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An Online Feud Killed a Gaming Oddity People Had Waited 21 Years For

The strange world of fan localizations—a land of eternal hope and broken promises—dashed the excitement of fans ready to play this obscure 'Twin Peaks'-inspired game.

by Patrick Klepek
Aug 6 2019, 5:27pm

Image courtesy of Human Entertainment

“Go make your own goddamn hack and stop using my shit.” And just like that, the mysterious Mizzurna Falls, a Twin Peaks-inspired obscurity from the PlayStation 1 era, wasn’t playable in English, mere hours after it was. This moment was high-profile but not unique to the world of fan localizations, a mixture of messy, often anonymous characters with mixed agendas.

Last week was supposed to be a moment of celebration for fans of Mizzurna Falls, one of the medium’s first “open world” games. Mizzurna Falls hit in 1998, three years before Grand Theft Auto III turned “open world” into its own genre, but never left Japan. A translation of the game’s script had been around for years, but there was no way to play in English. That all changed with the surprise release of a localization patch last week, one that disappeared.

News spread quickly because Mizzurna Falls has been an object of cult fascination—and a forgotten historical marker—for so long. That should have been that, until the patch suddenly vanished, with a harsh note from Gemini, the original programmer who’d spent years laying the groundwork for the patch, saying he never gave permission for this to happen and didn’t approve of some “random dude to release [the patch] in a broken and incomplete state.”

It’s true the patch wasn’t complete and and was especially prone to crashing. But a patch was a patch, and absent anything else, maybe it was better than nothing. At least, that was the argument being made by the “random dude,” aka starplayer, who released the patch, after messing with the source code Gemini had publicly released on GitHub months prior.

“At least the world can now play this weird and awesome game,” said starplayer in a note accompanying the patch’s release, a note that itself gave full credit to Gemini’s past work and ample warning.

That is no longer true. Why, exactly, is harder to parse.

These days, most games are released worldwide in a variety of languages. It wasn’t always this way; it’s a recent phenomenon. Scores of games from the past will never leave their native language because there’s either no financial motivation to localize it or the rights to have become so convoluted to the point it’s unclear who owns it anymore. This leaves any path forward to passionate fans dedicating free time to localizing scripts in another language, then sorting through undocumented code to try and find ways to make that translated text playable. It’s why a game like Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 took a full 20 years to be localized!

Mizzurna Falls is not Fire Emblem, though. There are cult followings and there are cult followings. Fire Emblem is made by Nintendo, with a decades-long legacy. Mizzurna Falls was a one-off oddity from a designer who shipped this and decided to become a Canadian nature guide. (Seriously.) That means interest in Mizzurna Falls waxes and wanes with time, leaving fans hoping, with anxious and bated breath, when a specialist turns their eyes to it.

For a time, that was Gemini, a programmer with a specialization in hacking old PlayStation games. They saw an opportunity to team with Evie, who translated the Mizzurna Falls’ Japanese text after playing through the game on YouTube and so many responded to it.

That was 2017. Most fan projects, localization or not, fail. People lose interest, companies issue cease-and-desist notices, or, as was the case here, the project was a pain in the ass. Gemini picked away at Mizzurna Falls for a while, but eventually decided to give up on it.

“The reason why I never completed the thing was because the code is a glorious mess,” said Gemini to me recently, “and it would take too long to figure out. It's quite a challenge not because of complexity, but because the underlying code is a complete clusterfuck.”

On GitHub, where Gemini eventually published his source code, he attached a short note:

“This is the full extend of the sources and some of the data used in the Mizzurna Falls translation project. Since people keep on asking about it, I decided to release the full package to let someone else pick up from where I left, but it's up to the hacker to figure out what's in here.”

That note is key to understanding why Gemini ultimately went nuclear, and trying to bury a patch that, on some level, helped deliver what he’d been working on: he wanted someone to pick up where they left off. This code was incomplete, a mere framework for another person to use. This patch didn’t grab the baton from Gemini, it took what was already there, applied some duct tape to keep it from completely falling apart, and released it into the world.

