The State of the Scene

By • February 26, 2010

This is surely going to be tl;dr for most people. If you never plan to be involved in and have no interest in the workings of a translation group, skip it.

Dear anyone-who-thinks-this-is-picking-on-them,

This isn’t about you. You are a small part of a much greater problem. You are a product of the community, so while I may not respect that, I really don’t put the blame on any individual. But if you think a particular comment is directed at you, it probably is. If you recognize that you’re part of the problem, you can join me in searching for the solution. I’m not posting this to tear you down. I wouldn’t waste my time like that. I want all of us to strive for a higher standard. I want all of us to be better. So before anyone jumps on me for what I’ve said here, I hope you’ll bear in mind that we all should be after the same thing.

<3 throughhim413

Introduction

People are probably wondering why I think I have any right to write this. I don’t, really. I’m still very new to the scene with only about five years under my belt. I started out at ROMhacking.net before creating my own blog. I certainly don’t consider myself to be some kind of source of emulation (no pun intended). Still, I’m not sure any translator has been as blessed as I have when it comes to partners. I’ve been spoiled rotten having worked with Gemini and now Kingcom. Both of them made life so easy on me as a translator. My only limit was my imagination. They really let me dream big with the projects I’ve worked on and I’m truly thankful for that. With such a high standard set by the hacking, I couldn’t help but feel that I had to provide a translation that could do it justice. I don’t know if I accomplished that goal, but I learned a lot from my experiences up until now to be sure. I just want to share some of that perspective today.

I really love romhacking and I really love the people I’ve met doing it. But lately, I’ve been a bit frustrated by what has become of the community. We live in a world where translators can’t translate, editors don’t know what real English sounds like, and programmers don’t know their hex from their Tales. And you know what? We’re all to blame for it. Translators, editors, programmers, and even fans have made this community what it is today. That’s why we’re the only ones who can fix it.

The same thing has happened in other communities. New technology has paved the way for more people than ever before to participate in subtitling anime, scanning manga, and patching games. What was once a closed community of elites who possessed the skill and knowledge to get things done has become a public effort. But we have to ask ourselves what we sacrificed in getting here.

The answer, I’m sorry to say, is excellence. Modern fans don’t just tolerate mediocrity, they demand it and laud it. It used to be that when we released a 1.0, it meant everything in the game was complete. Now when we release a 1.0, it means that we’ve released a 1.0. This feels more like the Tautology Club than the ROMhacking community. In this world, speed is king and quality often has to take a back seat. “I don’t care if it’s good as long as I have it now!” is the battle cry. Anime has speedsubs, manga has speedscans, and now games have these ridiculous patches thrown together with DSlazy and Google Translate. I’m not talking about people who work quickly and do good work, I’m talking about people who are willing to sacrifice quality for speed. Is that really the kind of legacy we want to leave behind?

As long as we hold ourselves to a lower standard, the community will never improve. To quote the great king Mufasa, we are more than what we have become. I always believed that more accessibility would open up the door for us to do more in the fan translation community. I refuse to believe that there’s less talent out there today than there once was, but by lowering the barrier to entry, we’ve effectively removed the test that ensured quality. Years ago, there weren’t many people who had the skills to hack the games, so it made sense that they wanted to pair up with proven translators. These days, there are exponentially more “hackers” who believe that premade programs and tools are the ultimate solution and possess little programming knowledge themselves. With easy access to so many games (particularly NDS games), they’ll take most any “translator” they can find. The quality of patches has significantly dropped. Often, patches are released long before they should be with many destined to die before reaching completion. And unfortunately, without discerning fans, there’s no separating the wheat from the chaff. What is the incentive for a team to go to great lengths to provide a quality translation when an average one will get them equal recognition? I’m reminded of the rather apt commercial:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31ZevWuxrNE

