Fun With Subtitles

Lately I have been doing some difficult puzzle design. Today I woke up and wanted a break from that, so I decided to nail down one of the loose ends that hadn’t been thought about yet: displaying subtitles during the in-game voice recordings (of which there are a lot).

Originally I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to implement subtitles or not. It’s important to me that the game have an overall aesthetic that contains no visual language. I was worried that if we were to draw subtitles for people who don’t speak English, it might ruin this. But, a year ago, I was talking to a friend who has experience in film, and he convinced me that people just understand that subtitles are a different thing, that they are a layer on top of the game or movie or whatever.

So, I am implementing this, and maybe it’s good, because if I had been hard-line about things, it would mean that most people in the world would not be able to understand the recordings. That’s not terrible, because they are not necessary to complete the game, but as long as I don’t feel like, ultimately, the subtitles are ruining things, it is probably better to have them.

(It’s going to be an interesting time when I go try to implement the main menu without any written words…)

It’s been a very productive day. I implemented the basic subtitling system in less than 3 hours (making a subtitle data file for one of the voice tracks, loading it, detecting in-game when a voice track is playing, finding the appropriate piece of subtitle for the current time, and drawing it on the screen). Here’s the result:

The data file is a very simple format that I just made up. Taking my experience in making Braid multi-language, and looking at the kind of text we will be dealing with in The Witness, it was clear that I needed a format that was mostly about the text, with very minimal markup. Right now the main markup we need is just “which recording is the following text for” and “what time in the recording should the following lines be displayed”. I can imagine that later on we will add some more features to it, but probably not many.

Since The Witness inherits code from Braid, we already have handling for other languages in our font rendering, so I pumped the text through Google Translate to test a couple of other languages:

If you are playing in English, subtitles are OFF BY DEFAULT. It amazes me how badly many games handle subtitles, most notably, that a great many games seem to have voice acting in English and then also default to subtitling in English. This is terrible because people read at a different speed than they listen, and they probably read faster. It ends up dividing peoples’ attention in a weird way. I don’t know why so many games do this except that they aren’t paying enough attention to user experience. So to have a good experience you have to go turn subtitles off, but sometimes that doesn’t even work! A couple of days ago, I was playing Xenoblade Chronicles, and when I turn off subtitles, only about half of the subtitles in the game go away. Apparently there are two different classes of subtitles and one of them you cannot even turn off! I think they never even tested it…

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61 Comments

  1. Posted July 23, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    As far as a main menu goes, I think that your approach with Braid would still apply (not forcing the player into a menu in the beginning, but providing a pretty standard one for settings, etc). Do you think a similar system would hurt The Witness?

  2. Marcos Djivelekian
    Posted July 23, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m not a native english speaker, so I appreciate the subs. ^^
    I know it’s a “work in progress” of course, but I think the subs font should be more blurred. You know, so it doesn’t overlap too much from the in-game graphics.

  3. Alan
    Posted July 23, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    “This is terrible because people read at a different speed than they listen, and they probably read faster. It ends up dividing peoples’ attention in a weird way. I don’t know why so many games do this except that they aren’t paying enough attention to user experience.”

    This is exactly the misgivings I have with subtitles. If someone has a thick accent or speaks really softly, I attempt to toggle subtitles on. But then my eyes are always diverted to the bottom of the screen and it completely distracts me from any visual event that’s happening on screen. And by the time I finish reading the text then I have to wait for the audio to catch up. So I have to say that I’ve never quite had a pleasant experience with subtitles in games.

  4. Lucas
    Posted July 23, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    I also appreciate the subtitles but i think that once in game (or before starting it) you should be able to turn them on/off. Even for people that not speak English as a native language.
    It’s, in my opinion, a much rich and immersive experience to just put your headphones and listen through the whole game.

  5. Daniel
    Posted July 23, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Regarding English default subtitles: What about the deaf? If there’s no one on screen talking, they might not even be aware that there’s dialogue they are missing.

    • Jonathan Blow
      Posted July 23, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      If such a player is perceptive he will figure it out. Consider it a bonus puzzle.

      • Posted July 24, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

        This is a horrible thing to say. Being disabled just adds extra fun?

        • Jonathan Blow
          Posted July 24, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

          The people I have met who are deaf are cool with it. I have never met a deaf person who walks around sad every day because he can’t hear.

          I think if you respect someone who is deaf, you expect that person to be competent enough to know how to turn on subtitles, given that in many cases she has been doing that kind of thing for her entire life.

