The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia is only 12 days from release here in the United States and Canada and we’ve been working incredibly hard to make sure that this book is as great an experience for you as it was for us in our first experience reading it. To aid in that we needed to translate the whole thing for an English-speaking audience. The schedule was tight and editor Patrick Thorpe brought on some folks to help. Aria Tanner jumped at the opportunity and contacted Dark Horse Comics to assist. As a fan and a translator her work helped us keep this book on schedule. We sat down with her to ask a few questions about the experience.
Dark Horse Comics: You helped Dark Horse Comics speed up the translation process for The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia. What made you jump at the chance to help?
Aria Tanner: To answer that, I’ll have to begin by explaining why I was interested in the book in the first place.
I’m fascinated by the development process of video games, and how many changes a title goes through from conception to release. Particularly in the case of Zelda, ideas from earlier games are often expanded upon in later titles. One example would be the Imprisoning War mentioned at the beginning of A Link to the Past, which later became the basis of its chronological prequel, Ocarina of Time. Another would be the elemental temples that have appeared in many incarnations throughout the twenty-five-year history of the series.
Because of this, I was immediately excited to hear that Nintendo was planning to release a book that documented these changes, as well as the internal chronology, of nearly every Zelda game in existence.
When I first gathered fellow fans to work on the unofficial translation of Hyrule Historia, we didn’t know if the book would ever see a US release. What a shame it would be if all this incredible information was lost to the language gap between Japan and the rest of the world!
That’s why I was so excited to hear that Dark Horse would be releasing an official English version. Now, instead of having to read the information secondhand on a tiny website, fans would be able to hold the actual book in their hands, and have a giant Zelda encyclopedia on their shelves to refer to in future timeline debates.
Because it’s not very often that encyclopedia-style game books are released in North America, its announcement seemed to be the perfect opportunity for me to get involved in the industry and participate in making an official release happen. I hoped that Hyrule Historia would set a good precedent, ensuring that it wouldn’t be the only such project to reach foreign shelves.
DHC: I have heard translation runs smoother with context. What were some of the most challenging pieces to work on in this book?
AT: Even though it has nothing to do with context, I think the most difficulty I had was deciphering the terrible handwriting of the developers. The staff of the Zelda games may be visionaries, but their penmanship rivals that of doctors. When it came to the handwritten notes on the concept art, I had three or four native speakers doing their best to help me puzzle out the characters, at times, and there are one or two utterly unreadable characters that still haunt me to this day. I won’t name names, but one developer in particular is notorious for spelling errors and questionable grammar. Luckily he’s a creative genius to make up for it!
DHC: What got you started in the world of translation?
AT: My adventures in translation actually started with Zelda, so it’s fitting that it’s still a big part of my life today!
I began studying Japanese at fourteen, first through self-study and casual lessons with a visiting Japanese professor who lived down the block, then via a year in a beginner-level high-school class. This culminated in a ten-month exchange at a Tokyo high school in my sophomore year.
While I was on exchange, I rediscovered a site called Zelda’s Secret Ocarina, where users attempted to catalog all the prerelease screenshots of Ocarina of Time, pointing out and speculating on how different they were from the final game. This was the catalyst that sparked my interest in the creation process of video games themselves. I joined the forums at the site, and used my Japanese knowledge to (poorly) translate some of the screenshots that had Japanese text in them.
(Around that time, I also started playing games in Japanese, mostly old SNES RPGs that I pored over using an electronic dictionary to look up words I didn’t know. At first, it was almost all of them.)
Eventually, the screenshots dried up, so I moved on to translating a series of Ocarina of Time developer interviews. I enjoyed the challenge; it seemed like a good way of practicing my Japanese, and things just snowballed from there. Bit by bit, I branched out into translating material from other games and other forms of media, including voice acting, video, and game scripts. Because I didn’t want to lose track of what I’d done, I built a site to house my work, and the rest is history.
DHC: How many languages do you speak/read?
AT: I’m Canadian, so I’ve studied French from elementary school to university, but my French isn’t nearly as good as my Japanese. I can read and write, and that’s about it. I’ve also taken Spanish at a university level, and I try to study a little bit of every language I come across. Widening the pool of people I can communicate with is always worth the effort.
DHC: What’s your process for translating a page? Do you jump in and simply tackle it from top to bottom, left to right (or right to left as the case may be), or do you have a step by step process that takes you from rough translation to final copy, like a sketch might go from scratches to inked and then colored pages?
AT: If it’s linear, I generally go from top to bottom. Writing is usually chronological, so if you translate things out of order, you might miss references or foreshadowing that you would be aware of if you had read the previous section. This is especially important when translating dialogue.
If the text is just a series of captions that don’t have any relation to one another, I’ll bounce around to whatever I feel like doing first. I try not to linger on things that I’m having trouble with or get bored with doing; otherwise the work begins to feel grueling.
Most of the time, I start by translating a rough draft, leaving placeholder marks in sections I’m having trouble with so I can come back to them. Sometimes I’m not sure I understand a reference or particular turn of phrase; other times I just can’t render something properly in English. The rough draft usually sounds pretty stilted, and has lots of unfinished sections.
Later, I’ll do a second draft that fills in the gaps, and rewrite any sections I’m unhappy with. I’ll also put my English translation and the Japanese text side by side to compare them and make sure I haven’t forgotten anything or made any mistakes.
Lastly, I try to reread my translation from the perspective of the audience, and fix grammar or edit sections that sound unnatural.
DHC: Everyone has one, but what’s your favorite of the Zelda games?
AT: My favorite is Majora’s Mask. Story is a huge part of the Zelda games for me, and I love the dark atmosphere and how you can see the lives of the characters unfold in real time. The game play is fun, the personalities are interesting, the world is expansive, and there are so many things to do.
DHC: Why do you think the Zelda franchise is such a popular series of video games?
AT: Zelda is one of Nintendo’s flagship franchises, and it releases a title for nearly every system, showing off the latest hardware capabilities and stretching its flexible story line and motifs over new game-play mechanics. This has drawn in new players and kept older generations loyal and excited to see what comes next, forging itself a solid fan base that holds court in many communities across the web.
Even during the long waits that come between Zelda games, the creative fans are always generating new art, music, and writing, and discussing every aspect of the franchise in detail. The release of Hyrule Historia may answer a number of long-standing questions, but I have a feeling it will raise even more, and keep the ball of Zelda’s fandom rolling until the next game appears to enthrall players once again.
DHC: Thank You, Aria!
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