– Discussions with people in the
Japanese media localization industry –
Meet Brittany Avery!
First of all, thank you for letting me be a part of this! My name is Brittany, and my ten-year anniversary in the game localization industry was on September 6th, 2021!
I started off at XSEED Games as an unpaid intern, moved to becoming a paid intern, and then I did a whole bunch of stuff until becoming a localization producer. My main job is editing English text, but I know my way around project management as well!
I also worked at NEXON America for two years, but now I’m full-time freelance, baby!
How did you get into localization?
I got in through pure luck. I got absolutely plastered at a party back when I was 20 or 21 (never mix beer, wine, AND liquor)—couldn’t even walk!—and I somehow called my parents to ask them to pick me up and get my car back. On the way home, I told my mom I was going to move across the country and start a life in California.
No one buys what a drunk person’s spouting, of course, but about a month or two later, I did just that. I lived on the couch of a lovely friend I’d met through the cosplay community and spent about six months finding a job. I had no qualifications, as I didn’t care about college and flunked most of my classes on purpose as a teenager, so I was pretty desperate to find a job as a restaurant worker or something. Then I finally got a job at a Subway, but the air circulation was so bad that I passed out on the third day in the middle of serving sandwiches and quit once I woke up.
At that point, I felt some well-deserved tension from the house for quitting my only job opportunity, so I was pretty desperate to get out there and just do ANYTHING.
I figured that I loved games, so if I cold emailed some companies and offered to run coffee errands or something for free, maybe someone would respond. I wasn’t qualified for “real work,” but given that I had been a Hooters Girl for a few years before moving, my resume was worth a raised eyebrow and maybe even an email back out of curiosity.
XSEED Games was the only one that responded, and I don’t think they were expecting me to know too much since I was looking for more basic work. They were so nice, though! I mentioned how I’d just beaten 999 from Aksys about a month before the interview and was bummed how the watches that came with the original package run were impossible to find; it turned out that XSEED and Aksys were pretty tight, so they had a watch in the office and gave it to me as a gift after the interview was over.
Anyway, after about a month at XSEED, I was shocked that they offered me a paid position, and it snowballed into a full-blown career from there. Them giving me a chance changed my entire life.
What led you to game editing?
I’ve always loved reading and writing fanfiction and whatnot, so I was most interested in editing from the beginning, and they let me edit chunks of text with supervision for a good while. I think Rune Factory 4 was the first one I did some editing in…? It wasn’t pure editing, but I ended up playing hundreds or hours of the game and helped with things like rewriting for context or rewriting item text to fit in the UI. I also recall unifying all of the dialogue for character Xiao Pai since each editor had their own interpretation of her quirks.
The first games I was lead/sole editor on were Lord of Magna: Maiden Heaven and Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim PC. They kind of happened at the same time—Lord of Magna was given to me because of how much I loved Rune Factory and it was the next project from its producer. I’m a huge Falcom fan, too, and right around winter break, we had the translated text for Ys VI but no editors available—so I asked if I could help give it a head start before whoever was in charge took over, and then it became my baby! I worked on Lord of Magna first, but Ys VI came out first.
I did editing on both projects, but I also did the scheduling, QA, packaging feedback (Lord of Magna), voice recording (Lord of Magna), English graphic, trailers, etc. So much to do!
What have been some of the biggest challenges?
I love localization so much, and early on in my career, I was extremely eager to be hands on with projects from beginning to end so I could absorb everything I could. It’s why I enjoyed the idea of being a producer—I had a lot of firm opinions on things and big visions.
The creative control made it so I could be as caring as I could with each and every step of the process, giving birth to a single, coherent vision. Very artsy and a bit obnoxious to say, I think, but I truly saw localization as art to be respected and loved. I saw all my projects as a little kid I raised and thought of launch day as me sending off that kid to college or something.
For years, I spent every night thinking about how I excited I was to tackle new challenges the next day, because my job then always had something new and fun to offer. I really had a dream job!
When I told my boss, Ken Berry, that I wanted to be a producer, he laughed and said, “That’s way too important a title. You won’t get that any time soon.” I think he remembered that when he gave me the localization producer title, and he was careful to introduce me using it during business meetings in Japan. I know titles are supposed to be meaningless, but I actually cried when I got it. It meant the world to me.
For all the duties a producer has, though, even they need balance. The lack of sleep and obsession with my work caught up to me, and I burned out big time. Work was the only thing I had in my life for years. I loved it, but I also didn’t see that it was killing my body and turning me into a depressed, demanding, irritable mess until it was too late.
My relationships at work suffered, and honestly, while I think plenty of things I was angry about back then were justified, no one really has to put up with you when your depression turns you into snappy, word-vomiting person. I became downright awful to work with. Still, I thought as long as I continued to produce results, then I was fine. But I really wasn’t.
