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!