Original title: “Viva Gaga in 2007”

This is an edited version of a blog post that originally appeared on 01/11/2007.

Quick entry. Time to open this up for the new year. I’ve got my fingers crossed that we can release a patch for Segagaga before summer hits, but I won’t promise anything.

Technical, material, and personal considerations stalled our work over the holidays, and we’re picking up where we dropped our bit back in early December. We have lately given our attention to the movie files on the Segagaga disc. These contain the animated sequences available for viewing on Youtube, as well as other segments such as the Mogetan commercials.

Mogetan is a saurian handpuppet who is supposed to be a kid, curious about Sega and videogames. He asks questions to a female puppet named (in lieu of an actual name) Miss, voiced by Kikuko Inoue, the same woman who plays Alisa.

These files are encoded in .sfd format on the Dreamcast disc. We’re ripping the files from our backup of the disc, converting them to AVI format, adding subtitles, and converting them back into .sfd format movies. These movie files will form part of the patch that our audience will apply to their backup copies.

I’m not sure how the subtitles will look on the screen, since the videos are stored at a smaller aspect ratio than they appear on a player’s television. The videos are stored at a 4:3 ratio, and they play at a 5:3 ratio. I have .wmv versions of three of the opening movies uploaded onto my personal site, and they are versions of the movies stretched to a 5:3 aspect ratio. The Dreamcast presumably applies some sort of filter to the compressed images that make the jaggy sprites seem smoother, so hopefully the same standard will be applied to the subtitles.

Here are the videos, followed by some notes. I have chosen only those videos that play at the start of the game, in order to prevent spoiling anyone who’s keeping himself fresh for the game.

(1) Company Policy

This video plays right after the Sega and Hitmaker logos run across the screen at startup. I had to block the kanji at the top of the screen in order to make the English text readable. Thankfully, this is the only video that has distracting text over the space where a subtitle will go, so this does not need to happen again.

This is also one of the few instances where I’ve put the translation at the top of the screen (technically making it a supertitle) in order to prevent blocking the majority of the original material’s activity.

(2) Presidential Decision

This video plays right when the player starts the game. I had to hunt around the internet in order to learn the specific script language used in .SSA subtitle formats in order to change the text color. I have decided to use alternating yellow and white letters for now.

Since the text-only portions of the game assign specific colors to specific speakers, I will try to assign those colors to each character’s subtitles in the final version.

(3) Tour of the Main Office

During this scene, the screen quickly cuts to a black background with Japanese writing. In the effort to make our localization as thorough as we can, I have cut those frames from the animation and replaced them with English frames.

That’s all for now. This blog ought to see more regular updates now that we’re on the move again.

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Original title: “OH SNAP Empty Tomb Resurrection”

This is an edited version of a blog post that originally appeared on 11/08/2006.


 

Quia melius fuerat bona non incipere, quam ab his, quae coepta sunt, cogitatione retrorsum redire, summo studio, dilectissimi filii, oportet, ut opus bonum, quod auxiliante Domino coepistis, impleatis.

Bede, Historiam Ecclesiasticam Gentis Anglorum


 

My very dear sons, it is better never to undertake any high enterprise than to abandon it once begun.

Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People

 


SegaGaga‘s localization has slowed somewhat, but we’re still moving forward. Many people have eMailed me due to the lack of updates on this blog, and I’d like to assure everyone that everything’s still on.

Let me briefly survey the work before and behind us. SegaGaga‘s text lies in two places on the disc: first, in twelve Message Files and, second, in the main data file. The Message Files contain texts that belong neither in the cutscenes nor in the RPG segments, and the main data file contains the texts used in shops, the RPG segments, and elsewhere. The amount of text in the main data file far outweighs the text in the Message Files, perhaps holding up to 90% of the total material. We have worked all of the Message Files into either first or second drafts. I’m currently working these texts into their second and third drafts.

In this entry, I want to explain my editorial approach to the third and later drafts. I’ve derived my approach from my experiences with games translated into English and my experiences writing poetry. I’ll need to digress to introduce how this impacts our work on SegaGaga.



I think that videogames could benefit from more conscientious, more masterful uses of language. I don’t think this on principle alone, but because most narration in videogames–both in cutscenes and gameplay–resembles theater in more ways than it resembles film. The authorial control of the camera presents the illusion of a videogame being identical to film; yet, in games from the past two console generations, players have shifted the camera much as the house audience can change seats for a better view. Even the wrong camera position can reveal a polygonal limbo that breaks the fantasy, much as an accidental peek into the left wing shows the technical work that supports a play’s illusion. Also, importantly, motion actors must conduct themselves more as stage players than film stars. They emote with body language rather than facial tricks, and they must carry the character in all their limbs at all times.

And here is where my trains of thought match tracks. As long as many of the dominant narrative qualities of videogames tend toward theatrics instead of professional film, why not make the language theatrical rather than perfunctory?

I want to explore that possibility with SegaGaga.


Crafting poets pump soul into the poems mostly with vowels. Consonants are important too, but they work best when they correlate with vowels that, in turn, correlate with other vowels. This is how a poem sings.

The traditional range of poetic vowels runs along a scale of fifteen sounds. Starting with the sounds that begin in the back of the throat and then moving to those that start near the teeth, they are: cool, don’t, wood, brought, cord, boy, ouch, far, hot, but, burr, fat, tend, hit, night, blame, and bee.

Say those sounds aloud, and you might feel the vibrations ascend to your lips. I use the word “might” because dialectical variations make the perfect mapping of these sounds difficult. My own Southern dialect shifts certain sounds up or down my throat, especially with our plenitude of diphthongs, so actual mileage may vary.

Those regional discrepancies aside, a line from William Blake illustrates how they work together: “Truly, my Satan, thou art but a dunce!”

The line starts with high vowels (Truly, my Satan) and then descends to the end (but a dunce!) Say it aloud, and you swallow the vowels. Along with the alliteration at the end, the line ends with a linguistic version of a comedian’s rimshot.

