Segagaga Intro: English Translation

Hello! Here is a test subtitling of a translation of the introductory “placard” to Segagaga. This introduces the corporate values that Sega holds dear in its striving toward excellence in saving the world through videogames.

Note that every corporate value has the Integrity Value NUMBER ONE.

Just finished an interview about Segagaga with SegaNerds.com! It will post next week. I’ll be sure to link it then.

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The Hedgehog-Blue Light at the End of the Tunnel

HELLO WORLD.

Almost two years have passed since the last post here. How time flies!

I’ve had to triage projects over the past few years based on their likelihood of completion. I’ve got enough invested in Segagaga‘s translation that I want to see this through, yet I’ve also had to focus on other projects that require more immediate attention.

On that point… please look forward to the soon-to-be-released iOS game République from Camouflaj studios!

Because of other commitments, then, SGGG has had to take a back seat once more. We’ve mainly lacked anyone capable of creating a patch with a half-width font to display an appropriate amount of text per dialogue box. Without a half-width font, any final product would be unsightly at best, unreadable and unusable at worst.

Programmer Geoff Embree (also known as Pokeytax) has come to our aid, bringing his prior experience with unofficial translation projects such as Suikogaiden Vol. 2 and Suikoden Card Stories. We’re extremely grateful for his taking initiative to contact us and get the ball rolling.

And the ball is rolling! I present the current fruits of his labor.

Segagaga Half-Width Font Test

With this, the Segagaga translation jumps up the triage ladder by dramatic leaps and bounds.

I do apologize for any well-meant blog comments that have not been approved. The volume of spam that this blog receives is incredible (21k+ at this point), and I’m afraid I don’t have time to look at each one individually to see which is legit. I’m going to clean them out wholesale except for the ones that I’d already approved for previous blogs so that we can start afresh. I apologize for any accidental deletion of legit comments. I’ll keep up with it better this go-round.

Please feel free to contact me on my Twitter account, @Adilegian. I will respond as I am able.

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C-Man and the Masters of the Moeverse

The toadie and the traitor.

ALERT: As always, this blog post contains potential game spoilers.

Continuing along with Lab C’s script, we’d like to introduce one of the few subchapter characters who appears beyond his subchapter’s end: C-Man.

While we’re still investigating possible references embedded in C-Man’s character and design, we’ve drawn up a preliminary character profile for reference when determining his voice. Here’s a summary of his character.

C-Man. He’s about Taro’s age. He has more development experience than Taro, and he’s gained a somewhat jaded demeanor due to exposure to the problems of corporate/development bureaucracy. He has a pure ambition to make games, but the energy underlying his ambition can be misdirected due to his working in a competitive, class-modeled development environment. The force of his ambition to make games can be consumed by oppressive competition. He is, in a word, corruptible. Meeting Taro is somewhat kinetic for him, as Taro’s exuberance recalls (and in some ways revives) C-Man’s own innocent yearning for creative work. C-Man and Taro are tearful heart-bros determined to make games with burning vigor and powerful GET PLEASE THE READY.

All of the Dev Dungeon scenarios have secondary characters who provide pivotal support and whose names follow the “***-Man” format. Lab A has Flagman; Lab B has LAN-Man; and Lab C has C-Man. C-Man’s name comes from his deft C programming skills, and there are moments during the plot when his speech breaks down into fragments of code.

The combination of the “C-” designation with the “-Man” naming template can lead to some incorrect conclusions about his name’s significance. Some have suggested that his name is a pun off the Dreamcast title Seaman, the pet simulation game featuring Leonard Nimoy’s voice work; however, none of C-Man’s behavior or actions suggest that he bears any resemblance to the game beyond an incidental homonym.

To hijack a term from comparative linguistics, “C-Man” and “Seaman” are false friends.

Similarly, the fact that he is the main support character during the Lab C Dev Dungeon can lead to the incorrect conclusion that he is primarily significant as a representative of Lab C. So far, this appears to be incidentally true. We’ll have more info on how his C programming skills relate to his character and the plot in future blog entries.

C-Man serves as a kind of rallying figure for the Moe deprived residents of Lab C. As such, he often appears in conflict with the higher-ups in the class environment. Here we see him in conflict with one of the main antagonists during the Lab C segment, the aristocrat whom we’ve designated “Ringfingers.”

