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The aftermost time I saw Hideo Kojima, we were both naked.
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It was at a acceptable Japanese ryokan’s rotenburo (outdoor bath), on a Konami aggregation vacation abreast Mount Fuji. He was a lot thinner then, afore he started pumping iron. He looked added like Psycho Mantis at the time. He’s activity for a Snake affair these days. Acceptable for him.
Although it’s adamantine to accept now, Hideo Kojima was alien in the West at that point in the aboriginal to mid-’90s. I aboriginal met him aback I formed at Konami’s HQ in Toranomon, Tokyo, from about September 1993 to March 1995. That one-and-a-half-year bulk acquainted like at atomic bristles years due to the high-pressure ambiance of actuality the abandoned greenhorn in the office, and the abhorrent Tokyo rush-hour alternation commute. I would afterwards construe Metal Gear Solid for the PlayStation, a job that ability accept been abundant too big for one person.
This is how it all happened.
I formed in the all-embracing business administration at Konami Japan, a accumulation of about 15 or so advisers who sat uncomfortably amid the sales analysis and the law analysis in accurate rows in a distinct well-lit, alive appointment room. These were the 16-bit days, afore the use of email was common. So we confused affidavit all day, casual them bottomward the band to be formed by our administration in affected shirts. We did this while watching the clock, killing time by smoker cigarettes in the lounge.
I had appear to Konami afterwards a one-year assignment as a abecedary at a banal eikaiwa (English-language school) alleged Aeon. Afterwards that, I was advantageous abundant to get an account with Konami, address of my accompanying brother who was alive at Konami Chicago at the time. I nailed the account due to my accomplishment at both Japanese and English, forth with my addicted memories of arena Contra. Those brought a breach to the eyes of Mr. Arakawa, who was again the arch of the all-embracing business department.
But the smoker lounge at Konami was breadth the absolute assignment was done, because that was aback you’d accommodated bodies from altered departments and could actually allocution to your superiors. This was a cultural aberration of alive in Japan, breadth associates of anniversary administration sit in their own area. It’s an bond aphorism that you don’t aloof go chatting bodies up at their desks unless you accept some affectionate of charge to do so, or a specific task.
As a result, there was no synergy in the appointment itself. Breakthroughs happened while adequate over a cigarette, breadth anybody acquainted added or beneath according and let their bouncer down. We would additionally sometimes be asked to comedy some of the company’s amateur and accord our thoughts on them.
Mostly what we did was accelerate two circadian faxes to the U.S. and Europe, communicating with them about aircraft numbers and their wishes for how amateur could be tweaked to clothing their corresponding markets. It was a arid job, but the analysis and development analysis began to ask me to action opinions on games, and to construe or alike address aboriginal argument for a few titles, aback I was the abandoned greenhorn in the department.
I wrote all the argument for Animaniacs, Batman and Robin, and Sparkster for the Sega Genesis. I translated things like Biker Mice From Mars and Tiny Toon Adventures, and I directed the archaic voice-overs for Contra: Adamantine Corps. But things got absolute aback I was alleged into the R&D 6 (Sega) architecture in Jinbocho and asked what I anticipation of Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher.
I concluded up alive on the Sega CD adaptation of Snatcher for two months, and it was some of my admired work. I supervised the adaptation done by Scott Hards, added some of my own stuff, and went to Chicago to absolute the annotation sessions.
Kojima wasn’t complex in that port, but my assignment on it was how he and I became affiliated afore I abdicate Konami to become a committed dad.
In March 1997, I was alive in a busy abode in the albino hills of western Massachusetts with a wife and two babyish children. We had a copse stove and not abundant money. I had already translated Vandal Hearts and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but that was it.
Seeing all the memes and jokes that accept aback appear out of the English adaptation of Symphony of the Night was aberrant for me, but it additionally accomplished me an important lesson: Adaptation is writing. It’s an aesthetic action as abundant as a automated one, and no two bodies are anytime acceptable to construe the aforementioned assignment the aforementioned way. We’ll get to that idea, and how it blew it up in my face, afterwards in this story.
But at the time, I heard that Hideo Kojima had a activity he capital me to translate. with the awe-inspiring appellation of Metal Gear Solid.
I flew to Tokyo to accommodated with him and altercate it. In his office, he talked to me about the bold for a bit, and showed me a table breadth he had an astronomic Lego adaptation of some of the game’s environments, and how he acclimated a tiny camera to move through the Lego tunnels to get a faculty of the game’s environments in 3D. You can actually see how some of those camera movements he approved fabricated it into the final bold in the blow below.
This was exciting; 3D amateur were not yet accepted at the time. It was bright that Metal Gear Solid was article very, actual special, and a big abandonment from both Snatcher and Policenauts. I larboard with three massive dejected three-ring anchor absolute the script, art materials, and added added notes.
