A fan-translation story
To briefly introduce myself, I’m a gamer, and fan-translating is my hobby. Fan translation is translating your favorite game from its source language into your mother tongue. It’s a bit different from what we call official translation due to the fact that one can earn you money, and the other cannot. So I guess you can easily classify the category I belong to…
Why am I so into fan translation? The reason is simple: it gives me the freedom to choose the games to translate, and to translate them the way I want to. Well, to be honest, there is one more “tiny” reason for this – seeking internet fame, but it is something we all understand so let’s not delve too deep into it.
That should be enough for an introduction already. Do excuse me for such a long-winded opening. It’s a bad habit nurtured during my school days, being deducted 3 points by your teacher if no introduction is included in an essay. To sum it up, I just want to share my fan-translation experience with the game Dungeon Munchies on Steam.
Disclaimer – I’m not working for Gabe and receive no commission from you purchasing the game. Hence, any accusations that I’m somehow advertising the game are all slanders and fabrications!!!
I don’t know what others do before fan-translating, but I always start with a simple step – playing the game itself. Many people disregard the importance of it. They believe that head-down translating will help resolve everything. But in my book, such an approach only leads to unsatisfactory translations. If one of you reading my blog feels close to home now, then yeah, I’m talking about you! The obvious difference between official translation and fan-translation is that the latter is a version provided by fans and for fans. If you aren’t even playing the game, how can you consider yourself a fan then? Therefore, the very first requirement I set for my team before translating a game is that at least one member has to play the hell out of that game, and that member should be the core translator or editor lead of the project.
Let us now come back to the game Dungeon Munchies. It was shown in the list of 12 daily games Gabe thinks that I should buy (and he’s usually correct). I gave it a quick glance, and what did I see? Anime Waifu, Platformer, Metroidvania, Cooking. That’s enough, shut up and take my money. Like a proper wealthy upper-class man in the Vietnamese gamers community, I made a purchase on Steam without hesitation (the price being 188.000 VND, I’m such a fucking rich man) and played it.
… 10 hours later.
I went back to reality with a face full of tears and a satisfied smile (it may sound a bit creepy, but it’s fine, as all hardcore gamers are creepy anyway). Let’s not focus too much on the gameplay mechanics and graphic quality (they were really good, by the way), what really blew me away was the game plot. It is the best one I have ever played in the past 5 years. If you have some doubts, just take a quick look at its reviews on Steam (97% Overwhelmingly Positive), and most of those reviews are the same “Come for the waifu/cooking/metroidvania, stay for the story“. Such a great game must be translated into Vietnamese right away for our gaming communities to enjoy. Therefore, I immediately kicked off the fan-translation project.
Our process of fan-translating a game, in general, is like this:
- Choose the game to fan-translate
- The technical team hacked away the game to find in-game texts, this process is called “datamine”
- Look for a good and compatible Vietnamese font
- The translation team translates all the in-game texts into Vietnamese
- The technical team puts the translated texts back into the game
- Live-testing and QA (Quality Assurance) directly by playing the game and fixing any errors (such as typos or out-of-context translations) on the spot
- Release the fan-translation patch on our website, fanpage and other Vietnamese fan-translation communities (for bragging rights)
Problems turned up right at the second phase. The technical team pulled the texts out of the game and informed me that they were FUBAR-level messy, which means the in-game texts had been encrypted and everything we gathered at that moment was a disordered bunch of texts in 8 different languages. Some game developers often encrypt their games; I’m not sure why; perhaps they want to protect copyright or whatever. But on our side, we’ve often faced such problems and to solve them we’ll have to put in a lot of time and effort.
Fortunately, we suddenly found these lines in that messy bunch of texts.
As a person growing up in the pile of corpses that Conan and Kindaichi left behind, I immediately made a brilliant deduction – this game’s developer had planned for a Vietnamese localization. Elementary, my friend.
Therefore, I modified my strategy. Instead of miserably pulling out the texts and meticulously putting them back, I contacted the game developer directly. I offered to provide them with the game’s Vietnamese version (for free, of course). Fortunately, this game’s developer is Taiwanese and they are very friendly, so they give us the green light. They sent us an Excel file containing all the in-game texts in proper order, with each line specifying the speaker’s name following the in-game process. Perfect!
Let me explain why we hadn’t contacted the developer right in the first place. We’ve done it so many times before, and the results were mostly negative. Big game developers (like Square Enix for example) don’t give a shit about us. Chinese indie game developers (the genre we’ve translated most often) often face legal issues inside their own country; therefore, they’re afraid to use the localization services offered by foreign companies. Instead, they prioritize the ones from Chinese agencies (mostly of below-average quality). We’d had a false impression that this studio came from China, but they turned out to be Taiwanese instead.
