Tuesday, December 27, 2011

3D and Internationalization

When Avatar broke box-office records some years ago and reintroduced the concept of 3D as being both technologically feasible as well as marketable to a mainstream audience, the entertainment industry rushed en masse to capitalize on the trend as it formed. To be sure, the massive financial success of Avatar was likely a factor, however this adoption occurred so rapidly that it almost seems as if producers were worried the trend might die out as quickly as it had appeared. Of course, that idea is easily dismissed when considering the massive investment that has been made on the part of theaters for the equipment needed simply to run 3D features. Compare it to the idea of laying railroad tracks: it takes a huge commitment of resources to get them laid, so someone had better be running trains on them. 

Of course it is not just mainstream Hollywood productions like Alice in Wonderland that have made use of 3D; recently the game industry has begun gearing up for what could be the next big innovation in the home console market. As of now, all three of the big players (Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo) have made moves with regards to utilizing 3D.

Of course, doing what we do here at Active Gaming Media, it is only natural to question what effects these developments may have on localizing video games. As we do often point out, localization goes beyond text translation; it also involves checking for textual overflows, reworking the size and positioning of language within graphical imagery as well as doing a thorough audit of a game’s visuals for cultural appropriateness.

Without passing judgment on how gimmicky incorporating this new technology is, or getting into whether or not this is simply a passing fad, allow me to consider in what ways making games 3D will affect how games are localized.

When I first considered how 3D could change localization, I thought about the overall localization process: from familiarization, to translation, to debugging and so on.  The rigorous attention to detail and repeated checks for accuracy and terminology would not change, and theoretically, they would be no more difficult to undertake.

However, in considering the more practical side of our business, it dawned on me that in order to perform a number of the steps within the localization process we, like the movie theater owners or railroad companies, would have to make a significant investment in new equipment. 

Of course, it may come  to pass that games will be both 3D and non-3D compatible, however if  indeed this technological development is more than a passing fad we  would have to assume that the 3D effects will be designed in from the  ground up; an integral element of the gameplay that would make toggling  a  D feature on/off not possible therefore requiring specialized  equipment to run (then again, what portion of the global market is going  to be willing to fork over even more money just to experience games  in  D ). 

While it may be possible to look at the screen of a 3D game without special glasses, in remembering how the 3D Avatar looked without my 3D-glasses, I can personally say it would not be something I like to spend extended periods of time staring at.

Which brings me to my next thought: debugging the text of a game requires extensive play time. Yet, there are already concerns about how 3D affects the eyes over extended periods of time. While the effects (ill or not) are unclear, it is somewhat safe to assume that adjustments to play time will have to be made which in turn will affect work productivity, and possibly the makeup and scheduling of debugging teams altogether.

Thinking of eye strain also brings to mind another point: if more and more games are made in 3D, can we expect a significant drop in text volume? I ask this simply because it is difficult for me to imagine reading through paragraphs of text with 3D glasses strapped to my head. To be sure, text-heavy games are not likely targets for 3D, but then again I can remember when  seeing polygons on home console games was a novelty; I certainly did not expect to see the Final Fantasy series -or any RPG- to go that route, yet it happened. If reading text in this new 3D is a source of strain on the eyes, and if more and more games do adapt the technology, in what ways will that affect order volume?

There are a lot of offs in this last point, however a drop-off in on-screen text could mean an increase in voice-overs which would be a bonus for recording studios or localization firms that have integrated recording into their business.

As of yet we cannot say exactly what changes 3D will bring to the game industry, let alone the business that serve it. That being the case, it would still behoove anyone to get ready for the coming changes, be it via forming contingency plans or making investments in new equipment. Though, at the personal level I can say that I will be holding off on any major purchases for a while. If you have an opinion, please feel free to let us hear it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tips on video game localization

An impeccable knowledge of the terminology and vocabulary of a specific field is the basic requisite to make a quality translation. However, different translations need different approaches: not only concerning the choice of words and wording, but concerning even the format of final layout of the job - PDF files that need to be converted to Word, numbered boxes, Excel tables, date conversions, measurement units… there are some rules that need to be respected and some directions which need to be followed.

Among these kind of translations, there is one type of assignment that seems at first to be very simple, one for which complexity is usually underestimated: video game translations. There are a lot of common misconceptions regarding the idea of “video game translation”.