But a dunce! But a dunce! But a dunce!

The sounds support the meaning. Satan has been mocked.

Many translations of Japanese games seem to have been written without knowing that the words will eventually land in a voice actor’s mouth. The words seem to have been drafted as mere things on a page. Given the final need that a translation must fill, I don’t think it’s enough to translate only the meanings of the original Japanese text. Someone–either the translator or an editor–needs to become intimate with the characters and write their lines so that the sounds support their personalities.

At the very least, it will make work easier for the eventual voice actor.


I’ll provide two examples of how I’ve started to draft the characters. The examples provided here are by no means final; they are my first steps toward a solid editorial draft. I present them as illustrations insofar as they have partially moved the text closer to my ideal.

Here are my personality associations for Alisa: cheerful, emotive, moe, emotionally transparent, and respectful of order. These qualities remind me of Desdemona from Othello, so I analyzed the vowel patterns used in her speech as a template for writing Alisa.

I chose these lines (among others) for a sample of Desdemona’s speech:

My noble father,

I do perceive here a divided duty.

To you I am bound for life and education;

My life and education both do learn me….

Here’s what the vowels in these lines look like on a chart. Higher points indicate higher sounds (such as perceive, divided, duty, and life).

Desdemona’s speech lays her character bare–or, at least, it reveals her personality when she’s around her father. She pushes the sounds from the back and middle of her throat all the way to her teeth. Her words support her femininity, since higher, soprano notes are typically related most with the pitch of women’s voices. All her speech swells toward the dutiful womanhood that her father expects.

I have re-drafted Alisa’s lines according to this pattern. Perfect emulation isn’t possible due to the fact that I, as an editor, am limited to the ideas expressed in the original text. (When writing a poem, the words must change the idea as much as the idea gives rise to the words.) The point isn’t to replicate Desdemona in Alisa, but to use Desdemona’s pattern as a kind of starter’s kit.

I have mined for synonyms when I have noticed too many successive low vowels. I have rearranged the word order to suit the rhythm and vowel patterns. Above all, though, I have worked to make it coherent, uncontrived, and true to the original text.

For comparison, then, read the following second and third drafts of one of Alisa’s lines.

Second Draft
We just learned that Dogma released a new game on 7-18-2025. I’ve analyzed it with the TerraDrive. Here, read the results.

Third Draft
It’s 7-18-2025. Dogma just released their scheduled title. I’ve used the TerraDrive to break the game down. You can read our results here.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of how the vowel patterns changed between the two drafts.



 


Notes on the changes

  1. I placed the numeric date at the beginning of the line. The numbers can be spoken, but they’re not words to the eye. The reader has to shift his focus from the narrative flow in order to comprehend those numbers. The hesitation becomes less obtrusive if they’re given at the start.
  2. Alisa now pushes her words from lower sounds to higher sounds. For now, I think I’ve chosen good words for the sense of the text. Alisa vacillates between coy and officious tones, and the sample text catches her during one of her official duties.
  3. Certain words have a set rhythm and sound that cannot be changed, such as “Dogma” and “TerraDrive.” Luckily, both words fit into the iambic meter that I have used for Alisa’s lines.
  4. I’ve substituted “break the game down” for “analyzed.” It supports the rhythm and sounds, and it fits her character at that given moment. The phrase overlaps her casual and officious tones. She is delivering an official message, and she is getting ready to engage the player’s character in work. She takes a tone of personal familiarity (moe on the clock) when she corroborates with the player’s character.

Now let’s look at the Dogma Chief’s voice. (Dogma is Sega’s corporate rival in SegaGaga.)

Here are my associations with him: dominating, ambitious, contemptuous of weakness, conniving, and (as per Yoshiko’s note) “one who speaks like a samurai chief.” These qualities remind me of Gloucester from Richard III, so I likewise analyzed the vowel patterns used in his speech.

Here’s the opening of his most famous soliloquy:

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

Here’s what the vowels in these lines look like on a chart:


As with Desdemona, the vowel patterns support the character. Gloucester’s tones stay mostly in the middle range, expressing a calmness that concords with the rational gears of a sociopath’s mind. The on-beats of his iambs mostly rise from lower off-beats in his first line, yet his subsequent lines stress descending sounds. Rising on-beats connote optimism; his first line was ironically pleased. Descending on-beats connote a lower mood, and the majority of his lines show that his spirits follow the clouds’ descent into the ocean.

From Gloucester, then, I derived my template for the Dogma Chief. I decided that most of his on-beats should descend, and, while allowed occasional high tones, he should always return to the middle range.

Here are the second and third drafts of one of his lines:

Second Draft of the Dogma Chief’s Line
They go by the name SegaGaga. They crawl as worms before our might, yet they gnash their teeth at us all the same. Intolerable!

Third Draft of the Dogma Chief’s Line
They call themselves SegaGaga. They stir as worms within our shadow, yet those fools still bare their fangs? Unacceptable!

Here’s how these versions compare graphically:



 


Notes on the changes

  1. The word “SegaGaga” presents a special problem for the Dogma Chief’s template. The rhythm of the word emphasizes syllables that ascend tonally: SegaGaga. Here’s where lessons learned writing formal poetry come in handy: let the form dictate the poem. In this case, the rhythmic demands of the word “SegaGaga” craft the Dogma Chief’s voice more than Gloucester’s template.
  2. I brought most of the higher tones down from their stratospheres in the second draft, and I shortened the length of the lines. This keeps the Dogma Chief from using too many feminine sounds; it gives him more descending on-beats; and it keeps his speech more blunt.
  3. The middle of the second sentence in the third draft breaks from the Dogma Chief’s form. The on-beats ascend tonally (our shadow, yet), then correct themselves (those fools still bare), and then revert to an ascending on-beat (their fangs).

