Games localization is a field of its own
To get an idea of the sheer bulk of the localization effort required, I’ve tracked down a couple of examples. One oldie – but goodie – is Final Fantasy VII. Now I know it was released 18 years ago, but this year, an FF7 fan by the name of Daniel Burke spearheaded a project to put the Japanese role-playing game into better English.
According to an article written by Eurogamer’s deputy editor Wesley Yin-Poole, the project (named “Beacause” after one of the games’ typos) the project was supposed to be a quick, week-long project that ended up taking 5 years.
That’s because 130,000 words of dialogue needed to be sifted through, and what Burke and a helper identified as “Luksy” found, changes made in one part made an impact on another – and vice versa. It was complex.
Fast forward to a more recent example. Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 3-A game that brought in $775 million in its five days on the market, had an incredible 41,000 lines of dialogue. Activision’s talent director, Keith Arem, put that number into perspective
“To give everyone a kind of perspective, if you look at an average television show, a half-hour series, that has about 400 lines of dialogue, and a full motion picture is going to have around 1,500 lines of dialogue,” he said.
Localization technology consultant Richard Sikes says in the world of gaming – as with nearly all industries – taking localization into consideration at the start of the project is a way that companies can save time, energy and money.
“Making changes is much more expensive after-the-fact than it is to build in localization capability up front,” he explains. “Without the correct planning, translators are often faced with resolving text that won’t fit, and dialogue that misses timed events.”
“Language expands,” Sikes says, “and some languages expand more than others.”
By getting translation planners involved in the project at the design stages, a whole lot of compromises can be avoided when the translators begin their work. If they’re not brought in until the project is near completion, that’s when costs can escalate.
“If expansion capabilities are not built in at the start, one solution that is often proposed is to truncate the dialogue,” says Sikes. “Of course, when you do that, you reduce the granularity of the translation. That can have other effects too, as sometimes the dialogue can act as a hint for the player and curtailing it can impact a player’s chances for succeeding in the gaming goal.”
Sikes says multimedia content is tricky and not every translator is up for the job.
“Translation of multimedia content while keeping to time code restrictions requires translators with a special skill set.” Sikes points out. “Not every translator can do it, even those who are otherwise excellent at their craft.”
“Another after-the-fact solution is to lengthen the scene. But when you do that, you need to go back to the developers and designers and ask them to do it over again. And that’s not always a solution. The best solution is to build in localizibility from the very start. This is called “internationalization” and is an engineering task.”
German and Japanese Mantra
Sikes has a rule of thumb he follows.
“One of my mantras is, ‘The product is not finished until German and Japanese have shipped‘. This is because German takes care of most expansion issues, Japanese proves that the product can be localized for the Asian character set, and both cultures are highly quality conscious.”
“If you produce a successful product in those languages,” he says, “you can be successful most anywhere in the world. Then, for some additional excitement, you can move on to the bidirectional languages such as Arabic and Hebrew, which pose different problems!”
There are many teams who need to work together to get a game from off the drawing board and into the hands of the consumer. By getting your translation team involved at the design phase, they will help you examine the limitations and possibilities, and help deliver a product that’s globalization ready.
- Scope: 41,000 lines of dialogue
- Talent: Not everyone can translate games because they require a knack for timing
- Organization: Get translation planners involved early to prevent issues later
- Technicalities: Text expansion in translation is a real problem
- Mid-stream changes: Changes can be expensive if you aren’t using a quality system like Beebox Integrations
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