“Liberties” In Translation

Translation is hard. I know this, having done it myself. There are so many different nuances and such that can be hard, if not impossible, to directly translate. So, you just sometimes have to go with your best effort.

I’m going to talk a little bit about that effort here. Or rather, lack of it. Since this is video games, I’m mostly going to be talking about Japanese-to-English translation, since that’s the most relevant area of video game translation to me (and in general, I’d think), but it can be applied to any translation.

I said that some things can be hard to directly translate, if not impossible. Specific cultural or media references, puns, jokes, and sayings are often the biggest culprits, especially in a work of fiction. What is to be done, then?

Well, what is the point of translation? It’s to enable communication between two different languages. And what is communication, than the transfer of ideas (and feelings) between people? So, a translation should transfer those ideas. When there is a stark difference (even a small difference) between peoples, that translation becomes a localization. For example, a work might reference a specific politician that did something or another. That reference would be completely lost if just straight translated; but if a reference to a similar incident of a politician doing a thing were put in, the idea that the original author was trying to get across would be preserved (probably; if the original was specifically referencing that politician for a specific reference, the localization wouldn’t actually work). Things might get a little hairy if the original has something cultural that has no true equivalent in the new language; but dealing with that is what a translator is supposed to do. For example, there are many ways to address someone in Japanese, based on honorifics, politeness levels, and so on, that aren’t really present in English (especially in American culture, which is quite generally casual). There are ways to do this, but figuring those out, and applying them, is the challenge of the localization.

What isn’t the job of the translators is to change the ideas and feelings behind the work. Unfortunately, we see a lot of that in translation, and not always due to the incompetence, or lack of imagination, of the translator. No, some translators feel it’s their job to improve the work. Or, should I write, “improve” the work. This is true at all levels, from the lowly online freelance manga translator, to the AAA-budget translation teams for prestigious games. Sometimes it works, but usually it doesn’t, and almost always it is disrespectful.

The biggest offenders I see today are two-fold: those that try to “fix” the “problematic” aspects of a work, and those that “punch up” “boring” dialog and prose. I’m not going to get into the first one: it’s just bad, and that’s all that needs to be said. The second, that’s more egregious.

It might seem innocent to add a bit of character to text. A lot of translators, and especially editors, are/were aspiring writers. They might think it’s better to add some more flavor to whatever bland, normal stuff was there before. This is particularly true for video games, where the original authors’ hand and voice is usually felt a lot less in the writing, for precisely the reason that these are generally done by a team of writers. The biggest example I can think of is adding accents to characters in jrpg’s. Most of these characters tend to have the Standard Accent (ie, modern Tokyo accent) in the original Japanese text. But localization teams will add various “fantasy” (bad European, often British Isles) accents to characters. This has been happening since the early Final Fantasy games, and continues to this day.

Another way it’s done, seemingly more often these days, is simply punching the dialog up with more emotion. Lines can be mostly rewritten just to add a bit of spice to a particular dialog, or even character. Even exciting scenes get changed to dial it up to 11. To my immediate recollection both Genshin Impact and Dragalia Lost are particularly guilty of this, but they are merely examples.

What he actually says: “Thi-…This is…”

I shouldn’t have to point this out, but both of those things change the very tone of the game. This is basic writing stuff: tone is extremely important, and really sets the feelings the author wants to communicate. Thus, changing the tone is changing in translation a key component of the original writing, and really shouldn’t be done. But it keeps happening.

Another big, disrespectful liberty that translators can make is to change names. A name can be a key component in a character’s identity, and changing that can change the story. Or it could be completely immaterial. But either way, the original author meant for that character to have that name. Now, there are some factors that might justify a changed name; one that immediately comes to mind is if the name is a word, where the meaning of the word is the key part of the name. This is mostly true for nicknames, but context is key. For example, you wouldn’t keep a character’s nickname as Inu, since the meaning of “inu” is what’s important; no, changing it to Dog would be better in that case. However, you would really have to think about changing a Spanish character’s name from Esperanza to Hope – “Esperanza” (and “Hope”) are real names, so you’d really have to think of the context, and the author’s intent. But changing a character’s name from Johan to Dave – or even John – that’s a bad thing.

