Friday, December 25, 2015

Season's Greetings

Hello, everyone!

Given the chaos we've been through in the past while, we're taking a short break from work to spend some time with family that we don't get to see all that often (and, in my case, celebrate my mother's birthday). We'll be back in business early next week.

From everyone at Darksquid Media, Darkside Translations, and Schwer and Schwer Alike: we wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and a joyful non-denominational winter solstice.

Monday, December 14, 2015

RKS Developer Diary #7 - Cover That Cover!

Rosenkreuzstilette Schwesternschaft
Official Cover Art (Draft)
Hello, everyone!

Two months have passed since [erka:es]'s resident illustrator WOMI uploaded to his blog a sneak peek at the collaboration he's been working on with us for the past while.  Well, after many revisions and plenty of back-and-forth between WOMI and our crew, our collaboration has finally borne fruit.  I'm extremely pleased to unveil the official cover art for Rosenkreuzstilette Schwesternschaft!

As you can see, Schwesternschaft's cover pays homage to the original covers of both the original Rosenkreuzstilette and its sequel, Rosenkreuzstilette Freudenstachel.  The art was completely redrawn from scratch in a slightly different style than the originals, reflecting the evolution in WOMI's skill as an artist.  WOMI experimented quite a bit with different compositions and logo designs.  Ultimately, we decided on a composition and logo that embraced Rosenkreuzstilette's own history in the same way that the series has embraced gaming's storied past.  Every iteration added something to the composition that wasn't present in the previous one, and the results... well, they speak for themselves.

Scrapped Schwesternschaft
Logo Design
I have to admit, providing feedback to someone who is all at once your client, your benefactor, and your idol is all kinds of nerve-wracking.  You want to make sure that what they create is the best that it can be, but at the same time you don't want to offend them when you genuinely feel that they're capable of doing better.  Thankfully, WOMI has proven himself to be quite receptive to criticism, and responded to our suggestions and mockups in stride.  Suffice to say, I'm quite proud of what we've managed to come up with together.  お疲れ様です、ヲミWOMI先生!そして、有難うございます!

Rosenkreuzstilette &
RKS Freudenstachel's
Original Cover Art
I should note that the above cover art is not 100% final.  It's still rough around the edges (quite literally, in this case, if you take a really close look at it), but it's polished to the degree that I have no qualms sharing it with you all in its current state.  What do you think?

The way things are currently going, I think it's safe to say that the original Rosenkreuzstilette will have a Summer 2016 release date.  There's always the possibility of unexpected snags, but I think this is a reasonable timeframe in which we'll have everything ready.  If anything comes up that might delay the release, you can be sure that I'll let you know about it on this blog as soon as possible.  And, of course, we'll fill you in on the plans for Freudenstachel and Schwesternschaft once we've gotten all the details ironed out.  So, stay tuned!

Next time, we'll take a closer look at that new feature I implemented.  So many nods that we couldn't retain in our fan translation...!

See you later!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

RKS Developer Diary #6 - You Got...!

And we're back.  Let's get right to it, shall we?

RKS's Status Subscreen (also known as the Start Menu or the Weapon Subscreen) has gone through many subtle revisions over the years.  Some of these changes were made because of technical limitations or not having the source material available at the time, while others were conscious changes made with the spirit and setting of the game in mind.

If you were to play "spot the differences" with the four screenshots to the right, you might be surprised to find that every single element in the official localization of the game has been altered in some way from the original Japanese.  The majority of these changes are barely noticeable; very few people would notice that the silver background was repositioned or that the blue window and decorations were nudged to the side.  Remember the concepts of alignment and compositional balance we went over in the second Developer Diary entry?  We took those same principles to heart when "redesigning" this subscreen, relocating elements to balance the layout while minimizing the amount of wasted space, using a single font consistently throughout the design in accordance with proper design philosophy.  The result is a subscreen that just "feels" right, whether or not the player actually notices that the Extra Life and Cross Tank counters are now vertically centered.

In our original fan translation, we wanted to accompany every single instance of German text in the game with its English equivalent.  Our 2009 release left only two instance of German untranslated:  the "Die Zeit vergeht schnell" text ("My, how time flies..." or "Time marches on...") that appears when using the Blind Fast-Forward feature while viewing a Replay file, and the subscreen's "Waffenenergie" (a slightly awkward German rendering of "Weapon[s] Energy").  Since there wasn't much space below the original German subscreen text to fit an English translation without making it look cramped or unnatural, we ultimately decided against including the line in our release (though we left our rejected attempt, pictured above, intact in our internal builds of the game).  Skipping ahead to 2015 (after WOMI had provided us with the game's source graphics), we made a point of reworking the subscreen so that the English translation would not only fit, but look like a natural part of the design.

The only glaring difference in four screenshots can be found in the backgrounds for the ability graphics.  There was no need to alter Lilli's graphic since it didn't contain any language-specific text,  but we had to rebuild the other 11 ability graphics so that the Japanese descriptions could be replaced with their English equivalents (to not do so would make the graphics far too cluttered to be aesthetically pleasing).  For the eight boss weapons, this was a piece of cake seeing as the background of each graphic was taken from the eight main stages.  However, for Seelegewehr, Eins, and Zwei, the original rays-of-light-shining-through-the-clouds image was never used anywhere in the entire game.  We tried to recreate the effect using the light-through-the-clouds graphics from the final stage, but the results just didn't meet our expectations.  So, we decided to try something completely different that matched with the precedent set by the other ability graphics.  Our first choice was to use the crosses that appear throughout the Imperial Training Grounds, and the effect just worked.  We had no reservations using this new set of graphics in the main game despite knowing that purists would inevitably complain about what was for all intents and purposes an unavoidable change.

As you can imagine, we made a point of revisiting the issue once we had gotten our hands on the original source files.  While reworking the Seelegewehr graphic proved to be a simple task, we just weren't satisfied with the Eins and Zwei graphics no matter where we tried to reposition the ability names.  We experimented a bit more with our original cross-background alternative, and, again, it just worked.  We've included our "purist" version in the system.dat archive should anyone decide they want to play around with graphics mods, but we're more than satisfied with our current subscreen incarnation.

As for our actual localization decisions, let's look at the terminology before moving onto the weapons names themselves.

Magische Energie (Mana Power):
- In the first Rosenkreuzstilette, only a handful of characters wield actual weapons:  Trauare carries the Chaos Spear Leviathan, Grolla inherits the Seyfarth clan's cursed Demon Sword, Grollschwert, and Sir Seyfarth himself wields the Devil Scythe Glassense.  You could argue that the claws on Zorne's prosthetic arm count since she attacks you with them in Freudenstachel as well.  Regardless, none of these weapons have much to do with the contents of the Start Menu; the term "Weapons Energy" is a throwback to the subscreens of Megaman 4, Megaman 5, and Megaman X, where the title characters actually had Variable Weapons Systems equipped on their arms.  Story-wise, Spiritia underscores that the abilities of the Magi are not inherently destructive in nature (Eins and Zwei couldn't hurt a fly if they tried).  We decided to rename the subscreen to maintain consistency with this ideal and with RKS's own terminology.

Leben (Vitality)
- "Leben" can literally be translated as "Life" or "Vitality".  We chose to go with "Vitality" to distinguish it from "Extra Life" (otherwise known as a 1-Up).  On that note: did you notice the new Extra Life icons for Spiritia and Grolla?

Cross Tanks
- Self-explanatory.  The game refers to them as "Cross" (...well, "Closs", but we fixed that...), and they're obvious references to the Energy Tanks (E-Tanks / Energy Canisters) in the original Megaman series.  It always bugged me that Megaman games would show "09" lives or tanks even when you were at maximum capacity.  To address this, we've added a cheat code to the game that actually makes use of the tens digit of the Extra Lives counter (among a few other things).  What is that cheat code, you may ask?  The retro gamers among you already know the answer...

