Interview: Fatal Frame 4 Translation Project

Interview: Fatal Frame 4 Translation Project


An intrepid team of modders, coders, and translators set out to do what Tecmo wouldn't: bring the latest entry in the Fatal Frame series beyond Japanese shores. A chat with the people behind the Fatal Frame 4 Translation Project.

Horror games have been experiencing a downfall in fear factor as of late. Titles such as Resident Evil 5, FEAR 2 Project Origin and even Silent Hill’s latest iteration all turned out to be lackluster when it came down to scaring the player. One series that has remained true is the Fatal Frame universe, a series of haunted mansion exploration games in which players tried to fend off poltergeists using special cameras to capture the tortured souls of the dead. The series saw three releases last generation and players were eagerly anticipating a new title. Tecmo delivered on this promise in 2008 with the release of Zero: Tsukihami no Kamen (Zero: Mask of the Lunar Apocalypse). The game fared well in Japan but overseas gamers were left frothing at the mouth to get the game under the franchises’ English name. Tecmo however, announced in April of 2009 that the game would not be published outside of Japan.

Fans of the series weren’t about to just stand by and let their favorite franchise pass them by. A team of determined translators, homebrew programmers and many others, united under the same banner to bring it beyond the shores of the land of the rising sun. Their work reached completion recently, high time to have a chat with the team behind the Fatal Frame 4 Translation Project.

HookedGamers: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us. Before we begin, could you introduce yourselves?

Colin: My name is Colin, and I'm a philosophy/independent studies student at the University of Waterloo. I was the team leader, head translator, and developer of the game patch.

Clayton: I'm Clayton - a software developer and technology consultant in Memphis, TN. I developed the primary tool used for decoding and extracting the original Japanese images and text and injecting the translated English content.
Interview: Fatal Frame 4 Translation Project

Aaron: And I'm Aaron, studying Computer Science as a first-year university student. I developed Riivolution, the game patching method for the project.

HookedGamers: I know I’m not the first to say it but congratulations on finally completing the project! I’d like to begin chronologically if I could. Zero Tsukihami no Kamen, otherwise known as Fatal Frame Wii, was released in Japan in July of 2008. However, Nintendo and Tecmo waited until the following April to announce that it would not be coming out outside of Japan. When and how did the idea of creating a fan-driven translation begin?

Colin: Thanks. To be honest with you, the fan driven project started about the same time as the announcement that Nintendo had decided not to bring the game over. At that time, the news wasn't final, so no one was quite sure exactly what or why. My girlfriend approached me to complain about this, and mentioned how she wished that someone would do a translation patch. I decided to take a quick look at the game assets, and discovered a few things. With the help of Chabi, an interested Japanese hobby coder, we were able to identify some relevant sections and the ball just kept rolling. I found the highest quality Fatal Frame forum around and gave a post, and we eventually added other members to our team.
Interview: Fatal Frame 4 Translation Project

Clayton: For me, as a non-Japanese speaker, I was extremely frustrated when the game release was cancelled right before the expected release date (as I recall, a couple of magazine ads had already run over in Europe). However, since I didn't speak Japanese myself, it honestly never crossed my mind until I came across Colin's post. I figured that with my programming background and experience with game data files (I had also written a small app a few years back to allow people to play additional levels from the leaked Silent Hill Origins PSP game) I could probably be useful to the effort.

HookedGamers: Coding a program is no easy process by any means but having to code a program that adapts to a game on a console with multiple OS updates and regions seems like an improbable task. Can you talk a little bit about the homebrew coding process and how the translation patch was created?
Interview: Fatal Frame 4 Translation Project

Colin: The Wii is a little unique in terms of consoles in that it has had a strong homebrew community working on it for a while. From the start I had wanted to use this to allow something that more people could use than most translation patches, which have traditionally been limited to methods of questionable legality, or at the best methods abused for purposes not so legal. I had originally planned on using an extensive array of cheat codes, but that proved unlikely once we found out the way they encoded the font would require far more than the cheat code system could handle. A more elaborate code was developed, but early on was scrapped as a chance conversation with Aaron brought up the current patch method. It was some time before I convinced him to keep working on his rough prototype code.

Aaron: As Colin said, the Wii has an excellent homebrew community behind it. Nintendo's OS updates often cause issues, but the strength of that community ensures the survival of projects like this. Now the patch itself is actually a year and a half old, having gone through four entire rewrites - and name changes - over that time. It started out as a way to play your own songs in Guitar Hero, but at the time I ran into Colin I had given up on it, moving on to work on different projects instead. It took him a good month or two of prodding me until I picked it up again in September, and from there everything just started to come together.
Interview: Fatal Frame 4 Translation Project

HookedGamers: No doubt there are hundreds of lines of dialog that had to be translated but for every line there must have been at least ten pieces of text that needed to be translated as well. How much translating are we talking about here?

Colin: The total translation comprises 1 351 separate, unique scripts totaling 422 pages, 19 354 lines, 70 315 significant words and 477 336 characters. It is easily a publishable novel length work.