Localis(z)ing Fiction – The Metal Gear Solid story

I recently wrote about translation and some of the challenges that comes with it.

It’s difficult to exactly describe the artistry required to truly localise a text. To characterise the skill and finesse of translation as an art isn’t just puffery – as described in this excellent account of the localisation of the classic video game Metal Gear Solid, featured on Polygon.com this week.

In this fascinating narrative, Jeremy Blaustein describes the “overwhelming job” of translating and localising the 1998 game, which is heavy in plot and dialogue. He writes, “The word “localization” barely existed in the business in 1997”:

I also knew that I couldn’t just jump into a translation without first getting a deep look into the world that [game creator Hideo Kojima] had been swimming in for years while conceiving Metal Gear Solid.

Metal Gear Solid 2

Konami Computer Entertainment Japan/Konami

Metal Gear Solid 1

Konami Computer Entertainment Japan/Konami

 

Interestingly, Blaustein relays his intent during the extended – and isolating – challenge of bringing the philosophical military espionage thriller to a Western audience. It was necessary not just to transpose Japanese words into English, but to convey the correct tone, the subtle characterisation, and even the relationship between characters:

[I tried] to look past the Japanese words to capture the essence of each conversation. I was desperately trying to keep the feeling that Kojima was himself trying to inspire in player.

[…] Translation is not a science; it is an art. One must take liberties with the text to capture the essence of the words, in an attempt to recreate the feeling of the original for a very different audience with a very different cultural background. That essence is found less in the words themselves than in the spaces between the words. It is a tone, an ever-present, unspoken attitude, and in this case it was a very confident tone. It is the mark of a single hand that often gives a work integrity and power, and I didn’t want to put my fingerprint on Metal Gear Solid. I wanted to imitate what I thought Kojima desired from the text.

I recommend reading the engaging full article on Polygon.com. There’s also an interesting take on the need for over-emphasised dialogue and voice acting in PlayStation One-era games in this article from Levelskip.

—DB