I don't play video games for the story. Story is a nice bit of seasoning you sprinkle on top to give the gameplay more flavor. I'm not opposed to story-heavy games (see: Chrono Trigger, Mass Effect, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic), but when it comes to Mega Man, all you really need is an excuse to go blow up robots.
I knew I wanted an intro cutscene for OH JOES!, and I knew I wanted to keep it short. With such a simple premise (Regular Joe steals Proto Man's shield; gameplay ensues), I could afford to devote most of the panels to developing a story that's essentially a tongue-in-cheek explanation of why I made the game in the first place.
Proto Man is always portrayed as a loner in the official Mega Man games, but even a loner needs a place to hang his helmet. I thought it might be interesting if, after rescuing Kalinka in Mega Man 4, Proto Man developed a rapport with the Cossack family. He might have run away from Dr. Light's lab, but maybe he received an open invitation to drop by Dr. Cossack's Siberian citadel anytime. This was a perfect way to get Kalinka involved in the story of OH JOES!, and I like how the situation itself implies some character development without me needing to devote any screen time to it. Sneaking in a little trivia about the origin of Sniper Joes was a bonus.
If we assume that Proto Man has been hanging out with the Cossacks off and on for the last several years, it's plausible that Kalinka has adopted Proto Man as sort of an older brother figure, and that Proto Man has grown comfortable being less reserved and aloof around her. Hopefully I captured their distinctive voices in the way the dialogue is written, because the actual content of the dialogue is basically just me having a discussion with myself. Proto Man's complaints are my complaints about the games I've played, and Kalinka's optimism is my optimism for the game you're about to play.
The intro cutscene was one of the first things I finished for the game, and I didn't need to do any other writing for over half a year. By early 2017, the game had expanded to four stages, the last of which contained a secret "break room" where the player could chat with a bunch of friendly Joes. I don't get to do it often, but I love writing NPC dialogue. Most of the break room text is purely for comedic purposes, but Apache Joe and especially Rider Joe break the fourth wall a little to explain why they aren't featured in the game.
Given the increased length of the game, I expected the player to see the game over screen at least a couple times. Influenced by both the randomized game over messages of Mega Man: Super Fighting Robot and the irreverent and occasionally informative death messages of Sierra adventure games, I began writing very helpful gameplay tips that would appear at random upon a game over.
However, the method of determining which game over message you receive is more complex than simply rolling a 74-sided digital die. This gets into programming territory, but the short version is that a number of variables control which game over messages you'll potentially see. In addition to pulling from a pool of general gameplay tips, the randomizer also considers which character and difficulty mode you've selected, which JOES letters you've collected, and where you died in the level.
Writing good game over messages is hard. You've got to be sensitive to the fact that the player might be touchy or downright angry after dying (and I'm not convinced I entirely succeeded here). Any hints need to be genuinely useful, either by revealing something the player might not have realized or by reinforcing a core survival strategy. Any humor needs to soften the blow, encouraging the player to laugh about their failure instead of feeling like a failure. That's why most of the snarky game over messages don't show up until you've collected some of the JOES letters—by that point, you're probably far enough that you have a handle on the game's sense of humor and need a quick laugh more than you need a hint.
Keep in mind that the size of the message window changed once or twice during the development process, and that I kept adding and updating messages any time I wanted to work on the game but didn't feel like doing any of the harder tasks. I spent untold hours finessing these messages. When one of my playtesters suggested making it easier to tell when you were entering a new stage, I slapped together a transition screen showcasing some of the game over hints people were less likely to see—which meant completely redoing all the line breaks yet again, and testing them in the same inefficient manner. This was one of the most tedious parts of the development process...and then I decided to do it again in three other languages.
I went to school to be a Spanish teacher, but I only briefly entertained the notion of doing a Spanish translation for OH JOES! myself. I'm out of practice, and my vocabulary is better suited to ordering lemonade and identifying color-coded farm animals than to advising players that they've been a real pantload. I'd have to do a lot of research and brushing up on grammar, and I'd want to run my translations by a native speaker no matter what. I was willing to put in the effort, but it made more sense from an efficiency and quality perspective to ask a native speaker to do the whole thing. Fortunately, I knew a guy.
