RPGamer Feature - Victor Ireland Interview
Class of Heroes 2G
Platform: PS3
Publisher: Gaijinworks
Release Date: 11.14

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Victor Ireland is well known to RPGamers for his years with Working Designsfrom the TurboGrafx-CD to the PS2, localizing RPG classics such as the Lunar series, Alundra, and Dragon Force. Victor is now the head of Gaijinworks, which has recently released Class of Heroes 2 for the PSP, and will soon be releasing Class of Heroes 2G for the PS3 on PSN. Class of Heroes 2G already had a very limited physical release in November of 2014. Victor is focused on continuing the Working Designs legacy with Gaijinworks by localizing niche Japanese developed games and releasing them in a physical format, and we sit down with him to talk about his recent work and future plans with Gaijinworks.

Johnathan Stringer: Could you please tell us about Gaijinworks' recent localizations Class of Heroes 2G for the PS3 and Class of Heroes 2 for the PSP?
Victor Ireland: Class of Heroes 2 is a dungeon crawling RPG we released with MonkeyPaw Games that's essentially an anime-skinned version of Wizardry, with more character interaction and story. You mount expeditions into Labyrinths for special items, experience, or things that will advance the overall plot of the game. For me, the character interaction is what elevated it above a simple dungeon crawler. There's quite a bit more dialogue and story than the average dungeon crawler. It uses the hub and spoke system to branch out from each point on the map, but it's a pretty enjoyable romp with limited grinding, unless you don't read the manual and choose an adversarial party that's ill-suited for success. In our games, Reading is still Fundamental.
Class of Heroes 2G is the PS3 upgrade of the PSP game. It has better graphics, more monsters, an all new labyrinth with new boss monsters, and weather effects like snow and rain in the outdoor labyrinths, etc. It also features dual-screen play, which we worked very hard to implement. That lets a player use a PSP or Vita as a controller for the PS3 game, and displays contextually relevant additional information like maps, monster stats, etc, on the second screen while you play. We're the first RPG to do it, and really the first PlayStation game of any kind to use it in a way that makes the player experience better. I hope that fans demand the feature in other RPGs, because I would like to see it widely adopted as an option.

JS: The first Class of Heroes reception was mixed, why should RPGamers be interested in these titles?
VI: The first game was a mess. It was very, very old-school in that it was almost player hostile. The items you get in exploration had to be appraised at a cost and were often junk, money system was discrete to each player and super-combersome, the dungeons were confusing with the random entry points, the dialogue was pedestrian, and the localization was lazy as the Japanese graphics weren't even translated for the sounds you see on screen when you hit monsters. It was just a poor user experience.
Class of Heroes 2 is where the series really started to get its footing, and from there forward, literally every game in the series has rated better than the one before it. When is the last time that happened in any media? It's exceptionally rare to have successive games, movies, whatever, continually rate higher as the series progresses. Like I said before, the thing that drew me to CoH2 is the story, which is unusually verbose for a dungeon crawler, and so for a gamer like me, it's a "best of both worlds" kind of thing.

JS: Fans of Working Designs games often refer to the special packaging and collector's editions released, is this continuing with Gaijinworks games?
VI: I'm always trying to push to include maximum value in the games, and that extends to the packaging. Since we're just starting out, our budgets are tiny compared to our Working Designs days, but as awareness grows and we rebuild the fanbase, we'll continue to improve the packaging and presentation. Still, CoH2G is no slouch. It has a nice, thick full-color manual, color disc art, and a numbered hologram on the back for collectors. Rather than just throw a bunch of weird stuff in a lame cardboard box, I'm trying to be thoughtful about what makes long-term value for enthusiasts and collectors. The numbered holograms we made and put on every game are a key starting point. Physical games that come with the digital download code, as in the PSP release, is an example of another fan-friendly move that fans loved and no one else had done in console until we did it.
But it's not just the packaging, it's the addition of dual-screen play, and the fact that we also went the extra mile to license the Japanese opening song so players can play either the English or Japanese opening simply by holding triangle in the attract mode rotation. I'm always thinking about what I would like to see as a RPG fan in game releases, then working to implement that.

