MSX translation scene info needed, for RG article

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By Szczepaniak

Expert (87)

Szczepaniak's picture

02-04-2006, 16:53

Greetings all

John Szczepaniak here again.

I’m planning on doing a 4 page feature dedicated to the “fan translation” scene, with 1 of those pages focusing on 5 titles. (I’m thinking maybe SD3, DQ5, FF5, ToP, and MG2, unless anyone has any other recommendations?)

I started a topic here already:

But I also need MRC’s help again. :)

The following is from a fan translation history table, originally on Wikipedia, and now hosted by the above site:

April (date unknown): Dennis Lardenoye and Ron Bouwland, two Dutch MSX fans, found Oasis to translate Japanese MSX games into English. The project followed Lardenoye's founding of FutureDisk, a MSX disk magazine covering amongst others news from Japan. The group worked on SD Snatcher, Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes, Fray, Rune Master 3, Xak - The Art of Visual Stage, Xak 2, Xak - The Tower of Gazzel, Ys, Ys II: The Final Chapter and Wanderers From Ys.

Is the above correct? If so, that means Oasis is the earliest example of fan based translations, preceding other big developments by a number of years (the next item listed in the table is work done by “Kowasu Ku”).

So, to follow events: Mr Lardenoye founded FutureDisk which covered Japanese games, and afterwards he and Mr Bouwland started Oasis, working on several big titles? What was there first game? In fact, what was the earliest game to be translated in the MSX scene? Is there any one game that you can say “kicked the whole thing off”?

I know little about the MSX translation scene, beyond the fact that it’s integral to the overall history of fan translations. Can anyone care to elaborate on things? I always end up with too much info when researching articles, so won’t be able to include everything, but do discuss things. Regardless of what’s used, I find it all fascinating to read. :)

If I quote people I will of course credit your name, and I’ll also make sure to officially thank for assistance.

I'm not sure if they post here, but I'd love a quote or two from Mr Lardenoye and Mr Bouwland, and their motivations. Did they realise what kind of impact they would have when starting Oasis?

* Back in 1993, what was the procedure for dumping MSX games and translating them? Was this done on standard PCs?

* What were some of the landmark translation projects?

* Can you tell me about the translation for Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. It was done by Maarten ter Huurne and Takamichi Suzukawa, and released in 1997 correct? How long did it take? How many screens of text were there originally, how many were translated, left out, etc?

* Are there any official logos/photos that I can include, regarding FutureDisk, Oasis, etc? I’m also interested in any screens or examples of really strange translations. You know, the funny crazy stuff that translators might add for a joke.

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By mth

Champion (496)

mth's picture

03-04-2006, 00:15

I'm writing this from memory, so before you publish it, please check the facts. I'll look up the mentioned news posts and old e-mails (if I still have them) later as well, to make sure my memory is correct.

The MG2 translation started in January 1997 and was released on the MSX fair in Tilburg 1997. I don't remember the exact date, but it was somewhere in April. So development time was three months.

It started when I read a rumour that Oasis didn't translate MG2 because they couldn't find how the text was stored. That sounded like a challenge, so I experimented a bit with the ROM image, inserted my own text and posted about that on the comp.sys.msx newsgroup.

Takamichi replied to that post, asking me whether I was serious about translating MG2. Although I didn't originally plan to go that far, it sounded like something both fun and useful. Before long, Takamichi was sending me translated text fragments and I was integrating those in the ROM. Since I cannot read Japanese myself, it was hard to know exactly what English fragments correspond to what Japanese fragments. To make sure we were talking about the same thing, I put labels like "TXT076" throughout the game.

From a technical point of view, I get the impression most translations (including Oasis', as far as I know) are made using hex editors. I felt we needed more flexibility, so I designed a simple language and wrote a compiler for it. That way, the complete data structure for the texts was generated for the translation, including all pointers to messages. Therefore if we shortened one message, we automatically got more space for other messages. We were also able to use some empty space and remove unreachable messages. Later, when we needed even more space, I introduced a compression algorithm which stores often used strings (like "SNAKE" and "OVER" ) only once and refers to them using non-ASCII characters.

Takamichi tried very hard to translate the Japanese text as accurate as possible, deciding which exact words fit the original meaning best. He also did research to get the correct military terms. And he translated the manual and converted it to HTML, which is pretty rare for translated games.

I'm tired now, so I'll write more later. If you need more info, you can ask here or mail maarten at treewalker dot org.

By snout

Ascended (15184)

snout's picture

03-04-2006, 18:19

Although I was not involved in translating games, I do feel that the Oasis translation of SD-SNATCHER was -the- breakthrough in game translations for MSX. If I'm not mistaken, most of the MSX/Oasis translations at the time were made in simple HEX editors on MSX. SD-Snatcher also contains a translation joke or two (the Dutch remark "Rot op!" (get lost) in the Casino, and a Syd Garden text in quite a lot 'o colors). I dunno if someone has savegames on that one, I'd have to play for a bit to get there... ^_^

By Jorito

Mr. Ambassadors (1765)

Jorito's picture

03-04-2006, 20:06

So, to follow events: Mr Lardenoye founded FutureDisk which covered Japanese games, and afterwards he and Mr Bouwland started Oasis, working on several big titles? What was there first game? In fact, what was the earliest game to be translated in the MSX scene? Is there any one game that you can say “kicked the whole thing off”?

Minor detail, but still... afaik, the FutureDisk was founded by Koen Dols mainly (he was editor in chief), and Dennis joined along as a writer and did some other editing work. The FutureDisk was a disk magazine that did allround MSX news coverage, with a focus on the Japanese market (mostly games). FutureDisk and Oasis weren't really related, apart from Dennis (and later t00b) being in both Oasis and FutureDisk.

