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Watercrown Productions DevBlog
Thursday, 6 April 2006
The Do-It-Yourself Corner, Chapter 1: Getting Started
Topic: The Do-It-Yourself Corner

Before I begin, I'd like to say that working on Sylvanian Families for GBC has given me more experience with translation hacking than any project I've ever attempted. I dare say it's given me more experience with translation hacking than any one game could provide. It's like the game equivalent of the Chateau d'If, only warm and fuzzy: I came in Edmond Dantes, hopelessly naive sailor, and I came out as the Count of Monte Cristo, implacable agent of divine justice with a buried fortune at his disposal, deus-ex-machina powers that most shonen manga heroes would be envious of and characters like Zorro and Batman claiming their heritage from me. Well, not really, but you get the idea.

On that note, I'd really, really like to claim I'm an expert on the topic of translation hacking, but I can't. Sylvanian Families really is only one game, no matter how hard it is to get a translation inserted, and there are probably monsters out there lurking in some game ready and willing to tear my head off if I even think about translating them.

You know, if I keep beating around the bush like this, the DIY Corner is going to become the Lecture Circuit. So here it goes, as best I can: the real, genuine Chapter 1.

If you've ever had any serious interest in games, you've probably had a title you really, really wish you could play in your native tongue, but for some reason, the powers that be denied you your gaming goodness. You've found the ROM, downloaded it, played it, got frustrated at having absolutely no idea what was going on or having to constantly consult a dictionary, got more frustrated that no one but you seems to know your game exists and hence nobody's tried to translate it. Or maybe you just want to prove your translation skills and have a likely target in mind.

That said, translation hacking is often a multi-person job, but it can be done by one person working alone, assuming he/she is skilled at all the tasks required: the bare essentials are script dumping/insertion, graphics editing, and of course, the actual translation.

For the sake of argument, I will assume that you, the reader, have either 1. enough of a grasp of Japanese to translate with the aid of a dictionary or 2. a ready, willing and able translator on hand. If you have neither, I strongly suggest you visit the following link:


Do not ask the users there to teach you. Use the resources provided in this link. The Japanese forum on AnimeLyrics.com is for language help and advice, not for dumping your translation woes upon.

At the absolute least, you should learn the kana, the syllabic writing system which represent the basic atoms of the Japanese language. There are around 100 total, split between two systems: the hiragana, cursive letters used to write native words, and the katakana, which more resemble print and are used like italics are in English: for emphasis and for writing words of foriegn origin. Some games, Sylvanian Families included, also throw in a smattering of simple kanji; you should prepare yourself with the appropriate resources.

Trust me. Even if you have a translator handy, it pays to know these.

Right. On to the more tangible requirements. Apart from the game and a good emulator (one with tile and map viewing is preferable; for the trickier parts, make sure you have memory viewing and some debugging functions), you will require:

1. A graphics editor. Your ordinary Paintbrush won't help you with this: in fact, not even Photoshop will help you. Directly, anyway. Games store their graphics in a myriad of strange (but usually efficient) formats that can't be read by ordinary graphics programs. I used to swear by Tile Layer Pro, but the Java-based Tile Molester (pardon the name; it's not mine) beats it in practically every concievable way. Most graphics editors, Tile Molester included, also allow you to export graphics in BMP format for editing in your favorite paint program: this is handy when it finally comes time to do the title screen. If you run into something tricky, FEIDIAN is a tool written in PHP for extracting graphics from a ROM directly into BMP format, but if the game you've chosen has anything Tile Molester can't view on its own, you should probably see if you can find an easier project. ^_^;

2. A hex editor. This has absolutely nothing to do with spells or curses: a processor, be it in a game console or sitting behind a prominent "Pentium 4 HT" label, is ultimately a sophisticated abacus for shuttling numbers, and as such a game, from the emulator's viewpoint, is merely a long list of numbers to shuttle around. Even the game's resources. The graphics editor, as with any paint program, takes those numbers and assembles them into the graphics they're meant to represent: the hex editor takes those numbers and presents them to you at face value. You see, even the all-important text is stored as numbers, and by using the two aforementioned editors in tandem, you will assemble a table that allows you to see what numbers represent the game's text and where and how it's stored. I strongly recommend Bongo's WindHex for this.

3. A script dumper. Once you've taken care of the above, you can use this program to extract the game's text, or "script", according to the table you compile. I've been using romjuice, but it comes compiled for Linux with C source code: you could get a C compiler and compile it for your own machine, or I could get off my butt and provide my Windows-compiled version if you need it.

