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Localization is not translation; The challenges and ups and downs of video game localization

BingMag.com <b>Localization</b> is not <b>translation;</b> The <b>challenges</b> and <b>ups</b> and <b>downs</b> of <b>video</b> <b>game</b> localization

How a video game is brought to you from another continent or country and how companies ensure that you will receive a work that conforms to the version Be original?

With the globalization of the video game industry, the "indigenization" or "localization" of games has become an important issue. However, few players understand what happens in this process. Preparing to release a game in a new country or region comes with many challenges that go beyond simply translating the text within it. When a game is well localized, it will be free of typos and grammatical errors, and its dialogues and instructions will sound natural and logical, but even this is a superficial look at the Localization team's role in the process.

As games become more complex and text heavier, not only do the challenges continue to grow, but so do our expectations. Because of this, there is now a greater focus on the ways in which games are modified from their country of origin for our consumption. Of course, the importance of this issue is undeniable because poor Localization can spoil our experience of a game or create memes about the game. For example, the English translation of Zero Wing was not suitable at all and is still ridiculed in many circles. However, these days despite the release of games that are much more complex for Western audiences, such as the Yakuza series, which has Japanese culture embedded in its identity, we don't see many funny mistakes from Localization teams because the importance of this category has increased.

BingMag.com <b>Localization</b> is not <b>translation;</b> The <b>challenges</b> and <b>ups</b> and <b>downs</b> of <b>video</b> <b>game</b> localization

Here are interviews with nine different people in the Localization field who worked on series like Ace Attorney, Nier and Shin Megami. Tennessee have worked on, we'll learn more about the process and its intricacies, exploring everything from why literal translation fails to improving understanding of certain puzzles for people with different languages.

Importance of translation

Each language has its own complexities and rules, and what is considered acceptable and understandable in communication between people varies depending on the region. For example, there are many phrases used to show respect in Japanese, but some of these phrases sound awkward when translated into English. For example, English speakers do not use sentences like "I humbly accept it" when accepting a job from their superiors. does not need Sentences often do not have a subject, object, or other necessary information in English. Scott Strichart (Scott Strichart), producer of the game Lost Judgment explains about this:

Because English focuses on explicit presentation of information and Japanese on implicit ways and relies heavily on context for communication, Japanese You are expected to understand the meaning of a sentence. There are many different things in Japanese culture. You can naturally appreciate when someone says something, and they often don't talk directly about people.

BingMag.com <b>Localization</b> is not <b>translation;</b> The <b>challenges</b> and <b>ups</b> and <b>downs</b> of <b>video</b> <b>game</b> localization

On the other hand, there is the issue of how different cultures mean certain terms. Janet Hsu, manager of Capcom's Localization team, says:

It is possible to define a word in the dictionary of that language along with its actual use and the image it creates for a native of that region. Sometimes they are very different. For example, the English word animation was changed to anime in Japanese, and then the word anime was re-entered into English. The word anime refers to Japanese animations. Now imagine that you want to translate some concepts directly from one language to another and you will definitely understand how difficult this process is. Because small things can have big consequences. It should be said that the hottest debates about Localization today are focused on translation and its fidelity to the source. Fans worry that they won't get a decent experience or that Localization teams are taking too much liberty. In fact, this is where most of the misconceptions come from, and localizers have sometimes heard them. From people who think Google Translate can do it to censorship for some countries, the Localization debate remains important in the industry. However, the biggest request from gamers is often a direct or literal translation.

BingMag.com <b>Localization</b> is not <b>translation;</b> The <b>challenges</b> and <b>ups</b> and <b>downs</b> of <b>video</b> <b>game</b> localization

Literal Translation

Many people on Localization teams have admitted that direct translation is not their job. Derek Heemsbergen, a translation editor who worked on games like has worked on Dragalia Lost and Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin, said:

Literal translation doesn't make sense, because translation is a creative risk. When people talk about direct translation, they mean as literal a translation as possible. They want Japanese grammar and idioms to be kept as close to their literal meaning as possible, and this makes good writing stand out.

Direct translations can actually harm the message and intent of the words, and that change the Jessica Chavez, a Localization employee formerly at Xseed Games who recently worked on Mistwalker's Fantasian mobile game, confirmed that not all words translate directly. He said:

There is a really famous example centered on Kentucky Fried Chicken in the 80s; When the brand owners decided to launch their product in China. They wanted to keep their slogan as a brand symbol as much as possible. The slogan of the brand means that you will lick (eat) even your fingers by eating Kentucky chicken. Since this slogan was very famous, so it was directly translated and in Chinese it means eat your fingers.

