Interview: The SegaGaGa Translation Project

For those of you that are old-school Sega Junkies (especially fans of the Dreamcast), you may have heard of Sega’s simulation adventure that puts you in control of the (at the time) beloved hardware and software maker.   Segagaga was filled with lots of fanboy humor and put you on a mission to beat Sega’s competitor, “DOGMA” (which is a parody of the PS2-era Sony).  Sounds like a Dreamcast fanboy’s dream come true, huh?  Well, the only problem is that the game never made it’s way out of Japan and, so far, those that are interested in playing the game have to work along with guides found online.

Fortunately, there is skilled team out there that has been working painstakingly at translating the whole game and developing a patch for this Dreamcast title so that we may all enjoy it in English.   This project has been going on for about 5 years so far (see this GameSetWatch interview from 2006), but it’s still kicking.   Racketboy forum members have been checking in on the project’s status along the way and RB regular, Original_Name took it upon himself to interview the Segagaga Translation project’s manager, James Howell (of DEALTAHEAD Translation Group) to share some current details of the project.  (You can also keep tabs on the project’s blog)

Anyway, onward with the interview…

For those of us who aren’t familiar with your company, what can you tell us about DELTAHEAD in terms of personnel, objectives, aspirations, et cetera? How has DELTAHEAD changed since the project began?

We should clarify that this project is pursued independent of DELTAHEAD. None of the resources or work put into Segagaga’s public domain localization belong to DELTAHEAD, and the project very much stands on its own.

Our team consists of James Howell and Jerel Smith, project and production managers, along with our lead translator Justin Boley and senior designer Brady Hartel. All of us have been involved with large localization projects in some form or another in the past, and we bring a lot of professional experience and talent to our collaboration. Additionally, we’ve been in touch with some of the game’s original development staff on an unofficial basis.

We should also note that this has not comprised our team over the entirety of the years that we’ve been working on Segagaga’s public domain localization. We’ve enjoyed the aid of a number of other translators and programmers along the way, too many to list here, all of whose contributions we’ll credit when we project finishes.

Segagaga Welcome

Many of us have been aware of this project for years. In that time, how much have you and your team been able to accomplish?

We have a bit over one-third of the game’s raw text translated, with approximately one-fourth of that text in near-final form. Please don’t correlate the amount of time that it’s taken to get this far with how much time we’ll need for the remaining two-thirds, though. As noted in the project’s blog, our pace has increased remarkably with the hard work of our present lead translator, Justin Boley, and we’ve progressed more rapidly through the gameplay segments during the past months than we had during the previous year.

We’re heartened and rejuvenated by the new gait, and we think others should be too. Due to changed priorities in response to the earthquake and tsunami disasters of the past month, we’ve directed our efforts toward revision and text maintenance during the past weeks. We intend to continue forward once those responsibilities relax.

Can we get any rough estimate in quantitative terms how much work remains or how long it will be until we can play a translated Segagaga?

We hope to have the text translated within the year. Unfortunately, the largest obstacles to a completed patch might lie beyond the realm of translation and wordsmithing. We still need assistance working through some coding problems that will create the localization patch. Main among those problems is the need to work around the absence of a half-width English font in the game.

A half-width English font allows more text to appear on the screen due to letters compressed to a more natural size, whereas the full-width English characters exclusively present in the game restrict the displayable character count of each translated line. We need greater flexibility in word-space for our work, and we’re seeking expertise and experience to see this need through. We have some partial tools developed from previous efforts, but our current staff is not qualified to advance these partial tools to a completed state.

When it does come out, what will we be playing it on? In a previous interview with GameSetWatch you said you planned to code a patch which you could burn onto a backup of Segagaga to play with an actual Sega Dreamcast. Is this still the plan? Will the game be playable on emulators?

Our goal has been (and remains) to grant players the experience of playing Segagaga as it was meant to be played: on a television hooked up to a Dreamcast, preferably through an S-video cable. Our work will be playable on emulators to the extent that any other Dreamcast content is playable on emulators.

Beyond technical reasons, however, we want the game to be playable on the Dreamcast in the spirit of poetic justice. Segagaga revels in Sega’s history and openly confesses hyperbolic love for the very system it calls home, and we think that there would be a sense of creative betrayal were that not possible.

