Thursday, July 31, 2014

Translating Primordia

Out of the blue, a French Primordia fan contacted me about translating the game.  I've long thought that -- notwithstanding the Russian translation -- it would be very hard as a linguistic matter (technical challenges aside) to translate the game.  In particular, I'd always imagined it would be hard to handle things like Crispin's puns or the word-puzzles in the kiosk.

Those may be hard themselves, but what we're discovering (that is, the translator and I) is that there are ample challenges in the simplest of language.  Take, for example, "power."  In English, power can mean energy (e.g., "power lines"), force (e.g., "a powerful blow" or "brain power"), or political authority (e.g., "come to power").  The script uses these multiple definitions in various ways.  For example, Horatio says to Metromind: "Power, Metromind.  It doesn't just come from generators."  Horatio using a double entendre here: he's talking about how MetroMind has conflated force/political authority with her monopoly on energy, while illustrating that his force -- which derives from another source (avoid spoilers, somewhat) -- is in fact greater.

But in French, these concepts are distinct.  Electrical power is "énergie"; force is "puissance"; political authority is "pouvoir."  The greater precision here means that we can't play with the word's multiple meanings; we have to pick one.  Now, much to my delight, the translator is as much a word-nerd as I am, and so he's come up with a clever approach: "La capacité, MetroMind. Elle ne se résume pas à une question de générateurs."  This toys with the double meaning of "capacité," which, like its English cognate, can encompass both the capacitance in a circuit and the ability to do something generally.  In this case, more than a little poetry was gained in the translation -- but we still lose the echo of "power" that begins the game: the power core.  (Indeed, in a fevered moment of poor judgment, I thought the game could be called "Pursuit of Power"!)

"Power" is not the only challenge.  "Built" and how to form the fabrinymic -built has proven tricky to.  But it's fun to work on these challenges, and the care the translator is employing gives me great confidence!

Incidentally, in a final point that makes me particularly happy, he works on the Paris Metro system.  That system was a partial inspiration for MetroMind.  When I was visiting Paris years ago, the city had just enacted automated subway cars to thwart the ever-striking subway drivers' (conductors'?) union.  That seed eventually sprouted into MetroMind.

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