You shouldn’t announce a translation project with the motivation of learning how to translate, hack, or program. Before I ever started translating for a real project, I worked on a text translation of Tales of Phantasia. It was awful! Thank goodness that text never made it into a game, but still, the things I learned from it were to my benefit when I started my first project. My point is that it’s very easy to gain experience without getting people’s hopes up with a formal announcement. By prematurely announcing a project, you’re only setting the stage for potential disappointment and frustration if you fail to see it through. It’s important to have the experience before you begin. You have to be sure that you’re capable of handling everything the game will require. Hacking is much more than just dumping and inserting text and graphics. If you rely too heavily on programs made by others, you have an uphill battle to fight. Most translations incorporate hundreds if not thousands of changes, most of which will go unnoticed by all but the most observant. Still, each and every one is an important part of making the final product feel as natural in the target language as it did in the original one. If you want a great translation, you have to make the game work your way, not the other way around. You can only accomplish so much if you restrict yourself to the limitations of the original game. That’s true in terms of both the text and the code. You have to have patience. Some things might take hours, days, or even weeks of work. You have to properly plan and execute them. It’s essential that you are able to organize and plan ahead if you want to succeed.

I want to help this community grow. Even now, I still believe in its potential. So I’m going to offer some unsolicited advice.

Translation

Let’s go through translation one step at a time. We’ve got some Japanese text. What should we be asking ourselves? I’ve boiled it down to four fundamental questions.

  1. What does it say?
  2. What is it trying to say?
  3. What would I say?
  4. What am I trying to say?

1) What does it say?

Do you understand what it says? Yes? Great! Go on to step 2. No? Okay, stop right there. Don’t put it into Google Translate. Don’t slap one word after another into a dictionary. Don’t guess. Don’t say you’re just using the project to “practice” or that “it doesn’t matter that I’m not fluent in Japanese” or “it’s better than nothing.” If you don’t know Japanese, it’s not time to translate yet. Go study up and come back when you’re confident in your skills. A good translator will always be able to find work online.

2) What is it trying to say?

This isn’t the same question as the first. We have to look at multiple things here – nuance, tone, and character personality just to name a few. Most translators won’t be surprised when I say that this question is far more important than the first. We’re not only trying to pick up on the subtle details of the text, we’re trying to understand their implications. Context, my friends, is king. If translation were a simple equation of X Japanese = Y English, we wouldn’t spend so much time laughing at Google Translate.

3) What would I say?

A great man once posed the question, “ENGLISH, MOTHERF*CKER: DO YOU SPEAK IT!?” My point is that too often, translators, even good ones, get stuck in Japanese mode and forget what real English sounds like. Don’t let it happen. Re-read your translation and ask yourself if you can imagine a real human being saying it out loud. If you can’t, it’s time to rethink that translation. This is where we separate the men from the boys, the would-be translations from the localizations. Have you ever seen a translation note slapped in an official localization? Games don’t get the privilege of writing off certain phrases or jokes as impossible to translate. We are here to entertain and we only get one shot at it. Don’t just translate jokes literally, make them work. If you can’t make them work, you’re probably not cut out for translation. I don’t mean you need to make with the funny in the exact same spot as the original text, but if you’re not capturing the feel of it, you’re not localizing. Also, remember that you’re writing in English, not Japanese. If your translation mirrors the sentence order and punctuation of the Japanese text, you’re probably doing it wrong.

4) What am I trying to say?

This is the last question I ask and it’s probably the most important. Read your dialogue. Don’t look at the Japanese. At this point, it no longer matters what the Japanese said. It doesn’t matter if your translation was right, not that it shouldn’t be. We, as translators, have to release our death-grip on the Japanese text and learn to walk on our own. As of this moment, your translation is the gospel truth when it comes to this game. Does it read like a real conversation? Does it read like the conversation that you want it to? Say what you will about DeJap or Ted Woolsey, but there is a reason that they’re remembered. Their scripts might not have been the most accurate translations ever produced, but they were vibrant, living creations. We should all be so lucky to produce such memorable translations. But while we’re at it, why don’t we make them memorable for quality rather than quirks?

Conclusion

No doubt I am perfect and always produce a translation that would make even the original author weep at its beauty, right? Of course I don’t. I do the best I can, but there are times when I fall short. That’s the proof that I’m still learning. We can never stop learning as translators. I won’t lie to you – localization is not easy. But honestly, what do we have to lose by striving for excellence in everything we do?

