Oh my stars it has been like forever since I updated this thing, and if you’re still following it, I apologize.
Anyway, at the other end of this link are three interviews (click the “interviews” folder): One with Uchikoshi, the director/writer of the Zero Escape games, one with Noba, one of our translators, and one with me. If you’re interested in localization (which is, one would assume, why you’re following this blog) all three are a pretty informative read. At least I think so. Might be a little biased, though.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to ask them, or to get in touch with me on twitter.
2. The last time I was really, really angry was when some douchebag posted a bunch of comments on my girlfriend’s blog. She’d written a review of a comedy show he was in, and was just being a smug, self-righteous tool. The combination of him being a shit to my girlfriend and the knowledge of the fact that I couldn’t effectively rebut him since this is the internet just made me livid. I’m still pissed about it, but not as much as I was. I was ready to punch that asshole in the dick.
23. I always kind of wonder why people answer these questions with anything other than “bring world peace” but I guess it’s because that’s a pretty boring answer. From a much more selfish perspective, I would want to develop a safe and efficient means of faster-than-light travel, and visit other planets. Hopefully even help found human colonies across the stars.
Reblogging this from, uh, myself is probably a little tasteless, but this poor localization blog has see so little content lately that I was feeling bad for it, and I thought this little diatribe was a good fit.
If you’re curious to see a little about how I decide on localized terms, read on:
A couple of weeks ago, I’d mentioned that I will never use the terms “water of life” and “fury,” but I never actually got around to detailing why that is. So. Le personal feelings time!
I preface this with the fact that I do no bemoan use of the terms, I do not look down on anyone that uses them…
I don’t think I’ve responded to this before, but I thought I’d give at least a little insight into why I chose to use these terms. No one’s required to like them, of course, and I never expected everyone to, but I thought some people might find it interesting to know where the Aksys terms came from.
Fury - As Ochi mentions, “rasetsu” is basically just a Japanese word for “rakshasa,” which are sort of like Hindu demons (orconnivingtiger people, if you play D&D). Rakshasa would probably have been more recognizable than rasetsu to a Western audience, but it would have still been basically trading one foreign term for another. My research into rasetsu and rakshasa suggested that a Japanese reader would immediately recognize those terms and associate certain ideas, feelings, and emotions with them, similar to the way a western reader would immediately associate certain things with the word “devils.” My first choice would have been to simply call them “demons,” which would have made the most sense, but even if Kazama and his pals had been left as “Oni” that would have been very strange—you’d have two classes of beings that were both, essentially, called “demons.” For a while I entertained the idea of called the oni something else—”ogre” can actually be a fairly decent translation of “oni”, but didn’t really fit—so I could call the rasetsu demons, but that didn’t pan out.
So why the term “fury,” or “furies”? I eventually settled on that name as a sort of cross between theGreek mythological furies—who were, admittedly, generally female—and the general concept of “fury” as an emotion. Furies in Greek myth are sort of avenging demons or monsters, and although the furies in Hakuoki don’t do a particularly great deal of avenging, I thought the idea of righteous violence did fit in pretty well with them, or at least the idea of them. If the slightly strained mythological connotations didn’t work, my hope was that the immediate understanding of the word “fury” as an emotion would evoke a, well, emotional response and give the reader an innate sense that the furies were something Not Good. In Ochi, at least, the emotional response appears to have been disgust, so perhaps that particular choice didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped.
To me, the point of the furies wasn’t necessarily that they had a thirst for blood—that was more or less just something to put on their list of “downsides” and reinforce the idea that they were savage and animalistic, so a term like “man-eaters” would have been less apt. The furies were there to indicate the danger of surrendering to the desire for violence, and to illustrate how easy it was for the war to turn people into monsters. In a way they externalize the internal battle that the captains are fighting: Violence allows you to achieve your goals and protect the people you care about, but it often comes at a very high cost. I felt that a term like “furies” that focused more on the emotional aspect of their nature was more apt than one that focused on the mechanics of their existence.
I also may have just finished Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera at the time.
Water of Life- Calling it “ochimizu” was never an option—my general policy for Hakuoki was that any “made-up” terms that described the more fantastical elements of the story and weren’t actual terms from that period of Japanese history would be localized into more Western terms. As Ochi mentioned, the anime does mention that it is “called ‘elixir’ in the west,” but I suspect that was a case of someone thinking an English word sounds cool. “Elixir” is just a type of substance—calling ochimizu “elixir” would be a little like calling it “potion” or “syrup.” As far as I could tell, there weren’t any instances of a miraculous Western substance being referred to as “Elixir,” proper noun. There is the “elixir of life,” which could have been what the original Japanese script referred to, and probably could have been a serviceable localized term (although it’s as much of a mouthful as “water of life”), but I felt that “Water of Life” felt slightly more mythological and magical—the idea being that a common substance such as water conferring life or mystical powers is more impressive than an alchemical concoction doing something similar. It’s also meant to be an allusion to the Fountain of Youth, which produces the water of life and is, I think, a fairly common concept in Western folklore.
The irony that a substance called the “Water of Life” essentially kills you was also intentional.
Hey guys, sorry I haven’t updated in a while. Busy, etc.