The Spirit Gun, Seelegewehr
- "The Shotgun of Souls" in the fan-translated release.  While the German "gewehr" can mean "gun", "shotgun", or "rifle", the Japanese 「銃」 specifically means "gun" (as in "handgun").  We chose the translation "spirit gun" over "soul gun" as a nod to Yusuke Urameshi's signature attack in Yu Yu Hakusho: Ghost Files.

The Sting of Joy, Freudenstachel
- Literally "the thorns of joy" (as in, a rose's thorns), we liked the many layers of meaning in the word "sting".  Amusingly, commentators at NeoGAF and Destructoid were quick to point out that Freudenstachel could be translated as "the prick of joy" (and not-so-amusingly dismissed the game's developers and fanbase as a bunch of perverts...).

The Burst of Anger, Zornesbombe
- "The Explosion of Anger" in our fan translation.  We made a point of making the description of Zornesbombe a pun on Zorne's temperament; you could legitimately translate the descriptor as "Zorne's outburst".  We originally went with "explosion" because of the violent image it conjures alongside Zorne's bombs, but our translator Tyler reminded us of exactly how ineffective Zorne's temper and explosives prove themselves to be...

The Harness of Sorrow, Klageharnisch
- Likely the easiest-to-mistranslate term in the entire game, both the German "Klageharnisch" and the Japanese 「なげきのよろい」 are frequently rendered as "the armor of lament".  Trauare is perpetually depressed and often does not care enough to put actual effort into anything she does (barring activities that improve her mood like swimming, playing pranks, and flirting with her girlfriend Zorne).  The name of her ability stems from the power she displays whenever she chooses to harness the depths of her dolor to change her circumstances instead of resigning herself to not being able to do anything.  Although she comes across as one of the most mature members of the bunch, Trau is decidedly one of the most childish.

The Breath of Delight, Lustatem
- "The Breath of Desire" in the fan translation.  We admit that we made the same mistake as many people, interpreting "lust" in a sensual context.  The Japanese 「快楽の息吹」 literally translates as "the breath of joy" or "the breath of delight" in addition to the usual "desire" and "pleasure" connotations; we went with "delight" since Freudia already has dibs on associations with the word "joy" (the "Freude" in her name is German for "joy"). We were tempted to go with "the wind of delight" since "atem" can also mean "wind", but ultimately went with "breath" since this interpretation was better-corroborated by the Japanese.

The Sword of Spite, Grollschwert
- After much discussion in the comments section of our last numbered Developer Diary entry, we decided against changing our translation to "The Blade of Bitterness" for a handful of reasons, including not being able to fit the bitter rendition into the subscreen graphics in a way that we were satisfied with.  One commentator suggested giving the weapon and the stage different translations; we considered this option, but ultimately decided against it since Grollschwert already has two official titles (the other being, "the Cursed Demon Sword"), and we didn't want to make the list of titles any longer than necessary.  We also considered "Grudge Sword" or "Grudge Blade" --  more literal renderings that could be taken as nods to the Final Fantasy XI weapons with the same names.

The Foreseen Future, Die Geplante Zukunft
- "The Projected Future" in our 2009 release, we changed "projected" to "foreseen" for both the sake of alliteration and to work Sichte's own name into the name of her ability ("sicht" is German for "sight").

The Lover's Tempest, Liebessturm
- Previously "the Tempest of Love", it was a challenge to keep this descriptor accurate without also coming across as painfully cheesy.  We were tempted to use "Lovely Tempest" as a subtle nod to Death's "Deadly Tempest" from Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, but we felt that the meaning strayed too far from what was intended.  Our final version is a kinda-sorta nod to the subtitle of the Sonic Soldier Borgman Original Anime Video, "Lover's Rain".

The Mind Barrier, Geisterwand
- This is a descriptor I really wish we could have expanded upon in the subscreen; 「心の壁」 is a direct reference to Neon Genesis Evangelion -- specifically, Kaworu Nagisa's description of what the pseudoscientific "A. T. Field" really is (the "wall of one's mind", "a sacred barrier upon which no one may intrude").  Given Schwer's many similarities to series protagonist Shinji Ikari, I'd always had a hunch that she might be a reference to Evangelion.  Unfortunately, "The Wall of One's Mind" is too long to fit in the graphic and still look presentable.  Can't win 'em all, I guess...

Silverwing One & Two / Silberflügel "Eins" & "Zwei"
- Unchanged from the fan translation.  Everything I've said thus far about the Seelegewehr graphics also applies to the Silberflügel graphics.

Forest Fairy Lilli
- Just "Lilli" in the fan translation.  With the original graphics available to us, we could reposition and edit text at will.  We felt it was only appropriate to update Lilli's graphic to match the style of the other eleven by giving her a descriptor.  Before anyone asks:  yes, Frost Fairy Strudel will be receiving the same treatment in the sequel.

I hinted at a new feature I'd implemented back in November that I wanted to brag about, but it seems I've run out of time for today (I open the restaurant bright and early tomorrow morning).  Well, a picture's worth a thousand words, so that'll have to do for now.  What do you think?

Provisional RKS Developer Diary - It's about time...!

Hello, everyone! Kept you waiting, huh? Sorry about that. I've been wanting to make this post for a while, but Murphy's Law decided to kick into overdrive over the past few weeks. I wouldn't have believed the timing of these events if I hadn't lived through 'em myself...

I'm pleased to report that my original diagnosis of the hard drive crash was spot-on; my Windows partition's file table was corrupted due to some physical damage to the hard disk, while the remaining three partitions were 100% unharmed. Naturally, I took the prudent course of action and retrieved the contents of the three partitions immediately.  Once I'd confirmed that everything was properly backed up did I attempt to recover the data from the corrupted volume. Thankfully, everything went off without a hitch and not a single byte of valuable data was lost (some operating system files were kaput, but nothing important). I replaced the damaged hard drive (a 150 gig one at 5400 rpm) with a larger and faster one (320 gigs at 7200 rpm), reinstalling the essentials like my operating system, my programming environment, my graphics software, you get the idea.  With that, we should have been back in business...

Shortly after the bare necessities were set up, the system would spontaneously decide to shut itself down every now and again. A quick tap on the underside of the machine easily revealed why; my laptop was seriously beginning to overheat, whether due to age, poor air flow, or the recent change in components. I ordered a laptop cooling pad to help regulate the temperature and installed an app to keep track of the CPU's temperature in Window's System Tray, and things have more or less stabilized since then.  I need to keep a constant eye on the temperature and have to take a break whenever the temperature climbs above 130º F (the auto-shutdown kicks in at 145º F -- for reference, the temperature is 87º F at cold bootup, and typical use keeps the temperature around 100-105º F).  Thankfully, it's wintertime in Canada, and I can just place the laptop on the windowsill to cool it like a freshly-baked pie whenever the cooling pad isn't able to do the job quickly enough.

At around the time I'd figured all of this out, real life unfortunately kicked in. As many of you already know, I work at a Thai restaurant during the day and moonlight in video game localization; it's my work at the restaurant that keeps the bills paid and allows me to work on Rosenkreuzstilette during my off-hours.  Well, in the past month, three of my coworkers resigned from their posts for a variety of reasons that it isn't my prerogative to repeat.  As you can imagine, this left us short on manpower, and my qualifications as a jack-of-all-trades ended up backfiring on me; the owner and the manager both begged me to cover the vacated shifts while they searched for replacements.  That effectively robbed me of my days off, leaving me with no time to check my messages or type up a blog post, far less make any meaningful progress on RKS.  To make matters worse, the two applicants we hired chose to simply not show up for their first day of training (earning them both immediate terminations -- punctuality and reliability are critical in the food service industry).  So, I had to grit my teeth and endure the exhaustion while we searched for other candidates (all while addressing other issues like disciplining problematic coworkers, staying after-hours to deal with emergencies like leaks and floods within the restaurant, and so on...).

