Michael-Christopher Koji Fox Part 3

WE GREW VANA'DIEL is a series of interviews with those who were involved in the development of FINAL FANTASY XI (FFXI), as well as guests from other companies. In this installment, we interviewed Michael-Christopher Koji Fox (often referred to by his middle name, "Koji") from the Localization team, who worked on English translations for the North American version of FFXI. As an American who has loved Japan since childhood, how did he come to be involved with FFXI, and what were his thoughts on the past two decades as a member of the Localization team? In this third part, we heard from Koji about the Localization team's guidelines for translation, as well as his story regarding the help text for food items.

Michael-Christopher Koji Fox

Senior Translator in Square Enix's Localization department. Born in the U.S. in the state of Oregon, he taught English at a junior high school in Japan after receiving his teaching license from Hokkaido University of Education. He later joined the Localization team at Square (now Square Enix) in April 2003, where he has worked on FFXI's English translations for scenario text and item names and is currently (2023) the Localization Director for FFXVI. Koji has also been a drummer in THE STAR ONIONS (a band of FFXI staff members) and is the vocalist and rapper for THE PRIMALS (the official band of FFXIV).

Having a hard time making Shantotto’s lines rhyme

  • Next, I'd like to ask about your work on the Localization team. Could you tell us about the actual translation workflow?

  • Koji

    First, when we receive the Japanese text, we divide the work within the team. During that process, text related to the three nations was often assigned to the same team members to maintain a consistent writing style across version updates. A story tends to feel more unified when the same person continues to work on each installment, and I assume the same goes for the Japanese version. We also designated team members for translating the main story of the missions for each expansion as well.

  • Do the translators decide the finer points of a translation on their own, or does the team have certain predetermined rules?

  • Koji

    FFXI involves a tremendous amount of text, so some points are left up to the translator to decide, but major conventions are usually determined within the team. We're especially wary about aspects like characters' speech patterns or the names of items, which might come up in different situations; those kinds of conventions can affect other people's work, not just our own.

    For instance, if we decide that a particular character uses complex vocabulary and antiquated speech, it could cause trouble for the next translator who handles that character in a later version update.

  • Have you ever run into that problem in your own work?

  • Koji

    One character I had trouble with was Shantotto. Her Japanese dialogue wasn't very complicated, but Richard* decided that her lines in the English version had to rhyme.

    * Richard Mark Honeywood, original Localization Director for FFXI.
  • That sounds like a lot of work, considering how often she appears…

  • Koji

    Rhyming adds a lot of constraints because of how you need to choose words that have the same ending. Since I had to translate the original meaning from Japanese and also make it rhyme, translating Shantotto's dialogue took me twice as long compared to others'. I was like, "Why'd he have to make this rule for such a talkative character?" (laughs)

  • But perhaps it paid off, considering her popularity among Western players.

  • Koji

    That's true.

    It's a good memory now, but it was a real struggle at the time. We learned from that experience and eventually settled on a format where we discuss and decide conventions with the team. In some cases, the discussion extends beyond the English translators and includes translators for other languages as well.

  • Sounds like teamwork plays a big part in making those kinds of decisions.

  • Koji

    This isn't something that only applies to translations, but while I believe it's possible for one person to create an interesting game on their own, the result would only contain one person's worth of ideas; the more people you have, the more ideas you'll end up with. Your colleagues possess qualities that you don't have, and you're also bound to have something they lack, and so together you end up with a better result compared to what you would've accomplished alone.

    Furthermore, the development process allows us to evaluate the positives and negatives of our work within the team, from which we can keep the positive aspects. That's not something you could do on your own; it's only possible when you have a team. In that sense, the FFXI team had a clear idea and unified vision of what they wanted to create, so we were all able to work well together.

  • Were there any other complications related to translations that you faced within the team?

  • Koji

    One of the hardest things about localizing an online game is checking for revisions. In online game development, adjustments are being made right up until implementation. Even if we're asked to translate a certain chunk of text, by the next day, you might find out that half of it was rewritten.

