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The Many Layers of Video Game Localization

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Video game localization is very useful when attempting to reach different markets around the world. We will explore the different layers of this process and what it takes to succeed at it.

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What is Translation?

Translating is essentially transforming content from one source language into a target language. The people who do this job are translators, who may or may not be certified, depending on the country and/or area where they work.

What is Localization?

Localization is quite simply making the translation of a particular piece of content, fit a particular market. If, for instance, a television show is translated from English into Spanish, the script would have to be translated and adjusted to the market.

In this case, the translated script would have to attuned either in ‘Spanish from Spain’, so to speak, or ‘Neutral Mexican Spanish’. These two are the main ‘accents’ or styles, if you will, of Spanish in television or film content (and in video games too). If a television show being translated and localized is to be transmitted anywhere in Latin America, then ‘Neutral Mexican Spanish’ is used. If, on the other hand, this content is to be aired in Spain, then ‘Spanish from Spain’ is preferred.

What happens is quite simply a process of adaptation of the translated content. The script is translated with an eye on being comprehensible to Latin American or Spanish audiences. When it is time to cast the voice roles, the particular accent (either Mexican or Spaniard) is used as well.

The Nitty-Gritty of Video Game Localization

Poor video game localization and translation can harm original content. Remember the “All your base are belong to us” meme, from the opening of the European release of ‘Zero Wing’, an early 90’s Mega Drive/Genesis game. Although arguably the poor translation made the game more memorable, this is the exception that proves the rule: Bad translation and localization is a killer of video games.

In the past, it was not unusual for a video game to be translated and localized by a single programmer, working with a rudimentary phrasebook. Evidently, such an approach produced very crude language work. Nowadays, enormous teams are assembled towards this end and the amount of text to be translated is extraordinary.

video game dubbing

Levels

There are several levels of video game localization:

(a) No localization at all. Sometimes, there may be no translation/localization. These video games are presented to all audiences in their original language, which is usually English.

(b) The second level is translating and localizing the written materials which accompany a video game (i.e: instruction manuals) but not the game itself.

(c) The third level of video game localization is all about translating and localizing, yes, but only partially. This means that things like text which appears on-screen may be translated and even localized, but speech by characters may not be translated at all, or may perhaps only use subtitles.

(d) Finally, the last level would be total translation and full video game localization. This means casting and dubbing voice roles too. Evidently this is a more expensive and complex process.

Moments of Localization

There are fundamentally two moments or timelines when video game localization and translation take place. A video game company must choose wisely between them.

The first is translating and localizing a video game after it has been released in its original language. This is a long process, since the video game will only be able to reach its foreign audience after it has been released in its original format.

The second moment of video game translation and localization is when it happens concurrently with the creation of the original video game. This allows for a simultaneous release of both the original game and its different translated versions.

Choose your Translator!

There are two basic ways in which video game translation and localization may be procured: in-house or outsourcing. In-house translation and localization is a good idea when a company has personnel at the ready to do this kind of work. Outsourcing is increasingly the way to go for companies that do not quite have this capability.

Outsourcing

Flexibility is a must when acquiring outsourcing for video game translation and localization. The company doing this language work will have to keep in touch with the video game creators in a layered and complex process. This is especially true if the language work is being created simultaneously.

Customer care is a closely related point. Video game translation and localization will not succeed without a third-party committed to excellence. This includes a positive attitude and constant communication.

Challenges of Translation

Consider this analysis by a translator working from Latin into English. Such a conclusion seems to fit well with most forms of translation, including video game translation and localization:

 “Latin and English are very different languages and there has always been a tension between those who translate ‘word by word’ and those who prefer to do so ‘sense by sense’.”

The previous passage accurately captures the main challenge in translation. Many translators have described it as the dualism between literal precision and aesthetics/naturalness/meaning. The translator continues, explaining:

“When Evagrius of Antioch translated Athanasius’ ‘Life of St. Anthony’ from Greek into Latin, he wrote thus about his method: “A literal translation made from one language to another conceals the meaning… I have tried to avoid this in translating as you requested the life of the blessed Anthony and I have translated in such a way that nothing should be lacking from the sense although something may be missing from the words. Some people try to capture the syllables and letters, but you must seek the meaning.”

The first instinct in a translator should be towards attempting literal precision. This is always the best choice, to simply translate precisely, even word-for-word. Now then, a translator invariably encounters a situation where a literally precise translation simply will not do. The problem with a literally precise translation is that it frequently misses the point of the text being translated.

In this case, it is necessary to stray from literal precision and into a quest for the preservation of meaning. As can be seen in the example above, some translators call it a ‘sense by sense’ translation. This type of translation should avoid straying too much, but stray it will, and that is a necessary thing.

Challenges of Localization

A great example of localization in television (which we can apply to video games) is Hanna-Barbera’s ‘Top Cat’. The show was not particularly successful in the United States, but it was a hit in countries like Mexico, Chile, Peru, and Argentina. The translation and localization were particularly successful. The casting of voice actors, however, was a great localization choice, because they gave the cats varied Mexican accents.

We can learn a lot from examples such as this one. In video game localization we must go above and beyond to make sure the content will be understood and thoroughly enjoyed by the target audience. This includes attention to detail like the one exhibited in ‘Top Cat’ and a cultural attunement to what a particular audience can find enjoyable.

video game translation

Cultural Changes  

Cultural changes in video game translation and localization are another challenge. Germany, for one, has certain policies against the use of Nazi symbols in content, including video games. The ‘Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle’ (Entertainment Software Self-Regulation) is in charge of upholding the standards that German law has set. Video game localization in this country, evidently, must take this into account.

The famous video game ‘Wolfenstein’, for instance, had to learn this the hard way. The video game localization for the German release of this game went to great pains to assure compliance with these standards. Unfortunately, the game inadvertently left behind one swastika and thus had to be recalled throughout the entire country.

An Array of Content

Nowadays, video game localization includes, first and foremost, the video game itself, with things like dialogue that must be dubbed or subtitled. There are, nevertheless other things which a process of this nature includes, such as the translation and localization of:

  • Manuals.
  • Packaging.
  • Official video game websites.

In a Nutshell

When setting out on a video game localization project, we must decide on the level of localization we want. As we pointed out, different projects carry different needs. Some will need no localization at all. Others will require partial translation/localization: of the materials which come with the game or of the video game itself, though not completely. The final level is also the costliest and most complex: full translation and video game localization.

Video games may be translated and localized in different stages. An original release and its translation may be created and released simultaneously. In other cases, the translation may be created after the release of the original game.

Video game translation and localization taking place as the original game is being created is sometimes risky. The problem is that the translators receive pieces of the puzzle, so to speak, but may be deprived of the whole picture.  If a video game is translated after it has been released, language specialists will have the whole content to work with. This can be beneficial. Video game creators must weigh the pros and cons carefully.

The Bunny Studio Way

Bunny Studio is able to provide tip-top video game translation and localization. The two essential components which we discussed earlier are essential considerations: Flexibility to make sure that the desired results are achieved and relentless customer care.

Moreover, the work at Bunny Studio is interdisciplinary. There is a vetted roster of translators, experienced in localization. Consider Mr. Bunny to solve all your video game localization needs. Good Luck!

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  • This article was powered by Bunny Studio
  • and was written by IgnacioS
  • If you want to hire this Bunny Pro, click here.
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