By anonymous

incognito ergo sum (116)

anonymous's picture

25-01-2015, 21:24

At the MSX fairs recent years I've bought translated versions of Xak 1, Feedback and Daiva 4&5.
MSX software is still being translated today! I know Randam is doing lots of these projects (I know for a fact he did Feedback and Daiva, and is working on / has finished Psycho World as well)

I haven't had contact with him in a long while and I really want Psycho World in English, time to visit the next MSX fair! Big smile

By Sama

Ambassador (2061)

Sama's picture

04-04-2006, 02:02

And of course, much MSX software is being translated from Japanese to English for the upcoming WOOMB service. For an official (re-)release (and for which I am mainly responsible Tongue).

By Szczepaniak

Expert (87)

Szczepaniak's picture

10-04-2006, 11:47

So, would you say that SD-Snatcher was the first breakthrough translation EVER?

It was translated in 1993, right? I'm just trying to find out exactly where the genesis of ALL fan-translations is, and all sources point to the MSX scene.

By Latok

msx guru (3821)

Latok's picture

10-04-2006, 12:59

Well, that's because MSX is the homebase computer for Japanese gaming in general. It could indeed be the case that fan-translations started in the early 90s. Is SD Snatcher the first project Oasis did? Or did they practise a bit translating smaller japanese games?

By parallax

Expert (85)

parallax's picture

10-04-2006, 13:33

As I recall, but it's pretty vague, that SD Snatcher was their first project. There must be people here who can tell you for sure.

Historical reasons seem to be that when SD-Snatcher came out, European MSX fans had been 'playing' Japanese RPG's for some time already: just visiting every place in the gameworld to achieve progress, as opposed to reading the hints... It was clear at that point that none of these games would be translated, because only the Japanese market was still big enough to make it worth the effort. Still, many games were imported, so the problems grew: as the games got bigger and more complex you needed more information to play them properly.

So, that it was SD-Snatcher was a bit of luck. There were many other impressive games around then that included large quantities of Japanese (Falcom's Y's and Dragonslayer VI spring to mind) that were played on a large scale. It was just that SD-Snatcher looked and sounded great, so a lot of people were annoyed that they could not play it.

I personally remember that before this translation, we hacked the character sets of Dragonslayer VI, putting in the phonetic symbols in place of the japanese ones. This worked like this: you locate a japanese character block (8x8 pixels) and look it up in a translation table, so it says "su". You re-draw these characters in a 3x7 pixel font, so you can fit the two in the original block. Reinsert the new 'font' into the game.
Now, if the game says: "disuku 2" you are supposed the change the floppy disk. For us, it was also much easier to remember (weird) item names in english instead of japanese characters. This pre-dates real translations, I guess.

By Sonic_aka_T

Enlighted (4130)

Sonic_aka_T's picture

10-04-2006, 13:48

I don't know if it's really the first fanpatch for MSX, but it was certainly the breakthrough in the Dutch MSX scene. At least for the Netherlands it was indeed the genesis of fan-translations. Since we're talking pre-internet times (at least for most of us) here, the MSX scene wasn't quite as international as it is today, so I don't know if any fan-translations were made back then in other countries.

It was however the first patch made by Oasis, which then consisted of Dennis Lardenoye and Ron Bouwland. From the tales Dennis told me in later years, they worked using just a disk editor. They loaded a modified character-set into VRAM, and just browsed the disk image looking for texts to translate. They later got help from Xelasoft, who made the patch-disk and the new copyprotection routines.

I don't know how Ron's Japanese knowledge was, but I do know Dennis had told me later his Japanese was still so, uhm, untrained, that he had to use a dictionary for most of it. He basically 'interpreted' the text, instead of really understanding 100% of what he was reading. All in all though, the translation came out pretty accurate on a whole.

After the success of the SD-Snatcher translation (more than 250 copies were sold on the first fair!), they quickly started working on other titles as well. At some point Ron left Oasis (in fact, I think he only did SD-Snatcher) and Marcel Kok and Eelco Slaaf joined. Especially Marcel helped to increase the quality of the translations a little, since he was a 2nd year Japanology student. (if Japanology is a word that is Tongue)

I was somewhat part of Oasis (kinda like their mascotte Tongue), and tried getting SNATCHER translated by helping with the technical side of things. Unfortunately though, the SNATCHER translation ran into a lot of problems as well. One of the translators never actually finished the disk he was supposed to translate, and the technical problems were too numerous to even mention. Even with some form of compression, it was very hard to actually fit the english text in the original space.

The only thing I actually did manage to finish was a translation of Big Strategy II, as it was commonly known in the Netherlands. I did this translation together with Marcel and Dennis, since I could only read kana. On the final fair day, it turned out that the patch itself didn't work on a number of computers, so we ended up having to give out patched system disks instead. The campaign texts weren't actually translated until later.

All in all, Oasis must've done like 10-20 fan translations, including some (partial) manual translations called 'Guide Books' (it usually had lots of other info apart from the manual). There was a short period where people would translate Oasis's translations into other languages to sell those, but that didn't last too long (fortunately). After that though, the fan translating scene really got started and a number of different projects were done by other people (from other countries).

Takamichi, a nice Japanese fellow, is probably one of the best-known translators outside of the Netherlands. He did the translations of a number of games, including SNATCHER, Metal Gear 2 and Illusion City. The technical aspect of Illusion City is being handled by Adriano da Cunha, who's doing an absolutely amazing job. Daniel Caetano and Dante Nishida did the technical aspect of SNATCHER.

By Sonic_aka_T

Enlighted (4130)

Sonic_aka_T's picture

10-04-2006, 14:04
Oasis on Zandvoort 1995 :)
ltr: Marcel Kok, Dennis Lardenoye, Bernard Lamers (don't think he was ever a member tho)

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