There appears to be some coherence behind the designs of the characters in Lab C. Compare the clothing styles of Ringfingers and the Slumlord.

Their collars and tunics share design elements, while the different colors suggest a visual caste system similar to Huxley’s in Brave New World. The Slumlord, C-Man, and the Slumlord’s doorman all wear variations of olive drab.

This doorman is the backwoods-sounding guy with a thing for Magic: the Gathering. The fact that Taro’s jacket is white like Ringfingers’ get-up might have been the Slumlord’s first cue that Taro has corporate authority.

These costumes appear based off those of the Tolmekian military from the sci-fi manga and anime Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Note the same style of collar and tunic in this comparison image of the Slumlord and Kurotawa.

Likewise, note the similar color schemes in Ringfingers’ regal outfit and Princess Kushana’s armor. These colors persist throughout her different changes of costume.

Segagaga clearly draws references to Miyazaki’s work while also incorporating those design elements into its own universe. The relationship between the Slumlord and Ringfingers echoes that of Kurotawa and Kushana as well. We’ll go more into Lab C’s references next weekend. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Takashi Omoto has tweeted that the Ringfingers character is a visual reference to the Princes of Tolmekia. See an image for comparison here. Thanks Takashi!

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Macchio: the Gathering

the best, around

We’ve been plucking along with the translation over the past several months, though the blog updates have been infrequent. We’ve recently come up with a new work schedule, and it’s been a more productive process so far. Many thanks again to our head translator, Justin, for all his fine work. We’ve also started a Twitter account, @SegagagaEng, so we can update on a more regular, bite-sized basis.

Also, I realize that alot of your comments haven’t been appearing on the blog. I apologize for this. They require individual approval since we’ve received a deluge of spam comments. I’ll wade through them after posting this.

This blog post contains spoilers for references, in-jokes, and plot elements for Segagaga. Most of these spoilers are for set-up narrative elements rather than big reveals, though, so you can tread with less trepidation than you might otherwise.

Magic: the Gathering appears as an early reference in Lab C. Taro enters to discover that the place has the appearance of a factory and is divided into class-based tiers (Penthouse, Commons, and Slums). One of the slum workers views Magic cards as a kind of currency.

We’re taking those class-based tiers as cues for rendering the speech of each area’s inhabitants. For example, some of the bug-check workers on the lowest tier are supposed to sound like backwoods hicks, and we’re giving those higher up the social ladder exaggerated, high Victorian speech patterns.

I’m vaguely uncomfortable with many attempts in videogames to draft rural stock types since it leans toward an unoriginal lambasting of Southern US accents; therefore, in my mind at least, the language that we’re using for these stock types can function with most lower social class American accents except for extreme New England. The exaggerated speech patterns of the American upper class, however, seem a bit harder to generalize, so those drafts will be something generally lofty and preposterous.

The interesting thing about using speech patterns as a way to make fun of someone’s educational or class background, though, is that even people who identify as the target class use an exaggerated form of those speech patterns to signify someone who’s uneducated. Much of my family comes from the rural South, so I’ve got some experience here. We just use a more extreme exaggeration… sometimes choosing an accent from a different region other than our own, whereas someone from another region of the South might choose our accent as their go-to referent for dumbness.

In literature, though, using unorthodox spelling and punctuation is rarely an attempt to record actual dialect. Even in Twain’s local color, writing dialectical character speech primarily conveys differences in class status and background, so, in one sense, designating these characters with different visual language cues does much of the legwork itself. Achieving the same effect with strong and original prose, of course, is our goal.

This also allows us to take advantage of the flexibility in word-coining and (especially) idioms that occurs on a dialectical level. Being ironic and Southern is an object lesson in self-awareness, folks.

The slumlord (boss of the lowest tier) requires a little more fine-tuning than that, though. I’m able to draw upon some personal experience for this guy. I’ve worked on a number of manual labor crews in the past, and my supervisors’ code-switching between talking to their crew and talking to their supervisors is sometimes amazing. (For those who don’t know, “code-switching” refers to changing speech patterns in dialect and accent to adjust to a different social context.) They’ll switch from using informal and regional speech with their crew to using less accented, more standardized and “educated” speech with their superiors.