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending (you wouldn't be reading this entry otherwise): we finally found a candidate with both the skills and the professionalism to show up, ready to work, meaning I finally get some time to relax.  I personally trained him in some of his duties earlier this week.  So, after much ass-busting, I finally have some time to catch my breath and finish setting up my machine.  Thankfully, the bare essentials are already installed, so we can pick up where we left off almost a month ago.  Our momentum might have been killed, but our drive certainly hasn't.  Time to bring ourselves back up to speed!

I'll be back in just a bit, once I've gathered the necessary screenshots for the blog post I had intended to make on November 8th.  This time, we'll be having a look at the subtle changes to RKS's Status Subscreen.

See you soon!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Provisional RKS Developer Diary - ...Oh, you have got to be kidding me...

Hi, everyone.  I'm afraid I have some troubling news.  Nothing devastating, thankfully, but it's a setback that I may as well be up-front about.  The whole point of this Developer Diary series is to be clear and honest with our fans, after all, so I'm going to do just that.

This Sunday morning, my plan was to fire up my programming laptop, grab a couple of screenshots from the latest build of Rosenkreuzstilette for my next Developer Diary entry, type up some behind-the-scenes factoids for today's post, clean myself up, and head to work for the day (my shift starts at 9:30 am).  Unfortunately, things aren't going quite according to plan:

When I try to power on my laptop, the screen above briefly appears before the system automatically restarts itself.  The process repeats itself in an infinite loop.  That can't be good...

Time to put that expensive Computer Science degree of mine to work.  Alright, let's reconfigure the boot options to disable the auto-reboot when the system screws up...  Success!  I'm able to get the machine to show the error machine long enough for me to snap a photo.

"UNMOUNTABLE_BOOT_VOLUME", huh?  So my Windows partition isn't being recognized.  Can we get some more details?  Since my programming machine runs Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP3*, I fish out my XP install CD to see if I can glean some information from the setup process.

* Before anyone makes a smartass quip about my choice of OS: programming environments are most productive when they're set up on an advanced machine running a more stable, better-tested operating system.  This machine originally shipped with Windows Vista SP1, but I deliberately downgraded to Windows XP Pro SP3 to make the machine more reliable.  And it's served me well for well over five years now.

The XP install disc boots up the way it's done hundreds of times before, and the setup program gives me exactly the information I had hoped it would.  The "Partition Select" menu gives me both the nature of the failure and reassures me that the problem isn't as bad as it could have been.  As you can see from the photo, the primary NTFS partition on my laptop's hard drive, which should be a 32-gig volume labeled "Windows", isn't being recognized properly.  I've had a similar issue with my NTFS file allocation table crapping out on me last week (my C:\Windows\Prefetch\ directory suddenly became unreadable for no discernible reason), so I know I need to hook up the hard drive to another machine with a functioning OS, run some diagnostics on the corrupted NTFS partition, and, if the issue isn't a physical failure, run my data recovery tools to get back any lost data.

Notice that pretty much everything I just said was about my primary boot partition, Windows.  As you can see, my other three volumes -- the ones that contain the actual important stuff -- are safe and sound.  The RKS source code and Photoshop files are on drive D: (Multimedia), and I'd made a backup on my portable 2-terabyte drive just before I started coding on Saturday.  So, even if my hard drive had failed completely, the most I'd have lost was a day's work, my fonts and bookmarks, and my forward momentum.  Oh, and my already-configured programming environment.  Man, it was set up just the way I like it...

The obvious and unfortunate consequence of this development is that any further progress of RKS will be stalled until my laptop is up and running again -- or, failing that, my work is migrated to another machine.  Thankfully, I have most (if not all) of the equipment I'll need to salvage the drive contents; my roommate has a hard drive enclosure that I can use to troubleshoot the laptop's drive externally.  I may need to recover my data recovery software (heh) from an external source, but everything should otherwise be fine when I actually have time to troubleshoot the problem further.  This also gives me a legitimate excuse to get myself a new laptop.

Still, this kinda sucks: I implemented a new feature yesterday that I really wanted to show off today, and now I won't be able to do that for a while.  If any of you have played both the original and localized versions of Bunny Must Die, you might have an idea of what I'd managed to come up with.

Oh well.  It's still too early for work and I can't wake my roommate up this early on a weekend.  Time to take a breather, shower, and read a book on my phone.  Not much else I can do until I get my hands on that enclosure...

Friday, October 30, 2015

PSA: A friend in need...

Hi, everyone.  Things have been busier than usual as of late thanks to our civic duty, a member of our staff switching day jobs, and changes in my own work schedule and responsibilities (I'm working more hours than before and I'm in charge of training the new guy in addition to my other duties...).  As a result, the amount of time we've had to devote to RKS has unfortunately taken a hit.  That's not as big a deal as it might sound, though; everything is looking good, and the nature of our day jobs gives us time to think of solutions to whatever issues we come across without actually ruining our forward momentum (we often already have solutions to the problems at hand before the next chance we have to sit down and tweak code or edit graphics).  Having a mindless day job works wonders when you're moonlighting as a localization specialist, and an involved fanbase really helps whenever you're showing symptoms of writer's block (seriously: thank you, everyone).

Suffice to say, it'll take a few more days before we're ready to roll out the next Developer Diary entry.  Having a bit of extra time to hear your thoughts on the matter really helps this time around since it involves something we touched upon in the comments section of our last post; I'd like that discussion to be properly concluded before posting the next entry.

Unfortunately, things haven't been looking as great for our friend Tristan MacAvery, voice of Rosenkreuzstilette's Count Michael Zeppelin and Neon Genesis Evangelion's Gendo Ikari (and many others).  Out of respect for his privacy, I won't go into detail as to the nature of his predicament, but I will say that his situation has left him feeling pretty depressed.

As you may remember, Tristan drove all the way from Syracuse to our place in Montreal to record his lines for Zeppelin, and he was willing to do it entirely pro bono (of course, we made sure he didn't walk away empty-handed).  You might not be aware that Tristan is also a talented author; you can find a half-dozen titles under his real name on Amazon, and a few more under his Cheyenne tribal name, Tristan Black Wolf.  He made a point of giving me an autographed copy of his latest book, The Laputan Factor, as a thank-you for having him over (much to my surprise), and I can honestly say that I can't quite figure out who was giving who the bigger reward...

Tristan has recently started a Patreon to help support his writing career.  Having read through The Laputan Factor much quicker than I'd expected (I started reading it on the bus on the way to my hometown one evening after work -- and stayed up until sunrise finishing it instead of turning in for the night), I can safely safely say that he deserves every penny he's asking for and then some.  The story felt like something you'd expect from Kotaro Uchikoshi, the author of the Infinity series (Never 7, Remember 11, Ever 17, and 12 Riven), the Zero Escape series (Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Virtue's Last Reward), Steins;Gate, and Punch Line -- those of you who are familiar with his work know that this is no small compliment.  If you're interested in throwing some change Tristan's way, you can pledge as little as a dollar.  Personally, I'd recommend a $5 pledge since you receive a digital copy of The Laputan Factor as a thank-you gift (as well as a free digital copy of one of his future digital releases).

It'll still be a while before we start accepting pledges or preorders for Rosenkreuzstilette Schwesternschaft.  Instead of sending anything our way, we'd much rather everyone show their support for the voice of Count Zeppelin himself.  Oh, and the project's German translator, Martin "Dream&Nightmare" Tessnow -- he drew the cover art and illustrations for The Laputan Factor.  And, yes: Tristan was the one that introduced us.  The luck does indeed snowball.
Still on the fence?  I think this video review of the book speaks for itself:

You can read the first three chapters of the book for free here and judge for yourself.  Even if it's not your thing, please consider showing some support for the man that has already done so much for this project.

Monday, October 12, 2015

RKS Developer Diary #5 - Giving Thanks and Naming Names

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  Oh, it's a month early for Thanksgiving?  Not if you were born and raised in Canada like me!  I'd like to extend my thanks to those among you who have supported us over the years.  On behalf of everyone who has ever flown the banner of Darkside Translations, as well as those who joined us after our transition to Darksquid Media: thank you all so much for being our fans.