Anyway, I thought I’d post this. It’s a guest blog I wrote for Siliconera, about how what was once known as Good People Die is now known as Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, and how we came to that conclusion. It’s actually pretty relevant to the process of localization. Also here’s a link to our press release for VLR. It’s not localization-related per se, but I’m pretty proud of it. :3
If there’s something you’d like to hear about, don’t hesitate to use the ask box or drop me a line on Twitter.
“If I recall correctly, my work schedule for Hakuoki lasted for about 6 months, during which time I did essentially nothing else.
As far as how I tackle that sort of thing, by and large the answer is not very exciting—I just sit down and work at it. It’s a little like eating an entire cow: You just take it a little bit at a time and before long you realize you ate an entire animal and what in God’s name is wrong with you.”
Elliot Gay from Japanator asked be if I’d do a Q&A about Hakuoki and localization editing in general, and because there are few things I enjoy more than talking about myself, I said yes. It covers quite a few things, including how I go about working on a project of this size, how I characterize different, uh, character, and which of the guys is Most Dreamy.
This is (embarassingly) a cross-post from NeoGAF, but things have been so dead around here I wanted to put SOMETHING up.
Anyway, it relates to the “process” I use to write the Man of the Month articles we’ve been doing as a promotion for Hakuoki and as such has more to do with straight-up writing than it does with localization. The article I reference in this post is Saito’s, which you can find here. The original post on GAF can be found here.
I expect Okita to be one of those hot and cold types. He seems interesting, partically because of his contemporary speech, and also because he seems like an asshole. :lol
How do you come up with the scenarios for these? Saito’s article scenario painted him very well and definitely made him appealing to me.
My “process” usually goes a little like this:
Read through whatever magazine we’re going to be aping (in Saito’s case, it was the New Yorker) to try and get a feel for the kind of things you’d see in that sort of publication, and for how they write/like their contributors to write.
Write up a list of characteristics that define that character, and some of their most notable, or more important, attributes. For Saito, my list looked like this:
Needs rules, etc
Has done some shady things while under orders
Morality seems to be dictated by others
Left-handed (not accepted sword style)
He uses up a lot of swords
Stare at the list for a couple hours.
Dick around on the internet for a couple days.
Freak out and realize that I need to have it done and approved in three days.
Actually sit down and write the thing, which involves drawing on the previous list, but also drawing from the characterizations and speech patterns I developed for the characters while I was working on the game. In the case of Saito, a big part of his characterization is that he doesn’t talk much, and when he does it’s well thought-out, slightly formal, and often more introspective/deep/philosophical than you might expect. That’s why he only has…I think 4 actual “lines” in his whole article. He is, literally, a man of few words. Another example would be Hijikata, who talks in an almost Rorschach-like manner: Clipping words he doesn’t need out of sentences and being almost brutally to-the-point.
Send it off to Idea Factory, so they can approve it.
Get their requests back and rage, because they want to change things about my perfect opus.
Make most of their changes.
Writing them ranges from supremely satisfying (Saito’s is probably my favorite so far) to table-flippingly frustrating—Harada and Okita, for instance, ended up with articles that felt way too similar to me. I’m in a weird position writing them: I don’t want to reveal important plot points (Because that’s…kind of what you get the game for), and I can’t just make stuff up willy-nilly (“In this month’s issue of Swords Illustrated, read the incredible story of how Toshizo Hijikata beat no less than five tigers into submission, naked, with his bare hands”) because a) It could end up disappointing people when those things don’t actually happen (see: naked tiger fight) and b) and serious liberties will almost certainly get shot down by Idea Factory and I’ll have to go back and think of something else anyway.
I used some historical events (i.e., I read Wikipedia) to come up with some of the stuff that the articles talk about, but most of the time is spent with me tearing my hair out and going “How can I show how much of a dreamboat this guy is?! I can’t devote an entire article to describing his rippling abs and perfect buttocks!” Or maybe I could do that: You tell me. I still have to write the Kazama one. :3
Fun fact: Originally, I wanted the title of Saito’s article to be “Silent But Deadly.”
Also yes, Okita is kind of an asshole, but he’s the good kind of asshole. Like House.
Hello everyone! Today’s blog is going to be more or less a simple Q&A. As always, I encourage you ask your own questions, either through tumblr, through Twitter, or through the comments.
Now, let’s get started shall we?
@johngofett asks: The difficulties in localizing from a VSO or OSV language to a Subject-verb-object language like English.
For the most part, this is something that the translators deal with more than I do. To be clear: I know exactly one character in Japanese (の). To describe my grasp of the language as “weak” would be generous and therefore the wrangling of one sentence structure into another isn’t something I generally deal with.
That being said, however, I do often have to deal with the ramifications of Japanese’s alternative sentence structure even after translation. For instance, take this:
Cinematic brilliance. But that aside, most of these phrases would become either meaningless gibberish or strangely undramatic when translated into Japanese. That’s because the excitement comes from the…delayed conclusion. When you translate from a language that uses a different word order, you end up with things where the words or phrases that are delayed either aren’t suspenseful, or contain so much information that delaying them robs the initial part of what it would need to make any sense.
The solution is simple (in theory, at least): You just re-write the phrase so that the correct things are delayed. Unfortunately, there are plenty of things that can make this more difficult, not the least of which is recorded dialog.