This character, then, has a tone that slides on a spectrum, betraying his familiarity with one extreme when he’s at the other. When he’s speaking with his underlings, he uses that more “hick” flavor text, and he uses a more standardized English when speaking with Taro or his immediate superiors. In either case, though, he has a formal touch when speaking informally and an informal touch when speaking formally… so he doesn’t sound as refined as his superiors.

We’re working this into his very first lines when Taro first appears in his office. He initially addresses Taro using the informal speech he’d use with his workers, then code-switches to more standardized speech when he realizes that Taro has corporate authority.

Taro: Who’s in charge? Where is he?
Doorman: I’m his go-to guy. When I work up a sock-sweat, the slumlord he give me cards. Man’s in ‘ere.
Taro: *enters*
Slumlord: Yeah? Who’s knockin’?
Taro: Nice to meet you. I’m Taro. I’m here from Project Segagaga to meet Lab C’s director.
Slumlord: Oh, ahem, uh, Segagaga? Word is that you’re closing down lab after lab. If you’re here, that means… You plan to rein in Lab C too?
Taro: Exactly. That’s why I need to speak to whoever’s in charge.

These are our readings of the characters, not all of which are objectively in the text but which can be defended as strong interpretations. Making the characters in some way your own is a huge part of strong dramatic copywriting, I think.

I actually had the impulse to give the slumlord’s first line a very regional phrase (currently in use) that actually sounds archaic if you’re not familiar with it: “Who darkens my door?” Unfortunately, as lovely as I think that line is, it wouldn’t decode as informal to most players, so we’ve had to consider alternatives.

Part of Lab C’s material involves moe, an anime aesthetic. Lab C has a repressed atmosphere, and the reigning order doesn’t approve of moe despite its integral place in otaku subculture. As a result, moe bubbles beneath the surface and becomes a kind of subversive, underground trade-economy (anime figurines, moe posters, etc.) Because Lab C follows such a rigidly organized and bureaucratic structure, we’re dropping Orwellian terms into our copy editing when appropriate to convey the hunted nature of moe.

Moe as thoughtcrime!

Here are some screencaps from Lab C so you can visualize the characters we’re talking about.

1: Taro stands in front of a closed-down elevator shaft. To the left sits the Magic: the Gathering obsessed Doorman, while below stands a grunt worker. This elevator shaft plays a dynamic part later in Lab C’s story.

2: Taro speaks with the Slumlord. His and another character’s designs are very clearly riffing off the style of Hayao Miyazaki.

3: The enemy designers appear to love Ralph Macchio. Macchio appears in the dojo segment of Lab B as a standard enemy, and he appears in the slum of Lab C in various mecha forms.

If there’s any doubt that this is, in fact, a reference to Ralph Macchio, the katakana for the original character’s name transliterates directly to “Macchio,” though earlier Segagaga translators have rendered the name as “Macho.”

DIRECTOR DRILL-MACCHIO

PROGRAMMER MACCHIO BOOSTER

DESIGNER MACCHIOBOT

PROGRAMMER MACCHIOMARINE

There’s a lot to love in this game.

Posted in Enemies, Original Blog Posts | 3 Comments

Touching base

We’ve been moving forward with translation of the Lab C text — the R&D RPG segment featuring different layers of economic classes with an abundance of moe. We’ll update with some specific language topics in the near future. I just realized it had been a while since we updated the blog and thought I’d drop word that we’re still trucking along.

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Racketboy Interview / Help Wanted

Hello, all! Our interview with Racketboy.com has gone live. We cover a range of issues regarding our work process, goals for the project, and more! We hope you enjoy it.

Additionally, as we are always looking for any available help in this regard, we’d also like to call attention to an excerpt from the end of the interview:

. . .we currently seek technical help in the matters described in this interview. To reiterate those needs: we specifically need a programmer capable of adding a half-width font to the game to accommodate the length of the script, and we need someone capable of writing tools to access game file archive and graphic formats. Anyone interested in taking a whack at it can reach us through the blog or at SegagagaPatch@gmail.com.

Thanks in advance!

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The Kuruma Ebi Speaks (plus Wallpapers!)

We worked on the translation in a couple of intense burst sessions last weekend, and we’ve spent most of our SGGG energy this week putting together responses for the Racketboy.com interview. It should be the kind of long-term catchup (with comments on specific items and elements of the game) that people are curious about.

