Joystiq interviews Touch Detective's Jamie Ortiz

Ludwig Kietzmann
L. Kietzmann|09.20.06

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Joystiq interviews Touch Detective's Jamie Ortiz
If the adventure genre truly is dead, it's the kind of dead you find mulling about in a shoestring budget zombie flick. All visible signs point to a loss of life, but the supposed corpse is still surprisingly animated, shambling towards you in search of an exposed brain. Before you know it, you've been surrounded and your only choices concern the order in which you lose vital body parts. While Atlus' Touch Detective is likely a good deal more fun than being eaten alive by a snarling, undead force (that quote coming to a review soon!), it forms a firm part of the genre's inability to stay beneath the ground.

A traditional adventure game in almost every sense, Touch Detective joins Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and Trace Memory on the portable platform that seems to have been made for pointing and clicking. Or rather, touching. The DS lends itself well to typical adventure gameplay mechanics, though a functional interface does not a good game make. The story, the characters and the puzzles are the elements you'll remember as being stellar or awful. Touch Detective promises to lump itself into the former and largely preferable category as it follows the adventures of a young sleuth searching for answers, culprits and stolen dreams. Using our finely attuned detective and e-mailing skills, we grilled the game's project lead, Jamie Ortiz, about the game, localization and questionably shaped mushrooms:

Thank you for agreeing to have a chat with us, Mr. Ortiz, though we suspect the constant threats may have helped.
It's my pleasure. Now, can you please ask Vinnie the Squid to let go of my arm?

You're the project lead on Atlus' Touch Detective. What exactly does that entail? Are projects difficult to rein in and keep under control?

As project lead, I oversaw the entire localization process of the game, everything from the design of the box art to the QA of the final product. Yeah, it can be difficult to keep track of every aspect of the project, but that's also the best part about being lead on a project: you have input on P.R., marketing, and production. I really enjoy collaborating with the different departments. In fact, some of the most fun I had was working on the cover art with the marketing team; they did a fantastic job on it. And have you seen the ad for Touch Detective? It's really cool.

Atlus is largely known and appreciated for its strong localizations -- what was the localization philosophy adopted for Touch Detective?

We set out to convey the "feeling" the developers originally intended for the game, which was a 70's era detective novel. This vision for the game extended to everything, the dialogue, the cover art-even the manual!

What were some of the primary challenges faced with localizing Touch Detective? I imagine fitting English text into on-screen boxes can prove challenging.

Yeah, one of the biggest challenges to localizing Touch Detective was the line and character limits placed on the dialogue. Each character has his or her specific style of speech that, at times, required more space than what was allotted to the original Japanese. That being said, I'm very happy with how it turned out. I think each character's personality is accurately portrayed through his or her dialogue.

Were there any cultural jokes or situations in the game that needed to be changed for a Western audience?

Well, there's a scene where you speak with Penny, and she says she can tell you your fortune. She then asks you to pick a recurring dream you have from a list of dreams. In the Japanese version, one of the choices is "taking a bath with Marx." Now, taking a bath has always been an integral part of Japanese life, and it's not unusual for young children to bathe with their parents. In fact, many Japanese parents believe this helps to strengthen the parent-child bond. However, in North America it's not acceptable for a young girl like Mackenzie to be taking a bath with a man named Marx, nor should she be dreaming about such an act. So accordingly, the text was changed to the less offensive "taking the bus with Marx."

Anime fans often prefer direct translations from the Japanese versus full localizations. Why do you think the latter is more important in games?

I think in order to be true to the original intent of the game; some text has to be changed. The structures of the languages are so different that a direct translation doesn't always convey the "correct" meaning of the text. Certain phrases and nuances must be adapted to a North American audience.

Is there a risk of crossing the line, where the English character no longer matches up with the Japanese one?

Well, there's always a risk, but we here at Atlus we pride ourselves in delivering accurate localizations, even if it's not always a direct translation. To do so, we spend time inside each character's head, learning about his or her personality, and we're always on the look out for inconsistencies in a character's speech pattern during the editing phase.

I noticed that all of the characters have different names in the English version. Why not keep the Japanese names?

Since the game doesn't take place in Japan, I didn't think it was necessary to keep the Japanese names. The English names weren't chosen haphazardly. I spent a good deal of time finding names that fit the particular quirks of each character. In fact, you may notice that many of the minor characters take their names from British surnames.