@OnyxSyaoran asks: or the classic of how to decide if you should keep a character’s name or change it when localizing. :3
This one is generally pretty straight-forward: I try not to change the names. This isn’t always super cut-and-dried, since you’re always kind of guessing or approximating when you romanize Japanese words anyway. Generally I use this handy list to determine whether or not a name should be changed:
Does the name have meaning in the story?
This can actually cut both ways. 999 is an excellent example: The chararcters’ “real” names don’t have much bearing on the plot, but their code names—which are also in Japanese—certain do. The code names obviously have to change (how could you possibly explain in-universe why Clover, who is speaking English, chose to call herself “yotsuba” because it means “clover” in Japanese?) or things start getting really strange. Of course, some of them are difficult or impossible to change (like Santa) and you just have to write around it. When the answer to this question is “yes,” you are in for a buttload of work.
Does the name sound stupid, or does it mean/sound like something else in English that would be at cross-purposes with the name’s intent?
Ironically, this often happens when a Japanese author has cleverly named something in English. When placed in the context of all-English text, it frequently sounds ridiculous, and so you find yourself in the odd position of changing an English term for the English localization.
Does the name fit the world and context of the story?
This rarely comes up, but there are times when an extremely Japanese-sounding name will seem jarring once the game is translated into English, especially if you’re dealing with kanji. Take BlazBlue for instance: A relatively direct translation of the kanji for the term we localized to Novus Orbus Librarium is something like “New World Void Space Administration Queue.” So either we leave romanize the term (something I prefer to avoid whenever possible), we use the direct translation (which sounds ridiculous), or we come up with a term of our own that approximates the idea the kanji was trying to communicate. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I felt like Novus Orbus Librarium worked out pretty well. :3
@KrisKnigge asks: How do you tackle stuff like honorifics/use of first names/お兄ちゃん? It seems like there’s relational stuff to be retained…
The short version on honorifics is that I get rid of them. They don’t have any place in English.
It’s true that there’s some loss of information, but that’s the case with any translation. So much of communication is supra-linguistic that translation is always going to result in some loss. In my experience, the amount of information conveyed by honorifics is minimal, and can easily be communicated in other ways. If someone is a respected superior, that’s going to affect how you talk to and behave around them in more ways than you adding “-sama” to the end of their name.
I think it can feel strange to people who are more familiar with Japanese because they expect that level of explicit acknowledgement of station and politeness, but English, especially American English, just doesn’t really have that. I call my boss by his first name. I’ve called all my bosses that I can remember by their first names. I couldn’t call anyone I work with “sir” without struggling to stifle a laugh. Admittedly I’m not the best example because I’m pretty informal even for an American, but I think the principle holds true. Trying to force that sort of speech on a narrative in American English is alienating.
I suppose a shorter way to say it is this: My first concern is and always will be to try and tell an entertaining and compelling story, not to preserve a precious cultural artifact from Glorious Nippon. As such, honorifics are discarded in favor of immersion and natural speech. I know that not everyone will agree with me, and I respect that, but this is how I roll.
@matty125 asks: Daily routine? Or how many Redbulls get you through the day during crunch time?
Red Bull? Please. When I need energy, I pound one of these:
Or sometimes, if things are getting really desperate, one of these:
(The drink, not the woman. I don’t pound women for energy.)
For the last several months, though, I’ve been trying to get off caffeine, because it is bad for me, costs me money, and keeps me up at night (like, literally). I’ve gone 3 months or so without a Monster, although I’ve had a few other caffeine drinks lately.
The other day I asked for suggestions for things I could write about on here. I got the following “tweet” from Kris Knigge, whose name I keep wanting to write with two ‘s’s:
“Well, think about the lip-biting thing. How do you make certain cultural differences resonate with a Western audience?”
He was referring to this tweet, in which I lamented all the lip-biting in the script I was working on.
The reason for my frustration was that this particular script concerned itself with a troupe of hard-bitten samurai and ronin who were essentially career murderers, and yet whenever shit began to approach a significant level of realness, they would start biting their lips right and left.
I can’t speak definitively for Japan (obviously), but I feel pretty safe in saying that here in the States, our hyper-masculine badasses do not bite their lips when they have an important decision to make, or when things get a bit tough. Either in Japan that particular gesture is not the sign of demure femininity slash come-on that it is over here, or I have massively misunderstood the characters in this game. Hopefully it’s not the latter.
You’ve probably all seen one of those things about how “80% of communication is body language”, etc. I don’t know how much we really communicate through body language (although, given how sedentary I am I must be pretty quiet), but I do know that body language—like, uh, language language—is different in different cultures. The lip-biting thing is one example of this, but an even more interesting one to to watch a film from culture significantly different from your own. I, for instance, notice that in a lot of Asian cinema, people seem to move…strangely. Something just seems off about their physical behavior to my western eyes. Maybe they sort of seem like they’re over-acting, or maybe they just do weird things with their hands or arms that look nonsensical. In reality all that’s happening is that their physical language is so divorced from my own that I begin to notice it.
Since there are (more or less) a limited number of positions the human body can contort itself into, you end up with some physical language overlap, just like you end up with some language language overlap. “Eye” and “ai” are pronounced in pretty much the same way in English and Japanese, but one means the thing you see with and the other means “love”. Biting your lip in Japan means you’re a strong, powerful man who uses only the smallest gestures to express concern or frustration while in the United States it means you want someone to accompany you to the boudoir for a night of carnal pleasure. I suppose these meanings don’t have to preclude one another, but this isn’t that sort of game.
