Video Game Lingo – 覚悟

I was in the Japan Times a couple weeks back with a look at how to improve your Japanese by cheating at video games: “Cheat your way to better Japanese with walkthrough video game guides.”

I bought a Nintendo Switch over the New Year’s holiday. I’ve picked up three games since then, but other than a weekend spent playing Mario Kart 8 with my brother in St. Louis, I have only been putting time into Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. There is so much joy in this game. In every single detail. The weather, the terrain, the puzzles, the atmospheric music, the voice acting, the anime-like storyline.

So much joy that it has outweighed the slight guilt I feel at cheating. In my defense, a friend from college who has two young sons noted on Facebook that the game is “imposiburu” without using online guides. Also in my defense, I just don’t have time to figure out everything. I’ve done most of it on my own, but I have used the guides so I don’t miss things here or there or to save myself some time.

These guides, as I mention in the article, are called 攻略 (kōryaku, walkthroughs), and I’ll let you find them yourself. Finding what you need (or what you want to say) in a foreign language is always good practice. Fortunately, Japanese walkthroughs don’t seem to be the ASCII-laden tomes I remember from the early days of the internets. Even the English walkthroughs these days are more visual and presented in marked up hypertext for ease of browsing.

I think I’m about 60-75% through the main quest in Breath of the Wild, but I have plenty of stuff left to smoke out in terms of side quests and whatnot. I’m kind of in a holding pattern right now, squeezing a little more juice out of the fruit before I start to make more progress on the last leg of the main story. I don’t want it to end.

It’s been fun to play in Japanese. I’ve been running into some of the video game lingo I used to encounter more regularly at my old job. One of these is 覚悟 (kakugo, readiness/preparedness/resolution/resignation).

I’m surprised I haven’t written about it previously, but the search engine tells me there are no instances of it on the blog. You see this word quite frequently in games, such as in this instance:

This was a pretty funny part of the game, and I won’t spoil more than that, but as you may or may not be able to tell, this is immediately before you fight this guy. He’s telling Link to “prepare yourself” with 覚悟 and しな (shi na), which is a short, impolite version of Xしなさい (X shi nasai, do X).

So…are you, punk? 覚悟できているのか? (Kakugo dekite iru no ka).

Get ye to a Nintendo Switchery! Get ye to Hyrule! This game is too good to miss.

Video Game Lingo – Passive Form

Amtrak isn’t quite as enjoyable as Japan Rail, but it sure beats driving. I recently rode the Lincoln Express from Chicago to St. Louis for Thanksgiving, and I managed to put in a few more hours on Final Fantasy VI. I’m only up to 15 hours so far, which means I’m just under half way through according to How Long to Beat.

I didn’t come across any new “lingo” worth introducing here, but I did find this pretty cool and very efficient line from Shadow:

ffvi passive

It’s always good to be familiar with the passive form, but it comes in especially handy in video games when space is limited. As you can see in this instance, there’s no need for a subject nor a verb because both are contained within the passive form (and it doesn’t hurt to have a visualization). The concision also plays into Shadow’s character, which is standoffish in the best of times.

噛み付く (かみつく) means “bite (at).” The invisible subject of the passive form 噛み付かれる (かみつかれる) is リルム, the daughter of the old man, and the performer of the bite is, of course, Shadow’s dog Interceptor. So literally, “You will be bitten by the dog.” Putting this into normal English, you get “He’ll bite you.”

Which checks out with the English script: “Back off. He bites.” Great translation.

The only way to master the passive is to “get used to it”: just keep doing a literal translation in your head for as long as it takes to become second nature. But it’s very important to force yourself to slow down when necessary and identify the subject and performer of the action in these instances.

Video Game Lingo – 始末

Fucking Ultros. I just got beat down in the opera house, and I’ve realized I probably either need to A) head back to Narshe and pick up another party member, B) hope that I can still add Shadow, or C) grind until I level enough to take the bastard down.

Which is basically to say that I haven’t made much progress in FFVI. I also haven’t found a seat on my commutes all that often. The El is unforgiving, especially between Sheridan and Fullerton, and I need at least one hand free when standing.

But I did come across this:

shimatsu

It pays to have a large vocabulary of words that mean “kill” or “destroy” when making video games, and 始末 is, effectively, one of those. In this case, the compound has the more general meaning “manage” or “deal with” (with an implied finality, thus death).