Dan Castro and I were on staff together at GameCola for several years, and he had written some articles about video game localization and had done some localization/translation work himself. He was my first choice for translating OH JOES! into Spanish, and he kindly agreed to the project. Around the same time, I put out a call for translators on Discord and Sprites INC—any language you could speak, I'd try to add to the game. Garirry, one of the judges for Make a Good Mega Man Level Contest 2, volunteered to do a French translation. PKWeegee, another MaGMML community dweller, signed up for a German translation. I also received offers for Malay, Russian, and Latin, but nothing ultimately came of them.
Occasionally, a translator would ask me for some context to help them decide how to translate a line. My favorite instance of this was being asked what Scuba Joe meant by saying "Blub." Y'know...blub. It's a way of life. It's the noise you make when blowing bubbles underwater. What cracks me up is that, in French, this translates to "Bloup." I don't know why that's so funny to me, but I laugh every time I see it.
However, I did use Google Translate to check that the translations did indeed say what I thought they said. "Trust, but verify," as the saying goes. Between Google's translations of the translations, my understanding of Spanish, and my limited recollection of French and German from trips abroad, I got an interesting picture of what my game was like in different languages. Translation isn't a straightforward process; there's a lot of linguistic and cultural context to take into consideration, so literal translations don't always convey the right tone or meaning. As far as I can tell, the translators did a good job capturing the spirit of the text. With the Spanish translation, I was even able to appreciate specific word and phrase choices.
To keep things organized for myself and the translators, I dumped the entire game script and all the menu text into a Word document, organized everything into categories (identifying what was most and least essential to translate, if time/energy/interest became an issue), indicated any length restrictions, and numbered each line of text so I could quickly match up the translations with the original text. As it turns out, OH JOES! contains 8 single-spaced pages' worth of text. For comparison, the dialogue-heavy Mega Man 7 weighs in at only 3 pages. Maybe I'll write a visual novel next time.
Implementing the translations was tricky. There's a lot of programming involved in changing text from one language to another; it's not necessarily difficult programming, but you need to keep track of everything in the game that displays text, and you need to keep the code organized enough to not get confused when conditional or randomized text comes into play. In my case, I also had to keep track of image files with text as part of the picture. Despite knowing almost from the beginning that I might want to translate the game, I didn't bother making arrangements to accommodate translations until far too late. I knew this was a mistake; I would've saved a lot of time and effort by planning the game around language options from the get-go.
For the most part, I was able to keep revisions to a minimum. There were a few additional requests—for one thing, I had completely overlooked the need to translate "READY." For another thing, several playtesters expressed some confusion over what to do when they reached Dr. Cossack's lab, so I reworked his dialogue to be more direct and instructional. Unfortunately, this meant ditching two lines that I would've liked to have kept. One was the line about mushroom dumplings, pictured above; the other (which I guess I could have kept, but was too tired of programming at that point to deal with it) was in response to playing as Kalinka without having met the conditions for unlocking her: "Oh, Kalinka. I see you've been hacking your save file again. I thought we agreed you'd stop doing that."
I was originally planning on including a digital instruction manual with the game, but I wondered if it would be worth the time. Hardly anybody reads instruction manuals anymore, and anyone downloading OH JOES! probably already has a basic understanding of how to play Mega Man. On top of that, the translators already had a hefty workload, and I was concerned about what might happen if I needed to make revisions in the future and couldn't get all the translators back on board.
In retrospect, the better plan would have been to do an English-only initial release, incorporate feedback from the general public, and then translate the game once things were actually unlikely to change further. Still, I'm grateful to the translators for sticking with me, and I'm very impressed that the entire game was available in four different languages on release day. I'm very confident that's a first for a Mega Man fangame, and I've had at least a couple people express appreciation that the game is available in their language.
OK, so technically not the entire game got translated. A few items (eg, "CHARGE SFX") were deliberately left untranslated per the suggestion of one or more translators. Most notably (for me, at least), the alternate languages only have about a dozen randomized disclaimers, whereas English has...58. Coming up with disclaimers was pure fun, and my brain gravitated toward crafting more whenever I had an idle moment. I didn't think it was fair to keep foisting new disclaimers on the translators, and several of the phrases really only work in English (given that they're often nerdy quotes or riffs on warnings or product slogans in English). I told the translators they were welcome to provide their own silly disclaimers, but none did.
