Translation is the Art of Failure

February 7th, 2018


Or is a failure state simply the base state all translations are pulled to?

Apparently this season, I need to come up with something random to write about during the week, or at least some kind of minor theme to search for cloying images, so here we are, with a random bit of rambling. I have noticed off and on tips going around for working on translation projects, and I would highly recommend people read them over, especially the people who are currently thinking to themselves "I've worked on translation projects, I already know this stuff." You don't. There are a few things that aren't covered by those that I've experienced (although they can really be summed up by a single bullet point), so might as well use this as a chance to go over them now. I dislike punchy lists, and am a gregarious bastard, so you get medium sized paragraphs instead of a punchy list.

Lest anybody gets uppity about people contributing to fan projects being flighty so you shouldn't expect much, the 'professionals' I've worked with (as much as anybody can be a professional given the pay rate) were by and large exponentially worse at all of these than the amateurs. I couldn't tell you why. Maybe working for money is less motivating than working due to enthusiasm, but even that doesn't hold. None of this should come as a surprise to anybody, as I have delivered this lecture in various forms many times, often multiple times to the same person with escalating expletives each time.

First, and foremost, do not be a ghost. If you agree to help, the absolute least responsibility you have to the project is to show up. Even if it's just to say "I'm swamped and can't help this week." It is never acceptable to vanish for weeks, let alone months and ignore all messages asking what's going on. At that point, you're actively harming the project by forcing the people on it to spend their time and energy either tracking you down or finding someone else to do the work that you volunteered to do. This is literally the only reason I have ever removed someone from an active project, although there's certainly the argument that they removed themselves first and I simply made it official. This seems like it would be the most obvious, and not need to be said at all, but rest assured, you would be painfully mistaken. This alone was probably responsible for 95% of my stress working on any given project.

Second, do not make sweeping changes on your own. The main place where this is of mention is in the style guidelines for the work, and particularly for editors with overzealous ideas about what proper writing or dialogue is supposed to look like. I've reverted probably hundreds of changes in the name of wiping out colloquial or punchy dialogue, seemingly out of a belief that prose is meant to be purple. Mainly though, it's stupid, trivial things, like "towards" vs "toward," or what the 'correct' way is to punctuate sex moans. Things that nobody probably cares enough to argue about, but then you open up a change report and it has 500 diffs because someone decided without telling anybody that something pervasive needed to be changed. So now different parts of the game are using different style rules, it's a mess, and there's both a discussion in the future about it, and either it's going to be reverted or everyone else gets the surprise present of working around the new rules. Or worse, they carelessly used some form of search/replace and broke things. The corollary to this is that when given style rules, follow them. Again, something you wouldn't think needed to be said, but after people made those changes, discussed them, and they said "yeah, we'll make sure they're implemented going forward," you get one guess as to who actually had to spend days to weeks making those changes. Hint: it's me.

Third, keep yourself and your work up to date. This dovetails off of a few points Mandelin makes in his list, but there's a little more to it than that. A lot of people see the work as one-pass and finished, and unfortunately, due to the sheer volume of text in VN translations, that's true more often than not just to keep yourself sane. You need to get in a habit of doing some work regularly. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Keeping everybody else in the dark of what you're doing, and then pushing through utterly massive changes all at once is a recipe for disaster. It makes it unduly arduous for people to check and verify your changes, and increases the likelihood of problems, not reduces them. I've had two separate projects where an editor (two different ones) pushed through an almost completely top to bottom rewrite of the entire game script at the last second (or after, even). I didn't review either. In one case, I simply threw out every single change. The other ended up being what was released, even with in-script control codes accidentally corrupted. Feel free to guess which was which.


The unifying theme among those three points is communicate. Those who do not, drive me crazy. The translator should be focused on translating, not spending their valuable and ever-draining time and motivation having to babysit unruly children. The projects I look back fondly on are the ones that were characterized by being able to actually work, not spend a nontrivial time every single day hounding and begging people to actually do what they had promised, or would be paid to do.

I can't think of any pithy one-liner joke to close on, so have some more dog girls. I'll be back on Friday to roll my eyes at whatever nonsense Sword and Siluca are getting into. Happy year of the dog.


Posted in Unimportant Crap | 3 Comments »

3 Shouts From the Peanut Gallery

  • Tolrin says:

    Well I guess I can be happy that I don’t think any of these things applied directly to me… although I think I recognize several of the cases alluded too.

    In any case, if you ever decide to do some new (or old?) project to fill the awful anime void, you know where to find me!

  • chemin-de-fer says:

    But you know, sometimes it’s fun to rewrite an entire game’s scripts. Especially when you look back and correct gross mistakes as an initiated.

  • NZPIEFACE says:

    As someone that has a mainly does short non-h doujins TLs, I feel that most of this doesn’t apply to me as most of my stuff can be done in a day if I focus enough.

    Though I’ve certainly learned what you’re trying to convey, and I think it’s pretty valuable so I’ll try sharing it to people I know, like that dude doing the Yosuga no Sora TL.