Yet, translators do it all the time. I’m going to use Dragalia Lost as an example. I made a spreadsheet with all the characters and dragons that I could easily get both the Japanese and English name (basically, playable characters and dragons, and the ones from the current event), comparing the two. Now, to be fair, most of the names haven’t changed. Some are only slight changes, but fine (still unnecessary, though). But others are big changes, for no good reason. Since many of those are main characters, either in events or in the main story, they make more of an impression that some low-rarity character that might not ever have their name said aloud. And it just doesn’t make sense, most of the time: why make these changes, almost always completely unjustified, when over 60% of the time the names are completely correct and unchanged? (Some of it, I can tell, is incompetence, and some of it is someone thinking they’re more clever than the original creator.)

All in all, I want my translations to say what’s actually being said. Or at least something quite close to it. Certainly with the same meaning. I don’t want some other writer’s idea of what actually should have been said. I’m at a babby-level of Japanese, yet I still catch things very wrong with translations, and that shouldn’t be.

Pointless Armor: A Rant

I think it should be pretty clear what the purpose of armor is: to defend oneself from the attacks of another. However, in many fantasy works, particularly video games, armor doesn’t seem to do that, not really. I’m not going to complain about fantasy armor designs here, nor about armor-as-fashion. I’m talking about armor that literally does not do what it’s supposed to: protect the user from attack, even in the areas it covers.

And again, this rant is inspired by the current event in Granblue Fantasy. (Major spoilers for the one person in the world that cares about the game and hasn’t played the event yet.) At one point, the character shown at top, Polaris (who is a general-champion, of course) catches up with the enemy prince (who is also a general champion, despite being the usual spoiled evil useless brat prince character). Being a good person, and not overconfident, she gets the upper hand. But the prince uses one of his own soldiers as a shield, which is just enough of a distraction that he is able to kill Polaris. So far, so good, typical use of a friendly npc death to raise the emotional stakes of the story. (I don’t like it – it’s yet another instance of FKHR’s war on non-human characters in this game – but it works dramatically.) And it’s not like Polaris is particularly armored – the only really effectual piece would be the breastplate, and even that’s low, and a stab in the side is completely unblocked.

No, the trouble is how it came. That fellow above was the prince’s human shield. Who the prince ran through with his sword, to get to Polaris. This guy actually has proper armor on his torso. A sword would have to go through at least one point in his armor, if not two or more, to get to the potato. Unless that is quite shiny cardboard armor, that’s just not going to happen. If that’s how it is, why even wear armor at all? Just be like Dancho, who runs around in a short dress.

That was what ticked me off this time, but it happens all the time. How many cutscenes do we have of boss-type people who just clear out armored mooks with just a flick of their sword? How often to players go up against heavily armored enemies, which just seems to mean that they have a bigger HP pool, or perhaps slightly lower chance to hit?

And of course this goes beyond games. The recent Witcher series, among many examples, is terrible with this. One scene in particular, that shows up a lot in reviews (and maybe even the trailers? I don’t remember) just turned me off to the whole show: Geralt is in a big battle, and armored guys are taken out just as easily (and thoughtlessly) as the unarmored peasants in another episode. And even in space, armor seems to be mostly useless: what is the point of stormtrooper armor, if even teddy bears with sticks and rocks can take them out?

The thing is, armor protects, and generally quite well, if it’s well-designed. Otherwise, people wouldn’t use it. Even a thick jacket can protect against sword slashes, let alone proper armor. Those armored knights weren’t quite invincible, but they were juggernauts on the battlefield, which is why they prevailed for hundreds of years. Armor is only ditched when it’s ineffective. So why don’t we see that reflected in games? In movies?

