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Keeping Monster Hunter out of 'Meme Country' on the way to stateside success

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How localization — and tweets — won over fans new and old

Andrew Alfonso, localization director for Capcom games like the Monster Hunter franchise, is a big fan of memes. His appreciation for internet jokes was obvious to those watching the slides that accompanied his Game Developers Conference 2016 talk on adapting games for worldwide audiences: He peppered in funny images and references to illustrate his story about translating Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, which launched on Nintendo 3DS last year.

But that game — which went on to garner acclaim for its strong script and localization tweaks — lacks the memes that Alfonso himself enjoys and has included in previous games, like Capcom's Ace Attorney series.

"I started thinking that I don't want people picking up my games on release saying, 'I like these in-style meme references,' and then another player picking up the games four years later and thinking, 'They referenced 300 — that sucks!'" he told the crowd.

Staying away from "meme country" was one of several strategies that Alfonso devised when localizing Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. He and his team at Capcom wanted the game to be their highest quality project yet, hoping to finally bridge the gap between the Japanese audience that goes wild for the role-playing game series and the American gamers who have been comparatively lukewarm on it.

translating the game to a new audience overseas

Alfonso spoke to the crowd about the importance of an entertaining script and other localization tweaks in appealing to Western audiences. As a localization director, finding what American gamers respond to the most is one of the biggest parts of his job. But with this Monster Hunter game, it was even more important that the team get it right.

"Up until 4 Ultimate, we had yet to break a million units sold overseas," he said. "We wanted to do something to help the game break that plateau."

The director came up with several ideas that would help Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate not only be the strongest localization project yet, but appeal to established fans of the series as well as total beginners. These included completely revised loading screens which offered hints to players instead of bland data; truncate the game's slow-paced tutorial quests; and a unique demo that would teach new players about the often complicated set of weapons available to Monster Hunter players.

As the American-based localization director, however, Alfonso had to answer to the Japanese higher-ups at Capcom. Not all changes were received well — or at all. The Western team was working on translating the project while development on the Japanese version was still in progress, and the company heads emphasized the importance of staying on schedule and under budget.

Many of the changes that Alfonso pitched, while thoughtful and of obvious use to him as a fan and longtime player of the series, were not easy additions. To learn how to better sell his ideas to the Japanese side of Capcom, however, he studied the differences in business practices and communication between Western and Eastern companies.

the localization team doesn't hold all the power

His research, which also included defining the different demographics for the franchise in its native country and stateside — Japanese Monster Hunter fans are much younger than American ones — ultimately helped him score several localization victories for the game. Other than cutting down the length of dialogue from the original Japanese version to tighten the script, the Western version of Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate also includes the ability to skip over beginner tutorials. Alfonso also pitched new optional text to guide total beginners without impeding veteran players, a feature that Capcom liked enough to add to the Japanese version as well.

To further appeal to Western gamers, Alfonso and his team came up with a Twitter campaign that offered short video-based tips. New players, Alfonso said, felt inclined to like the clips, while hardcore Monster Hunter players retweeted them to "spread the knowledge."

While Alfonso had a lot more ideas for how to make Monster Hunter Ultimate 4's localization Capcom's strongest project yet, he was only able to accomplish so much; a localization team doesn't hold the final decision-making power on what makes it into the finished product, he explained. Even so, the team felt satisfied with their "smart localization," which he noted many reviewers picked up on and mentioned favorably.

Overall, Alfonso said the game managed to break through to both the newer and veteran players that he'd wanted to attract in equal measure; it ultimately went on to ship more than a million units in the West.

"If you want something changed and you're not the one making the decision, you're going to find more success focusing on the tangibles as opposed to the subjectively better things," he said.

And while he'd encouraged his colleagues in the industry to stay away from memes, he could help but end with one himself: His final slide included wrestling champ John Cena telling the audience to "never give up."