It's kind of fitting that, in the lead-up to Thanksgiving, we were tinkering with the code for the game's ending credit sequences (crediting our staff and thanking everyone who contributed to the project of their own volition).  We expected expanding the credits to be a relatively simple task, but it proved to be a much taller order than anticipated.  Over thirty names needed to be added to the staff roll, and the way the game loaded files prevented us from adding new ones to the mix.  So, what to do?  Simple: reorganize how the image files were structured so that we could fit everything we needed within the limitations we had to work with.  Think of it as packing a suitcase with a fixed number of compartments.  It wasn't easy, but the end results speak for themselves.

Changing gears: A good number of you have already seen what WOMI has been up to thanks to his latest blog post.  Yep: he's drawing new cover art for the English version of Rosenkreuzstilette!  As you can see, he's modernized Tia's look from the original RKS cover art to use in the foreground, but that's only a part of the picture; the final Rosenkreuzstilette Schwesternschaft art might be a callback to the original cover, or it might be something completely different.  WOMI has full creative control over Schwesternschaft's cover (the art in the Prefundia video is just a placeholder until the new art and logo are ready), so we unfortunately can't offer any hints as to what the final design might look like.  Sorry!

That said, onto today's Developer Diary!  As promised, we'll be covering the titles of the many stages in the game.  This is going to be a long one, so you might want to grab some popcorn and get comfortable.

As many of you are already aware, each of the stages in Rosenkreuzstilette has four titles, one in Japanese and one in German for each and every playable character.  Originally, RKS was going to have three playable characters (the button sequence to activate Freudia Mode was already programmed into the game); in the end, Freudenstachel ended up becoming its own title rather than a simple bonus campaign, so the sequence has been disabled in the game's code.

Before anyone asks:  sorry, but the code for Freudia in the original RKS is only around 25% complete, and a good number of assets were never implemented.  Even if we backported the code and assets from Freudenstachel, there would still be holes we'd have no way of filling.  So, sorry!  No new playable characters this time around.  Even so, the already-programmed Freudenstachel button sequence has been put to good use.  What for?  That's a surprise!

Back on topic: each stage has a Japanese and a German title for each playable character -- a subtle nod in itself to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood.  More often than not, the German title is a translation of the Japanese.  For our fan translation, we replaced the Japanese renditions of the titles with their English equivalents and corrected the grammar in the German version where we noticed something was off.  As I mentioned two entries ago, we've taken a different approach for the official English localization: retranslating both the Japanese and the German into English, comparing the two, then translating the final English rendition back into German to ensure maximum consistency (except where such differences are quite clearly deliberate).

Naturally, since we had WOMI's original Photoshop files to work with, the presentation in the official version is a far better match to the original version than our fan translation could ever hope to be.  Ah, the convenience of having access to the original source files...  Thank you so much, WOMI!

Let's have a look at the new titles, shall we?

Starting with the "Blades of the Rose Cross" scenario:

Prologue: The Beginning of the End (Der Anfang vom Ende)
- Pretty straightforward, this one hasn't changed since our fan translation.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it.  Note that we're using "Prologue" and not "Opening Stage", following suit with the naming scheme from Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and WOMI's own precedent in Rosenkreuzstilette Freudenstachel.

Freudia Stage: Duel of the Fates (Das Duell der Schicksale)
- The original Japanese is actually a shout-out to the Japanese subtitle of Megaman 7, 「宿命の対決」 ("The Fated Showdown").  For the English rendition, we tweaked the translation just slightly to double as a reference a recurring musical theme in the Star Wars films.

Zorne Stage: The Crystal Mines of Nosdu (Die Mana Kristall Minen im Nosdu Gebirge)
 - The German for this stage ("Abbaue der Magischsteine ins Nosdu Gebirge") appears to be a mistranslation of the Japanese 「ノスドゥー山脈魔晶石採掘所」, whose full title can be translated as "The Magic Crystal Mines of the Nosdu Mountain Range".  The German translates "mine" as a verb ("abbaue") and not a noun ("minen"), changing the title to "Mining for Magic Stones in the Nosdu Mountain Range". Neither of these roll off the tongue well, so we needed to make the English more fluid and concise.  We experimented a bit with "The Mines of the Nosdu Mountains" and the "The Magic Mines of Nosdu" before settling on a translation that didn't sacrifice the nature of the mine itself -- observant players might notice that the boss of Stage 16 (whose shell is made of the same mineral seen throughout the mines) shares the weakness of the boss of the mines.

Trauare Stage: From the Depths of Despair (Aus den Tiefen der Verzweiflung)
- Not much of a change from the fan translation, which was itself tweaked to mirror the text in Trauare's stage-specific Game Over screen (itself a nod to Gargoyle's Quest).

Luste Stage: Sleipnir, the Flying Fortress (Die fliegende Festung Sleipnir)
- In Norse mythology, Sleipnir was Odin's eight-legged flying horse, the child of Odin's foster son Loki and Svadilfari, the best and brightest of the Frost Giants' steeds (...try not to think about it too much).  In the original German translation, "luftfeste" was a archaic form of "luftfestung", meaning "aerial fortress".  Our official version modernizes the language a bit and makes it flow more naturally.

Grolla Stage: A Ghost Town in the Moonlight (Eine Geisterstadt im Mondlicht)
- In our original fan translation, we modeled the English title for this stage after the subtitle for the Japanese version of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night ("Nocturne in the Moonlight").  "Ghost Town in the Moonlight" sounds just a tiny bit awkward in English, so we threw in the missing article to make it a bit more fluid.  Of course, we revised the German translation as well, updating it from "Die Todes Stadt unter dem Mond" ("The Dead City under the Moon").

Sichte Stage: The Fortress City of Zwerberg (Die Festungstadt von Zwerberg)
- Zwerberg is the name of a real-life peak in the municipality of Oberweser in the Kassel district of Germany.  It is 317 meters (1,040 feet) above sea level and serves as a great place to build a city that can easily be defended during wartime.  We considered using "Zwerberg Citadel", but my own love of Neon Genesis Evangelion eventually won out in favor of the phrase "fortress city".

Liebea Stage: Rapunzel's Anguish (Rapunzels Leid)
- Rapunzel was a girl with long, beautiful hair who was kidnapped as a child and imprisoned in a large stone tower with no stairs or ladders; the only way in or out was to use her hair as a rope.  Disney's animated film Tangled is a relatively accurate depiction of the events in the original fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.   The original German for this stage was rather clunky ("Rapunzel ist in tiefe Trauer" / "Rapunzel is in Deep Sorrow"), so we had to revise it.  It was tempting to make a Scott Pilgrim reference here about "the infinite sadness", but we ultimately decided against it.

Schwer-Muta Stage: A Heart Sealed Away (Ein versiegeltes Herz)
- We considered the more literal "A Sealed Heart", but it just didn't seem to have the right amount of depth as a title...

Zeppelin Stage I - Demon's Lair (Die Höhle des Dämons)
- We rendered this title as "Pandemonium" in the fan translation, which is just one way that the Japanese 「悪魔の巣窟」 could be interpreted (literally, "Den of the Devil").  Pandemonium was the capital city of Hell in John Milton's Paradise Lost.  The stage title is actually a reference to Demon's Lair, a tabletop RPG by Lasalion Games.  When we realized the connection, we updated the reference accordingly.

Zeppelin Stage II: Bloody Tears (Die blutigen Tränen der heiligen Jungfrau)
- "Bloody Tears" is naturally a reference to a recurring musical theme in the Castlevania series.  The original German reads, "Die Göttin weinen blutige Tranen" ("The Goddess Cries Bloody Tears").  In the stage itself, it's the statues of the Virgin Mary that are shedding tears of blood and not our favorite wannabe deity, so we updated the German for the sake of consistency ("The Bloody Tears of the Blessed Maiden").

