Saturday, March 3, 2018

Game 283: Nippon (1988)

              
Nippon
Germany
Independently developed; published by Markt & Technik
Released in 1988 for Commodore 64
Date Started: 26 February 2018

Nippon is a strange little German game set in feudal Japan. Screenshots will make it look like an Ultima clone, but it plays much more like an era console game like Hydlide, particularly with the limited controls and lack of any character creation.

The backstory is mostly indecipherable. Commenters have pointed me to the Nippon Museum, created a few years ago by Nippon co-creator Thorsten Sommermann. The site offers four different versions of the story, each more elaborate (and confusing) than the last. I'm not sure which one was presented to original players of the game. In any event, it presents the main character as a modern wage slave (named Toshiro Tawamure in one version) who becomes obsessed with a pair of two life-size bronze statues at the Tokyo National Museum and/or their tragic story. Seifuku Subarashii Tenno (which I think is supposed to mean "Emperor Seifuku the Great") was told by an oracle to seek his true love. After multiple trials and battles, he found Princess Kikori Shiramoto and married her, realizing after their marriage that she was the wrong woman. The haunted faces of the statues reflect lives of sadness and betrayal.

As Toshiro is studying the statues one day, an old woman--who looks suspiciously like the statue of Kikori--grabs his arm and tells him that he must "go back" and "try again," emphasizing that he was "so close" last time. Toshiro suddenly finds himself hurled back in time to the feudal era, appearing on a deserted plain in a loincloth.
          
The time travel didn't strip his armor; he was only wearing a loincloth in the first place.
        
Gameplay actually begins in a side-view of modern Tokyo, but the character can't do anything except wander past the buildings until he reaches the museum and steps between the two (decidedly not bronze) statues. This warps him to ancient Nippon, where the game really begins.

There is thus no character creation. The character's name appears nowhere in-game, but he has meters for strength, flexibility, constitution, and hit points, as well as a value from 25-100 representing his skill with his currently-held weapon. He has 300 gold pieces and a few items of food. The town of Akuji lies nearby.
            
The opening area.
             
Any intrigue that I felt about the game's premise disappeared in a rage when I was introduced to its interface, which consists solely of a joystick. The developers eschewed the perfectly serviceable Commodore 64 keyboard to require players to press a button to enter "menu mode" and cycle through the various icons to choose options: combat, movement, speak, swap equipment, character status, meditate, disk options, eat, collect gold, use, search, sleep, and open. Many of these options lead to further choices in a vertical menu, and if those choices involve a number, you have to scroll through the various number positions to set each of them from 0 to 9.
      
Setting the number of fish I'm buying by turning individual numbers in a counter.
     
I know from experience that some thundering fools will come out of the woodwork to defend this practice, talking about how cool and novel the joystick was in 1988, but it makes for a miserable gameplay experience. If there were honestly players with joystick cords long enough, and monitors big enough, that they could sit back from their computers in their easy chairs to play PC games away from the keyboard, the developers still should have offered the keyboard as an alternative.

There are a couple of features that make the problem even worse. First, the joystick scrolls the icons the wrong way. I mean, it's technically correct if you imagine that it's the icon "strip" that's moving, not the central window, but it still would have been more intuitive to do it the other way. Second, action doesn't stop in the game world when you enter icon mode. So the game will say you're hungry, and you press the button, scroll to the "eat" icon, scroll through your food options, select one, set the counter for how many, and execute--and in the meantime a vampire can come along and start pounding at you. Even worse is when you're trying to talk with an NPC and he wanders away before you can get to the "speak" icon. Gameplay doesn't even stop when you're trying to save or transition areas and the game asks you for another disk. If you were playing this back in 1988, you wouldn't want to sit back from the computer because you'd have to be ready to pounce the moment that the "insert Disk 1" screen came up.
        
Attacked while switching disks.
         
Nippon takes place in a large world with several large landmasses and hundreds of islands. The world is dotted with cities and castles offering the usual types of RPG services like weapon and armor shops, training, healing, food, and taverns. Food is a constant issue. You can only carry 20 meals at a time, and each meal satisfies you for about 3 minutes before the game tells you that you're hungry again. You can eat more than one meal at once, but the returns diminish so that eating 3 only shuts the game up for about 7 minutes instead of 9. A full game day requires at least half of your meals, so you can't be away from a city for too long.