    Inasmuch as a character’s usual speech should support his demeanor, the form can be broken when the character’s spirit breaks from his normal disposition. I think the formal break works. The Dogma Chief’s indignation suggests a crack in the surety of his schemes.

  4. I am more dissatisfied with the third draft of the Dogma Chief than I am with Alisa’s third draft. I’ve been hung on a sense of loyalty to the sounds upon which I’ve decided to base his voice.

    I’ve seen a consistent pattern emerge in the Dogma Chief’s voice while I’ve drafted him rhythmically and tonally. His character might be an instance when the character rejects the template and finds his voice in self-defense.

    In this case, fidelity to a pre-conceived ideal is not important. An abusive father gives his child a sense of identity if the child reacts against his patriarch’s demands, but there’s still no need to torture the kid.

  5. “Stir as worms within our shadow” is sexier than “crawl as worms before our might.”
  6. On the subject of worms, I thought that the former image of worms baring their teeth was a badly mixed metaphor. I tried to smooth the problem without altering the contents of the text. I shrank the teeth to fangs and gave the second half of the compound sentence a new subject (“fools”) instead of a pronoun (“they”) that has “worms” as its antecedent. I think this should deflate the absurdity.

I’m working with each character in turn. In order to become more intimate with each personality, I’m drafting all of his or her lines while ignoring the other voices. They’ll all fit together in the end. Getting to know the principal players through the Message Files will make encountering them in the main data file easier.

This is going to be really, really good.


 

 


Hence the vanity of translation: it were as wise to cast a violet into a crucible that you might discover the formal principle of its colour and odour, as seek to transfuse from one language into another the creations of a poet. The plant must spring again from its seed or it will bear no flower–and this is the burthen of the curse of Babel.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, “A Defence of Poetry”


 

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Original title: “Talmudic moans in dark winter bushes (Ur-Horse novello) Obfuscation |- Doorknob”

This is an edited version of a blog post that originally appeared on 09/28/2006.


                   “Sero, sero…
“Nothing we made, we set nothing in order,
“Neither house nor the carving,
“And what we thought had been thought for too long;
“Our opinion not opinion in evil
“But opinion borne for too long.
“We have gathered a sieve full of water.”

Ezra Pound, Cantos, Canto XXV


We’ve encountered a character in SegaGaga that might bother many long-time American Sega fans. In our present rough drafts, the character’s name is Special Task Force Director Cool. SegaGaga most likely uses him as a reference to Sega of America’s former president, Tom Kalinske.

Let’s look at some history first. At the start of the 16-bit console generation, Sega’s CEO (Nakayama) hired Kalinske to turn around the American market in Sega’s favor. Kalinske received no small order: Sega of Japan had hired him to topple Nintendo’s domination over the industry.

Kalinske reviewed Sega’s situation, went to Japan, and told the board of directors how he thought they could remove themselves from beneath Nintendo’s foot. He called for significant changes in both Sega’s product sales (such as replacing the pack-in Altered Beast for Sonic) and their advertising approach. He explained that they needed to fight Nintendo’s image; they couldn’t rely upon consumers to appreciate some intrinsic goodness in Sega’s products. The board of directors hated all of Kalinske’s ideas, but Nakayama gave his approval.

With this freedom, Kalinske built a legacy that rests in the memories of anyone who grew up as a gamer during the 16-bit console generation. I was ten when Sega released the Genesis. I remember my amazement: Sega dared to challenge the sanctity of all those gray, flip-top altars sitting in each of my friends’ bedroom. To someone young enough to invest himself emotionally in a console war, Sega and Nintendo’s rivalry carried all the moment of Achilles and Hector’s final struggle. None of us knew, then, what serious consequences could befall the videogames industry if Nintendo had prevailed. Nonetheless, we, Nintendo’s adolescent faithful, craved to see Sega dragged in disgrace behind Nintendo’s chariot.

(Sega fans praying for the integrity of our translation need not worry: I have since outgrown all loyalty to any hardware developer.)

Our reaction wasn’t due merely to our immaturity. It resulted from Kalinske’s marketing approach. He made people love the Genesis; their love necessitated our hatred. The Sega brand became something for Nintendo’s faithful numbers to spite rather than to ignore, as it had been during the 8-bit console generation.

Such was the adolescent consumer’s experience with Kalinske’s Sega of America. The business end differed significantly due to cultural tensions within Sega’s international business structure.

Material success strikes Americans as its own justification, at least in business. We hedge from an absolute approval of means-justifying ends when the players act immorally, in the events of scandals like Enron or poorly justified wars to acquire raw industrial materials. Granting these exceptions, we’re okay with someone who surprises us with his abilities.

Sega of Japan’s board of directors hardly regarded Kalinske’s success in America as virtuous. We can understand the situation if we look briefly at the structure of Japanese power relationships, and we can understand how Kalinske’s success fell within those patterns by tweaking a Western, Biblical saying.

When people act nobly in response to unjust treatment in the Bible, the text describes them as “heaping hot coals on the foreheads of their enemies.” Imagine that our hypothetical enemies knew that our actions were really holy wounds, and you have an idea how the Japanese board members perceived Kalinske’s success. Yes, he put money in their bank accounts, but he brought a lower branch of Sega greater success than the head could hope to achieve. To describe the corporate power relationships in feudal terms, Kalinske was a chief retainer who had brazenly proven himself more valorous than his lord.

The Japanese corporate world has been known to punish insolence without terminating the person’s career. A leading software designer might create an original hit series; however, if he acts as though his achievements elevate him above his co-workers, his superiors may decide to punish his attitude by confiscating the original series and sending him to develop games for a syndicated J-Pop franchise. So Sega of Japan seemingly punished Kalinske. They manipulated the company’s structure to strip him of any real authority, and they left him with all the direct power of England’s royal family. Kalinske became fed up with the whole affair, left Sega, and boosted LeapFrog, Inc., to tremendous success.

