In my free time I like translating retro games. I’ve been thinking of a good way to share my work with others for many months now, and nothing seems appropriate. I’ve been coming back to Secret of Mana recently for instance, there was quite a few things that I re-discovered by playing the original japanese version, but the whole thing translated is a little over 30 pages, with dialogues varying in importance from major plot point to random NPC chatter. I can’t simply release the document as it is, it would be a chore to read. Especially because most readers would only be interested in finding the interesting parts, those that were actually lost in translation at the time.
I’ve toyed with other ideas of course: publishing an in-depth comparison of the original translation with mine, even as a video, was my first idea, but it’s a lot more work and it cannot be exhaustive. In the end I believe the only way is to let people play the game and re-discover the content at their own pace, with the new translation on top. Naturally, ROM patching was out of the question. Part of the reason why Secret of Mana’s original translation was so poor was that the translator at the time was asked to cut his work in half, because of the storage space limitations. No, I needed something that could get rid of all constraints, hence the idea of live translation.
When I heard about ZTranslate and VGTranslate, I thought could be a solution. But, I don’t believe in what they do, or more to the point, in how they do it. OCR is unreliable, especially for Japanese (in some games, kanji are barely legible, even to a human), and the process is painfully slow. I am looking for something that would work in realtime, as to be completely transparent for the player.
I’m also looking for a way to provide a catered translation of a whole game, not a collaborative refinement of an automated process. I’m not against collaborative efforts, but translation is a peculiar thing. Most of the time there isn’t an “objective translation” so reaching some form of consensus on the translation of a game is impossible. My work isn’t necessarly better than anyone else’s, but it’s consistent. It was planned, and thought as a whole package, if you see what I mean.
So here I am, wondering if there would be a way to slap a translation live on top of a game through RetroArch in the future. The idea would be to use memory checks, similar to what RetroAchievements does actually. But instead of awarding a trophy for triggering specific conditions in memory, it would trigger a text to be displayed on top of the game.
Naturally, such a system would only work with hand-crafted translations, and would require translators to do extra work to map everything out, although with a big enough community mapping and translating could easily be done by different persons. Right now though I don’t mind doing both. I believe this is the only way to provide accurate realtime translation.
The problem I’m seeing is that RetroArch doesn’t support plugins, and it would be tough to include that in the base software unless there was a large following. (Although this project could technically accept translation efforts from pretty much anyone, even multiple translations for a single game, so it has potential). I suppose I’d have to provide a fork of RetroArch at first…
Why am I posting this, you wonder? Well I’d love to hear about anyone’s feeling on the matter. Would you find that interesting, as a player, as a translator, as a developer; could it be done differently, etc. Maybe ZTranslate is a better solution, and I just fail to see its potential? My idea involves a lot of work, so I’d rather find out what people think about it first