We additionally reminisced about our families a bit. His wife shares a name with mine, and he asked about my daughter, Zoe, who had been built-in anon afterwards that cruise to Mount Fuji, aback I was still alive for Konami. I accept he got the name of Z.O.E. (Zone of the Enders) from this conversation. It was an aberrant name at the time, and breadth abroad would he accept gotten it? I had told anybody in the aggregation about my new baby.
Back in Massachusetts, I was faced with the alarming assignment of advice Metal Gear Solid’s huge script. The aboriginal affair that was accessible to me was the massive bulk of analysis Kojima did afore architecture this world. There was all this aggressive tech throughout the game, including specific gun names and capacity about how U.S. nuclear weapons are bound down, accomplishments on the Cold War, Alaskan Native tribes, appropriate ops, psy-ops, you name it. And these were things that I knew annihilation about aback I started assignment on the translation.
I had six months to accomplishment the job, the alarm was ticking, and I didn’t apperceive breadth to begin. I additionally knew that I couldn’t aloof jump into a adaptation afterwards aboriginal accepting a abysmal attending into the apple that Kojima had been pond in for years while conceiving Metal Gear Solid.
People may accept a adamantine time actually affectionate the actuality that, at the time, the internet was not the affair you apperceive now. There was no YouTube, no Wikipedia, no Reddit, and there were no added translations of agnate assignment to reference. The chat “localization” almost existed in the business in 1997. I was all on my own, and no one was attractive over my shoulder.
I ordered every book I could by an ex-Navy SEAL alleged Richard Marcinko, who wrote the autobiographical book Rogue Warrior forth with a accumulating of novels. I had the faculty that that’s what Kojima was activity for: a abrasive activity of realism, with touches of James Bond’s accessories and inventiveness.
So I read, re-read, and breathed those books for weeks, savoring the feel of that apple and the breeze of the soldiers’ conversations with anniversary other, including the acerb machismo.
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It was exhilarating. I was terrified.
I spent my time activity to libraries and bookstores for research, while additionally watching war and spy movies to accomplish abiding I had the argot down. I looked at the provided art from the bold and absurd the characters speaking in their own choir as I breathed my English words into the script, aggravating to attending accomplished the Japanese words to abduction the aspect of anniversary conversation. I was badly aggravating to accumulate the activity that Kojima was himself aggravating to affect in players.
I translated the assignment in the beeline adjustment of the story, so the actual aboriginal affair I formed on was the aperture scene, as Snake swims underwater into the advancing bay of the nuclear weapons auctioning facility. I had a VHS classic of the Japanese cutscenes, and I knew I had to actually attach the adaptation to set up the affection of the game.
I admired what I was seeing, and I was already geeking out about what the bold was doing, alike in those antecedent scenes. I acquainted like I had been accustomed a austere responsibility, and I had the faculty aboriginal that I was alive on article special.
There was so abundant to consider: The bounce of the choir was tricky, as the all-embracing breadth of the chat had to bout the breadth of the scene. But what was much, abundant worse was that Japanese chat adjustment is antipodal aback compared to English. I had to comedy with the chat absolutely a bit to bout the words to the cuts and dissolves of a camera that was abundant added accurate and alive than in added amateur of the time. It’s not like I could aloof change how a arena was edited to accomplish it easier to translate.
Imagine aggravating to carbon chat in accession accent with absolutely altered syntax while befitting the activity of what was actuality said, afterwards actuality able to change how connected anniversary band could be while spoken.
I apprehend my calligraphy over and over as I watched that VHS, affliction it into a dramatic, seamless presentation that formed with the visuals. In the end, I was assertive I’d done acceptable — maybe abundant — assignment on the translation.
I connected forth in this address through all the cutscenes: watching the video and apperception the voices, the emotions, the motivations, and the appearance of the characters. I lived and breathed it all, and the action of accomplishing the cutscenes gave me the ability to advance through the hundreds of pages of beneath agitative codec conversations. It was a massive job, the array of affair that would be the assignment of an absolute aggregation today. But aback then, it was aloof one guy in the U.S., accomplishing his best.
I had never taken on a job of this admeasurement before. Vandal Hearts and Castlevania were tiny compared to Metal Gear Solid, and I was not accomplished abundant yet to apperceive that I should accept abiding a acquittal agenda with Konami so that I would get paid anniversary ages for hitting assertive deadlines. Instead, I had no assets for seven to eight months; I was to be paid the abounding bulk aback the absolute job was finished.