Speaking personally [James], I have a ton of fond memories of the Dreamcast. At the time of its launch, a friend of mine had the North American console as well as an imported Japanese Dreamcast. We used this setup to play games that required the wait for localization (like Code Veronica) as well as games whose experience was more visceral than verbal (like Street Fighter III: W Impact and later Third Strike, as well as Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure). Even though they’re no longer in production, I still want people to have a Dreamcast — even Dreamcasts! I love the tactile presence of the hardware, even the giant moonpie controller, and I think that no experience of Segagaga is complete without seeing the SGGG logo between your thumbs on the VMU display.

Segagaga Wallpaper

You’ve stated that the translation will be released in the form of a patch which can be applied to a back-up of the game, but I’ve seen a good deal of confusion on a handful of forums as to why exactly you’re taking this approach since the majority of translations in the Dreamcast scene have been released as entire standalone CDIs. Because of the large quantities of files and cut-scenes, along with the presumably high data volume expected of a patch, the translation is expected to be played on multiple discs. Could you clarify the advantages of taking the approach of multiple patches separately applied to multiple back-ups of the same game?

While technical details of the future patch remain in flux, one certainty remains: it will be a patch. The ultimate issue here is respect for Sega’s ownership of the Segagaga license. We will distribute our original content alone, and we do not plan to circulate data copyrighted by Sega. The specific form of our patch remains to be determined.

Speaking of cut-scenes, how extensively will you be altering them from their original state in terms of compression, audio, and handling Japanese background text?

As of now, we intend to implement subtitles into all of the game’s cutscenes and, barring any unforeseeable obstacles, localize as much of the visual content as possible while best maintaining the quality of the raw movie files contained on the disc.

The more challenging content, in this regard, will be certain videos with text superimposed over the focal action, in addition to textures that serve as part of a 3D or 2D background.

In the case of the former, one of Segagaga’s videos features footage from an older TGS where Dogma (Sega’s rival in the game) is promoting their new console. This video has foreground text such as you might see during a news broadcast as a footage watermark, and we’d like to replace that Japanese text with its English equivalent.

On the technical side of things, what has been your biggest challenge over the course of the project? What difficulties are you currently facing?

Following from the previous question — and in addition to the half-width font obstacle named above — our biggest technical hurdle at the moment lies in identifying, dumping, and converting graphical texture files on the disc. This is so we can open these files in image manipulation software to translate and replace the Japanese text that appears in the backgrounds and play field. In certain instances, the player’s ability to understand this text is crucial to the gameplay or appreciating the context of dialogue in the plot.

As with the character width issue, we’re always seeking those with expertise on this matter.

Segagaga Case

On the cultural and linguistic side, making the wacky Japanese jokes and references in Segagaga comprehensible to the western gamer has presumably been a massive challenge for you and your staff — how have you gone about effectively translating the dialogue without forsaking gamers of too much of the game’s personality?

This is a complex issue, and the degree to which Segagaga is embedded in otaku subculture complicates it further. A translation will never be the same as the original, and efforts to belabor an English version of originally Japanese material into something more “authentically Japanese” often turns out simply bad. With that said, certain elements can commute between languages — elements such as tone, voice, and dynamic delivery.

We emphasize correlating those more widely shared aspects of human communication in our work. The English language has a wealth of literary and linguistic resources available to meet those needs. We take some inspiration from existing stylized translations such as Kajiya Productions’ work on a variety of Square-Enix franchises along with the Phoenix Wright games.

We have an easier job converting media references in Segagaga now, in the year 2011, than a translator would have faced in 2001, the year of the game’s release. More referenced material has been made available through international localizations than was available in 2001, and we can more easily correlate our language choices with the translation decisions made by whoever translated the referenced material into English. In addition to the availability of a greater quantity of material, some of the referents that existed back in 2001 have had an opportunity to circulate and become more mainstream. This, again, allows us to lean on the decisions of previous translators when echoing their internationalized versions of the Japanese referents.

Let’s get into a few specific examples. Developers in Segagaga’s R&D Labs become monsters due to the incredible stress of development deadlines, and the game describes this in terms of the noxious fungal miasma that overwhelms Earth in Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Since 2001, Studio Ghibli’s work has received mainstream acceptance because of their distribution through Disney. Since Segagaga makes reference to the original Japanese version of Nausicaä, we can turn to the most widely disseminated English version of that same material for our word choices.