4. Klarth's Atlas. Generically speaking, you want a script inserter, which will take your translated script and transform it into the digits that the game understands using your table as its guide, but Atlas is the best I've found, and if you have some skill with C, you can tailor Atlas to your precise needs (although it should have everything you need already if you've chosen a simple project).

5. A word processor with Japanese support. As noted above, actual Japanese knowledge is purely optional, but knowledge of the basic kana and possibly a few simple kanji is a must. JWPce is a great freeware program which supports multiple formats: WindHex, to my experience, requires its tables be in Shift-JIS format, and if you wish to reinsert Japanese text for any reason, Atlas supports UTF-8 (although I'm uncertain what other formats it supports). For some strange reason, I can't remember what format, or formats, romjuice supports. Of course, you could always construct a table using the romaji (literally "Roman letters", i.e. the English alphabet) equivalents of the Japanese symbols, but I can't recommend this.

Some games will require tools other than the ones outlined above, but for a simple, tutorial-worthy project, this is all we require.

This chapter is called "Getting Started", and that's precisely what we've done: gotten started. I seem to have a nasty habit of either having too little to say or embarking on page-long rants where they're not needed. Tune in next time for our next step: making the table!

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Posted by Ryusui at 9:27 PM PDT
Updated: Thursday, 6 April 2006 10:40 PM PDT
Wednesday, 5 April 2006
Welcome to the Do-It-Yourself Corner!
Topic: The Do-It-Yourself Corner

Translation is not an easy business.

I've seen people on the Internet who seem convinced that there is a magic bullet, an almighty program capable of taking a game and rendering it into perfectly legible, natural English. I've seen people who seem to think that there is an infallible, one-for-one conversion between every word in Japanese and every word in English, and think that the humble "kuso"-which literally means "fecal matter" but can be considered a catch-all for any four-letter word from "darn" on up-must always, always be considered to mean the s-word. I've seen people who swear by translations that are full of untranslated words that are pure gibberish to English speakers and insist that any work that leaves out these precious honorifics and distinctly Japanese quirks of speech is inferior. And perhaps most maddening of all, I've encountered people who seem to regard translation from Japanese to English as a simple cryptogram game, that the entirety of the language can be rendered into perfectly comprehensible English by simple letter substitution. (All the previous ones can be attributed to pure ignorance, but that last one is bred of an annoying, arrogant assumption that all languages are ultimately related to or derived from English, or that English is the only "real" language and that all others are merely games derived by foriegn people to frustrate Westerners.)

Thank God none of the people following my work are like that. ^_^

So. Since you all seem to be sane, sensible people, or perhaps I'm just viewing my blog through rose-colored glasses (is that why the background looks purple to me? Just kidding there), I thought I'd share some pointers in case one of my readers has some obscure Japanese or otherwise foriegn-language title that nobody thought to release in their native tongue. I have only one request of my readers:

If that game is ever released in English or whatever language you speak, make sure you buy the legit version. The retrogaming features on the Nintendo Revolution have me excited: with games from every Nintendo platform as well as Sega and TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine titles slated to be represented, a whole lot of great, overlooked titles may very well be released on our shores. Like Mother 1 (a.k.a. Earthbound Zero), Castlevania: Rondo of Blood or Starfox 2, which was never officially released anywhere (find the full beta ROM and AGTP's translation patch; you'll forget Adventures and Assault ever happened!).

...Crimony. I've spent so much time on the setup that if I keep going, I won't have anything left to post about. Consider this a "to be continued" on the topic of Do-It-Yourself fan translations: I'll start off with the basics tomorrow!

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Posted by Ryusui at 10:48 PM PDT
Updated: Wednesday, 5 April 2006 11:15 PM PDT
Tuesday, 4 April 2006
We Return You Now To Your Regularly Scheduled Progress Update...
Topic: Watercrown News

Three whole days and no comments for my big self-expose? I'm crushed. Well, not really. Still: if you have any reason whatsoever to read this, even if that reason is pure boredom, it wouldn't hurt you to post a comment or two. No spam or cursing, please.

