Given Siliconera’s emphasis on niche games, a lot of the titles we cover never make it to the Western markets in localized form for a variety of reasons, ranging from financial viability to a general lack of interest. Similar to scanlations and fansubs, this is where fan-translations come in.
The fan-translation community is a fascinating entity. In a way, it isn’t bound by the budgeting and scheduling constraints that restrain so many professional localization publishers. Above all, there’s an inspiring amount of cross-group collaboration, flexibility and passion, without which the progress we’ve seen just wouldn’t be possible.
This week, we caught up with Josh Patterson, co-founder of Crimson Nocturnal, the fan-translation group behind Namco Bandai’s Tales of Hearts (and Summon Night X, and Square Enix’s SaGa2) to get a feel for how the project came about and what the translation process is like.
Co-founder, Crimson Nocturnal — Josh Patterson, (aka neoxephon)
Siliconera — Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan: Could you tell me how Crimson Nocturnal started? How’d you come together, and how did you decide on a name?
Josh: Early last year, I became interested in contributing to the ROM hacking scene. One of the first places I joined up at was GBAtemp and it was there that I met a person that goes by the name Donelwero. He was busy working on a menu patch for Dragon Quest IX and I decided to help him out, if only for fun. We both quickly lost interest in working on a game that would receive official localization and quit that project. Soon after, I contacted him about my interest in starting a project for Tales of Hearts. He shared in that interest and the project started. At first, we did not have a name. Truthfully, our name does not have a greater meaning, it just had a nice ring to it. Both of us liked the sound and we stuck with it.
Shortly after that, I came in contact with DarthNemesis, who is very well known within the GBAtemp community for his contributions to ROM hacking. He has been responsible for programming a large number of custom tools that we use for our projects. I happened upon [ToH translator] Caphi while searching around for a dedicated translator for the Tales of Hearts project. At the time, he was working on a FAQ translating a good portion of the game’s main story. He had interest and shifted his focus to actually translating the game. There are also several others that have joined up and have contributed greatly to their respective projects since then. Crimson Nocturnal is essentially a group of people that are very dedicated to the goal of bringing great games to English speaking gamers, that otherwise would never happen.
Ishaan: Haha, DarthNemesis is kind of popular, especially after his work on Soma Bringer.
What happened after your team banded together? Was there someone in a "producer" role that assigned responsibility to the rest? I’m sort of curious about the production pipeline you set up, since it seems like you have a (relatively) sizable team.
Josh: I’ve been responsible for selecting people to fill the roles. The role of the translators is to, obviously, translate the text within the game and make it somewhat understandable. Sometimes this can be tricky, because the Japanese language does not always translate smoothly to English. The role of the editors are to take those translations and ensure that everything is using proper grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. while (if it is a character’s dialogue) keeping the personality of that character. They are also responsible for checking line lengths. If line lengths aren’t proper, the text will spill off from the screen making a large portion unreadable.
The programmer role focuses on creating the custom tools that we use for the project. For some of our projects, such as SaGa 2 and Summon Night X, this is relatively easy because of the way the game developers set everything up. Usually, the programmer is responsible for creating a text extraction and reinsertion tool as well as possibly an archive unpacker/packer. Some games, such as Tales of Hearts, use custom archive formats (think of .zip). In order to fully translate the game, you need access to the files stored in those archives. You can’t open these with the same utilities that you would for .zip or other common archive formats.
The leader role not only focuses on putting together the team, but also has other responsibilities. These include manual editing of game files (rarely, there will be some parts of files that are near impossible to get working in the text extraction/reinsertion tool), graphic editing, finding newly introduced bugs and fixing them, packaging the patch, and sometimes editing should that area need a extra person. There is also the assistant leader role, which is essentially the right-hand man of the leader and has the same responsibilities.
This team structure is different from other ROM hacking groups. Groups, like Absolute Zero, opt to use smaller teams and then add on editors toward the end of the project. This works for them because they are releasing one patch when it is all done. For us, it is more beneficial to have editing keep pace with translating, that way we can do our periodic releases. We do periodic releases because the teams have found it helps to have community feedback as they go along and it gives us specific milestones to reach.
Ishaan: How do you keep character personalities consistent? Does one of the translators maintain character bios or notes for the editing team to go through?
Josh: Yes, the translators usually have notes about each character’s personality and they are available to everyone on the team. These notes can include everything from the kind of speech the character uses (such as a robot that doesn’t use slang and shortened words or a character that uses Old English), to how a specific character acts toward another character (such as whether they get along or not). We feel it is important to stay true to what the game developers intended the characters to be. It’s especially important with games such as Tales of Hearts, which has characters with very defined personalities.
Look for part 2 next week!