What I mean to say is, no matter how irreplaceable you think you are, you will never become the cog that makes the machine run. You ARE replaceable, and I learned that lesson a little too late. I also only learned afterward that it wasn’t healthy to want to be thought of as irreplaceable in the first place…
What I also mean to say is, be kind. It’s extremely difficult to do once you’ve burned out and you’re suffering, but try to remain kind to others while you work on recovering.
So that’s the big challenge! Work well, but don’t overwork to the point where it kills you. You won’t have the energy of your early 20s forever, and by the time you’ve hit 30, you’re going to look back and go, “What was I thinking?!” I’ve tried being better at not getting so obsessed with work, but even as tiring as it is, it’s very difficult for me to do. Maybe I just have that kind of personality… If you read this, please try to make work-life balance a healthy habit early on and express very clearly when you’re tired.
How does in-house translation differ from freelance translation? What do you enjoy the most from both?
It’s difficult to say! When the pandemic hit, I started doing work from home, so even the full-time job I had at Nexon felt like freelance. Nexon itself was about as opposite as it could get from XSEED, too, so even in-house positions can be vastly different. XSEED had me wear many hats and there was a lot of creative freedom, but Nexon was more limited and inflexible.
I really like how much quieter at-home/freelance is! A lot of offices are open concept now, and it makes me very anxious to look up words or phrases or edit text while thinking someone could be looking over my shoulder. You know how it is—sometimes you have to look up the name of a type of lingerie or something and you get 18+ stuff all over your screen… It’s for work, I swear! Being at home means I don’t have to stress over something suspicious popping up on my screen while working.
I’m also a multitasker, so I like mindlessly grinding in mobage between edits as well. It looks bad at work, but I can happily rank up in Granblue Fantasy AND be work-productive at the same time while I’m at home.
As for what I’ve liked about working in-house…health insurance? lol. Before my burnout period, I practically craved the office environment. These days, though, I think I’d be happier if I never returned to an office.
You also edit Korean and Chinese to English localizations. Are there any difference in writing styles in text translated from Japanese and do you approach them differently?
Surprisingly, my approach hasn’t changed at all. I’ve always been the type to ask translators tons of questions about nuance and such. I’m most comfortable with Japanese and can read or recognize text to an extent, but it doesn’t change much when I can’t read the source material at all. I just ask more questions!
I don’t think that would work as well if I didn’t have localization experience, but after so many years, you know the things to ask and the “feel” the text is supposed to give.
– Your Loc Work –
What do you enjoy working on most?
For me, my favorite things are a combination of editing and voiceover. I like to imagine who’s speaking while I’m working on a character, and I’ll spend tons of time trying to figure out the perfect voice for them.
At the same time, once I hear that voice, the actor’s tone and delivery informs how I’ll edit that character in the future. I’ve been fortunate to work with some truly inspiring actors who have helped me discover the perfect way to write their characters!
What have you been most proud of?
Trails in the Sky the 3rd. That project’s localization process was almost entirely me as editor/producer, the translator, and the localization programmer.
It was also an extremely intimate project for me since I worked on it while tackling my depression at its peak. The story, I think, has a very mature viewpoint on life in general, and some of the things it spoke of resonated with me deeply. I ended up crying so much while working on it (the good, clean kind of crying, lol).
It’s the kind of project where I got to do exactly what I loved and take creative control of every aspect of the game. Editing text, doing graphics, hiring a Falcom fanartist for achievement icons, writing website text, scheduling, and all that stuff. It was my baby. I’m so glad I was able to work on it, because it’s far and away my favorite project to date and is the embodiment of why I love localization as a career so much.
Is there something you worked hard on that you think no one noticed?
This one is kind of silly… I used to do a lot of the game trailers for XSEED, but I actually learned it all on the job.
My boss used to tell me he liked that my trailers were more about feeling emotions than about explaining game mechanics, so even if my actual talent was limited, I always tried to go for that! Sometimes we’d get into arguments because I’d be like, “I can’t work on this trailer. I’m not inspired!” and he’d be super annoyed and metaphorically kick my ass until something came through. Honestly, I can’t blame him. Damn creative types are impossible to work with…
One of the trailers I had a very difficult time with was one of a game I was producer on, Trails of Cold Steel II. I had already done emotional trailers for it, so this time, I had to do the battle highlights/game mechanics trailer. It took ages to figure it out, but once I did, I realized one of the things I wanted to try was way beyond my abilities.
If you go towards the end of this trailer here, you’ll see it shows all these different scenes at once on screen. I know there’s an easy way to do this through After Effects…but I had no idea how, and I was using Premiere Pro. So I took a screenshot of the trailer size, divided it by however many scenes I wanted, then took 16 files and resized them to be super small.