The 300 gold with which I started the game was enough for me to purchase a tanto and a set of "armor" called bauernkluft, which I think means "peasant's outfit." After that, I went outside to try to earn some more gold for food and training.
        
The "armor" shop sells a "peasant's outfit" and a "monk's robe."
        
You can enter combat mode whenever there is at least one enemy on the screen. Once in combat mode, you're locked onto the current screen and can't wander off the edges. You fight by facing the enemy and hitting the joystick button. If you have a missile weapon like a shuriken, you can attack from a distance (and it apparently magically returns to you, because once you equip one, you don't run out). Later on, there are apparently scrolls you can purchase to cast spells in combat.
       
Fighting a giant at night.
      
As I mentioned, you have a separate "weapon skill" for every weapon, starting at 25% and going to 100%. You can pay 100 gold pieces to train in 25% increments at any city with a weapons trainer. Weapons and armor can break in combat and must be repaired at special shops.
         
With my shuriken, I can attack an enemy across the water (literally " a head") that can't retaliate.
         
Once all the enemies are dead, you exit combat and see your rewards in terms of gold and experience. Gold rewards are pretty decent. I'm not sure what experience does for you. In the first few hours, I didn't "level up" at all, and I didn't notice any changes to my attributes. There isn't even anywhere that you can check your experience total.
        
The spoils of combat.
      
Post-combat, hit points generate from walking around and sleeping. You can sleep manually, but otherwise, when the game decides you're tired, you hit the ground wherever you are no matter how inconvenient.
             
Hopefully, Buddha isn't insulted by this.
         
Cities are swarming with NPCs, many of whom, in the tradition of the early Ultimas, deliver only single lines. Guards say, "Show me your papers." Clerics: "Repent your sins, my sons." Ninjas: "Shall I kill someone for you?" Occasionally, you come across someone with more to say, and the game asks you what kind of attitude you want to adopt, including submissive, religious, normal, friendly, bribing, superior and threatening. So far, I've been defaulting to "friendly" and haven't noticed any major differences. Occasionally, an NPC will say something that gives you a choice of keywords for reply. For instance, a warrior who says, "I am on a quest for gold" might offer follow-up lines based on "quest" and "gold." So far, none of these options have delivered any significant hints or bits of lore, but to be fair having to translate all of the dialogue leaves me uneager to scour every town for every NPC.
        
A couple of keywords about testing his katana against trees.
       
But try I must, because I otherwise have no idea where to go or what to do in the game. Clearly, I need to get a boat at some point, and there's an interesting-looking castle in the middle of a lake that might house a king with a quest. There are features in the middle of uncrossable mountains, so somewhere there must be an object or spell that lets you cross them. Scanning through the notes on the museum site, it appears I have yet to experience the ability to purchase slaves and guard dogs, or to find a tavern with options between "a room" and "a room and a woman," or find one of several places where you can answer a riddle and get your attributes increased. I did find a "sensei" who offered to increase my endurance, but I didn't have enough money at the time. So far, I haven't found anything that looks like a "dungeon."
         
"Pain does not exist in this dojo, does it?"
                         
The title of the game got me thinking about endonyms and exonyms and why we tolerate the latter anymore. I mean, I have no problem with Los Estados Unidos or Les États Unis because they're literal translations, but I think I'd be pretty annoyed if I went to Italia and it turned out their official name for us was Terra Degli Asini. That's what exonyms often are, of course: the ancient equivalent of "those bozos on the other side of the river." Who am I to condescendingly tell someone from Maṣr that he's really "Egyptian," or to presume that a Magyarországian's ancestors were "Huns"? I mean, I get the traditional and historical reasons that exonyms developed in the first place, but by the twenty-first century, in a global community, shouldn't we be talking more about abandoning them? Germans, if you want to use "Deutschland" (despite the fact that it sounds like a guy with a Brooklyn accent saying "Durchland") instead of "Germany," I should honor that. And if "Japan" ever gets it together on how to correctly pronounce its own name, I'll use that, too.

