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Translation and Localization: X5 and beyond

Concerning a recent news item that sheds some light on an old practice.

If you’ve been to the Mega Man Network or Protodude’s Rockman Corner, or kept up with #megaman on Twitter in the past few days, you’ve probably already heard about Alyson Court, GenAzea, and the revealing story behind the Guns’N’Roses tribute Maverick names appearing in Mega Man X5. It’s a pretty interesting tale, and whether you loved or hated the boss naming departure for that installment, you’ll likely still find it fascinating to understand how it came about.

What I, as someone with no personal experience but nonetheless an assured interest in how games are translated, find most interesting is how the process itself was carried out. From what I’ve gathered in interviews about the translation process, there are two steps. The first is the actual translation itself, Japanese to English. Then there’s a second step geared towards editing and localizing the script, making sure that the language flows and makes sense to native English speakers, while also changing things like jokes and pop culture references to things which can be recognized and enjoyed by the target audience.

As Capcom translation team member Brandon Gay once explained, “An editor may be the last line of defense between the text and the final retail copy of the game. The perspective required for an editor is more of having a firm grasp of the English language and knowing what sounds/reads well in written/spoken text. The translators may have translated the text word for word from Japanese to English, but if the final English does not flow well or in the worst case, even make sense, then a 100% accurate translation is of little benefit. It can be a fine line at times to keep the original ideas intact, while making it accessible to an English speaking audience.”

It sounds that Alyson Court was involved in this second stage of the translation process. In other words, someone at Capcom Japan in Osaka translated the script, then sent outsourced the local English adaptation to GenAzea. Alyson wrote that “For localization with text editing u get files in rough English translation w/deets on number of characters/lines, etc & vague description.” She went on to say, “Most of the time I had no idea what was happening as there was no real information regarding game play or scene, so I had to wing it.”

As a translator and a fan of games, it’s hard for me to imagine trying to work in such a limited capacity and come out with a script of quality and integrity. Many of the strange things about Mega Man X5’s text, and similar oddities of games from that era, can probably be attributed to having undergone such a process. I wonder how much of this process has changed, and how much it remains the same? I feel that script quality of recent games have improved in many, many aspects, but by what measures have such gains come? If somebody knows, do tell. I’m all ears.

This entry was copy&pasted from my Unity Blog. That’s right, I have a blog at Capcom-Unity! So why haven’t you heard of it? Because I almost never update it, that’s why.

4 Comments to "Translation and Localization: X5 and beyond"

  1. RADIX's Gravatar RADIX
    2011/05/02 Monday - 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Many of the comments on PRC are of the accusatory “Stupid Capcom is stupid” variety. 🙁

    I’m not sure if I can answer those questions, but I can say that I wish people would stop whining about translations that aren’t “exact”. Do they honestly think Japanese and English grammatical structures are interchangeable, or that everything carries over perfectly from one language to the next?

  2. 2011/05/03 Tuesday - 10:54 pm | Permalink

    As someone who worked a bit on translations and has some interest in them, I’ll definitely say that it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Translating and localizing aren’t simple processes, and they’re worth of people spending years to do the proper studies.

    The effect is visible on another Capcom property, Phoenix Wright. The amount of jokes and punks you find in the series is insane, and they all make sense in English. What isn’t so apparent, thanks to the solid work made on those, is the fact that many of the gags are completely different in the Japanese version. Cultural differences mean that a simple look over of the script won’t do: you need competent people at both ends to make it work.

  3. Dr Bass's Gravatar Dr Bass
    2012/01/13 Friday - 4:47 am | Permalink

    The only name I really liked was Duff McWhalen. That one’s epic. The rest are pretty bad, but not absolutely horrible, excluding “The Skiver” That one just ruins the character.

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