192: Two Worlds, One Game

Two Worlds, One Game

What goes into a great videogame translation? A few of the industry's legendary localization experts give you the inside story.

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You referred to Ted Woolsey?!
YOU ARE GODS AMONG MEN.

(Ted Woolsey is responsible for the awesome weirdness of the FF6/3 dialogue, including excessive use of "Thou" by Cyan and many of the more bizarre puns, nothing more need by said)

Currently he's dissapointed that no-one is localisinzing Ryu ga Gotaku Kenzam

As we all are - personally though, I'd prefer 3. I just find beating people to death with bicycles more enjoyable than horseback archery.

Mr. Thou!

I miss text translations with no horrid voiceover accompaniment.

Who says there's no more need for fan translations? Are they just looking at the stats or what?

Temptress in a teapot? I wonder what that's localized from. ;-)

See theres a theory among Gundam Fans, every time Bandai has a game, we ACTUALLY WANT TO PLAY (such as the Gihren's Ambition games) They will not translate it, and these games are so ridiculously text heavy that NO Fan Translator will touch it.

Then you have Super Robot Wars which have enough typed text to beat goats to death with one of the PSX era games (I think Alpha 1 has a script of 10 megabytes in size) but luckily we HAVE dedicated (if slow) translators., and some of the Original Generation games HAVE official translations.

What, no mention of Zero Wing at all...? I would've thought that this article would have at least touched upon one of the most famously poorly translated games of all time....

I'm also surprised at no mention of Street Fighter II. Having the boxer named "Balrog" doesn't make nearly as much sense as his original Japanese one: "M. Bison"... the M stands for Mike. ;)

For me it's always been the Japanese who don't get RPGs....well RTSRPGs anyway, 2D TBSRPGs yes. Koreans do better, but I still haven't found any asian game equivelents to Dungeon Siege, Neverwinter Knights, or Baldur's Gate II. Playing Final Fantasy is like watching anime & Jrock videos at the same time & then taking short game breaks. & I think translated manga way outsells games in the US.

Mastiff, you went the distance to pave over all the Catholic references in La Pucelle, to the point of commisioning the character artist to redraw the art and sprites.
Working Designs, you turned 7th Saga from an awesome CRPG-lite game, to an exercise in true futility.
That said, I usually don't mind any translation as long as they are appropriate and relevant. Some complained about the way Persona 3 retained the japanese honorifics, however, it was a school setting and entirely appropriate (as long as there are liner notes to access, for those who do not already know the signifigance of the suffixes). What does gall me is when they translate nouns. An oni is not an ogre, just like Jormangund is not a leviathan, tho each are superficially similar.

likalaruku:
For me it's always been the Japanese who don't get RPGs....well RTSRPGs anyway, 2D TBSRPGs yes. Koreans do better, but I still haven't found any asian game equivelents to Dungeon Siege, Neverwinter Knights, or Baldur's Gate II. Playing Final Fantasy is like watching anime & Jrock videos at the same time & then taking short game breaks. & I think translated manga way outsells games in the US.

Thats nice.

Now how about the entire industry that's NOT FINAL FANTASY!

and CHRIST it's called NEVERWINTER NIGHTS!

Also the fact that clicking on the enemy for the same repeated sword animation never appealed to a crowd who prefer flashy extravagence, not to mention PC gaming never took off and D&D is not as popular in japan as in the west.

See? Flash.

I'm American & therefore entitled to make flagrant typos.

Yes yes, the flash gave me horrible flashbacks of the anime version of Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles for some reason.

likalaruku:
I'm American & therefore entitled to make flagrant typos.

Yes yes, the flash gave me horrible flashbacks of the anime version of Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles for some reason.

... there's an Anime Ninja Turtles?

I suppose fan-subs and localization is much more prominent in anime and manga than video games, simply because there are more of them out there. And if you have never downloaded fansubs, go download them. In the manga scene, where release is all about speed, your average fansubs aren't too sharp. You get the point across, and they usually put up cultural notes, but the writing aren't very often brilliant. But when it comes to anime, it's a whole different scene.
I have not seen a single official release with better translation than fansubs.
They don't have to care about censorship, so the speech feels much more intuitive.
They also put up cultural notes and translating the signs, which is NEVER done in official releases. (Anime from one-shots comedy manga like Sayonara Setzubo Sensei in particular benefit from the translation of all the jokes that appears for the briefest moments on the black boards.)
A lot of time, fonts are much better chosen than in official releases--they look better, sometimes are color-coded according to the speaking character, and some will even go as far as varying fonts for special occasion like screams an expletives.

