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!