General Champions: A Rant

It’s often a thing in RPG’s, and fantasy in general (especially anime) that the officers are warriors like the soldiers, just +1 for every rank. So your grunts are basically cannon fodder, while your generals are basically armies in themselves. Not just the special heroes (or villains), not just the player characters, but just regular generals.

I have no idea how this became a thing. Maybe it’s from ancient myths, where the leaders (usually princes or kings) were heroes, generally at least a descendant of a god distantly, if not directly. Basically, these guys were already great, so they deserve the power and wealth that comes from being great. And being great and powerful, they are nobility, and naturally have men at their command. I guess that would make sense.

A game where generals and rulers are definitely not Heroes.

Especially when you consider that the officers in the old armies tended to be the nobility. In the feudal systems (which most fantasy is based on), the bulk of men for armies would be provided by the various smaller-scale rulers, as armies are expensive, and food needs to be grown. Even as full-time armies became more common, military leadership continued to be a thing for the rich, especially for non-inheriting sons: education to become an officer is expensive, and sometimes spots were explicitly paid for.

But while those officers might have been nobility, they weren’t more proficient at actually fighting, generally. Knights might have been, but again, they had the money to train, and to get special equipment. And a knight wasn’t necessarily a general, or even a high-level officer.

So we have these generals in fantasy (and sometimes sci-fi) that are supposedly great at fighting. Not just great, but often super-human. And of course they are going out to the front, if they even have an army at all, to be the boss after a bunch of mooks.

But that’s not what generals do. That isn’t what all but the lowest-ranked officers do. Generals stay back, and plan. They lead. They command. None of those things require the generals actually to be up in the thick of things, and indeed are actually counterproductive to their jobs. Sure, the general needs to be close enough to see what is going on, but too close, and that vision becomes both too narrow and too unclear.

They’re called judges, but it’s the same thing.

If these powerhouses are going to be officers (because mooks always follow a strong leader), they should be low-level, like a Lieutenant or a Captain maybe. These are officers that would be up at the front, doing the fighting. It would also give them a significant amount of authority, in the immediate area.

But such a low rank just wouldn’t do for a significant adversary for Our Heroes, now would it? The villain should be someone Important. And therefore they need an important rank. General would do. I almost think that these characters are powerhouses just so that, when the heroes defeat them, the battle is effectively over: without a general, the evil army just retreats.

Even when the general (or ruler) is in the rear where they’re supposed to be, they’re still a boss. Often one of the last bosses. It’s like, Our Heroes fought all this way, through waves and waves of mooks (or went around them), and now they face the real challenge. But why would you hold such an effective warrior back? I can see holding resources back, only spending them as needed, but as soon as the mooks were getting beat, the strong people should have been sent straight out.

The thing that set me off today was the most recent Granblue Fantasy event. The girl at the top (Shura) isn’t even really an officer, she’s a tactician. A brainiac, not supposed to fight. Yet she’s right there with Dancho (who, ironically in this case, is a strong fighter that isn’t in a leadership role in the army) fighting the big boss at the end – said big boss who cuts down mooks like they weren’t even there, who can literally dodge bullets (oh, and he’s also an enemy general). But she’s not the only one – every general in the story is a great fighter, such that the mooks all stand around and watch them fight each other. The rulers, same deal (the young king on the Good Side, and the young prince on the Bad Side). Even Shura’s little sister, who isn’t special in any way besides being the big bad’s girlfriend (a fact the story points out several times) is still leading a decent-sized force.

But obviously not just Granblue Fantasy. Just out of games I’ve played recently, Dragalia Lost does this. Fire Emblem is basically this idea: the game (though to be a little fair, many of them are Heroes in the Greek sense – but not anywhere close to most of them). It’s a thing in ESO. Heck, you could name most any JRPG. Even in STO, the player character is Grand Admiral Awesomepants Death Machine.

