Monday, July 23, 2012

Pros and cons of solo gameplay

tl;wr - Translation is a game. And even multiplayer must be solo. Yeah, I know it doesn't make sense. But at least now you're wondering, so maybe you'll read. Gotcha. HAH! :D

I originally intended to write some kind of post-mortem thingie about the translation of The Journey Down. It was after all a first - never had I translated an adventure game before, and the constraints were easily compensated by the possibilities the game gave me - but I guess it'll have to wait a bit. The localized version isn't out yet, anyway, so there's still time for that.

I also had this idea of writing about The Dark Mod, a long-time (well, not so long, but it is so delicately embroidered unto the fabric of the stealth genre in general, and the victorian steampunk stealth genre in particular - that's Thief for the stealth-impaired among you) favorite of mine that's so widely overlooked I thought I might as well promote it a bit at my humble level.

Instead, I'm stuck with yet another rant. One that may be of further interest to any indie dev looking around for translation options.

I've talked about it before (clicky): having your game translated is a mess to begin with. For every good translation, AAA and indie alike, I can name a good dozen bad ones. If not a hundred.

I already said it isn't easy to find someone fit for the job, I already said I can't promise anything perfect but CAN say what I release is as good as I can make it - and technically speaking that's very, very good.

Anyway. As I said, I wanted to write a li'l sumthin' about TDM. So I went and reinstalled the Mod. Dismay, rage and facekeyboard ensued.

See I translated the thing back in 2009 or something, long before they even considered localization. Which meant it was functional but hacky. No accents, hardcoded strings, yaddayadda. Ugly shit, but I went with it and did my best to ensure that it was at least readable - which is hard when some fonts are hardly readable in French, with the problem aggravated by - once again - the lack of proper accent marks.

Long story short, the release of that translation was an uphill battle. It was ugly, time-consuming, exhausting. To give you a rough idea, I'm not quite sure The Dark Mod is heavier (written material wise) than The Journey Down. The latter took me three days of laid-back work. TDM, on the other hand, took me roughly a month and a half of seriously hardcore grunt work. Amongst others, because I really wanted to get the accent marks. And it was nigh impossible for a layman such as myself. I came quite close to getting it to work for the main GUI font, but by the time I had the font painted, I was so severely burnt out I gave up, released as is, and went away for a long, long while.

A good while later, I was poked by another translator who had picked up the torch on the french community. Went back to TDM, picked up on it again - and by the gods I swear those guys are as close to heroes as it gets: full localization support was on the way. It's still a work in progress to this day, but at least it is now possible to release a good translation without having to sweep through the minefield that is source code you know nothing about.

I went back to work, and instantly spit my coffee. Again. It's a habit I should try to drop, but quite frankly... it's rather hard when you're surrounded by monkeys and incompetent fools.

Basically: the guy had changed my translation into a trainwreck of epic proportions. Stuff that should never be translated had been (think "Bloom", yeah, the thing that came before HDR. Bloom is bloom, there's no point in using a translation that's so stupid you have to add (bloom) right after it so it makes sense. On/off had been translated verbatim, as in "light on, light off", not "switch on, switch off" - and I mean it literally: every switchable option was now a lightbulb. That's EXACTLY how it read.

He never, ever tested his translation in-game, something that is one of the most basic requirements of this job. As I said in my previous post, there is no safety net here. If you want to translate, you better make damn sure you're a translator, a proofreader, a tester and a QA team all by yourself. No one's going to help you, and no one's going to save you. That's not to say that his translations weren't correct (well, as a matter of fact, some were, and that was UGLY, the "light switches" above are but the tip of the iceberg). It's just that...


"Queued". If you want a nice, sleek translation, you'll go for "En file d'attente" or, even better, "Placé en file d'attente".

That's what he did.

Chaos ensued.

For all that appeared on screen was "d'attente".

You don't exactly need more proof that he didn't check his work in game: that's one of the things you'll see when you want to download a mission. Which will probably happen within the first hour for your average player, as the choice of missions included in the mod is quite limited. And if you're translating the game, it's rather safe to assume that you played it to some extent, right? RIGHT?

'parently not.

So I spent a few more hours salvaging what could be salvaged before the next update. Heck, I'd been their translator, my reputation was on the line. I updated the FUCK out of it, until it met my standards again.

Guess what: it's been almost 8 months. And anyone who downloads the mod, to this very day, still gets the same shitty pseudo-translation the fool made. And, goes without saying: said fool vanished without a trace. Guess who's left.

Worst part is, I didn't reinstall the mod until very recently, I thought everything was sorted out. Turns out I was wrong, as the reinstall I had to do after my hard disk crash taught me.

Even worse? There's an update. It could - and should - have been included in the nifty updater they coded. Fact is... It still isn't. It's only available on this very blog. It's all I can do (and I'm not even sure if it's the latest version anymore, to add insult to injury - have I told you I have a goldfish memory?) and... that particular post has been read a whopping...

