Designs is a small development/publishing house that specilizes in finding some of the
best Japanese titles available and giving us stateside gamers a chance to get in on the
action. They've been delivering high quality games since the Turbografix 16 and have
developed a signature style of addictive gameplay and superb writing. Most recently
they've given us Lunar and Vanguard Bandits, two of my favorite RPGs on the PlayStation.
Lunar 2: Eternal Blue will probably (hopefully) make its way into your PlayStation pretty
soon, and Working Desings has two titles, Silpheed and Gungriffon Blaze, lined up for the
Playstation 2 launch in October. I had a chance to ask Victor Ireland, President of
Working Desings, some questions and get the skinny on their new titles, their creative
approach, and those ever-so-sweet RPG translations.
GF: The video game industry is usually dominated by the next really big thing. Games frequently draw criticism for looking dated if they look even a year old, but Working Designs has never seemed too concerned with this particular adage. Instead they seem to focus on a variety of other qualities including story development and gameplay. Can you tell me something about your game philosophy? What are some things that you look for in a game? In other words, do you have specific artistic considerations in mind when looking for your next game?
WD: The game cant be completely ugly or have horrid control. Generally speaking, the story is the thing. If the story is great, and the control and graphics are at least good well most-likely do it. A good example of this is Vanguard Bandits. As an S-RPG, the graphics are definitely average. The gameplay is okay, but the overall story is pretty great, mostly because you can view the happenings from three branches with three distinct takes on the storyline. Its one of the few games where you can honestly say you got something new out of the game the second and third time through, and thats due to the multiple-perspective, multiple-branch storyline.
GF: Working Designs publishes relatively few games. This means you have more invested and more at stake with each title than a company that puts out several games a month. How much does economic reality dictate what games you are willing to bring out? Does this make you more or less likely to take chances on games that may or may not reach a large audience?
WD: RPGs are our mainstay, and every one weve done has done reasonably well. Some, like Alundra and LUNAR:Silver Star Story Complete have done very well. But there ARE games wed like to do that we know wont make money, but we feel should be seen by US audiences. We generally do one of these titles per year, under the SPAZ label. Silhouette Mirage was a truly underrated game, but one of Japans premiere developers, Treasure. We lost money on it, but Im still satisfied, because the title HAD to be seen in the US. Besides which, our commitment to promoting these kind of games is one of the reasons we got a chance to publish the ultra-hot PlayStation 2 game Silpheed, which just happens to be developed by, you guessed it, Treasure.
While we cant take chances on every offbeat game or genre that has fallen from favor in the US, we certainly try to pick the one or two we do each year carefully. Buy three or four copies of LUNAR 2, so we can afford to release more niche titles we know well lose money on!
GF: I have always been impressed with the dialogue in your Role Playing Games, especially their rich sense of humor. Do you search for games with impressive writing, or is this a result of how you have translated them? Can you tell me something about the process of translating video game text?
WD: Most RPG games we release have some amount of humor or witty dialogue, but the overwhelming majority of the text lacks personality when initially translated. We try to add character to the characters when we do the translation. Every town has a guy that says "This is so and so village." That serves a function, but its boring. Why is that guy there? Is it his job to greet people? Is he practicing to get a job at the new Wal-Mart? We would give the guy a reason to be there, and in the course of talking with him, youd find out what village you were in. Of course, that also adds to the amount of text in the game, which creates memory headaches for the programmers, but generally speaking, it all eventually works out to the benefit of the player.
GF: Whats next for Working Designs? Which of the next generation systems do you have plans to release games for?
WD: Our first Playstation 2 titles are action and shooting games respectively. Instead of putting them on the SPAZ label, however we are retiring that brand and resurrecting the "Working Designs Ultra Series" from the TG and SEGA CD days. Gungriffon Blaze is a mech action game from Game Arts, and Silpheed is an arcade shooting game from Treasure that was produced by Game Arts. Both should be out on launch day. Just after that, we have the behemoth LUNAR 2:Eternal Blue. We just got final prototypes of the packaging insides the other day, and I kid you not, people are going to be blown completely away. It will make the extras in LUNAR 1 look like something Akklame put out. We should have pics of the final packaging configuration on our web page in the next few weeks, so check it out. Oh, I should also mention that the free pre-order Ghaleon puppets are also running out. People who want one should head out to Electronics Boutique or Babbages/Software Etc and get theirs with a $20 deposit on the game. Very soon they will be gone, and they wont be available again.
GF: What games do you enjoy playing, aside from Working Designs titles? Are there any games in particular that youre looking forward to?
WD: I like other RPGs. Vagrant Story was amazing, I thought. One of only a tiny handful of games EVER that I felt were at or above the level of our games writing. I enjoy playing some of the Nintendo games with my son. We had a great time completely finishing Banjo-Kazooie, and are looking forward to Banjo-Tooie. Of course, I want to play Metal Gear Solid 2 like everyone else. X-Fire (Crossfire, known as X-Squad when its released in the US later this year) was a LOT of fun on the PS2. It came out of nowhere and really surprised me. Very enjoyable game. Oh, and Metal Slug 2nd mission on the Neo Geo Pocket. Great, GREAT game.