There’s a strange line spoken by the mechanical lobster found in the main foyer of Lab B. This is the lobster that Segagaga‘s director Tez Okano said had formerly planned as a Ferrari but later changed, as he explained in this 2008 interview with Edge Magazine:

Oh yes, I also had to change the red Ferrari which symbolized AM2 to… well, the only red thing that I could come up with was a shrimp! In Japanese, ‘car’ is ‘kuruma’, and there is a very popular shrimp, or ‘ebi’, that we eat here in Japan which is named ‘kuruma ebi’! It was too bad – I wanted so much to see that Ferrari flying!


That line, in our current draft, is: “Within the highest reality… lives freedom. FREEEEEEEEEEE!”

The all-caps cry is replicated verbatim from the original Japanese text. (I don’t know how I’d handle hearing a giant lobster screaming that at me from five feet away, frankly.) The phrasing’s supposed to be ambiguous, shifty, and even a little flaky in the sense that it takes its internal contortions more seriously than it should. We’re working to capture that sense without relying upon awkward and uncomfortable grammar.

The R&D Lab B area’s dev staff is broken up into three teams. Whereas they once made games with arms linked in harmony, they now much compete with each other to interpret the studio director’s will. The director delivers his edicts through the medium of this giant red lobster clutching a Dreamcast.

We’re using a variety of synonyms to describe the edicts themselves, the preferred ones among them being “revelations,” “boss’s will,” and sometimes “oracles.” The revelations are phrased enigmatically, so our translation of these edicts attempts to preserve the atmosphere of mysteriousness surrounding the commands.

Different characters refer to the commands at different times, and it’s more believable to describe a single phenomenon using a cluster of synonyms when different characters are speaking, giving the illusion of idiolects among disposable NPCs.

For those who like our new Segagaga Translation Blog banner, Jonathan has provided us with three desktop backgrounds based on the Segagaga cast.

Widescreen, 1280 X 768:



Standard, 1024 X 768:



And dual widescreen, 2560 X 768:



You can download the archive here. The archive includes MacOS compatible versions.

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The Blog is Back

Welcome to the re-birth of the Segagaga localization blog!

Our rate of progress has slowed down over the past year and a half, but we’ve resumed work at a greater pace thanks in no small part to new members of our team.

Our new lead translator is Justin Boley. His speed and attention to detail have given Segagaga‘s localization a new verve, and we’re proud to have him with us.

We’re also joined by Brady Hartel, godfather of the project. In 2006, Brady and I were tossing around ideas in a bull session, and he said, “It would be awesome if someone finally localized Segagaga with the professional attention to detail that it deserves.” I agreed, so here we are.

While Brady has provided us with support and advice over the years, he now joins us in a more active role as Senior Designer. He’ll handle getting English text where Japanese is graphically embedded in the game (such as polygonal textures and backgrounds), and he’ll also work on converting everything from the packaging to the title screen and credits. If it’s not raw text, he’ll have his hand in it.

To flourish his talents as well as offer an example of the level of quality that we maintain, here is a sample of a hypothetical Segagaga North American jewel case.

We’ll be updating this blog more regularly, and you can find out more about the current state of the localization project through an upcoming interview with Racketboy.com.

Finally, we’d like to thank Jonathan Kim for the wonderful banner you see at the head of this blog. Segagaga fans will recognize many primary and secondary characters from the game, as well a special easter egg — the game’s director, Tez Okano, decked in the lucha libre mask that he wore for Segagaga‘s promotional release events.

Thanks for your continued interest in our work!

As always, we respect Sega’s copyright ownership of the Segagaga name and license. Our work is unauthorized and will cease at any time at Sega’s request.

Our hearts go heavily out to Japan and everyone there on this tragic day in history. May you and your loved ones be safe.

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Original title: “Landmark”

This is an edited version of a blog post that originally appeared on 05/10/2007.

We’ve almost reached a checkpoint in our work. I’ve smoothed the bumps from the translation for the Lab A gameplay section; I’ve got English subtitles on the movies that play through the first part; and the incidental text (such as the descriptions and names of items) has been done for a while. As soon as we plug the English text into the game and give it a whirl, we’ll be ready to release a demo patch that will make everything up through the end of Lab A playable.