This process isn’t as simple as it might sound, however, since multiple translations of a reference might exist in English. Fist of the North Star references are a perfect example. At least three characters play off popular Fist of the North Star characters (Kenshiro, Shin, and Sarge), and more than one translation for these characters exists. We contacted a guy who actually worked on the most recently distributed version of the Fist of the North Star anime and asked him to review our renditions of Segagaga’s characters to ensure that they’re faithful to those characters’ tones. (That translator, by the way, is our current lead translator, Justin Boley.)

Not all of the material referenced in Segagaga has been made available in English, however. In the first RPG segment, R&D Lab A, Taro (the game’s protagonist) likens one NPC’s plight to a children’s story by Kanji Miyazawa, Obbel and the Elephant. To appreciate its cultural relevance, you might think of it as equivalent to Where the Red Fern Grows or Where the Wild Things Are. It’s a story that most Japanese would know because they encountered it in grade school, but it isn’t available anywhere in English.

The game is very clearly set in Japan and is about the Japanese games industry. Our localization attempts to make that accessible rather than occluded. Given that, it would be disingenuous to find analogues for all references not available in English, much as it might be disingenuous to “localize” a specific reference to, say, the island Honshu by correlating it with something Western like mainland UK. There’s a point past which we adapt references literally in order to preserve the spirit of the material.

Those are some specific illustrations of the decisions we face. With all of that in mind, any alterations in content will be as thoroughly considered as possible.

Segagaga English Screenshot

What about all the crazy parody video game box-art with phonetic Japanese puns — how are you handling the likes of “Valkyrie Frohaile” or “Rokujoman”?

These are still in progress. In order to make translation of these titles even technically feasible, we’ll need some way to access the texture files in the .mrg archives. Otherwise, we won’t have any way to amend the faux covers, rendering specific translations of those titles impractical.

In a similar vein, a big Segagaga enthusiast at the Talk-Dreamcast Forums by the handle “Captain Dreamcast” has a very specific question for you…

“How will you translate the cracker guy with the ski mask from R&D B/Akihabara?

You know, this is a very personal question. In one of ‘em text-only translations he was translated as the Deprogrammer. So my question is, will you call him the Depro again, or give him some mistranslated name?

Our translation remains under constant revision, so we’re not at a point where we can conclusively say how we’re going to translate any particular item. With that said, we have not consulted any preceding translations of Segagaga in our work.

The character in question does, in fact, have the nickname “Depro” in katakana, so that option is on the table for his name; however, we will make amendments to the game’s content when its original phrasing is steeped enough in wordplay to make one-to-one semantic translation incomprehensible, inelegant, or anything else that falls short of our quality goals. We have consulted multiple sources for advice in these instances — some of the Japanese development staff among them — so fans of the game can rest assured that any changes have been given the most thorough consideration.

This is a very humorous game with a ton of goofy moments — so far, which scene has made the team laugh the most? Are there any golden quotes you think will catch on with the cult Sega gamers?

The games released by Dogma are great. They’re genre parodies, mostly, and when Dogma releases one of their games, Alis analyzes it with the TeraDrive (Sega’s supercomputer). The AI gives a short profile on its title, genre, and intended audience.

One game’s title is comprised of two adjoined kanji (phonetically YUUKEN) and could be literally translated as “Bear Fist,” riffing off of the name TEKKEN, “Iron Fist”. As you might guess, this is a fighting game.

We find ourselves especially tickled by the way that the environment which originally cultivated YUUKEN’s premise has, during the ten years since Segagaga’s original release, recently become relevant once more to fighting game culture. To illustrate what we mean, here are some excerpts from the TeraDrive’s analysis:

With a grand total of 128 playable characters, this game’s unbalanced gameplay is its key selling point.

It appeals to experienced fighting game enthusiasts and scrubs alike . . . and has an Emergency Do-Over feature that lets players fix their mistakes.

Players like the grossly overpowered top tier characters because they always know who’s going to win.

