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Shih Tzu

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12:54 am: 洞窟物語物語
Hey! Anyone remember this post? Probably not, that was over five years ago.

Way back sometime in the 2001-2002 school year, when I was in Japan for the first time, someone online pointed me to a Japanese freeware game called Ikachan, a short and unpolished but unique game about the adventures of a little squid. The author's profile said he lived in Kyoto. Neat, so do I, I thought, we could meet up, haha. His site also featured some crazy-ass comics and something that looked like sprite sheets for a new game he had in development. Wonder if that'll be any good.

The year 2005 was rotten overall for me and my family, for various reasons. I'd come back from Japan after a year of English-teaching grind and moved back in with my parents. I had no real job outside of part-time library shelving and no idea what to do with my life. An initially very promising application to a government job dragged on and on for months, until on December 30 I finally got a letter clarifying that the position was no longer available. (Happy New Year!) And then there were the family medical issues, and oh, let's not forget the eBay tussle my parents got into with Angry Clavichord Man.

As it turned out, the highlight of my year got itself over with right at the beginning, when Gideon Zhi poked me on IRC and asked if I wanted to be the translator for some new freeware game he'd heard about, and if so, could I also contact the creator and ask permission. Oh hey, I think this is that Ikachan guy, crazy. I tried the game out. Seems OK. One hour turned into two, into five. This is... actually pretty great. The gameplay was classical yet inventive, the environments lively, the difficulty curve perfectly tuned, the characters simple yet sincere. This is exactly why I wanted to study Japanese. Translating this would be so much fun. The game was 洞窟物語, "Dōkutsu Monogatari". We called it Cave Story.

The actual translation was a whirlwind affair, something like a week of core translation, a week of editing, a week of testing and final polish. My life was sleep-library-translate-sleep-library-translate, with the occasional interlude of "You are going to get those grad school applications in on time, right?" "It's fine, Mom, I'm doing it [no i am not i am translating games about robots and bunny people]." Thanks in no small part to the kind assistance of the author, Pixel, we got the patch out before January was over. I liked the game, but it was just some random freeware on the internet. I figured the right people would enjoy it.

There are more right people, apparently, than I realized.

They told their friends. Their friends told their friends. Major sites and magazines found excuses to sneak it into their coverage. People drew art. Reorchestrated the soundtrack. Cosplayed. Discussed which parts of the game moved them to laughter or tears. Messages of gratitude began arriving on Pixel's BBS from Finland, Hungary, Alaska, Taiwan, Chile. Pouring his soul into this tiny world of tragedy and wonder, Pixel had released it to the world as a gift, and by some miracle I had mostly managed not to smash it to bits in transit. That love began to come back to him tenfold.

There are so many things I'd love to surprise my five-years-ago self with to brighten the skies of that dismal year. That just months later I'd break into the game industry and get to do localization full-time. That I'd be moving halfway across the country to Silicon Valley. That Pixel and I would become pen-pals, and I'd get to meet up with him and his family in Kyoto for yakitori and karaoke. And that Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya would get to realize his dream of seeing a game he had made presented to a modern console audience.

Cave Story, the WiiWare edition, goes on sale later today in North America. I'm not involved with this version of the game (for various reasons, the publisher went with an in-house translation), but I'm truly humbled ever to have had any connection with it at all. The journey it took is not one I would have ever foreseen. To everyone out there who believed in Pixel's magical little world, who shared it with a friend, who recovered a piece of their childhood, who took his sheer joy of creation as a personal inspiration:

Thank you. You rock.

Comments

[User Picture]
From:maps_or_guitars
Date:March 22nd, 2010 02:27 pm (UTC)
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That's beyond awesome. Congratulations! It is wonderful to have had a hand in a cool thing like that.
[User Picture]
From:shihtzu
Date:March 22nd, 2010 10:32 pm (UTC)
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Thank you! It totally is.
From:tamakun
Date:March 23rd, 2010 12:49 am (UTC)
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And to think, the game wouldn't have had as wide an audience if it wasn't translated. But as you said, even with just playing it, it's just fun.

I really am kinda interested to know what Pixel feels, knowing that the game was released today. Nervous, maybe?
[User Picture]
From:shihtzu
Date:March 23rd, 2010 04:40 am (UTC)
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That's the hope when you translate, that you can successfully replicate the experience of a work for the benefit of people who, without your interpretation, wouldn't be able to follow the linguistic elements. It's all the egoism of writing without the angst of actually having to form your own ideas. Parasites, we are!

I really am kinda interested to know what Pixel feels, knowing that the game was released today.

Nicalis actually released a pretty detailed interview with him today on Destructoid.

"How does it feel to be able to play your game on a game console?

Of course, it's wonderful to have people play it on the Wii. For me, it's like a dream come true. I think I will tell my family and friends. My wife is still half-believing and half not-believing."
[User Picture]
From:neillparatzo
Date:March 23rd, 2010 03:29 am (UTC)
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*Like*
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From:shihtzu
Date:March 23rd, 2010 04:26 am (UTC)
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*Thank*
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From:harveyjames
Date:March 29th, 2010 12:35 am (UTC)
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You rock!
[User Picture]
From:shihtzu
Date:March 29th, 2010 12:52 am (UTC)
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Thanks!
[User Picture]
From:graphite
Date:March 29th, 2010 04:04 am (UTC)
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Hello! You're amazing. That's ... pretty much it, I guess!

(Also, actually, one of my dreams--I have too many--is to do video game localization. I don't know if it's much of a dream, but wish me good skills? I promise I'm trying.)
[User Picture]
From:shihtzu
Date:March 29th, 2010 08:53 am (UTC)
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Thank you! Good luck and good skills! Better too many dreams than none at all!

And do keep trying -- I've found that one of the best ways to get good at something is to find an excuse to do it as a hobby. I did fan translations and freeware translations long before I ever got into freelance work or full-time localization. And of course language classes are kind of useful.
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