Of course, Sega began to stumble toward their present state shortly afterwards. They might not have expected him to quit, since most Japanese employees who are thus disciplined remain with the company to regain their former prestige. In effect, they razed themselves by exposing Kalinske to passive Japanese corporate discipline and driving him away. After that, they set nothing in order–the house nor the carving, their consoles nor their software. Sega’s failure speaks nothing bad about the quality of their hardware or games; rather, it demonstrates how great architectural plans can collapse when executed badly.

Tom Kalinske’s entrance into and exit from Sega might mark the most dramatic part of the company’s history. The events highlight many of the cultural attitudes that brought Sega to perdition, and many of these attitudes remain in the Japanese game industry today. SegaGaga, as a reflection upon the company’s history as well as the industry in general, addresses these events as a matter of course.

The game hasn’t seemed to address these issues in the way we might expect, though. I will make the caveat that we have not finished everything dealing with Cool, Kalinske’s in-game persona. According to everything we’ve translated so far, however, SegaGaga renders Kalinske a villain to the point that he opposes and nearly snuffs the plan intended to save Sega along with the rest of the videogames industry.

The character’s description reflects Kalinske’s legacy within the company. I’ll avoid writing spoilers and skip the circumstances of his appearance in-game, but I’ll present our rough draft of his introductory conversation with Alisa, Taro Sega, and Yayoi Haneda (the heroine).

Alisa: Meet Special Task Force Director Cool. He’s just arrived from the United States.

[ skipped dialogue to avoid spoilers ]

Cool: We’ve detected an increase in suspicious activities ever since Project SegaGaga began.

Heroine: …!

Cool: We’re currently in a state of emergency, so I’ve assumed control over Project SegaGaga from now on.

Alisa: What!? But the CEO….

Cool: My orders have come straight from the CEO himself. I’ve got the paperwork to prove it. Want to check it?

Alisa: Definitely.

Cool: I’ll fill in the details later. For now, just get back to work.

[ Cool leaves. ]

Heroine: Director Cool… who on earth was that guy?

Alisa: Sega’s shrewdest employee… the man responsible for tripling our hold on the American market. And….

Hero: Yeah?

Alisa: He’s also the man who most opposed Project SegaGaga from the start.

[ END. ]

Both Kalinske and Cool are American, and both drastically increased Sega’s hold over the American market. The game’s characters–all Japanese, of course–regard him as “shrewd,” an attitude that contrasts with the other characters’ confidence in the genius of a fun-loving wunderkind. Cool intrudes upon Project SegaGaga with the CEO’s authority, just as the Japanese executives perhaps viewed Kalinske’s presence as unfairly forced upon them by Nakayama.

Later events reveal that Cool is a total hard-ass. He prompts the hero to make a few decisions that, if made badly, can result in his immediate termination from Sega. He then forces the hero to develop a game in the dregs of Sega’s complex, gradually taking away his designers, programmers, and budget. Cool forces the hero to release the incomplete game, and he later reprimands the hero, “Yes, I gave the order to release the game, but I don’t recall giving you the order to release it with so many bugs.” All of this, of course, casts Kalinske (by association with Cool) and a generalized idea of “the American approach to game development” in a bad light.

The evidence for the reference seems solid. But what kind of commentary does this offer?

I interpret Cool’s character as a tongue-in-cheek satire of the hyperbolic reactions that Kalinske’s success provoked. While his success in Sega might have appeared inappropriate within a Japanese corporate structure, he didn’t bear the ill will toward Sega of Japan (or share the hubris) that Cool clearly does. I’d suggest, then, that Cool represents the preception of Kalinske as hubristic and inappropriately ambitious, taken to crazy anime proportions replete with magic space-headbands and deistic delusions.


               Then light air, under saplings,
the blue banded lake under aether,
               an oasis, the stones, the calm field,
the grass quiet,
               and passing the tree of the bough
The grey stone posts,
               and the stair of gray stone,
the passage clean-squared in granite:
               descending,
and I through this, and into the earth,
               patet terra,
entered the quiet air
               the new sky,
the light as after a sunset,
               and by their foundations, the heroes,
Sigismundo, and Malatesta Novello,
               and founders, gazing at the mounts of their cities.

Ezra Pound, Cantos, Canto XVI


I sent a memo to Japan in 1995, saying Sega would be better off just becoming a software company–we could support Sony, and even Nintendo. They sent a reply: “We will always be in the hardware business.”

Tom Kalinske


Other good resources for more on Tom Kalinske:

Tom Kalinske: American Samurai (Horowitz, Sega-16)

Tom Kalinske: Interview (Horowitz, Sega-16)


 

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Original title: “Buroggu”

This is an edited version of a blog post that originally appeared on 09/17/2006.

Moe has given me a big headache in recent SegaGaga work, but I think we’re coming out of it with solid material.

I’ve had to get past my irritation with the concept of moe in order to start dealing with its linguistic appearance in the text. Even before that, I needed to understand the subject. The Japanese language’s relatively imprecise terminology has been no help. Thankfully, I have found a great article on Heisei Democracy’s website written by a fellow who goes by the name Shingo. The author uses the breadth of material described as moe to break the overall mass into four categories. These categories are:

(1) Junai-kei moe: Depicts a loving (though not sexual) relationship between the female character and the focal male figure, whether he is the reader or the reader’s avatar in the story.

(2) Otome-kei moe: Depicts the female character as the center of an idealized past or present, often de-emphasizing the masculine presence in order to augment the effect.

(3) Erokawaii-kei moe: Depicts a sexualized moe female character, though the expressed sexuality is inhibited by her innocence and consent. Both of these qualities often become less opaque, resulting in a sexual encounter between the female character and the focal male figure.

(4) Denpa-kei moe: Depicts a female character adorned with fetish objects, expressing the particular obsessions in either costumes or accessories instead of establishing the obsessions with the narrative.

