10 Jul 2015

Does a combination of a good game and a good translator mean a good localization?  In the process of work we’ve convinced that it’s not all the components of a successful, quick and accurate localization. Some features of a game can significantly complicate the work of a translator. In this article we’ll tell you how to make localization with the least possible uncertainties, questions and iterations and will provide you with some tips based on our own experience.

Technical aspect: text

Let’s begin with a simple thing. Before starting work on the localization, you need to pay attention to some purely technical parameters: encoding, font, text size and the direction of writing.

Not every font can easyly cope with displaying of such symbols as Russian “ё”, Belarusian “ў”, French “é” and German “ü”. The size of the font is also of great importance. Cyrillic and Latin letters are easy to read even in a small size, but small hierogliphs are almost indiscernible. In addition, it should be remembered that in Arabic and Hebrew languages the writing direction is from right to left.

These nuances may force developers to reconsider some features of the game architecture. For example, to abandon the fixed-size windows in favor of dynamic; to add scrolling; to implement support for additional character sets; to implement alternative fonts.

But this is only the “external” components. Let’s look deeper into code and see what surprises await us there.

Technical aspect: the variables and the word order

Many translators can face difficulties while working with variables. If the phrases containing variables are divided into two or more parts by the developer and the connection between the parts is not obvious, the correct localization is possible only by an accident. A simple example is a message like “You take X hit points”, where X is a variable indicating the damage caused to the opponent. If the fragments “You take” and “X hit points” are not connected in one sentence, the result of the translation might be: «Вы берёте 3 единица урона». It is not the fault of the translator: the semantic context was lost when the developer had split the phrase.

The grammar of the target language (i.e. the language in which the translation is done) is another difficulty. In some languages, the word order is important: if you change the words in some places, the phrase loses grammatical correctness or even the sense. Gender and case, declination and articles – every language has its own quirks, and the source code is not always flexible enough to take them into account.

It is a huge plus if the source code allows you to change the places of variables. For example, the original sentence begins with a variable X and ends with the variable Y. For correct translation of the phrase in the target language it may be necessary to arrange the variables in reverse order. Consider an example: “You take 8 hit points, 3 points blocked”. If the variables can be reversed, it can be translated as follows: «Вы заблокировали 3 единицы урона, получив 8 единиц», which sounds more natural. If it was impossible to do this, the output will be something like: «Вы получили 8 единиц урона, а заблокировали 3». Has anyone realized what had happened? The opportunity to change the places of variables allows phrases to be logically complete and accurate.

Word forms should be provided for numerals, characters’ sex, gender and pronouns. Incidentally, it may be important not only for the target, but also for the original language. If the game currency is called “crystal”, the user will need “5 crystals” and not “5 crystal” to make a purchase in the game. Of course, it seems insignificant, but if you won’t take care of the details, the localization can become a huge fail, and your project will become famous not because of a cool gameplay, unfortunately.

Technical aspect: the interface

We’ve already convinced that an attempt to enter the text into the plate with a strictly fixed size is the basic time-killer of translators. The word “Best” in English has 4 symbols, while the word «Лучший» in Russian has 6 ones and the word “première” in French even 7. If the plates have a strictly fixed size, the translators have to either look for a shorter synonyms (“Best” can in some case be changed into “Top”), or reduce the words.

Anyway, this problem can be solved. But what is worse is when the developer does not doesn’t pay attention of the translator at such “bottlenecks” and the latter translates without regard to the length of the strings. Then the translated text goes out of the frame. Therefore, it is much more effective when the developer counts how many characters can fit on a certain plate and specifies this limit for the translator. By the way, the gaps are also szmbols, and should be considered together with the letters.

Technical aspect: media

The translation is finished… But localization is not yet. In addition to the string resources, the translation may be needed for the media (audio and video) files, as well as certain graphics resources. Localization of graphics and media files is rather complicated, time-consuming and expensive process. To simplify it, the following three important tips can be used.