          • Posted July 24, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

            You’ve met deaf people, but that doesn’t mean you get to be flippant about their disability. Trust me, lots of deaf people are frustrated by developers who treat them as an afterthought.

          • Jonathan Blow
            Posted July 24, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

            I’m not being flippant and it is not an afterthought. I think very hard about issues of user interface in all situations. The choices I make are probably going to be different from yours, but that is why we have different game designers in the world.

    • Mark
      Posted July 23, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

      Surely a deaf person knows to check that subtitles are on before the commence playing. On the other hand an able-hearer has no way of knowing that they should turn the subtitles off before they start playing to gain the intended experience.

  6. Posted July 23, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    You might find this article and its discussions interesting: this It’s pretty cool how much thought can go into something that’s usually taken for granted, such as subtitles.

    Personally though, the first thing I do before playing any game is enable subtitles. Usually, with all kinds of background noise, lack of enunciation in voice acting, distractions from outside the game, etc. I end up missing a lot dialogue – a portion of which is usually crucial to the plot. In videos, I would just rewind, but in games I can’t – and it bothers me that I missed something.

    Also, with regards to menus that use only visual language, a lot of mobile games use that philosophy. Mostly though, that applies to a gear for the options menu, play and pause symbols, bars for audio, sun for brightness – all those usual elements.

  7. jun kajii
    Posted July 23, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    I would be very happy if The Witness has subtitles in Portuguese of Brazil …

  8. Posted July 23, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    I personally like to have subtitles on just to make sure I never miss any dialogue. I usually tune them out, but if a line gets obscured by sound effects, it’s nice to be able to glance down and catch what was said.

    It’s great in that it makes the content accessible for people with hearing impairments and who aren’t native speakers too.

  9. Posted July 23, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    I fully agree with you that subtitles remove the immersion when the individual is a native speaker. There’s a level of abstraction that occurs that indeed happens. However, what if you were hearing impaired? How would the world itself be experienced in that context?

    Now there’s an interesting idea to give to the player; you experience the world as you experience the world. And maybe that’s a valid choice in some contexts and maybe that’s worth exploring. But the tools and ways the hearing impaired navigate the real world aren’t afforded or available in the context of a computer screen and keyboard/mouse/gamepad human interface devices.

    I will always be on the side of subtitles as an option and off by default. However, I will always be on the site of having subtitles in games. While we can’t accommodate for every disability for our work, subtitles IS something that makes the game accessible.

    So I am very glad you decided to include subtitles. What I would ask is that the context wouldn’t be framed only for non-native English speakers, but for hearing impaired individuals. To give a catchy phrase: “Accessibility is accessible to everyone.”

  10. Posted July 23, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    I have a neurological deficit that makes it hard for me to understand speech, so I enable subtitles/closed captioning for everything.

  11. Posted July 23, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad to hear the subtitles will be off by default.

    I’ve never understood why so many games have them on by default. Sometimes the sound mix is so bad that you need them, but mostly – just watch and listen like you’re watching a movie.

  12. Posted July 23, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    I agree with games that show english subtitles with english audio by default (although asking, or asking before any spoken lines if the player wants them of not is better). And I believe not having the option to subtitle the game, even in the same language as it is spoken, is a big mistake (even then I’ve seen some games that don’t have subtitles for no sensible reason).

    The reason for that is both deaf people and non-native speakers that can read well enough, but not listen to english that well (which might be akin to considering them functionally deaf, anyway).

    I’m brazilian and have played games with text in english (and since that got widespread, spoken lines) for about 15 years, and in fact, learned a great deal of english via those games. But for a long time, I could just barely make out what was being said from subtitles, and my hearing ability for english was very poor. Not only the subtitles enabled me to understand at all what was happening (which might not be that important in The Witness as you say that the speech is not required to complete the game, but it would still be VERY frustrating), but they helped me extend my understanding of spoken english a LOT by associating what I heard with what was written, and this is still the reason why I watch movies and play games with english subtitles even today.

    Now, you could say that one can just go and enable subtitles. The problem here is that some games start with subtitles off and only show the option to turn them on in a menu that’s only accesible after the intro/prologue of the game for whatever reason–some are just badly made, but maybe some have a real gameplay reason for not having explicit menus (which just might be the case with Braid and The Witness, actually). Sometimes the player can just pause the intro cutscene and find the option there, but that’s still kinda dull. So in any case that might cause enormous (and unnecessary) frustration to someone that cannot understand spoken english, or worse, someone that is deaf might not even know that he’s missing something at all. And that frustration could happen in the first minutes of playing the game, which os surely something to be avoided.

