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Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Learn from the The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles Development Timeline

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - I don't mean learn project management lessons, but I mean what to learn as a fan waiting for news.

Reminder: The existence of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles was announced just three months ago. Before then, people were worried about Ace Attorney ever getting anything ever again. In that short amount of time, we watched Ace Attorney publisher CAPCOM dedicate their E3 2021 presence to Ace Attorney—and KoopaTV rated that as the second-best session of all E3 2021.

Ace Attorney is in a pretty good place right now. But how did the fanbase let itself get into such a bleak spot? Well, thanks to some very recent developer blogs at Capcom-Unity published by localisation director Janet Hsu, we have an idea of the timeline. The key one is about the miraculous English dub—which while I still don't know how much of the game is actually voice-acted (less than all of it), it's clear the cutscenes are voice-acted, and between the two games included in The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, that might still be substantive.

The agency CAPCOM contracted with was SIDE's United Kingdom studio. Janet Hsu insisted it had to be in the UK because the game takes place in London, and she's all about that authenticity. She even specifically wanted Japanese people living in the United Kingdom, and... I'm not sure how many voice actors there are that qualify as that, but I imagine it's a very small and niche pool. Regardless, SIDE found at least two (Mark Ota and Rina Takasaki) for the two main Japanese characters, Ryunosuke and Susato.

But here's where the timeline comes in, before SIDE was even selected.

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles steamship advanced technology future English voice acting
Actually, for this article, I'll be trying to match up contemporary reports with events from the recent past.

“But, before we could pick out an exact studio, the pandemic struck, and the dev team and I were left wondering if we were even going to be able to record an English dub. One day, back when Japan was still relatively unaffected, the team leaders and I sat down to talk about what to do. Given how the pandemic was playing out and how severe the lockdowns were, we even floated the idea of using the Japanese dub and simply re-dubbing the necessary lines to Herlock Sholmes – it really was a situation in which no one had enough information about anything.”

The United Kingdom went into lockdown at the end of March 2020 (March 23, according to Wikipedia), with the first Chinese Communist Party Virus case on January 31, 2020. It seems somewhere in that early-mid 2020 timeframe was when The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles's English script was done enough that it could be voice-acted; or at least the voice-actable parts were done. I'd think you'd want all of the parts done because you wouldn't want... contradictions to come up when you're mid-translation and then realise you need to change things. Since the lockdowns were already happening (and they were big-league lockdowns), they must've picked the studio after March.

“And then, the first day of recording came. It really was a miracle that we were able to record in studio during that brief window when the UK’s countrywide lockdown had been lifted.”

It's unclear which brief window Janet is referring to, especially because England had an annoying and complicated tiered system for when the lockdowns would be lifted (seems July through early September 2020 were relatively open), though it seems that by October 17, the lockdown re-commenced. Let's say the in-studio recordings were mid-2020.

Janet Hsu laptop Microsoft Teams CAPCOM Great Ace Attorney Chronicles
Janet provided this photo of a laptop with Microsoft Teams running with the date in the corner.
...But I can't make out what it says. (And I'm probably not supposed to!)

The CAPCOM team had provided the recording script to the voice actor candidates and background information on the characters that the voice actors could read ahead of time, which is helpful information for a voice actor that apparently isn't standard practice, according to voice actors on projects that turn out poorly. Anyway, all of this had to have already been completed a whole year before The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles was announced to us, which is also before that article about how an Ace Attorney producer left CAPCOM and the fanbase was terrified that there'd never be a new game ever again. But as I wrote in that article, videogame companies are always working on things behind the scenes, even if they're not announced. And I was right.

Today, Masakazu Kougou, the game's director and game planner, also shared some details about the game's extra features that weren't part of the project plan. It seems like two different producers demanded, very late into the project (and I'm listing these in chronological order), CAPCOM's developers to add in-game promotional videos to the gallery (since these are Japanese-voiced with English sub-titles, I'd think they were implemented after mid-2020?); to add the game's Story Mode (which auto-plays it for you until you ask it to stop) based on an internal debugging feature; and then create the game's pre-order bonus of additional art and music (and the art, from series art director Kazuya Nuri [not to be confused with Kazuya Mishima] has developer commentary that also had to be localised, but presumably not voice-acted, so this likely was implemented in later 2020 or even early 2021 since it's “last-minute”) because CAPCOM higher-ups decided the game needed a pre-order bonus/DLC.

And CAPCOM's producers mandated all of those things be added without extra time, people, or money, so that's why I said you shouldn't be getting project management tips from them. When you demand more things of your people, they should get more resources or time. I guess this also means that, originally, many of those bonus features weren't going to be part of the collection, and the big selling point would've been their official localisation. That would've been enough! I wonder if not giving more resources to your development team is a CAPCOM-wide thing, or if they would've supplied those resources for, say, a Monster Hunter project. Well, I won't look too into it...

But the real point is that CAPCOM must've been deep into working on this since 2019 or even 2018. Reminder that Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy released early-mid 2019 (and received a language patch in August 2019), so they actually have been constantly at work on the series. In other words... it's not dead and hasn't been dead the whole time! I suspect CAPCOM didn't announce Ace Attorney things in 2020 because the voice-acting just wasn't ready yet for the trailer and they wanted to finish those marketable extras... and also so they could devote their marketing to Monster Hunter and Resident Evil.

But hopefully you think about this timeline the next time you think something is dead. Unless that something is F-Zero or another franchise like that. ...Then...yeah.

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles releases NEXT WEEK! Ludwig is going to receive that pre-order bonus and it'll be great. He thinks it'll be Game of THAT Year 2021, but you'll have to wait for January 2022 to find out if that actually happens. ...You should also buy the game.

Now it's out, but that DLC added at the last minute should be looked at after beating the game.
The background music in the Auditorium was always going to be in the game, but it ended up omitting the majority of the game's music. What gives?

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