    Keeping track of changes has gotten much simpler these days, since revisions can be displayed with the click of a button. But back in the day, when we didn't have a feature like that yet, I'd come to work and spend the first two hours reviewing all the files to identify any revisions that had been made.

  • That sounds like a never-ending process...

  • Koji

    To make matters worse, the development continued their revisions right up until the deadline; however, the Localization team was also given the same deadline. (laughs wryly) If the Japanese text was still being worked on during the final day, there would be no time for the Localization team to reflect any changes. It was really rough at first, but after repeatedly requesting more time for localization, we finally got a rule which separated the deadlines for the original text and their localizations.

Keeping the food item text a secret

  • Next, I'd like to ask about some of your work which even gained attention from Japanese players.
    First of all, how did you come up with such playful translations for the help text for HQ food items?*

    * Koji's English help text for HQ food items have a distinct sense of humor with noticeable differences compared to the original Japanese text. For example, here are the help text for garlic crackers in each language:
    Japanese version (translated to English): "Garlic crackers that emit a thick smell."
    English version: "Now with 32% more garlic! Do not eat these potent crackers before a date."
  • Koji

    I went completely off the rails with those. (laughs)

    The original help text for food items were too literal; for example, cinnamon cookies were described as "cookies flavored with cinnamon." When I read those descriptions, I couldn't help but wonder if they would really evoke our players' imaginations.

  • I see what you mean, since the help text is hardly any different compared to the name of the item.

  • Koji

    I figured no one was reading those descriptions, and if that was the case, then no one would notice if I had some fun with the text, right? And that's how I started secretly playing around with the text.

    As expected, no one seemed to take notice for a while, and I continued to have fun with my translations until a Japanese player finally caught on. (laughs) They posted an article on their website about how the help text for HQ food items were vastly different between Japanese and English, which became a widespread topic among players. When the Development team caught wind of it, they were like, "What are you doing!?" (laughs wryly)

  • You hadn't even told the Development team? (laughs)

  • Koji

    I did say I was doing it secretly! (laughs)

    There was a massive number of food items, and having to translate all those dry descriptions was a very grating task for me. But looking back, it was wrong of me to act without permission, regardless of the circumstances. You need to ask before you do that sort of thing! (laughs)

  • Another of your work that received a lot of attention was the"A Little Goblin's Adventure,"which was published on the official website.
    That also had very different content in the English version, but how did that come about?

  • Koji

    "A Little Goblin's Adventure" was created by Mr. Hanyuda*. He and I got along well because we often traveled together for overseas business trips, and we were also both drummers.

    When Mr. Hanyuda wrote "A Little Goblin's Adventure," there was talk of making an English version, which ended up being assigned to me. The Japanese version had been written in an interesting way, so I tried my best to make the English version just as interesting and ended up going overboard there as well. (laughs) In the end, the English version I wrote was translated back into Japanese and introduced on that same website again. Everyone was like, "Why are the Japanese and English versions so different!?"

    * Arata Hanyuda, original Global Promotion Producer for FFXI.
  • Where do you get that sense of humor?

  • Koji

    I feel like it wasn't just me, but the entire FFXI Development team had an atmosphere of goofing around where we could. The Publicity team shared that sense of humor as well; they once introduced me on the official website as a "foreigner who's 250cm tall (8'2")" along with a photo of me standing on a chair behind a partition. (laughs)

  • That was also shared on that other website. (laughs)

  • Koji

    Of course, everyone usually worked really hard, but it was a strenuous project. With other projects, when development was finished, there was a vacation period before the next project began, but FFXI was always in development as long as operations continued. It was inevitable for stress to build up over time, and those outbursts of humorous behavior seemed like a way for everyone to blow off some steam.

  • After all, taking care of your mental health is vital to long-term development and operations.

  • Koji

    FFXI provided me with plenty of opportunities to keep things fresh by taking on new challenges and trying things I normally wouldn't do.

* Part 4 will be available on February 1, 2023.

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