Few things frustrate me more than seeing the term localization used by people who clearly aren’t localizing. It is an insult, quite frankly, to those of us who are striving for true localizations. I understand that new groups have a need to promote themselves, but I beg you not to do it at the expense of the community. I’m not trying to claim I have any rights to the phrase (certainly Cless of Phantasian Productions has been using it far longer than I have), I just ask that you respect it. Find a localization that inspires you. I’m talking about something that really makes you step back and appreciate what it did. I was talking to Tom (of Persona 2: Innocent Sin fame) about localization at one point. When it came to the topic of favorite localization, we both named the same game – Odin Sphere. That localization left me in awe and changed the way that I looked at my job as a translator. It made me want to strive for more. At the same time, I suggest you find a translation that you want to surpass. It might be a game off the shelf or it might be an old translation of yours. Either way, set goals. Reach for the stars.

Most players will never understand everything that goes into a patch. And that’s fine. It’s really easy to make most people happy with a translation, but I encourage you not to settle for less than your very best. Create a great translation, not a good one.  As impossible as it is, try to give players an experience that everyone can enjoy. Remember that at the end of the day, our job is to make a game fun in English (assuming you’re translating into English). A stupid line in Japanese doesn’t have to be stupid in English. A game-breaking bug in the Japanese version doesn’t have to stay game-breaking. There is no reason that we can’t improve upon the raw materials we’re working with. I’m not advocating making things up or altering the fundamental elements of the game, but don’t be afraid to bring the game to life. The truth is that we have the advantage over localization companies. We don’t have to worry about time or budget constraints. We don’t have to worry about any kind of censorship. Don’t just live up to the original text, surpass it! We truly have the freedom to produce anything that we dream of if we’re just willing to make the effort.

Programming

Anyone who has ever asked me about hacking knows that I don’t know the first thing about it. I’m certainly not any kind of authority, so I asked Kingcom to share his thoughts on the state of the community from his point of view. He laid out the following process when it comes to hacking:

1. Be able to program both in a high level language and assembly of the specific system. It is often a necessity and always to your benefit. The complexity varies from game to game, but there’s nothing as big a waste of time as inserting or dumping text manually, and formatting it on the fly can save a lot of time as well.

2. Take a look at the game. Do you like it? Well, be prepared to be sick of it before the project’s over. Analyze all of the data. Are there compressions? Reverse engineer the format. Text embedded into scripts? Reverse engineer the format. Any other obstacles, weird protection schemes, encryption, whatever? Reverse engineer. Create any programs that you need to handle the basics. There will certainly be more obstacles down the line, but you have to start somewhere. Are there any issues in the code? Is each text box limited to 3 lines of 16 characters? Reprogram it. Does it lack a VWF? Add one. Don’t rely on other people to do the work for you. It doesn’t help you learn and it leaves you at their mercy if any problems arise down the line and they aren’t there to help.

3. Once you have cleared any major hurdles, have dumped the text, and are really certain that you can pull it off, start thinking about getting other people involved. Take quality over quantity. A single qualified individual will produce a much better translation than a group of weeaboos. Multiple hackers are almost always a bigger burden than gain. As with translators, it is unlikely that multiple hackers would have the same level of skill and have the same vision of how things should be done. Coordinating a group becomes exponentially more difficult the more people are involved and creating a piecemeal patch can often be more work than creating one from scratch. One person should take the lead, preferably the main hacker. It’s very difficult to run a project when you aren’t contributing an equal share of the work. Unless you can play a role in directly shaping how the game will come together, it’s unlikely to turn out. In the end, someone barking orders will only slow a project down and make it more complicated and difficult than necessary.

4. When the translator is willing and able to translate the game (and, preferably, you are convinced that he is capable of the job), it’s time to start planning out the rest of the project. What does the translator need? Will the game need new control codes because the Japanese language often doesn’t differentiate genders or plurals? What are his preferences? Does he want to worship the holy Japanese script without changing a thing? Then better return to step 3. You have to trust each other and you have to work towards the same goal. You have to push each other as you both strive for excellence. The translator shouldn’t have to work around artificial borders just because the hacker doesn’t feel like redesigning the menus or rewriting part of the game.

5. Now… and only now might be a good point to start thinking about announcing it. Don’t announce it too early, unless you know what you are doing. Clear any major problems and have something to impress people. Be prepared that not everyone will like it. A big part of the job at this point is public relations. Don’t lose your temper. If every little comment online is going to bother you, you might want to rethink announcing the project. You could always release it when it’s complete to avoid having to deal with ongoing commentary.