Anyways. If this post looks a little different from the usual, that's because I decided to try Lycos' new Qumana blogging tool. The verdict's still out on whether Qumana's more trouble than it's worth, but I kinda like it thus far. ^_^

And now the progress update. Out of 14 text blocks (that I know of), 2 are 95% translated (although one has yet to be reformatted for my VWF), 8 overall have been converted for re-insertion, and 13 have been dumped (gotta get to work on that last one). Sorry if those numbers seem small. Translation itself is only about 20% of the job: 75% is setting up the scripts so that they re-insert without glitches, and the remaining 5% is research.

Ah, research. The three big hurdles I've yet to surmount in this translation are all research-based. In order from smallest hurdle to largest:

  1. The "Hanauranai Jiten", or "Encyclopedia of Flower Meanings". Once you give Emma Furbanks the flower she asks for, she'll give you this book: enter your birthdate and it gives you your flower, its meaning and a little fortune. Since there are 365 days in a year (you know, I never thought to check if the game supports leap years), that's 365 fortunes to translate and just as many flower names to identify. This is more a matter of scale rather than outright difficulty: there's probably more text devoted to the Encyclopedia than there is in the first four Legend of Zelda games combined. Not to mention all the flower names I'll have to work on. (If it puts things into perspective, two of those 14 text blocks are devoted entirely to the Encyclopedia. That's a seventh of the game's text.)

  2. The furniture list. Sylvanian Families is first and foremost a toyline, and what better advertising could there be than to feature all the furniture you can collect in the game itself? (Side note on that: the "Room" menu option is now "Furniture", as it was in the original Japanese version. Amazing what a little VWF can do.) Counting the three different houses, you have 69 collectibles to buy with your hard-earned Dream Points, and all of them no doubt have different names in the Western world. So that's 69 names for me to hunt down. If anybody has anything akin to a catalogue with pictures and names for all the Sylvanian Families furniture ever released outside of Japan, I desperately need it.

  3. The intro monologue. I've gotten tantalizing hints that there is an official English version used somewhere in the world, but all the facts I've recieved thus far say there's no such creature. This is by far the most important piece of information I have yet to obtain for my translation. This monologue is featured in four out of the five games I've looked at and it can be found on sylvanian-families.jp, the official website. (The link to the page is http://sylvanian-families.jp/info/map.html.) If there is an official English version, omitting it or using my own translation would be...well, stupid.

I repeat: I can probably handle the Encyclopedia of Flower Meanings on my own, but I have to have the furniture catalog and opening monologue. If you can provide any help with those, please comment. Even if you can't provide any help with those, comment anyway. I'm happy to do this project just for myself, but it'd be nice if I knew someone else was interested...

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Posted by Ryusui at 8:41 PM PDT
Saturday, 1 April 2006
The Sad, Sad Tale Of Chickenfoot. Wait...
Topic: Watercrown News
In response to my first and only comment, and in celebration of this respected holiday, I've decided to tell the tale that, up until now, I have said would be "best left for another time."

The story is thus:

My name is Desty Nova. I eat flan and I perform horrible, gruesome experiments on human test subjects. My dream is to take over the world MUWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!...

Happy April Fools' Day. There, I've gotten it out of my system.

No, really, the actual tale begins, oh, several years ago. Before I get really started, I will warn you that this tale has actually precious little to do with the Sylvanian Families franchise but absolutely everything to do with why I'm doing the game.

Back then, Gundam was big in the States and I was just learning what else Japan had to offer. The thing that surprised me, though, was the strange feelings of nostalgia and deja vu that sometimes accompanied my anime viewing. A random comment about the old Unico movie that aired years and years ago on the Disney Channel set me off on a fact-finding mission: the movie, as I remembered it, turned out to actually be a pair of movies, and while the name Osamu Tezuka meant nothing to me at the time, the fact that the movies were ultimately Japanese in origin struck a chord. Slowly, I began to realize just where my feelings of nostalgia and deja vu came from: in the late 80's and early 90's, I couldn't get enough of the Nick Jr. lineup on Nickelodeon, which further Internet searching revealed to be comprised mainly of localized import series from Japan.

I was raised on anime and didn't even realize it.

So. My cause celebre for a time was a series called Maple Town, or "Maple Town Story" (a trifling difference, but back then, I was the Internet equivalent of a monkey with a revolver; using the "inferior" American name around me would inevitably provoke torrents of page-long rants), for the sole reason that I remembered nothing of it except the names "Patty Rabbit" and "Bobby Bear" and maybe 5 seconds' worth of material. It took me a long time, during which I lost interest twice and annoyed the dickens out of possibly as many message boards (if I met my younger n00b self on the Internet, I'd probably beat the intellectual @#$% out of him), but I eventually accumulated enough knowledge about the series that I felt my quest was at an end. I even managed to score the Japanese soundtrack and VHS tapes.

