In a fascinating story published on Polygon, Jeremy Blaustein recalls his time as the sole translator for the U.S. version of Metal Gear Solid.
“It was a massive job, the sort of thing that would be the work of an entire team today,” recalls Blaustein. “But back then, it was just one guy in the U.S., doing his best.”
The entire story is well worth a read as Blaustein recalls the daunting process of translating such a dialog-heavy game by himself at a time when there was little internet and little precedent for such a massive undertaking. If you’ve ever been interested in the process of translation (especially in this unique era of gaming), this is a fascinating look into the process as well as a window into how Metal Gear Solid evolved and was perceived in its early days.
However, the heart of the story lies in a conflict that arose regarding Blaustein’s translation. See, Blaustein didn’t just translate everything exactly as it was written. Along with cleaning up some of the language so that it made sense in English, Blaustein would change entire phrases and add new bits of dialog designed to flesh out the characters. Blaustein admits that this approach may be controversial, but he believes that it’s a necessary part of properly translating a title.
“Translation is not a science; it is an art,” writes Blaustein. “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.”
Blaustein’s approach led to him using words like Codec and phrases like OSP (on-site procurement) which weren’t in the script but became part of the MGS franchise nonetheless. Blaustein understands that this process will no doubt be considered incorrect by some who believe that he should have just translated the original script as closely as possible and made alterations only when strictly necessary.
Apparently, Hideo Kojima was one of the people who thought that Blaustein went too far. While Blaustein admits that he only heard from others about Kojima’s reaction (and neither Konami or Kojima comment on the piece), his impression was that Kojima frustration resulted in his future insistence that the localized versions of his scripts stick to the original writing as much as possible. This certainly seems to be part of the reason why MGS games and their dialog became a little more…weird after the first title. In fact, you can hear a more “accurate” translation of MGS‘ original script in the GameCube’s Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, and the difference really is quite drastic in many spots.
Speaking personally, I do feel that the translator overstepped his bounds in terms of the strict terms of his job, but it’s hard to deny that some of the dialog as it was intended to be translated isn’t quite as sharp as the version that we ultimately got. At the very least, this does go a long way to explaining why the original Metal Gear Solid (at least the PS1 Western version) feels so different from every other game in the series in terms of its writing.
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