- FLASHMAN85'S WARDROBE BY WHEREVER THESE CLOTHES CAME FROM
- DO NOT NIBBLE ON OH JOES! LEAVE OH JOES! AT ROOM TEMPERATURE
- IF YOU FIND ANY GLITCHES, IT MEANS YOU'RE PLAYING WRONG
- DECOMPILE AT YOUR OWN RISK; MY CODE IS PROBABLY TERRIBLE
- OH JOES! STAYS CRUNCHY, EVEN IN MILK
- SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED; BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED
- NO MATTER WHERE YOU GO, THERE YOU ARE
- READING THIS TEXT WILL VOID YOUR WARRANTY
- OH JOES! IS SUITABLE FOR VEGETARIANS
- DO NOT OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY WHILE PLAYING OH JOES!
- SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: DON'T DIE
- THE MANAGEMENT IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR SHENANIGANS
- MACHINE WASH COLD WITH LIKE COLORS; TUMBLE DRY LOW
- PLEASE REPORT ANY UNFAIR CHALLENGES TO SOMEONE WHO CARES
- JUST KIDDING; YOU'RE ACTUALLY ABOUT TO PLAY 'MAZE OF DEATH'
- NOW LOADING PAIN AND SUFFERING
- I HOPE YOU WIN
- NINE OUT OF TEN DOCTORS AGREE: YOU'RE ABOUT TO PLAY OH JOES!
- THIS SPACE FOR RENT
- EXTRA LIVES ARE DONATED TO CHARITY AFTER EACH GAME
- NO JOES WERE HARMED IN THE WRITING OF THIS SENTENCE
- FUN WILL NOW COMMENCE
- SHOUTING 'SIZZLING CIRCUITS!' WILL NOT BE TOLERATED
- OH JOES! IS NOT INTENDED FOR WOOZY WATER BUFFALOES
- EMPLOYEES MUST WASH HANDS BEFORE PLAYING OH JOES!
- OH JOES! HAS BEEN TESTED ON ANIMALS; THEY ENJOYED IT
- IF YOU GET BORED DURING NORMAL GAMEPLAY, PRESS 2
- BASED ON A TRUE STORY
- NO PIZZA UNTIL YOU BEAT THE GAME
- HAVE FUN, OR ELSE
- OH JOES! IS MADE POSSIBLE BY PLAYERS LIKE YOU
- IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT OF A WATER LANDING, OH JOES! CAN BE USED AS A FLOTATION DEVICE
- MAY YOU NEVER FIND ROCKS IN YOUR SANDALS
- OH JOES! IS THE CANONICAL LINK TO THE OH JOES! SERIES
- EXCESSIVE ENJOYMENT MAY RESULT IN A SEQUEL
- RETICULATING SPLINES
- FREE HUGS; INQUIRE WITHIN
- WHEN YOU FALL IN A BOTTOMLESS PIT, YOU DIE OF STARVATION
- OH JOES! TASTES SO GOOD, CATS ASK FOR IT BY NAME
- HOW APPROPRIATE. YOU FIGHT LIKE A COW.
- OH JOES! IS FILMED IN FRONT OF A LIVE STUDIO AUDIENCE
- I LIKE SHORTS; THEY'RE COMFY AND EASY TO WEAR
- OH JOES! IS MANUFACTURED IN A FACILITY THAT PROCESSES PEANUTS
- OH JOES! IS CLOSED DURING NORMAL BUSINESS HOURS
- YOU HAVE NO CHANCE TO SURVIVE MAKE YOUR TIME
- PLEASE REMAIN SEATED UNTIL THE GAME COMES TO A COMPLETE STOP
- ALSO AVAILABLE ON LASERDISC, BETAMAX, 8-TRACK, AND VINYL
- HAPPY BIRTHDAY, IF APPLICABLE
- IT IS PITCH BLACK; YOU ARE LIKELY TO BE EATEN BY A GRUE
- OH JOES! IS NOT GONNA WRITE YOU A LOVE SONG
- GETTING STUCK IN A WALL IS A SIGN OF GOOD LUCK
- DOES ANYBODY EVEN READ THIS STUFF?
- OH JOES! IS CONVENIENTLY LOCATED RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU
- YOU ARE DRESSED APPROPRIATELY TO PLAY OH JOES!
- EXTRA LIFE EVERY 6,000,050 POINTS
- I HOPE YOU DIDN'T PAY FULL PRICE FOR THIS
- SKIPPING THE INTRO CUTSCENE IS A FEDERAL CRIME
- DON'T BLOW UP. I MEAN IT THIS TIME.