Quick Thoughts, April 13th

  • Man, working so hard makes me have less time for blogging! I mean, sure, I have plenty of time before and a bit after, but usually I have time to think about topics, mentally organize, etc. Not today, which is the reason for this post.
  • Daily stuff is annoying in games, almost always. The only thing not annoying is just a plain login bonus. Those are fine. But actually having to do things? What is this, a job? Why not get fun things for no effort?
  • Breath of the Wild continues to be great. I’m ready for it to be over, yet I just want more.
  • I really like when the patch notes say that a problem is fixed, but the problem isn’t actually fixed. Got an afk penalty in STO for the First Contact Day stuff, but I totally did everything. Lame.
  • I really need another vacation. I just took one, but it was great fun, and I want to do it again. These games won’t play themselves!
  • Some of the cool stuff in Breath of the Wild needs amibos. I hate this. Maybe I should actually look them up (prices, availability, etc.) before I start hating. But they don’t look good enough to justify themselves.
  • I hate panty shots. It’s just so low-effort, pleb-tier, lcd fanservice. They totally ruin every good art they’re in, because they are always the focus. So many things I see on twitter are rendered nsfw because of that.
  • Speaking of twitter, I hate how people will retweet porn. Of course you can’t have the image filter, because it blocks pretty much every anime-style image. Such a pickle.

Friday Short Thoughts

Me too.

I just don’t know what to think anymore. With all the paid shills, bot shills, and blind fans, mixed with blind haters, counter-shills, and general cynicism of the internet in general, I can’t figure out what to think about most any game, but the new Pokemon main games in particular. I wasn’t fixing to get them or anything – I don’t even have a Switch, for starters – but there’s a whole lot of opinions out there, with completely contrasting views. Some are easy to get – Pokemon has been getting more casual lately, which is somehow possible, so I get those complaints with those games. And I get the graphics complaints, and general cut corners complaints seem to be almost universal. But whether those matter, in the end? I can’t figure it out.

It doesn’t help that people in general compare the Pokemon games to other Pokemon games, and not contemporary games in general. Some of that is, again, understandable – people who’ve liked previous games in a series want to know how new ones stack up to what they know. But even general purpose reviews do this too, for their final analyses, which are what the marketers and general audiences actually seem to base their decisions on.

I’ve never actually used her at all.

It greatly amuses me when people get all mixed up between fictional characters (especially cartoon characters) and real life. Recently, GBF got a new playable character, Kou. He showed up in an event last year, and he was pretty popular with certain segments of the fandom, for various reasons. Of course, as an anime boy, he’s portrayed with a certain attractiveness, like 99% of all non-joke anime characters. He even has a somewhat sensual artwork (which I’m not going to link because I don’t have a proper screenshot I made, and it’s an IntPiPoMo post), with a potentially provocative implication behind it. So far so good, right? Well, with these new characters comes a profile, which often includes the age. And Kou is twelve! The twitter/reddit fans got all sorts of indignant, claiming how gross this all is, etc. As if liking this one picture suddenly makes one a pedo or something. And it isn’t as if that hadn’t been Kou was about that age from the first event, let alone this one – his look and actions fit a lad about that age, in both events, even if he is a bit more serious than usual. But no, now it’s unacceptable, as there’s a number.

Get the same sort of reactions, from the same sorts of people, whenever this happens. It’s just a cartoon mate, no problem (especially if there’s no porn). Same thing with any other anime character. Ryza’s age was recently revealed to be 17, and some wag went on /v/ to see if they would react the same (never mind the fact that “she has to be 18 or it’s pedo” is a very California/New York thing, not even true in most of the US, let alone the world). Of course, it being /v/, that bait was not taken, but instead reversed: what an old hag! can’t like her anymore! etc. That’s the proper seriousness with which one should take their animu waifus.

That’s why you wait until you’ve seen them, duh.