And so we were craving poor as I formed full-time on Metal Gear Solid. The canicule became beneath in the Massachusetts winter, there was no money at all, and the accent was off the charts. I formed in a tiny “office” the admeasurement of a babyish bath as the two kids played and cried alfresco the door, three anxiety away. The job had me on bend to the point that I was demography diazepam — frequently accepted as Valium — to handle the stress.
Ironically, that’s the aforementioned biologic that Snake takes in the bold to accumulate his cutting duke from shaking. I was additionally smoker heavily like Snake, which is why curve like “you don’t apperceive how acceptable a cigarette tastes in the morning” concluded up in the American release, alike admitting it wasn’t based on argument from the Japanese adaptation of the game. It was aloof article that was accepting me through the experience, and I absurd Snake was ambidextrous with accent in a agnate way.
This is a acceptable time to allocution for a minute about adaptation and the abstraction of originality. Abounding bodies misunderstand this topic, and it’s not surprising; there’s not abundant solid advice about how this action works, and there absolutely wasn’t during the time aeon I was alive on Metal Gear Solid.
Translation is not a science; it is an art. One charge booty liberties with the argument to abduction the aspect of the words, in an attack to charm the activity of the aboriginal for a actual altered admirers with a actual altered cultural background. That aspect is begin beneath in the words themselves than in the spaces amid the words. It is a tone, an ever-present, bond attitude, and in this case it was a actual assured tone. It is the mark of a distinct duke that generally gives a assignment candor and power, and I didn’t appetite to put my fingerprint on Metal Gear Solid. I capital to imitate what I anticipation Kojima adapted from the text.
I acquainted like I was central his arch during the project, not clashing one of those FBI guys who clue consecutive killers. And yet it became bright that Japanese ability is not as precise, brutal, or blah about war as we’re acclimated to in the United States. This was accurate alike in the years afore our ability was annoyed up by 9/11 and Abu Ghraib. Account Rogue Warrior and added books helped me accept how the aggressive speaks to itself, and I capital to appearance that Snake and Col. Campbell were able soldiers. That had to appear from how they batten to anniversary other, and the added characters in the game.
That meant that I, too, had to apprentice to allocution like a able soldier.
What this meant for the calligraphy was that I had to appear up with abracadabra to “sell” the image. I did my best. Kojima didn’t use the appellation “HALO” aback he declared jumping from aerial in the air and aperture the channel at a low distance to access the site. (This was additionally years afore the Halo alternation debuted.) But I begin the appellation for a high-altitude, low-opening jump in my reading, so it went into the game.
When I apprehend that Snake’s earpiece was aloof alleged a 無線機 (“wireless”), I approved to appear up with article bigger for American players. I researched the botheration for a cogent bulk of time afore advancing beyond article alleged a “codec” that I anticipation articulate cool. I had never heard the appellation before, but it articulate appealing official.
When Campbell told Snake that he would accept to do 現地調達 (“acquire locally”) for his weapons, I knew I bare article that articulate like aggressive jargon. The abandoned botheration is that no one in absolute activity would anytime put themselves in that bearings if they could advice it, so I coined the appellation OSP, or “on-site procurement,” which is still acclimated to this day.
In accession to jargon, I acclimated this befalling to beef out characters every adventitious I had. Too often, in translation, the acceptation is kept but all activity is lost. It charge be added aback in by the translator. So I gave Snake agreeable quips that were not in the aboriginal text.
One classic would be aback Campbell said, “I’m not a colonel anymore,” in Japanese. I afflicted it to “I’m not a colonel anymore, aloof a retired old warhorse.”
Why did I add that aftermost bit aback it wasn’t in the original? All I can say is that it acquainted right. It added flavor. We accept a affectionate of autograph to beef out appearance archetypes in our culture, which are fatigued from our aggregate anamnesis of movies, TV, literature, and added forms of pop culture. That band akin what I could faculty Kojima was accomplishing in the conception of the character. It was appropriate for the archetype, and American players would accept a bit added about who Campbell was, and how he acted. I was attractive to enhance what Kojima was aggravating to do for the admirers that would be arena his bold in English, and abacus these babyish flourishes was a acceptable way to do so.
Here’s accession example, this time from Snake. Let me ask you which advantage sounds better:
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You can apparently assumption that B is mine, and A is how my adaptation was “improved” for Metal Gear Solid: The Accompanying Snakes.
Here’s accession from Snake (to Vulcan Raven, apropos the Alaskan Olympics):
In this example, I threw abroad the band that did annihilation except acquaint the clairvoyant of two added contest that abide in the Alaskan Olympics. Instead, I gave Snake a funnier band that establishes his character. Acceptable choice, or adulterine and aces of condemnation? It’s ultimately your call, but I angle by what I did with the game.
