Game Lingo – 同梱


Two quick pieces of game lingo this week.

The first is 同梱 (どうこん). 同 is easy – it means “the same.” 梱 was unfamiliar to me, but apparently means “pack,” “tie,” and possible “package.” Combine them and you have “packaged the same” or “packaged together,” which is the adverb + verb kanji category. (Or possibly the adjective + noun category? “same package”?)

同梱 refers to things that come “bundled” or “included” with something else. In the case of games, it’s often used on the sides of packaging to list something like a controller or a manual that gets included with the game. It’s more or less the opposite of 別売り (べつうり), which is another adverb + verb combination and means “sold separately.”

Game Lingo – 選択


The counterpart to 決定 is 選択 (せんたく); this is what you are locking in when you 決定. 選択 appears non-stop in manuals and games and is basically a way of saying 選ぶ (えらぶ) with a compound noun. “Choose” and “select” are both options, but I think I prefer the latter, possibly because it’s more flexible: it works as a plain verb (“Select an item.”) as well as “noun” (“Mode Select screen”). “Choice” and “selection” can be used when it is a real noun.

Game Lingo – 決定


決定 (けってい) is generally a selectable icon on the screen or the action of one of the buttons on a video game controller. You use it to lock in settings or confirm selections, so it can be translated as “confirm” or “enter” depending on context. This is definitely a word that I’ve seen far more often since starting this job. I’m sure it gets used out in the real world (probably more along the lines of “come to a decision”), but I don’t think I ever had the opportunity to use it personally.

Game Lingo – 統一


統一 (とういつ) isn’t an in-game term per se, but it is a vital concept in video game translation and really all translation in general. It literally means “uniform” or “uniformity.” I personally think of it as “consistent” or “consistency.” This is common sense, but when translating you have to make sure that the spelling, word choices and style are consistent throughout a text.

You don’t want to have a character drinking “Cutty Sark Whiskey” in one scene and then “Cutty Sark Whisky” in another (the latter is correct). You don’t want to have “Oohashi-san” on one page (or any page, really) and then Ōhashi-san (there, that’s better) on another page. Proper nouns should always be kept consistent, and video game translation is an entirely different animal when it comes to proper nouns.

One place where 統一 rears its anal retentive head in video games is with controls. Almost every video game console uses the same little rocker pad, often shaped like a +, to control movement, but the terminology is different for different systems. The Nintendo DS uses “+Control Pad,” the Xbox “D-pad,” and the PlayStation®3 system “directional button.” Should players be pressing the “A button” or the “A Button”? Do they “tilt” or “press” or “tap” or “tap repeatedly” the button or control device?

Naming of the systems themselves is another place where terminology is often set by the companies. PlayStation uses the word “system” after every instance of Playstation®3 or PSP®, and they also include the restricted mark (no spaces before or after the 3). Nintendo lets you use “Nintendo DS” and also “DS.” Xbox 360 is not “XBox 360.”

Nintendo is by far the most picky, and failure to abide by their terminology guide can cause a company to lose millions if Nintendo of America or Europe finds fault with their game during the checking process and sends it back to the company. The company has to fix whatever problems there were (re-master the game) and make another appointment with NOA and NOE to have their game checked, possibly delaying the release of the game.

Japanese does have a high tolerance for repetition, way more so than English, so you should be flexible enough to realize that not every word needs to be 統一されている. Forget 様々, ignore など, realize that が・けど don’t always mean “but,” but also know where you have to maintain consistency even when it’s painful. There are tons of examples of translation so bad it’s good, but when a term gets set, sometimes it should stay that way. Metal Gear games use “sneaking mission” for 潜入任務, a lot of the Bubble Bobble (in the Japanese “Puzzle Bobble”) remakes use the same cheesy beginning (you loves it, I can tell), and Nintendo still doesn’t ever use “the” before Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection ever.

If you’re really serious about translating video games, one of the best things you can do to prepare is to read your video game manuals very carefully. There are also some websites you can look at. Notice what terms they are using. Start to catalog phrases and wordings that could be useful. Your command and consistency of English is just as important as your Japanese comprehension.

Game Lingo – 読み込む


Like 発売, 読み込む invites misreadings, here with the 読 character. I believe it can mean “read” in certain contexts, but it is more often translated as “load” as in “load saved data.” The most frequent pattern is 読み込み中, which is generally translated as “Loading…”.

