Kneel before Zoids!|
- Clayton Chan, project lead
- Jason Ruper, editor
Have you ever wondered exactly how a game ends up going from Japanese to English? Well, have I got a production diary for you! Previous entries in this Atlus Life series of production diaries (delivered to your doorstep at the low, low price of free + $0 shipping and handling) have talked about the naming of specific characters and some of the specific hurdles involved in the localization of a title, but now Jason Ruper and I, Clayton Chan are going to take you through the entire process from a broader perspective.
Step 1: Getting to Know Your Game
First, we have a translator play through whatever Japanese version of the game we have. This is an important step because it allows the translator to be familiar with the story flow, and if there are any issues in the game we can address, we can specifically point them out to the developer at this stage. (For example, in the Japanese version of Spectral Force 3, nearly all text in battle is difficult to read on an SD TV. Not so in the US version! You're welcome.)
So Alex and Martin Britton both went through the Japanese version of Zoids Alternative and made their suggestions for modification. The Zoids team met and agreed on which requests we wanted to make. Some of the changes we asked for were made, and you can see the results in the final North American version of the game. Some tweaks are obvious, like the new skins added to aid in friend-foe recognition (see screenshots below), but the major ones are more subtle, like the fact that skipping battle animations will now display the attack results as damage numbers above the individual units.
One of our principle goals is to deliver the best version of the game possible to North America, and we do everything we can to that end.
Step 2: Translation
The next step is the actual translation. TakaraTomy, the Japanese publisher, was really good with providing clear breakdowns of what each file contained and what our character (letter) limits were. (You have no idea how much of a pain it is when you start working on a file assuming you have 8 characters for say, weapon names, and then find out later in the project that you can only use 6.) Knowing which file went where allowed me to give the files to the translators that were best suited for the task. I knew that Richard Kim was better with military and business-style translation, so he worked on a lot of the news article text. Alex was better suited to conversational text, so he did the majority of the script. When you're up against a deadline, assigning people the part of the work they're best suited for is key to maximizing efficiency.
This would fall under "formal" translation.
And this is "informal" translation.
Once translation gets underway, we start to make a term list. If Jason's editing text and calling an object the Deathsaurer Cannon, and I run into another reference in the text and decide that it should be the Death Saurer Cannon, we're just going to cause ourselves unnecessary work once we get to the debug cycle (when our QA testers point out the dozens of continuity errors we created). That's why we make a term list.
Note: This term list is not actual size.
Once that's settled it's time for editing, so here's where I'll pass it on to Jason.
Step 3: Knowing Our Territory
The process of editing is about what you'd think it is. We take dialogue, item names, descriptions, and any other piece of text in the game and make sure they sound like good old-fashioned American English.
First, we meet and discuss everything from a character's name to his or her personality. This means we figure out everything from how each character addresses each other ("Yes, Sir Steve!" or "Sure thing, Steve-o!") to how intelligent their language is... etc. Then comes the fun part of taking the translation and making it into sensible English, different sentence structure and all. (while staying within that pesky little character limit Clayton mentioned earlier).
One thing that was both a blessing and a source of many groans on this project, though, was that a lot of the event dialogue didn't have a character limit... but a rather leeway-less (it's a word, I swear!) time limit for the movie sequences. We literally timed each line of dialogue in all the Japanese movies with a stopwatch, and then we "acted" and subsequently rewrote each line to match the time limit. Unfortunately, we couldn't account for the voice actors' affectations, acting styles, etc... Some speak slow, some speak fast. Some like to take pauses, and others just like to go from the first capital letter to the final piece of punctuation like it's a race. To compensate for these quirks, we thought the safest thing to do was to write each line of dialogue twice. We cleverly decided to name them "the short version" and - (I hope you know where this is going...) "the long version"!
Compare the following two chunks of text. These were both for a line that needed to fit into just about 11 seconds:
"Look, Sir, I just want to help! I know this landscape; I've been here before! It makes me nervous that you don't trust my opinion on this... Fine, since you have that covered, what about... after we rescue them? Then what? This Gustav can only carry 12 people!"
"Sir, I just want to help! I know this landscape; I've been here before! I'm just worried that you aren't asking for my opinion on any of this. I mean, what about after we rescue everyone? This Gustav only holds 12 people!"
The highlighted words in the long version were changed or removed to create the shorter version. They look pretty similar, but those changes saved us a lot of time in recording studio. For most lines of dialogue, all that needed to be changed between the two versions was a few syllables. Frequently, this just meant adding or subtracting a character's first name and/or military title and then patting ourselves on the back for a job well done, but sometimes, we had to be a bit more creative about it...
As Jason mentioned, this was a very time consuming job on our end. It was probably even more hellish for the actors. I actually felt so badly about the director's constant comments of, "That read was great, but can you do the whole thing a half second quicker..." that I specifically cast the female lead as a smaller role in another game just so she could get a paycheck for doing something much easier.
Step 4: QA, Correcting the Mistakes of the Past...
The last two steps of the process are the proofreading and debug phases. We don't use a proofreader for every game, but I personally like to use one because it means one more safety net between my editing and the public. I also know that the more text bugs I can weed out while everything is in raw text, the more time the QA testers and the developers will have to find and fix system bugs.
As far as the debug process goes, well, they have the unenviable job of catching our continuity slip-ups, and weeding out any other mistakes before the game reaches the consumers.
I'd say more about all the craziness involved in the debug process, but I really don't want to spoil a separate Localization Diary...
Stay Faithful, Atlus Faithful.
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