It always annoys me when fan complain about localizations. Like the article explains Localizers have a lot of work cut out for them to get things right. Often they can't due to money, time, or most often unpleasable fans.
Fansubs are usually, usually, horrible. Every now and then there are some really wonderfully done ones that have interesting notes and all that. But they're doing it as a hobby and can take all the time they need to complete whatever they're working on.

Onmi:
there's an Anime Ninja Turtles?

Yes. Now let us never speak of it again.

In other news, localization is hard. Accents don't translate, jokes don't translate, class doesn't translate, so you either go as close as you can, and leave the recipient audience confused and alienated, or you change stuff to match what they expect and outrage the hardcore fanbase. It's quite the call to make.

Veylon:

Onmi:
there's an Anime Ninja Turtles?

Yes. Now let us never speak of it again.

In other news, localization is hard. Accents don't translate, jokes don't translate, class doesn't translate, so you either go as close as you can, and leave the recipient audience confused and alienated, or you change stuff to match what they expect and outrage the hardcore fanbase. It's quite the call to make.

Go for a mix, make the jokes when you can DaiZenger/DaiGenGaur still translates well because Sanger is pronounced Zengar being German and all. but if you got something like Scirocco riding a truck. (Because Truck sounds very similar to Scirocco in Japanese) that makes little sense in English.

Even something like Spirited Away had a character announcing a bath house in English when there is supposed to be silence, because western audiences wouldn't know what they looked like to begin with.

But I don't approve of crap that 4kids did, replacing proper jokes that make sense in both languages with potty humor.

Ugh.

olicon:

I have not seen a single official release with better translation than fansubs.

Apart from, you know, all of them.

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a recent offender. The fansubs are frequently incomprehensible nonsense, and frequently actually wrong (as in if you understand what's being said you know that the subtitle isn't right), whereas the official release is spot on. Some of the most critical scenes, especially Simon's big speeches, are utterly mangled in the fansub.

More on topic, however, there have been quite a few fansubs higher in quality than official video game releases.

I liked the article, though I'm surprised at the omission of one of the largest challenges that faced translators back in the 16-bit era and prior: hardware. On top of the difficulties in conveying proper meaning and not just cranking out a literal translation, there were restrictions on the number of characters you could use in a given segment of text. Not to mention the fact that all the corner-cutting the programmers had to do also often resulted in getting incongruous text. A translator could be working on a segment from the beginning of the game and then next one from the ending.

Player One had a very enlightening interview with Ted Woolsey a few years ago on this topic and many others.

I also think another interesting discussion is in the advantages and disadvantages present in your source and target languages. For example, English has a rich array of dialect and accents that can be conveyed easily in text whereas Japanese is relatively congruous. A game like Chrono Cross had a variety of dialects in English that wasn't really possible in the original Japanese.

Ultimately the only way to truly experience a game is to do so in its original language, but I think localization efforts, especially lately, are laudable.

One thing that I'm on the fence about with localizations is that they have the voice actors attempt to fit the "mouth flaps." This can usually prove for clunky voice acting, however if they sacrifice it for smoother dialogue it looks silly.
Shame not every game can have the budget to change the mouth flaps to fit any language it's being translated into.

GloatingSwine:

olicon:

I have not seen a single official release with better translation than fansubs.

Apart from, you know, all of them.

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a recent offender. The fansubs are frequently incomprehensible nonsense, and frequently actually wrong (as in if you understand what's being said you know that the subtitle isn't right), whereas the official release is spot on. Some of the most critical scenes, especially Simon's big speeches, are utterly mangled in the fansub.

I have always thought that the point was he spout out non-sensical big phrases. That's usually what these over-macho anime do for almost a comic effect.
But I do admit, I am not fluent in Japanese, so I can't claim to be an expert on accuracy. I still think literal translations are normally pretty bad though. My point was somewhat precisely that fansubs translations often utilize (and over-utilize) artistic license, giving it a more natural flow.
Also, different fansubs do have much different quality. Most of the "otaku anime" fansubs tends to be of much higher quality than the ones for action anime, for obvious reason. Fansub for Haruhi or Sayonara Setzubo Sensei, for example, are incredibly detailed and thoughtful. Whether they are always literal translation or not, I do not know. I doubt they are though, since shows like these uses a lot of puns and Japanese culture in-joke, which really can't be translated directly into a different language.

olicon:

I have always thought that the point was he spout out non-sensical big phrases. That's usually what these over-macho anime do for almost a comic effect.

