Notes on Youtube: Using vertical video (+Let’s Plays @ PAX Aus)

The hallmark of a completely novice video recorder is when they record a video in the portrait orientation — probably with their smartphone or something. Smartphones are really the only type of screen which you hold and use in a vertical fashion; virtually everything else is viewed in a horizontal, landscape orientation. I’m pretty sure that people have written about this and mocked or complained about it in the past, and will probably continue to do so in the future.

So, surely, there’s no reason to ever record anything in portrait format, is there? What would you use it for?

I didn’t have any intention of challenging this notion at all, really — The amount of letterboxing required to view a vertical video is pretty ridiculous. Ultimately, my use of it came about from specific practical concerns, when I wanted to try something on the PAX floor.

The ‘Let’s Play’ has been a thing, for a while. It’s a bunch of (mostly) unedited footage, with some kind of commentary overlaid on top. Sometimes they record their hands; not only can that be a spectacle of skill or something, but it also lets the viewer see exactly what’s being done to create the performance in-game. At some point or other, I had the thought of doing a ‘Let’s Play’ with some game footage that would more-or-less be impossible to obtain, in a normal ‘Let’s Play’ setup… something direct from the floor of an expo. For that, I needed a chest-mounted camera. I think it was a pretty cool idea: You get a preview of an unreleased game, and if you record your hands, it lets the viewer see how the game currently works.

Easy enough, right? Preliminary tests didn’t work out so well, however — since I couldn’t monitor the viewfinder, the camera was often out of alignment with the screen. There’s a very limited field of view I had to keep to capture the monitor, with the horizontal FOV being larger than the vertical. Generally, it was pretty easy to get the thing pointed towards the monitor’s direction; I just had to remember to face my body forward. However, I had no idea how high the monitors would be placed at the booths, and I knew that the monitors often varied in height.

The solution? Just switch to vertical video, and crop it in post!

It wasn’t perfect, of course — first-time field tests never are — but it was a pretty interesting experiment. The most consistent problem came about when my camera kept consistently leaning to the right; all I really had to do was face forward to get 80% of the monitor in the shot, but I never quite worked the rest out. Oh well. See the first Youtube video here.

Before

Before

After

After

Notes on Translation

Translating something from one language to another can be a finicky thing. If I were to turn it into a dichotomy, I’d say that there are two styles of translation with different ideologies: ‘Literal’, where the aim is a word-for-word translation, and ‘Poetic’, which sacrifices the 100% accuracy in favour of preserving the intentions and meanings of the text. ‘Poetic’ is just my personal term that I think sums it up more simply – it’s usually called a ‘localisation’, versus the literal ‘translation’.

Anyway, the two methods are somewhat incompatible in its ideals.

‘Literal’ favours technical accuracy over understanding – things like the cultural implications, connotations, and language quirks that slang, figures of speech, and puns take advantage of are lost here, because the audience that will hear the translation will come from a different background and cultural upbringing. If the intended audience is someone who is also studying these cultural differences (and perhaps the language itself), then a more literal translation would work for them. You can guess that not everyone would do this, though, so it would be quite niche.

‘Poetic’, on the other hand, favours understanding over technical accuracy. In the more difficult cases, the lines would be replaced or rewritten with a different line, but one that contains the same implication – an idea that contains the same intended feelings, but based on the audience’s local culture – hence the term ‘localisation’. Since this is quicker and easier to understand, this would naturally reach the larger, common audience – rather than calling it ‘Poetic’, I’m also inclined to labelling it as the ‘Common’ translation, since localising it happens more often than just leaving it in a literal form.

Due to its opposing ideologies, the choice of translation style can more or less be divisive, at times. I’ve seen several communities that are already niche in their interests, yet eventually split because they prefer one out of these two ideologies. Over time, that hobby community may even continue to shrink, and then just disappear, one day. It’s a real shame.

The real challenge in translating something well is converging the two together in a balanced way. One style can’t work on every translation scenario, and having both accuracy and understanding would trump having only one or the other. I can probably compare it to the Yin-Yang, at this point.

Accomplishing this is obviously not easy. It requires a good understanding of the languages and cultures to find a reasonable middle ground, and even then it may still be subjective. An alternative would be to make two translations, but that requires a lot of effort. The most common method I believe is to simply cater to one side or the other. It may make it feel sub-par, but, well, I suppose it still gets the job done.