Writing for Games

The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain has released some very sensible guidelines for games writers. I note with interest a number of things that I have had to hammer into the heads of certain producers, would-be producers and self-styled producers over the last ten years, now set out as gospel entitlements for professional authors, which is all to the good.

I’m not pleased with the setting in stone of “English script by” as a circumlocution for “not translated at all by” or “substandard translation knocked into shape by“. At least as far as the WGGB wording goes, a tin-eared monoglot hack who changes a couple of typos on a script gets to put his name after the words “English script by” — a pretension that has been commonplace in the anime world for 20 years. In fact, as the wording currently stands, our hypothetical tin-eared monoglot hack can actually ask to be credited as the “translator”, even if he can’t speak the language he has supposedly translated.

But otherwise very nice indeed — a truly useful document, and not only for writers; it’s very handy for producers who genuinely want to know what is considered good business etiquette. In one case from my past, it would have saved me from the embarrassing situation in which I would have been considered in breach of contract if I didn’t hand in a 100-page script only an hour after signing.

6 thoughts on “Writing for Games

  1. It’s compounded by the idea held by many fans that localisation is a bad thing. When I first played Final Fantasy Tactics on PS1 the Translation was just a basic job, ten years later the PSP version got one that was worlds better for example in the PS1 the ability to find objects on the combat screen was called Move-Find Item, on PSP it was Treasure Hunter. I have no idea if this is accurate to the exact meaning of the Japanese original but it fits and seems much more polished a little re-writing can go a long way, granted it can’t make a really bad game good but it can raise the bar just a little pushing average into good and good into brilliant

  2. Indeed, tzeenth. I’m afraid that 20 years of fan politics and corporate spin has left many otaku thinking that a “translation” should be poorly written and borderline incomprehensible. False economies (particularly at TokyoPop, but they were not the first and won’t be the last) have also led many companies to assume that it is normal to pay a translator who can only actually do half the job.

    Way back in the Manga Max days, one of our correspondents was an economist, who was actually experimenting with a model of translation practices, looking at the moment where a competent translator became too expensive for your purpose, instead incentivising you to hire an incompetent translator and a “rewriter” who couldn’t speak Japanese, and hoping that they would muddle through. I don’t know how far he got, but it was an interesting debate.

    The game field is actually quite safe and robust. Everyone I have met working in games translation has been literally at the top of their… er… game. Last year at Edinburgh University I met a guy who was walking out of his Masters graduation into a ground-floor localisation job at Nintendo. His abilities were absolutely superb, and he wrote his thesis on false assumptions in fansubs. Game translation can do this because it can pay worthy rewards. Manga translation, not so much, which is why I haven’t translated any manga for years.

  3. And we end up with Fansubs with a whole screen full of translation notes when all you need is the name of the character that only appears once in over 200 episodes. or we get a translation that does the job but certain details drive you mad, simply owning a dictionary/thesaurus or just knowing the meaning of the word torque would help
    look at the last panel to see what I mean

  4. ‘And we end up with Fansubs with a whole screen full of translation notes when all you need is the name of the character that only appears once in over 200 episodes.’

    or you get subs/fans that translate terms far too literally, Such as those who insist a character named Chloe is in fact Kuroi, or a term like ‘Nakama’ is ‘untranslatable’.

  5. Time for me to dig up those manga (translation) costs again:

    “Editorials: The Cost of Making Manga.” (Anime Tourist, 23 August 2002)

    Toren Smith’s response on the Studio Proteus Web site

    • From Icarus Publishing (NSFW):

    •• “Pricing and the unglamorous truth; Akiba Angels looking for scenario translators; Cinema Sewer expands to film” (25 November 2006)

    •• Ramblings from a shameful publisher (3 April 2007)

    “On the Cost of Producing Manga” (ComiPress, 20 January 2007)

    • Comments on the above by Simon Jones of Icarus: “AoD reviews Kaerimichi; Little Sister’s legal woes; Cost of manga production” (22 January 2007)

  6. It is interesting that the doujin game Recettear, which was raved about on my Twitter stream, got an indie translation of the sort that would get people frothing at the mouth if it was attempted in an anime fansub (e.g. to quote Wikipedia: “as the game is set in a seemingly-European village, the original script’s mention of rice and tofu felt out of place” etc.), yet I don’t recall hearing any complaints about it.

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