And one more, from Psycho Mantis:
Naturally, B is mine; I removed the chat “nostalgic,” a absolute adaptation from the Japanese, because bodies who are activity cornball don’t commonly say they are activity cornball aback they call their emotions. We adapt added bodies as activity nostalgic, but it’s rarely how we call ourselves.
But both curve beggarly the aforementioned thing, added or less. Does it assume like I was actuality beneath affectionate to the aboriginal by aggravating to acquisition words that acquainted added accustomed to Western audiences?
I’ve approved to explain breadth my apperception was aback I started the project, my akin of enthusiasm, my efforts, and, ultimately, the decisions that led to me pissing off Kojima and not advice accession bold in the series.
Here’s what happened, as best I can allotment it together. The annotation assignment was done in Los Angeles, and, as calligraphy writer, I sat abutting to the administrator and had one of the three microphones that let us allege to the actors. The administrator and the complete tech had the added two.
I went home aback the recording was finished, and the audio went to Japan, breadth Kojima heard it. It was my compassionate that he admired it. He enjoyed it so abundant that he absitively he capital to actualize a absolution alleged Metal Gear Solid: Integral so players could comedy the Japanese audio with English subtitles, or carnality versa.
That’s not a babyish job. Every distinct English band had to be “aligned” with the Japanese chat so aggregate flowed calmly while it was actuality played. Whoever was assigned this job began to see the differences amid the aboriginal Japanese autograph and dialogue, and the assignment I had angry in.
I should acknowledgment how attenuate it is for the texts for two markets to anytime be in the aforementioned game, abnormally at that time. Until then, North American releases were for North America, Japan’s articulation acting and autograph was for Japan, and so on. There was never a activity that they bare to band up exactly, abandoned that anniversary had to action a acceptable acquaintance for its accurate market.
From what I heard at the time, Kojima began to apprehend that his assignment had been “tinkered” with. I’d altercate there ability accept been a abridgement of acknowledgment for the needs of localization due to his not actuality bilingual, but he was not happy. As a result, all approaching Metal Gear amateur would be carefully monitored for allegiance to the aboriginal Japanese script.
[Ed. note: Konami beneath to animadversion aback contacted about this story.]
This access resulted in curve like: “I won’t besprinkle your affliction to the brutal sea. I will consistently be with you. Plant your roots in me. I won’t see you end as ashes. You’re all diamonds.”
Some players acquisition this array of chat endearing, but I’d altercate that it could accept been massaged a bit added for English-speaking players. That’s not up to me, although I’m actual appreciative of the assignment I put into Metal Gear Solid. The reviews were actual absolute at the time, and abounding mentioned the affection of the adaptation and annotation assignment in the game.
Though the decisions I fabricated amount me approaching work, I angle by my efforts and am animated that I followed what I anticipation to be, ultimately, the best aboveboard anatomy of adulation and account for the aboriginal — namely, to challenge the aboriginal animosity in reassembly rather than to leave them as burst bits, drained of the blush that was so bright in the aboriginal Japanese writing.
Some ability say that it was ego or conceit abaft my choices — and yes, I did the aforementioned affair with the “What is a man? A afflicted little accumulation of secrets!” band in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, by the way.
You can now see “what is a man?” referenced as a meme all over the internet, on T-shirts, and alike in added games. Naturally, this delights me for arrogant reasons. It’s antic to see that my advertence of an abstruse band by a man alleged André Malraux has appear to be abundant added acclaimed than the original. But I additionally anticipate it illuminates a beyond issue: the role (and power) of the translator.
“Fidelity to acceptation abandoned in adaptation is a affectionate of betrayal.” —Paul Valéry
Before Twitter and its legions of armchair quarterbacks with the affluence of spending abundant added time reviewing translations than the aboriginal translators had in accomplishing them, our capital affair was an honest admiration to accomplish a fun and absorbing bold for a bounded audience. To this day, I accept the best translators are writers, who booty on what is an absurd assignment and do their best to amuse several masters: the audience, the aboriginal author, and the marketplace.
Looking aback on the accomplished thing, yes, there were mistakes, and bad choices as able-bodied as acknowledged ones. But that’s art. Adaptation isn’t science, and afterwards 20 years of Metal Gear Solid’s success, I anticipate I charge accept done a appealing acceptable job.
If annihilation else, I was able to be at atomic a babyish allotment of gaming history, and how abounding bodies are able to say that?
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Jeremy Blaustein is a Japanese-English bold translator, Goju-ryu practitioner, and pizza aficionado alive in Japan. His formed on amateur such Metal Gear Solid, the Silent Hill series, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Suikoden 2, Ape Escape 2, Shadow Hearts: Covenant, Dragon Warrior 7, Valkyrie Profile, Dark Cloud 2, Absent Sphear, and abounding more.
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