Time so far: 3 hours

79 comments:

  1. First off, I don't like the implication that late 80s console RPGs were like Hydlide. Second, while my knowledge of the 80s home computer market is all second hand, the impression I get is that joysticks were virtually required outside of the RPG and adventure genres, so the joystick only control style might have been to try and appeal to non-RPG gamers. Still stupid, but it's a thought.

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  2. He said it was "like" Hydlide, not that all console games in the 80s were. Why are you assuming this?

    Joysticks are a limited input device mainly focused on games that require quick reflexes. A CRPG should not require you to solve problems or win the game though your manual dexterity skills. That's why Legend of Zelda is not a CRPG but an adventure action game.

    This game appears to be one that's going to be a pain to complete... my sympathies.

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    1. First, I said late 80s console RPGs, not all 80s console games. Second, calling it an era console game gives me the implication that it was a standard game for the era, which would be like saying Questron was a standard late 80s CRPG

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    2. Joystick control on the 64 was just the done thing. Just a factor of the times.

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  3. RE exonyms: you're forgetting that both alphabets and phonetic systems differ between languages. There's no way to express the 15 basic vowels of Danish in Russian, which only has 6, or the 33 Cyrillic letters in Latin alphabet, which only has 25. So I'm not sure a butchered version of the original name would sound more respectful to a native ear than an established exonym.

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    1. See also: native anglophone speakers trying to realise everything through their vowel-shifted moon pronunciations. I find that rather charming to be honest. :)

      That said, a lot of exonyms have rather more unpleasant (that is, colonial) backgrounds. Probably better to try and weed those out as best as possible.

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  4. The game was one THE games of my childhood.
    I must have been 11 or 12 years old and have spent more than half a year playing the game.

    Prepare for long mapping sessions of the game world.
    I've never been close to victory, and I've certainly given up.

    Once you figure out what happens when you address people wrongly and then find out how to solve the problem, you will surely dislike the game mechanics.

    The developers told me many years ago that the original game was basically impossible to win, because an important clue was not given. But the versions you can download should be the fixed version.

    I wonder if anyone's ever won the game.

    (Blogger really likes my comments for breakfast)

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    1. How do you map this game? Pasting together screenshots would seem like the only sensible way, but I think even that would take forever.

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    2. Have a look at the pictures of this blog. The map clearly has a block structure.
      You could miss a city or an important person in a city and then forever look for ways to continue with the game.
      I played the game by performing a random walk without notes and never won. But I was young :-)

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    3. Yes, there's a block structure, and the blocks have 4 subdivisions to make movement more fluent. The world just seems too large to map, unless you have plenty of time.

      I agree that the conversation mechanics are problematic, there just aren't enough hints how to talk to people (except that you should address merchants in a "normal" fashion). I know reloading isn't popular around here, but I suggest doing so at least when you've insulted people who seem important.

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    4. Yes mapping is hard and usually I wouldn't do it for this game. But as far as I remember, there are some really important characters in this game with crucial hints. Don't miss them!

      I would also agree to use the snapshot system of the emulator in cities. To reset an NPC when he is insulted is time consuming and tedious.

      I'd really like to see the end of it. I've been waiting for this for 30 years.

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    5. Oh, god. Phrases like "spent more than half a year playing it" and "long mapping sessions" and "never been close to victory" were NOT what I wanted to hear in relation to this game. I barely forced myself to finish the initial three hours.

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    6. Sorry for that :-). I was very young when I played it the first time and would play it in a different way today.
      I can tell you the size of the map and the number of cities. Without a big spoiler: The map is smaller than the one in Fate, but not that much.

      The other defining rpg in my childhood was "Die Dunkle Dimension". I hope you will play it some day.

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    7. "Oh, god. Phrases like "spent more than half a year playing it" and "long mapping sessions" and "never been close to victory" were NOT what I wanted to hear in relation to this game. I barely forced myself to finish the initial three hours."

      Because those are the ones you have to play :-D

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    8. I think you may need an emergency clause in your stated goals that lets you bow out of foreign language RPGs if they drag on past 10 hours without an end in site. We all want your sanity preserved so we can continue reading your blog for many years yet!

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    9. NOOOOOOOO, do I have to wait another 30 years for a reincarnation of CRPG Addict who writes a blog and finishes the game?