One of the jokes in the Lab A section gave us a real headache. I think it really shows exactly how specific the game’s market really was. Segagaga

Here’s the set up. Taro, the hero, speaks with the Programming Chief. The Chief is more than slightly demented, but he growls out one intelligible phrase: “Golden Flag.”

Taro heads back to one of the subordinate programmers and asks about the Golden Flag. The programmer is shocked that Taro knows of such a trophy, and he explains the situation. Here is a fairly direct translation of that conversation:

Taro: The Chief, he mentioned a Golden Flag!

NPC: …I see… the Chief, huh…. Okay, then. The Golden Flag–also known as Flag Number F6–controls the door between the Programming and Design Wings.

Taro: Controls the door?

NPC: It’s basically a key to unlock the door to the Design Wing.

Taro: That’s why it’s called “Golden.” It’s just as the word says.

NPC: Pretty damn user-friendly!

Taro: But only older gamers are going to get this stuff.

NPC: It’s okay. We can play with a portable console nowadays. I can’t say which one, exactly, since it’s another company’s trademark… well, anyway.

Narration: Anyway.

(Yes, the narration actually dismisses the topic of conversation.)

The translation trouble arises when Taro says, “That’s why it’s called ‘Golden.’ It’s just as the word says.” Something’s afoot that’s not very evident. I’ve researched the problem and asked some people who know a fair piece about programming–certainly more than I know–and they clued me to the probability that “F6″ refers to a hexadecimal position in the programming code.

In a game, a “flag” is a little yes-or-no binary switch that allows something to happen or not. So, in this instance, the “Golden Flag” represents the “switch” in the program code that lets the player open the door to the Design Wing. Someone suggested that the hex position F6 was an arbitrary place where the flag happened to reside in the Segagaga program code.

My reasoning and research leads me to think that F6 doesn’t refer to a hex position, but that it does play into a technical, programming pun.

Four questions stand out about that dialogue I transcribed. First, why is the “Golden” color significant? Second, why did the programmer rename the flag “Flag Number F6?” Third, why does Taro say only older gamers will understand the topic of conversation? And, finally, why does the programmer bring up handheld consoles as a remedy to the problem of the player’s age?

My answers:

(1) The Importance of the Golden Color

First and foremost, the flag is literally yellow. The Japanese description of the flag is “kin no furagu,” which comes out directly as “Flag of Yellow.” The kanji used for “gold” can also be pronounced “kane,” which means “money,” but that doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the remainder of the conversation. I’m taking it as incidental and irrelevant to the puns.

Taro’s remark about the appropriateness of the description immediately follows his learning that the flag opens the door to the Design Wing. Prior to the conversation, he had seen the door, which was also yellow. This explains the most superficial part of the pun: the flag that opens the only gold-colored door in the development studio is also gold-colored.

This, however, doesn’t seem like enough to justify Taro’s reaction. He pulls his share of Solid Snake moments (“A Hind-D!?”), but he’s not an idiot. This leads to the next question.

(2) Why the Golden Flag is Flag Number F6

I searched around some programming databases to see what connection “F6″ would have with colors in videogames. Those results have led me to my current interpretation.

I’ll skip a long explanation of the nuts and bolts and jump to the conclusion: the hex number FF6 is used as a standard code to tell a monitor to display the color yellow. This is similar to the codes used to assign colors in HTML, except that the FF6 hex number specifically related to 8-bit graphics.

“Flag F6″ = FF6

FF6 = 8-bit Yellow

Flag F6 = Program flag with the same name as Yellow = Golden Flag

(3) Why Only Older Gamers Will Get This

I expect that Taro’s referring to the fact that most younger gamers cut their teeth on the Playstation, and they aren’t very familiar with 8-bit gaming. This has changed, of course, given the wealth of access to 8-bit games via efforts like the Virtual Console as well as ROM piracy.

Another question remains: why the hell would any gamer, however old he is, be expected to know the color code pun?

I think this has a lot to do with Segagaga‘s target audience, otaku. These are the people who will most likely appreciate Segagaga‘s industry satire, and they’ll also likely know enough about the rudiments of programming to know the 8-bit hex code for one of the primary colors.