6. Start the finer parts of hacking. Change menus when needed, fix any problems that the translated text will cause, and if the text doesn’t fit in the space provided, compress it. This step will likely go on until long after the translation is finished. You never know when problems might arise and you have to be ready to deal with them.

7. Stay in close contact to your translator and continue fixing problems. When everything is done, test it. Test, test, and test again. If you think everything is ready, test it again. A game can’t ever have enough testing.

Playing

Fans, the only thing I ask of you is that you demand more of fan translations. If the fan translations that you’re playing aren’t as good as what you’d find in a store, we have failed you. As long as you accept and praise mediocrity, we will never get any better. We are capable of producing work that is on par with official localizations and we have no excuse not to. The world isn’t going to change overnight, but it’s time for you to expect more.

About the Author

I'm the translator for Absolute Zero. I also take care of the project updates.

184 Responses to “The State of the Scene”

  1. Your Team are Awwwesome !
    Keep the good work 😀

  2. It is so wonderful to know that there are still people who have such integrity.
    Great post. At the heart of it, I’m sure the “scene” is honored.

  3. I completely agree with you. I don’t really play many fan translations to be honest, but I’ve watched a lot of fansubbed anime in my life time and i really respect a group that puts out a quality sub which I could show anyone without blushing at the abuse of things like honorifics, translation notes at the top of the screen, etc.

  4. I will take this time to apologize for leaving my SoulSilver translation half-assed. I left it because I was frustrated with the GBATemp community, but I really shouldn’t have announced it until it was done.

    I’ll admit, when I named Hibike “Sonic” in my translation, I was trying a bit too hard with localizing, which, I felt really silly for after he was named “Ethan” in the official release. But, I learned from my mistake. I know using thenewpoketext was probably a bad idea, but I didn’t have any programmer to work with me at the time.

    You gave me good advice when I needed it back then, thanks for that throughhim413.

  5. Edit: Hibiki*

    Sorry about that.

  6. Uuuuuuuugh you people are taking so long to post comments here! There should be at least 200 by now!

  7. To monkat:It would be a shame to comments for commenting after all the great comments that many wrote.

    I don’t have any experience related to translating but I read or listen to a lot of thing and I also think that quality make a very big difference. Sometime I listen to something on television in english and then the same in french and I can find words that would sounded much better in the french translation. Its sometime the same thing when I read something in English and French.

  8. I disagree with you about people skipping this if they aren’t/don’t want to be involved with translation projects.

    This should be read by anybody who plans on downloading the patch, or any patch for that matter, so they can really understand what they’re getting, and get a new found appreciation for something that we’re getting for free, and isn’t owed to us in the slightest. I’m one of those people, yet I am in awe of the sheer amount of work and time it takes to complete one of these projects. I was one of many who waited for what seemed an eternity for the Mother 3 translation. I’m glad they took their time. It’s amazing how one tiny little error, one mis-typed bit of hex, one little bit of code can cause so much trouble, and they just kept at it, as I’m sure you guys have done with this patch. It was well worth the wait, just like this will be.

  9. Amazing post.

  10. I remember vaguely years ago playing Tales of Phantasia on a snes emulator. The translation was done by Dejap. Now I don’t know how acurate the translation but did that scene on the boat actually happen the way it did?

  11. eh, no. DeJap took some “liberties” on their translation.

  12. I haven’t uttered a word of complaint, and from what I’ve read tonight, I doubt I ever will. Your clear-headedness and patience in the face of every little biting comment leaves me in awe. Your team must be full of capable individuals, not unlike the A-team, or Lloyd’s, Cless’ and every party in a Tales game would have before facing a huge task. You’ll certainly garner the respect of the “community” if you haven’t already with your undertaking. I agree whole-heartedly that a fan translation should try and provide the same quality product we pay for in shelves. Not because translators working at a desk aren’t being paid, but because we are all capable of quality work. I wasn’t thinking about the online community today, for lack of time and care, but you’ve brought to light the situation as it is. Today’s technologies indeed give us far too much power and too little understanding of it. It’s a troubling state of affairs and were all mired in it. But as long as you’re aware of it, you can do something about it. Rightfully demanding for higher quality translations, scans and subs is definitely a step in the right direction.