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    10. This was the second RPG I played in my life. I think I was 13 years old.

      I didn't remember problems with the controls. I got into the flow of managing the daily routines of this game like food and sleep. But I never got anywhere story-wise.

      I remember hour long sessions exploring farther and farther, finding new weird stuff. I was impressed and overwhelmed. But at that time I never mapped any game or took notes...

      My first RPG was the aforementioned "Die dunkle Dimension" which came on a disk magazine and has reached probably a lot of German kids. I managed to solve that one with a friend. It was a bit primitive but it had a little story and you knew what to do.

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    11. I finished "Die dunkle Dimension" too. But it took a long time. To level up was so time consuming and boring. And you are right. In DDD you know what to do. The game world was simply clearer.

      I am not sure, if there is a ongoing story in Nippon except the story in the manual. At least, there is a goal. Most of the time I just explored the game world.

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    12. Take look at the critics section of this Wiki
      https://www.c64-wiki.de/wiki/Nippon#L.C3.B6sung

      Darkstar: Auch wenn ich es noch nie ganz durchgespielt habe.
      (Even though I've never played it all the way through.)

      H.T.W.: Leider muss ich gestehen, das ich noch nicht bis zum Ende gelangt bin.
      (Unfortunately, I must confess that I have not yet reached the end.)

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    13. "The map is smaller than the one in Fate, but not that much." - well, that still sounds like it could possibly be the second-largest map ever... :D

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  5. This is the final version of the backstory: http://www.nippon-museum.de/texte/versionfinal . It tells the story of Shimo, a vaccuum cleaner salesmen, who gets transported to Nippon and travels the country until he reaches the rim of the world, where he throws documents telling his story into the abyss. Toshiro, finding these documents in a bookstore, remembers the statues mentioned in the story and decides to head there.

    The backstory contains helpful and sometimes important information about the geography, e.g.:
    - The castle you're seeing is Takedo, seat of the goddess Benten. From here, water flows into the world. Flowing south is the river Kawa. Benten helps people who solve her ridde, and curses those that give a wrong answer.
    - There is a monastery called Arfni-do in the land of fire where you can learn the skill of infravision.
    - The world contains 13 magical gates, for which you need a gate symbol (Torsymbol) to operate. They are dangerous as people have become stranded using them.
    ...

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    1. Two pieces of information from the manual, which you might have missed in your translation:
      - Experience eventually increases your social status. It affects some decisions in the game (no details given). The game gets a bit harder with higher status.
      - There's an icon for meditation which you get when you own "Weihrauch" (incense). You can use it to talk to gods at their cult sites.

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    2. I wasn't sure how to take "first," "second," "third," and "final" on the back stories. Do those designations mean that those were different drafts during development, and "final" is what actually appeared in the manual? Did ANY of them appear in the manual? (the separate "handbuch" link doesn't include any of them.) So I just did my best to synthesize all of them.

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    3. Good question. V1 and V2 are obviously early draft versions. V3 and the final version are very different. I read "final" as "as it appeared in the game", but I can't really be sure if it was really included.

      Not very helpful, but here's the packaging:

      https://www.ebay.de/itm/NIPPON-by-Markt-amp-Technik-C64-Commodore-64-Disk-Version-/222844763965?nma=true&si=l2OEs9FjHj0eDslyDeH%252BHfi3VLg%253D&orig_cvip=true&rt=nc&_trksid=p2047675.l2557

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  6. Back in the days joystic actually was peferred because the original c64 keyboard really is that bad they sunked for about 2 centimeters before actually registering anything on screen, extremely unlike current PC keyboards even my Amiga had a pretty awful keyboard for typing compared to what PC's had at the time.

    Also back in the day official guideline was to stay 2-meters from the TV which most did meaning that you would have to physically get uo & walk to your TV to press the keys.

    Also for example cord for the disk drive is only 50cm which severely limits where you can put it along with the TV and c64 meaning that many had an auxliary sidetable with the joystic (also because shaking the joystic with suction caps glued to table would make the whole table to shake violently when playing decathlon) and one of my friends did broke his table and all when the heavy TV was too much for the dingy table it was sitting on.

