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.