However, my searches also unearthed information about another (then) complete unknown: a franchise called "Sylvanian Families". Back then, I wasn't sure of the relation (although I think I held something of a preconception that it was an "inferior" rival series...yes, my views were disturbingly black-and-white back then), and I assumed that like Maple Town, the franchise had vanished into the dust of history sometime in that strange twilight era of the late 80's/early 90's. So it was to my great surprise when, on GameFAQs' board for the game Tail Concerto, somebody posted a link to screenshots of a game called WanWan Meitantei that bore a passing resemblance to Tail Concerto's characters. It wasn't WanWan Meitantei that surprised me, though. It was the other game featured prominently on the linked page, the game I address now as "Sylvanian Families 5".

This was a complete 180 from my assumption. Maple Town was long dead, and Sylvanian Families (as I knew by then) predated it: how on Earth could it still be around? With five (actually six and now seven) video games? This chance discovery merited further investigation: I obtained the fifth game and afterwards found the first and second: none of them are exactly the next Harvest Moon or Final Fantasy, but I found them much more to my liking than, say, Animal Crossing.

The final ingredient in this bizarre Goldberg-esque contraption is the fact that I've had sort of a curse for years: I've always wanted to make a game, but I always either discover I don't have the talent or I lose interest. I've completed only one project to my satisfaction; a thoroughly pathetic text adventure that is now, for the better, lost. Failing creation, I've trifled with fan translations; mostly the same result, but for whatever reason this project has been the one I've stuck with the longest. As you can guess, it's been something of a love/hate relationship: by many standards, the game is incomparably dull (the fact that the storyline involves flowers and fairies that aren't homicidal maniacs will probably keep all but the most hardcore away) and can be finished in a single evening (I've done it myself!); it's based on a toyline I really have no intention of ever collecting (although I will say that anyone who doesn't find the Sylvanians outright adorable had better check to see if there isn't a Nobody walking around with their soul), and yet it has trapped me in the most cunning and ingenious way possible: it tricked me into thinking I could translate it just as easily as I could beat it. It's a kids' game! Almost pure kana, with a smattering of kanji that could be counted on your fingers! And yet its script is a nightmare that I could only tackle by further modifying the legendary Atlas, the inserter that handled Front Mission Gunhazard! This is a project for a master romhacker, a Sisyphean effort with maximum difficulty and minimum reward...

And I have no problems whatsoever being the one who fate has chosen to do it. ^_^

On that front: thanks to bgb, I've tuned up my VWF code even further. Now it doesn't break if a particular part of the game stores the variables for the current line and number of characters printed in an odd place. GB mode is still a little glitchy, but I'm starting to suspect it's a quirk with bgb and not my code this time. A couple of script bugs have been squashed; the game now should be mostly playable again (albeit still about half in English and half in Japanese, and parts of the script haven't been reformatted to take advantage of the VWF).

As for the story of how I learned Japanese...much shorter, much less interesting, and most certainly best suited for another time.

See you, Space Samurai. Or whatever.

Posted by Ryusui at 10:44 PM PST
Tuesday, 28 March 2006
Update Wars Episode 3: O RLE? (Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love C)
Topic: Watercrown News
The following update is the result of six days of random mental meandering. Don't worry; there's a point to this story.

Thanks to VBA-SDL-H, I've cracked my first compression routine. It took me a single evening to reverse-engineer the routine and the next two days to write a compressor for it. And I've never done anything remotely compression-like. First VWF, now compression. Holy cow. What's next?

The compression routine in question belongs to Sylvanian Families 5 for GBA, a.k.a. "Sylvanian Families: Yousei no Sutekki to Fushigi no Ki - Maron-Inu no Onna no Ko". (I'm still working on a proper subtitle for that, but the original means something like "Fairy's Stick and the Mystic Tree - Brown Dog Girl", the last part being the protagonist's non-name. Just call her "Esme Huckleberry". Everybody else does.) While it has little to do with my current project, you may rest assured that when it finally comes time for me to do the GBA games, you'll have proper English title screens to look at.