It’s also a cool kanji in its own right, combining two opposite characters for “beginning” (始) and “end” (末).

It has other meanings as well and confuses some with 仕末. This is a nice little blog post that concisely summarizes some of the frequently encountered forms:

「後始末」「跡始末」「始末書」「始末に負えない」などのように使います。

Fortunately for our heroes, Kefka isn’t that adept at dealing with them.

Final Fantasy VI on iOS in Japanese

I have another Bilingual page column in the Japan Times today: “The myths and misery of translating Japanese video games.”

It’s sort of a redux of my post “On Translation and Me” (which was later syndicated at Kotaku) with a few of my Video Game Lingo posts thrown in for good measure.

I haven’t done much video game translation recently, unfortunately. I did a bit in the summer of 2013, and it was a reminder of how difficult and complicated translating dialogue for a major game can be. I only did about 10,000 characters or so, but I got a small peak inside the workings of a larger translation company. It was impressive. I will always be in awe of folks who are able to build living, breathing characters from context-less dialogue text alone. Translators rarely get to see the game they are working on.

I have, however, been doing more Japanese video games. Square has put out a lot of their old catalogue on mobile platforms in recent years, and they were on sale for 50% off until January 5th. So I picked up Final Fantasy VI for iOS.

I somehow scraped together the $60 for Chrono Trigger on the SNES back in the 1990s and spent a week one summer devoted to it, but I never managed to play through Final Fantasy III (née VI). I have at various times played emulated versions partway through (once during college, I believe, and once while I was teaching on JET), but I’ve never beaten it.

I’m a couple hours in and here are some thoughts in game-chronological order:

ffvi01

Japanese dialogue has a tendency to use a ton of ellipsis. I’m not quite sure if there is a standard way to deal with these. Occasionally you can translate around them, but it’s sometimes easiest to just leave them.

ffvi02

Kefka is even more ridiculous and evil in Japanese. (Partly due to the illustration. An inspiration for the Joker in the Dark Knight movies, perhaps?) As you can see, the language is more colorful in the Japanese original. くそ gets thrown around pretty lightly. Kefka’s infamous laugh, however, is merely ヒッヒッヒ or some variation, which is a bit of a disappointment because the English laugh is so legendary.

This screen grab also has a great word that pops up frequently in games: 借り (かり). 借りができたぞ is a way to say “I owe you one.” I distinctly remember a translator delivering a project with that line, and I was blown away by how succinct and spot on he was. There is a great Chiebukuro post about this phrase and 貸しができる.

Here, Kefka ironically shows that he will 返す the 借り(generally a good thing) without fail (必ず).

ffvi03

Here’s a great example of the double particle をも and ~かねない, one of my favorite phrases.

ffvi04

The (new?) character illustrations are great, and Banon looks awesome. You can tell he’s old because he’s got the old-man じゃ in place of the standard copula.

ffvi05

Go home, Ultros, you’re drunk.

ffvi06

Here’s a lovely-sounding Japanese idiom: 爪(つめ)のアカでも飲ましてやる. Literally: Make someone “drink” the crap under their nails. The kicker is that it’s not even their own nails: It’s someone else’s nail crud. アカ is also given as the kanji 垢, but I assume it’s kana-ized to allow younger players to understand in this case. I wrote a post about this idiom and got a couple of really great comments. Basically, these troops want Kefka to be a little more like Leo…which would happen if Kefka drank some of Leo’s toenail crud. Here’s what one of the commenters noted about the phrase:

In a scenario (profession, trade or any organization) where a rookie without a clue tends to blunder from one breach of etiquette after another, and where a sage advice clearly would be wasted, the only economic advice is to suggest such a concoction be consumed. But, this is said with one’s tongue in cheek only to underline the hopelessness of the endeavor.