That's Kamina's job. When you have a good translation, you realise that what Simon is saying in his big speeches is actually plot relevant stuff that really cuts to the heart of him as a character. Episodes 11 and 27 were the worst hit by the translation bug, especially 27, where "ten no tsukuru" was mistranslated as "pierce the heavens" rather than "create the heavens" (the former is "ten no tsuki" and was Kamina's line at the start, the contrast is supposed to show how far Simon has come from Jeeha at the start of the series, but one slip of the ears on the part of the translater erased it entirely).

That's essentially the big problem with fansubs. They can only work by ear, so they have to go by what they thought they heard, which allows mondegreens like that example, or simple poor transliterations, like Raging Heart/Raising Heart, which is even wrong in the official subs for the first season of Nanoha, but then is corrected for the last few episodes when they realised that the first sub group got the name wrong.

(Official subs picking things up from fansubs isn't unknown, by the way. Everyone calles Koizumi in TMoHS an "esper", despite the fact that that's only one of a number of names for such people in general fiction (actually Alfred Bester's word), and appears nowhere in the Japanese script or novels.)

You know there are also stuff that NOBODY would just stand for.

Imagine someone says there going to redub Astro Boy but not call him Astro Boy, could you imagine that he would be HUNG AND SHOT before he could change the title!

Onmi:
You know there are also stuff that NOBODY would just stand for.

Imagine someone says there going to redub Astro Boy but not call him Astro Boy, could you imagine that he would be HUNG AND SHOT before he could change the title!

Considering his proper name is supposed to be Atom, I think I'll be OK with not calling him Astro.

GloatingSwine:

olicon:

I have always thought that the point was he spout out non-sensical big phrases. That's usually what these over-macho anime do for almost a comic effect.

That's Kamina's job. When you have a good translation, you realise that what Simon is saying in his big speeches is actually plot relevant stuff that really cuts to the heart of him as a character. Episodes 11 and 27 were the worst hit by the translation bug, especially 27, where "ten no tsukuru" was mistranslated as "pierce the heavens" rather than "create the heavens" (the former is "ten no tsuki" and was Kamina's line at the start, the contrast is supposed to show how far Simon has come from Jeeha at the start of the series, but one slip of the ears on the part of the translater erased it entirely).

That's essentially the big problem with fansubs. They can only work by ear, so they have to go by what they thought they heard, which allows mondegreens like that example, or simple poor transliterations, like Raging Heart/Raising Heart, which is even wrong in the official subs for the first season of Nanoha, but then is corrected for the last few episodes when they realised that the first sub group got the name wrong.

(Official subs picking things up from fansubs isn't unknown, by the way. Everyone calles Koizumi in TMoHS an "esper", despite the fact that that's only one of a number of names for such people in general fiction (actually Alfred Bester's word), and appears nowhere in the Japanese script or novels.)

That is pretty much my point regarding the artistic license. The overall meaning is kept the same: both "making heaven" and "piercing heaven" refers to the idea of obtaining an imaginary ideal. I guess if you look at the deepest level, "making heaven" would infer that Heaven does not initially exist, while "Piercing heaven" suggests the opposite. And while you might prefer the more literal translation of "making heaven", I like "piercing to heaven" much better, since it fits the theme of the story, and the context that Shimon dug his way up from his old town.
In the example with Nanoha--I have seen so many different translation, including official dubs from my country (one by the cable company, one by a broadcasting company, and one by anime importer) and they are all different. For all anyone care, unless you have read the comics, it really doesn't matter whether it is Raising Heart or Raging Heart, since the sound is pretty much indistinguisable in Japanese. Besides, the damn thing keeps spouting out broken English every 5 minutes anyway, which is a much more direct assault to my senses.
With regards to the Esper thing--once again, I see that as an artistic license. I still don't quite get your point there, but I think it suits him well. It encompasses his identity rather well, and I have no problem if the fans label him as an Esper even if he is called something else in Japanese. It's much less jarring than to say something like "the psychic user boy".

RPGs have never been popular in Japan...

When I'll make games, there will be translator's version of subtitles and additional commentary. It is a big issue around the world,but everyone forgets that games are excellent at teaching others english, so there will be billingual alternation(and explanations) with a hold of a button.

My girlfriend volunteers as a quality Checker and occasional editor for various fansub groups. Decent fansubs groups do about 3 or 4 passes to check for errors and word flow. I've lost count of the time I've spent listening to the same audio clip over and over again trying to figure out what a character's name is and then helping her with research into a western equivilent.

Then when it's all said and done some slobbering douche hops on the forums and starts whining about how they changed the names from something like Arucardo to Alucard. Makes me froth. They're the kind of people who want translations that look like this.

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