The Life and Games of Jeremy Blaustein
Date published: 2010.03.31
Source: GameSetWatch (complete version), Letter From Silent Heaven (edited version)
As a married father of three with a black belt in matsubayashi-ryu karate, Jeremy Blaustein will happily speak about his love of Japan, his many cats, and telling his son Pokémon stories. He casts an unassuming figure - just a regular guy looking after his family. Many people won't realise the vast number of games he has worked on over the past 18 years. So many games in fact, that there is probably not a single person reading this who has not either experienced one of them or knows someone who has. While he hasn't yet reached Creative Director on a project, Blaustein's work as a freelance localiser, translator, writer and voice director has given him a unique opportunity to work alongside some of the most prominent people on some of the best games in the industry. He has had a hand in shaping for its western audience everything from established franchises such as Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill and Castlevania, to lesser known cult-classics such as Shadow Hearts, Sky Odyssey and Senko no Ronde. He was even involved with the creation of Shenmue on the Dreamcast.
First Projects with Konami
"I got the job at Konami Japan when Super Famicom [Super Nintendo] and Sega were burning everything up in the 16-bit world."
Rather than work in Research and Development, something which he'd always wanted, the young Blaustein was posted in the international business department - a single foreigner in a company employing over a thousand Japanese people. Recalling the time, he spoke of the difficulty getting ideas noticed by those in positions of creativity. In spite of this though, being a native English speaker meant he was asked to write the text for several Konami games, including Rocket Knight Adventures, Sparkster, Animaniacs, Biker Mice From Mars and others. It also allowed him to get an understanding how Japanese developers viewed the west.
"The minds at Konami Japan were thinking: there are some games that we make that are going to be just domestic, and there are some games that we're going to make for overseas, because they like violence and we like violence less. We like lots of deep, rich RPG stories, with Japanese mythology, and they won't buy that. So we need to start developing a sports series. I was there when Konami started talking about developing a soccer series, and we were so far behind EA and companies like that. My direct boss was very big on the idea of getting that going. Look where they are now, with the Winning Eleven series."
Blaustein's first official work on a game was as producer on the English version of Snatcher on the Sega CD, with Scott Hard acting as translator. Blaustein had been asked to assess the potential for Snatcher to sell in the west and, in the context of the time, he was blown away by the quality of the story and resonance of the characters. They put a lot of effort into it, hiring some quality voice actors and recording most of the dialogue simultaneously in one room. Sadly the sales were abysmal, thanks mainly to the low user-base of the hardware. After Snatcher Blaustein decided to go freelance, though maintained a strong relationship with Konami.
Silent Hill series
"Silent Hill 2 was a game intended from the start for the USA, because it had more blood and everyone was becoming hypersensitive about violence and gore in Japan."
The other big series Blaustein is known for working on is Konami's Silent Hill, parts 2, 3 and The Room. The second holds a particularly special place in his heart, since he came aboard as a creative consultant for the team, not only dealing with the English text and directing the voice actors, but helping to formulate early story ideas.
"Forget about having started the game, even while Owaku was throwing around ideas for his story, they called me in to have a big conference and meeting about what I thought would be acceptable themes in America. There was a solid team of about four or five guys, including Owaku and the monster creator guy, Tsuboyama."
With Blaustein having such a direct influence on the game, I thought it time to clear up a few questions which fans of the series have been asking over the years. Two long-running debates held by fans, such as those on igotaletter.com, pertains to the nature of Angela's past (was the abuse by her father physical and sexual or only physical?), and also what is being said during the 'voice whisper' which can occasionally be heard in Blue Creek Aparment, Room 209, before the first "boss" fight.
Blaustein stated categorically that the sexual abuse Angela is speculated to have endured at the hands of her father, did indeed occur as part of Silent Hill 2's back story. He explained, "This is an easy issue to clear up. I can tell with 100% clarity on the subject that it was always the intention of the creators that Angelas's background contained sexual abuse at the hands of her father. In return, she stabbed him to death. That is why she is in Silent Hill. From the very earliest conversations that I was in on (the pre-script writing meeting), the team had the intention of including incest and sexual abuse in one of the character's backgrounds. They wanted, remember, to get at the very heart (or maybe I should say edges) of psychological pain. So we all knew precisely what we wanted with Angela in terms of her dialog on paper and as performed. It is also well reflected in her appearance. We thought about it all the time, in every scene. Just watch the scenes again. She gets physically ill when she thinks about her experience. It seems clearly depicted to me if you know what you are looking for."
"As for the whisper, I am pretty sure it is just a little loop of one of the actors doing what we called at the time 'butsu-butsu' or 'hitori-goto' (mumbling or talking to himself) in the recording booth. I think they just snipped a loop and added some reverb. The Japanese sound guys would NOT have known what he was saying either, if I am right, because it was just unscripted adlib."
"I would say it was without a doubt the single biggest influence I've had on a game. I don't think there was any other game where I was ever asked to have that much of an affect on the story. It was also unique in that series that I did all the translation myself, and I did all the direction myself - the voice direction and motion capture directing. It was completely unprecedented."
Blaustein went on the share his personal reflections on the game, especially the emotional impact of the letter James Sunderland writes, and revealed an interesting anecdote from the recording booth. "I was reading through a SH2 FAQ and came across 'the letter' from SH2. I really loved it and wanted more readers to have a chance to see it. The scene where Maria reads it, if you have never seen it, is one of the three most emotional moments I have ever had with the actors. The actress cried after she read it and many of us were getting a little misty-eyed. Try to listen to it on Youtube if you can. It was a great moment." [Click here to listen to Mary's letter]
ZPang in the future?
"I'm in videogames, I don't want to look like a Wall Street banker."
Blaustein's current company is ZPang, which is undergoing a shift in direction. From the new year Blaustein has moved with his family from America over to Japan, where the heart of videogame localisation work is. He also has several exciting works in the pipeline, especially for Apple's iPod range.
One such game, which can't be disclosed yet due to an NDA, is a classic title with deep Japanese roots, which most people would never have expected to ever reach the west. And yet, Blaustein is concerned about Apple's hardware. "Unfortunately I don't have a lot of confidence that iPod apps will necessarily pay. It reminds me a little bit of the 1980s glut that caused the whole crash of Atari, because there's just too many apps. It takes time to design games/apps and the perceived value of these things is being really degraded by the sheer glut of free or 99 cent games. So I'm not very confident that it will work."
"I'm also looking into more dubbing of anime, TV programme and so on, as well as potentially some interesting music-related material. I know some interesting people, and as an entrepreneur, you always think about the connections you have and how can you put people together to form more powerful opportunities."
"I regret the fact that I don't do as many games these days. I regret the fact that game companies don't consider a translation to be a work of art - they consider the original script something that should be done by a script writer, and it's well written for the story. But for some reason people still think that the process of localising the script into English, from the Japanese, or creating the French or Portuguese, somehow is not an art. They think that the translation is something that can just be given out to two or three translators. That to me seems remarkably small minded. You're talking about a game that was created for the Japanese, a population of 130 million people, and then it's going out to 300 million Americans and several million Europeans, and they ask for it to be translated in three weeks, a game that was worked on for two years! I don't understand what people are thinking when they do that. How can it be given such short shrift?"
With Blaustein's move from America to Japan, you'll now likely find him giving games and other media the attention they deserve when being localised. He's got several games planned, plus work in anime and a few things he'd rather not disclose just yet. Otherwise you can follow his work on the ZPang website: http://www.zpang.com/