    Hopefully the rest of the world won’t play catch up too long or too late.
    Kudos.

  13. i want to know why does some translations take a long time?

    saga 2 ,Pokemon SS was translated in about 6 months while Tales of Innocence is still being translated for about 2 years

    I’m sorry if this post makes u angry, but i meant no offense.i just want to know the reason.

    is it because some translators are working full time or is it another reason. please answer my question if possible. thanks. sory again if i made any one angry

    p.s. i have no idea about rom hacking. 🙁

  14. @ Tidasa: I guess I’ll take a stab at this one.

    There are a ton of factors involved, but the most pertinent ones (for me, at least) are the volume and complexity of the in-game text. Granted, I haven’t played Pokemon SS yet and it’s been forever since I’ve touched FFL 2, but I’m pretty sure that ToI has a lot more text than both of those games combined. Furthermore, even if a game such as Pokemon did happen to have the same amount of text as ToI, the former tends to be easier to translate anyway due to the much more simplistic dialogue; this lends itself to a more straightforward translation without losing too much of the original meaning or characterization in the process, which can greatly speed things up.

    Plus, you have to factor in the pesky “life” component. Almost every fan translator I know has either work obligations, academic commitments, or both. It can be rather tough to find the time and energy to translate when you take into consideration a 9 to 5 schedule, 5 to 7 days a week. And you gotta love it when the unexpected happens too…hard drive crashes, family emergencies, car decides to magically start leaking transmission fluid, etc. And somewhere in all that, we squeeze in the eating, sleeping, personal hygiene, bill payments, and the sanity maintenance.

    In addition, there are many logistical elements at play: how many translators are working on a given project, what are their motivations/goals, how fluent are they in both the original and the translated language, what kind of resources do they have access to, yada yada yada. And then, things get extra complicated when you’re making a patch because you have to worry about all the possible coding issues that could arise on top of everything else (and still manage to make it look so pretty in the end).

    And I bet you that I’ve probably forgotten some other important points, but hopefully that’s enough to answer your question. Oh, and feel free to correct me on anything, Absolute Zero staff. ^^;

  15. @Tidasa, the SAGA 2 patch for the DS is not completed at all, it’s only the first chapter. And then also I bet you the Pokemon trans is no way near as good/complicated as what throughhim413 and kingcom are doing.

  16. @Tidasa: One thing I don’t see (m)any of the others really dive into is the subject of people not really translating something. In many cases (but not all, of course) there are people translating the words, but not the text. Did that make sense? Maybe not… Let me try to explain (just to be sure);

    Just because the words are English, and you understand the words, doesn’t necessarily mean you understand the text. A lot of fan-translations (especially those that gets finished creepishly fast) fall into that pit. Even some official translations have had issues like this, such as lots of dialog in Ar Tonelico 2. You’re basically getting a feeling of understanding what’s being said, but if anyone were to actually ask you “What did that guy/gal just say?” chances are you probably wouldn’t be able to actually explain it. Kinda like paying attention in class, but not really understanding what the teacher tries to teach you. I think this might be partially the result of a lot of self-taught, aspiring translators who either think they speak a language well and/or just doesn’t understand how things like grammar, structure and context are things that may heavily affect how you present/say something in different languages.

    (Other variables and contributing factors may, but not necessarily, be technical issues, text amount, amount of translators, other commitments, etc… and most important; actual care for your own work and quality control. Not everyone wants to push something out the door as soon as they’re done copying and pasting everything in and out of Babelfish/Google Translator. Okay, hopefully there aren’t anyone really doing that, but you get the point…)

    @Bo Chandler/Weiz: Yes and No would be my answer to that. The scene’s there in all version of Tales of Phantasia and it is actually somewhat “suggestive” (to which extent depends entirely on how you see things). However, DeJap did indeed take some liberties (or rather made a decision on how to interpret it and stuck with it). Maybe they went overboard by being so straight forward? Going by my own observations, Japanese appears to be a horribly vague (and suggestive) language at times (something which, in general, doesn’t always flow too well in most other languages). Personally, my only issue with the way DeJap handled the “boat scene” was their use of profanity. They could’ve easily sent the same message without going from otherwise 13+/Teen rated content to M/18+.