    PC had no such problems because PC joystic was an analog piece o' shit that was never used anyway so keyboard was pretty much the only option and sometimes even a mouse.

    Having a joystick control is a feature deal with it.
    Most if not all games at the time however had a pause when moving about in the menu and tbh from all the games that I played I can't remeber any that had keyboard short cuts if there was a joystic controlled menu then again I didn't had any RPG's on my C64 aside from the Times of Lore or well i did boutght tangled tales but the game disk was busted already when bought from the store, so I got barbarian II instead.

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    1. Unlike most of the other platforms that I'm emulating to write these entries, I had a Commodore 64 in the 1980s, and I can say unequivocally that even then, I would not have preferred the joystick to the keyboard.

      I am happy to accept it when a developer offers a joystick as an alternative to the keyboard, or vice versa, as the Gold Box games do. I will never be persuaded that it is ever acceptable for a joystick or mouse to be the sole control mechanism.

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    2. Single button joysticks are acceptable for games like Haunted House and Adventure on the Atari 2600. IMO, game pads need at least 4 buttons to be usable for RPGs.

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    3. Indeed.

      Interestingly, I remember the Amiga Power magazine complaining that too many games ignored the keyboard for more complex controls :)

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    4. I grew up with a Commodore 64, I've also been a published game developer.
      It's fine to say "joysticks were the standard" for the 64, which they were, but it's no excuse in regard to not providing appropriate keyboard shortcuts and alternatives.
      No, the 64 keyboard was not THAT bad (not even the spectrum's was).
      A lot of people fell in love with the joystick and chose to make complex games joystick only. That's a bad call, no matter what. Especially when we're talking about a ONE BUTTON stick

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    5. Thank you, Rob. Perfectly put.

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  7. Yeah, down with exonyms.

    Although, funnily enough, some endonyms started out as exonyms (as is the case with the aforementioned Japan, and also Taiwan).

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    1. It´s called formosa

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    2. Ha! Good one! Being Portuguese, I say up with exonyms, too. I like the sound of "Taprobana" and "Socotra." Language is richer for them.

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  8. America is often "beikoku" in Japanese, which literally means "rice country" but actually has nothing to do with rice.

    In Chinese we're "meiguo", which means "beautiful country" but once again has nothing to do with beauty; both have to do with phonetic attempts at the "me" in "America" that would take too long to explain.

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    1. Please explain. If experience from the recent past proves anything, it's that CRPG Addict readers love lengthy discussions of language.
      Or post a link to your blog where you will explain it for us.

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    2. Huh, well I'll be dipped... they think we are a beautiful country of rice.

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    3. Well, I'll try. With my fragmented knowledge from a university course a long time ago. I think it's at least somewhat right.

      It's what happens when you take a foreign word - America - and try to spell it out with Kanji. You end up with this:

      亜(a)米(bei)利(ri)加(ka)

      Kanji have several "readings", due to the fact that they were imported from China, and then mapped to an existing language. The symbol for rice 米 has the On-reading "bei" (the original Chinese pronounciation), but it also has the Kun-reading "kome" - the Japanese word for uncooked rice. It has many more readings, actually, but lets keep it simple.

      In compound words, usually the On-reading is taken, (therefore 富士山 is Fuji-san and not Fuji-yama). Thus you end up with 米 as the bei in abeirika.

      Somewhere along the way, this was shortened to just 米 (read "bei" together with the Kanji for country).

      I think nowadays it's more common to just use the katakana syllable alphabet for foreign words: アメリカ (a-me-ri-ka).

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    4. The original Chinese name for America is ya-mei(美-beauty)-li-jia. Other than that, Buck's about right.

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  9. You know, I'm enjoying seeing the overall quality of the writing just going through the roof.

    If crpgaddict was a book, I want a giant coffee table book, a big bold History of CRPGs.

    My preference.

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    1. It would break the coffee table though

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  10. Well,
    as someone from Hungary, i can tell you that we really have nothing to do with the huns. At all.
    As far as I know, we were called "Ungarians" By the folks at Byzantine, and the "H" came later for some reason (though yes, the huns and hungarians were pretty similar in many aspects).
    "Magyar" on the other hand was the name of the leader of the largest nomadic tribe of our 7 back then. Also, the word itself has at least one sound in it that doesn't exist in english at all.
    So (although I don't claim to represent my fellow countrymen and -women by any means), as of now, I entitle you to call us whataer you want, be it even "The folks over the pond" or "The land of ass" (both hold some truth).