Zeppelin Stage III: Thanatos (Der Sensenmann)
- Thanatos is the Greek god of death who really needs no introduction.  He goes by many names, the most well-known being that of the "Grim Reaper".  He has been a mainstay in the Castlevania series since its inception over 20 years ago.  In the original Japanese version, "Thanatos" was spelled out in the Japanese and Roman alphabets, and converting the Japanese to English would have made the titles redundant.  We addressed this issue by using a less-popular spelling, "Xanatos" (the namesake of Machiavellian millionaire David Xanatos in Gargoyles), in the fan translation.  For the official release, we decided to use the German name for the cloaked scythe-wielder.  And, yes, Thanatos is Sir Raimund Seyfarth's nickname; a bonafide god of death on the battlefield.

Zeppelin Stage IV: Eternal Darkness (Die ewigen Dunkelheit)
- A dual nod to Silicon Knights' psychological horror game as well as the Fiendlord Magus's ultimate triple-tech in Chrono Trigger (rendered as "DarkEternal" in the original Super Nintendo version because of space limitations).  "Eternal Darkness" is also the name of Count Zeppelin's magical ability.

Iris Stage I: The Golden Palace (Das goldene Schloss)
- We were tempted to render this as "The Palace of Gold", but that came across as somewhat pretentious.  If it ain't broke...

Iris Stage II: The Garden of Time and Space (Der Garten von Zeit und Raum)
- Pretty straightforward; we just tidied up the grammar a bit.

Iris Stage III: The Heart of a Goddess (Das Herz einer Göttin)
- Another case of Japanese-to-German translation in need of improvement; the original "Göttin Herz" ("Goddess Heart") makes no grammatical sense in either language.  Thankfully, the intent was clear in the original Japanese 「女神の心臓」, so correcting the issue was a piece of cake.

Final Stage: Blades of the Rose Cross (Rosenkreuzstilette)
- Ah, the game's namesake.  Literally, 「薔薇十字の小剣」 translates to "Stilettos of the Rose Cross".  A stiletto is a long dagger designed for stabbing, not cutting or slashing.  The word has since become more widely recognized as a type of high-heeled ladies' shoe than a pointed knife.  For that reason (and because the literal translation is a bit of a mouthful), we rendered the title as the more fluid "Blades of the Rose Cross" instead.  Also, Japanese works tend to use the word "Last" when "Final" would be far more appropriate (I wonder how long that trend will last...?); we made a point of addressing the issue.  While developing Freudenstachel, WOMI noticed the difference and has since updated the naming scheme for subsequent titles.

Onto the sanity-testing bonus scenario:

Prologue: One Woman's War (Der einsame Krieg)
- Literally, 「孤独な戦い」 is "A Solitary Struggle".  We couldn't resist a nod to One Man's War, a 1991 historical drama starring Anthony Hopkins. As an extra incentive, the alliteration just worked.

Freudia Stage: Snowfield Showdown (Der eisige Kampf auf Leben und Tod)
- "Der Kampf auf Leben und Tod im Schneefeld" ("The Fight to the Death on the Snowfield") in the original German, the "on the Snowfield" portion prevents this title from flowing smoothly in English. So, we made the title much more succinct.  When you only have a second or two to convey an idea, why use eight words when two work far more effectively?  Rendered as "Arctic Deathmatch" in our fan translation, we went with the alliterate title in the end since our original interpretation was a bit of a misnomer (Spiritia has absolutely no intention of killing her best friend...).

Zorne Stage: A Family Portrait (Ein Familienporträt)
- A minor word choice & grammar tweak; nothing special.

Trauare Stage: The Siren's Sanctuary (Das Heiligtum der Sirene)
- While "Sanctum of the Siren" from our fan translation rolls off the tongue quite nicely, we wanted to emphasize that Trauare spends so much time underwater because it allows her to drown out the chaos of the world on land, if only for a while.  "Sanctuary" and "sanctum" are synonymous; the revised version underscores that this is her domain -- her safe haven -- and that those who would disturb her moment of peace do so at the risk of invoking her wrath.

Luste Stage: The Forbidden Game (Das verbotene Spiel)
- This is a fairly popular title in fiction, with short stories, novel series, films, single episodes, and full television shows bearing its name.  The German was updated to reflect the German title of a few of these works.

Grolla Stage: All Kinds of Justice (Jede Art von Gerechtigkeit)
- Ah, a tricky one.  Literally, the Japanese 「それぞれの正義」 here refers the idea of each person having their own idea of what justice is and what the "right" course of action might be.  Justice can take on many forms; there are all kinds of justice in the world.  Sichte practically lampshades the title in her philosophical musings, so it was a natural fit in the end.

Sichte Stage: What We Cannot Discuss (Wovon man nicht sprechen kann)
- Interestingly enough, the title of Sichte's stage is part of a quote from German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein: "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen" ("What we cannot discuss, we must pass over in silence").  It means that, if you have something to say, be clear and to the point; if you can't, don't even bring up the subject since trying to tell only part of the story would, at best, confuse the listener, and at worse, lead them to think you've gone insane.  This quote quite appropriately sums up Grolla's plight; Sichte really does not understand what Grolla is thinking because she won't actually come out and tell her -- she only insists that Iris must be stopped.  Poor communication kills...

Liebea Stage: The Magic Research Lab, Grimm's Miniature Garden" (Das Magische Forschungslabor, "Grimm's Miniaturgarten")
- Another reference to the Brothers Grimm for Liebea.  This is by far the longest stage title in the game, so the literal "The Tower of Magical Research Experiments" needed to be trimmed down in order to fit the Grimm's Miniature Garden portion into the translation.  We needed to either leave out that the laboratory specialized in magical research or that the lab was a tower.  Since we can deduce the latter from the stage's level design, the choice was obvious.

Schwer-Muta Stage: The Black Playground (Die schwarze Spielwiese)
- Another straightforward grammar correction.

Zeppelin Stage I: The Uninvited (Die ungebetene Gast)
- Literally, "The Uninvited Guests", the name is a reference to the prequel to Shadowgate, which is directly referenced in Stage 12's Game Over screen.  The Uninvited itself gets a Game Over reference in Freudenstachel, so we're pretty confident that this reference is intentional.

Zeppelin Stage II: The Crimson Lake (Der blutrote See)
- We considered the possibility that this title might be a reference to the town of Bloodpool in ActRaiser (the game referenced in the previous stage's Game Over screen).  In the end, we decided on a more subtle take, retaining the blood reference in the German rendition ("The Blood-Red Lake").

Zeppelin Stage III - The Cross She Carries (Ihr Kreuz zu tragen)
- The Japanese 「十字架を背に」 is an undeniable reference to the Castlevania song 「十字架を胸に」 (officially rendered as "Crucifix Held Close" in English).  The song title means to hold a cross close to one's heart (in other words, to cherish one's faith in something), whereas the stage title refers to carrying a cross on one's back (carrying a burden or responsibility).  In this case, the thematic meaning is much more important than the song reference (this is the stage where Grolla comes to terms with her responsibility as the successor to her late mentor), so the fan-translated title had to go.

Zeppelin Stage IV - The Nightwalker (Der Nachtwanderer)
- Another popular title in fiction, The Nightwalker is the name of a 1964 psychological thriller, Gino Vannelli's 1981 album, a 1993 Japanese visual novel (and its 2001 remake), and a 1998 anime series.  "Der Nachtwanderer" is its official German equivalent.  "The Nightwalker" is also the name of Count Zeppelin's demonic transformation

Iris Stage I: The Labyrinth of Chains (Das Labyrinth der Ketten)
- The Labyrinth was an elaborate maze in Greek mythology that served as a prison for the Minotaur and doubled as a death sentence for criminals.  Nowadays, we use the word as a synonym for "maze".  No tweaks were necessary for this straightforward stage title.

