Welcome to an interview for the series Game Credits Who’s Who (#GameCreditsWW). Ever read the credits page of a game you enjoy and wonder about the various positions listed? Would you like to work in the game industry someday but are not sure how some of the positions work? This Monday series will take a personal look into those positions and introduce you to real people doing those very jobs in the game industry. This week, let me introduce you to José Luis Porfírio, Game Translator.
Tell us a little about yourself and what you do as a game translator.
My name is José Luis Porfírio. I’m a professional freelance translator from Lisbon, Portugal. I’ve been living off translations exclusively since late 2003. I’ve actually studied to be a translator and have a degree on the subject. My speciality languages are my native Portuguese and English – these are the languages I can translate to and from with ease. I also translate from French and Spanish. I could translate to French, but I’d have a very good editor take a look at it afterwards – my French is that rusty. As for Spanish, it’s impossible for me to translate into, because I never studied it in any depth, only a couple of years in a language institute. It is, however, so similar to Portuguese I can easily translate it to English and Portuguese.
Although I’ve translated a card game once for a Spanish company, I am specialised in roleplaying games. These are my hobby and my passion. I’ve been playing them ever since my father brought from Paris the French version of the D&D Red Box as a gift for one of my brothers in Easter, 1984. I consider them an art form and one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century in terms of entertainment. I’ve played and run games in dozens of systems and settings, and read even more. One day I hope to write some myself, but so far I contribute with my meagre skills to make RPGs accessible to more people.
So far, I’ve only ever translated games into English. I don’t think that is likely to change. Why? Firstly, because there are absolutely no RPGs being published at all in Portugal. I could translate to the thriving Brazilian market, and I actually made a few contacts in that sense. However, Brazilian Portuguese is very different in structure and vocabulary than my native dialect. Again, a native would have to heavily revise my work.
How did you become a game translator?
Now that’s a curious story. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000 I developed a profound admiration for game designers Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws, remaining to this day. Back in 2010 I found out they’d both be in Dragonmeet, a convention in London. I had never been to a gaming convention before. Oh, there are a few in Portugal, but they are so focused on board games and Magic the Gathering I never felt any interest in going. But London – that’s a 2-hour flight from Lisbon and is in the same time zone. I could go and meet my idols!
So I did, and I had a lot of fun, and I also met Chris Pramas, Chris Birch, and especially Dominick McDowell and Angus Abranson from Cubicle 7. My being a translator picked Angus’ interest, because Cubicle 7 at the time was publishing some beautiful French RPGs by 7eme Cercle. Especially Qin The Warring States – an excellent wuxia game I had played for 2 years. Now they had a problem with their translators at C7: either they knew one of the languages well but not the other, or they knew both languages well but didn’t understand anything about RPG. I was in the sweet spot. Angus contacted me a couple of weeks after the convention and I started working with them. Later I was contacted by Neko, the owner of 7eme Cercle and AKA Games.
Being a fanboy pays, folks. Together with being at the right place at the right time, with the right people.
Share with us some of your recent projects.
Now I’m working in a project I’m still not allowed to mention publicly, but it will be huge! I’m also working on the French Noir RPG Hellywood for Stewart Wieck and Nocturnal. It is set in a fictional American city in 1948, who has become the host of a new minority: refugees from Hell. It is a very dark and cynical game, strictly for mature audiences.
Before that I translated Shayo, a French game published simultaneously in several languages, for AKA Games. It is set in the future, in Japan after a cataclysm that destroyed the world as we know it. It can be described as Mad Max/Fallout meets Samurai. For AKA games I also translated the Spanish game First Contact: XCorps. This is also a game that was published simultaneously in Spanish, French and English. The French version, by the way, was based on my English translation from Spanish. It’s a D6 System based game inspired by the XCom franchise of video games, but with its own twists and options.
For Cubicle 7 I translated a few sourcebooks for Qin The Warring States, but mainly I translated the Kuro line. It consists of three books: Kuro, the core book, Kuro Makkura, a campaign, and Kuro Tensei, a sourcebook. Kuro is a mix of Japanese horror and cyberpunk, also set in a futuristic Japan that’s being blockaded by a UN fleet and in which all the horrifying creatures of Japanese folklore and horror movies are reappearing.
What is your greatest frustration or pet peeve as a game translator?
The same for every translator, I guess: delays in payment. We don’t make much money, and have bills to pay like anyone else. If we make the deadline, so should the publisher. That being said, this is a business of small companies usually run by enthusiasts and one or two bad deals away from going under. So I often grind my teeth and wait. What else can I do? One thing I try to do is: never burn your bridges. Be firm in your requests, but always polite, even friendly. The guy not paying you may refer you to someone else, and won’t do it if you’re being aggressive. I once had to wait one full year to get paid, and I’ve done my best work for that company afterwards. Patience works. Well, it worked that time.
How can readers learn more about you or contact you?
I’m on Facebook, you can add me and then use Messenger to chat. This is by far the platform I use the most for contacts, discussions, etc. I’m also on Skype (mal_reynolds – guess what show I was watching at the time) and twitter (@jlnporfirio).
Thanks for reading!