Category Archives: Japan

Related to Japan.

Universal Game Translator – Using Google’s Cloud Vision API to live-translate Japanese games played on original consoles (try UGM yourself!)


In a hurry? Download link for the program is here.  Edit config_template.txt for directions on setup, it’s kind of tricky.  Only runs on Windows right now.  (Github source)

Why I wanted a “translate anything on the screen” button

I’m a retro gaming nut.  I love consuming books, blogs, and podcasts about gaming history.  The cherry on top is being able to experience the identical game, bit for bit, on original hardware.  It’s like time traveling to the 80s.

Living in Japan means it’s quite hard to get my hands on certain things (good luck finding a local Speccy or Apple IIe for sale) but easy and cheap to score retro Japanese games.

Yahoo Auction is kind of the ebay of Japan.  There are great deals around if you know how to search for ’em.  I get a kick out of going through old random games, I have boxes and boxes of them.  It’s a horrible hobby for someone living in a tiny apartment.

Example haul – I got everything in this picture for $25 US! Well, plus another $11 for shipping.

There is one obvious problem, however

It’s all in Japanese.  Despite living here over fifteen years, my Japanese reading skills are not great. (don’t judge me!) I messed around with using Google Translate on my phone to help out, but that’s annoying and slow to try to use for games.

Why isn’t there a Google Translate for the PC?!

I tried a couple utilities out there that might have worked for at least emulator content on the desktop, but they all had problems.  Font issues, weak OCR, and nothing built to work on an agnostic HDMI signal so I could do live translation while playing on real game consoles.

So I wrote something to do the job called UGT (Universal Game Translator) – you can download it near the bottom of this post if you want to try it.

Here’s what it does:

  • Snaps a picture from the HDMI signal, sends it to google to be analyzed for text in any language
  • Studies the layout and decides which text is dialog and which bits should be translated “line by line”
  • Overlays the frozen frame and translations over the gameplay HDMI signal
  • Allows copy/pasting the original language or looking up a kanji by clicking on it
  • Can translate any language to any language without needing any local data as Google is doing all the work, can handle rendering Japanese, Chinese, Korean, etc  (The font I used is this one)
  • Controlled by hotkeys (desktop mode) or a control pad (capture mode, this is where I’m playing on a real console but have a second PC controller to control the translation stuff)
  • (Added in later versions) Can read the dialog outloud in either the original or translated language
  • Can drag a rectangle to only translate a small area (Ctrl-F10 by default)

In the video above, you’ll notice some translated text is white and some is green.  The green text means it is being treated as “dialog” using its weighting system to decide what is/isn’t dialog.

If a section isn’t determined to be dialog, “Line by line” is used.  For example, options on a menu shouldn’t be translated all together (Run Attack Use Item), but little pieces separately like “Run”, “Attack”, “Use item” and overlaid exactly over the original positions.  If translated as dialog, it would look and read very badly.

Here are how my physical cables/boxes are setup for “camera mode”. (Not required, desktop mode doesn’t need any of this, but I’ll talk about that later)

Happy with how merging two video signals worked with a Roland V-02HD on the PlayStep project, I used a similar method here too.  I’m doing luma keying instead of chroma as I can’t really avoid green here. I modify the captured image slightly so the luma is high enough to not be transparent in the overlay. (of course the non-modified version is sent to Google)

This setup uses the windows camera interface to pull HDMI video (using Escapi by Jari Komppa) to create screenshots that it sends to Google.  I’m using an Elgato Cam Link for the HDMI input.

Anyway, for 99.99999999% of people this is setup is overkill as they are probably just using an emulator on the same computer so I threw in a “desktop mode” that just lets you use hotkeys (default is  Ctrl-F12) to translate the active Window. It’s just like having Google Translate on your PC.

