Meet the Team
Bringing Blade & Soul® to the West requires more than just translating the dialogue from the original Korean, and it requires more than just an ordinary development team. For the localisation of Blade & Soul, NCSOFT® drew on the talents of a number of industry veterans, and three of them—Lead Content Writer Conor Sheehy, Localisation Manager Jiyoung Lee, and Associate Producer Devin Myren—sat down to talk about the challenges of bringing the game to Western audiences.
"I've been with NCSOFT almost five years," says Conor. "I've worked on almost all of NCSOFT's big titles from the last few years." Devin, meanwhile, is relatively new to NCSOFT. He got his start at Electronic Arts, and worked his way up from QA to associate producer.
"I have worked in marketing, and I was an associate producer on Emil Chronicle Online," says Jiyoung. "I've had a lot of experience with game sourcing—finding and playing a lot of in-development games, then recommending the best ones to bring to the audience."
"I work with the heads of other teams—publishing, for example, and project management—to create the schedule and make sure we stick to it," Devin explains. "I spend a lot of time establishing what needs to be done, and by when, and making sure everyone has what they need to do their job and move it along to the next person. If some part of the process breaks down, I'm the guy who fixes it."
Although all three have worked on Asian MMORPGs, only Jiyoung is a native Korean: Devin is from California, and Conor is from England. With Jiyoung's guidance, the development team took a crash course in Asian culture. Says Conor: "We basically immersed ourselves in as much Eastern literature as possible. I've read wuxia novels, sat down and watched numerous martial arts films, and studied the localisation efforts put into other videogames with similar backgrounds: The game studio Ninja Theory adapted the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, for example, and it was particularly interesting research material. As a result, we've learned a great deal more about both the genre and how to present it to Western audiences."
In fact, because Blade & Soul is already a complete game, much of what the developers do at NCSOFT West revolves around ensuring that some of the game's more subtle points translate both linguistically and culturally. The team frequently meets to go over the terminology and how it helps define the game world. "That's where the spirit of the game is," says Jiyoung. "The setting of Blade & Soul is a mix of Asian cultures and folklore. I'm very familiar with those—I grew up hearing those stories—but I realise that the lore is literally foreign to players in North America or Europe. If the players can't wrap their minds around why this NPC is important, or that monster is frightening, they can't really immerse themselves in the game the way an Asian player can."
Conor cites an example from a graveyard area in the early part of the game: "There are these monsters in Blade & Soul called Jiang-Shi, which are actually quite well known in Chinese folklore." (Jiang-Shi are a kind of animated corpse that gets around by hopping; in the game, they drain Chi.) "To Western eyes, they can seem rather absurd. It's our job to make sure that the players understand the world as it was designed, and we're taking a great deal of care to make sure that's exactly what happens."
The cultural differences are obviously a major concern, and it might seem tempting to Westernise the game by simply recasting the Jiang-Shi as "Hopping Vampires," for example, but both NCSOFT West and Team Bloodlust are committed to preserving the distinctive flavour of Blade & Soul.
"We maintain a very close, cooperative relationship with Team Bloodlust," says Jiyoung. "We had already been working with them for quite some time for multiple internal builds, and this past summer, Conor and I had a great opportunity to fly out to Korea and meet them in person. We had a very productive discussion on many aspects of the localisation, from technical to cultural, and at the end of the trip, we all agreed that NCSOFT West would have as much freedom as we need to make the game appealing to the Western users—but that the main spirit of the game should be kept intact and consistent."
"Ultimately, we're driven by the design goals we set with Team Bloodlust in those early meetings," says Conor. "One, to embrace the Asian flavour. Two, understand the game world in the context in which it was created. And three, create a compelling world full of vibrant characters that make us genuinely feel something."
Between meetings and translation discussions, though, the developers make time to play the game itself. (Many of the screenshots on the Blade & Soul media page come from their sessions.) "I spent a lot of my time when I was younger playing Tekken and Mortal Kombat," says Devin. "The combat in Blade & Soul has that same kind of fast-paced, skill-based challenge to it."
"The combat was definitely something that I wasn't expecting," Conor adds. "It took me a little while to get used to, but once I did, going back to more conventional control methods just felt incredibly flat and stale. I think that's going to be one of the most interesting aspects of the game, actually. I'm excited to see how Western players tailor their fighting styles and characters to the various enemies in the game."
In fact, the developers tend to play classes that take advantage of the combat system's complexity: Devin is a fan of the Blademaster, while Conor prefers the Kung Fu Master. "They're one of the more aggressive classes in Blade & Soul," says Conor. "The class is built around disruption, countering, and just sheer damage. Properly timing a counter, then sweeping the three or four enemies in front of me? It just never gets old."
The developers also have favourite races, although they don't necessarily combine with their favourite classes. "I love the Lyn," says Conor, "just because of the way they jump as they sprint! They just feel so agile, and I love bounding around over cliff edges and lakesides with them." Devin, on the other hand, gravitates toward the Gon: "The males are big and burly, and the females are big and beautiful." Jiyoung also favours the Gon, but for different reasons: "The Destroyer is my favourite class. I like wielding that giant axe, knocking down multiple mobs at once. It's a good feeling."
"We really think that Blade & Soul is going to pleasantly surprise Western players," Devin adds. "The intuitive combat system, the Asian theme and style, and the immersive storyline—there's just never been an MMORPG game like this released to a Western audience."