The ABCs of a good video game localization team

Supertext Game Localization Language Fighter

Video game localization can be simultaneously entertaining and infuriating. Who can forget the “All your base are belong to us.” fail? There are many pitfalls to localizing games but hiring the right team of professionals, starting with the translators on the front line, is a good start. So what makes a super team?

Know thy game

When it comes to translations that guide and immerse players in an imaginary world, it goes without saying: working with a team steeped in the gaming world, with their pulse on the lingo, is always best. There are few generalist translators who look forward to translating copy like “Fixed bug that would cause Bronze and Titanium armors that reduced damages against Ragun’s Hand Cannon, Blade’s Hellish Saw, and Dr Rotor’s Perpetual Gear to reflect 10% instead of 12.5% of Regular Power Damages” but to a specialist, even the most unwieldy patch notes will make sense (maybe with a little bit of help from a well maintained glossary). Accuracy is important, and nobody wants a faulty localization to mislead players on which skill’s damages, under what circumstances, have been changed from 20/80/120/160 to 20/90/140/180. If access to a build cannot be arranged, localizers will be eager to get their hands on any supplemental material, such as a synopsis, a summary from a game design document, screenshots, and video captures.

Gamer culture

Granted, even to specialists, translating patch notes may not be the most exciting part of the job. When it comes to more creative texts, like an ad campaign or a product description, you still want people who can tell the difference between FPS (first person shooter) and fps (frame per seconds), between exploit (bad) and achievement (good). And more importantly, you want them to connect to the target audience through compelling copy and authentic lingo. Ideally, your translators should also play the game, or maybe a previous opus in the series. If the game is part of a multimedia franchise, have they watched the movie? Have they read the book? Are they immersed in the universe? Familiarity with the setting will not only produce effective copy, but it will help you avoid embarrassing errors. Like translating “Amon Hen”, the hill of the Seat of Seeing in Middle-earth, into something akin to “Amon Chicken” in a game – though the first failure was to translate it at all, against Tolkien’s own instructions to translators laid out in his Nomenclature of the Lord of the Rings.

Go the limit

Whether they are running on battery-powered devices or on consoles humming in your living room, video games are a technological medium. Game localization specialists understand the concerns inherent to that medium. For instance, limited screen real estate and small user interfaces are often designed for English and don’t allow for the character count expansion required by many other languages – up to 50% in German and French! The experienced translator will be able to balance the need for shorter strings with the expressivity required to immerse the player. The same goes for subtitles and voiceover scripts.

The technical bent

Strings littered with bits of code, html tags, %placeHolders% and $variables$ can dazzle and confuse a translator, their trembling fingers committing typos or copy-and-paste errors. This risks exposing the player to an unintelligible mess, sometimes with annoying consequences: that string stripped of the variable that pointed to the word “horse(s)” may block the player from progressing in the game, leaving them stranded during the capstone quest to “Free 5 horses” (if only they knew!).

Some complex, large-scale games go as far as to rely on a “meta-language” to adapt and reuse strings. The intent is to reduce the word count, and therefore the cost of localization, and promote terminology consistency. This will however demand from the translator the capacity and inclination to become proficient in that new dialect: Welcome to a new world, brave $Player_Name$! With strings like “@-1:%ITEM_NAME% @-1:{He[m]||She[f]||It} is in tune with @-2:%CONTAINER_NAME%@-2:{him[m]||her[f]||it}.\n”, things can quickly get hairy, especially for languages with cases and complex rules of agreement for gender and number.

There is one more thing we haven’t discussed – because without it, it’s all in vain – and that’s the ability to produce a translation that doesn’t read like a translation. If you are still looking for that elusive blend of technical aptitude, gamer culture, specific product knowledge and writing chops, Supertext’s in-house experts and hand-picked freelancers will be able to help.

Image pixeled by Rinaldo



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