Here’s desktop mode in action, translating a JRPG being played on a PC Engine/TurboGrafx 16 via emulation. It shows how you can copy/paste the recognized text if want as well, useful for kanji study, or getting text read to you.  You can click a kanji in the game to look it up as well.  (Update: It now internally can handle getting text read as of V0.60, just click on the text.  Shift-Click to alternate between the src/dest language)

Try it yourself

Before you download:

  • All machine translation is HORRIBLE – this is no way replaces the work of real translators, it’s just (slightly) better than nothing and can stop you from choosing “erase all data” instead of “continue game” or whatever
  • You need to rename config_template.txt to config.txt and edit it
  • Specifically, you need to enter your Google Vision API key.  This is a hassle but it’s how Google stops people from abusing their service
  • Also, you’ll need to enable the Translation API
  • Google charges money for using their services after you hit a certain limit. I’ve never actually had to pay anything, but be careful.
  • This is not polished software and should be considered experimental meant for computer savvy users
  • Privacy warning: Every time you translate you’re sending the image to google to analyze.  This also could mean a lot of bandwidth is used, depending how many times you click the translate button.  Ctrl-12 sends the active window only, Ctrl-11 translates your entire desktop.
  • I got bad results with older consoles (NES, Sega Master System, SNES, Genesis), especially games that are only hiragana and no kanji. PC Engine, Saturn, Dreamcast, Neo-Geo, Playstation, etc worked better as they have sharper fonts with full kanji usually.
  • Some game fonts work better than others
  • The config.txt has a lot of options, each one is documented inside that file
  • I’m hopeful that the OCR and translations will improve on Google’s end over time, the nice thing about this setup is the app doesn’t need to be updated to take advantage of those improvements or even additional languages that are later supported

After a translation is being displayed, you can hit ? to show additional options.  Also, this is outdated, use the real app to see the latest.

5/8/2019 – V0.50 Beta – first public release, experimental
5/13/2019 – V0.51 Beta – Added S to screenshot, better error checking/reporting if translation API isn’t enabled for the Google API key, minor changes that should offer improved translations
5/30/2019 – V0.53 Beta – Added input_camera_device_id setting to config.txt for systems with multiple cameras.  Moves mouse offscreen for “camera” mode captures
9/5/2019 – V0.54 Beta – Fixes crash on startup problem some people had, adds “audio|none” config.txt command to optionally disable all sound.  Added “minimum_brightness_for_lumakey” setting to config.txt in case the default isn’t right
9/15/2019 – V0.60 Beta – New feature, text to speech!  You’ll need to enable Google’s Text To Speech API, Fixed a crash bug, added some in-app persistent settings, gamepad can now move around the cursor and click things.  Controls changed a bit. Added automatic reading of detected dialog, can choose to read src or dest langs, can hide text overlays if you want now.  A few new options in the config.txt. Switched to FMOD audio, SDL_Mixer has buggy mp3 playback which was causing some me grief. Changed the translate button sound to something more soothing.
11/22/2019 – V0.61 Beta – Replaced audio system with Audiere to prepare for putting it on GIT, added more logging and error checking with libCURL –  I’ve put the complete source on Github, feel free to bugfix or add some features if you’re a programmer!

4/12/2020 – V0.62 Beta:

* FEATURE: Added draggable window option (Changed hotkey to Ctrl-F10 in the default config.txt, if upgrading, it will be be Shift-Ctrl-F11 though)
* Removed an include for wiringpi (it isn’t used)
* Added “FMOD Release” MSVC configuration profile, this enables FMOD as well, it will be the default now as I noticed some clicks/pops from Audiere sometimes when playing text to speech generated by Google
* Added status at the bottom that shows what is happening with uploading/download, in situations where “nothing is happening” these status updates will let you know what it’s doing, useful for slow internet or whatever
* Can now cancel spoken audio by clicking it again
* Added a font so rendering Hindi is supported (hotkey is 0)
* Initiating a translation when a translate dialog is already on the screen now just toggles it off instead of doing weird things
* Added “audio_device” option to config.txt, if text matches an audio device that will be used instead of the default
* Joystick deadzone increased from 0.15 to 0.20, needed because my 360 sticks are just bad
* BUGFIX: Word wrap doesn’t sometimes cause spaces to be missing between words