    A good middle ground (which I believe is what will end up in The Witness) is that a perceptive enough player should be able to find the option to turn subtitles on before any are needed, but I think it should be a really clear option. Ideally, it would be asked at the start of the game or before the intro scene plays.

    If that’s too disruptive, I believe a good solution (that might fit well for The Witness) is to show a small text at the bottom of the screen, just before the first spoken line, and at least while the first 2 or 3 lines (~5-10 secs) are being said, that reads “Press [X] to enable subtitles”. That way, the default is the audio-only experience (which you want in accord with your vision of the game), the overhead for those that do not want subtitles is just a small text showing at the start of the game (which is probably acceptable to you), and you avoid frustrating a good fraction of your players by providing a smooth experience that caters to everyone without making them lose a part of the game.

  13. justin
    Posted July 23, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    My native tongue is Spanish, my second is English, but I learned English late in life so I’m not very good at it! I always play games and movies with (English not Spanish) subtitles on as if I was deaf. I can understand everything I just don’t want to miss something for x reason or whatever.

    Never really need them but in games unlike movies I can’t go back in case I missed a couple of words. I have restarted whole levels or gone back to previous checkpoints because that’s just how completionist I am, or maybe I’m just very curios.

    I was playing Dear Esther and this is one of the few rare times were I actually *needed* subtitles! The man is going trough many different emotions and he expresses this with his voice, he whispers the he screams then he cries but also he has a difficult (difficult for me anyway) European accent. The subtitles in the Source engine are thrown all at once in a giant block of a paragraph and I could often not read fast enough, I reloaded the last save and the narration was now different. I had to screen cap all the subs and read them later after I had sat down for my session with the game. I would read the screens with bread and coffee and take them in little by little but I wasn’t playing anymore. This sucked! As I played the game more I got better (My English or at least recognition of the accent improved?) I finish the game understanding every line and with no subs! I am confident If I do this more often I can understand more!

    2. Right… For the people that are deaf there is this extra puzzle and for the color blind there is another interesting puzzle… If someone is both deaf and color blind they have two very interesting extra puzzle! Very nice/positive way to look at this. Using your senses or lack of them to get better at noticing what they miss!

    3. “Main menu” …No! I had a twitter conversation with Marc Ten Boch about this and we both agreed that this sucks! Think about the people on consoles! They are already in menu when they are going to start a game. Do like Braid! No begging cinematic, no logo animations, no Developed by or published by, no PRESS START BUTTON TO BEGGING, no menu! Please they are awful! That’s how I knew as soon as I started Braid in the first few seconds that this game was different and special. The menu was just start *if you need it* but you never need to pause and so you were just thrown into the game, you didn’t have a menu you had a game! This is the philosophy of no cinematics or scrolling trough texts, OF NEVER TAKING THE CONTROL AWAY FROM THE PLAYER! A game should never take control away from a person not even if it’s to show or point at something interesting! It’s disrespectful. We are not movies we are games, we are interactivity and we respect!

    I know what you were going for long time ago. You said no letter all visual that’s why you didn’t want friend request or text or trophies notes to appear at the top of the screen because it would ruin the mood and take you out. You wanted all to be visual but I thank you for the subtitles. You mentioned incorporating something that people were going to like and I was like “Running? Swimming? Jumping?” but no! This is way better!

    Also I thank you for the Spanish translation. I loved the Spanish translation in Braid. I played it “as intended” as written by you in English but I just had to share it with my father and he doesn’t know English and he was playing it with the Spanish translation and he said easily the best game he has ever played and he said he was impressed by your spirituality! (we talked about you) It’s very bad that this is only plausible in PC in Steam (The console version goes by country there is no option to change languages from inside the game. Hopefully The Witness can pay a lot of attention to the user experience and have language options in game settings for console)

    Thanks again for the subtitles, it’s much appreciated

  14. justin
    Posted July 23, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    You mentioned audio recordings being done before in games but being done in a stupid way. Or a way you didn’t like I don’t remember… I mentioned restarting whole levels and reloading checkpoints because I missed a word or a sentence I didn’t get quite clear.