First of all you should accompany each illustration with the information about its location in the game, its role in the plot of the game and its significance in the gameplay. Secondly, you should leave the audio tracks in all the video files for the future translation into a foreign language. Thirdly, you should always place the subtitles in a separate file.

Such phase of localization as redubbing of the media materials consists of several stages. In addition to the translation of the text it is required to find native speaking actors, record them, mount the recorded replicas and introduce them in the product.

Not all the developers are willing to invest substantial sums in this work. But this problem can be solved by quality subtitles that will be cheaper than redubbing.

But localization doesn’t mean only translation of texts and media content. Let’s move on to the most interesting and the most difficult aspects of localization – cultural adaptation.

Cultural aspect: sensitive topics

Some scenes were cut out from the game “South Park: The Stick of Truth” because of censorship; “Beyond: Two Souls” has become less bloody and frank; Russian version of “Modern Warfare 2″ has lost the shooting scene at the airport… Most developers feel living in a world parallel to the real, but they still should reckon with public morality. Of course, such an event as “censorship” of the game can be a significant newsworthy, but if your budget does not assume the cost of legal fees – think twice before you touch on sensitive topics in the game.

Under sensitive topics we consider religion, sex, physical violence, images of exposed parts of the body, prejudices regarding the nationalities or cultures, the alternative interpretation of historical events, the appeal to the tragic moments of the recent past.

Certainly, the “sensitivity” of some topics may not be visible to the developer, so here we need the help of professional localizers – native speakers. The fact is that a speaker (constantly living in a country of spoken language) knows his culture and can reveal some mentally or socially unacceptable nuances.

At the end of our excursion into the social isssues, do not deny yourself the pleasure to find what means the name of your game in the target language. History knows many examples when the producers had to rename their products, not to become a laughing stock in the new market.

Cultural aspect: intertext

Intertextuality is inherent to almost any cultural product, be it a book, a film, comics or computer game. If the main character of your game says “I’ll be back” diying a heroic death, it is an intertext.

It is almost impossible to create a cultural product, not appealing to the ones which are already exist. It is a huge space for fantasy, humor, unexpected twists of plot, etc. Quality localization is not only accurate translation of words, but also adaptation of intertextuality. To be honest, this is a huge piece of work. A detailed glossary provided by the developer may help to do it more accurate.

A good glossary consists of a minimum two sections: the game terminology and references. The “Game terminology” contains the names of gaming locations, items, creatures and other components of the game world, which need to be translated consistently. And the “References” lists the names and expressions with the “second bottom”, which implicit humor or any sending. If your game is based on any movie or work of art, the section “References” can be larger than all the game text combined together.

Adaptation of intertextuality can cause lots of difficulties due to the fact that literal translation of the references would not make any sense (tell «ЙЙЙАААЗЗЗЬ!» to the Russian-speaking person and he will laugh, tell “IIIDDDEEE!” to the English-speaking person – ???). The aim of the translator is to find such equivalent in the target language, which will convey the ambiguity of emotionally charged phrase. That is why the best localizers are native speakers, they know how the target audience live and what will be funny and understandable for them.

The glossary should also contain information about translation of proper names: should they be translated literally, be adapted to the context of the target language or simply transliterated.

Organizational aspects

When the technical and cultural issues have been resolved, it’s high time to decide in what form the text will be given to the translator.

The best form of sending information is localization kit prepared by the developer. It is systematic collection of files, divided into groups: text lines, graphics, fonts, audio and video files. It is better to give the texts to the translator in a SQL Database or in a simple table. Try to give the translators the opportunity to explore the game as much as possible, give them access to all the game resources (levels, premium content). This will help the translators to understand the context of the game better and reduce the number of inaccuracies in the translation.

All these nuances are directly related to the localization of online games and gaming applications, but software and websites developers will also find something useful in our recommendations.

If you are thinking about how to make a game or application accessible for the foreign audience – try to appeal to the professional localizers as early as possible. The sooner you find bottlenecks in the product – the higher is the chance to localize your product properly and on time.