finding-oneself journey that could be best be visualized as a montage; the camera follows as I existentially pull my hair out over the course of three major changes.
One constant during that time was a course in Japanese. I had started it as an elective and it accompanied me (perhaps carried me) through this time. By the end of the montage you’d see a scene of me graduating with a degree in Japanese and then coming to Japan.
From there, I just worked really hard practicing translation and writing in my free time. As well as trying to attend every localization event that I feasibly could.
What do you wish you’d done differently starting out as a translator?
That’s a tough question. I’m still pretty fresh in my professional career. I have had to self-teach myself a lot of the localization best practices since I never studied translation academically.
I spent a lot of time figuring things out and made a lot of mistakes along the way. It certainly wasn’t the most efficient way to become established.
However, the mistakes grounded me in a way that humbled my path in localization. And the amount of time I spent figuring things out helped ensure that I could understand things in a way that worked best for me personally in my work flow.
While I don’t know that I would wish for anything to have been different for myself, I would wish for greater accessibility for people to get into localization who might not be able to make time/life resources sacrifices as easily.
Resources did exist as I was learning and have existed for a long time before then; it just always felt like those resources were either hard to find/gain access to, or just weren’t talked about or shared freely.
One of the best ways I can think to illustrate it, is that it feels like the fog-of-war from something like Advance Wars or other tactical games. Until you moved forward enough to see where you were going, you had no real idea what was ahead of you.
For example, something that helped my journey was reaching out to mentors. But knowing who those folks were, knowing if they were compatible with me, and figuring out how to reach out, didn’t come until after I had already made the jump to Japan. Some of the people I looked up to on Twitter ended up being people I met face to face once the fog cleared.
I guess I wish things weren’t so foggy and everyone could see their path to establishing themselves more clearly. Because it’s sometimes a difficult path to see and it’s a different path for each of us.
What’s been the biggest challenge becoming a translator?
If we’re talking personal challenges, it would have to be dealing with ‘mental energy debuffs’.
Perhaps a better way for me to try and explain what I mean is to call it a sort of MP/mana debuff (whereas physical energy would by represented by HP/strength).
One such debuff would be Imposter’s Syndrome. I have a keen perception of my deficiencies, but if I try to focus my attention on my good attributes I often come up short-sighted. Especially when it comes to work. Many others could probably describe this particular debuff much better than myself. So I hope you’ll pardon me if I prove the entire point and show precisely what Imposter’s Syndrome is by not trying to explain it at all.
However, I will endeavor to explain my earlier concept.
Mental energy is a resource. One that must be managed if we are to make full use of our other skills and abilities while also living a healthy, balanced lifestyle, so mana or MP in the RPG of life.
Look at something like depression or Imposter’s Syndrome. It essentially takes hold of a part of your mental energy and constantly drains it. It’s a debuff to your own personal MP.
How strong these debuffs are differ from person to person, but for most of us they are permanent debuffs.
The good news is, debuffs can be weakened, immunities can be found on the skill tree of life. So that for some of us these debuffs can be entirely rebuffed. For others of us, our debuffs will remain our entire lives. But even so, they can be counteracted by buffs and set bonuses found both on our own skill trees and those of our friends and partners in life.
Oops, I kind of rambled there, but the point is ‘mental energy’ or MP is important especially in a creative business like localization. Though it might not be the same for everyone, figuring out my unique debuffs, buffs, and skill tree has been, and will be, the biggest challenge in my career as a localizer.
You’re known in the industry as being someone who connects people. What led to you creating a community?
When I was first getting established, I tried to find a media-focused localization community that was active, safe, and inclusive. However, I never could find one that vibed quite right on all three of these qualities. I wanted a place that encouraged voices to be heard and respected. In growing as a localizer, I didn’t want to sacrifice growing as a person in the process.
Someone once called me a DJ in community creation.
To spring off that metaphor, in order to understand what led me to getting into community creation think of the voices, experiences, and work of those in localization each as unique musical notes. Each individual note has great potential in it and serves a purpose all its own. Each individual note is beautiful in its own right and is worth considering for the work that it does. All that being said, when we listen to music it isn’t just a single note, rather a collection of notes – a song.
A good community is like a song that has taken the strengths of many individual notes and arranged them to be heard in a way that each is recognized for its place in that song.
How then is a song composed? What makes a good song?
Not every song contains every note and some notes don’t fit together, so which notes belong in which song and which don’t? What about the notes than don’t seem to harmonize at all?