I want to coin another term alongside Shingo’s Japanese categories: Ur-Moe. This term describes the composite gallery of images and stylistic attributes that people describe as moe within the otaku culture.

The term serves two purposes. First, it specifies that the context of linguistic discussion belongs to the otaku usage of the word moe, rather than its popular usage to convey enthusiasm. Second, Ur-Moe highlights the fact that the bare term “moe” has many faces, all of which tend to go by the name “moe,” and Ur-Moe refers to their totality.

Let me restate this a few times to make my distinctions clear. Moe refers to specific instances wherein the subculture’s values prompt recognition of a specific type of Ur-Moe, while Ur-Moe refers to the panoply that Shingo broke into categories. Moe refers to the concept’s adjectival usage, while Ur-Moe stands as a noun. Moe refers to the subjective experience; Ur-Moe refers to the objective existence of drawings within at least three pop media (manga, anime, and games) that prompt the moe reaction.

The prefix “Ur-” carries connotations of “eternal” or “ultimately stable.” A similar use of the term can be found in Umbert Eco’s excellent essay, “Ur-Fascism.” Eco wrote about the extreme flexibility of political Fascism, owing to its lack of focus as a totalitarian movement. While effectively oppressive, Fascism did not require total submission of all human varieties to a single set of prescribed behaviors. Linguistic (rather than political) circumstances prompted the essay; he was interested to see that so many people would describe instances of oppression as “fascist,” even when those instances were not related to political Fascism.

The same holds true here. Moe is also a synecdoche, capable of referring to a variety of visual styles in J-Pop media that prompt an experience of its aesthetic. The specific qualities that prompt moe experiences do not add up to a system by which one can objectively determine drawings as moe or not moe. However, they are sufficient to allow the moe sensibility to coagulate around the drawings, once in the audience’s fat, sweaty hands. Lacking terms by which we can anticipate future moe characters based off prior creations, Ur-Moe refers to the total phenomenon.

I have found these distinctions useful when translating SegaGaga‘s conversations about moe. Here’s a rough conversion chart to show how the terms (I think) are best coaxed into English.

(X) Technical Term (part of speech) -> Language used in translation: rationale.

(1) Ur-Moe (noun) -> Referred to as moe, lower case, except when it appears as part of a title: should be regarded as a niche loanword.

(2) moe (adjective) -> Should not use the term moe in any way, but should describe the meaning of the usage in context: moe as an adjective is rhetorical rather than demonstrative, and rhetorical language alienates the audience at the expense of dramatic interest.

(3) moeru (verb) -> Should appear exactly in the terms of the literal verb, which means (depending on the exact kanji used) to bud or sprout or to burn passionately and intensely: the verb can appear as part of Japanese wordplay, but the loanword’s function does not spill over into its verb form. If left as moeru or substituted with moe, it isn’t translated.

The real difficulty arises when moeru appears as a pun. In the specific context of SegaGaga, a conversation occurs about the importance of including Ur-Moe elements in videogames. Both characters discuss their “moe,” meaning their ability to apply Ur-Moe elements skillfully in games. Then they use moeru as a verb to describe their improved skill in applied Ur-Moe. The pun involves a verb-to grow or sprout-which also captures the phonetic sounds of the noun that they’re discussing, “moe.”

You can’t translate this literally into English without shredding the subtlety of the joke. However, the English language is perfectly capable of subtlety on its own terms through poetry. A translator can use the cognitive qualities of poetry to supplement an otherwise unintelligible, literal translation.

T. S. Eliot coined the term “objective correlative” to describe an element of his poetry, influenced by early 20th century anthropological studies such as Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough. He posits that certain ideas resonate with associative meaning because all human cultures share those associations. Water, for example, carries associations of birth and rebirth. Contrasting water, fire carries associations of purification and discipline. Both fire and water are objects that correlate with these abstractions.

There’s an objective correlation at work in Ur-Moe, too; we see its presence in the ancient Western tradition of May Day. Youth’s sexuality and fresh vegetation follow each other hand in hand. We can work with this.

Translation of the Ur-Moe / moeru wordplay has two fixed pieces: the fact that Ur-Moe will be written as moe, and the fact that moeru means to bud or sprout. Since the non-Japanese reader has no referent experience to connect Ur-Moe to the incipient process of plant growth, we should use tropistic language to form the conversational context for Ur-Moe. The combination of tropistic language and the objective correlation between youthful sexuality and fresh plants should make the connection between the word moe and the idea to plant or bud more cogent.

This will also necessarily restrict the language we use when Ur-Moe is not being discussed. Careless use of tropistic language will dilute the association between Ur-Moe and early plant life.

In this light, then, Alisa should not say, “I’m relieved to see that you’ve improved your understanding of moe!” Instead, she should say, “I’m relieved to see that you’ve cultivated your sense of moe well!” Obviously, we’ll need more than a handful of such instances to expose the reader to connections between Ur-Moe and budding plants. Thankfully, Ur-Moe is the subject of much conversation in certain parts of the game, giving us plenty of time to work the suggestions into the experience.

One of Jerel’s observations made me laugh while we discussed how to handle the Ur-Moe / moeru translation: “Deep, man. The translator, player, and hero all on the same journey to discover moe!” I’m guessing that the echoes of simulation here would make a post-structuralist need to take a cold shower, but I’m unamazed.

This ain’t pomo.

This is work!

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Original title: “Moe, Beetles, and Dogma”

This is an edited version of a blog post that originally appeared on 08/26/2006.

Overview: We finished the item translations for SegaGaga and began translating the information conveyed to the player whenever Dogma (Sega’s in-game rival) releases a game. I gave an interview on DELTAHEAD’s behalf with Mr. Alistair Wallis of GameSetWatch.

