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Working Designs meets their Designer

posted on December 13th, 2005 by jay

"First of all, sorry for being incommunicado for such a long time. It’s been a busy time, as you’ll see.

There’s no easy way to say it, so I just will. Working Designs is gone. All the staff has been laid off and the office is closed and has been for some time. Yes, the website is still here, and I am going to do my best to keep it tucked away somewhere on the ‘net so it doesn’t become an illicit domain. (Of course, some of the haters may be of the mind that it’s been illicit all along, heh!).

The most frustrating part of all of this is that I know that our fanbase is still there. Growlanser Generations sold well, but of course not better than it would have sold as two separate titles. We just spent too much time fighting the good fight to even get it out, and other games approved.

Though almost finished and substantially improved from the Japanese release, Goemon is dead for the US, and that was really the final straw. If I can’t guarantee that the games I personally choose for us to release in the US can actually get approved and come out, there’s no business to be done. There is a possibility that it may be released in Europe (as well as Growlanser Generations), but nothing is finalized yet.

I know many of you will have lots of questions, and there will be some I can answer, and some I can’t. Sony has made it clear that they do not want the details of their dealings with any publisher made public. Suffice to say that you would buy what we wanted to sell if we could sell it.

I want to thank each and every one of you personally for being a fan, buying the games we released, and telling your friends. You HAVE made a difference, because you bought the crazy things we did. Thanks to YOU, there are deluxe packs, pack-in soundtracks, better packaging, great hint guides, and better localizations in general. We said it a lot, but it really was true. We were nothing without you.

For the future, there are still great opportunities. I have been in touch with a number of other publishers and manufacturers and I will be working with some of the WD staff to do games for other publishers for the time being, but not as Working Designs. One thing that holds a ton of promise is XBOX 360 RPGs, and I’ve contacted Microsoft about getting what’s underway in Japan out in the US and helping to get more done worldwide. We’ll see what happens on that front, but please let them know that YOU WANT MORE JRPGs here. There’s some amazing stuff coming for the ‘360 in Japan, and I know I want it – I think you will, too.

Thanks for everything. It’s a tough road ahead for games that aren’t of the least-common-denominator variety. The choices you make with your hardware dollars are more important than ever for the generation that is upon us.

With that, I bid all of us…

…Good night, and Good Luck."

– Victor Ireland


Growlanswer town
Sony doesn’t dig PS1 games with sprites being published in North America.

Working Designs was most famous for its localizations of Game Art’s Lunar series. I only played the first one briefly, but have enjoyed other Working Designs titles. Magic Knight Rayearth is still sitting on my shelf unplayed, but Popful Mail, Alundra and Dragon Force all got significant time in their respective consoles. A proper eulogy would be better left to fans who have played more of the games they localized, but it is only natural for anyone who cares about the state of the game industry to want to say a few words.

At their best, Working Design’s gave us expert ports of Japanese RPG’s that would not have ever made it to this shore. They put significant effort into translating and improving the dialog and narration, but also made tweaks to improve gameplay. Each game was a unique project for them and they made it apparent by adding a message to their fans at the end of their game’s manuals (which were in color and wonderfully done). Vic Ireland, their president, would tell us a little about the process of porting the specific game, tell us about the tweaks they made and thank us for supporting them. No one will ever make a strong case that the company did not care about its fans.

Popful Mail cut scene pic
Popful Mail was a very funny game. Also violent.

At their worst, Working Designs was releasing a game every few years, and the games themselves weren’t always amazing. Some criticize the translations and accuse them of bastardizing the originals by including pop references and too much humor. Vic Ireland has also been accused of being an overly proud and arrogant man. His falling out with Bernie Stolar and Sega at the end of the Saturn era has mostly been seen as a hero being cast aside by a RPG crushing monster, but there have been murmurs that the hero was simply looking for a reason to jump ship and cut support of Sega. Whatever the truth is, it is undeniable that to run a company basically by yourself and have a minor cult of personality requires at least a little arrogance.

Dragon Force manual
A lot of the text on the manual covers was done in raised lettering. Very classy.

Why the company went under is up for debate and depends on your gaming politics. One major reason cited by fans and the company itself is that Sony’s American approval process for publishers is asinine. Sony does not like 2D games because they don’t believe they fit the company and the consoles image. Sony tends to make it very hard for these games to be released in the West, but generally has no problem allowing complete piece of shit cookie cutter 3D games to saturate the market. Working Designs last release, Growlanser Generations, was delayed around three years because of Sony’s approval process. Ultimately, to get the game in a releasable state, they were forced to release two full games in one package. Sony’s approval process is very worthy of all gamers contempt.

It is debatable that Working Designs killed themselves through stubbornness and perfectionism. Their games were their own choice and they knew of Sony’s approval process. They insisted on publishing what they knew would kill them and they took too long with each of their projects because they cared too much. This is a realist argument and makes sense. I am an idealist.

The loss of this company is a loss we should all feel. Whether you thought their translations were hilarious or juvenile, if you question some of the shooters they ported, if you blame Sony or think all of the blame lies on themselves, or even if you think Vic might be a jerk, what this company was doing is worth respecting. Very few people are willing to bank their future on supporting what they want instead of what sells. Working Designs loved Eastern RPG’s and they thought that we should be able to play them. They were right and we need more companies willing to support what they love and not what they profit from.

Links to recent interviews about Working Designs demise: Interview 1, Interview 2

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