Interview with F.H.
As mentioned in the game review page, Alcahest never left Japan, but it was translated into English by fans for fans. The main ROM hacker behind this fan translation project was Frank Hughes (or, he likes to be called “F.H.”). He was also the main ROM hacker behind the fan translations for Front Mission (SNES) and Papuya (SNES). As you can imagine, he was quite the Internet celebrity in the 2000s helping to make all these great games available to us in English!
In December of 2003, I interviewed Frank. In this interview, I asked him about Front Mission and Alcahest. No other website interviewed Frank, so what you're about to read is a nice little historical treasure :)
Hello there! I'm flattered I am asked for an interview! ^^
So F.H., can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name's Frank Hughes. I live in England. I also hate talking about myself! :p I will say I play DDR quite a bit, plus guitar and bass.
When did you get into working on translation projects?
A long time ago! Back in 1998?! =0
What got you into them?
I was pretty new to the Internet back then. I was teaching myself SNES coding at the time and had done a few small projects plus cracks of games. I think I read something about a Final Fantasy 5 translation and I was curious about how they had achieved this. I felt pretty comfortable in approaching some group with ASM (Assembly Language) assistance. I looked around and approached a group called Kanji Hack, but they said 'Thanks', but didn't need any assistance. I looked around again, and saw someone called Stories working on one of my favorite SNES games, Front Mission! The rest is history!
What influenced your decision to work on Front Mission?
I really did like the game! I didn't need to read Japanese to be moved by the game's story and its ending. I'd never seen anything like that in any RPG! Plus working with a small group of people, rather than a big Translation Group brand name appealed more to me.
Did you do anything special to prepare yourself for Front Mission?
I guess the honest answer is no! I walked in there with no idea what was needed to make a translation of a game! A lot of us back then had to learn as we went along. There were no sources of information, generic script dumpers or table generators. We had to build the translation tools ourselves, and so I, and I guess others, built up a knowledge of what was needed in translations by doing.
What problems did you encounter during the Front Mission project? And what did you do to correct them?
Quite a lot!!!
Technical problems: Front Mission along with later Square games such as Seiken Densetsu 3 was a different breed of program than its predecessors, and trying to understand the program solely through disassembled output was nigh on impossible! Then I learned of emulators having Trace facilities and that helped! ^_^
Translators/translations: we lacked these for FM for the longest time. I guess the solution came in the form of Akujin and Hojo.
The script: The Front Mission script contains action, suspense, sadness, humor, plus a diversity of characters. The translation from Japanese to English, without context or a given continuity, flattened elements of the script. It was down to Akujin, David Mullen, Shih Tzu and I to go over every piece of text to really do justice to this story; so much so, that the entire script had completely changed once we'd each been over it 5 times! We even had a US Military Dictionary of Terms and used it to shape a lot of the military language, i.e.: “Hindering our Air Offensive”, “Avenue of Approach”, “Advance to Contact”, etc. I certainly felt we should stay away from the All Ages grammar level evident in a lot of official SNES translations.
Text Display: We added a Variable Width Font display to the game, plus Dynamic Font Wrapping which works in much the same way as Word Processor would do in wrapping text to the next line. This supported substrings of varying length. It was a pain to get working and I'd never do it to that extent again!!
What influenced your decision to work on Alcahest?
Again, it was a game I had completed and always liked. I always found Jun Ishikawa's music a pleasure to listen to!
Did you do anything special to prepare yourself for Alcahest?
Nothing really special, I guess. I adapted the tools I had done for Front Mission over to Alcahest.
What problems did you encounter during the Alcahest project? And what did you do to correct them?
I guess one was that Alcahest didn't use a table of pointers, but the solution to getting a script dump was - err.. novel! =P Another problem would be the password system and the ending going out of sync at a particular point. Those haven't been fixed yet.
Overall, do you think working on Front Mission and Alcahest was worth all the hard work you put into them?
Yes, definitely. I'm as much a fan as anyone, so seeing these games in English is great!
Have you participated in any other translation project besides Front Mission, Alcahest, and Papuya?
I did make a translation document for “Record of the Lodoss War”, which was picked up and used by Lina Chan's translation. I did offer some help into Shadow's “Ranma 1/2” and “Gulliver Boy”, but I'm not sure what happened to them. I did look into “Front Mission: Gun Hazard” for RPGe, though they disbanded I believe Gideon Zhi and Akujin are doing quite well with their own translation of it. I also have offered a fresh pair of eyes to DarkForce on some of his projects and likewise, he'll do the same for me. It's good to know we have someone to scream at if we get stuck! I'm also actively involved in the “Romancing Saga 1” translation.
Do you plan to continue working on translation projects? Knowing what you went through to get the Front Mission project completed, do you think you can handle working on another big RPG title?
To be honest, I'm not sure. We'll see what the future holds!
I would like to close the interview with this last question. What gave you and continues to give you the will and enthusiasm to keep you going with translation projects? Do you have a personal goal or mission?
I guess because there is an enjoyment in it for me, plus working with people who share the same goal of seeing these games translated! And also it's the players and fans of these games that have kept us going with their support they make it all worthwhile!