I think it’s a matter of listening. To have a ear for songs, one needs to listen to each note. The awesome thing is that this seems to be something that everyone is capable of, not just myself!
Regardless, if you look at a song as a collection of notes arranged to produce a greater intended effect as a whole; that’s one way that I look at community creation. Being a single note myself, all I know to do is listen to feedback and understand what notes harmonize best with others so that a flow of creative information can be amplified.
What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of networking?
Networking is a fantastic way to be engaged in making the community a better place, both for yourself and others. Through the exchange of information on how things are in each of our relative parts of the business, we stand to keep each other in the know and strengthen the industry as a whole.
Not to mention networking is a great way to build lasting relationships with colleagues. These can then turn to friendships where you’ll end up spending down time with like-minded people. Currently, I’m having tons of fun playing a campaign-based board game with four friends that I wouldn’t have met if not for networking.
Outside of being a more extroverted activity and requiring more energy of those more introverted among us, I can’t think of too many disadvantages.
The main advice I might give is: make sure that the events you are going to and people you are networking with are helping rejuvenate your MP instead of costing it.
Networking is kind of an exercise in knowing yourself. Focus on going to events and joining communities that best matchup with your own ideals and interests – it’s there that you’ll meet the folks that will help buff you and unlock new abilities on your skill tree of life faster – and vice versa.
Has this helped at all with your own localization skills?
I would say so. In the localization business, words are our trade. Listening to and encouraging others to share their thoughts and experiences and then figuring out how best to engage in a flowing discussion from there… That’s the kind of skill that we stand to unlock by connecting with others and networking.
My time so far in community building has been helping me develop a sensitivity for something that I call ‘conversational energy’.
If physical energy is HP and mental energy is MP, then conversational energy is PP. Recognizing context and figuring out what words to use at what time when talking with others is like the difference between saving PP and selecting an effective move and exhausting PP with ineffective moves.
Just like when localizing something, talking with others is an art in what words that you use. I see it as a separate branch on the same skill tree with unlocks as you gain experience engaging with others and listening.
What have you been most proud of?
I think the thing that I’ve been most proud of, outside of the wonderful community of folks on my Discord channel, is the work I put into localizing the names and descriptions of monsters from a game called Labyrinth of the Witch.
One of the greatest feelings in localization is when you get in the groove; when you come to contextually understand where the original writer was coming from and what references they wanted to make.
For this game, the developers took heavy inspiration from Dragon Quest for the monsters in particular. Being a fan of the later Dragon Quest games since Shloc started localizing them, that just clicked with me. It inspired me to take my time and work hard to try and come up with fun, playful names that are influenced by Dragon Quest while still being original.
Having the ability as lead translator to have a hand in producing flavorful, context-rich names and writing was a fantastic opportunity. As my teammate on that project put it; it was like we were able to see it develop and see our influences on it as a work take hold in real time.
If you could do anything what would you love to do or try out?
Games are where I want to focus my energy, so it would be cool to have be more involvement in a project someday. The translation side of localization can sometimes be far-removed from the end-client and the end-product.
A few folks I know have had the opportunity to actually travel to a studio in another country to oversee voice recordings of the lines that they themselves translated. It sounds exciting to be able to have a hand in how a voice actor performs your lines. Especially because each of us as translators are likely the only ones who know just exactly how we imagined hearing our lines when we wrote them.
There is a – perhaps impossible – dream of mine; to have an official English localized version of Metal Max 2: Reloaded see the light of day.
If any company out there wants to do a Switch remake/remaster of an old DS RPG (that is itself a remake of an even older SNES game from a series that probably doesn’t have enough English fans to make it financially worth porting); please hit me up. I know myself and few other folks would love to work on it!
Do you have any endeavors, creative or otherwise, that you pursue outside of translation/localization?
Currently, I’m learning to play the guitar.
Ever since I learned that my mom used to play; I’ve wanted to pick up acoustic guitar and learn to play some of my favorite songs.
In addition, I used to host a podcast where a friend of mine and I would try to put all Nintendo games together in a single (multi-)universe. hat podcast was probably some of the most fun that I’ve had in a long time; I’m hoping to break out of hiatus come this April.
You can find Shawn here!
Please feel free to reach out to me here if you’re a fellow localizer: looking to talk; interested in joining やくにたつ, my media-focused localization Discord server.