    In Bioshock I heard recordings over and over trying to catch certain things. But there was a problem! You begging the recording and that’s it! You can’t stop it or slow it down or pause it and then keep going or REWIND! Or go forward. It’s just start the recording or ends it, and if you liked a phrase or wanted to re-hear a sentence or story you had to restart the whole recording… Not how recordings work at all!!!

    I envisioned a system where it was like playing a song on your iPod or computer or watching video in Youtube. You could go back to ANY point in the recording by time or progression bar and then the rewind and fast forward would work like in Braid! (Also I envisioned this for games with cut scenes like metal gear and uncharted. Treating cut scenes like movies and going by chapters and going back and re-watching them, because sometimes I kill myself in purpose to see a cool cutscene again! I KNOW I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE THAT DOES THIS!)

  15. Posted July 23, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    I bet most game designers choose to enable subtitles by default out of laziness. It’s much easier to enable subtitles by default than to go through the game and “duck” the non-voice audio (music, sound effects, etc.) so that it doesn’t interfere with the voice acting, which itself they likely don’t care enough to ensure is clearly captured and enunciated. The idea they’re using up their players’ mental RAM with (what should be) unnecessary subtitles probably doesn’t cross their minds.

    This reminds me why the saying, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” is so irritating. If something isn’t worth sweating, why is it in the game at all? Sure, don’t get bogged down in the small details before you deal with the main ideas, but then return to address them (within reason of course). The little details, to me, are what make things greater than the sum of their parts. If you, the author/designer/creator don’t sweat the “small stuff,” you’re passing that sweating to your readers/players; they may not be able to point out specifically what details you didn’t care about — though your most dedicated fans probably will — but they will perceive them when they’re taken out of the experience by something “small.”

  16. Hessel
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    The only games I’ve ever seen doing subtitles the right way are the Metal Gear Solid games. Most games fall into the traps of using tiny, fancy, hard to read fonts and extremely long sentences. It might sound as a contradiction, but big letters and little text on screen at once makes it less distracting (i.e. it requires less of an effort to read).

    The size of the font should be dependent on the distance the (average) player sits from the screen too, so console games should use bigger fonts for subtitles (and all UI actually) than PC games.

    But I guess that when most media in your locale doesn’t have subtitles, all subtitles are going to look weird.

    • Posted July 24, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      This! I didn’t buy Eternal Sonata because of the horrible fonts. Thank goodness for demos…

  17. Posted July 24, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink
  18. M.M
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Thats great you add subtitles. I can speak English fairly well, but without subtitles i have concentrate on voice much more than something designed for fun should need. Sometimes i still lose a lot ofcontent (unless i reload and listen again) when complex vocabluary or weird accent is used.

  19. Pavel
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Its intersting thing from my movies expiriense. Im from Russia, i cant fully understand what people talking in movies sometime if i see in english. When i see for example Russian -voiced english film, and then i see English film – there a huge differents between, because its a huge preparations with many people working on translation, then voice director telling to actor what they need and how they need to said, so in the end i see not thing that movie want to show me – i see mix of 4 people say that. and i have “sort” of understanding what film director wants to tell. So best way for me is watching english movies with russian subtitles knowing that subtitles only can help understand some words.

  20. Pavel
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Forgot, i mean even if the words are right and thats a best translation ever and they are professional translators, different languages means different feelings even if the words the same.

  21. Posted July 24, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    It’s interesting that your friend convinced you of the subtitles being a separate layer on top of the game, but you’re still concerned about the menu. I’ve always felt that the menu may or may not be an intrinsic part of the game as a cohesive work, depending upon how the developer implements it. It could be something like what Braid did, or it could be functionally like the title menu on a movie DVD. In the former case, it’s a bit more integrated, while in the latter it’s really just a layer of packaging that arguably doesn’t affect the artistry of the actual product within.

    I haven’t completely thought this through, and I am in any case interested in what your thoughts are on this. Though having said that, it occurs to me that this might be slightly off the topic of this post.

    • Nica Kalo
      Posted July 24, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

      I think games shouldn’t have menus, atleast “main menus” and no menu in a game should be like a DVD!

      Arguably this *does* affect the artistry of the actual product within in aesthetics… And I mean gameplay aesthetics because what matters is gameplay and menus get in the way of that and the game’s interactivity. It takes control away to do something like say… “PRESS START TO BEGGING” or new or continue or options… All this could easily be in the pause menu ONLY if I needed or want it. But it should be an option, if I wanted. Just like in Braid! That’s what I’m talking about! A game just like Braid, The Witness should be just like Braid in this phylosophy. You didn’t even show end credits! I loved that! I saw them, the credits were in Settings in pause menu and guess what: It was a game itself. You still had your” powers” to go back and forth in time, like justin said!