Both the language used (scrubs, top tier) and concepts entertained (128 playable characters, Emergency Do-Over feature) effectively mirror the loving cynicism that surrounds concern for the future of fighting games. The prescience of Segagaga’s writing is as apt as the sentiments it characterizes. A full decade later, those sentiments have proven to be ultimately alarmist. Even so, the jokes strike a familiar nerve in a way that those intimately familiar with the fighting game scene will surely appreciate.

Our current translation of the game’s title is YUUKEN ~Never Give Up~. Preserving the transliterated title maintains the surface echoes of the intended resemblance to TEKKEN. The subhead title, ~Never Give Up~, stems from our long-standing (and self-aware) appreciation for well-meaning English affectations in similar titles (such as Dynasty Warriors: Fighter’s Battle, Fatal Fury 3: Road to the Victory, or Samurai Shodown: Edge of Destiny). It also nods to the spirit of the Emergency Do-Over system: in a fighting game wherein mistakes become second chances—you can never give up.

Segagaga English Screenshot

Segagaga is already a very compelling game because it is one of the most intimately self-referential video games ever made by one of the most storied and significant video game companies, but it is made significantly moreso by the fact that said company was experiencing an incredibly turbulent period in their history which ultimately lead to their buyout and, in the eyes of a number of true-blue fans, their demise. Segagaga was written right as Sega was approaching the apocalypse, so to speak. How do you think this affects the way Sega portrays themselves and the industry in the game? Is this ultimately a celebration or a vindication… or a little bit of both?

Many of the references to Sega and the videogame industry are offered ambiguously. One of Segagaga’s strengths is that it observes the games industry without being overtly didactic. It accomplishes that effect by blending industry references with anime-style hyperbole. (Tez Okano’s interview with Edge Magazine [http://www.next-gen.biz/features/the-story-sega%E2%80%99s-oddest-game-ever] is crucial to a close understanding of Segagaga.)

Along with that, Segagaga is a celebration of the creative spirit and especially the creative passion that throbbed within Sega’s development staff, resulting in those knockout games that Sega’s known for. The game is partial to old Sega’s creative soul, and that spirit is faithfully reflected upon in Segagaga. Much of Sega’s past is acknowledged in broad strokes, though specific instances don’t receive the kind of exploration that old Sega’s creative legacy does.

Sega’s creative identity is one of Segagaga’s primary themes, and the game is honest enough to recognize that its creative identity relates to its corporate identity. In a sense, no creative effort “exists” without the means to circulate its concrete results, and those means are administrative and corporate. Emily Dickinson — now recognized as an indispensible asset to American poetry — was virtually unknown until Higginson and Todd’s posthumous publication of her work in 1890. In literature, editors and booksellers provide the means for this circulation; in videogames, brand publishers and gamesellers provide the same.

Segagaga recognizes that business and market decisions deeply impact the creative process, and it shows the tug-of-war between those forces. More than any other game, I think, it illustrates that there is no such thing as a “pure” game — that videogames are a compromise between directorial vision, corporate expectations, deadlines, and market impact.

The interplay of these forces lies at the heart of Segagaga’s discourse about the industry and Sega itself. However, the game isn’t overtly didactic. Segagaga dramatizes specific development scenarios, and it explores the market and corporate influences present in that hypothetical situation, but it will more often make general statements about the creative spirit and lifestyle rather than the corporate process.

Segagaga emphasizes the sense of personal accountability that game devs feel toward their work. The majority of its criticism toward Sega can be applied to spirited developers in any studio as they struggle to create strong titles despite limited resources and unexpected market demands.

Here’s a melodramatic one: as a swan song, will Segagaga give the tormented Sega fans the closure they’ve searched for since the Dreamcast’s cancellation, or do its optimistic motifs showing faith that future triumphs would come for the company (as seen in the lyrics of the “Sega March”) only salt the wounds in light of the company we see today?

Like fans of any franchise or developer, Sega fans run a spectrum from hopeful to lamenting. Likely, individual fans will find their feelings about Sega confirmed within Segagaga because the game seeks to present a simplified yet balanced view of the company and the industry alike. While this might sound like it dooms the reflective value of Segagaga to mere subjectivity, the flip side is that alternative points of view — optimistic and resigned alike — exist in the game to challenge and modify what players bring to the game. It’s an enriching experience.