4/23/2020 – V0.63 Beta

* Added support for rendering Punjabi (note: the only open source font I could find doesn’t have English letters in it..hope to find something better later)
* Added support for setting a source language hint in the config.txt. Required to read some non latin languages, for example setting to “pa” for Punjabi allows that language to be read. Hint language
is shown on startup screen, “auto” means no hint
* Now shows exact google error text onscreen (like bad API key or whatever) instead of saying “open error.txt” (error.txt is still written also though)
* Shows “<language code> language not supported for audio” if Google can’t do text to speech on it (Punjabi for example)
* Punjabi as a translation target is now one of the included languages you can cycle through using [ and ] or L and R on a control pad. Note: these languages can be changed/added via the config.txt, the first one set will be the default on startup
* “Press space to continue or ? for help –” changed to “<Space or ?>” and doesn’t show at all for extremely small drag rects, so it doesn’t overlay the translation
* Shows “Nothing found” if there is zero text to translate, better than looking like it crashed or something

12/2/2020 – V0.64 Beta

* Added support for a gamepad based hotkey, (by default you need to push in to click the right joystick) to initiate a scan/translate.  This works in computer mode.  By default it will scan the active window, but if you’ve done a custom drag rect size previously, it will use that size instead.  (useful for grabbing just the dialog area of a game)

Note:  This is useful because you can use just a controller to translate an Elgato game capture or twitch string of a real console, so you can sort of play via two controllers.

* Now using XInput for input which allows UGM to access the gamepad even if it’s being used by a game.  (with a PC game/emulator you can play and do translations without touching the keyboard using a single controller!)

BTW, it’s doing some weird things under the hood to make the overlay work, if you have any problems setup the game/app in a windowed mode and it should be ok.

Note:  You can change which button does the translation by changing the gamepad_button_to_scan_active_window setting in the config.txt.  The options are listed right above where it is. (default is “right joystick button”)

Note:  An XInput compatible controller is required for the global button controls to work.  An Xbox 360, Xbox 1 or Xbox Series X/S controller is recommended.

2/5/2021 – V0.65 Beta

* Gamepad hotkey that initiates a translation now also can dismiss it (by default, right stick button)
* New feature: Pressing E will export the current translation to html and open it with your default browser.  Example:

2/27/2021 – V0.66 Beta

* Tiny quality of life change for people using the keyboard to initiate translations: The capture active window hotkey (Ctrl-F12 is default) now works like the gamepad button capture, if a custom screen capture area was set previously (Ctrl-F10) it will default to using that instead of the entire active window.

3/25/2021 – V0.67 Beta

  • Fixed to properly handle windows scaling, so if you’re using 150% DPI or whatever it shouldn’t cut the window off or act weird anymore.  A side effect of this fix (at least how I implemented it) is it probably requires Windows 10 (or later) to run UGT now though

4/8/2021 – V0.68 Beta

  • Fixed problem where unnecessary spaces were inserted into the original OCR’ed Asian text, very noticeable when using cut & paste text features (Thanks coltonoscopy)
  • Fixed issue where it failed to cut and paste text if no translation took place (for example, English to english)

5/20/2021 – V0.69 Beta

  •  Locked to max 100 fps, applied Meerkov’s FPS limiting bugfix (thanks!)
  •  Changed startup sound to be shorter, added GUI checkbox to “Disable capture sound” (Meerkov)
  •  Added “google_text_detection_command” config setting to config.txt (Meerkov)
  •  Fixed bug in text layout engine that would cause freezes/delays in some situations. Could also create duplicate text boxes (Meerkov)
  •  Added more replacement tags for html export: END_X, END_Y, WIDTH, HEIGHT, TRANSLATED_TEXT. Added htmlexport/readme.txt with the full list and descriptions of what they do
  • Internally some work was done to better support customized settings for a specifiic language (like font, sizing hints), it will be easy to move to an external fonts.txt file or something later to allow people to add their own fonts/etc
  • FEATURE: Added support for using using the Deepl translation API instead of Google’s. config.txt (well, config_template.txt) modified to add new options deepl_api_key and translation_engine. The .txt file explains how to set it up. It seems to offer better translations, similar to Google you have to sign up on their website (using a credit card) to get an api key, which allows 500k characters a month for free. (that doesn’t seem like much!)
    Note: It seems a little slower than Google’s stuff.
  • You can press T to toggle translation engines on the fly, useful for comparing output

