Interview with Bill Swartz from Mastiff on Gurumin 3D

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When Gurumin originally released on the PC in 2005, many greatly enjoyed the game and when it saw releases on other platforms such as the PSP and most recently Nintendo 3DS, many continued enjoying the game greatly. I personally feel it is a fantastic game and really enjoyed my time with the 3DS version.
Today, I am honored to have Bill Swartz from Mastiff with me and he answered a number of questions I had on Gurumin 3D and more. I hope you all enjoy this interview!

RK: Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Bill: My name is Bill Swartz and I’m a Leo. I at one time held the title of Youngest Person In The World. While I’m afraid I’ve lost that, I am proud to report that I’m currently older than I’ve ever been before, which I’ll score as a personal best.

I’m also Head Woof at Mastiff. I’ve had people tell me that I should call myself President, which I did when I mailed a business card to my mom. But in general I figure, if you can’t have fun at a games company, why bother.
RK: Thank you for spending some time to answer a few questions! My first question would be what was the origin of Mastiff as a company?
Bill: I ran Activision Japan from 1990 to 2000. After I left Activision I had the bright idea of starting a company, that way I could work 80 hours a week for myself – a clever way to avoid working 60 hours a week for someone else. Soon after I started Mastiff two other Activision alumni joined me, and that became the core group.

I picked the name Mastiff because I loved dogs, as did one of the initial partners; Mastiffs are big, friendly fellows that grow fast; and I wanted a proper noun that could be turned into a logo as a name, not something abstract.
RK: The name choice was something I always wondered about but I do agree; considering how charming the games you publish are, Mastiff is a wonderful name for your studio! Regarding localization and publishing work, what was Mastiff’s very first project? How do you feel about this project when it released?
Bill: We had two that released nearly simultaneously, both for the PS1. They were Easter Bunny’s Big Day and Dirt Jockey

Easter Bunny’s Big Day was a good idea (PS1 game with lots of mini-games released around Easter with Easter themed mini-games) that never really clicked, even at a super low price point. I’m proud we got it out in time, and think it was a decent try but obviously sad that it just didn’t work either critically or commercially.
The second game was Dirt Jockey, a construction simulator. It was great. People are still buying it (almost) every day on PSN. Obviously, it was PS1 graphics so by today’s standards it looked simplistic but it really captured the heavy equipment operator experience.
RK: Those sound like very interesting early projects for the studio. Glad to hear that Dirt Jockey was a success and continues to be so for the studio. How did the localization process begin for Gurumin?
Bill: With a strong understanding that no one was going to be involved in the localization that couldn’t understand the original. Frequently, a localization is done by having a translator, who doesn’t understand the game and is being paid by the word, doing a translation which is then cleaned up by an English speaking producer who may or may not know how to write at professional level but doesn’t have any clue as to the original Japanese.  The lost leading the blind is not a good idea, and this kind of translation work flow is at best going to give you a polished turd. Not something we were interested in.

Our job was to give a US player a completely parallel experience to a Japanese player. Since each player would enter the game with a different knowledge base, it was OK to shift things slightly to make sure the overall experience remained the same. As an example of this, here’s a discussion of the process we went through in coming up with character name translations.
RK: Interesting to hear some of the early localization struggles of the game. It makes sense that you had an on-board translator in addition to writing the game in English the best way you see fit in getting across the games messages and meaning. I feel this is reflective with the writing in the game, as it is really charming and funny. I do wonder, did you get a lot of freedom when localization the game? Or did Falcom have a set vision for the games English/Western release that you tried to follow?
Bill: Thanks. It was the product of much time, love, and money! NHF is a great partner, but no, we were never micro-managed.  
RK: Great to hear that Falcom gave you freedom to properly localize the game! I personally feel if you are in charge of translating a game from Japanese to English, you should have enough freedom to make things sound natural in the English language. My next question would be where you happy with the games critical and commercial reception when it originally released on PC back in 2004?
Bill: We had nothing to do with the PC release, which was only Japan and (I think) Korea. We did ship in on PSP in the US, then last year on Steam, and in October on 3DS. And yes, we’ve been pleased with the reception.

