Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Gained In Translation

Despite having teed up today's post as some kind of in-depth analysis, it will in fact be a few screenshots interleaved with a short paragraph or two in which I state the bleedin' obvious. This is because I spent the day driving to the next city over with Mrs Bhagpuss, sorting out various fiscal matters, having lunch next to a pride of lions (Bronze. Photographs may follow.) then throwing a ball for Beryl next to a ravine (Okay, it's a gorge but "ravine" sounds much more dramatic.) before driving home the long way round. Consequently I don't feel like spending the rest of the evening putting a long post together but equally I don't want to think of anything else and I already have the screenshots, so...

Boy, that's really selling it...

Here's a typical page from the newly revised in-game Encyclopedia. It's clear, concise, detailed and very easy to understand. I think it would be fair to say that most players, having taken the trouble to read it, would know just what to look for when a quest told them to go find a totem and just what to do about it when they found one.

In my original run in Chimeraland I never got the hang of totems. They didn't seem very consistent and I couldn't always figure out which ones I needed or why some didn't seem to do anything. I did read the Encyclopedia page but I don't recall that it made much sense.

If I found totems confusing, I found faction incomprehensible. You have to make a choice at character creation but there's no real explanation of what that choice means or why you'd pick one over another, except for the information about resources.

That carries over to the new version, above, which again is from the Encyclopedia. I haven't yet revisited character creation to see if the description there has also been re-written. What you can now clearly understand is that these are PvP factions not, as I thought, NPC factions. When it says "There are three factions in Chimeraland and they are all enemies" it's telling you that you are only safe on your starting continent. Everywhere else you're going to get killed. By other players.

Just in case you missed the memo, here it is again, in even plainer language. Chimeraland is a PvP game. There is open PvP. As it tells you in another perfectly translated panel, which I forgot to screenshot, you're protected until Level 15 but then it's open season. Clearly, on your own continent you're far less likely to run into players from the other factions, which probably explains why I have so far never been attacked by anyone. I'm sure it'd be a different story if I tried to travel outside my Faction's borders. None of this was clear to me until now.

Here's the page on Fishing. Fishing in Chimeraland is very straightforward and very similar to fishing in many other mmorpgs so I had no trouble figuring it out on my own. There was a certain amount of trial and error all the same. I don't recall if I ever looked it up in the Encyclopedia but if I didn't it was because I already knew the information there would be so garbled it would probably leave me more confused than ever. Very much not the case any more.

Here's my favorite example so far. The rocket into space. Much play was made of this feature in the promotional material from the initial SEA launch. It made a big impression on me at the time because it emphasized the huge amount of XP you could get from riding the rocket. 

That, however, was about the sum of the information I was able to glean from the confusing description back then. One of the first things I did in the game was try to find the rocket but nothing really told me where to look. I did eventually find the spot but I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do there and after fiddling around for a while I gave up.

Reading this, it's hardly surprising. The original translation seemed to imply all you had to do was get to the rocket and everything else would happen automatically. In fact, it takes quite a lot of work to get the thing started and even then you have to crawl underneath the damn thng to set it off. It's clear enough now but it sure wasn't then. 

Finally, if only because it's the last screenshot I have, there's the question of all the re-translated quest dialog. Most of this was vaguely comprehensible the first time round but a lot of the finer detail was garbled. I generally got the gist of what Bella, Yenni and the others were trying to tell me but sometimes I just couldn't figure out exactly what they wanted me to do or where they wanted me to go and often I couldn't quite see how one thing connected to something else.

Now it's all beautifully articulated. I haven't been in any doubt about what to do or why I need to do it. What's more, the conversation has a reasonably natural flow, which makes the whole thing feel a lot less like being lectured by an immigration officer and a lot more like being mentored by... well, a mentor.

I'd put up a couple of "Before" shots of the old quest or Encyclopedia text but unfortunately I didn't take any. I realize that means all of this is based on my memory of how it used to be, which is not what you'd call hard evidence but then this isn't a court of law. My impression is that the whole game has been completely and comprehensively re-translated and that whoever did the job did it well.

The question is, does that make the game more or less enjoyable and the answer's not as obvious as you might imagine. It ought to be clear from the many posts I wrote about Chimeraland during my first run that the sheer mystery of the whole thing was one of the key factors driving my engagement with it. 

I loved trying to figure out what was going on. It was like a really interesting puzzle. I got a great sense of satisfaction every time I learned more about how the game worked and it was always a moment when I realised I'd misunderstood something. 

Without that element of confusion, would I ever have become so enmeshed in the game and its world? Didn't the off-kilter translations add to the otherworldly feel of the place? Does it all seem a little more trite, a little less original, now everything's spelled out in good, plain English?

It's very hard to say because with the changes I have the added hook of being able to compare one experience with the other, something that, as this post demonstrates, plays very well with my personal proclivities. I do like to compare and contrast.

Noah's Heart makes a great counterpoint to this argument. The in-game explanations of systems and mechanics, by contrast, are generally clear enough. They could certainly do with some tidying up here and there but a complete re-write wouldn't add that much. There's not a huge amount of enjoyable puzzle-solving to be had by figuring them out so nothing major would be lost with a better gloss. 

Even so, Archosaur should very definitely take a leaf out of Chimeraland's book and get someone to do a proper, accurate, demotic English translation of all the text in the game.That's because Noah's Heart is far more narrative-heavy than Chimeraland. It has reams of story text and dialog, none of which reads well and most of which reads very badly indeed. I would actually pay a modest amount for DLC that rendered the storyline into normal English.

The current  translation varies from barely adequate to barely comprehensible. What that game needs more than anything else, if it ever hopes to be really successful in the West, is the exact same kind of re-translation Chimeraland just received.

I say that with some conviction because I believe players who actually find working stuff out for themselves in mmorpgs make up a fairly small percentage of the playerbase. The demographic that enjoys trying to make sense of badly translated in-game text as a game in itself has to be vanishingly small.

Cheaping out on translation seems to be the norm in imported games and I can't help but think it's one of the reasons so many fail to make much of an impact. Not only are poor translations off-putting to natural English speakers, they have to make playing the game even harder for players trying to pick their way through the explanations using English as a second or third language.

I think on balance even I would prefer solid translations to the dubious thrill of trying to figure out what the original meaning was before it was mangled by a monolingual intern using Google Translate. Chimeraland might not have have seemed quite so bizarre with easy-to-follow instructions but I think it would still have been quite bizarre enough. It is an odd game, after all.

The new translation also gives me an added incentive to carry on playing now I've returned. It doesn't feel quite like walking the exact same path, even though it really is. Things feel just different enough, thanks to the extra clarity, that I might want to get at least as far as I did last time, just to see if there was anything I missed because I couldn't work out what some NPC was trying to say.

I'm pretty sure that must have happened a lot.


  1. Who the heck came up with that as the rocket design? Couldn't they have made it les... oh, never mind. I've learned to stop trying to understand some of these Asian MMO design decisions.

    1. I literally had no idea what you meant there until I scrolled back up and looked at it again. And even then I can only really see what I think you're seeing by the context of your having pointed it out. I actually thought it was a fairly unusual and rather elegant design that reminded me of the pillars in some roman ruins I've visited...


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