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    1. The Land of Ass needs to be an adult film ASAP.

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  11. Exonyms are part of the language and cultural heritage of the language group that produced them, and thus have value in their own right. They are also an inevitable product of the need of words to adapt into the phono-morphological systems of different languages. Speakers of most Western languages would find it difficult to refer to China as ”Zhōngguó”. Mechanically translating words would be silly – I'm from Finland, a country that is called Finland or a derivative thereof in most all except Baltic and Finnic languages, where it is ”Suomi”. And even we don't for 100 % know what it really means!

    More generally, one might ask whether it's reasonable to expect a sort of ”ideological purity” from the ethymologies of words in general, or whether referents should have a monopoly on dictating what referents are used about them, to which I'm going to say ”no” because it infringes on the autonomy of language speakers.

    Concerning Japan specifically, ”Japan” is a corruption of the Chinese reading of the characters ”日本”, which in Japan are read ”Nihon” or ”Nippon”, with both being correct. I've never heard of any Japanese demanding that Japan be addressed as ”Nihon” in foreign languages, and if there are any I suspect they are some sort of ultra-nationalists...

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    1. We attempt European approximations of every Chinese place name, just not the country itself. My Chinese friends and I pronounce Beijing differently, but we're saying the same word.

      Zhōngguó would sound roughly like 'Jong-gwah'. Doesn't seem any harder than Côte d'Ivoire.

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    2. I think the issue with tonal languages like Chinese is that you think you and your friends are saying the same word, but in actuality pronunciation differences lead to drastically different meanings and understandings.

      For example, my wife speaks Cantonese, and I tried telling her family that I studied statistics. They all laughed because they heard me saying that I slaughtered chickens, all due to my misuse of rising and falling tones.

      The use of exonyms at least eliminates the possibility of misunderstandings on at least proper names.

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    3. For what it's worth, the name "Japan" is the result of a long long game of telephone between oral recollections of what the Japanese referred to their country as ("Nippon"), attempts at representing this name in writing, and attempts at guessing how this written name was supposed to be pronounced.

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    4. Native English speakers cannot pronounce tonal languages. Zhōngguó does not sound at all like 'Jong-gwah'.

      Moreover, if you pronounce it as Zhōngguō - like most people who can't speak Chinese - nobody will have any idea what you're saying. Different tones are not different representations of the same pronunciations, they are literally different pronunciations. Calling it 'China' is just fine.

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    5. https://youtu.be/SVl2yek8Kuc?t=3m44s

      This guy phonetically spells it Jong-gwoh, but pronounces it the same way. the o/a switch is because he and I accent those letters differently, as he is .com and I am .au

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    6. I'm old enough to remember having to switch over from 'Peking' to 'Beijing'. It took a while to get the hang of but people adapted. In most cases I think we could shift, if a country made a real push to demand that people use their proper names. I don't think most countries care that much though.

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    7. Funnily enough, it's still 'Peking' in Russian.

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    8. "In most cases I think we could shift, if a country made a real push to demand that people use their proper names. I don't think most countries care that much though."

      Sure, that's what it comes down to. I'm just surprised they don't. Today's world is so hyper-sensitive to everything else, it's hard to believe some movement hasn't started, slinging terms like "colonialism" and "jingoism," to standardize on each nation's preferred name.

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    9. I'm old enough to remember having to switch over from 'Peking' to 'Beijing'.

      "Peking" allegedly comes from the way it was actually pronounced in one of the other non-Mandarin languages (Cantonese or maybe Hakka), so FWIW it was never incorrect per se nor an example of European insensitivity. The PRC has standardized on Beijing, though, which is what makes it the preferred pronunciation now.

      I think Native Americans have the best claim re: asking for exonyms to be dumped, given the circumstances in which those were acquired. But then again, that gives us the exonym Winnebago vs. the endonym Ho-Chunk: not all endonyms port well to other languages.

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    10. I've heard Corea is the preferred spelling, while the world generally ignores them.