RK: Glad to hear you are happy with the games success! What made you as a studio want to bring the game to the PlayStation Portable. Were there any developmental challenges in getting the game to run on the PSP?
Bill: Nihon Falcom already had it running on PSP so the programming wasn’t a tremendously heavy lift, though because it is such a big game it did require a fair amount of management.We wanted to do it mainly because we loved the game, and of course because we wanted to work with both NHF and Sony.
RK: When you decided to bring Gurumin to Steam, what were some goals for that version of the game?
Bill: The PSP had a fairly limited audience, so with the Steam version we wanted to get the game in front of a larger and broader audience. Beyond that, the only goal was doing it right on Steam. Big picture support, trading cards, all the thing the Steam audience would want.
RK: It is great hearing you did what was needed to adapt the game to Steam, as it made that version enjoyable to that audience. When Gurumin 3D was announced, I was happy to hear that the title was getting another major release. Did you have any major goals when bringing the game to the Nintendo 3DS? And did you face any issues when porting the game to the Nintendo 3DS?

Bill: The goal was to get the game in front a Nintendo audience, and of course to do right by the hardware. In the case of 3DS, that means great 3D graphics and good use of the second screen.
3DS development was really, really hard. Gurumin was built to be fun, but not to be computationally efficient. That’s fine on a PC, which has nearly unlimited cycles and memory, and even on the PSP you can get away with it. But running in 3D on the 3DS means drawing at essentially 60fps (it’s 30 FPS on essentially two different screens, one for each eye) on clever but smaller hardware. It took a while to get right. We also spent a fair amount of time polishing the U/I for the platform.
RK: Considering how you had to work with a smaller resolution screen and touch screen, it is interesting to hear you spent a long time getting the User Interface right. Running 3D is a challenge on the 3DS as it can be taxing to the hardware for some games, so glad you was able to get 3D running for Gurumin 3D. I know that the PlayStation Portable version of Gurumin is playable on both European and North American Accounts for the PS Vita, but did you consider making a PS Vita version of Gurumin? If not, why so?
Bill: Since the game can be played in emulation mode, it just didn’t seem like a great use of resources.
RK: That makes sense, considering the game feels great on the PS Vita when in PSP mode. When Gurumin 3D released on the 3DS, many enjoyed the game, myself included. Were you happy as a company to see the games critical reception?
Bill: Yes, absolutely delighted. We put our heart-and-soul into the game, but when press and fans like it, it makes it all worthwhile.
RK: What future goals do you have for the Gurumin IP and other possible localization projects?
Bill: Currently it’s to have many, many more people pick up and enjoy Gurumin 3D and its portability. There are dozens of hours’ worth of story, gameplay, loot to collect, outfits and headgear to obtain, and secrets to be discovered.
RK: Are console versions of Gurumin for consoles something that you and the rest of Mastiff thought about in the past? I would love to see the game on PS4 and Wii U/Switch in the future.
Bill: We’d certainly love to do a project like that.
RK: That is great to hear! When developing Gurumin 3D, what was one aspect of the game that you felt is the games strongest point? I felt that the core gameplay was for me personally, as it was a lovely blend of the 3D Zelda games and the Mega Man Legends titles.

Bill: From a gameplay standpoint I think you nailed it. From a total experience standpoint, I think it’s a mixture of the well-crafted, serious Action-RPG core gameplay with the fun, light, soft story and visuals. I also think the game’s extras, like the rhythm system, are worth mentioning.
RK: Recently, the Gurumin social media page you run shared that someone produced a custom Amiibo of Parin was made. Is the idea of making Amiibo based of Gurumin something Mastiff thought about when making the 3DS version of the game? I would love to buy a few Amiibo of the Monster Village cast.
Bill: I wish that we’d thought of an Amiibo(s) early on! I’m afraid though that we aren’t likely to do them on a commercial basis for Gurumin, though if there is overwhelming demand there could be a possibility. Perhaps with a project I’ll give it more serious consideration.

RK: That is great to hear! I’m sure many would love to buy a Parin amiibo in the future. Any final comments you would like to make before we close this interview? It is an honor to speak with you about Gurumin and your studio Bill. 
Bill: Thank you for your time, I’ve really enjoyed doing this and we are thrilled that you enjoyed Gurumin so much.
I’d just end with two requests. The first being that If you have any interest at all in action-PRGs, 3D platformers, real-time combat, charming stories with lovable characters please pick Gurumin up. As a small company, our ability to keep brining you titles like this comes entirely from our sales, and every unit really does make a difference. And the second is that you be kind to one another.

You can learn more about Gurumin by visiting the games official site and Twitter page! You can purchase the game on the PC via Steam, the PlayStation Network Storefront in both North America and of course on the Nintendo 3DS E-Shop. Gurumin 3D is a title 3WIREL has reported on in the past, with us reviewing the game a while back.

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