Just as they do in real life, physical actions in text can have a profound effect on the perception of a scene. Used well, they can give a reader subtle insight into a character’s feelings or motivations, but only if used well. Just like any other cultural construct, they must be adapted to be effective.
In this particular case, it’s difficult to think of a western-ism that’s quite as emotive. The man in question might frown, or he might purse his lips, or draw them into a thin line. Then again, he might not even use his mouth: Making a fist or tightening one already made might communicate the necessary emotion.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go tidy up the boudoir and practice my lip-biting in the mirror.
So as you probably know, Japanese and English are different languages. Depending on how much you think about language (I think about language quite a bit, even though I suck at anything other than English) you probably see different languages as some sort of a code, or as fundamentally different labyrinths of meaning. The common view of translation and so on seems to hew closer to the first option, and usually assumes that something in one language is equal to something in another language. That is a lot of malarkey.
Sometimes things are pretty straightforward, or at least they appear to be. For instance, thanks to Styx a lot of people know that “domo arigato” is Japanese for “thank you very much”. Simple!
No, not really.
See, the Japanese are a creative people, and they have like 20 different ways to say “thank you”, many of which are also apologizing. Saying “domo arigato” isn’t going to get you in trouble, per se, but say it in the wrong situation and people will probably think you’re very strange. After all, in English “Thanks” and “You have my everlasting gratitude” mean essentially the same thing (You are expressing gratitude to someone) but saying “You have my everlasting gratitude” to the register jockey at Wendy’s is going to be very strange indeed.
What I’m getting at (eventually) here is that same old nugget I’ve harped on before: There is no such thing as literal translation. What I intend to do with the rest of this post—yes, there will be more, so if you’re bored, you’d best stop now—is list of few of the rage-inducing differences between the language of Glorious Nippon and the de-facto language of our United States that I encounter on a semi-regular basis.
Think about the last time your talked to your best friend, or your mother, or your significant other. How many times did you use their name? Chances are you didn’t. I speak to my girlfriend on a daily basis, but I could probably count the number of times I use her name on a closed fist. In English you just don’t do that. The next time to talk to one of your buddies, try inserting their name in the conversation every time you say something to them and see how long it’ll take before you start getting looks. My guess is immediately.
That’s not how they roll in Japan, however. Names are dropped constantly, especially—and this is my favorite—in times of extreme emotion. Lovers will whisper their names to one another passionately, and comrades will scream the names of their companions as they fall in battle. This presents a relatively frustrating problem for someone like me. Either you can leave the name in, in an attempt to maintain the integrity of the original script, or you can take it out and replace it with something else. In a game where there is just text this isn’t a difficult decision for me: Natural-feeling text is paramount, and names every-goddamn-where is not very natural so out they go.
If things are voiced, unfortunately, then the problem compounds itself. If the game will have dual audio, or simply forgo English audio, the name will still clearly be there in Japanese, and even the most monolingual among us will be able to pick a name out of the flow of confusing syllables and ask ourselves “What the eff?” So sometimes if there’s going to be Japanese audio, I’ll just leave the name in, especially if we’re talking about a line that says something like “Josh, no!” where it would be very obvious that something was missing.
Dual audio is even more frustrating. Reading extraneous names in text isn’t that weird; your brain just sort of accepts it and moves on but when the text is going to be read aloud in English that shit is not going to fly. All those names will make the actor’s job harder, because no human being alive talks like that, and it’s going to sound weird to the listener no matter what. So usually I take them out, and people will just have to scratch their heads when they listen to the Japanese audio.
So another thing is dogs.
Everybody loves dogs, and the Japanese are no exception. In fact, they have the shiba-inu which I think looks like the most awesome dog ever but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. Maybe another time.
What I’m here to talk about is the use of the term “dog” as applied to people, and how it differs between English and Japanese.
It’s usually used as a pejorative, and frequently relates to ideas of loyalty and/or level of intelligence, but in slightly different ways. The best illustration of this that I’ve seen is in Full Metal Alchemist. If you’re not familiar with the show/manga, one of the main characters is often referred to as a “dog of the military”.
People call him this because, in order to get access to the alchemical research materials and money he needs, he has to become a State Alchemist, which means the military can order him to go off and murder people in horrific and creative ways any time they feel like it. It’s a fairly common sort of insult in Japanese (at least as far as I can tell), and it seems to compare the victim of the insult to a dog who is mindlessly loyal and does whatever its master tells it to, no matter the moral or ethical implications of the task at hand.
Although we associate dogs with loyalty in the west, we don’t really have this particular insult. Calling someone a dog is an insult, sure, but it usually refers to how they’re more animalistic and crude than a normal human is supposed to be. This presents a particular challange because directly translating the insult sort of works. A reader in English will go “Oh, dogs are loyal, and this person is suggesting that this behavior is overly loyal, possibly to a bad master” and get the basic gist of what’s going on. The problem with that is that to work, things like like insults and turns of phrase should resonate immediately with the reader (unless, of course, the intent is to world-build by developing new insults and turns-of-phrase, but in my experience that is rarely the case), or it’s a little like a good joke you have to explain. Sure, it might be kind of funny after it’s explained, but most of the impact is lost.
This is particularly difficult because it’s very tempting to just say “Ah screw it, close enough” and move on, but that is bad.