The third step was to find an appropriate Vietnamese font. This game used Pixel Graphic style, so we needed a Vietnamese Pixel font. And we found it here.
Our team wants to thank the person who provided this free font. We love Vietnamese in the same way you do!
And next came the most exciting but nerve-racking phase of the process – Translating. The text volume of this game was not that much, only about 100K words. Compared to other Open World RPG games, it is definitely nothing, but considering that I was the only translator for the whole game, it’s quite an enormous task. In the official translation industry, the average productivity of a translator is 2000 words per day. In other words, it should take 50 days (2 months) to finish the translation. But who am I? I am a fan-translator, passionate, and don’t have a life. Therefore, I activated Beast Mode and finished the translation in 5 days.
… A round of applause, if you please!
One interesting thing in the translation phase was that the game’s context shared many similarities to Vietnam’s (all Southeast Asian countries are kinda alike, actually). And its content had many official documents and reports of all kinds, which required an administrative translating style. This was something that I hardly kept myself in touch with as I’m a fiction translator (often translating novels, science-fiction content, etc.). So I had to conduct online research on many administrative documents and governmental statements to create an eloquent, strong, and “governmental” translation. It gave me a strange and weird feeling but not bad at all. It can be a valuable experience if I become a leader one day (possibly in the next life, but who knows?).
Naming the characters was quite a challenging task that troubled me for quite some time (a whole 5 minutes). Because the original game was from Taiwan, the characters’ names were initially created based on Taiwanese names such as Chi-wai, Shu Pan, Guan Yu, Ya-Ting, etc. And they became Tyler, Emma, Uncle Z, after being localized into English. I gave myself the right to convert those names into the ones which sound familiar to Vietnamese players. They finally turned out to be Hồng Đức, Anh Tuấn, Minh Anh, Phước, etc. But the names of the game’s two main female characters, Simmer and Grill in English, couldn’t be easily translated as what they literally mean in Vietnamese. However, I found a way. Simmer and Grill in the game exemplified two different cooking styles of these 2 characters, one from the East with simmered food and the other from the West with grilled food. Their clothes were also classified into 2 types of chefs: Eastern (Đông) and Western (Tây). As a result, I picked Đông Nhi (eastern girl) and Tây Nhi (western girl) as their names, with “Nhi” in Vietnamese referring to a girl. I feel that these names sound cute and still remain clearly separated in meaning when talking about their different styles.
Disclaimer – The name Đông Nhi has nothing in relevance to the singer Đông Nhi. Pure coincidence, I guess?
After finishing the translation, I handed it over to my close partner in the game translation industry – MercTrans JSC. They helped me to do QA for the whole translation and fixed errors (also for free, of course). Simultaneously, I sent the translation to the developer to build a beta branch on Steam for live-testing (checking the translation quality directly by playing the game). I also requested the developer for 10 game keys on Steam so that I could give MercTrans as well as my friends free access to the game and they helped me check for errors in the Vietnamese version while playing.
Thinking back, it’s so unfair. The translator (me) has to squander money on the game purchase, contact the developer, and translate everything. While my goddamn friends only needed to sit on their ass, receive free keys and enjoy the game already in Vietnamese. One vital lesson can be learnt from this experience – Don’t be the translator guy, be his besties instead…
The next phase had almost no problems, only fixing some misspellings and typos and implementing adjustments that better suited the characters’ personality and contexts. MercTrans’ editor and I argued quite a lot on some minor things. When the whole translation was finally ready, I informed the game developer, and one day later, Dungeon Munchies announced an update with the content below:
If you are playing the game please don’t forget to change the language to Vietnamese. Some may feel more comfortable playing games in English, but please don’t do that with Dungeon Munchies. This game has a cultural context very close to that of Vietnam, so playing it in Vietnamese will give you the best experience. In addition, even though the English version was quite well-translated (compared to other Chinese-based games), it still encompasses some misunderstandings and unsuitable amendments due to a culture gap and the lack of utmost comprehension by its translators.
As a game fan-translator, I hope more people will play games in their mother tongues and respect them like we’re doing to Vietnamese. I’m a simple man, and I believe that no other languages are as beautiful as mine. Thanks for your time reading this long and rambling story!
5 seconds for credits.
P/s: The “handsome” part is true, seriously!!