Organization and staffing for visual novel translations, Staff roles

Part 2 in the continuing series on the issues of organizing and staffing visual translation projects Today, I’ll take on the topic probably most people are interested in, staff positions. Just who’s needed in a project anyway?

For this article, I’ll simply lay out the idealized roles that need to be in a project for it to succeed. Do keep in mind that I really mean it when I say idealized. Nothing says these roles can’t all be filled by one person, and so on. I’ll get into staff compositions in the next piece after this.

The Software/Product Side

Unlike working with a book, translating visual novels require a pretty high level of technical skill to translate. That technical hurdle can sometimes be bypassed if someone has released tools to do the job, but otherwise, it’s a difficult task. Here’s the list of key roles, ordered more or less by how critical they are to a project.

Reverse Engineer

This is a somewhat blanket term. It’s the programmer and general technical expert that can decipher the data formats, make the tools that extract scripts and graphics, then makes a repacker that puts it all back together. Without these people, projects can’t get off the ground.

Once the extract/repack tools exist, they often have to work with the engine executable to make sure that the engine can do the following things:

  1. display English text – some can, some can’t out of the box
  2. line-wrap English text sanely – Japanese engines break arbitrarily since there’s no word borders, English doesn’t enjoy that benefit. The only way to deal with it is to either line break by hand (very painful) or add that into the engine.
  3. run – engines can have anything from obsessive copy-protection/hashing schemes to strange indecipherable operating requirements that make them break at the strangest times.

I have great respect for the people who do this sort of work. More so since I can’t do it myself. They deal in black magic and deep incantations, then make it seem so easy at the end of the day even though it’s really frustrating if people are deliberately obscuring the engine. If you find a good one, keep them happy, and don’t let go!

Release Engineer

When the project is all finished, the final product needs to be wrapped up and packaged for general consumption. This can be as simple as zipping everything up and just uploading it. Or it could be as difficult as building an installer.

Installers are fickle creatures. The more platforms you support, the more you have to code so that you don’t destroy someone’s system. A badly written installer could actually do something like destroy someone’s /system32/ folder. There’s a very good reason why the Fate project’s installer took so long.

There’s also the issue of exactly how distribution will happen, what servers can handle the bandwidth, how are things distributed before and after announcing, all that administrative stuff.


Often, there are graphics with text that needs to be tweaked, to insert English text and such. It’s a time consuming process to erase existing text and a certain amount of skill is needed to complete this sort of task.

Play testers

This are probably the most popular spot for translation groups in terms of applicants, it requires the least amount of skill, and you get to play with a project before it comes out! Wow!

However, there are very many bad play testers, and very few good ones. A good play tester will keep very detailed records of what’s broken, and how to reproduce things. They work efficiently, try all sorts of things creatively, and comment on as much as they can. Also, they can be trusted not to leak beta versions out while the project is wrapping up. Finding a good play tester is like finding gold, grab them before they get away, because it takes a great deal of effort sifting through the dirt to find another.

Miscellaneous roles

Depending on the project, more talent might be needed. Maybe timing and subtitling for movies are needed. Maybe you need a cryptologist to break some copy projection. Maybe you really could use a ham sandwich. These needs aren’t nearly as common, but they do appear.

The Content Side

These are the people who sit down and deal with the scripts. They spend the vast majority of their time wrestling with just a text editor.


Well of course you need translators. These are the people who take the script and hammer it out into English. That might seem very easy at a glance, but in my opinion, the job is difficult. I think I’ll save the deeper analysis for another time, but in essence the translators are also writers/authors themselves.

That means, they’re actively participating in the telling of the story in some way (again, I’ll save the transparency of translating issue at another time). They’re not looking up definitions and gluing them together with bits of grammar, they’re actually considering the meaning of words, how things are expressed, and all those things that writers should be concerned about.


This is something of a term I fabricated from my involvement in the now defunct ef-the first tale project. When I say “Editor” I mean it more in the sense that the publishing industry uses it. My friend who’s a book editor makes a very strong distinction between an editor and a proofreader.

Editors are charged with making sure the text comes out coherently. This means editing things on a higher level than “this is a typo, this is wrong tense.” I’m talking about things like “This sentence here ruins the mood.” and “This piece here sounds out of character” or “this bit makes no sense, that’s awkward wording” These are higher level flaws. Usage and word choice, style, tone, content, clarity, this is the sort of stuff editors should be worried about. Editors absolutely have to have writing skill, often even more so than translators (though I’d prefer if translators were writers too). If you can’t write, you’re a proofer.

Taking that idea, I then extended it to translation projects by tacking a “translator” in front. I have a feeling this role doesn’t really exist outside in the world in any official form because a translator doing a piece of work is more or less assumed to know what the heck they’re doing. This isn’t nearly as true in the visual novel community (or even the wider anime community). Most, if not all of us, are learning the craft as we go, and we really shouldn’t be trusted. A translator-editor is capable of translating, ideally at or above the level of the actual translators. They provide a very important sanity check for spotting mistakes.

From personal experience, Haelth and I both edited each other’s scripts for the Narcissu Side 2nd project. I did my scripts, read them through about 5 times fixing things, then handed it over to him and he looked them over. I did the same for him. We then spotted errors on each other’s work by comparing and spotting mismatches. Sometimes he would be right, sometimes I would, either way, without this extra check, those errors probably would’ve gone unnoticed for a long time if ever.

That’s not to say everyone needs to go so far. Narci2 was an extreme case of two full translators of roughly equal skill working in parallel. For the ef project, I would read the translated script, glance at the original script, and see if there were any major mismatches in meaning. On top of that I also commented on word choice and all that other editing stuff, with an eye towards keeping the translated line close in spirit to the original. It’s certainly faster than translating everything myself, but still time consuming.


These are normal editors, with no translation ability. They’re still charged with the same things as the translator-editors but since they only work in English, they have the unique perspective of not being tainted by reading the original text. They are more likely to spot places that are weirdly translated then people who have worked at the original script to any degree. Switching between two languages is tiring, and can leave traces that seep into writing, so translators often can have a bit of a blind side as they work for long stretches.

Again, these people have to have significant writing ability.


Proofers are more or less at the bottom rung of the content chain. They’re charged to finding the small nitpicky errors in the text. Punctuation, line breaking, visual ugliness of the text, and so on.

That’s not to say they’re not needed. Having a good pair of eyes that can tell you when you should have used a semicolon instead of a comma is very important. However, if they know that difference, they often can rise to the level of Editor with a bit of work if they haven’t already.

Next up, the mix of staff! (Here)


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