The second part of this story, and by far the more relevant one, is that while I was staring at another one of the SF1 script's nightmare-to-format case routines (the previous issue with the embedded pointers having evaporated), another crazy idea struck me. Perhaps emboldened by my recent adventures in programming, not to mention the fact that I had already done something of this sort before, I decided to modify Klarth's Atlas once again. Now internally titled "Hitoshura SF" (in honor of "Kagutsuchi", an ancient app I coded in Multimedia Fusion for pretty much the same purpose, suffixed with "SF" for obvious reasons), my modified Atlas handles the game's lists with minimal madness.

So there you have it. I'm back on track, and never again will one of the game's scripts rise up to give me pain. Or so I assume.

Posted by Ryusui at 7:32 PM PST
Wednesday, 22 March 2006
The Genius Madmen Strike Back.
Topic: Watercrown News
I was wondering why a couple of the text blocks seemed to have a distinct lack of pointers. Now I know why.

The pointers are embedded in the text blocks.

I haven't quit, I promise, but I've gotten sidetracked after discovering this new stumbling block. Oddly enough, Atlas seems to be having problems inserting the type of embedded pointer I need, and it might be due in no small part to my tweaks...

Posted by Ryusui at 10:23 PM PST
Thursday, 16 March 2006
Even More VWF News (But No Screenshots!)
Topic: Watercrown News
The author(s) of the bgb emulator should take pride in the fact that they've managed to hold up my entire project.

My VWF code was running smoothly until it hit upon the ugly bits of reality emulated by bgb. See, it's wholly possible for code to run absolutely perfect on an emu, but not work on an actual console. I'd explain the details, but the short version is, bgb emulates one "feature" of a real Game Boy that no other emulator I've seen has: you can't read from or write to VRAM (a.k.a. video memory) except during a VBlank (a.k.a. "vertical blanking interval", that brief pause where the screen is refreshed; imperceptible to the human eye but quite significant in the magical nano-timescale world of graphics programming). So I've taken the effort to fix up my code (nothing major, really) so that it only reads to or writes from VRAM during a VBlank. GBC mode works perfectly now, but GB mode is still a touch buggy. A little more work and it should be perfect in both...

On the brighter side, if bgb hadn't shown me up, it would've happened after I released my translation to the waiting public, and then I'd be known as the guy who released the Sylvanian Families VWF translation that didn't work on an actual Game Boy. So thanks, author(s) of bgb, and thanks to evo for introducing me to it.

I'm still amazed how much screen space my VWF affords me. I can cram text onto one page that would've taken me two or three before. My translation looks much more professional when I can fit more than one sentence on screen at a time...

Posted by Ryusui at 11:24 PM PST
Saturday, 11 March 2006
The Good News And The Bad News.
Topic: Watercrown News
The good news is, the VWF works glitch-free in a lot more places now.

The bad news is...it seems that there are still some bugs to iron out in places I overlooked.

The bugs will not go unsquashed for long, though. You can count on that. ^_^

Posted by Ryusui at 10:15 PM PST
Friday, 10 March 2006
And Then There Was VWF.
Topic: Watercrown News
It's done.

There are still some bugs, but this breakthrough was made scant hours after my last post.

I can't believe it's working. This is my first-ever attempt at a real VWF, and it not only works, it looks great. Just look at the Items screen! Gone are the clunky abbreviations! I can fit more text than I ever dreamed onto a single line!

I haven't fixed up the script to take advantage of all the extra space except in the places you see...now I need a custom tool to help me figure out just how much text can fit on a line. ^_^

Ladies and gentlemen, your patience will be rewarded. 'Till next update!

Posted by Ryusui at 5:49 PM PST
Thursday, 9 March 2006
Topic: Watercrown News
My VWF is excruciatingly close to working...right now, it's held together with some kludgy hacks, and as a result it's glitchy as heck: gaps inexplicably appear in the middle of lines (probably due to the aforementioned hacks), tiles display in the wrong place, etc.

So I've got a long way to go before this will work. Hunt down some more routines and figure out how to take over from them...

But the darnedest thing is, I got it to work, even if only in limited, ugly-looking capacity. I've never done anything remotely VWF-like before, not successfully at least. What it does print properly looks surprisingly good (possibly due to the FF4A font; thanks again, Dragonsbrethren), and with a fair bit more kicking and screaming, my VWF will come roaring to life.

Phew...translator and romhacker. All I need now is to perfect my pixel art skills, and I'll be unstoppable! ^_^

Posted by Ryusui at 6:45 PM PST
Updated: Friday, 10 March 2006 5:49 PM PST

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