After spending many, many hours with Arc the Lad Collection, I must admit that it is probably the greatest thing Working Designs has ever put together for the US market. While Victor may not be technically a developer, he is by far very hands on in all projects that come through Working Designs and is always very interesting to interview.
Here is a conversation I recently had with the "big cheese" over at Working Designs--Victor Ireland. In this conversation we discuss Arc, Bernie Stolar, support for other platforms, and his favorite game of all time!
Kaleb: Why did you originally choose to port Arc the Lad over to the US?
VI: Way back in 1995/6, I wanted to do Arc the Lad because Sony wouldn't and I knew the US could use the game. It would have really given the Playstation a boost. Unfortunately, even though I went to Japan to meet with Sony Japan to try to get around the Stolar regime's edict of "no RPGs," I failed. However, I did score a really cool "Let's go one million" poster from the Japanese Playstation campaign. It's incredibly quaint to look at it now and realize that at the beginning Sony was really happy if they just broke a million. I still have the poster, next to my desk.
Kaleb: Were you intending from the start to bring the entire series over in one big "collection"?
VI: No. We tried to do Arc I and failed. Then, a few years later, after the Stolar regime was over at Sony, they were receptive to RPGs, and Arc II had just come out. We tried to do Arc II then, but unfortunately the programming and design team had gone their separate ways, and Sony Japan wouldn't release the source code for us to do it because they guard that very closely. So that was lost then, too, along with Arc Monster and Casino game. Finally in 1999, we heard about Arc III and I had the groovy idea to pitch a release of all three games (plus the Arc II expansion Arena game) in one collection to bring the US audience up to speed. Having played the games, it would have been a complete disservice to RPG players to just bring out three, since the games are tightly interrelated - especially Arc I and II. Little did I know how monumental the task would be. I initially estimated that all three games had about as much text as one LUNAR game (which are almost always among the most text-intensive out there). Once we got into it, I realized that it was more like 3 or 4 LUNAR games in size. To make it worse, I had to let the other writer that was going to do it with me go, so I ended up writing all the games. I now understand what carpal tunnel's all about.
Kaleb: Do you feel it will be hard to sell Arc the Lad Collection to gamers at retail because the graphics are dated due to it being a collection of older Playstation titles?
VI: The only ones that will be a hard sell are the illiterate gamers, graphic whores, and math dropouts. These games are fantastic entertainment, truly taking the player away to another place by means of a great story and cool visuals. Yes, the graphics are somewhat old skool, but the level of detail in the animation is really astounding and easily on par with current entertainment. On top of that, the collection is a tremendous value, with each game averaging less than $20. If you want to
get an RPG for less than $20, it's really hard to find even two good ones, let alone four with this consistent level of quality. There's a reason these games are all in the top 100 ever in Japan out of 4,000 games released--they're amazing.
Kaleb: I have heard Sony announce they are working on the next installment of Arc the Lad for the PlayStation 2. Will Working Designs have the opportunity to port this title over to the US or has Sony finally "seen the light" and realized that there is a big market for the title in the US?
VI: It's not really clear what path that will take. I guess it depends on the success of Arc Collection. But Sony is not stupid. In many cases they will step aside and hand an RPG to a company that they feel can do a better job localizing and marketing it in the interests of advancing their platform. I think that's extremely smart, and I'm quite grateful they've entrusted us with great games like Alundra, Elemental Gearbolt, and now Arc Collection. I CAN say that if we do another Arc, it will not be the Online one. We don't have the resources to support an online game at the moment.
Kaleb: Why did it take so long for Arc the Lad Collection to be finished?
VI: Text, text, firings, text, testing, text, testing, testing, crashes, text, packaging extras, text, text, testing, testing, text.
Kaleb: Can you explain the changes that were made from the Japanese version to the US?
VI: Wow, there are way too many to include all of them. The interfaces on all three games were unified as much as possible, movies were upgraded to 24 bit on Arc I and II, dual shock was added, memory card saves were expanded, we made it so the game would remember prior menu choices in certain cases to speed up the battles, a one button shortcut to the abilities/spell menus was added, title screens were updated, animations were adjusted to be more visually interesting, pseudo-two player support was added (second joystick will control characters for tag-team players), the list goes on and on...
Kaleb: Was there anything that you had to leave out of Arc the Lad Collection that you originally intended to be in the game?
VI: Just two small segments in Arc II. Arc II, especially, had severe memory problems with all the stuff we were trying to cram in it. There were two areas where dialogue had to go to make the module build reliably. It's a bit unfortunate, but it's .00001 percent of the game, so I guess it's not terrible. There was a somewhat humorous side-effect to the second one, though. It's detailed in the strategy guide as an "OOPS! check," which is where we tell the players about things that were screwed up and fixed between the Japanese and US release, or things that couldn't be fixed.
We also scaled ideas for the packaging back a little bit. We'll just save the ideas we had for some game in the future.
Kaleb: Which character is your favorite in Arc the Lad Collection and why?
VI: Hmmm. Aside from the hidden character (my fave-fave, but a big spoiler in the why department), I'd say Diekbeck. A cool robot you can really power up that you can also leech experience from. Doesn't get much cooler than that.
Kaleb: Which game within Arc the Lad Collection is your favorite and why?
VI: Arc II, without question. G-Craft and Sony put together a game that is pretty much peerless. No one has ever tried all the stuff they did in that one game and pulled it off, and they did. The depth of story, the jobs, the wanted monsters, the combine shops, the characters, it's simply an amazing game by itself. Having a prologue (Arc I) and an epilogue (Arc III) just makes it even better. This collection is easily one of the best ways any RPG fan can spend 130-150 hours of their lives.
Kaleb: What is your favorite game of all time?
VI: Tough. My feelings for various games change depending on when I'm asked. Barring any of the games We have done (many of which are my all-time favorites), I would say stuff like Last Armageddon, Tengai Makyo II, and maybe Vagrant Story. On the PC side, I loved Full Throttle and Grim Fandango, but hated the inaccurate interfaces!
Kaleb: Have you ever considered re-publishing older, classic (not to mention hard to find) Working Designs titles like Dragon Force on to the PS2?
VI: It's been discussed. A new day has dawned at SEGA, so who knows?
Kaleb: Will Working Designs ever develop their own unique titles or will you continue porting Japanese titles over to the US market?
VI: We've talked about it, and at one time thought we would, but the stream of great games we can license in Japan is pretty much never-ending. Why take the risk of a game from scratch, when you can take a good game and make it great or a great game and make it fantastic? I think we'll be doing what we do for a long time...
Kaleb: With so many great titles in the Japanese market on platforms besides the PlayStation and PlayStation 2, do you have any plans to support the GameCube, Game Boy Advance, or Xbox in the future?
VI: GameCube and Advance are definite possibilities, but I don't feel the need to do Xbox.
Victor, thanks for giving us a little bit of your time to answer these questions. We look forward to hearing more from you at E3.