      What will the Witness’ end credit “game” be? More maze puzzle to unlock or see more names or noticing things or patters in the names and comments in the game’s credits?! I loved that in Braid. The game literaly never ended! That’s why the endin is the begging aswell!

  22. Bret
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Jon, please consider using a sans-serif font for subtitles.

    • Jonathan Blow
      Posted July 24, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

      Hmm, I was generally presuming that if the resolution is high enough (720p minimum) and the text is big enough (definitely bigger than in the screenshots) then it’s in the territory where serifs are okay.

      Serifs just look classier!

      But yeah, I would definitely attempt some kind of readability judgement call based on the way things are scaled in the end.

    • Jonathan Blow
      Posted July 24, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      Also, once you are talking about a retina iPad, things are pretty different.

      I agree that the serifs are pretty bad on this web page, though!

  23. Danny
    Posted July 24, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Is that font you use (also the one you used in Braid I believe) Matrix, the font used for the title bar of modern-framed Magic the Gathering cards?

  24. Posted July 24, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand what’s so control-seizing about having to press a button to start a game. The thing about Braid is that by design the game doesn’t ever end unless you quit. But most games allow you to fail in a way that ends the game. If you aren’t sent back to some sort of menu, then where would you be sent?

    And just so we’re clear, I’m all for making a menu or menu-like sequence as artistic and integrated within the game as possible, but I don’t see any reason why this must be necessary for all games ever made. It’s a choice that must be made by the developer according to what the individual project calls for. Super Crate Box probably didn’t need to do much of what Braid did as a game. But Braid needed to do those things.

    • Posted July 24, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

      I could have sworn I was replying to Nica Kalo.

  25. Tarqa
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    Honestly, I’m more surprised at the number of games still being produced these days that don’t contain subtitles at all. I agree that it’s important to think about how they’re shown and consider the overall player experience, but one of the first things I do when starting a new game is attempt to turn on the English subtitles, and closed captioning if possible. I think Valve’s games are the only ones that come to mind that really support this well. I don’t hear badly enough to consider it a disability, but especially in games (where it’s difficult/impossible to try to lipread) I find I have a much more enjoyable experience when I’m not dividing my attention between the game itself and trying to work out what’s being said, or worried that I might’ve missed an important audio cue. For completely deaf gamers, these features would be even more important, but also for players with good hearing in unusual circumstances: for example, recently at an indie games showcase speakers were disallowed / would have been useless due to the noise in the room. The games with subtitles easily supported a crowd of watchers, while the ones without were limited to a single person using headphones.

    To sum up: thank you for including subtitles in The Witness. It’s not only players using other languages that will benefit from it, and you will have made the game more enjoyable for myself and many other gamers that might’ve had difficulties. If the system you’re building supports it, and especially if audio cues have any sort of presence in the game, basic closed captions can also improve the experience of many players. Thanks, Tarqa.

  26. Jabberwok
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    I play a lot of games with the English subtitles on. For some, it can be handy if I’m having trouble following or understanding the dialogue. I always played the original Deus Ex with subtitles, because then I could tell if a guard was talking near me while I was sneaking around, even if the actual sound was pretty faint. But I recently noticed how much time I spend obsessively reading the text. I turned them off in Skyrim, and now it is much less annoying. But in some games where I really cared about what was said, I would probably still leave them on. Or in a game where the characters talk so slowly that I get bored listening to them.

  27. Posted July 25, 2012 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Regarding accessibility, it wouldn’t be as simple as adding subtitles. Think of Myst, SPOILER when you are raising and lowering the giant tree, it is a dialogue independent audio cue on how to solve the puzzle. This puzzle especially, since it is not only the sound, but the frequency that tells you as a player that you can fire the furnace all the way and hear the mechanism running full bore:

    kakunkkakunkkakunkkakunk

    or you can turn down the valve and buy yourself some time to run outside and into the tree:

    ka…….kunk……….ka………..kunk……………..ka…..kunk……

    My point is that accessibility isn’t easy. And if it is not complete, it would leave a gaping hole. The television equivalent to this would be seeing Indy remove the golden skull and on screen, the caption might read: *sound of grinding rock* indicating that it didn’t go as smoothly as he thought. So automated captioning that TVs can generate are limited to the functionality that they can provide. The accessibility of procedurally generated text is limited by audio puzzles, including dialogue with inflections that can change the context of the sentence. In that case (stolen from reddit), think of the sentence, “I never said she stole my money.” can mean seven different things depending on what word you inflect.