Iris Stage II: The Garden of Chaos (Der Garten des Chaos)
- "Chaotischer Garten" ("Chaotic Garden") in the original German, we tweaked the grammar to more closely follow the Japanese 「混沌の庭」.

Iris Stage III: Divine Might (Göttliche Macht)
- We based our fan-translated title of this stage, "Holy Lightning", on the original German, "Heilige Donnerkraft" ("Holy Thunder"), tweaking it to match a similarly-named spell in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (Richter Belmont's "Divine Storm" was also considered).  The Japanese 「神の雷」 ("The Thunder of God") makes it clear that the title is meant to refer to some good, old-fashioned godly vengeance.  Iris's dialogue theme is 「神の力、人の心」 (localized, "Human Heart, Divine Might"); the parallel was too perfect to leave unused.

Final Stage: The Sword of Spite (Grollschwert)
- Originally, we considered updating this title to "The Blade of Bitterness"; the word "spite" has a different connotation than 「怨暛の魔剣」 ("The Cursed Sword of Grudges"), whereas "bitterness" better captures the original meaning.  We couldn't resist having an alliterative title, so "sword" became "blade" to match.  However, the change presented a problem when updating the Status Screen ability graphics; there wasn't enough horizontal space for the longer title.  So, we reluctantly reverted the name back to its fan-translated incarnation.

Well, what do you think?  If you have any suggestions or comments regarding the above, feel free to weigh in.  We're pleased with these titles, but we're always willing to implement improvements when someone has a genuinely better idea.

Thanks again to our German expert, Martin Tessnow, for his help with the stage titles -- we couldn't have done any of this without him.  And, again, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

RKS Developer Diary #4 - Choose Your Destiny

Hello, everyone!

We appreciate the kind words you've been sending our way in response to the delays in the project.  To liberally paraphrase one of our partners, "you can complete a project quickly, you can keep your expenses as low as possible, and you can polish your work to a blinding sheen, but you can never do all three at the same time; pick the two that matter the most to you and accept that the third just isn't going to happen".  You already know which two we've chosen, and it's reassuring to know that you're supportive of our decision.

Onto today's Developer Diary entry.  The results of our poll are in, and an overwhelming majority of you wanted to have a look at the revised Stage Select Screen.  Those of you who wanted to see the new Stage Titles, don't worry: we'll be covering them next time, so stay tuned!

Rosenkreuzstilette's Stage Select Screen is actually composed of six different images working in concert:  the image background, the scrolling hexagram, the headshots of all eight bosses, the flashing cursor, the profile image of each boss, and the profile image's alpha mask (which specifies which parts of the image are transparent and which parts are opaque).  At the time of this writing, five of the six images have been revised; the screenshots in this post don't fully reflect how the final version will look (though they do give a pretty accurate idea of what to expect).

The biggest change to the Stage Select Screen is the one we're most satisfied with.  We've rearranged the characters' names, the Japanese rendition of their names, and their RKS ranks and callsigns in such a way that looks completely natural in English yet keeps their actual names at the forefront.  We started with Schwer-Muta's graphic since hers demanded the most visual real estate of the bunch.  Originally, we dropped the Japanese rendering of Schwer's name and replaced the Japanese text with the original German / English rendering, but that left too much empty space where her name used to be (in our discipline, we refer to this a "whitespace").  So, we decided to retain the Japanese and just swap the original and Japanese names, removing the whitespace and creating a much more balanced composition.  We were quite pleased with the result, so, from there, it was just a matter of updating the text accordingly for the remaining seven bosses.

However, this layout presented an interesting predicament.  Over the course of the four main "entries" in the series (Rosenkreuzstilette, Rosenkreuzstilette Grollschwert, Rosenkreuzstilette Freudenstachel, and Rosenkreuzstilette Weißsilber), there are a total of three bosses marked with the callsign "Unbekannt" (German for "Unknown").  I'm a stickler for consistency, so I'd naturally want to have these three bosses follow the same precedent as the others.  After a bit of brainstorming, we realized we were only one detail short of having everything we needed to have the three fall in line with the others: namely, the Japanese word for "Unknown", 「不明」 ("fumei").  With that one missing detail, all the pieces were in place, resulting in the screenshot you see above.  What do you think?

Changing gears: as you can see in the screenshot to the right, the official English name of the Count's lineage is now "Zeppelin".  When we first met with WOMI to discuss the project, I asked him flat-out about the naming scheme of the bosses and pointed out that "Sepperin" seemed like an "exception to the rule" in that scheme; it seemed to me that "Sepperin" was a misromanization of 「ゼッペリン」 ("Zeppelin" / "Zepperin"). WOMI surprisingly agreed with my remark and gave his blessing to canonically change the name "back" to "Zeppelin".

Some of you might be curious what kind of naming scheme Isemiya and WOMI had in mind when naming their characters.  Believe it or not, in the original Rosenkreuzstilette, all of the characters' surnames are the names of prominent German innovators, including inventors, toymakers, and game designers.  I can definitely tell one of the two is a huge fan of German board games:

Spiritia Rosenberg:
- Tia is named after Uwe Rosenberg, a German game designer and co-founder of Lookout Games (with Hanno Girke and Marcel-André Casasola Merkle).  Rosenberg is best known for Bohnanza, Agricola, Le Havre, At the Gates of Loyang, Ora & Labora, Glass Road, Caverna, Patchwork, and Fields of Arle.

Freudia Neuwahl
- Freudia is named after Niek Neuwahl (full name: Nicolaas Frederik Franziskus Xaverius Neuwahl), an Italian-German game designer who created Ta Yü and Toscana.

The Zeppelin Clan (Zorne Zeppelin / Count Michael Zeppelin / Iris Zeppelin)
- The Zeppelins are named after Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, a German noble, military general, and inventor of the line of airships that carry his name.

"Luste & Tia's New Clothes"
by Trauare Wrede
Trauare Wrede
- Trau is named after Klaus-Jürgen Wrede, a German game designer reknowned for Carcassone, The Downfall of Pompeii, Mesopotamia, and Rapa Nui.  Wrede is a big fan of Uwe Rosenberg and Klaus Teuber, and WOMI decided to make a clever in-joke about this little detail in his art:

Remember this piece of artwork featuring Spiritia and Luste in lingerie?  As it turns out, these clothes were gifts from Trauare (before anyone asks: yes, Trauare does swing that way).  Tia is legitimately embarrassed, but Luste, bless her tiny brain, never realized that Trau had sent the two of them underwear and not complete outfits. Trau never bothered correcting her because she thought the result was hilarious, and a world overflowing with sorrow (her words, not mine) could afford a laugh or two at one airhead's expense.

Oh, Trauare, you mischievous flirt.  It's no wonder they call you "the Siren"...

Luste Teuber
- Luste's namesake is Klaus Teuber, the man behind the extremely succcessful Catan series (The Settlers of Catan, The Rivals for Catan, The Struggle for Catan), and its many, many spinoffs.  He is also known for Pop Belly, Oceania, Hoity Toity (a.k.a. By Hook or By Crook), Barbarossa, Wacky Wacky West, Entdecker, and Domaine.

The Seyfarth Clan (Grolla Seyfarth / Raimund Seyfarth)
- Named after German husband-and-wife game developers Andreas and Karen Seyfarth, best known for Manhattan, Puerto Rico, San Juan, and Thurn and Taxis.

Sichte Meister
- Sichte is named after Heinz Meister, a German game designer and toymaker.  He has dozens upon dozens of products to his name, including Galloping Pigs, On Your Broom, The Haunted Clock Tower, Crash Cup Karambolage, Turbulent Top, Zapp Zerapp, Zitternix (a.k.a Keep It Steady!), Strong Stuff, Igloo Pop, Daddy Cool, Hula Hippos, Turbulento, Hop Hop Hooray!, Little Teddy, Inspector Rabbit, Avanti, and Yay!, to name just a few.