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    11. "This guy phonetically spells it Jong-gwoh, but pronounces it the same way. the o/a switch is because he and I accent those letters differently, as he is .com and I am .au"

      Ah, I see. You're trying to project English phonemes on Chinese language. Yeah, it's not the same.

      This is starting to get too technical, but when you pronounce J you use the tip of your tongue. When you pronounce the ZH in "Zhōng" you use the tongue blade. This may sound identical to you but trust me native speakers can tell the difference. The gwoh in "guó" is different as well, there isn't really a W sound in there. When you make a W you purse your lips, while in guó there is very little lip movement. There is definitely no "ah" sound in there.

      I really can't go much further without using IPA, and that's a pain to learn and use as well. Let's just leave it as Pinyin isn't the best system to represent the sounds of Mandarin. People assume too much because it uses Latin letters and they try to pronounce them in the same way as they would English. Heck, the best system is considered to be Bopomofo as it avoids this unpleasantness by not using letters at all.

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    12. In case nobody is old enough to recall, in the immediate post-colonial era of the 50's thru 70's, most newly independent countries did indeed make an effort to shed colonial baggage by changing names, sometimes several times as one group or another won a civil war, e.g. Belgian Congo/Congo Free State/Zaire/Democratic Republic of Congo, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Burma/Myanmar.

      Turns out sometimes the world is woker than you think.

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    13. At least one Japanese person seems to think there are more pressing issues in the US, other than exonyms.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLgFfqohzDs

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    14. By the way, I'm not American, either. Or Anglo, at all.

      Sorry, I can't edit the above post to put this in.

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    15. Well, Izzy, That was impressively non-relevant to the discussion on language.

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    16. Beijing is actually called “Pekin” in Japanese, as well.

      @Zenic

      There's this conspiracy theory that Japan conspired to promote the spelling with a K to make sure that “Korea” came after “Japan” alphabetically. It's pretty much completely unfounded.

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  12. Yes, because 99.9 % of Chinese place names are not relevant enough for foreigners so that exonyms of them might form. But for the things that are, languages work by streamlining salient concepts so that they fit the general framework of the language. It would be unreasonable to expect otherwise.

    These things are language-specific so there's no one ”European approximation”, but if you pronounce ”Beijing” differently then is it the ”same” word anymore? This is how exonyms are born in the first place! One should also remember that words in any two languages do not generally have a one-on-one correspondence: ”China” has a wider meaning and much predates the current political entity governing mainland China.

    Incidentially, we *do* use an exonym for Côte d'Ivoire, partly becuse French names are hard to pronounce.

    One should also remember that most places in the world have all sorts of minority languages, so next to no place on Earth has exactly one name anyways. Languages have vocabularies peculiar to them, and there's no reason to expect place names to be an exception. They may be the same in some pair of languages, or they may not.

    P.S. Can anyone comment using Mozilla Firefox? My comments always disappear with it.

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    1. And that was supposed to go as a response to the above, but I guess I misclicked, sorry,

      Delete
    2. It's what I've always used to comment. I have to remind myself to hit the "Publish" button on the lower lefthand corner of the textbox, because what I automatically expect to be the "post this now" button based on its placement, is actually the "Sign out" button.

      Delete
    3. Beijing is not pronounced "bay zheeng" it is "bei jing" with a hard J.

      Pinyin is not English. Letters are pronounced differently. Without training, nobody can pronounce them correctly and it's silly to expect.

      Delete
    4. Commenting with Firefox only works after enabling third-party cookies in my case. (Using Name/URL)

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    5. I pity people named Javier, Jakob and Just. It's extremely silly to expect that an English speaker could ever possibly learn how to pronounce those words.

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    6. The thing about Chinese pronunciation is that, due to huge variance of dialects in each province, the accents of the common tongue (pu-tong-hua) makes foreigners doubt their proficiency when they listen to it spoken by someone from a region of China as their teacher.

      For one thing, I can understand New Yorkers just fine but some Southerners speak like they're swirling gobstoppers in their mouths.

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    7. It's not that English speakers can never learn tonal languages.

      It's just very difficult because not only are the sounds not part of the English language, but the concept of tonality effecting meaning (other than to indicate a question) doesn't exist. The "ears" of English speakers are not trained to register the differences in meanings of different tones.