    Al

    • Mark
      Posted July 26, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

      Great example. Although this puzzle really was inaccessible without audio, Riven (the sequel to Myst) provides an excellent example of integrating accessibility into your puzzle design without simply avoiding audio based puzzles.

      — Riven SPOILERS —

      One of the major puzzles in the game relies on the player matching the sound made by five different orb shaped devices found scattered in the world with the sound made by five different creatures the player encounters. For a deaf player this would be impossible solve. What Cyan did, was to place the orbs in the environment in such a way that if you looked at them from a distance, the surrounding environment took on the shape of the animal in question with the orb in the position of its eye.

      It was a very subtle effect, and since I’m not deaf I didn’t even notice the visual aspect of the puzzle until years later on a replay.

      Instead of breaking the immersion using subtitles for an animal effect, there was an elegant second route to arriving at the same answer. For people with hearing, the clear audio clue led you down that route and you had no reason to ever notice the visual clue, for people without hearing there was no reason to ever suspect that audio was a part of the puzzle.

      Both classes of player could solve the puzzle with a single set of clues and not feel like the answer had been shoved in their faces.

      • Posted July 27, 2012 at 5:56 am | Permalink

        Another great example. Riven and Myst spoilers? What year is this?

  28. Posted July 26, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Hello,

    Here’s a (hopefully) short recap regarding subtitled films (it does apply to games too though) from someone whose native language is Greek:

    - When I was too young to read I was content with looking at the pretty pictures and either being captivated or bored. (of course films in Greek were no problem).
    - When I was just learning to read I couldn’t keep up with the subtitles’ pace so I had to ask others that were watching the film with me what I missed. It would also mean that I would miss some action as I was struggling to read the subtitles at the bottom of the screen.
    - After getting better at reading I was able to read the text and watch the film. It all became an automatic process; my mind wouldn’t struggle at all.
    - After learning English my mind would read the text and expect the spoken line. Things can get a bit weird if the translator has done an error or used a wrong idiom, but that’s just added to the automatic process.

    If I had to guesstimate, I’d say that all this happened while I was between 6 and 10 years old (give or take a few years). I would assume that people from other countries that didn’t have overdubbed translations in films would mostly have the same experiences as us in Greece.

    So in summation, no, subtitles wouldn’t really bother me at all or break the immersion. Most of the times I find them a welcome addition.

  29. jay2s
    Posted July 27, 2012 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    regarding developers putting english subtitles over english voiceover: to be honest, i would go crazy without these in most cases. can you imagine having to listen to every line of dialog in a Mass Effect game? i need the subtitles so you can read quickly and skip thru the dialog.

    now you might say this exposes a fundamental flaw in that there is excessive dialog in a ME game, and i would agree with you, but thankfully they at least give you the subtitles.

  30. Al
    Posted July 27, 2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    By the way, I know we haven’t seen the final renderings yet, but as they stand, they remind me a whole lot of Ghibli’s background artist Kauo Oga’s paintings. They look wonderful as is.

    Example:
    http://timmaughanbooks.com/2009/02/24/oga-kazuo-exhibition-ghibli-no-eshokunin-the-one-who-painted-totoros-forest-blu-ray-2007/

    Al

  31. Daniel Ribeiro Macie
    Posted July 29, 2012 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    Dude, I’m sorry, I can’t comment about the Subtitles because I’m really distracted by the amazing quality and beauty of those screenshots. WTF!!

  32. Posted July 29, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Hello Jon.

    I really loved Braid, the gameplay, music and felt really immersed reading it’s story. As far as i can see you are doing a another great game. :)

    But i have to tell you that…

    “Mi más profunda lealtad es a este universo en el que vivimos”.

    This phrase is wrong. If you need someone to translate your universe to spanish or any kind of help, i’m from spain and love writing. :)

    Kind regards.

    • Jonathan Blow
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      It is from GOOGLE TRANSLATE, as I said in the sentence *right before the picture*. Of course it’s wrong.

