A translator has offered to provide Nintendo with a free translation of the Japanese role-playing game Mother 3 if it launches the game in the west.

The cult series was first launched in Japan for the Famicom in 1989 and went on to spawn two sequels, with the third – Mother 3 – released in 2006. The first sequel to the game, designed by Shigesato Itoi, was released in North America with the name EarthBound in 1995. Now, EarthBound is finally being released on the virtual console after much petitioning from fans.

However, now fans of the franchise are clamouring for Nintendo to release the third part in the saga, known as Mother 3 in Japan. Such is the demand for the instalment that one fan, who is also a professional translator, has translated the game from Japanese to English and is offering it to Nintendo for free if it releases the game in the west.

Fan favourite

In an open letter to Nintendo, Clyde Mandelin said: “I realize that localizing a game this size can cost a lot, so if it’ll help in even the slightest, I’ll gladly offer to let Nintendo use my text translation files for any use at all, completely for free.”

Under the moniker Mato, Mandelin added that the reason the original Mother 3 translation patch was created was because the game’s maker had made it clear it had no intention of releasing a translation itself. However, this did not diminish the hope that one day Nintendo might re-release the game on a new platform.

Should this happen, Mandelin goes as far as to say he would edit the files to fit with any new standards needed for the move to a new platform, even if it had to be retranslated from scratch. In fact, he promised he would do “whatever it takes” to ensure that an official release is secured.

However, would a company as big as Nintendo choose a fan translation to accompany the release of one of its games in a new market? Mandelin pointed out it has happened before, giving the example of Ys: The Oath in Felghana. A fan translation patch accompanied the Japanese PC version of the role-playing game, which follows the adventures of Adol Christin.

Localisation is one of the most integral factors in launching a game in a new market. Thanks to the internet, gamers all over the world are now discovering new games that have never been released in their country, and the makers are under increasing pressure to translate and localise them for new markets.

This involves more than simply translating the instructions and dialogue from one language to another. Other elements that make up a good game localisation include altering any cultural references, special characters and music, remapping the gameplay and any shortcuts and addressing any legal issues, such as age restrictions. Because of this, only a person with a good track record of translating games should be asked to tackle this task. This may mean that in many cases a fan with good language skills and qualifications is better equipped for the task than a translator with many more years’ experience, but who has never played a video game.

Having said that, Mandelin is not only a gaming fan, but also an experienced translator. He even goes as far as sharing with Nintendo his professional work experience in an attempt to entice the company to give Mother 3 a Western launch. In fact, he is so keen he has already started making translation notes.

“I definitely realize this is a silly-sounding offer and all, but I figure it’s better to make the offer and seem silly than possibly miss an opportunity entirely,” he concluded.

Translation mishaps

Produced by fans or otherwise, the quality of game translations have certainly come on leaps and bounds. In an 11 Points blog post, fan Sam Greenspan notes that 20 years ago when companies like Nintendo were rushing to get their popular Japanese games out in the west, the English translation often left a lot to be desired.

He points out several examples of the time, including on Pro Wrestling on the NES, which congratulates winners by declaring: “A winner is you.” Perhaps the most famous example of a video game blighted by broken English is Zero Wing for the European Sega Mega Drive. In the opening scene, the villain CATS says: “All your base are belong to us.” At another point in the game, a mechanic says: “Somebody set up us the bomb.”

Of course, not all games need to be translated. A famous example is The Sims by Electronic Arts, which was launched in 2000. Because it is a life simulation game, hours of dialogue needed to be recorded, which would then need to be translated for every new country the game launched in.

To avoid this, the game makers came up with an enterprising solution – they asked the voice actors to speak in gibberish. Only a few words in this gobbledygook language were given to the actors and the rest was improvised, resulting in a language that was at once incomprehensible and universal.

Whether Mother 3 is released outside Japan remains to be seen, but if it is Nintendo knows where it can go for a translation!