With no official localisation of Japanese horror delight Fatal Frame IV in sight, a team of valiant hackers did the job themselves. And what an incredible job it is, making the game region-free to boot. We caught up with project lead Colin 'Tempus' Noga, tool developer Clayton 'Mr Mongoose' Ramsey and patching whiz Aaron 'AerialX' to talk ghosts in the machine...
Why develop a Fatal Frame IV translation patch?
Colin: I'd like to say that I was full of high ideals and an astounding sense of fairness and justice. Truth be told though, my girlfriend asked me to. After investigating it, I found it was a very interesting and worthwhile project, and I kept at it, long after she was sick of me working on it all the time.
Clayton: I'm a huge Fatal Frame fan, and a non-Japanese speaker. So for me the project was a bit selfish - I really just wanted to be able to play it, the same as so many others. Also, it's very hard for me to turn down a technical challenge like this.
Where do you even start to put together a patch?
Colin: You start at the beginning, by trying to extract the assets from the game. Once you've done that, you need to translate it and modify it as you desire. Then you need to stuff it all back in somehow, which is often as confusing and frustrating as the first step. Finally, when that's done, you have to get it back onto the console to play it. An understanding of hex is mandatory - 16 fingers is a bonus.
Aaron: The 'getting it back onto the console to play it' part was my responsibility. The patch method, dubbed Riivolution, performs some fancy witchcraft in order to trick the game into thinking that our English script from the SD card is actually on the game disc. It's something I started over a year ago, but had never gotten around to finishing until recently.
Could you talk us through the general development process for the patch?
Clayton: On my end, the development of the tool we used to extract and inject game data was quite an interesting task. Usually with development projects you have a very well defined plan before you ever start coding. However, for this project we basically started with what (initially) looked like huge files filled with random data.
What started as a tool to help us identify data patterns evolved into a way for us to test various theories regarding the file structure, and finally it ended up being forged into a tool for actually accessing the data within the files. To say it was a bit of a Frankenstein's monster would be an understatement!
Aaron: My end of development mainly consisted of me playing Super Smash Bros Brawl as Cloud Strife with the patch, and handing off a couple of dozen test builds to Colin every other day.
Your handling of the game seems very respectful, right down to the spooky font for the on-screen writing...
Colin: I love cool fonts. I don't think the game would be as good if I put in an Arial or Helvetica. It's important to keep the style and atmosphere of the game, and maintain immersion. Font is just one of the tools with which you can do so.
And how faithful is your work? Is it a straight translation?
Colin: Whenever I hear this asked, I cringe. The most 'straight' translation is a transliteration, but let me tell you, that's the worst kind. Some of the purists like to keep in the Japanese sentence endings or name suffixes, but that's either out of a misplaced love for parts of the culture they don't really understand or a laziness in trying to translate cultural speech patterns.