Here are a few of them:

There is no need for proficiency in a specific vocabulary.
The contents are simple to understand.
Users are guys who just want to play; it doesn’t matter if the text is OK or not.
It’s a minor field in the world of translation.

I have experience, especially in the translation of video games, as translator and as a localization PM… and let me say one thing: video game translations are tricky… very tricky. I would like to point out in few words some of the things that are most important for a translator to keep in mind at all times while translating a video game.
Experience: The translator HAS to love video games… or at least has to have a minimum knowledge of video games: if the name Mario brings to your mind the idea of an Italian pizza maker… this is not your kind of translation! It is very important to have experience in playing video games, especially in the target language.

Identification: If you are translating a spy game, your character needs to speak like a spy, think like a spy, act like a spy. If the character is a child, don’t forget that it's not you who is speaking, but a child… the same is true if the character is an old woman, a soldier, a fisherman, a nurse, a serial killer, or an alien… It’s important to keep in mind who exactly is talking, and in what sort of context/situation.

Direct Translations: There is a specific vocabulary for each game that NEEDS to be left as it is. Words that are commonly used in all the target languages and that should not be translated: please do not use “GIOCO FINITO”, “PARTIE TERMINEE” or “FIN DEL JUEGO” for “GAME OVER”!! The same for “COMBO”, “1UP”, “BONUS” and other words like this. When in doubt, ask the agent who contracted you for the job or the project manager who’s following the game.

Overflow: Video game text is made to be displayed on screen - sometimes on very small screens (portable consoles), in boxes, near energy bars, in small tables, and so go on. Always ask about character limitations before beginning the translation, and try to respect them while translating. Correcting everything “later” will take you way too much time!

Vocabulary: Pay attention to the video game content rating system in regards to the kind of language you use (for example, PEGI, in the case of Europe). Some games are for everyone, some other are for children, and others are for “adults” only. Swear words have to be avoided (of course!) in games for children, but are “necessary” in some kind of games. Moreover, some companies, such as Nintendo are more strict than others regarding vocabulary, and it also depends on the country in which the game will be published. For example, in a game for children published in a very Catholic country, you have to use “temple” instead of “church” and avoid any kind reference to religion; or in a country in which laws on alcohol are particularly strict, you must use “grape juice” instead of “wine”; and there are thousands of other small, specific indications and directions, all differing from game to game and from country to country. Always ask for a glossary of “prohibited” words before starting: even in this case, correcting everything “later” will be only a waste of time!

Terminology: Each hardware maker provides a specific and unique set of terminology for console parts, controllers, devices, actions you can perform with the controllers, system messages, and so on. Pad, D-pad, cross-pad, control sticks, levers, keys, buttons and other parts like these have to be translated according to the maker's terminology. Consult the terminology as it was a sort of Holy Text, even if it sometimes sounds stupid. In this case as well, ask the agency for the terminology and check it any time it's necessary.

These are only some basic guidelines on how to handle a video game translation. Of course, for each project there will be different indications and directions, but the above represent the basis of this kind of translation.
One more thing you should keep in mind: you’re not simply translating, you’re localizing!


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Digitalization Of Translation: A Blessing Or A Curse?

First off, the digitalization with the first computers, and then the uncontrollable spread of the Internet are, in my opinion, the two factors that have most deeply affected the translator’s job and the way we work with translations since the time the profession was born.

The question here is: Did the digitalization affect this ancient profession in positive way? Or has it had negative consequences?
First of all, let’s talk about the tool, the medium between the translator and his/her text: the computer. Before the introduction and the spread of it we had the typewriter, and before it, handwriting. There was an abyss between these three stages. Before the advent of digital media, what we had was:

1. Necessity of physical backup (paper) and a tool (pen, ink, etc.).
2. Degradability and risk of loss of the backup (and our job!)
3. Impossibility to make changes to previously translated parts without affecting the general layout.
4. Necessity of much more time.
5. No automatic spelling error detection and/or correction tools.
And much more…
Apart from the risk of data loss (as every translator knows from experience, electronic devices can sometimes be diabolical!), all of the above problems have been solved by the advent of computers, and without a doubt the “modern” translator’s life has become much easier than before. One point for digitalization.
The Internet, the other aspect that has deeply affected our job, is the most controversial.