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    8. It is similar to how Engliush speakers have a hard time learning certain African languages that use clicks, or how it takes time (albeit much less) to learn how to roll your "r"s properly in Spanish.

      If you don't grow up with a certain sound in your birthspeech, it can be really hard to pick up later on.

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    9. I still don't see why any of this is a barrier. Americans pronounce most South American countries slightly different than they do, but they're still manifestly the same names. To say that I should go on using "China" because my under-developed Western mouth will never pronounce "Zhōngguó" adequately is as insulting to me as using a completely different word is to them.

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    10. Americans pronounce most South American countries slightly different than they do, but they're still manifestly the same names.

      That's not a good example. Those countries all have names written in languages that use the Latin alphabet, and the speakers you probably have in mind speak languages like Spanish and Portuguese that are very closely related to English (though many actually have indigenous languages as their real mother tongue).

      But when you have languages whose officially sanctioned transliteration into Latin characters bears little or no resemblance to English orthography or phonology, and native English speakers attempt them, you get outlandish results. (Same with languages that use Latin characters "natively" but give them utterly different sounds from what we'd expect.) We're not talking "slightly different", but unintelligibly so.

      I think you're underestimating the sheer phonologicaldifference of some languages, and the extent to which even a well-educated person of goodwill is likely to massacre a word so thoroughly that it's equivalent to just making up a new word. Chinese isn't too bad in that regard, but I've still had some very blank stares when discussing history with Chinese scholars, because Chinese phonology is so inadequately conveyed by pinyin.

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    11. Assume, for a theoretical example, that a language existed where the sound in the middle of Massachusetts did not exist, and somebody who grew up speaking that language is able to say it only as "Mass a two shits". That is less than the level of mangling anglophones do to a lot of languages.

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    12. "To say that I should go on using "China" because my under-developed Western mouth will never pronounce "Zhōngguó" adequately is as insulting to me as using a completely different word is to them."

      Whaaa...? Where'd this idea come from? You actually think that Chinese people are insulted because their nation is named "China" in English? Boy, that came out of left field!

      No, they're not insulted. I think people need to stop getting offended on other people's behalf. Let's let the people who are actually offended take offense. In fact, Chinese people take a secret pride that their language is so difficult and impenetrable. They *like* that you can't say Zhōngguó.

      You know that Mandarin is only one of the Chinese languages, right? There are hundreds of ways to pronounce "China" by authentic Chinese people. Mandarin is just one of them. A good way to think about it is if the US government decreed that Noo Yawk accent was now the "standard" way of pronunciation and that newscasters, etc. must use this method or be fired.

      It's not that you couldn't learn how to say Zhōngguó, it's that it takes a lot of effort and is generally not worth the trouble if you're not going to go whole hog and learn the entire language, like I did. It's just easier to use an English word to represent the same concept.

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    13. "You actually think that Chinese people are insulted because their nation is named "China" in English?"

      No, I don't actually think that. This thread has crossed the line into taking me too seriously. It was more of a thought experiment. I'm surprised this ISN'T more of an issue, but I realize that in the end, it isn't. All I'm saying is that if it was, I don't see why a completely different word would be better than an honest attempt to pronounce the name natives give to their own countries.

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    14. Most exonyms WERE an honest attempt to pronounce native names, its just that those attempts were centuries ago. The native language was pronounced differently, our modern language is pronounced differently, literacy was spotty, spelling was not standardized. Only the rise of voice recording and broadcast allowed anything like standardization of pronunciation that we have today. Further, oftentimes exonyms were inherited from peoples we were already in contact with telling us about their neighbors farther out, especially in America where not only native speakers but French and Spanish speakers named things for us.

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  13. The changing of numbers via joystick was used in Heart of Africa and Seven Cities of Gold and Pirates at least. Those were joystick only.
    Back then, I did not think of it as odd, but nowadays this appears to be weird not to support both input devices.

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  14. On the joystick theme, there are some fairly odd c64 UI artifacts that stem from using the joystick where I wouldn't think to do so. M.U.L.E.'s bidding system is a good example. I kind of hate it, but it's kind of elegant too.

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