Wait for it...

19 times. So AT MOST 19 players have MY translation, and have a GOOD translation. Hint: The Dark Mod has MUCH more than 19 downloads on the counter. And it's safe to say MANY French players have downloaded it and now have a "fair" idea of what I can do - and that is: SHIT.

Which has me thinking... How are you supposed to cope with a team of freelance nuts who are supposedly fit for the job?

TDM is quite the exception - feedback will probably never come to the official forums. It's a niche game, and the french community is even more of a niche - as a matter of fact, I've seldom seen the Thief games discussed outside the Ariane community. You find a thread on every once in a while, but that's as valuable a community as /b/ is close to a philosophy forum. To put it bluntly: it's populated by morons. And this time, I'm using the word very, very seriously.

TDM would also be a great platform for experimentation: the GUI is but one component, and every FM can be taken separately.

What leads to the current blunder is the fact two people have been working on the same component, and one has been laying muddy footprints in the other's clean lounge. The lines have been blurred, and nobody could tell whodunnit, apart from me.

I can see why you would need several people working on your game/mod/whatever. Once the content reaches critical mass, it becomes impossible for one individual to cope with everything. It takes time to translate, even when you have the kind of experience I have accumulated. Even more so as I'm doing it in my spare time, get barely paid (if at all) for my work, and usually fly solo - exactly for the reasons stated above. Then things must be checked, played through, and that takes even more time.

Your best bet is to cleave the work. Literally. And, should one of your translator give up, make sure you keep its latest version in the fridge.

Why? Consider it a savestate. It's a game. If his successor fucks it up, you can always make a rollback to the lastest savestate - at least for the work the original translator has done. Then see if one your other translators can pick up the torch.

Have responsibilities determined. If anyone points you to a mistake in the localized version, take it seriously. Not so seriously that you'll immediately fire the guy. But find WHO did it. Ask him WHY he did it, ask him if it REALLY is a mistake. Ask him PROOF if he says it isn't.

Proof is easy to find. It may be a small world - and you damn want it to remain that way so you CAN point fingers when the need arises. But it is a HUGE web, too. And that's if your other translators can't answer your question for sure.

It's something that takes time to understand as a translator too. Something that may not be taken very seriously by your team/translator.

But I've been trying to always have a way for developers I've worked for to reach me. Twitter greatly facilitates that, and my switch to gmail helped a bit too. I only regret having used several mailboxes for my registration on your average community forum. It almost cost TDM its translation, as I wouldn't have received the notification if it hadn't been for the Ariane community. Since then, I activated notification mails everywhere I could.

My work is my responsibility. And while that may seem like Captain Obvious's motto, you could soon discover that things aren't exactly that easy. You'll probably want as many ways to reach your translator(s) as you can.

You want to keep track of them.

And you want to do what indies do best: be a huuuuuge family. Spread the word. About wheat AND about chaff. You want your translators to take their responsibilities, and you want the best for everyone. Unless you're a dick, but that is MY lawn, OK? Get off that, kid.

Point is: all of it is still uncharted territory. I've talked with some people about how there probably is no market for people such as myself, but I'll keep that for later.

What's most astonishing is how people don't seem to know how to react when they meet me. I'm very... talkative about my work. There's nothing I dislike more than leaving my patrons in the dark. I always try to explain what hurdles I'm confronted with, which choices I had to make, which limitations may appear, what I didn't understand, what I had to circumvent and how... And all too often it looks as if nothing was obvious. It's both amusing and unnerving. Amusing, because it's a discovery for everyone. And - hopefully - it helps weave a healthy business relationship (my working for free doesn't mean I'll deliver a subpar work). I mean, sometimes I think I'm sending too many mails. But do I have a choice? I'm serious about what I'm doing and I'm forgetful. So when i try to explain what my business - which is also my patrons' business, when all is said and done - is, why does it look so strange to communicate about the odds and ends of - to say it very roughly - the remaking of their game? Because that is what it's about: the core mechanics are the same, but the coat of paint is very different at times. And unnerving, because a translation should be transparent. It shouldn't be seen, heard or felt. People should be able to touch the core of the game without feeling any kind of resistance. It there's resistance, if suspension of disbelief is torn down, if anything happens, you can be sure most people won't just go after the translation, but also after the game. And many people seem to never even have thought of that. As if translation was a minor part. Protip: if you want it, it's not THAT minor.

For now, all I can do is keep a journal of my discoveries, write it down a second time, attach it to a carrier pigeon, and send it back to civilization, while praying the feathered messenger sees a fair and safe voyage, and my message goes into the right hands, hands that will spread it further, along with my name. Because I want to keep seeing new sights, meeting new people, and making a few new friends. Not that I'm optimistic enough to think it will happen, but whatever.

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