Originally, I was planning to do more than two, but this thing is getting seriously long so I’m going to wrap it up here. If you’d like to hear more about this particular subject, please, leave me a comment here, or send me a message on tumblr, or bug me on Twitter. Or if there’s something else entirely that you’d like me to talk about, let me know about that too!
All right, so I asked on the Twitter what sort of things you guys would like to hear about, and at least a few of you said you’d like to hear about what writing/grammar style I use.
Note: This is only what I do, and isn’t “Aksys policy” except insofar as I can force other people to do things my way. Engler, I’m pretty sure, has his own style.
The short version is that I don’t particularly subscribe to any specific grammar ruleset. I mostly pick and chose how I want things to go, and so far no one has told me to do otherwise. Although I love grammar and so on, I’m also very much committed to the idea that any language is alive, and part of that life in change. Grammar is necessary for understanding, and so its rules must be followed to a certain extent, but there is a fine line between intelligent application of grammatical rules and needless restriction for the sake of, well, restriction.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to listen to me expound further on writing and grammar, I suggest you listen-to-slash-watch this video from the inimitable Stephen Fry. He sums up a great many of my feelings on the matter with wit, intelligence, and authority, as British people are wont to do:
If, however, you do want to hear me ramble, then here we go:
(American) English grammar is, like the rest of our beautiful language, something of a hodgepodge. See English, as a language, wasn’t really taken seriously in Europe for quite some time. Yes, people spoke it, and they even wrote it, but it wasn’t standardized. You pretty much spelled stuff however the hell you wanted to, and grammar play was presumably similarly fast and loose. If you wanted to write, say, an academic paper and have the rest of the developed world give even half a shit about it, you wrote it in French, or more likely Latin (fact: Latin is still totally sweet). It took the publishing of the King James Bible and a few other things (like Shakespeare!) before the world at large began to consider English a real language.
Once they did, however, there was suddenly an enormous demand for texts on proper English grammar, something that had never really existed before. Since English had been largely free of a codified set of rules for a good portion of its history, many people desperate to make a buck off the new desire for rules and propriety in English just started applying Latin grammatical rules to English, which really screwed things up for quite a while, given that English and Latin function pretty differently, language-wise.
The reason I bring this up (aside from the fact that I find it interesting) is to illustrate that English is an effing mess. It’s a hot mess, but a mess none the less. In addition to our bizzare grammar history, we also have a dreadful habit of borrowing (or stealing, depending on how you look at it) words from other languages, and a tendency to slightly alter words from the Queen’s English and declare them the correct versions—specifically in regard to the preponderance of “u”s that add some colour to British English.
To me, the fact that English has a long, long history of picking and choosing what it thinks is right is at least something in the way of justification for me doing the same.
When it comes to deciding what to do, I have a list of sort of commandments that I apply to most situations—whether that means issues of grammar, content, style, or whatever. They are, more or less:
Does is communicate the necessary information?
Does it sound natural?
Does it fit the setting?
Does it sound good?
Depending on my answers to these questions, sometimes I’ll do things with the text that aren’t necessarily kosher. In 999, for instance, I made a conscious decision to have all numbers in the text represented as digits, not words. Because numbers are so important to the game, I wanted the player to be thinking about numbers as they read. I knew it would be somewhat jarring (at least for a while) because we often expect to see “one” and not “1” when we’re reading fiction—especially during dialog. My hope was that the player would think “Oh dip, look at all these numbers. These must be important!”
I have other, somewhat more personal-slash-esoteric views on particular grammar and writing issues. For instance, ellipses are always three dots. If an ellipses is followed by another punctuation mark, that mark is added onto the end—it does not replace one of the dots in the ellipses. In general, only one ellipses is allowed per line, although if it’s connected to text I’m willing to make an exception. For instance “…What…?” is acceptable, but “… …” is not.
I also prefer to put punctuation outside of quotations marks, unless it’s being specifically quoted. For instance, I would write this
I wasn’t interested in hearing about his “waifu”, or whatever he called it.
even though that’s generally held as wrong, the “correct” version being
I wasn’t interested in hearing about his “waifu,” or whatever he called it.
I’ve had discussions with other people about the precedence of certain pieces of punctuation, which dictates their position regardless of how it might affect their meaning, but my view tends to be informed by programming, or at least that’s how I think of it. Whatever’s inside of your quotation marks is something you’re specifically singling out, and therefore what’s inside them should be exactly what you want to indicate; nothing more, nothing less. In my previous example, “waifu” is all that I’m indicating. The comma is there for the structure of the overall sentence, not my quote.
There are other various small rules that I use when I work, but what it mostly boils down to is “Does this sound alright when I read it back to myself?” I don’t actually have any formal training in grammar, apart from what any high-school graduate would have, so most of what I do is by instinct. If you have questions about particular things you’ve noticed in the games I’ve worked on, please, feel free to ask.
So I came across this bit of text the other day at work:
“Finally! I couldn’t wait!
Being attacked one-sided doesn’t suit us.
I’ve been itching to go out.”
The context here is that this character and his compatriots are under attack, but haven’t really made a concerted counterattack because they’ve been waiting for orders. My initial instinct was to change it to something like this:
“About time! I’m gettin’ a little tired of turning the other cheek!
Let’s get out there!”
Yeah! Sounds badass! Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.
