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Alethea & Athena
The adventure continues... 
23rd-Mar-2015 08:51 pm
Our time continues to be eaten away, but fortunately(?) we wrote up a bonus post yesterday! Tadah! More on our experience as Video Game Translators.

Part 2: The Process

So we just got to the part where we're translating Final Fantasy Type-0. It's really easy to remember the approximate start time, because very soon after we were introduced to the team, we had to go on hiatus for a bit while Square-Enix reworked their schedule after the big quake. There were two people on the team living in Japan, and fortunately neither of them were hurt.

As for the team, it was the two of us, one other translator, and the mentor/reviewer/editor...we're not entirely sure what his exact job was, but he was the guy who was supposed to make up for our failings. The process was pretty simple, and one we weren't entirely unfamiliar with. We would translate some scenes, and the mentor would work like an English adaptation writer, rewriting all the lines to make them work better. Occasionally he would send feedback to help us improve our technique.

It was really difficult getting started for two reasons. First, we'd never worked on a video game before, so we were kind of hoping for some more specific instructions on how to go about things. Eventually we realized that it was pretty much the same stuff we'd been doing with manga (only without the very helpful visuals), and we were able to take off and work at a good clip. The other problem was a little more difficult to get over and it was this: we were working on a Final Fantasy game!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!! And it looked like it was going to be SO COOL and we had just been told (like several months ago at this point) that we weren't really worthy and we don't want to mess it up and can we really do it ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh!!!

We did manage to overcome that problem, too, but maybe not in a way you would expect. The secret was Artistic Differences. We're finding more and more that we and many, many other Japanese-English translators have Artistic Differences, and our mentor is no exception. So we would be sent the rewritten dialogue, and we'd read it and think, "What? Why would you write it that way?" And because we get very passionate about our own artistic interpretations, we got indignant, and our indignance helped us overcome our intimidation.

I suppose it goes without saying that the whole process was a rather difficult one. In fact, we ended up spending a lot of time reading translations that had been changed from what we wrote, and however it was changed it was a little painful. On the one hand, there were the lines that had us going, "What were you thinking!? You totally took out this nuance! etc. etc." and on the other, there were the lines that had us going, "Whoa, that's a good translation. Why didn't I think of that? I'm such a failure." That was a very trying time in our lives and probably a major contributing factor to our past several years of constant grumpiness.

Nevertheless, the game IS very awesome, and so, despite the pain it caused us, it was also an effective pain reliever. Listening to the first track of the soundtrack (of course we bought the soundtrack) is always a very soothing experience.

Another interesting thing to note is that, once the game went through our mentor, it went through another editor--the in-house translator--who again had drastic Artistic Differences with our mentor, and so the dialogue has definitely had many incarnations. We were happy to note that most of the cut-scene dialogue from the final, most dramatic chapter, remained unchanged from our original translations.

We would be remiss if we didn't express some gratitude to our mentor. Despite our disagreements, he did teach us some valuable lessons, most notably the strategy to "loosen it up." I think if I were to hear that in the wrong context, I would be like, "You WANT loose translations!? Aaaarrrrrgh!!!" But at the time we received the advice, we were in just the right frame of mind to interpret it in a very helpful way. He referred to a particular line that we had translated rather stiffly and said, "Loosen it up." I got this image in my mind of wearing clothes that were so tight you couldn't move or breathe in them, and I thought of "loosening it up" as making sure it fits and is practical to wear.

It was at this point that we started referring to things as "translaty," meaning it sounded like the translator was trying to be so true to each and every word in the line that they missed the overall spirit of it and it sounds unnatural and/or stiff.

So the differences between translating video games and manga are...many, I think. Or maybe there's only a few major differences, but they're so major that it seems like there are more of them. First of all, you have almost zero visual reference. You have to imagine what's happening and hope that your translation fits. A lot of the time, it's important to keep the translation as vague as possible, using no pronouns. When you're translating the lines for when a character is fighting, for example, you don't know who or what they're fighting, or how many of it/them there are. So you don't know if he, she, it, or they is going to be the right word to use. Sometimes you can get away with "you." It's kind of like...

Back in 1997, Tate Donovan was going around promoting the new Disney movie, Hercules, and he gave an example of how difficult it is to record cartoon voices. He'll be there in the booth, and the director will say, "Okay, now you're fighting a giant Hydra. Go."

...Yeah, it's pretty much exactly like that. It got to be a little bit frustrating with Type-0, because it had fourteen playable characters and we had to translate a reaction to a specific situation from each one of them just in case that character was on the party when the player got to that point in the game...okay, it was frustrating after a little while, because it was like, "Why don't I know what's going on!?" But then after a little longer while, you've seen it several times, so you're like, "Oh, I think I know what's going on here."

Like, one character would say, "Ugh, we have to start over?" and you'd be like, "Uh, I guess that's what they said, so..." And then another character would be all, "She HEALED!?" and suddenly the light bulb would turn on and we'd be like, "Oh! They have to start over because they were fighting a boss or something, and I guess they thought they killed it but then it healed itself and was ready to go again."

We were pretty proud of ourselves for coming up with twelve different ways to translate "hade." We think some of those translations got changed so they're a little more homogenized. Artistic differences.

Today I'm thankful for oh my goodness we translated a Final Fantasy game (was I thankful for that already? oh well), getting to try a new flavor of pizza crust today (curry; maybe not bad, but maybe too spicy), making enough progress on this big project that we can (probably) afford to take the evening off, getting to spend time with Page, and having cushions for our chairs.
24th-Mar-2015 11:47 am (UTC)
Wow! It goes without saying that was quite an experience to translate and very enriching for you ladies!

I can understand how you would feel passionate about your translations and why you translate as you do - every translation is putting out a part of you out there. But it is true: creative/artistic difference will always be there. It's hard to be open minded about it, because sometimes whether intentionally or not translators try to up one over the other as "you're right and you're wrong" and it's harder to remember that everyone can have valid points. You can translate, but sometimes you have to also interpret, and that's where you will find people will come up with different versions.

But I'm sure you guys know that already and from this experience I'm sure it'll only make your already great translations even better. Good luck with future translation adventures ^^ hope we'll hear more about those!
25th-Mar-2015 12:18 am (UTC)
Yup. We've been saying for years, I think even before Type-0, that the problem with translating is that everyone (including us) thinks their way is the only way to do it right. Even now, we're learning a lot about accepting creative differences.
24th-Mar-2015 08:03 pm (UTC)
Now that you explain the process, it sounds like a real pain to have to translate the script without any visuals at all!! I guess I would've pictured you playing through it, or at least viewing clips of it, to translate as you went. But if the game is still in the process of being made as it's being translated, then there would be no visuals or even before/after scene context for you. Still. Manga seems so nice and sensible now...

I'm glad you had the opportunity to experience different (if sometimes maddening) approaches to translation, in terms of both the input and output. It sounds like overall you learned a good deal from this project! And in the end... you translated a Final Fantasy game!!!! :D
25th-Mar-2015 12:21 am (UTC)
Yeah, it's a lot harder than you'd think! It helped that we have a lot of experience playing Square-Enix games, so we were able to use that experience and say, "From what I know about Square-Enix, chances are it's something like this..." But yeah, translating manga is like a breath of fresh air.

We DID translate a Final Fantasy game!!!! We think. There's still some uncertainty, partially because we're just paranoid like that (and the unbelievability of having worked on a Final Fantasy). But anyway, EEEEEEEE!!!
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