February 16, 2007 - Player One Podcast Interview with Ted Woolsey

As taken from here.

Greg: So how did that schedule compare with working on other games after Final Fantasy III? Did you find it got better?[edit]

Ted: Yeah, they were almost always kind of rush jobs. On Secret of Mana they were writing the screen text as I was translating in Tokyo. I was flown over for a month or so with my family and we hung out at a cool little condo just outside of Shinjuku. I'd go into work every day. It was frustrating because stuff I'd translated the day before would be changed. I'd have to go in and find it and tweak it and then there were edits made by people who were also on the remake staff, some of which weren't up to my standards at the time. That particular project ended up being much more of a mish mash than I had hoped, Secret of Mana.

By and large, Chrono Trigger was very complicated because there were so many branching storylines. At that time they had hired a couple of folks on to help with the translation but they were just getting their chops wet on translating for video games and there were still a lot of issues. I basically was asked by Sakaguchi-san to retranslate that and craft that and work on it from scratch basically. I logged another month in Tokyo and I started from scratch reworking that game as best I could to get it out in the time provided.

It would have been great to have two months, two and a half months to really work on that stuff. I think at the time, as one Japanese person explained to me, they were toys for kids and chill out; let's get this thing out the door. When in fact they were really art objects, cinematic stories for adults. These role playing games skewed older.

Anyway, hindsight is always better than 20/20 and it would have been cool to have some more time but that's not how things worked then.

Chris: How much contact did you have with Sakaguchi and the Japanese team while you were working on the game? How much back and forth was there with certain lines?[edit]

Ted: Well again on a lot of the games I worked on, huge chunks of the teams were already on to the next project, completely off the project I was working on. Sakaguchi-san was always pretty engaged in these things. I would usually meet with him before I translated something. We'd sit down and talk about the schedule. We'd look at marketing materials. We'd look at a bunch of things, because I also ran marketing for Square. We used some localized commercials even for some of the games like Chrono Trigger and some other things.

So, he'd get his point across where he wanted things to come out and he expected a lot. At any rate, he certainly deserved a lot. The guy was very smart, had some great people working for him and I always tried to do my best. But once I started working on something it was up to me to figure it out. There weren't a lot of people resources to throw on this. I think it's different today. Today there are teams of people that do these, but basically I had to do all of it and try to keep all the different story lines in my head as best I could. Sometimes I'd have strategy guidebooks or rough draft versions of those printer's marked-up copies to look at.

The requests came pretty quick and I just... There wasn't a lot of daily or weekly communication with Sakaguchi and the team. There was later. Once the text was translated and down to a size that fit, that's when there would be some more time where I would spend time playing the game as many times as I could and starting to do a lot of edits and there were recommendations made. I would ask some questions about items or different things to some of the engineers. Yeah, that's pretty much it.

Chris: [laughs] Hell yeah. What are some of your other favorite scenes in some of the games that you've worked on Final Fantasy III and the others?[edit]

Ted: There was a Ghost Train scene in Final Fantasy III that was very cool. You worked through this haunted forest and all of a sudden you're on this train. There was something about that scene, that series of events I found pretty engaging. I thought that the suicide scene, which I couldn't translate as such in the second world of Final Fantasy III, was pretty interesting, and the build up to that. I liked the final battle with Kefka. That was pretty interesting in the way he evolved and in the way he looked. That was pretty evil.

As far as other games for the Square stuff, I liked Chrono Trigger. That's still one of my favorite games. I loved some of the different story lines, some of the characters, the visuals. That's a very cinematic game and I never heard any super-critical comments with regard to that particular game but I think it just never attained the legend status that Final Fantasy did, even though I personally find that one of the most satisfying games I ever worked on or played.

I thought Mario RPG was pretty cool. That's another one where I kind of had to blow through a translation but it was fun because of all the different characters and coming up with voices and figures of speech for some of them, except for Mario of course who didn't talk. I think that was just engaging because it sort of drew you into the game with the little button commands and the mashing you had to do to get the character to do certain things.

I think one of my favorite games was Final Fantasy V, which I had almost all translated, but which they opted not to ship because they didn't feel the US market was ready for a second flagship RPG. They'd shipped FFII and they felt in Tokyo that they needed something else to get people trained up on that style of gaming, and that became a game called Mystic Quest. It was a little 4 MB game, which is basically a Game Boy game that was put out on the SNES.

When that one came about, we were in a board meeting and Sakaguchi-san and [Square founder Masafumi] Miyamoto-san and some other folks kind of immediately said they had to fix this. They called the guy who was waiting around the corner outside the office to come in. It turns out he was the new head of the Osaka development team, and they said, 'You will make a game for America.' He's like, 'OK, I'm doing it! Great'

So I was a little bit more involved in the writing of the story on that one, just to try to shape it better but as a 4MB ROM, there was just an excruciatingly small amount of space there to spin a yarn as it were.

Chris: What do you think of your work when you look back on it now? Do you have a favorite project that stands out?[edit]

Ted: I was one of the first people to be surprised by the degree of.... the fact that I'm talking to you guys today.... Just through my sheer connections and stupidity (or genius) I had to go over and interview at Square. Those guys were brilliant at the time and made great products and I just happened to pick the right company and the right game type. I have to admit, I still love... even my kids now will pull out those carts and play Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger and other games and just howl. They still love them because those guys did such a great job. You know, it's been interesting. I enjoyed that period. I still love the 16 bit period. I thought that was very cool. I haven't played as many games on the next gen consoles, N64 and PS3 and PS2 as I would have liked. It's something to look back on and I'm very glad I had the good fortune to make the choices that I did. For my family and my own personal life, I'm happy to be doing what I am now. I think Real has been a really fun experience for me to be here. It's a smart group of people. It's a completely different business model and I don't really have any regrets. I look back quite fondly actually, all those times I traveled back to Tokyo and just some of the crazy antics of all the people, the creative people and some of the folks in the industry there I got a chance to meet that I never would have otherwise. It's been quite a ride.

From: Interviews