The game in question is set in Edo-period Japan, which wasn’t exactly a Judeo-Christian culture (they probably also haven’t heard of Weird Al yet), and the particular phrasing of “turning the other cheek” is pretty closely tied to Christianity. In the United States—and probably Europe—our culture is so deeply influenced by Christianity (and Judaism and Islam) that that particular phrase, as well as many others, are simply part of the cultural fabric. A samurai in Edo-period Japan, on the other hand, might be aware of Christianity, but is unlikely to be familiar with the idea of “turning the other cheek”, and would be even less likely to use that sort of phrase.
This sort of problem is something that comes up fairly often when dealing with settings that aren’t close, culture-wise, to the culture of the editor. For instance, people from a world where the principal (or only) religion is polytheistic are unlikely to exclaim “Oh my God!” Where it gets trickier is when you start going a little deeper: In an imaginary fantasy world, would someone say “et cetera”? That’s Latin, after all, a language which presumably doesn’t exist in whatever make-believe world this is. On the other hand, we use that phrase all the time in English—you could almost make the argument that, at this point, it is English, for all intents and purposes.
Once you get down that far down, though, you start running into some more interesting and difficult questions that start to deal with the nature of language. In our hypothetical fantasy world, it’s safe to assume that they aren’t speaking English. Since we’re translating from their fantasy language, it’s fair to use English turns of phrase to approximate their own—that’s what translation and localization are about, after all—but what happens when you start dealing with plot points that revolve around specific words or turns of phrase? Now your story starts to depend on the vagaries of language, but your language isn’t the same.
That’s one of the difficulties of localization: Creating text that sounds believable and entertaining, while still making sure that your world is internally consistent. At some point you have to compromise, because text that avoids any sort of culturally-influenced phrasing is incredibly bland and dry. Most of the time it’s just a question of when and where that compromise happens.
If you’re curious, I ended up writing this:
“Finally! It’s about goddamn time!
I’ve been getting real tired of just sitting around while they
shoot at us. Hard to feel like a man that way.”
This is actually a comment I posted some time last week on an article on Siliconera, but I thought it touched on some important points so I decided to re-post it here. There seems to be a perception that the mobile space is this river of money, and all one has to do is ladle a little of it out with a game or two. There are, obviously, games that make it big, and their creators undoubtedly wallow nightly at troughs of cold cash, but those are by far the exception.
The problem there is going to be turning any sort of profit. From a localization standpoint, visual novels are a ridiculous amount of work. If you’re selling them as mobile apps, for mobile app prices (i.e. $1-$5), to a tiny niche market, the chances that you’re going to make a profit—or break even, at the very least—start to get pretty slim.
A little math:
I’d say a fairly decent-sized visual novel is going to be in the realm of 800,000 to 1 million Japanese characters (which, lacking a better metric, is usually how we figure out the scope of a localization project). Plenty are going to be much, much, longer—428, for instance, is something like 5 million. A decent translator could probably finish 800,000-1,000,000 in just under 6 months, and a decent editor probably in about the same time. Let’s say you’re a jerk, and you pay each one about $9000 for that contract (that’s assuming a 40-hour work week at $10 an hour), and you managed to get the rights to the game for, say, 50 grand. So far, your game is costing you $68,000. Even setting aside any other operating expenses, or the cost of debugging the game, and assuming you only have to give something like 15% of every sale to the app store that’s selling your game, you’d have to sell 80,000 copies of that game at $1, or 16,000 at $5, in order to break even. Selling 16,000 copies of a $5 niche game in a market that is already flooded with an insane about of rubbish is extremely difficult, as this guy’s experience suggests.
I don’t mean to say that there’s no hope for visual novels, but I don’t think mobile apps are going to be the solution.
*Note: Those numbers I gave up there are straight from my ass and should not be considered as representative of the cost of any specific game, since they are not. They are just slightly-educated guesses, and maths.
I came across a section in the game I’m working on the other day. The straight translation looked more or less like this:
“We can’t rest even a bit, but at least
we can enjoy some sake.”
Vice-minister of the army pouring sake…
This was treatment they never
imagined, and the soldiers were overwhelmed.
For a little context, the person speaking is the “vice-minister of the army”, and he’s brought a barrel of sake to his troops the night before a big battle that isn’t looking so hot for them. This is a scene that works more or less the same on one level for both Japanese and western culture: A commander showing humility and a connection to the men he commands by relating to them on a more “common” level.
The thing that makes this scene a little more complex is the specific referring to the vice-minister pouring the sake, and the reaction of the soldiers. Pouring sake, or really any beverage, for another person has a specific connotation in Japanese culture that is almost entirely absent in the west. This page explains it in a little more detail, but the long and short of it is that pouring sake has a strong ritual significance, and so a commander not only bringing his troops sake but then pouring for them as well carries a great deal of meaning for a Japanese audience, while the subtext will be entirely lost on a western one. The general idea—he is a good commander because he cares for his troops, and isn’t “too good” to share a drink with them—will come across, but the more the subtle flavor of the exchange might not. In this particular case, the deeper meaning of his act is communicated by the reactions of the soldiers, who seemed almost excessively honored and surprised from a western perspective.