The most important contribution that the Internet has brought to the translator’s job is, I think, the possibility for us to do research on the material we’re working on, without moving from our seat. We have virtually all the information we need, available at any moment. I personally use Wikipedia intensively, switching from language to language, when I’m looking for reference material on the subject of my translation. In the same way, we can contact agencies, get jobs, deliver translations, ask for other translators’ help, and much more.

But not all that glitters is gold. The relatively recent spread of the Internet brings two of the biggest problems that affect translators: the proliferation of scum translation agencies and what seems to be a rush to lower the price.

Translation agencies or wannabe agencies are born and die without any control. You can work for one month on a big project, deliver it, and not be paid because the agency has disappeared. And having control over this phenomenon is quite hard, if not impossible. There are many cases of translators that haven’t been paid and may never be paid for their work. Who can assure us that a particular agency is reliable? (We’re trying to change this situation by creating a database of non-trustworthy agencies, but we need the collaboration of other translators, and even if these scum agencies live only a few years or even a few months, we’re sure it will give a contribution to the war on these subjects!)

On the other hand, translation fees are getting lower and lower as time goes by. If you think the fee that the agency is offering you is not enough, you can ask for a higher rate, but should be aware that in 90% of these cases the client will find someone else who can do the same job at half of the price you’re asking for. And he doesn’t even need to spend so much time… The Internet is full of pretend-translators: people that can speak one or two language - no matter what level of skill - start doing translations to get some more cash, without caring much about the fee (after all, it’s just extra money). Moreover, recently I get the impression that what concerns the client is good pricing only, rather than the experience of the translator or a quality job.
These two aspects are very dangerous for us professionals since we live off of translations. Will working for few cents or not being paid at all put an end to the profession of the translator? If digitalization has changed this profession for the better, making it easier, it has also made this work accessible to so many people that now it seems that we are in a constant bidding war, and our spoils gained after this war are not always certain.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Localization of Video Contents: Dubbing, Subtitles, Voice-overs

Among the fields of translation, the localization of audio-video contents appears to be one of the trickiest...

The modality of localization in itself can be performed in more than one way, depending on various factors such as audience, cultural environment, purpose, and sometimes socio-political context. Generally speaking, movies, TV series, and recently video games from foreign countries can be localized in three different ways: dubbing, subtitles and voice-over.

Dubbing (in regard to localization) commonly refers to the substitution of the voices of the actors shown on the screen by those of different performers, who speak a different language.

The use of subtitles helps to preserve the actors’ original voices, while furnishing a translation of the dialogue on screen.

With the voice-over technique, a narrator (usually only one person) explain the content of the dialogues the actors are performing on screen, while the original voices of the actors can be heard in the background.

The discussion on which type of technique is the best is still open.

With the advent of the DVD and the spread of cable TV, now it is possible to freely choose between these different systems. People who prefer the dubbing think of it as a minor loss in terms of contents. Movies are a visual art, and it is necessary not only to understand the meaning of the dialogue, but also to be able to view the scenes without any other distraction. Moreover, a film that has been dubbed is received as more natural by the audience: the actors speak in the same local language, and not only the meanings, but also the intonation of the voices, the emotions, and other non-verbal language will be fully localized. The intonation of the voice for a question or a particular emotional state differs from culture to culture, and it may eventually not be understandable by different audiences of different cultures. Of course, if the dubbing is not done by professionals, the effect can be very odd (look, for example, at some Japanese localizations of American movies!).

On the other hand, people who support the cause of subtitling insist that in order to completely enjoy a movie it’s necessary to watch it as it was originally imagined and intended. Acting skills of an actor are what make that particular actor great, and are part of the character that he/she is playing. However, there are some other little “drawbacks” related to the use of subtitles: it is necessary to respect a particular time of exposition for the text in order to make it readable and, at the same time, synchronized with the action on the screen; in case more than one person is talking simultaneously, the screen will be full of text; while reading the subtitles, the viewer may accidentally skip some relevant parts on the scene, and so on. If it is true that subtitles allow the viewer to watch the movie in its fully-original state, in order to fit exposure time and length of the text the translation is unavoidably deeply affected. In the end subtitling seems to be preferable only for the viewer who has competent ability in the original language, and can use subtitles only as a reference while listening to the dialogue.