So perhaps “take a page out of [somebody’s] book (which happens to be written in a language they probably won’t understand)” would be an appropriate translation.

ffvi07

Here’s a nice example of a use of ごめん that isn’t ごめんなさい. I can’t remember what exactly was happening (this is on the ghost train), but whatever it is マッシュ (Sabin) doesn’t want to do it, and expresses that with ごめん. It’s sometimes used with だけ in the expression 〜だけごめんだ to express “the one thing” that someone doesn’t want to do.

ffvi08

And one thing I noticed in the menu: The explanations for the the different items are given only in kana. This isn’t unusual, I don’t think, but it is a little strange given that all of the story is given in both kanji and kana. Just another reminder that kanji are awesome and reading kana-only writing takes a different set of muscles that you lose quickly once you move past the most basic stages of Japanese study.

Everything about this reboot is great. The graphics are slick and the sound is fantastic. I’m confident that I’ll be able to finish the game this time around, thanks in part to my commute, and because it’s in Japanese I won’t feel guilty about doing so.

Game Lingo – クリア ( = clear?)

My handy set of inequalities doesn’t always hold true when it comes to video game terminology. I realized this last Friday when I was checking the translation of a video game manual. The word クリア is always used to mean “complete (a goal, level, task),” and the translator had left it “clear” (e.g. “when you have cleared easy mode”).

I’m always torn with this one. I often change it to something a little more natural (in my opinion) like “complete,” but in this case I left it “clear” and made a note to reconsider my decision after I’d finished looking through the entire manual. Then I could go back through and see how many times it was used throughout the whole manual. If it was used just once, then I’d feel comfortable making the change. If it gets used repeatedly as a sort of set term, then it should probably stay as is.

I am realizing now the decision might already be made for me – we have the in-game text and if I go in on Monday and find an instance of クリア = clear in the text, then I have to 統一.

This game has already had one frustrating example of 統一. The Japanese ミス has been rendered “miss,” which just feels dirty and wrong. Initially I was surprised that the translator made the decision to translate it that way because he is one of our more reliable translators, but then I found an instance of ミス = miss in the in-game text and quickly realized that he had done a thorough job of checking back and forth between manual terminology and in-game terminology. Which leaves some terrible sentences like “You completed Level 1 without a miss!” Ugg. Time for a shower.

ミス is closer to “mistake,” as noted by スペルミス – spelling mistake – and depending on the circumstances it could be anything from a mistake to a failure to an error and should be translated in context.

Game Lingo – 鎧

I’m realizing now that it’s been more than a full year since I’ve posted anything about video games. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I haven’t worked at a video game translation company for more than a full year as well. I’ve been away from the material. I’ve lost my game, man.

No longer. I’ve spent the last two days with my eyeballs frozen on LCD screens full of Japanese game text and passable English translations. It’s been incredibly tiring. Tiring in a completely different way from the satisfying physical exhaustion of digging ditches and shoveling mud. Good in its own way, though.

I’ve learned/refreshed a good bit of Japonese, and one of the coolest words I’ve come across is 鎧 (よろい) – armor. I have no idea where it derives from, but the clear mnemonic for this character is “a metal bean that holds up a mountain can armor you against ANYTHING!”

I don’t think the kanji gets used all that often unfortunately. I’ve seen it as both よろい and ヨロイ, although the latter seems to refer to attributes of certain characters rather than armor itself. So keep your eyes open for this one. It should come in handy when they start releasing the next set of Final Fantasy remakes for the Nintendo 3DS or Wii U.

Game Lingo – キャラセレ

Technically I’m on vacation, so all you get is a measely little game lingo post today.

This word baffled me for a while when I came upon it during a job. I believe I was translating a game manual, and there weren’t any images in the manual to give me a clue as to what it referred to. I kept reading it “carousel.” That is until I was saved by the power of Google Images. I just popped the fucker into Google and voilà – character selection. The image results from the search are pretty clear – this word refers to the screen in games where you choose your character from all the possible choices. I don’t think there’s a set term for this in English. “Character select screen” or “character selection screen” both seem fine (although the latter sounds a smidge better?), so look for previous usages within the game text.

In Japanese it’s important to be on the lookout for words that have been shortened from longer compounds. Maintain vigilance.

Game Lingo – タイミングよく

I have a column in The Japan Times today, “Take your taimingu when translating loan words.” The general idea and many of the examples should be familiar to long time readers, but I use a new example as my main piece of evidence: the video game term タイミングよく.