One of your blog posts in particular illustrated the incredible lengths you’ve gone to in order to make sure this is a masterful translation of Segagaga, paying great attention to the intricacies of how not only diction, but enunciation affects how a character is read and perceived. Clearly you have quite the mind for linguistics — how far do you think this attention to detail will go for the average gamer?

On the note of style, Alex O. Smith is a particular favorite of ours [James and Jerel]. Both the knack for and love of language makes a world of difference. In Smith’s case, he’s conversant with several living and dead European and Asian languages. Learning new grammars enlarges the imagination and suggests fresh possibilities for expression in one’s fluent languages, especially if the knowledge collides with an active literary imagination. Creative vision, a love of the sensuality of verbal rhythms, and (very importantly) experience with taking expressive risks will always improve the quality of one’s work, no matter how silly or grounded the material.

For my part [James], I have an MA in Poetry; I am conversant with Anglo-Saxon, Middle English, and Old Norse; and I have working knowledge of German, Faroese, and Japanese. Knowledge of the literary rhythms and grammars of these languages inform my approach to our work, and I think that these influences will echo with similarly inclined members of our audience.

As a point of comparison, my background prepared me to recognize and appreciate the significance of the use of iambic pentameter in Alex O. Smith’s rendition of the Occuria in Final Fantasy XII. That stylistic decision associated the Occuria’s speech with the loftiness of formal speech that iambic pentameter conveys in Shakespeare’s work, and it elevated the script’s dramatic quality for me, as a player. Not everyone caught that nuance, but it impacted my appreciation of the scene and has stuck with me over the years. In conversation with other players about Final Fantasy XII, however, I’ve learned of nuances in that translation that I overlooked during my playthrough of the game. That’s because the translation is sophisticated on a number of different levels — wordplay, semantics, meter, and so on.

Superior work in language often consists in achieving different kinds of linguistic quality — rhythmic, semantic, and sonic — not all of which everyone may appreciate at first. The pursuit of holistic quality improves all elements of the work and, in the process, will touch the experience of even those players who are more interested in semantic communication rather than stylistic nuances. Even better, this approach leaves more for the player to discover in the language during successive playthroughs. It can serve as a reward that parallels the pleasures of experiencing a variety of outcomes through the gameplay itself.

For the budding programmers, will you be releasing any of the tools your tech-wizards over at DELTAHEAD have created for the Segagaga project to the public in order to make future Dreamcast translations quicker and easier?

Since the project is very much a collaborative effort, we can’t speak for the work that others will bring to our final product. As such, we will leave those decisions in the hands of the individuals who actually develop whatever tools we use.

The previously mentioned “Captain Dreamcast” has released the best-optimized CDI release of Segagaga and would like to offer you his services if desired — are you looking for the help of any highly-able members of the gaming community at large? And what about us average folk, what can we do to help?

We’d like to take this opportunity to re-affirm that we still don’t accept donations to our project. While we’re bringing a high level of attention and skill to this task, our work is divorced from any compensation whatsoever. We appreciate the spirit in which people offer these donations, and we respectfully refuse them.

With that said, we currently seek technical help in the matters described in this interview. To reiterate those needs: we specifically need a programmer capable of adding a half-width font to the game to accommodate the length of the script, and we need someone capable of writing tools to access game file archive and graphic formats. Anyone interested in taking a whack at it can reach us through the blog or at SegagagaPatch@gmail.com.

17 Comments

  1. violet says:

    I can’t wait for this patch! been waiting for this day forever. ahhh, just shows how awesome sega was to make a game about what they were going through at the time.

  2. samsonlonghair says:

    I’m impressed by the thoughtfulness of this translator.

  3. Eddie C says:

    This brings tears of joy to me. Just to think they´re doing that much work for us Sega fans, and for FREE!!!! Only Sega is able to generate that kind of feelings in us clever gamers. I do expect the rebirth of the Sega hardware ( yes, I do believe) and can´t wait to play this game translated. I actually speak spanish, but english is far better than japanese, so I´ll be counting the days to get my hands on that patch

  4. Anthony817 says:

    Wow, as a person that has self learned Germanic languages myself, albeit not fluently, this part struck a chord with me.

    “For my part [James], I have an MA in Poetry; I am conversant with Anglo-Saxon, Middle English, and Old Norse; and I have working knowledge of German, Faroese, and Japanese. Knowledge of the literary rhythms and grammars of these languages inform my approach to our work, and I think that these influences will echo with similarly inclined members of our audience.”