    • justin
      Posted July 30, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

      Nando, are you aware of this problems. Do you know what I mean when I say “formal” Spanish?

      I guess I mean using “Tu” and not things like “vuestro” “vosotros” or “vos” since those are only understood locally and not globally by Spanish speakers and don’t make alot of sense to people out of those specific areas. That is a problem written but if it was spoken as in a voice actor translating there is the thing that in Castellano (which is only for Spain) pronunciation is only and accent are only for the Spanish and no one else!

      Maybe if you are Spaniard this is a hard thing to spot because Spaniards live in this bubble. But what something that was translated by one of the other popular translators (Venezuela or Colombia) and you can see a big difference! This Spanish both written and spoken is more formal/proper, more widely used and understood and and contains no accents from specific countries.

      Nando, do you acknowledged this as a problem? And if so how can it be fixed? (I was thinking a group of translators from different countries for special languages that are used more globally like English and Spanish and such that are vastly different from place to place)

  33. justin
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    I was very happy that Braid had a Spanish version because I was able to share it with my father. There where some parts that I really loved in Spanish and others that seemed weird or something local that only a few specific speakers from an specific part of the world understood. They would be equal to Britishisms I guess and I didn’t like that!

    I would love if you would do a language or just text translation of The Witness. But please, I beg you if you use a voice actor or a writer for Spanish captions… Please don’t use a Spaniard. I have nothing against Españoles… Well actually I do! But not personal! Every game ever subbed or dubbed to Spanish is made a the Spanish from Spain and they are truly horrible when trying to translate from other languages to Spanish.

    The Spanish have an specific way of talking that is unique to them this can not be compared to north american English vs European. It’s just too many things that are very different. I would prefer a translation more in the vein of Braid’s Spanish translation. I would like to know who the translator for Braid was or where was he from. It is a very well mannered Spanish. That Spaniards aswell and specially Latin Americans would understand. It’s a… Very hard to describe… Not professional…but formal! Something that can be understood globally not just locally! Some of Braid’s translation was very formal and so was Dear Esther’s, Most of the translation was pretty flawless but in some instances I don’t know if it was the words used or the arrangement of the words but some of the original meaning and impact was lost!

    I hope you understand what I’m talking about. I wish that the Spanish Translation for The Witness is awesome! I don’t know how you can fix this things that all games do but being serious and respectful: what I think is a step in the right direction is 1) use more than one translator and 2) not use Spaniards.

    Thanks you for caring about this Jonathan and the whole Thekla Inc team!

    • Nando
      Posted July 31, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Do you realize we have the same problem here when someone from Mexico or any other south american country translate a game or a movie?. Do you?.

      Every geographic area has specific localisms and for us is really fun and weird to listen actors from united states dubbed in latin american accent. Thinking the spanish you speak is more proper/formal just because you live there is really stupid (chingada, huevón, orto, boludo, mamasota, chido…). How good the formal form is depends of who translates and even in the most proper form of the language you can find local words or expressions.

      For me, Braid had a really good translation but if for you it wasn’t i see two solutions.

      Making two or more spanish translations for the game: It could bring each more immersion.

      Making one translation, giving the text to south american and spanish people to kill any localism.

      • justin
        Posted July 31, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        Hmm… Those to solutions are very good and I didn’t thought about them!

        And yes, I realize the opposite is a problem for Spain but this is a problem for one country and not ten!

        ” Thinking the spanish you speak is more proper/formal just because you live there is really stupid ”
        -Well… No, because it is proper! It’s the type understood globally not only locally! There are no “chingada, huevón, orto, boludo, mamasota, chido” or their Spain variants!

        And *this* is the problem with Latin American translations and yes some do contain a local accent but it’s not as common as when Spain does the translation. You need to remove and replace local forms and expressions to make it more understandable!

        And here is why I prefer Latin translations as oppose to Spanish. Latin American countries understand this and often try to fix it but Spaniards just don’t know or they just don’t care and just make translations for one country, while Latins do it for all America… Brazil and Brazilians are wholenother monster that is in some respects in less or more trouble.

  34. Daniel R. Maciel
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Would you please talk a little bit more about how you are rendering those font glyphs and stuff?

    • Jonathan Blow
      Posted August 30, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      I wrote code for Braid that uses Freetype 2 to render fonts into texture maps. I am using the same code for The Witness. It is pretty straightforward and I think I might have actually posted it on the internet at some point?

