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GDC: The Localization of Counter-Strike in Japan

Taninami, a thirteen-year veteran of Namco’s arcade division, was assigned five years ago to find a solution to the Japanese “network game problem”. Whereas the US has enjoyed about thirty-five years of network connectivity, online games have never really caught on in Japan; for some time, received wisdom placed the blame on a nonexistent or comparably obscure architecture. And yet, now that broadband is prevalent, the market still barely exists.

Taninami, a thirteen-year veteran of Namco’s arcade division, was assigned five years ago to find a solution to the Japanese “network game problem”. Whereas the US has enjoyed about thirty-five years of network connectivity, online games have never really caught on in Japan; for some time, received wisdom placed the blame on a nonexistent or comparably obscure architecture. And yet, now that broadband is prevalent, the market still barely exists.

Image result for games features of counter strike

So why is that, Taninami asked. Flipping the question around, he then asked what makes network games fun. He concluded that pleasure comes in part from the game itself – provided it’s a good game – and in part from the company the player keeps. He called this situation a “relationship of multiplication”: if the opponent fails to play fairly, then the game fails to be enjoyable. As far as Taninami was concerned, that social angle was the biggest problem.

As Taninami had a limited budget, he figured there was no point in wasting resources on development, when there are already so many well-made games available; instead, he poured all of his attention into the network aspect, conducting reams on ridiculous reams of research on how to ensure a fun level of competition. For the game, he selected Counter-Strike, due to its popularity elsewhere in the world. He asked Valve for a license to promote the game in Japan; they said okay and everything was in order. Almost.

Asian Eyes

Another crucial feature – the one this lecture seemed like it might have been about – was the way Counter-Strike looked. Its whole presentation screams “Western PC game”, which in turn causes the average Japanese gamer to scream “Eek”. The characters are gritty, burly, and not particularly appealing – so Namco got an artist to anime them up a little, replacing sweaty gringos with guys in primary-colored spandex and PVC shoulderpads, and hairy guys in fatigues and ski masks with antigravity-busted women in three square inches of purple nylon.

Similarly, Taninami decided that Japanese gamers would freak at the game’s anti-terrorism angle – especially if the terrorists win a match – so he changed the scenario to a struggle between two opposing factions: the CSF and the NEO (leading to the game’s new appellation, “Counter-Strike NEO“). And of course, because PC games have virtually no presence in Japan outside of porn and obscure doujin soft (amateur freeware), the keyboard-and-mouse controls had to be finessed a little. CS NEO uses a custom-built keyboard, with all the controls and hotkeys specially labeled.

There’s also the issue that basically all people do in Counter-Strike is shoot each other – which should get boring after a while – so Taninami added a suite of single-person missions and mini-games; completing these modes gives a player special prizes. There are also a number of in-game events timed to various holidays and seasons, such as cherry blossoms that cascade in the spring. As for the game content itself, “we didn’t want to change it; we didn’t want to ruin it.”

So why is that, Taninami asked. Flipping the question around, he then asked what makes network games fun. He concluded that pleasure comes in part from the game itself – provided it’s a good game – and in part from the company the player keeps. He called this situation a “relationship of multiplication”: if the opponent fails to play fairly, then the game fails to be enjoyable. As far as Taninami was concerned, that social angle was the biggest problem.

As Taninami had a limited budget, he figured there was no point in wasting resources on development, when there are already so many well-made games available; instead, he poured all of his attention into the network aspect, conducting reams on ridiculous reams of research on how to ensure a fun level of competition. For the game, he selected Counter-Strike, due to its popularity elsewhere in the world. He asked Valve for a license to promote the game in Japan; they said okay and everything was in order. Almost.

Asian Eyes

Another crucial feature – the one this lecture seemed like it might have been about – was the way Counter-Strike looked. Its whole presentation screams “Western PC game”, which in turn causes the average Japanese gamer to scream “Eek”. The characters are gritty, burly, and not particularly appealing – so Namco got an artist to anime them up a little, replacing sweaty gringos with guys in primary-colored spandex and PVC shoulderpads, and hairy guys in fatigues and ski masks with antigravity-busted women in three square inches of purple nylon.

Similarly, Taninami decided that Japanese gamers would freak at the game’s anti-terrorism angle – especially if the terrorists win a match – so he changed the scenario to a struggle between two opposing factions: the CSF and the NEO (leading to the game’s new appellation, “Counter-Strike NEO“). And of course, because PC games have virtually no presence in Japan outside of porn and obscure doujin soft (amateur freeware), the keyboard-and-mouse controls had to be finessed a little. CS NEO uses a custom-built keyboard, with all the controls and hotkeys specially labeled.

There’s also the issue that basically all people do in Counter-Strike is shoot each other – which should get boring after a while – so Taninami added a suite of single-person missions and mini-games; completing these modes gives a player special prizes. There are also a number of in-game events timed to various holidays and seasons, such as cherry blossoms that cascade in the spring. As for the game content itself, “we didn’t want to change it; we didn’t want to ruin it.”

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