7/27/2021 – V0.70 Beta

  •  Big changes internally with how linefeeds are handled, “dialog mode” translations should work better (Meerkov)
  • FEATURE: Can flexibly log translations to translation_log.txt (see config.txt’s log_capture_text_to_file option to enable)
  • FEATURE: Can flexibly add translations to clipboard (see config.txt’s place_capture_text_on_clipboard option to enable)
  • FEATURE: Checks for newer version on startup, see config.txt’s check_for_update_on_startup option if you’d like to disable this)
  • Bugfix: Fixed issue where repeating text could appear (Meerkov)
  • Guessing the source language of a translated block might be more accurate now (Meerkov)
  • FEATURE: Fonts are now configurable, can set a custom font for default or any specific language (edit fonts.txt file for more info)

8/4/2021 – V0.71 Beta

  • D and L hotkeys now toggle force dialog and force line-by-line mode until the app is quit, instead of only for that one translation (useful for RPG dialog!)
  • Exposed “auto-glue” settings in config.txt, helpful to make sure all the dialog is a single block. (auto_glue_vertical_tolerance and auto_glue_horizontal_tolerance)

Sidenote:  I know this page is just a giant mess now, sorry!

NOTE FOR UPGRADING: It’s recommended to start with the config_template.txt again, just copy over your google API key and rename it config.txt again.

Download Universal Game Translator for Windows (64-bit) (Codesigned by Robinson Technologies)

Get an error about DXINPUT_1.dll missing?  Please install The Microsoft DirectX® End-User Runtime

This is an open source project on Github

Conclusion and the future

Some possible upgrades:

  • A built in Kanji lookup also might be nice,  Jim Breen’s dictionary data could work for this.
  • My first tests used Tesseract to do the OCR locally, but without additional dataset training it appeared to not work so hot out of the box compared to results from Google’s Cloud Vision.  (They use a modified Tesseract?  Not sure)  It might be a nice option for those who want to cut down on bandwidth usage or reliance on Google.  Although the translations themselves would still be an issue…

I like the idea of old untranslated games being playable in any language, in fact, I went looking for famous non-Japanese games that have never had an English translation and really had a hard time finding any, especially on console.  If anyone knows of any I could test with, please let me know.

Also, even though my needs focus on Japanese->English, keep in mind this also works to translate English (or 36 other languages that Google supports OCR with) to over 100 target languages.

Test showing English being translated to many other languages in an awesome game called Growtopia

3D movies, kid? Pfft, try 4D! (A review)


So I got a chance to experience “4DX” Spider Man 2 at our local movie theatre.

Despite buying tickets online weeks in advance, I still got a horrible seat. (front, far left)  Sadly, this sort of makes the 3D effect worse and introduces eye strain.

So what does paying extra for the “4DX” experience get you?  What do these fancy electronic chairs do?

Well, they mostly kick your chair throughout the movie, punctuated by an occasionally spitting on you.

Shoot, back in Salem, Oregon, you got this for free.

Every time a “chair effect” kicked in, I was mentally pulled away from the film, it actually detracted from the movie.

I realize theatres need to add value to remain relevant but..  I don’t think this is working.

What I’d like is a seat perfectly in the middle, be able to pause to use the restroom, and eat and drink anything I want.  No commercials or waiting.  So yes, I want my living room.

The Zerg is strong in this one

Now that Cosmo wields this amulet (no doubt excreted by the Zerg queen herself) his all infestor army tactic is sure to finally actually win a game!  (Yeah, it’s a cheapo Starcraft 2 thing I bought on ebay and strategically hung around the house until he noticed it)

Not to be outdone, here is Eon-kun inventing a delicious soy sauce soup.  Leave him alone for a minute and he always finds a way to make the magic happen.

Happy new year and the boy who said no

Went to the shrine as is the tradition in Japan today. Cosmo caused a shock (well, to my mother-in-law at least) by asserting his skepticism.

He tearfully refused to give a coin and pray because:

“magic is pretend, and I don’t want to”.

I never do, but I don’t make a deal out of it.  This is something he felt strongly about this year for some reason and, well, I’m proud of him for thinking it through and making a stand about something important to him.

Took me a lot longer.