    I can only hope to one day learn as much as James does, and the love he has for linguistics is inspiring.

    As a die-hard Sega fan, I honestly look forward to this translation more so after reading this interview. Many points were addressed, and I think this should hold us over till the translation is finalized.

    Thanks for such an informative interview.

  5. David Carrington says:

    I do belive that the dreamcast was one of the best consols ever made.The computer game industry has gone a bit lame at the moment so a new consol by sega is needed.segagaga is just one of those games that will never be made agian.The task of translating this cosmic game must be done so that us faithfull dreamcast fans can revel in its glory.Ive tried to play this game and it just can not be done but now theres hope.Even if it takes another 5 or 10 years.
    Good luck ..From..D Carrington.AKA moggiecatmog.

  6. grittykitty says:

    great interview! it’s very moving to know how dedicated people are to this project, especially considering that no one is getting paid – it’s a charity to the gaming community! even better is the level of passion, skill, and knowledge of this team – which i now understand thanks to this interview :)

    setting aside the content of the game, i wonder how well this translation/patch will fare when compared to the policenauts translation/patch from 2 years ago…? i’m very excited to find out, and the segagaga game itself sounds even more amazing than i could have previously imagined

  7. crux says:

    I left a comment on James Howell’s 1up blog in early March, asking why we hadn’t heard anything from him in a year (as his last comment was in March of 2010). A few days later he relaunches his blog. Couldn’t make me much happier!

    It’s fantastic that they’re steaming ahead. There’s a poll at Kirameki of the most desired translations, and Segagaga comes in at number two among a pretty substantial list of games. Hopefully it can be taken off the poll sooner than later. We’ve waited this long; We can wait as long as we need to. There’s a lot of demand, and it would be a shame if the translation wasn’t handled with the utmost respect and meticulous detail. It looks like that is exactly what’s in the pipeline.

    In the mean time, I shall stare at my limited edition Segagaga box with abated breath.

  8. Jean Baudrillard says:

    I’ve been following this since probably 2006 and I now know without a shadow of a doubt that this will never be finished. Five years and half the text isn’t even translated yet and they have no idea how to implement the text if they ever finish that. Reminds me of Shadows of Lylat. Back in high school, I almost bought a $50-100 joystick to play that game when it comes out. I start grad school in a few months. I don’t want to rain on these guys’ parade; I want them to prove me wrong… but as much as I’d love to have a Segagaga translation, I just wouldn’t know how to do it. And they don’t either. And they’ve been trying to find people for half a decade. Still no luck for us. Every year, another how many worthy games get released with no English version? Each one of those sucks up the time of people who could potentially be translating this game, and one or more of them might take people off this team at some point.

  9. Jerry says:

    This game has been on my most wanted list for years. Fingers crossed that it gets a release sometime soonish.

  10. r4 says:

    On my list for so long I can’t even tell you how long it has been. I am so freaking thankful for the work these guys put into it. I have been able to play a lot of the Japanese games I wanted to try when they came out, thanks to the dedication of the people who spend their time translating the game.. Hats off to every single one of them. Amazing to be able to play these great Japanese games.

  11. Joeythesegafan says:

    Dear translator,
    I love you for keeping the dream alive. Maybe sega could learn a thing or two from you and get back in the console wars =3 your my hero keep up the amazing work!!!!!

  12. 3DS says:

    I love this patch!

  13. dan says:

    I love this type of unusual game

  14. J_Wil says:

    I read about this game some months ago in Game Informer. I wanted to kick myself for not being able to read Japanese. It sounds like an awesome, honest, and charming games. I am actually surprised it even exists at all, even in Japan. I wish games like this got ported over to the States. If these folks can get a working patch going I have no doubt that I will be picking this up.

  15. Fred Hols says:

    Meant to be played through s-video? Huh.. why do that? I’d rather play it through RGB (scart-cable) and get a lossless component picture or alternatively vga.

  16. JhonC says:

    C’mon team! Good luck with the translation and not give up! :)

  17. blatz89 says:

    I hope they don’t give up, I’ve had my eyes on this game for a long time, but having to consult a guide back and forth would greatly take away from the experience of the game.