This caused my computer to chug like crazy, so I exported that section by itself and then re-plugged the exported file that scene in my trailer so that the computer just interpreted that little bit as one easy video to process and not 16 small videos. I hope that makes sense… Anyway, I doubt anyone noticed that, because who would do something so silly?
One day I will learn After Effects!
If you could do anything what would you love to do or try out?
PLEASE LET ME LOCALIZE ON E.X. TROOPERS. PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEASE IT’S MY DREAM TITLE.
– Study and Inspiration –
What tools/resources do you use to learn new things and improve your skills?
One of my hobbies is playing free doujin games. Horror doujin games are my favorite kind to play, and I love seeing what small teams do with limited resources and virtually no budget.
I’m absolutely not a translator by trade, but I like to practice it by ripping text from these free games and localizing them as best I can. I try to email the devs while in the process or beforehand. If they say no, then I find another project, but if they give me my blessing, then I keep practicing!
One of these actually turned into a serious project that got published on Steam by the devs, and I had a blast working on it from beginning to end. It was like being a localization producer all over again! I had so much fun.
(They offered me pay before publishing, but I just asked them to donate a small amount to the cat sanctuary I volunteer at after recouping publishing costs and meeting sales milestones.)
These games tend to be bite-sized, so even if I’m doing them without pay, they never become overwhelming. I finished one game over a single weekend, but in the end, I couldn’t get a hold of the creator, so the text just sits in my folder full of other practice projects.
A thing I’d like to improve on is creative writing. It’s one thing to have an existing base like a translation, but coming up with a story from nothing is a hell of a skill. It’s completely different, and I really admire scenario writers for their ability to create the way they do! I wonder if there’s a good resource to practice that…
Is there anyone or anything you draw inspiration from?
I love reading books. I tend to read old books that were published before things like television or anime and such. Not that I think modern books are bad! Not at all. I just think I already consume modern media plenty, so professionally, I want to learn from people who learned to write with different sources than I have today.
Doing this has actually taught me a lot about how it’s okay to be a flawed writer. I used to be obsessed with finding a perfect way to write, but writing is more about feelings and communication. It’s never been about having flawless grammar or even using words that exist. Through feelings and communication, language evolves, and it’s all the more beautiful for it. It’s evolved so much based on the books I’ve read, but at the same time, that core principle remains the same, and it inspires my writing constantly.
In that same vein, it’s also made me less picky about other localizations. I think every editor goes through a period where they’re overly particular about how other people localize stuff, and I was no different in the beginning! I believed things were a certain way and you had to stick to it. Now? I have my preferences, but if others have their preferences, then that’s A-OK. The heart of the work still comes across either way.
My industry heroes are Yasumi Matsuno, Alexander O. Smith, Richard Honeywood, Janet Hsu, and Ken Berry. I’ve only ever worked with Ken, and he was as much an annoying-but-caring older brother to me as he was a hero, but maybe if I keep at it, I’ll be fortunate enough to work with one of my other heroes as well.
– The Industry in General –
What do you think people don’t know about localization that you wish would?
I didn’t know how much the industry is restricted by licensing and fragmentation. The licensing angle becomes obvious once you point it out, but by fragmentation, I mean that it’s surprising how many things fall through simply because there are too many people/positions to go through or because records are lost over time.
You can propose ports or cool concepts, and the person above you will go, “Yeah, I have no idea who to go to for that,” and it dies there. You can also propose something with a specific IP, find the seemingly right people, and learn from there that the code was lost or that no one actually knows who owns the IP anymore. It’s kind of nuts and stupid at the same time.
From the outside, you’ll look at something and think, “Get the game. Localize it. Everyone is happy!” but it doesn’t work like that at all. Licensing is oftentimes the longest part of the process.
What is your vision for the future of localization?
It’s difficult to say. I still struggle a lot with major depressive disorder, but I don’t think the localization industry is equipped to deal with people who have mental illnesses.
Poor mental health plagues the industry in general, and the low pay (freelancer and in-house) doesn’t help. A lot of newer industry folks become super eager the way I was, and it’s easy to take advantage of them. They’ll accept terrible wages because they’re excited to be part of the industry, and then they become exhausted. Once they’re too tired or they begin to understand their value, it can be difficult to find work, because the young and eager are still around to accept the lower wages. The cycle continues on like that, and that race to the bottom is getting harsher by the year.
In an ideal future, we could unionize localization freelancers so that there is a minimum standard that all companies absolutely must meet. Given how localization is an international process, though, this seems very difficult to realize… It’d be nice to be part of establishing something like that, but I wouldn’t know where to begin.
You can find Brittany Avery here!