Game Lingo – 発売


発売 is a sneaky little compound that isn’t unique to the game industry. You see it all over the place, notably on posters for goods that aren’t being sold yet. The reason I say it’s sneaky is that pesky little 売 hanging around. Yes, 売 means “sell,” but the translation of 発売 should almost never incorporate the word “sell.” In terms of kanji categories, it falls into the V + DO category and literally means something like “start sales”; hence, the correct translation is “release” or “launch.” The most frequent usage is X月Y日発売, but you’ll run into the passive form 発売される・された quite often when translating marketing material for game companies.

Game Lingo – 敵


(てき) is a relatively straightforward term – it means enemy. The one thing to keep in mind is that occasionally it can refer to another human player rather than an in-game enemy; in this case, “opponent” is a more appropriate translation than “enemy.”

An interesting compound using is 無敵 (むてき), which is the Japanese word for “invincibility” and should never be translated as “no enemies.” A frequently used, non-idiomatic four character compound is 一時無敵 (いちじむてき), which means “temporary invincibility.”

Game Lingo – 筐体


Thanks to next-gen game consoles, the Internets, and really comfortable couches, arcades have gone the way of the dinosaur in the US. Sure, there is still the occasional arcade game, but these generally play secondary roles at movie theaters or shopping malls. There are very few “game centers” especially compared to Japan. Street Fighter 4, probably the most anticipated arcade title in a while, wasn’t even released in arcade form in the US.

Because arcades are so popular in Japan, and because the games and game-related material (manuals, installation guides, etc.) still occasionally get translated, it’s important to know the word 筐体 (きょうたい), which refers to the housing in which the game resides. Companies generally prefer that this gets translated simply as “cabinet.”

Game Lingo – 〜することができる


Every game translation results in the translation of a game manual. Video game companies will sometimes farm out manuals to a second translation company, which makes sense. The game itself is complete, and the manual isn’t all that important relatively speaking, so you can have a smaller, cheaper company do the translation using the in-game text as reference.

Not that the translation is easy. There is more terminology (button names, controller names, error messages) that needs to be in line with company protocol, and you’re put in the position of having to explain a game (the whole point of a manual) often without having played or even seen it.

Because explanation is the central goal of a manual, some of them are basically a list of what you can and can’t do within the game. One phrase that you see in nearly every manual is 〜することができる. This is the simplest form of the potential tense. The normal potential tense (食べる→食べられる, 飲む→飲める) would be perfectly acceptable here, but these manuals need to be simple so that kids can read them easily. The normal potential tense can be confusing due to the fact that it overlaps with passive for some verbs, and this pattern also works easily with compound verbs (確認, 使用, 保存).

Combine this with the Japanese language’s high tolerance for repetition and redundancy, and an inexperienced translator can end up with something like this:

You can check your items with the A Button.
You can attack enemies with the B Button.
You can move the character with the +Control Pad.
You can pause the game with the START Button.

Yikes. I mean, those are perfectly acceptable translations of these kind of phrases (which all look something like, Aボタンでアイテムを確認することができる), but when you take a step back, look at the sentences together, and think about how they will be presented on the page, it’s immediately clear that “You can X” is a very poor translation. The best way to deal with these sentences is to cut off 〜することができる all together. “You can check your items with the A Button” becomes “Check your items with the A Button.” Simple, clean, and easy to understand.

This rule shouldn’t be applied blindly. The main point here is that while it’s important to keep the Japanese in mind, it’s more important to keep the final English product in mind. This isn’t literary translation – no one is going to be comparing the English with the original, unless you make a giant, embarrassing mistake.

Just more proof that your English composition can be more important than Japanese comprehension.

Game Lingo – 倒す

During the early-90s Nintendo of America was infamous for adjusting games to fit their strict content guidelines. They changed graphics, dialogue, anything that didn’t fit within their standards.  Thanks to younger American video game developers, raw language and content in games isn’t much of a problem anymore; companies can basically get away with whatever they want as long as they’re willing to suffer the rating. The change shows – Nintendo recently published the first Grand Theft Auto on a Nintendo platform.

Still, Japanese developers have probably been careful with their language choices, which means so should you. 倒す (たおす) frequently appears in games designed for younger children, and it’s a code word for “kill.” The verb literally means “knock down,” but it is most often translated as “defeat.” If you’re translating 龍が如く, of course you should probably be using “kill,” but otherwise (Yugioh, Dragonball, Pokemon, Mario etc.) it should be avoided at all costs, or at least commented on when delivering the translation. “Defeat” is a nice middle ground, and can even be used for 殺す sometimes.