The Palesch Clan (Liebea Palesch / Kahl Palesch)
- Liebea and Kahl are named after Klaus Palesch, the German game designer behind Hat Trick and Fossil.

Schwer-Muta Casasola Merkle
- Schwer is named after Marcel-André Casasola Merkle, a German game designer and co-founder of Lookout Games (alongside Uwe Rosenberg and Hanno Girke).  His most renowned titles include Attribute, Attika, Funny Friends, Split Personality, Taluva, and Pyramid.

...All that and we're still only on the first element of the Stage Select Screen!  I could cheat a little and save the rest for another Developer Diary entry, but I may as well finish this entry off properly rather than drag it out (and, besides, I wouldn't have any new screenshots to go along with the new entries anyway...).

If you look closely at the two Rosenkreuzstilette screenshots (not the Grollschwert one), you might notice a slight difference in the Stage Select cursors.  We've completely redesigned the cursor to be a lot more subtle than its Japanese counterpart.  In the original Japanese version, the orbs in each corner and the "grill" on the left and right side of each headshot frame flashed white when the corresponding boss was selected; in our version, the entire frame flashes in grayscale, making the animation look much smoother overall.

As for the headshot layer, there are a pair of very minor tweaks in "Unbekannt's" headshot that you might have to squint to notice.  The obvious change is the removal of the "Unbekannt" text on the headshot itself.  This was done for the sake of consistency with the secret character's headshot in Rosenkreuzstilette Weißsilber.  We considered adding the text to both headshots, but ultimately decided that removing the text from both graphics looked better than adding the text to both.

The second tweak is far, far easier to miss.  Look closely at the orbs surrounding the Unbekannt headshot in the Japanese version.  Notice that ring of purple around the orbs left over from the orbs surrounding Grolla's headshot?  Now look at the official localization.  See the purple ring?  Oh, you don't?  Mission accomplished, then!

The background layer is the only portion of this graphic that has yet to be edited.  The text at the top and bottom of the screen is part grammatically-unsound German, and part Holy Scripture.  Yep, as if the religious overtones in Rosenkreuzstilette weren't obvious enough, there are verses from John 8:23, Genesis 3:19, and Psalm 40:7 right on the Stage Select Screen.

The German script at the top of the screen is a repeat of the last lines of the German script on the bottom.  Our revised transcript of this text reads as follows:

"Liebe. Schwermut.
Das war für ihn auch heute noch das A und O.
Ihr seid von dieser Welt, ich bin nicht von dieser Welt.
Im Schweiße deines Angesichts sollst du dein Brot essen, im Schweiße meines Angesichts.
Siehe, ich komme; im Buch ist von mir geschrieben."

Using the localization of The Living Bible as a base, these verses can be interpreted as follows in English:

"Love.  Despair.
This is all that has ever mattered to him.
You shall have to work hard, and so too shall I.
You belong to this world, but I do not.
I have come, just as the prophets foretold."

Though it's unclear who exactly might be speaking this verse, those of us who have finished the game before know which of the characters might be prone to proclamations of divinity and pretentious prophesying.  As a bit of additional trivia: the phrase "das A und O" translates to "the Alpha and the Omega", yes, but this is a Greek expression that is often used out-of-context.  In Greek, this phrase means, "the end-all and be-all".  In French, we use the expression, "notre raison d'être" (our reason for existing) as an appropriate translation.  In English, it refers to a person's ultimate purpose; a goal one would sacrifice everything to accomplish.  In all honesty, I never would have expected to find foreshadowing on the Stage Select Screen of all places...  Those of you who have reached the game's "Our Princess is in Another Castle" moment know exactly what I'm talking about...

That wraps up today's addition to the RKS Developer Diary.  Next time, as promised, we'll take a look at some of the new titles for many of Rosenkreuzstilette's stages.

See you then!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

RKS Developer Diary #3 - German Language Lessons

Hi, everyone!  Kept you waiting, huh?  Sorry about the silence; a few things happened behind-the-scenes that demanded our full attention.  Without going into too much detail: it seems we may need to look into an alternative to crowdfunding for Operation Schwesternschaft.  Don't let that worry you, though.  Rosenkreuzstilette and Rosenkreuzstilette Freudenstachel will still be coming out in English in the near future (you'd have to kill me to prevent that from happening).  This is just a matter of how we're going to finance the extra features.  We already have a prospect that we're following up on, and it's looking to be quite promising, so there's no need to be concerned.

While it sucks that this change of plan has affected our forward momentum, the project is still going strong and the finished release is definitely shaping up to be worth the wait.  If by some chance something major does happen, you can rest assured that you'll hear about it here first; we have no intention of keeping our fans in the dark.

That said, on with today's entry!  As many of you have noticed, in our fan translation of Rosenkreuzstilette, we took the liberty of correcting some of the German text so that it flowed more naturally.  WOMI has mentioned in his own Developer Diary that he doesn't know German all that well, so we did what we could to address the issue (with the support of some volunteers from since no one on our team was fluent in German).  For our official release of the game, I'm pleased to report that we have a dedicated German native working with us to ensure the quality of the German flavor text.

This time around, we independently translated the German and Japanese text (with our German consultant Martin handling the German-to-English translation and our resident translator Tyler handling the Japanese-to-English version).  Once Martin and Tyler were finished, we compared the two translations and confirmed whether the two renditions actually conveyed the same meaning (and, where they didn't, determined whether this was intentional or not).  If the German was an actual reference, we make a point of tracking down the original source and using its exact phrasing wherever possible.  If we weren't sure about something, WOMI made himself available via email to answer any questions we might have.

Once we knew exactly what the German text was supposed to mean, we polished off our English renditions and passed them to Martin to translate back into German.  In many cases, the English and the original German matched up completely (as is the case in the screenshot comparisons above).  In a few instances, the German text ended up being completely different; you'll see a couple of examples of that in an upcoming Developer Diary on the game's Stage Titles.

As an example: the text in the [erka:es] logo is actually the title of a 17th Century text by the Rosenkreuz Orden, the real-life Order of the Rose Cross.  The title reads as follows:

"Allgemeine und General Reformation, der gantzen weiten Welt. Beneben der Fama Fraternitatis, Deß Löblichen Ordens des Rosenkreutzes, an alle Gelehrte und Häupter Europae geschrieben: Auch einer kurtzen Responsion, von dem Herrn Haselmeyer gestellet, welcher deßwegen von den Jesuitern ist gefänglich eingezogen, und auff eine Galleren geschmiedet: Itzo öffentlich in Druck verfertiger, und allen trewen Hertzen communiciret worden...."

This is our English rendition of the title:

"The Pervasive and Universal Reformation of the Entire World. Addressed to the great savants and sovereigns of Europe and accompanied by the Fama Fraternitatis of the illustrious Order of the Rose Cross (which includes an afterword by Mr. Haselmeyer, who, for penning it, was imprisoned by the Jesuits and sentenced to the galley). Now printed, published, and entrusted to every open heart and mind...."

As you can see in the very first screenshot, we updated the original German text to match the manuscript's title (modernizing the punctuation where necessary such as replacing the slashes with commas) before integrating our English rendition and repositioning each element to maintain compositional balance.  The results speak for themselves; if you hadn't played the game in Japanese before, you probably wouldn't realize that the English translation wasn't part of the original graphic.

Well, that's enough for today's Developer Diary.  For our next entry, would you like to have a peek at the new Stage Titles or the new Stage Select Screen?  We'll cover both in due time; this is just a poll to see which you'd like to see first.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

RKS Developer Diary #2 - Options, Options, Options

Hello again!  It's time for episode two of the RKS Developer Diary!

This time, we'll be having a look at the game's Options Menu (click on each thumbnail to show the full-sized graphic).  This is where we start to see the differences between an amateur effort and a professional endeavor.  As many of you may recall, Isemiya and WOMI gave us their blessing to translate Rosenkreuzstilette into English back in 2009.  But that was the extent of their involvement; we translated the text, cleaned up and edited the graphics, and hacked the text in the game executable on our own.  In some cases, cleaning the original graphics without the original source files proved to be impossible, so we had to rebuild many of the images from scratch.  The Options Menu is definitely the area that demanded the most reconstructive work, as you can see in the screenshots below and to the right.