  35. NASA
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 1:31 am | Permalink

    I’ve always found subtitles during play to be distracting. In cutscenes, I don’t really mind and can adapt, but during active play, it’s hard to both look forward and down. I think these subtitles’ current placement will make non-anglophones stop playing and read.

    I moved the text a bit and, if placed about two lines above the current position, the information is more accessible during active gameplay but doesn’t block the view.

    Another option might be to place the text at the middle of the screen. This would obstruct the view, but if the text is reduced to one line at a time, the effect isn’t too bad. Also, if the centered text fades in and out, obstruction is kept low. To keep with the audio, new lines could fade in just as old ones fade out.

    In all, I think raising the text would improve the affected user’s experience.

  36. Posted October 3, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    i’ve been reading this for a lil while now and while i enjoy and play on consoles, i can understand your frustrations w/ them and their uptight daddies. i haven’t read all the comments on here so this may already have been addressed and im not sure you’ll (read jon blow) will even be reading this so i’ll prolly copy and paste and try and find your email; but as far as subtitles are concerned being displayed in english, as a rpg player, its excellent! perhaps you don’t play enough rpg games w/ mindless talking (well, not all); but being able to read what they’re saying quickly and pressing a or w/e button to move me on to the next bit of dialogue is welcome! it helps me get to the action quicker w/o giving up any story (which would suck)! it just simplifies the experience, which you talked alot about during your certification rant. so maybe it doesn’t work for your game w/ no words but in others it makes sense, as im sure you can understand. @katie down girl! he’s right, deaf people aren’t all bent out of shape about being deaf, that’s their life and they make it happy; i suggest you try as well.
    all this bullshit said i really wish the witness would come to the box, i wish the powers that be would pull their heads out of their collective asses and finally get it from people who actually live it, day in and out. braid was awesome btw, and i played it on the box!

    • Sebastian
      Posted October 4, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Doesn’t that speak more to bad writing in roleplaying games than to improved experience? If you’re able to skip the audio recording of a performance, why was it nessecary to have the performance in the first place? If the game is improved by skipping the dialogue, then you have bigger problems than subtitles. Know what I mean?

      • Posted October 11, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

        no actually, as i thought i stated. it’s not about the writing at all, it’s about how long it takes the human mind to read something compared to the time it takes to speak it. I read quicker than I can talk, usually cuz I care what I say and I want to make sense to the person I’m speaking to. But if I could just read what people have to say instead of listening to them, my life would be easier. have you played a rpg? theres a shit ton of exposition that doesn’t really matter. when i’m trying to complete quests, talking is the last thing I want to see/hear/experience. But when its time to listen, then listening is what i’ll do. its just not always needed at certain times.

        • Sebastian
          Posted October 11, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

          Hi Micah, thanks for responding. I’ve read over your initial comment again and it’s possible I’m misunderstanding you still.

          In your first comment you seemed to be saying most (but not all) rpg games contain mindless talking. I also agree with this, and the overuse of expository dialogue impacts negatively on the flow/speed of the play experience.

          We seem to agree on that point, unless I truly am misunderstanding you.

          You seem to be saying you like to read the information that is important and move on, and what I was attempting to say was that a more elegent game design wouldn’t have slowed you down like that in the first place.

          You said yourself in the reply that the exposition doesn’t even matter most of the time, which was also my point by saying there are bigger problems than subtitles.

          You also mention that while trying to complete a quest, you don’t want to see/hear/experience any slow talking. This also speaks to my point that the writing was fundamentally bad if they’re breaking the flow of experience in such a jarring way.

          It occurs to me now that there might be a misunderstanding about my use of the word ‘writing’, which I mean as both the game design and the literal writing of the dialogue. I think ‘design’ is probably the better umbrella word, so I withdraw my previous statement.

          • Posted October 21, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

            that could be! w/ the writing word, i wasn’t even thinking anything other than putting pen to paper, as I by no means know not even a minutia of anything game related expect playing them, that’s the extent of my knowledge. it is good that you recognized this as we may be going in circles. all I was trying to get at was they are good because we can read quicker then the characters talk and by skipping thru this, for those of us that can read quicker and don’t care to hear the occasional horrible voice acting, it would benefit. plus you gotta think of all the disabled gamers out there! do you really want to not give a shit about them? idk man Ben Heck did that 1 handed controller, couldn’t hurt to help out the least of us.

      • Posted October 11, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        actually did you read what i wrote? i explained it all the first time buddy

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