(4) Handheld Consoles

Sega released Segagaga in 2001 barely one week after Nintendo released the Gameboy Advance. Up until that time, the most popular handheld console in Japan was the Gameboy Color. It could display 8-bit colors, and it didn’t suck batteries as fast as the Atari Jaguar and Sega’s own Game Gear. (Many thanks to Brady Hartel. This was his observation, and I think it fits the scenario perfectly.)

I expect that the programmer refers to the Gameboy Color. It’s popular, meaning wide access among younger gamers. It’s 8-bit, fitting with the FF6 yellow code. And it’s owned by another game company, preventing the writers from specifically mentioning Nintendo as the trademark owner.

The pun is also appropriate since the Golden Flag unlocks the door that connects the Design and Programming wings of the development studio. The joke involves the technical code for graphics, so the Golden Flag represents the combined fruit of Design (which decided to make the flag yellow) and Programming (which coded the flag to look yellow).

I can’t think of another explanation that satisfies all of the questions lingering from the exchange. If anyone reading this blog has a better idea, let me know!

Signing out!

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Original title: “R&D Lab A”

This is an edited version of a blog post that originally appeared on 01/27/2007.


 

The slap of the junklight on the cove;
The freeze-frame of ducks
Below us; your shots; the wounded flop
And skid of one bird to the thick brush;
The moon of your face in the fire’s glow;
The cold; the darkness. Young,
Wanting approval, what else could I do?
And did, for two hours, waist-deep in the lake,
The thicket as black as death,
Without success or reprieve, try.

Charles Wright, “Blackwater Mountain”

 


SegaGaga localization continues according to schedule. (We have no schedule.)

We have just finished the translation of the in-game text for the first RPG segment, R&D Lab A. I want to focus on that, as well as describe the long companion PDF file that I want to make available with the patch.

I’m dealing with a breadth of side characters for the first time in SegaGaga. My goal with these characters is to make each of them distinct insofar as befits them to be distinct. By contrast, I want to make certain main characters less distinct from each other for narrative purposes.

I think it this approach as an attempt to simulate an un-self-conscious observation of a gallery of freaks. Essentially, the main character–Taro Sega–needs to have as unobtrusive of a voice as possible. He needs to sound like an all-American Dudley Do-Right Jr. because he exists as a shell for the player’s ego to inhabit. (Yes, I know that Dudley Do-Right was Canadian. Taro is the result of what Dudley calls his “Yank infidelity.”)

Japanese games (and especially RPGs) tend to characterize their leads so that they assert themselves minimally upon the player, who is likely using the game as an emotional escape from reality. I think that the fact that characters like Link and Chrono are regularly voted among “the greatest game characters of all time” suggests a widespread appreciation for the freedom to role-play a pre-determined identity.

At any rate, Taro needs to be as translucent as a character. Alis and Yayoi (the Heroine) need to be likewise translucent, but they need to vary subtly from each other and Taro. The translucence works to make the main characters more accessible to the player.

By analogy, consider them the glass on your television screen. If it wasn’t translucent, you couldn’t see the displayed images. Going along with the terms of the analogy, of course, the displayed images are the forces external to the main cast–the forces that help and hinder them.

By writing the voices of the core characters as distinct from the rest of the cast, we can keep the story’s main narrative lens clean while also giving the core characters the illusion of personality. Comparative differences create personality, and the slight differences between the core characters’ voices should be enough to make them seem as though they have more than perfunctory roles in the story. (In the end, of course, they are 80% narrative tools.)

The next category of characters are the Supporting Characters. They are the figures in the RPG segments who have more than three lines of dialogue and with whom the player must interact in order to advance the game.

These characters are trickier and more fun than the main characters. The original Japanese text can be pretty bland, and the supporting characters are often distinguished according to codified caricatures, another narrative trope of many Japanese games. It’s also common that these caricatures–taken exactly as they appear in the text, without comparing them to other cultures’ caricatures–are extremely self-referential within contemporary Japanese culture. They are recognized types of people. It might help a localizer to know what it means when a character is supposed to sound like “an Edokko,” but that stock type’s grammar, vocabulary, and tone (recognizable to most Japanese from television, if nothing else) won’t literally carry over into English.

An Edokko, by the way, is a person from Tokyo. He usually has the hip, jive ways of a city-slicker–specifically a Tokyo city-slicker, whose defining idiosyncrasies mostly work only when seen beside the manners of the Kansai ruralite, another Japanese stock narrative type.

