Visions From the Other Side: Debriefing

During the al|together 2006 game translation festival, I tackled the short visual novel Mukou no Yume, retitled Visions from the Other Side. This was my second excursion as a game translator, after last year’s The Poor Little Bird, and I wouldn’t have dreamed of attempting it without having gp32 around to sanity-check my work.

During the month of the festival, I kept a brief log of my progress, so I thought this might be interesting to post, to show what goes on behind the scenes of the game translation process. As well, it’s worth discussing some of the lessons learned from all this.

Mukou no Yume schedule

7/18: Preflight check. Got Mukou running happily in ONScripter via redirecting filenames to data/ with a search-and-replace and pulling out the cursor0.bmp. Identified graphics needing translation and set them aside.

7/19: Day 1 of read-through. Hit line 43/276 of actual Japanese lines. Imported com01-07 to Photoshop for later (dead simple) editing.

7/20: Day 2 of read-through. Hit line 74/276 (+31 for the day). Also worked on [insani project] today, so not a full day of translation.

7/21: Day 3 of read-through. Hit line 112/276 (+38 for the day). Some [insani project] as well. Seem to be averaging about one gp32 question per 20 lines or so.

7/22: Day 4 of read-through. Hit line 155/276 (+43 for the day). Fewer questions today and a decent pace, with a couple of good working periods through the day. Past the halfway point.

7/23: Day 5 of read-through. Hit line 186/276 (+31 for the day), and fiddled with the title graphic a bit. Also worked on True Tears some but generally wasn’t too into translation.

7/24: Took a break from Mukou. Worked on True Tears a bit, but the day was mostly a waste.

7/25: Mukou break continues, with some more serious True Tears effort.

7/26: Mukou break continues, but finished True Tears graphics and went to QC release on it.

7/27: Day 6 of read-through. Hit line 209/276 (+23 for the day). Main effort for the day was a sekai entry, though.

7/28: Day 7 of read-through. Hit line 276/276 (+67 for the day), finishing the initial pass after being trapped on campus by storms until late. Script up from 19K original to 68K including romaji and annotations.

7/29: Took a break from Mukou to QC True Tears.

7/30: Mukou break continues, but finished up True Tears QC and graphic revisions, and pushed out the release.

7/31: Took a break from everything, feeling wiped from staying up to 4:00am to finish True Tears.

8/1: Break from everything continues, with a full day at SIGGRAPH.

8/2: Day 1 of translation. Did a half-hearted attempt at 20 lines or so, but couldn’t get a good sense of tone or level of literalness versus colloquialness required, so work mostly redone the next day.

8/3: Day 2 of translation. Real translation pass begins, actually inserting English into playable script. Up to line 26/276.

8/4: Day 3 of translation. Up to line 52/276 (+26 for the day). Pace is a bit slower than I’d like, mainly due to lack of huge working periods. T minus 2 weeks.

8/5: Took a break from Mukou, although I did glance at the next section a bit. Main task for the day was [non-insani project].

8/6: Break continues. Main task of the day was moving preparations.

8/7: Break continues. More moving stuff.

8/8: Break continues. Moving stuff, car repair, [non-insani project].

8/9: Day 4 of translation. Up to line 64/276 (+12 for the day).

8/10: Day 5 of translation. Up to line 75/276 (+11 for the day). My translation pace is really starting to suck.

8/11: Nada, back to moving preparations and phone tag. Gotta get a ton done this weekend when I know nobody will be calling me. T minus 1 week.

8/12: Day 6 of translation. Up to line 118/276 (+43 for the day). Good pace, and got through some tricky passages.

8/13: Day 7 of translation. Up to line 136/276 (+18 for the day). Spent a lot of time in moving crap. Lack of progress is getting critical. Also did QC for At Summer’s End.

8/14: Day 8 of translation. Up to line 178/276 (+42 for the day). Two decent working periods, plus a full round of moving chores: busy day.

8/15: Day 9 of translation. Up to line 216/276 (+38 for the day). Got an early start and did 25 lines before lunch, but did moving junk in the afternoon, and the evening was killed with [non-insani project], as well as QC on OMGWTFOTL and Adagio. Really busy day.

8/16: Day 10 of translation. Finished translation pass at line 276/276 (+60 for the day). Script up to 90K from 19K original. Did some minor wording cleanups and then handed off to gp32 for critique. Edited the ending credit graphics, and the title graphic too. Attempted to email RAIL for official permission, but both his known addresses bounced, so giving up on that. T minus 2 days, and probably in good shape.

8/17: Day 1 of post-production. Did OS X custom icons. Corrected some pagination and script problems, as well as tweaks to ending credits. gp32 begins editing and retranslates a significant fraction of the text due to some large contextual blunders on my part. Translated the Readme file and handed it off to gp32 for editing.

8/18: Day 2 of post-production. Final editing pass of gp32’s new script, mainly fixing punctuation style and pagination/centering issues. QC build of full OS X installer. Readme revised by gp32. Some minor tweaks, then tri-platform builds. QC of Panda Samurai. RELEASE!


I estimate that I spent somewhere around 80 hours on this game throughout the month of the festival — though only 20 working days — averaging about 5-10 lines/hour for each of two translation passes, plus time spent in miscellaneous graphics work, editing, and release engineering. This is the rate of someone who has awful Japanese skills, by the way. Note that gp32 essentially redid the same amount of work in one evening during his translation review.

Lesson one: a good translator is not just 25% faster, or has 15% fewer errors than a poor translator. A good translator is orders of magnitude faster and produces qualitatively better work.

My translation of the game was riddled with small errors, of course. What I didn’t expect, however, was the gaping contextual holes… I had misread entire passages as referring to different characters completely, got confused on who said what line, and messed up the passage of time horribly. It is not an exaggeration to say that the translation I initially produced is a qualitatively different game than the one which was originally written and eventually released.

Lesson two: if you have the opportunity, get a better translator to give you a quick synopsis of the game before you start work. A bad hypothesis about, say, who the narrator actually is during a given passage will warp your interpretation down to the grammatical level and produce a lot of confusion. Note that Japanese depends a lot on comparatively subtle contextual clues to make up for the lack of explicit pronouns, and a novice translator may not pick up on them properly.

However, visual novels have some extra elements that can help a lot, specifically the audiovisual information in the game. Is the script ambiguous about whether a character is male or female? Look at their picture! Are you unclear whether a scene change has taken place or not? Listen to the background music!

Lesson three: don’t just work from the script, treat the entire game as a whole as your translation source. I, unfortunately, failed to do this in a number of cases… I played the game initially, then almost ignored it again until I was ready to test my translated script. Bad idea. The first playthough showed me a number of “Oh of course” revelations, and there were more to pick up on if I’d been attentive enough.

Was all of this worthwhile? I’m not sure… the resulting release certainly is, and I hope people will enjoy playing it. But I don’t think I learned as much as I thought I would about translation: the number of errors was just too great for me to be able to discuss, correct, and learn from each one. In that sense I bit off more than I could actually chew for al|together this year, I think.

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