Skits: From Illegible to Beautiful

Skits—the voiced interactions between the protagonists through animated portraits—have always been one of the main attractions of Tales of games, bringing the characters to life and making them relatable. That’s why we put special care into ensuring that watching skits in Tales of Destiny 2 is as enjoyable as possible! That includes not only careful editing with attention to detail (to be the topic of another blog post!) but also a complete reprogramming of how they are displayed. To experience the latter, take a look at the following video, where only the translation has been inserted without any modification to the game’s code:

Is that enjoyable? Compare it to this:

Beautiful, isn’t it?

The first glaring eyesore of the original game’s skits is the font, which we already explained at length in the last blog post. However, the main culprit responsible for compromising the readability is the horizontal scrolling. It’s jittery, the timing is off, and it becomes borderline illegible at higher speeds. However, higher scrolling speed becomes necessary to fix the timing issues. To further emphasize the inadequacy of horizontal scrolling for a translation, look at the following short video highlighting the longest line from the skit:

To remedy this atrocity, we decided to change it to how basically every other Tales of game handles skits: conventional subtitles.

For that, we first need an understanding of how Tales of Destiny 2 handles skits in the Japanese version. First of all, each skit corresponds to a single, consecutive audio file; there is no separation into individual lines of dialog. Whenever a character starts talking, his or her text—even if it spans multiple sentences—is shown as a single line on screen, scrolling when necessary. To make it more like conventional subtitles, the following changes are thus necessary:

  1. Instead of using horizontal scrolling, we need to split the character’s lines into multiple subtitles, depending on how long his or her text is. So, for example, instead of having this as a single, very long line:

    Ahem! Please listen to my reasoning all the way through before commentin’. The culprit is definitely someone who has unbearably strong feelings for Kyle. That’s why, in an attempt to get close to him, they stole the—

    We want this:
    • Ahem! Please listen to my reasoning all the way through before commentin’.
    • The culprit is definitely someone who has unbearably strong feelings for Kyle.
    • That’s why, in an attempt to get close to him, they stole the—
  2. The original game only contains timing information for when a character starts talking. Therefore, if a character’s text is split into multiple subtitles, we must acquire additional timing information to show them at the appropriate time without feeling “off.” For the above example, each of the three subtitles needs to appear at the correct time within the audio file.

The former is the easy part (well, at least for somebody experienced in reverse engineering). However, generating timing information requires more thought. Our first idea was to use the timing given by the game—that is, the start times of the characters’ lines—and the length of the individual subtitle lines to automatically calculate subtitle timing. We won’t show the results here, but believe us when we say it wasn’t very good.

That’s why we are now using the proven tools of the subtitling community to manually tweak the auto-generated timings. By loading the corresponding audio file into a subtitling program (for example Subtitle Edit) we can easily fix the timings and even the splitting into multiple subtitles:

Using existing tools like this has many advantages, one being that anyone can use them without any knowledge of programming. Second, compared to any custom tools we might develop, they offer many useful features and are usually very stable.

Finally, after subtitling a skit, the resulting subtitle file (for example, .ass) can be converted to the game’s format using our custom tools—and voilà! We have a beautiful skit.

Of course, a process like that takes time—Tales of Destiny 2 has a whopping 608 skits in which to implement this technique. And naturally, there’s far more involved in getting the game’s skits in proper working order. Translating and editing the skits is similarly involved, so look forward to a future blog post on that side of the process!

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