We haven’t reached a final conclusion on the translation of the Moe Poster item’s name. Jerel directed my attention to the adoption of the word moe by semi-fringe groups on the anime scene. The situation brings us into tricky translation water, because a new question arises: at what point should a translator consider a word or phrase a loanword, when the word originated in the primary language yet has a more limited usage in the secondary language?

Take the English language use of otaku as an example. In popular English, otaku merely serves as a referent to an anime hobbyist. Japanese usage can carry a more stringent denotation, specifically casting the otaku as someone who wastes the ambitious potential of their youth, stays at home with their parents, and replaces positive social interaction with high tech toys, videogames, and (perhaps) fetishistic perversities often reflected in the doujin subculture. Put simply, English speakers use the term as a simple description, whereas a Japanese otaku comes closer to our idea of a total loser. Certain Japanese people may use the word with self-referential irony, of course, and a kinder use of the word has grown in parallel with the growth of former otaku into adulthood. However, at the end of the day, the English and Japanese meanings differ in pretty hefty ways.

As far as loanwords go, “otaku” is like a zombie: the body is loaned, but the meaning really isn’t. In these instances, I think it’s best to treat the word otaku as though it were totally foreign to the English audience, unless the context absolutely demands a reference to the otaku subculture. In such instances (like the use of otaku when Otacon introduced himself in Metal Gear Solid), the successful communication of the meaning becomes surrendered to the audience’s cultural awareness.

We need to be careful with words like moe, because its niche usage within a subculture could narrow its original meaning too much. Part of this involves players’ perception of the word, which can often focus solely on a sexualized slant. In lieu with the general bent of Japanese language, its specific meaning depends upon the context of its use. I expect that a Freudian approach to moe would regard any object perceived through its lens as sexualized (albeit with sublimated sexual energy), but that moves more into the territory of interpretation rather than translation.

The real problem comes from the fact that, in general, ambiguous word choices in English often appear as deliberate attempts to establish dramatic irony or dual meanings. In other words, ambiguity is a way that words can be used, rather than an inherent quality in the words themselves. (Post-structural linguists disagree with me here, but that’s another bag of cats.)

Moving right along: Moe will be generally taken as an unambiguous reference to lolicon or shota, and the in-game poster will no doubt reinforce that notion. I partially think it would be dishonest to reinforce the association of a general Japanese word with one of its many contextual meanings.

Then, of course, there’s another angle on the problem: “Will anyone really care?”

I don’t know! But I sure care, and that level of concern also makes our work good. I don’t understand how anyone can become involved with an occupation without thinking it somehow matters, and things matter because we care about them.

The chicken just ate the egg from inside out.

The more acquainted I become with SegaGaga‘s stylistic idiosyncrasies, the more I can appreciate perhaps why Sega never localized it. A cynic would say that we never saw SegaGaga localized because Sega is Japanese and therefore hoards its best creations for the home crowd. However, I think that this explanation can become overused as an emotional response to the frustration Westerners feel when they miss a really solid game. Sega may have thought that SegaGaga was simply too embedded in Japanese gaming culture to localize well.

As an example… one of the items’ description literally reads, “A mysterious piece of wood where beetles and girls gather.” Obviously, we can’t just leave it that way. I checked with our team for clarification, and their explanation revealed that the meaning lies beyond the words.

Japanese children used to go into the woods and hunt beetles, specifically rhinoceros and stag beetles. I absolutely love these critters. Behold their glory.

Rhinoceros Beetle:

Stag Beetle:

These beetles have become more rare, so shops have started selling them at pretty high prices. In the logic of the item description, then, the stick attracts these hard-to-catch beetles along with pretty girls, who are also hard to catch. Its ability to fascinate and magnetically attract rare things makes it “mysterious.”

I don’t know what additional powers might attend the weapon. Going along with the item description, it might allow for a higher rare item drop-rate. Anyway, SegaGaga has a lot of material whose meaning lies beyond the words, so Sega may have declared the cultural hurdles insurmountable.

We, of course, disagree. At the time of our most recent draft, the description reads: “A mysterious stick with the power to attract hard-to-catch things such as rare beetles, pretty girls, etc.” While beetles may seem felicitous as one of the things described as worth catching, the relationship between beetles, girls, and the stick itself remains preserved. That’s the important part.

Getting our translations prepared for Patrick has required my adoption of new work methods. The Dreamcast code surrounding the text includes calls for background images, sometimes voice-acting clips, line and paragraph breaks, as well as the colors used for the text. These color codes are pretty important, since the game graphically distinguishes between speakers according to the color of their dialogue text. I have to prepare our translation materials with those codes attached to the appropriate text.

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Original title: “Refined Translation and Fixed Driveway”

This is an edited version of a blog post that originally appeared on 08/26/2006.

SegaGaga plays right into the adolescent notion that trademark characters literally run the corporate organization that gave them life. Remember how we once thought that Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse literally called the shots down in Orlando? SegaGaga pulls a similar narrative punch, and I expect that it’s going to thrill many diehard Sega fans.

Some of the items are necessary to start game development in the business sim portion, and we’re working to make those as intuitive as possible. I expect that more than a few of them refer to previous Sega titles. At present, we have translated these items as “Game Spirits,” though that’s not a stable name. The player receives these items from in-game characters. The player receives one of them–named the Spirit of Speed–from Sonic the Hedgehog himself.

I’m setting aside three hours this evening to play the business sim portion of SegaGaga with an FAQ. Hopefully, that will better familiarize me with the text’s probable meanings.

One item in particular has required quite a bit of work. Its general name is “Moe Poster.” My Japanese skills extend as far as recognizing the hiragana and katakana syllabaries on sight, so I have to keep in close communication with my staff on this. (In case my lack of Japanese proficiency should concern anyone, our team is entirely comprised of people with professional experience in their respective fields. Rest easy.)

As I understand it, moe is one of those Japanese abstractions that can really crack a translator’s teeth. It means “sexy” or “appealing,” though it refers to the feeling of sexiness generated in the observer, rather than any sexy qualities embodied in the work itself. I think I know which poster it refers to. It’s found in R&D Area A.