JS: You have stated before that Working Designs issues with Sony, especially with the Growlanser Generations release, were a major factor that forced you to shutter the company. Why close that company and start Gaijinworks, which seems to have the same business goals? What has changed?
VI: There was a long pause between Working Designs and Gaijinworks. We were literally throttled externally at Working Designs. Complete inability to get the games we wanted to do, and fans requested, out. I was willing to keep fighting it out, but eventually my partner just said "nope, we're pulling the plug." I can't blame her. We had gone about 18 months trying to please Sony, not releasing games, and it wasn't working. So that was that, game over for Working Designs.
It's not like Sony now is the same Sony from then. There's been a huge turnover, and it's been very beneficial to Sony and third parties. The Sony now feels to me like the Sony from the PS1 days. Gamers in decision-making positions really putting the wants and needs of the gamer first. That is really paying huge dividends back to Sony as evidenced by their success now. After Working Designs died, I started Gaijinworks to carry on, this time with my own company instead of as a minority shareholder in a company I didn't own. Fans pretty much think of me as Working Designs, but legally, I was just a minority shareholder.

JS: What are some specific lessons learned from your experiences with Working Designs that you are applying to Gaijinworks?
VI: Really just put the fans first. Try to do cool stuff that no one else is doing, either because they haven't thought of it or because it's too hard, expensive, or time-consuming to implement. And to remember that relationships are what keeps the games flowing, so watch the turnover at your partners carefully, or you might be derailed before you know it. As with Working Designs, we're in an unusual position in that we're small with no larger affiliated parent company, which was very unusual in console game publishing in the WD days. It's less unusual now with indie publishing, but it provides little protection if things go south with the console licensor, so you need to stay vigilant with those personnel changes.

JS: Working Designs games often had many pop culture references in the translations. With the collectible nature of these games, do you feel these pop culture references date the game or detract from the experience any for those who play them years after their release? Is this really even a consideration made during localization?
VI: I think the detractors like to harp on that and haven't played anything I've done this century. There's way less pop culture stuff in the games, and what's there is way more out of the way than before. A lot of it is tangential references where it works as-is, and works even more if you get that the word or phrase is a reference to pop culture. Plus my particular style of localization has been adopted into many games from many other publishers. When I started doing games in the 90's, no one in console game localizations was putting in pop culture jokes or breaking the 4th wall and talking to the player, etc. Now it's not uncommon at all, and games I play that do it well are much more enjoyable to play.

JS: How is the environment for Gaijinworks with the current state of the games industry? The prevalence of digital distribution would seem to be less friendly to niche physical releases, but does that overall industry push galvanize some gamers to collect physical editions of games? Can digital distribution help offset the risk of also releasing physical products?
VI: We sell more digital games than the one off physical runs, but I want to make the physical runs an option for as long as possible, because I'm a collector at heart, and I know there are many others like me that would like to have a nice-looking game with a great color manual and whatever else to put on the shelf. I'll keep doing that as long as there's support for it with fans.

JS: What are some of your dream games you would love to localize?
VI: I can't say too much because some of my dreams have come true, but I can't talk about that yet. I will say that I would love to have a crack at IdolM@ster on PS3. Yes, it's not an RPG, but I think I know how to make that game work in a localized form, and the addition of copious and inventive fart jokes are only the beginning. :)

JS: What are your future plans with Gaijinworks?
VI: Just keep innovating in the game presentation with things like Dual Screen play, and also packaging as we work to grow the fanbase. I have really great ideas, but I can't implement many of them until we get more fans aware of what we're doing and supporting it. It's just a matter of time, and we have to just keep doing great things on tight budgets until we can really let loose with some "whoa" style releases that harken back to the WD days. Digital is inevitable, but I'll keep pushing for limited physical runs so the fans that want it can get a cool physical release to collect that isn't some crappy slap in the face with a black and white manual and download code instead of a disc in the box. We want to maintain physical excellence in releases as long as we're allowed to do physical releases, while still moving forward with digital so people have the choice and convenience they want.

A big thanks to Victor Ireland for setting aside time for this interview. Class of Heroes 2 is available for the PSP on PSN and Class of Heroes 2G is expected to see a PSN release on the PS3 in January of 2015.

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