[Post-Mortem] My opinion on LocJAM & Grandpa

GrandpaYou can find my localised version [here].

One week. One game. Grandpa, an interactive story about Emi and her Grandfather trying to find his hat. A Global Game Jam entry, that has to be translated from English to one of the designated languages, including Japanese. As amateurish as I am, I decided to take up the job to localise this game, despite neither of the two languages being my mother tongue. As described in the disclaimer, the translation of this game only took me a day, yet refining it to a piece that can be commercially published is a whole different matter. In this article, I’d like to talk a bit about my experienced related to this event.

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English to Japanese

The first thing I encountered what was different from all the translation work I’ve been doing, is that it’s from English to Japanese. Most of the games and anime that need localisation are from Japanese to English. This doesn’t come as a surprise when you think that obviously the term anime originates from Japanese animation series and console games are mostly Japanese from origin as well. So all of the tactics I’ve learnt before are somewhat irrelevant when it comes to the opposite kind of work. Translating English to Japanese comes with a few factors that I’d like to address.

First of all, let us look at the setting and the characters. When does this story of Grandpa play? Do I have to write everything in past tense? For these two questions, I decided to write it mainly in the past tense, except at times when the topic time overlaps with the event time in terms of aspect. In that case, you can still use the present tense in a past situation. Other questions are “How old is Emi? Should I write her name in Japanese characters? Who is the narrator? Do I write this piece of fiction as if it’s in book form or just casual?” Normally, I don’t have to think of these factors when translating from Japanese to English. The reason is simple, there’s no real change of speech when you have to decide between formal and informal English. However, this makes a world of difference when you look at it from a Japanese perspective.

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In this case, I decided to mostly keep everything in informal speech. All you hear is Emi talking to you in a cheerful way, with you answering every now and then. Since the title of the name is “Grandpa”, I translated every instance to おじいちゃん ojiichan, and made most of Emi’s lines end on an informal way with plus よ yo, to induce that childish but playful characterisation. I left her name simply as エミ Emi. I also decided to give every instance of “Okay!” a different synonym in Japanese, such as 了解 ryoukai, 分かった wakatta or うん un. Since the source text gives the options of looking/searching as simple commands, I left it like that in Japanese as well. However, at times when it felt the grandfather would actually say something, I did give it some flavour. His sentences would have the old speech of じゃ jya instead of da at the end, for example. Emi also does an impersonation of her grandfather once, where I have to stay consistent with his speech. There are only two instances where the grandfather would address Emi; in these cases, I added ちゃん chan to add more familiarity between the two.

Literal versus liberal is a common theme in localisation and I’m witnessing it first-hand here when translating this game, so this definitely helps in building up experience to become a future localiser. All the items have a strange name, so I had a hard time to think of nice similar names I could use. One example is the Big Bad Crowbar, which is an obvious reference to the Big Bad Wolf. At first I had a literal translation in the sense of 大きな悪いバール ookina warui baaru, but that is later changed to 大きな悪いテツボウ ookina warui tetsubou. The reason for this is simple: Tetsubou is a more common word used for crowbar (but also steel pipe), and as it ends on ~bou, it could sound like a boy’s name. For another items, Grandpa’s Biggest Book, I went for おじいちゃんの大いなる本 ojiichan no ooinaru hon, which doesn’t completely mean “biggest” by definition, but this way all the starting vowels are “o”, to have some kind of assonance compared to the English alliteration. Similar to ボロボロの帽子 boroboro no boushi. screenshot4

Is this a “game”?

I have to be honest here, I expected a whole different kind of game when I heard about the LocJAM. Instead, we are given an interactive story, where you have branched options which ultimately lead you to one single ending. I’m having troubles calling this a game, since you have no fail-state… And there’s not really anything you can do beside progressing the story. Indeed, I would rather call this a kinetic novel instead. Of course, such a game would probably showcase the expertise of localisers more than other genre’s, but I had expected a little more than a GGJ entry. How about an open-source visual novel created in RenPy? In that case, the code wouldn’t right in the middle of the to-be-translated text, which caused some nuisance for some people.

