Friday, September 14, 2012

Clock Tower: A Road to Dejapanesification [Part 1: A Presentiment]

Before I commence the insurmountable task of recording this epic novel, I would just like to point out that the Sunlight shining through the gap in my curtains is simply otherworldly. Its golden ethereality illuminates a drifting trail of dust, transmuting it into a lazily floating cloud of celestial glitter. Accompanied by the serene tones of music iconic to Balamb Garden in a world so far away, and behind that the busy and muffled vroom of the vacuum cleaner, this enchanting scene evokes a strikingly nostalgic moment transporting me somewhere far back in the unimaginable folds of time.

I only need to draw back the curtains a fraction more to utterly destroy this little magical setting and remind me that it is indeed 5 o'clock on a Thursday afternoon, and most disappointingly my dusty windows are actually the main cause of the lighting setup, artificially enhancing the colourizing effect of the weak pre-summer twilight on the general haze of dust particles pervading my room. All this and I have four assignments I'm meant to be working on. Great.

Ah, procrastination. Why art thou so enticing?

Casting a world-wearied glance outside, I then yank the curtains shut. It goes dark, and behind me, the music changes.
A low, uniform electronic tone.
My heart skips a beat. Then nothing.

It plays again, higher this time. Chilling me to the bone.

And again. Pertinent. Unforgiving.

And again.

Clock Tower.
I know it even before the piece suddenly splits into a series of steady shrieking tones evoking an image of being chased down dark hallways by an invisible psycho killer. At the end of each hallway, lies either your doom, or a hair's breadth escape, for the present.

I absolutely love this game. I discovered it a while back, while reading some obscure forum post discussing scary games. I'd played games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, and was looking for something more. Something tastefully creepy. As such I was very interested on coming across a comment about an obscure 2D point-and-click horror game by a company called Human Entertainment for the SNES long ago that was considered by many to be the platform's scariest. On further research I learned that the game had never been localized for release in the West, however the SNES version had received an English fan-translation.
For those who haven't heard of this under-discovered gem, the version I'm talking about is the very first one in the series, originally released for the SNES console way back in the dark ages of 1995.
And one dark game it is. The story follows the tribulations of a young orphan, Jennifer after she is adopted into the Barrows family. On arriving at the Barrow's mansion, she and her adoptee sisters discover a very unexpected fate waiting for them. For me, the icon of the game is the main antagonist, Bobby, a deranged and deformed killer child who stalks his prey throughout the mansion wielding a giant pair of shears. The scary scenes in the game are mainly comprised of 'chase scenes' in which Bobby chases Jennifer while making snipping noises with his shears as she frantically tries to find a suitable place to hide. Although a very short game with a playthrough time averaging under an hour, this is actually one of its strengths. This is because of the multiple endings that are obtainable by taking different actions throughout the story. Playing the game through at least nine times in order to get all nine endings isn't as tedious as it sounds. Because the story is so short, the actions that you take differ quite a lot between different endings.
The game was apparently pretty popular in Japan because it got a port to the PlayStation 1 in 1997, and two more after that, for the Wonderswan and PC in 1999. More recently, a company called Artimatica, under the direction of a guy named Chris Darril, have taken it upon themselves to develop a tributary re-imagining of the original game, which they titled Remothered. I was initially very excited to hear this, but after a while I heard something that made me a little skeptical, since it seems like they're ditching the original point-and-click mechanic for a free-style 3D control system like that of Clock Tower 3 and Haunting Ground, both 3D horror games for the PS2 related to the series. They share vaguely similar gameplay mechanics to the original game. Its not that I'm old fashioned but its just that I truly believe that the old system really works. Some people may think that point and click is something of the past, but for me it really made the game. Frantically clicking on things during a chase scene to find something to use in order to save your skin created tension in a unique way. Sure, it wasn't immersive in the sense that you could feel a direct connection with the player, but this slight break in the connection really helped keep you on edge in a cinematic sense. You are forced to watch helplessly as the main character pays for her mistakes that you somehow influenced her to make. And on the other hand, what really destroys the realism in 3D games is that it sometimes feels as if you have too much control. You can make the character do funny things. Like face-planting in walls. Spooky.

Anyway, I could go on forever singing Clock Tower's praises but that isn't quite what we're here for. For all my superfanboyism I admit I have only got around to playing the SNES version. The reason for this is simply because it has an English translation available. Only the SNES and PC versions got fan-translations, and while the PC version is rare, the SNES version is the most widely played. Upon hearing that the PS1 version (officially subtitled The First Fear) had some additional content, I was disappointed upon discovering that it had yet to have a translation hack made of it.

And so I've decided to take up the challenge of making a translation hack of it myself.

Ah, romhacking. Ever since I made a bet with my older sister when I was little that I would be able to find some way to change various stuff in games, I have been fascinated by the skills of people who have managed to hack games and even make whole new games out of existing ones. Way back I did get into some modding for a PC game called Age of Mythology, but absolutely nothing requiring too much brain power. So I think that perhaps this is a better time to start than never! So while I absolutely can't read a word of Japanese, I know someone who can, and that someone amazingly agreed to help with the hack, so bingo, that's the first step sorted.
Get help, Check.

Anyway, I think this will do nicely for an introduction, so basically what I'm going to do in each of these posts is describe the process of my learning how to make a translation hack of a PS1 game step by step of the way, using Clock Tower: The First Fear as a kind of case study. I'll write exactly what my thoughts were at key points in the process and point out various helpful resources for those who might be interested in getting into the same thing. This will not, however, be a lesson in basic computer science, so just a word of warning for those not particularly interested in such things: this will get pretty technical pretty fast.

And for those of you in for the ride, hold on tight 8)

No comments:

Post a Comment