From the point of view of the localizer, this presents a number of challenges: Do you try to preserve and communicate that extra meaning? If so, how? This story is being narrated by the protagonist, who is an inhabitant of the same feudal Japanese world as the soldiers and their commander, and would consequently have no reason to explain the meaning of the situation through their inner monologue, which would be the easiest way to communicate how important sake-pouring is. The next best way would be to find a ritual or practice in western culture that approximates the emotional impact of this one, but that becomes problematic too: Things that would approximate the importance of this act would rely on social and cultural rules, and to tap into those, one would need to reference the practices of a specific western culture, as our general monoculture (in the United States, at least) doesn’t have the proper rituals. But that wouldn’t work either: Suddenly you would have, perhaps, French cultural rituals appearing, for no reason, in feudal Japan, and that doesn’t make any sense.
Ultimately, my solution to this problem was not an exciting one: I chose to ignore the additional connotation of pouring and tone down the reactions of the soldiers a bit so that they didn’t seem so unreasonably excited and flattered. I asked myself, what was this scene as a whole intended to communicate? “The commander is a wise, kind man, who cares about his subordinates and doesn’t count himself as ‘above’ them,” seemed like the answer to that question, and the act of bringing some free booze to a bunch of stressed-out soldiers seemed like sufficient illustration of his character. Attempting to explain the additional connotation would have made the scene unnecessarily awkward, forced, and expositionary, and would have added very little to its impact.
Lotus's lecture on what I have just this moment decided to call Remote Cognition
Someone on GAF asked for this portion of the game, so I thought I’d post it here for easy access. The [PAUSE] bits are where, in the game, the text would stop printing until you pressed a button.
Lotus: Oh, but back to what we were talking about earlier… Junpei: What were we talking about? Lotus: The wireless display. Lotus: It’s kind of strange if you think about it, isn’t it? Junpei: ? Lotus: Hmm… How do I put it… Lotus: Well, let’s say you write a program that calculates an addition problem for you, all right? Lotus: So you enter 1 + 1… Lotus: The screen will show you 2. Lotus: See? Isn’t that strange? Junpei: U-Uh…no? Not really… Lotus: Oh come on now. Of course a caveman like you would think it was strange. You said so just a
minute ago. Junpei: ? Lotus: You’re just not getting it, are you? Lotus: Who calculated 1 + 1? Lotus: The…uh, the main computer, right? [Pause]You said it’s connected to the monitor wirelessly. Lotus: Yeah, but someone who grew up in a cave wouldn’t know that, right? Lotus: They’d probably think that this thing here, the monitor, is doing the calculating. Lotus: And once they’ve decided that, they’ll start examining this monitor. Lotus: They might poke the screen or something… Lotus: “Ah, I see, the color changes when I press it here…” Lotus: Then they might investigate the hardware on the inside… Lotus: “Ah, I see, so this wire supplies power…” Lotus: Eventually, they might even cut the wires… Lotus: “Ah yes, just as I expected. [Pause]When this wire is cut, no results appear…” Lotus: “Therefore, it must be this device which does the calculations!” Junpei: … Lotus: But the truth is that, just like you said, the computer is doing the calculating. Lotus: But these cave people wouldn’t know that… Lotus: Because they have no idea that the monitor and the computer are connected wirelessly.
Lotus continued to type. Junpei scratched his head.
Junpei: So…uh…what are you trying to say? Lotus: Nothing. [Pause]Really. [Pause]It’s just… I thought maybe… Lotus: What if the relationship between human beings and our brains is like that? Junpei: …Huh? Lotus: Well, let’s say you stick a bunch of electrodes into parts of the brain. Lotus: A scientist examining the signals they send out might say… Lotus: “Interesting, so stimulating this part of the the brain causes this person to see colors…” Lotus: “That must mean this neuron cluster controls that function.” Lotus: “Okay, let’s see what happens when I cut out this part…” Lotus: “Ah, just what I thought! [Pause]Cutting off this part causes that function to cease!” Lotus: “Therefore, human thought processes must occur in the human brain!” Lotus: You get it? [Pause]It’s just like this monitor. Junpei: … Lotus: Maybe the brain is just an output device—like this monitor. Lotus: Maybe our thought processes actually occur somewhere else, in a “main body”… Lotus: …We just don’t know it. [Pause]We never even think about it… Lotus: Just like those cave people wouldn’t know about wireless communications… Lotus: …We can’t imagine that there’s some unknown medium that transfers information into our brains, where we experience that information as thoughts.
Junpei didn’t say anything. Not so much because he had no retort. [Pause]No, her argument just seemed…silly, and he was a little surprised to be hearing something like it from someone like her. The brain is just an output device? [Pause]Human thought actually occurs somewhere else…? Did Lotus really think that, he wondered? It was a little creepy, Junpei thought. It sounded altogether too much like a bizarre cultish religion.
Lotus: Maybe that’s the cause of Seven’s amnesia.
Oblivious to Junpei’s increasing discomfort, Lotus continued.
Lotus: If memory is actually stored somewhere else, in some sort of “main body” somewhere… Lotus: Maybe he hasn’t “forgotten” anything at all. Lotus: He’s just having a difficult time accessing his memories because the monitor—his brain—has been damaged. Junpei: … Lotus: I suppose that would explain aphasias and blindsight, too. Lotus: Perhaps they actually can speak, or see… Lotus: The monitor just isn’t functioning properly. Lotus: Hmm… [Pause]I guess people with prosopagnosia could be suffering from the same thing… Junpei: W-Wait a minute… Junpei: Pro…sop-what?