Man, I really want a pizza. I’ve had maybe one pizza since my surgery back in September (I can’t actually remember), when I used to have one about once a week. But what I want is a Detroit deep dish, not just any pizza. There aren’t any places around here that do that, at least not that I’ve seen, and not at 10pm for sure. Well, there’s Little Caesars, but that’s it, and understandably not what I’m rally going for here. But I guess it will have to do. There used to be a place right by my house, that was pretty cheap, actually pretty good, and had a good variety, including this style (though I think most people call it “pan” pizza, but that also seems to mean different things to different places). But that place got bought out by a more boutique joint (which I think went under itself, since there’s a new name). What I really would like is a Shakey’s around here – I know people are down on it, but I like that style. Obviously not a pan pizza, but it would be a frequent stop of mine in general, if there happened to be one around here.

I also see that I already have a Pizza tag. Nice.

Scale in Vidyas: A Rant

One of the things I enjoy in life in general is knowing the scale of things. I’m a pretty visual person, so that allows me to get a better grip on things, and allows me to play with it in my imagination. It’s one thing to know that X ship is Y meters long, but knowing how it looks next to other things helps me to get that picture in my head.

And, when scale is established, in whatever sort of art, I like it to be right. If it’s something that uses an already-established world, I like things to be consistent – one thing I have against all Trek after 2009. Another thing I dislike is how some things are stated, but the visual evidence is counter to it. Mostly what I’m talking today about concerns city stuff, especially in city builders.

When a game has negative achievements.

It grinds my gears more than a little when a place in a game is said to be a great city, a small town, or anything in between, and we don’t see it. Open world games are generally quite guilty of this. Now, I realize that, until fairly recently at least, having a realistically-sized city was practically impossible, for several reasons. A big city, or even a small town, with proper NPC’s, would be very taxing on bad hardware (consoles), and crafting that would be hard on the devs even taking that out of consideration; procedural generation is a possibility, but that’s boring for the player (see Daggerfall). That consolization is a big issue: both Oblivion and Skyrim were heavily impacted by having to fit to X360 and PS3 specs. The Witcher 3 is the best about this, but even there there is some small scaling down in most places.

And then we get to the city builders themselves. Again, there are hardware limitations that we have to consider – for older stuff. But it’s always bugged me that I can’t really make a proper city in something like Cities: Skylines or SimCity 4. I think it might be somewhat possible with SimCity 4, but you have to build it piecemeal, and not have it be one continuous city, with all the gameplay limitations that come with that.

Sounds like a nice place to live.

Cities: Skylines has other issues. Look at the above picture: on the right, there is “low-density” housing: one- or two-story dwellings, with some sort of lawn maybe. On the left, there is high-density housing: skyscrapers and such. If you look closely, those both have the same footprint, generally. That’s crazy. More on that in a bit.

And, if you look on the bottom, with the stats and such, we have 84k people. Obviously, a city of this level of development would have many, many more people. And, if you follow the in-game progression, this is supposed to be a major city; my city irl feels like a mere town, and yet has 100k people. This is something I’m more willing to look past, though: simply add a zero on the end, and it ends up being much more believable and appropriate for the scales the game can reasonably run at.

My bigger problem is with the scaling of space. The devs have given out a scale for this game: 8m per side for a square. That means we can build cities from real life into the game. At least in theory. The above is the main part of my hometown. Each buildable block is 2km x 2km. Thus, the main part of my small town fills almost an entire block, since it is one mile square, which is about 1600m square. Above, you can see the difference between the layout of my irl town, in the right and center, with the normal density of buildings and roads for the game, on the left. Way different. So different, it breaks the game to try to be real.

And, at 8m squares, you get buildings with small footprints. The growable buildings here (the ones the game builds itself) are I believe up to a max of 4×4 squares, maybe 5×5. That gives up to 40m a side, for buildings that are quite tall. Up to, because they tend to have a plot around them. There are plopable buildings (player-placed) that are much bigger, which is ok, but those tend to be limited.

For me, it’s so immersion-breaking to have these huge, hyper-dense cities. I want to be able to rebuild the towns and cities I’m familiar with, to see how traffic breaks, or if the place could survive as it is, in-game. But I can’t. And it bugs me. Oh, how I wish for a city-builder with proper scale! But I doubt it will happen anytime soon, not until the console goes the way of the dodo.