“My problem is that he took what I could have released years ago by myself,” said Gemini, who these days works on making old Resident Evil games work on modern Windows software. “But since I don't like being associated with half-assed incomplete projects, I asked him to remove the patch. That made him spawn and spam re-uploads everywhere.”

Once Gemini exercised his licensing rights to the code and had the patch taken down, it’s true that starplayer did start sharing alternative download links to it on places like reddit.

“I released the patch because lots of people were asking for it for years, even if it was in a unfinished state” starplayer told me. “I consider that an unfinished patch is better than no patch. More, it has a better chance of being finished now that's it out in the open than before when it was obscured in a GitHub without documentation [explaining how to finish it].”

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Starplayer, who admitted to not being a “professional programmer, much less a ROM hacker,” said it took a week with “lots of frustration” to fit the pieces together. He pushed back on arguments they plagiarized Gemini’s work, citing the credit given in the patch’s notes—which is true—and pointed to the fans who appreciated the release of anything over nothing.

“All I did was compile the code and release it,” they said. “I never took any more credit than that. I also never said the patch was finished. What some people consider playable is different than what I consider playable. Even if it crashes from time to time, lot's [sic] of people have reached out to me saying that they prefer trying the game this way, than not trying it all. So I have no regrets.”

Starplayer confirmed a brief exchange with Gemini, where Gemini asked for the patch to be taken down. Starplayer said in “just 15 minutes,” the file was removed by copyright claim.

“I lament that Gemini is upset, as he is a very talented programmer,” said staplayer. “In my opinion, he should focus his energy on more positive emotions. The greatest works have always been the works of many people. If it was [me], I would have done exactly the same. I regret nothing. The world is a better place now. Buggy hack is better than zero hack.”

The whole experience spooked Gemini, who ultimately took down their GitHub upload, fearing someone else would try to do the same thing starplayer did. Something uploaded to the Internet can never truly be contained, but if it can’t be obtained easily, at least people have to jump through hoops. The average person won’t be able to find it, though arguably anyone who’s seeking a Mizzurna Falls localization is not an average person to begin with.

Caught in the middle of this are the fans without the skill to translate or program, who likely could have judged for themselves whether a half-baked project that crashed frequently was worth poking at. Also stuck between starplayer and Gemini is Evie, the translator who can be largely credited with helping put Mizzurna Falls on the map, whose localization formed the textual basis of Gemini’s work.

"The greatest works have always been the works of many people. If it was [me], I would have done exactly the same. I regret nothing. The world is a better place now."

Evie did not respond to my request for comment, but has been commenting on Twitter, where they encouraged people to not lash out at Gemini for the decision they had made.

“Obviously I’d prefer someone to come out with a 100% working patch for Mizzurna Falls,” said Evie. “But for that to happen, the game needs to be more widely known so it can reach the person or persons with the actual skill and willingness to do it. I’ve tried to spread the word of this game. So this recent attempt has at least gotten people talking about the game again, for which I’m thankful, obviously.”

Of course, that’s been the main problem for years now. Plenty of people want to play Mizzurna Falls, but not many have the patience and expertise to make it happen, and by virtue of Mizzurna Falls’ niche appeal, it’s working from a smaller pool of talent than others.

Gemini acknowledged and understood why Evie would be happy with more people taking an interest in this overlooked game, but he doubted it would “spawn any real interest in fixing it.”

“Usually people are players, not hackers,” he said.

Maybe, maybe not. That was the reason starplayer released the patch in the first place; there was no guarantee that someone else would come forward. Mizzurna Falls is not alone in having incomplete localizations; in fact, that’s the status quo for most games in this state!

“Hopefully, I've set the wheels turning,” said starplayer. “At worst, people can have a small new experience in their lives they couldn't have before.”

A day after we spoke, Gemini contacted me and said that “all the drama” had brought a skilled hacker out of the midst, and they were working on a path to completing the patch.

“So happy ending I guess,” they said.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you've seen anything happen in the world of localization, drop an email: patrick.klepek@vice.com. He's also available privately on Signal.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

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japan
Translation
Localization
open world
Mizzurna Falls