Here’s the build-up:

Japan has a long history of commandeering words from other languages and making them its own. Kobo Daishi, one of Japan’s first exchange students, allegedly brought back thousands of kanji from China in the eighth century. Words from Portugal and Holland arrived through Nagasaki roughly 1,000 years later. More recently, Japanese has borrowed from English and other languages, and hence there are now legions of words that require thought before you can convert them back into their source language.

Go buy a copy or check it out online.

On Translation and Me

I often get questions from aspiring translators about what kind of job I have and how to break into the translation industry, so I thought I’d write a FAQ-style post answering these questions once and for all. If there is anything else you are curious about, feel free to leave a question in the comments.

Q: What exactly do you do?
A: I am a project manager at a translation company in Tokyo.

Q: What is a project manager?
A: A project manager coordinates freelance translators to complete large translation projects. When we receive a translation job from a client, I work with the Japanese coordinators in my office to set up a delivery date. Then I contact freelancers and send them the material for translation if they are available. When they complete the translation, I do a close comparison of the source text and the target text and make corrections and revisions as necessary. I leave comments in Japanese for the client company if I have any questions. The Japanese coordinators then check my comments, take a final look at the file, and submit it to the client company.

You can read more about project management at the blog Essential Project Management.

Q: Wait, aren’t you a video game translator or something? You mention video games a lot.
A: Kind of…but not really. First of all, if I’m anything, it’s a video game project manager (see above). Several of our clients are video game companies, but they send us a wide variety of material, only some of which is actual video games. I check financial documents, proposals, business correspondence, video game dialogue, video game instruction manuals, iPhone apps, and more. We have clients outside of the game industry as well.

Q: So you don’t actually do any translation yourself?
A: For the most part, no. If a project is small enough or on a rush schedule, we sometimes do the translation in-house, but there is always another English native who checks the finished product before delivery.

Q: How much material do you handle every day?
A: Ideally I check 5000 Japanese characters a day (roughly 2500 English words), but this fluctuates and often we handle significantly more than 5000 characters. When I was working on a major project last summer, I was checking up to and over 10,000 characters a day (with the assistance of several hours of overtime).

Q: How much material do your translators translate every day?
A: This really depends on the material, type of file formatting, and the individual translator, but it ranges anywhere from 2500 to 5000 Japanese characters. 3500 to 4000 is probably the average amount.

Q: How did you get the job?
A: I responded to an ad in the Japan Times. I was very lucky.

Q: What do you think was the most important preparation for your job?
A: Reading. If you want any kind of job in translation, whether it’s a project manager position or a freelance translator job, you need to have the endurance to read large quantities of Japanese text and also the experience to understand most of the material without using a dictionary.

The best way to develop these abilities is to read for long periods of time. Read newspapers, novels, magazines, manga, blogs, websites – any material that keeps you interested. Practice reading for an hour, two hours, half a day, a whole day. Look up new words and write them in a notebook. I still do this.

Q: Wait, you don’t use a dictionary?
A: No, I use a dictionary when I need to, but I don’t have time to look up every word. Or even every other word.

Q: Did you really practice reading all day long?
A: Hell yeah. During the summer of 2004, I went to the library every day and read Kafka on the Shore in Japanese. I read from about nine in the morning to four or five in the afternoon with a one hour break for lunch. It took me about a month to finish the first half of the novel, but it was great practice. Too bad the book wasn’t better.

I’ve also been known to read for entire weekends.

Q: Is there anything you wish you would’ve done to prepare for your job?
A: I wish I would have played more video games in Japanese. One of my coworkers is Japanese-Canadian. He grew up in Canada, and besides speaking Japanese with his parents, a good portion of his exposure to Japanese was in the form of video games. He is a walking dictionary of video game terms. He hasn’t played every game ever made, but he is very familiar with the language used in video games and what that language means. Playing English video games will help you develop a familiarity with terminology and style (and the content of the titles themselves), but playing Japanese video games will actually teach you the language.

Q: How do I get a job as a project manager?
A: I have no idea. Look around for companies on the Internet and send off resumes and cover letters. Join the Google Group for Japanese translation – sometimes jobs get posted there. Those are my best suggestions.

Q: How do I get a job as a freelance translator?
A: Another question I can’t really answer. I can tell you how my company hires freelancers. We always accept resumes, and generally we send prospective translators a translation trial. If the trial is good enough, we add them to our list of translators, but you have to be particularly good to break into our group of regulars.