This is a pretty looming problem for translation. Language, of course, is one of a game’s main signifiers for the caricatures. This might suggest that it makes the work easy, but the opposite is true.

One part of the problem is the fact that Japan has more or less definite limits on its cultural landscape, so they have much less subjectivity when it comes to perceiving a ruralite. By contrast, the West has many different sets of provincial stereotypes.

For example: a Southern American accent might strike a Midwestern American as indicating rural ignorance. It might also strike a Southerner as indicating someone familiar, salt-of-the-earth. A Scotch accent might strike an American as… what? Maybe comic and intensely virile, as in Mike Myers’ use of the type? Yet it would have different associations for an English gamer.

The overall problem resembles a game of telephone. The Japanese text uses linguistic cues to assign caricature types. The translators try to use stereotyping linguistic cues to translate those stereotypes. Finally, on the audience’s end, the dialects and accents imply different qualities than the original text carried. A rural, Kansai accent will not immediately imply ignorance to a Japanese listener in the same way that a Southern accent will to most American listeners.

Let me clarify that I do not categorically disparage accent-based translations. Final Fantasy XII stands as a great example of how accent-based translations can create a memorable localization. (Square-Enix should offer Alex Smith’s team many fattened calves to keep them on staff.) I think, though, that Final Fantasy XII‘s particular circumstances make the various accents more justifiable. The characters traverse a whole physical landscape, so they need to also traverse a believably varied linguistic landscape.

So, to use the dilemma’s metaphor, this is our rock: the composition techniques of some Japanese text relies upon fixed (or, at least, agreed-upon) social patterns that are not exactly replicated on a large scale over the rest of the world. The easy way to handle this problem–”mimicking” the accents–often dulls the writing and burdens the final work with social associations and biases that distract players from the contents of the text.

And this is the rock’s complementary hard place: inventive expression can solve the problem as long as the invention doesn’t alter essential content. If I write with voices invented off the general types evoked in the initial Japanese text, I think we’ll come out with an interesting translation. I have tried to establish the RPG areas’ supporting characters’ voices with idiosyncratic rhythms, vocabularies, and grammar patterns.

One set of characters is potentially tricky since they use the same sprite model, despite being different characters. I worked to distinguish them by their expressions. Drawing from the general tone of the characters, I decided to pursue the first character as a 1950s superhero (think Powdered Toast Man) and the second character like a vaguely Hopkinsian Yoda. Again, these voices are lightly invented from the tone and content of their Japanese origins.

I think it’s important to distinguish between this sort of expressive characterization and the regional stereotyping often used in localization. I would like to think of briefly seen, definitely caricatured characters as “grotesques.” (I use the word “grotesque” in the sense that it is used with respect to the fiction writings of Flannery O’Connor and Sherwood Anderson.)

Here’s an example of the differences between the two grotesques that use the same sprite design. Here’s the design they share:

Here is how we’ve got this character, Flagman, introducing himself to Taro.


FLAG: Heyo! The name’s Flagman! I’m in charge of the flags in this Development Studio.

TARO: Oh, hey. Nice to meet you.

FLAG: So you wanna know about flags, do you?

TARO: Huh? No, I didn’t–

FLAG: Can’t say I blame you! Now listen: flags control everything that happens in a game, whether it’s an epic quest or a love story. Life and death themselves hinge upon whether countless little flags are up or down.


Taro meets the second Flagman at the entrance of a puzzle. The second Flagman explains the rules of the puzzle. Since Taro has the Golden Flag, smaller flags will sprout at his feet as he walks through the sterile Flag Garden. I versified most of his speech, playing with rhythm, rhymes, and occasionally drafting his lines in hyperbolic, self-consciously poetic quatrains.


There’s no one left to raise a new flag,
and all our flags are withered and dead.
Young man with Golden Flag in your hand,
go forth and the Flag Garden tread.


While these lines are enjambed here, they’re not meant to appear as a poem on the screen. The dialogue is meant as speech rather than lineated verse, but drafting his lines in this format helps to establish a sing-songy quality to his words that the masculine, staccato assertions of a 1950s superhero would foil.


A thrush, because I’d been wrong,
Burst rightly into song
In a world not vague, not lonely,
Not governed by me only.

Richard Wilbur, “On Having Mis-identified a Wild Flower”


 

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