Here at Borderless Translations, we’re always keen to learn from fellow creators, especially those in the entertainment and gaming industries, where there is a huge demand for translation and localization.
We recently got the opportunity to chat with John Wolff, a founder, CEO and game producer using innovative technologies such as AR and blockchain to create unique, interactive experiences for players.
Throughout the years, John’s passion for video games led him to gain a deep understanding of Japanese language and culture. This helped him break into the gaming industry in Japan and propel him to success on the international stage. Now he utilizes the skills he learned in Japan to tackle the next frontier of game development. Read on to discover how John continues to bridge the gap between different cultures, languages, and even the abstract and concrete aspects of gaming.
How did you get started in the gaming industry? What led you down this particular path?
A mix of my mom & Metal Gear Solid 3 I’d say, hah. My mom would complain about me playing video games all day and one day said, “Instead of playing games, why don’t you try making one!” *Mind explodes*
Then when reserving Metal Gear Solid 3 from Gamespot, I received a copy of Game Informer. The cover read, “Learn how to enter the video game industry!”
From there I was pretty much set in my ways.
What do you like most about the gaming industry? What are some of the challenges?
Video games have the opportunity to be interactive stories and playable movies which can go further than breaking the 4th wall, and become relevant–if not directly tangible to–the human condition. In short, being able to create something that bridges the realm of the abstract with the realm of the concrete is extremely fascinating to me.
However, coupled with that is the challenge of the business of games: we live in a real world, with real demands, and making a living from making games is by no means easy, nor often talked enough about.
What have been some of the biggest differences between working in the gaming industry in Japan vs. in the US?
Cultural differences primarily: Games are churned out in Japan and thus the business is much more regimented. Hierarchical structures can limit creativity and innovation; I worked at a start-up studio so there was a bit more flexibility.
It was also interesting to understand how much culture found its way into game design which I often juxtaposed with Western culture. Japanese games have a greater precedence to focus on community and environment (i.e. classic JRPGs), while Western games often focus on the individual (FPS).
How has your Japanese language skill effect the way you do your business internationally?
Good question, but hard to answer. When dealing with Japanese people and the business culture, understanding deference and honorifics help things progress more smoothly. When it comes to the art of negotiation, ironically it seems beneficial to remain vague on certain terms.
Understanding the language in general has shifted my mindset, thus when doing business with anyone, I listen more, observe more…but I also probably speak too fast in English now, heh.
How do you network or find clients, or how did you land your current gig?
Grind. Network. Go everywhere, meet everyone, walk the earth, attend events online or offline, scour Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, Discord. This proactive approach is how I became fluent in Japanese as well–it’s called active learning. Once I amassed all these connections and knowledge over the years, I focused incessantly on how to converge them into my own game studio, Urban Electronics.
Tell me about your experience working with localization services and teams. What have been some pros and cons of these experiences?
I’ve never worked with a localization service, but handled all localizations myself, actually. I’ve localized anything from game manuals to whitepapers that had differential equations in them (ugh).
Localization is pretty hard and requires an understanding of the cultures to appropriately translate–Do you use Katakana? Hiragana? Kanji? Leave it in colloquial video-game-English? Do you “chokuyaku” (direct translate), or infer with context? It’s rewarding when it’s all done, but extremely tedious.
Do you have any productivity or organizational hacks you’d like to share?
Hmm.. Github is a beautiful tool. Have a rubber ducky to bounce your ideas off of and try not to make all decisions yourself
Any words of advice for those looking to break into the gaming industry?
Build fast, share early. There are plenty of organizations subsidizing game development these days, keep an eye out. Take part in a game jam. Don’t forget to think about monetization. We game developers are a passionate bunch, but take care of your well being and livelihood!
Got any current projects you would like to share?
Currently, Urban Electronics is building Tontachi AR, an augmented reality pet-racing game. We’re exploring cutting edge technology like AR and blockchain to make something ubiquitously fun and natural.
See the latest on twitter: @tontachiAR
Find John Wolff online:
Website upsilon: tontachi.io
Feature on Netflix’s Future of Series (Gaming)
Hope you’ve enjoy our Creator Spotlight series. If you are interested in being featured then please send us an email at email@example.com
*Interview has been edited for clarity.