One of SegaGaga‘s presents to Sega fans includes a Sega theme song. I can’t distribute the file containing the song, but I’ve uploaded the song onto PutFile.com. You can listen to it here.

For English comprehension, we’ve translated the lyrics.

“Sega March”

Sega, Sega–Oota-ku, Tokyo,

Keikyu Haneda Airport line, Ohtorii station.

Game creation is our sanctuary in life,

Yet victory is still far away.
We stumble and get depressed, but we move on.
Sega, Sega–oh, move on to tomorrow.

Sega, Sega–near the Tama River.
Take the Haneda-guchi exit off Shuto Highway, then head to Kanpachi.
Arrows and bullets spent, without friends,
Yet our minds and spirits soar higher.
Jump for joy! Let’s help each other and stand together!
Sega, Sega–oh, move on to tomorrow.

Sega, Sega–oh, move on to tomorrow.

Some notes on the song:

(1) Acute listeners will recognize the choral “Sega” from the opening tones that play whenever you start up your Sega Genesis.

(2) The opening couplets for both main verses actually tell you how to get to Sega Headquarters. The first verse tells you the district, train line and station, and the second verse gives you driving directions. It also tells you which river Sega is nearby… so maybe it offer boating directions too!

(3) We can probably assume that the state-of-affairs described in “Sega March” pertains to Sega’s condition in SegaGaga, rather than their real-life status.

(4) While Sega Headquarters are located in the Oota ward of Tokyo, the name passes as an incidental pun, otaku.

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Original title: “Segagaga, Cement, Kitty”

This is an edited version of a blog post that originally appeared on 08/20/2006.

SegaGaga translation is coming along well. We’re currently handling the items, meaning the supplies that your character uses in the RPG portions. Some of them also work in the business sim parts too, though, and those are more difficult to handle.

I remember reading a Sony technical writer’s account of getting some VCR maintenance instructions into readable English. He had received a useless Japanese translation, filled with esoteric statements that convey nothing within the English language’s concrete epistemology. He wanted to do his job well, so he threw away the translation, took the VCR apart himself, and wrote the instructions from what he learned by disassembling and reassembling the machine.

That’s sometimes the sort of process that makes a translation great rather than tepid. You need to play it, even if you can’t dissect the programming code. That statement may seem obvious, but the play experience serves two purposes: (1) to understand the mechanics of the game, and (2) to get a feel for the game’s total personality. You’ll need to support that personality with your language choices.

In SegaGaga, I got as far as the end of the first R&D area. The business sim picked up thereafter, and I couldn’t work through that. I got through the RPG section well enough, because my experience with RPGs made the game intuitive. I talked to people, won random encounters, fought a few mid-bosses, had to search the environment for items, and so on. SegaGaga shouldn’t cause much trouble for a genre veteran.

The business sim part is trickier. I don’t know many precedents outside of maybe some niche markets. I’ll probably have to break down soon and plow through with an FAQ.

A lot of the item names are really entertaining (not to ignore the descriptions), and I hope we can fit all of them in. We’re much more limited with our space here, though. We have exactly eight characters to use for each item name, and maybe fewer in some cases. That hasn’t caused much trouble so far. I’ve had to draft our translations on graph paper to make sure I don’t overstep the number of allowable characters.

At the very least, the item names need to distinguish each item from the others, even if they only vary in one or two characters. When you can’t have coherent content, you can at least strive for coherent form.

As an example… two of the healing items are named Unker and Unker Star. (These are parodies of the real-life Yunker energy products in Japan.) The first name fits well enough, since U-N-K-E-R needs only five characters. “Unker Star” obviously won’t. You can write that as U-N-K-E-R-S-T-R, which contains technically correct information, or you can write U-N-K-E-R-+, which more readily communicates the relationship that this item has to the Unker item. Players can tell the relationship between the items at a glance. I’m compiling a translation FAQ document to distribute with the patch, so I can note where certain sacrifices were made in accuracy for accessibility’s sake.

Some of the items are pretty neat. For example:

(1) One of the weapons is a Spiritual Stick. In eight characters, it is a ZenStick. The item description reads, “The rod which a bonze uses to hit your shoulder during zazen meditation. A long, large wooden stick with the words ‘Infusing Spirit’ written on it. Very painful.”

This is the sort of thing that will justify a translation FAQ. This stick is instrumental in zazen meditation lore. Zen adepts will practice zazen meditation, and the bonze will hit them with the stick at unexpected moments. The experience is recorded as valuable, because the pain calls the adept to attention… which is one of the purposes of zazen meditation.

(2) A Hand-Knit Sweater. The item description reads, “A sweater knitted by a girlfriend. Every man’s dream. It garners defensive power from the feminine spirit infused within.”

(3) Armadillo Armor. The item description reads, “Fake armor. When you wear it, people avoid coming near you so no one will think they’re your friends. Maximum defense power.”

Apparently, the game uses the Japanese word for “dream” to refer to MP in the RPG segments. I could simply replace all references to “dream” with “MP,” but then some of the fun is lost. Some of the item descriptions pun off the word “dream.”

Take the Homo Ludens item as an example. It restores a slight amount of MP. The item description uses the “dream” idea cleverly, though. It reads: “A technical book. Recovers Dream. It’s not too realistic to dream, though, so it only recovers a little.”

That’s the sort of idiosyncratic humor that really makes SegaGaga what it is. I hope our character limitations don’t force us to sacrifice too much of its personality.

Something’s been brought to my attention in the introduction that merits consideration. When Sega’s CEO, Hitomajiri, explains the status of the videogame industry to the hero, he says: “The truth is that players have drifted away from videogames because of stagnation in the industry. We just haven’t seen the sort of revolutionary games that we once saw. To make the situation worse, corporate giants in the game industry insist on outdoing each other, so they release console hardware that isn’t compatible with their competitors’ hardware.”