The main character, Mackenzie, has an "investigative sidekick" who just happens to be a mushroom. And you called him "Funghi."

It's pronounced fun-guy.

I'm sure there are far more creative ways to investigate this subject, but ... Funghi sort of looks like a penis. With a face. Is this something that was talked about in the office?

...You're a sick, sick man, who needs serious, serious help.

But then, the game's art style is very distinctive. It's almost sinister. Does the tone of Touch Detective match its art?

The art style has been referred to as Tim Burton-esque, which I totally agree with. Yeah, it definitely sets the mood of the game and will put you in the right frame of mind to solve the cases, which are equally distinctive.

Tomm Hulett, the project lead on Trauma Center, once said that he watched House to get inspiration for that localization. It looks like Touch Detective has an element of detective noir in it -- did you look to something similar for inspiration? Columbo? How about Veronica Mars?

Great question. At the outset of Touch Detective, I was referencing hard-boiled authors as Chandler and Spillane, but their material just wasn't the right fit for li'l Mackenzie. I was in the midst of looking for other material when a friend suggested-you guessed it-Veronica Mars! While I did check out a few episodes, I can't say the show was my inspiration for the game--although, Kristen Bell does make quite a muse. If I had to point to my source of inspiration, it would have to be the great adventure games of yore, like The Secret of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango. I wanted to provide players with a game they'd truly enjoy playing.

Adventure games are dead. Adventure games are NOT dead. Which one is it?

NOT dead.

The genre does seem to have taken off on the DS -- Trace Memory and Phoenix Wright were particularly well received in the US. Had those games failed miserably, would we be talking about Touch Detective now?

Definitely. While the success of those games helps raise interest in the game in general, I think Touch Detective stands up on its own. We chose to publish Touch Detective because we absolutely love the game. The artwork, story, and gameplay all work together to provide the player with a truly enjoyable gaming experience.

How is Touch Detective different from those two?

Those are both great games, and while there are a lot of similarities between the three, I think Touch Detective features more exploratory gameplay, as opposed to text-based gameplay. In addition to questioning witnesses, you'll need to uncover clues and discover evidence--all of which is performed on the DS Touch Screen.

Why is it that the genre works so well on the DS? Surely it can't be due to just the touch-screen interface?

Why not? I mean, it's the perfect interface for point-and-click adventure games! In Touch Detective, the stylus gives you the same ability to search for items on the touch screen as you'd have with a mouse. Once you've found an item, you can investigate it further by pulling it up on the Investigation Screen. It's as intuitive as when the genre was initally popularized, but now it's also portable. What could be better than that?

The interface was basically the only thing we could understand in the game as it was at E3 (untranslated). How long has the localization process been underway?

We began localizing the game soon after E3, and it took us about 3 and a half months to bring you the masterpiece that is Touch Detective.

One of the things that I find particularly interesting about your role in Touch Detective is that the game is, essentially, already made. Do you ever feel that you wish you had more control over its development. "I would have done this differently?"

No. To be completely honest, I was really happy with the development on Touch Detective. There's nothing I look back on and say, "I wish this was different."

Once the game hits in October, will you be scrutinizing the reviews?

I'm not sure scrutinizing is the correct word, but, yeah, since I did the editing on the game, I'll be very interested to see what people think of it. The early feedback is that the dialogue is fun and entertaining, which is definitely what I was going for.

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If a reviewer complains about an element of the gameplay, for instance, would you feel frustrated? In the sense that it's not really in your hands? You saw it coming.

No, not really. Like you said, it's out of my hands. Regardless, the gameplay in Touch Detective is solid-C'mon, man, it's a point-and-click adventure!

Do you think there will be any misconceptions about the game? A criticism you're ready to counter?

I think at first glance some people might think the game is easy, but that's certainly NOT the case. The puzzles are quite intricate, and players will definitely be challenged. Just ask all the reviewers who have been contacting myself and the PR department for walkthroughs.

Last question: Have you ever touched a detective? A real one?

No. Have you ever been watched by a private eye? Because they're watching you; they see your every move.

The official website for Touch Detective is already up in preparation for the game's release on October 10th. Keep a private eye on Joystiq for a full review.
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