  17. @Carnivol: But if DeJap used Teen language then we would have seen Klarth/Claus in a different way. I think that the whole point of that scene is that Klarth/Claus doesn’t hold back to what he says. When he wants to say something, he will go ahead and say it

  18. @30084pm:

    But that is absolutely not what Klarth is like in the Japanese version. His comments are somewhat vague, IIRC. I don’t see why they needed to use excessive language to show that Klarth is someone he’s not.

    I mean, I enjoyed the scene a lot in the DeJap translation, but you can’t reasonably argue that it *ought* to have been translated that way, and that not translating it that way would have been wrong.

  19. @Kaji: I wouldn’t know… I don’t know japanese. I assumed that they used that language to show what Klarth is really like. My apologies. Maybe DeJap did it for humerous reasons?

    (Today’s Lesson: Never make assumptions)

  20. There’s a storm a-brewin’.

  21. yes…finaly in english…..
    i will be the 1st person in malaysia will play this game…
    i love you guys..

  22. @KT Kore

    My tea as well.

  23. the end was the best quote i have ever heard.

  24. it has been about a month since this post was made. I would personally estimate the release date to be around the first week of April.

  25. I just saw that the %s have been recently updated. I bet my estimate is way off.

  26. Wait for it…Wait for it…In the meantime, play other games. It should be out eventually I think.

  27. Yeah, oldmilk, I really really do not think that it will be released next week.

    Given the recently updated percentages, I would estimate at least until May to finish everything up as much as possible before testing. Then, (as has been stated before) we will be notified when the (CLOSED) beta begins, and that will last for (at least) a month. I wouldn’t expect the translation finished until about summer.

  28. If there is a closed beta, you should expect it about autumn already.

  29. Well I didn’t realize until I read this posting that your facing the exact same problems I face in game development. The API I use is so easy to learn the highest level that any nutcase that picks it up can learn to do simple things with it. When it comes time to do more advance things that require understanding the hardware involved (or even just the language/library itself), they often try to pass off some copy/paste stuff as their own after only minor modifications. Finding a group to work with has been hell, often I get called variations of idiot because I am willing to put in that month to develop my own solution (even when I’m so confused that I can barely figure out where to start) that I understand and can guarantee it’s quality.

    In the end though people like us that put in the large amount of work and time needed to get the job done right will still be around while the script kiddies have either given up or find themselves begging an abandoned inbox for new tools that’ll solve the small problem which inflated into a game breaker.

  30. @Tidasa:
    Pokefans are f*cking rabid whenever they hear of a new Pokemon game coming out in Japan and adhere to day 1 translations, even if the release date is 2 days before an English release. Plus, note that Pokemon has one hell of a fanbase- many times that of Tales fans- meaning a bigger chance that out of all those fans, at least one can translate, at least one can hack roms, etc.

    When I hear of Pokefans and their fast-as-f*ck translations, it pisses me off; they know they’re going to get it in English but they’re so goddamn impatient.

  31. Wow…
    Sounds like you got some un-resolved poke-issues there…

  32. Kysafen, amen.

    I mean, semi-amen, when HeartGold/SoulSilver was released in japan there was, what? 13+ ongoing translations @ gbatemp? That was just crazy.

    I won’t even talk about 12year old guys asking for translations, patches, or wathever it is.

  33. @Tidasa:

    To explain it better…Pokemon translations are miles easier. Most translations do menu/item/pokemon translating. Which is very easy for a bunch of japanese speaking pokefans to bust out in a short amount of time. Then they do weak story translations SOMETIMES (which by the way, is maybe 1% the size of the Tales story, and since no one cares about pokemons story it doesn’t even have to be done well).

    Needless to say, the size of what needs to be translated as well as the amount of people helping (usually a lot) lead pokemon to have speedy translations.

    But for games that aren’t bad, they take time to do perfectly. Which is what this translation strives to be.

  34. Your work on Tales has been excellent. I am currently playing the Tales of Phantasia translation and am blown away.

Leave a Reply