He knew what aphasia was from watching medical dramas on TV, and blindsight was easy enough to guess, but he’d never heard the word “prosopagnosia” before…
Lotus: What, you’ve never heard of prosopagnosia?
Lotus spun around in her chair to look at him. Junpei just shrugged and shook his head.
Junpei: Nope. [Pause]What is it? Lotus: Well, put simply, it means a condition where the mind can’t distinguish between human faces. Lotus: In other words, my face would look the same as Clover’s, or even yours. Lotus: So they can’t remember faces, which is how most people recognize each other. Lotus: That means that people with prosopagnosia have trouble recognizing even people they’re close to. Lotus: Usually, they can make do by associating people with other things—their voices, their clothes, their hair. Junpei: Does that mean other people’s faces look…like…blanks?
Lotus: No… No, I don’t think so. Lotus: You’ve seen monkeys, like in a zoo, right? Lotus: To you and me, all the monkey faces look the same. Lotus: Even though they’ve obviously got faces… Lotus: …It’s almost impossible for a human to distinguish between them. Lotus: The zoo staff that works with them would learn to identify different monkeys eventually, but you or I couldn’t, unless one had a scar or something else to set it apart. Lotus: That’s how people would be to someone with prosopagnosia. Junpei: Prosopagnosia, huh…
[Pause]Didn’t even know that kinda thing existed…
Junpei did his best to act as though the entire lecture hadn’t gone entirely over his head.
Junpei: And…uh…what were we talking about? Lotus: The idea that your brain is just an output device, like a monitor. Junpei: Are you serious about that stuff? Lotus: Not really. [Pause]I was just kidding for about half of it. Junpei: What about the other half? Lotus: Well… Lotus: I guess I was just adulting? Junpei: … Lotus: … Junpei: Not funny… Lotus:Giggle
Lotus’s smile had something rather masochistic to it.
Lotus: It’s nothing more than a story I made up out of boredom. Don’t take it seriously. Lotus: It was the first thing that came to mind, and I just talked about it to kill time. Lotus: But…it looks like I don’t need to talk anymore. Junpei: …Why? Lotus: I don’t have to kill time any longer.
“There are a lot of things [where] because you do it on a cell by cell basis, it’s easy to loose track of the larger picture. So, you’re thinking, all right, they said about this much in this cell so I need to say that much. But, a lot of times, instead of just that cell you need to look at the whole conversation that’s going on. You need to think about how much really needs to be said? Who’s saying what? What’s the information being communicated?”
There’s plenty more there—an embarrassing amount of it from yours truly—but you might find it interesting.
VLR was another large-scale project, but also a very enjoyable one. The original Japanese script had a large number of jokes and other linguistic tricks that provided an exciting challenge, and the quality of the story and characters made it a joy to work on. I was also able to assist in the English voice recording, helping to choose actors, set character voices in the studio, and help direct actors during some of the recording.
This project was very large in scale—perhaps the most lengthy title I’d worked on at that point. It also presented some interesting translation and localization challenges because of its setting: More-or-less authentic Edo-period Japan. I had to determine which terms to localize (for instance, “ochimizu” became “Water of Life”) and which to leave (swords types were left in Japanese, i.e. “katana,” etc.) The localization was generally well-received.
Another one of my favorite projects, 999 presented some interesting challenges by virtue of the fact that it was a puzzle game, and from time to time those puzzles relied on the vagaries of language. It also made use of a surprising amount of wordplay and puns for a game with such a dark premise. Making sure the localization retained the correct mysteries and remained engaging was difficult but ultimately rewarding.
Gladiator Begins was a relatively historically-accurate title, and so I did my best to reinforce that by researching gladiator life, and including the terms used to describe various aspects of it (i.e., ludus, primus palus, etc).
This project was split by character between myself and another editor. I was in charge of Tager, Hazama, Tusbaki, Hakumen, Bang, Rachel, as well as some other non-playable characters, such as Kokonoe and Valkenhayn.
One of the greatest challenges of this project was its scope—at the time, it was the longest/largest game I’d worked on. I also chose to give the language used in the game a bit of an “old-world” flavor, as it seemed to be a better thematic match for the content than more colloquial English.
This game is actually still one of my favorite projects. Localization was pretty straightforward. Since the nations of the game seemed to be pretty clearly based on European countries, I gave them little bits of the language of their “country”—Ernesto, for instance, drops bits of Spanish every so often.
I split editing duties with two other people on this project. The nature of the localization process for this game meant that I contributed to text for most of the characters, but didn’t work on any particular ones exclusively.
This was an interesting project, because the game sort of got published twice. The first version (Jake Hunter: Detective Chronicles) had only three cases to Memories’ six and change, and a less-than-stellar localization. I’d worked as a QA tester on the Detective Chronicles, so I knew the story well, and I put that knowledge to use when working on Memories, which reviewed much better.
Not a particularly extensive project, although being an Arc System Works fighter, it did have a little more text that you might expect. A.B.A’s habit of making “mistakes” (i.e, mixing up homonyms) and puns presented a unique challenge.
The original Japanese translation for this game was all over the place tense-wise, so I opted to unify it into the first-person present tense (i.e. “I open the door—blades fly out of it.”) in an attempt to reflect the psychological horror and near-surrealism of the setting.