The voice-over technique is normally used for interviews, becoming something similar to simultaneous interpretation. The voice-over technique is standard in only a few countries, even in the movie industry. Among these, some countries are in East-Europe, where the population is not extensive enough to justify the use of dubbing. The voice-over standard allows the audience to enjoy the movie with the original voices and at the same time keep the viewer free of any effort in reading text. Anyway, the presence of multiple voices at the same time and the fact that the same narrator usually provides the voices for all the characters, without any distinctions between males, females, children, and so on, tends to create a “strange” effect to the audience not used to this kind of adaptation.

Each country seems to prefer one method over another for several different reasons. In most of the cases historical situations seems to be determinant for the developing of one of these techniques. The discussion on the evolution of localization procedure for each country will require an article for each one. To make a brief example, in Italy, almost every foreign movie, TV show, soap opera, documentary, and other audio-video media is completely dubbed in Italian. Italy also has some of the most advanced dubbing studios, and most of the voice actors used for dubbing have backgrounds in performing, singing, and reciting. There are schools in Rome (founded in 1933) and Milan, with special courses for dubbing. This is due to the fact that during the Fascist era, under Mussolini, any foreign language was prohibited, and the only way to allow movies from other countries to be shown in Italian theaters was to substitute all of the dialogue with Italian. The custom was established in that period and only recently, with the coming of DVD releases and pay-per-view, has it become possible to have both the dubbed and original versions of a movie, with or without subtitles. 

Personally, if I understand the original language, I’d prefer to make use of the subtitles. In other cases, the dubbing is more than fine… 

F.C., an Italian

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How to attract clients as a translator

Many translators ask their self, why aren't I getting work? I'm registered with almost every translation community/company/agency available on the Net, but I haven't gotten more than a few assignments!

How many of us are thinking the same thing right now? Taking the first steps in the world of translation is always hard. And now, with an army of wannabe translators who offer services at prices with which no one can compete (see our previous articles), even professional translators are having some problems. Here I would like to discuss a few tips on how attract clients and agencies, and how to establish a fruitful relationship with them. This is not The Final Guide for Translators… just few pieces of advice from a PM.

When sending a CV, be sure to insert as much information as possible about the way you prefer to be contacted: PC email, mobile email, telephone number, mobile number, MSN, Skype etc. (Please avoid Facebook…)
It is a good idea also to specify a number for "emergencies" and time of availability during which you can answer the phone or reply to emails.
In most cases the first jobs will be "by tomorrow", or "I need it within the next three hours". Of course you are free to reject these tasks, but by accepting, you're sure to score points! Without a doubt, showing flexibility will increase your appeal to clients.
Another tip: each of us has a specific field, but showing adaptability even to other translation contexts is not a bad thing. Of course you can't just say "I'm the most qualified translator for medical/law/technical/IT/software/machinery field"… you'll be taken for a liar. Try something like: "I'm strong in XXX and have some experience also in YYY".

Do not underestimate the "visual" aspect- among hundreds and hundreds of similar CVs: a well-compiled, original but at the same time clear CV will have a stronger "visual impact". Use colors or a particular layout, but don't be too childish or "extreme". A CV with a portrait will impress much more than a text-only one. This is especially true in translation communities. Usually the most requested translators are the ones who have a portrait registered in their profile. I suggest using your picture, but if you are too shy you could use one of your dog/cat/car/whatever. Of course this is only for communities! When sending a CV directly to a company, use your own picture.

You should keep track of all the places you've sent your CV to. If you update or change something in your CV, send a reminder to everyone. It can also provide you with an opportunity to tell companies and agencies "Hello! I'm here! If you have a job, give me a call!" PMs can't remember all of their contacts and when they have to choose a translator from the database, they usually prefer to pass the assignments on to translators with whom they keep contact. Especially in cases of emergency or with important assignments, there is the tendency to look to familiar collaborators, on whom it is easy to rely. This leads directly to my last piece of advice: smile!

Speaking seriously, when writing emails or answering the phone, it's better to be informal but polite than to be formal and too stiff. Most people working in translation agencies are relatively young. "Hope you're doing fine!", "It's been a long time…", "Have a nice day!" and expressions like these give a good impression to the PM and will surely leave a good impression. Of course if the PM on the other side's reply is cold as ice, this kind of approach is not useful… Creating a friendly relationship with the agency is a good way to get more jobs. Show a bright and energetic personality – but, even in this case, without exaggerating it! In the end it's still business!

In conclusion, smile: it's the strongest weapon, not only in work but in every aspect of life! So smile, and think positively, and good things will surely come!