That last sentence might strike some folks as a little weird. After all, we’re living in a real-world environment wherein console hardware has never been compatible with other companies’ hardware.

Why would Hitomajiri describe market competition as a problem?

We’re still talking about this, so the question’s out in the open. We might have to revise the translation if nothing seems satisfactory. We want to get this right.

Right now, I’m interpreting Hitomajiri’s statement in light of Japan’s technological history. I think that SegaGaga implies that corporate competition could also exist without hardware incompatibility. Japan saw a lot of success with the MSX computers, and those are neat because no single manufacturer owned “the MSX brand computer.” Some have said that the acronym stood for “Machines with Software eXchangeability,” which is a pretty good description.

MSX was a system standard that industrial competitors could make parts for. Competition still existed; Panasonic and Sony could still compete to produce the best 3.5″ floppy drive. The consumer would truly reap the benefits because he wouldn’t have to reconfigure the rest of his set-up for one addition. A Sony floppy drive would still work with a Panasonic motherboard.

I guess it’s similar to the current state of PCs, only the MSX system started out as a generally accepted standard, whereas the current non-Mac PC system started out as an “IBM-Compatible.” We’ve dropped the brand ownership of design, but we still have the general interchangeability.

And that’s really the question we’re dealing with: is Hitomajiri saying that the big name companies make hardware incompatible with their competitors’ software? Or is he saying that big name companies won’t make hardware according to an accepted industry standard?

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Original title: “My First Blog Ever”

This is an edited version of a blog post that originally appeared on 08/13/2006.

Our project is the English language patch of a Sega Dreamcast game called Segagaga. It’s a weird title, once billed as a “Sega Simulator.” Everyone really hoped that Sega would come out with an English version, but Sega never invested the time or money.

In the story, you assume the role of the Taro Sega, an average, pre-teen anime boy summoned to lead a plan that will save the videogame industry.

Specifically, Sega is in trouble by the year 2025. They control only three percent of the videogame market. Gamers everywhere have drifted away from games because nothing revolutionary has hit the market in a long time. Giant game corporations compete with each other by releasing expensive hardware that isn’t compatible with anyone else’s product. Everyone loses.

So, Sega throws the problem to their hyper-awesome computer, the TeraDrive. (The story almost sounds inspired by Douglas Adams.) They decide to enact the top secret plan called Segagaga. The TeraDrive tells them to choose two kids to run around as CEOs for three years with a limited budget. You’re one of them.

You have to go through the Research and Development areas in the form of an RPG dungeon crawler, albeit pepped up with Sega’s charm. You encounter former developers who have gone insane with the stress from software development. They have become bestial as a result, and they attack you. You have to defeat them in an RPG-style battle, and you’ll occasionally get a chance to recruit them as your development staff. (Neatly, in order to recruit characters successfully, you have to answer a series of questions about the history of Sega correctly.)

We’re working on an English patch for the Japanese game.

The idea is that you’d make a backup copy of your Japanese copy of Segagaga, add our patch to the backup, burn the patched backup on a CD-ROM disc, and play the English language version on your Dreamcast. We’re still working out the technical details.

I naturally looked for any language documents on the game when I got my copy off eBay. I think that a full translation already exists on GameFAQs, but I haven’t looked at it. We aren’t using it as our foundation.

Don’t discount that translation as a credible resource. I’ve heard that it’s reliable. I simply prize the “first encounter experience” with a given translation project. I regard that as an intimate experience: to know something and attempt to re-express it using your mother tongue.

I feel more strongly about language than most, though, so perhaps not everyone understands this reaction. The bottom line is we’re building this from the ground up.

After some coaching from our original programmer, we’ve extracted more of the J-text out of the main .BIN file. Previously, we had only been able to get dialogue text from the intro. For that, I just started opening Segagaga files at random. I got lucky.

Not very methodical.

Our first programmer gave us a quick glossary of the text pointers so I could lay out the English text in a way that helps coordinate character animations with the proper text. We’re trying to use those conscientiously, so we won’t trip over the code-language’s unintelligibility-and so we won’t forget where to put them back.

Our biggest potential obstacle, at this point, seems to be the unavailability of a half-width font. Segagaga only calls for block-width romanji characters from the Dreamcast’s cache. Unless we figure out some way to utilize the hardware’s half-width font, we’re forced to create additional dialogue boxes to accommodate for the unpacked English text.

This creates another problem. We only have a limited amount of spare room for the overflow of data that results from so much more text. We might run out of room, say, after the first R&D dungeon.

This is clearly unacceptable. We’re now considering a multi-disc strategy. We’re going to make the best translation with that resources, and that might mean expecting a few extra CDs from someone using our patch.

Basically, we’ll create Patch Disc 1 which hypothetically covers up to the end of the first R&D section. At the end of that disc, we’ll have Alisa (the secretary) say, “Please save your game, turn off the Dreamcast, and insert Segagaga English Disc 2.”

The player will have burned a second Segagaga backup using Patch 2, which leaves everything from the beginning until the end of the first R&D section in Japanese. However, since the player has saved at the end of Patch Disc 2’s Japanese section, he can pick up where Patch Disc 2’s English section begins.

If necessary, we can simply repeat this chain for the entire game. This is our backup plan in the event that we can’t integrate the half-width font.

Our first programmer took some screenshots of our translation of the first half of the introduction. Here’s what Segagaga English will look like using block-width English characters.

We start working on the Item menus and descriptions tomorrow. Those will be tough. Many of the items only have four Japanese characters in their names, which limits us to four English characters as well. We might end up with a revival of the spell names from the original Final Fantasy.

FIR2 anyone?

We’re also planning to subtitle the animated sequences. We’ve never translated something that didn’t have a printed text component before. Segagaga holds lots of challenges. I think they’re all good things to experience.

I’ll update this again when more work is done.

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