It also had its errors here and there. For example, instead of the word pedal, the word paddle was written instead. They might sound like they are similar, but the one is something you step on, the other is an oar you control with your hands. And as far as I can remember, there’s no oar attached to a sewing machine. Furthermore, there were times when screen transition would randomly cause you to enter the wrong room without any picture or anything, before transitioning to the right room. Apparently you are allowed to fix this, and the jurors could judge upon that. In my opinion, that’s kind of harsh treatment. Of course, I’m not saying glitches should not be left in there if possible, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to judge localisers for their programming knowledge, rather than their translating skills, when it’s not written in the rules. Then again, you can also participate as a group, so that makes this competition pretty unfair if you ask me.

Screenshot 2015-03-06 05.47.46Another interesting thing I noticed is that there are references to music playing, but it seems that it was removed before making this game available for the localisers to translate. When I asked about it, one other guy told me it could have been because the creator of the music did not want his materials to be licensed under the Creative Commons license. However, that doesn’t sound like that’s the case because the music was made for a GGJ game, a free open-source game to begin with. But when we dig more through the code, it appears that there are some cases where the music starts playing twice. And since it would just make the whole compressed folder bigger, they just opted to remove it altogether.

If you ask me whether I liked the game: It was so-so. When you start reading, you already get a feeling how the story will end. It’s very predictable. Too bad that the item usage is all done for you automatically. I would have loved to figure out myself that I needed a book to stand on so I can reach the tool shelf. It’s very strange how the main character would actually want that book before knowing he needs to use it, for instance. Another thing I found peculiar is the number code for the medicine cabinet. For instance, I would’ve put a piece of paper with the code written on it inside the big book, so you don’t have to brute force it. You don’t get any hint and you are just supposed to click about 17 combinations before you reach the correct one. I don’t think that’s great game design. In general, the pathfinding is pretty horrible, but I guess that’s one of the mechanics that this game is based upon.

Update: People have been nice as to point out that the combination is actually somewhere in the game, namely the aforementioned diary entry where Emi impersonates her grandfather. The named date happens to be the code, June 21st. In my first playthrough I was pretty much unable to figure out that this date would’ve been the code. Now that think back, it’s quite a strange chain of consequences. At first I believed that the code would not be in the list as it could have been unlocked by some event, but in the end I tried every single code, and since there was one code that worked, it just seemed awkward to me. Since Emi is saying “try again”, I somehow believed that brute forcing was the official method and never revised my theory. Interesting how some vital points can be missed in such a shallow-minded way. Another thing is that I would have had to change the correct code since the order of the Japanese date is YYYYMMDD… What a grave error. However, I do want to point out that the writing didn’t really make it clear enough in my opinion. Perhaps it has to do with me never using codes for medicine cabinets, or never using dates as codes. In any case, I stand corrected.

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The aftermath

Like any other participant, you only realise you have some errors left in your work right after you have published it. And there’s no second try as well. I do have to admit that I wasn’t fully committed to the project since I also had homework to do, as well as a job interview. That said, the first thing that surprised me is that I somehow managed to remove a dot in a link. The link that belongs to the musician… Whose work isn’t available in this case, so why would I even bother giving him credit in the first place? Disregarding that, I think it was kind of strange that while we had access to a very good WYSIWYG system, the only thing we couldn’t see were the credits (until we published the work). So I’m not totally to blame for my own mistake. Grandpa3

What I am totally to blame for, however, is the fact that I missed a particular kind of translation: the mouse-over tooltips. As I’m not familiar with the code on how this game is written, I did not even know that only the items had tooltips. As a result, hovering over the picture of the book will still say Grandpa’s Biggest Book, while the text after the image will say おじいちゃんの大いなる本. It’s kind of vexing to see that you cannot change the entry after publishing, and this one is quite the pitfall. I interpreted the parts with img in between brackets in the item area more as references; there is also another kind of img which are connected to the rooms but the text connected to those strings do not make up for the tooltip, which caused my confusion.

But looking at the localisation as a whole, I’m kind of glad with the result. It’s always nice to stay active with the language you like to study in a way like this, and I’m looking forward to any kind of feedback from the jurors… but from you readers as well! So if you like, any kind of comment are most welcome.

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Chrouya

Dutch student Japanologist, and founder of Mandoran. Likes everything about Modern Japan, including anime, manga, visual novels, bowling and gaming. Frequently found as translator or translation checker of fansub groups. His portfolio can be found on his dropbox website. Follow his actions on Twitter or send him a message at chrouya@gmail.com .

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