So I guess the answer is send out resumes and emails to as many translation companies as possible. Get in touch with the project managers who work at the companies. Get registered on their list. Stay in touch with them but don’t be annoying, and don’t ever come across as entitled, no matter how good of a translator you are.

Q: What else should good freelancers do?
A: Respond to emails promptly, especially if project managers are inquiring about availability. They will love you. Check in with project managers on Friday afternoons – clients often send us projects on Friday and we have to scramble to find translators before we take off for the weekend. If I was freelancing in the U.S., I might even make an effort to wake up early on Friday morning and check my mail.

Q: Wait a second. Freelancers work on the weekend?
A: Hell yeah. Project managers count on freelancers to speed up projects by working over the weekend. These days don’t get included in the number of business days we have to finish projects, so it gives us more time or lets us offer a faster delivery date to clients.

Also, one freelancer I met said that when you freelance, you pretty much take any work you can get. You’re on your own clock, and any time you aren’t translating, you’re missing an opportunity to make money. The lack of a guaranteed monthly wage must be a strong motivator.

Q: What do you think the most important part of the translation process is?
A: Revision. Understanding the Japanese is really only a third of the work. Maybe even less than that. The other part of the process is expressing the Japanese in natural English. No matter how good your Japanese is, unless you can write a decent English sentence and have a good range of expression, you won’t find any work as a translator.

I emphasize revision because it gives you the opportunity to look at the English text independently of the Japanese. When you’re reading your translation, you should be asking yourself – Does this make any sense? Could anything be clearer? Could anything be more natural? Are there any sentences that are passive that could be active? What impression will people have when they read this?

Q: Tell us a story about a good translator.
A: One of the best translators I work with loves playing games and translating them. He’s played just about every game out there, and if he hasn’t played it, he’s willing to do the research to figure it out. He even does fansubs of games on his own time.

Last summer I was coordinating a major video game. The client sent us the main script, which was enormous. I think it was over 100,000 characters. Because they wanted a quicker delivery, we split the script between two translators. We had one translate the dialogue and another translate the ト書き (とがき), which is basically the “stage direction” for the dialogue. I sent this guy the ト書き. He was so into the game and the series, though, that he went through the dialogue and pulled all the references from the scripts of previous games without me asking for anything. I then forwarded on the notes to the dialogue translator. It saved me and the other translator a lot of time and ensured that the game would be accurate. Lots of respect for this translator.

Q: Tell us a story about a bad translator.
A: We got a small job for a video game proposal at some point last spring. It was only 3000 or 4000 characters, which is a nice volume to send new recruits. I sent it to a guy who had recently passed our trial. When he sent it back to me, there were still Japanese commas and parentheses in the Powerpoint file (全角 text that he hadn’t taken the time to delete completely, the lazy bastard) and he clearly hadn’t taken the time to revise or even think about his translations, so I had to rewrite the whole thing. (On a side note, there were some places where he clearly hadn’t understood the Japanese. If you ever can’t understand the Japanese, leave a note for the project manager. We can fix it, but it helps us if you mark the places where you were unsure. Even our top translators do this – it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Leaving a possible alternative translation in the comments is also helpful, but you shouldn’t be doing it too often.) I barely finished in time. The good news is that the proposal got picked up and we had the opportunity to translate the actual game itself. No one in my office has sent this translator another project.

The moral of these two stories is this: take advantage of any opportunity you are given. If a company gives you a chance to do some actual work, knock it out of the park. Show them that you’ve done the research and really ironed out your English. And don’t be afraid to step away from the Japanese when you’re translating for video games – they call it “localization” instead of “translation” for a reason.

Don’t forget that I do not recommend games translation. Go learn how to translate patents or economics stuff. It’s much easier and will make you a lot more money.

Game Lingo – 構える

kamaeru

Second game lingo for this week.

構える (かまえる) appears frequently in action games in the pattern <武器>を構える. The basic meaning is “ready a weapon,” but it’s important to check the context because it can sometimes take on a meaning similar to 狙う – “aim a weapon.” In either case it is the action that must be taken before firing.

It also gets used in these cool compound verbs:
待ち構える (まちかまえる) – wait ready for, lie in wait for, be on the watch for
身構える (みがまえる) – be on guard, stand ready, square off