Some of you might be wondering why we would even need to revise the Options Menu in the first place.  After all, the Options Menu in the original Japanese version of the game was in English, right?  This is where a background in Computer Science and experience in technical writing is critical.

I'm sure every single one of you know what a keyboard is in a computing context.  You know what a mouse is.  You know what a window is.  What a recycling bin is.  A control panel.  An address.  A shortcut.  A cookie.  These are all terms that, although they have given meanings in English, have very specific meanings in the domain of computers.  To English-speaking computer gamers, these terms are standardized; we expect consistency across all of the games we play and instantly know what each expression means when we see them.  If a game for some reason refers to a screen as a panel, we'd all be thrown for a moment since this isn't the standard name for a computer display.

In RKS, the Japanese version of the Options Menu was not made with English computing standards in mind, yielding settings with confusing and sometimes indecipherable labels.  The best example of this would be "Back Ground", which controls how the game behaves when you switch your focus to a window other than the RKS game window (for instance, when you open a web browser while the game is running).  Depending on your selection, the game can automatically pause the action, or it can keep running in the background uninterrupted.  The term "Back Ground" is inadequate in describing what the setting actually does, and the fact that the word is misspelled doesn't help matters, either.  Add to this the fact that, when hacking the executable, the English text (the options themselves and the scrolling descriptions) must be shorter than or equal to the size of the original Japanese, we see that the labels for each setting need to be self-explanatory.  So, after much thought, "Back Ground", "Run", and "Stop" became "Background Behavior", "Run", and "Pause" ("Play" and "Pause" in the official version since size limitations were no longer an issue).

On the subject of size limitations:  because we only had so much room in which to fit the English descriptions of each of the volume settings and their shortcut keys, we had to leave out the fact that you could press the Confirm button to play a sample sound effect or voice clip in our original fan translation.  We're glad to restore this detail in the official release.

Given the constraints we had to work with, I'm proud of how the Options Menu in our fan translation turned out.  Of course, I'm not the type to pass up on an opportunity to improve on our work, so when RKS was officially licensed, I knew I just had to rebuild the Options Menu a second time using the original source files as a base.  I applied this philosophy to every graphic in the game.  Was it worth it?  You can see the results for yourself.

One of the advantages of having layered image files and the original source code is that you can fine-tune practically anything.  That is an advantage we simply had to make use of.  Have a look at Grolla's version of the control configuration screen to the left (officially rendered as "Controls").  Admittedly, rebuilding this particular graphic was extremely easy: tint the background, add a translucent window, typeset the text, done.  I added a subtle "frame" effect to the outside of the window and carried over the shadows behind each individual item, but there's otherwise nothing remarkable about this graphic aside from maybe the coloring being just a little off from the original.  Taking a cue from Spiritia's version, I decided to work in as many design elements as I could into Grolla's rendition for the official release.  The silhouette, the decorative trim on the left and right sides of the window, repositioning the graphical elements to make better use of the space and give the image some much-needed graphical balance -- things that would have been impossible without access to the source files.  As you can imagine, I'm very pleased with the results.

I feel I should mention something that many translators and even programmers tend to overlook when designing the visual look of their work:  the concept of alignment.  For every graphical element on the screen, imagine a line running vertically through the middle of that object, another line along its left edge, and a third along its right edge.  Check if these lines run through the same points on the elements above or below the one you're focusing on.  Do they line up?  Is the element itself aligned to the left edge?  The right edge? The center?  None of the above?  Where the alignment is inconsistent, does it complement another visual element?  If not, should you change it to be consistent with the rest of the design?

Take a closer look at the Japanese version of the Options Menu.  Notice that there's no real design philosophy to to the "Draw Frequency" ("Refresh Rate") option selections on the right.  Barring this one aberration (and a superb design choice to align the right side of the Volume labels with the left side volume bars, effectively combining them into a single well-defined line), all of the text is left-aligned.  So, how do you correct the outlier?  Line it up with the options above it.  And, since there's a lot of empty space on the left, nudge everything just a little to the left to fill up that space and give the settings on the right a bit more room between them.

Now have a look at the Japanese version of the Controls Menu and notice how much more chaotic it is compared to the Options Menu.  Sure, everything is still left-aligned, but the button labels are aligned to four different left margins.  This is the kind of design you use when you subtly want something to feel off.  Since this is likely not what WOMI intended, the localized versions instead center the text along a single line (and the official version expands on this by auto-centering the button mappings using some brand-new code).  The results speak for themselves.

Wow, ten paragraphs on just the Options Menu!  Did this entry help you learn a thing or two about standardized terminology or design?  Or was all you got out of it that we're perfectionistic control freaks?  Well, whatever you learned, we have plenty more aspects of the game we can go over before it's ready for launch.  Feel free to suggest a topic for a future Developer Diary in the comments.  And, of course, please spread the word and look forward to the official English release of Rosenkreuzstilette!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

RKS Developer Diary #1 - The Title Screen

Hello, everyone!

During the lead-up to the official English release of Rosenkreuzstilette, I figured it'd be a good idea to start a Developer Diary to give everyone a behind-the-scenes look at our work and show off some of the tweaks we've been making under-the-hood to make the game the best it can be.  Every now and again, we'll upload a few screenshots with a bit of background and our rationale for making the decisions that we did.  If we changed anything from the original, rest assured that each change has been made with WOMI's expressed support.  Hell, in some cases, he was the one that asked us to make the change in the first place.

For our first entry, let's have a look at something everyone will encounter within seconds of launching the game:  the Title Screen.  First off, you'll notice that we decided against integrating an English rendition of the title ("Blades of the Rose Cross") into the game's logo.  This is for two reasons.  First, title is already a mouthful, especially for non-German speakers.  Second, given the naming scheme for each game and bonus mode in the series, localizing the main logo would set a messy precedent for every logo in the series to follow.  How would we integrate every word of "Rosenkreuzstilette Freudenstachel ~Blades of the Rose Cross - The Sting of Joy~" into the logo without having the elements of the logo compete for the player's attention?  From a design standpoint, it just wouldn't work to our satisfaction, so we opted to take the purist route and drop the localized subtitles from the game's logos.  The localized renderings will still be present in the finished game (they're the names of the Final Stage of each game mode), so it's not like we're leaving anything untranslated.

Now, you might have noticed a subtle difference in the screenshots above and to your left.  Yes, the order of the menu items has been changed.  This tweak was made in order to address an issue pretty much every player has encountered during their first time playing the game (myself included).  Now, when you launch a game for the first time, it stands to reason that "New Game" or "Game Start" would be the option you'd pick to, y'know, start a new game.  In the original version of RKS, this wasn't actually the case: "Prologue" would start a new game, and "Game Start" would skip the opening stage and take you straight to the Stage Select Screen.  So, we tweaked the Main Menu to be more intuitive.  In addition, it makes more sense to select your game mode before choosing your starting point instead of afterwards, so we reversed the order of these selections accordingly.  It's no surprise that a good chunk of the people who decided to do a blind Let's Play of Rosenkreuzstilette had absolutely no idea that there was an entire stage that they might have missed just because they made the logical choice at the game's Title Screen.  We felt that this was an issue that just had to be addressed in the official English version, so we've done just that.

Also, you might notice that we no longer have a character limit for the flavor text in the bottom right corner.  That's right: the descriptions of each menu item can now accurately describe what each menu item actually does instead of being a truncated mess.

Well, that's it for this first edition of the RKS Developer Diary.  Feel free to comment on our progress, including whether or not you agree with our decisions.  If there's something in the game that you're curious to know about, just drop us a line and we might devote a future Developer Diary to it.

See you later!