BingMag.com <b>Localization</b> is not <b>translation;</b> The <b>challenges</b> and <b>ups</b> and <b>downs</b> of <b>video</b> <b>game</b> localization

This example shows the importance of a Localization team, but many don't understand the concept. According to John Ricciardi, founder of Localization company 8-4, the goal is to preserve the intent and feel of the words:

We try to preserve the original experience so that players, when they play it in English or They play the opposite, basically have the same feelings and reactions. I feel that if we achieve this goal, then we have done our job well. This has nothing to do with literal translation, because there is no such thing and it is a myth. Players think that for translation, you can put sentences into a machine and get them translated on the other end. However, this is not the case.

Chavez also has a similar thinking about this. He says:

My personal philosophy is the preference of intention and meaning over literal translation. The whole point of the teams when they make these games and release it in another country is that they want the players to laugh at the parts that are funny. They want players from other regions to feel like the main audience of the game. I think it's our job to make that connection and literal translation is not the way.

BingMag.com <b>Localization</b> is not <b>translation;</b> The <b>challenges</b> and <b>ups</b> and <b>downs</b> of <b>video</b> <b>game</b> localization

He goes on to show how things change during Localization by giving examples and pointing to different cultural traditions and beliefs about how babies are born. In Japan, Momotaro is a popular hero in Japanese folklore born from a giant peach. This story is used in Japan and it is actually said that children come from peaches floating in the river. However, a fitting equivalent in American culture is the storks that bring children into this world. Chvez states that if we use a literal translation, we will not properly convey what the development team is trying to express. Japanese and common expressions today, but it is still difficult to ensure that an English-speaking player will understand the meaning. The Yakuza series and its spin-offs are more challenging in this regard. Streichart said about this:

It is a balance between accuracy and validity, accuracy and clarity. I think anyone who wants to get into a yakuza game wants to experience an outsider. In fact, they want to experience a game about Japanese people and feel that the work is about those people.

Strichart goes on to say that the Localization team is careful not to over-localize the game, but things like some names Foods are questioned. Many times to solve this issue, additional text can explain a term or if there is a close English equivalent, the team will use it to better understand the players. He states that when something is changed in the game, it's to ensure better understanding for the player, and the Localization team tries to avoid over-explaining things. He said:

We try not to forget that these games take place in Japan and even though they are in English, they have to sound Japanese.


Localization team members use their skills in a variety of ways as they are tasked with solving anything that can be found in The process of transferring the concept of the game is problematic. This can range from thinking of different ways to represent an avatar's personality to creating a puzzle in a language it wasn't designed for. In fact, each game is different and has different obstacles to post. Scott Streichart has spent the past seven years working on the Yakuza series, and anyone who has experienced the games will It knows they are full of minigames. However, if you try to translate them directly word for word, some of them will not work properly. He says:

There are minigames where you have to make different words together or answer sentences that if you don't translate them correctly, the wrong answer is too obvious or the right answer is too obvious. is not. Sometimes these minigames have to undergo much more Localization than what is considered a direct translation of the words.

He went on to refer to the Chinese game of mahjong and said:

There is nothing more fun and funny than having a yakuza western audience interact with mahjong. Many people try to get into it and try to understand it but still can't. However, we can only fill this gap so far, and over the years, we've added a few numbers to the game to determine what the game pieces are. We have added extensive and complex tutorials to the game where we try to make the game as accessible to the audience as possible. However, there is still a long way to go.

BingMag.com <b>Localization</b> is not <b>translation;</b> The <b>challenges</b> and <b>ups</b> and <b>downs</b> of <b>video</b> <b>game</b> localization

It actually seems like moving the puzzles to a Another language is one of the most difficult parts of the Localization process. Referring to the Ace Attorney series, Janet Hsu explained:

Since the entire gameplay of Ace Attorney is aligned with the logic of its texts, Localization itself is like designing the game's gameplay, and you as a member of the Localization team. How much attention you pay to detail will dictate how the final product experiences as a game. If the game texts are translated correctly, a person playing the English version will not have a better time playing the game than the original Japanese version. He pointed and said:

There is nothing better than when you finally find a suitable and perfect solution for localization. We hope that when players solve the puzzle in English, they will experience the same feeling that a Japanese player had when solving it in the original version.

BingMag.com <b>Localization</b> is not <b>translation;</b> The <b>challenges</b> and <b>ups</b> and <b>downs</b> of <b>video</b> <b>game</b> localization

Jessica Chavez also considered solving the problem of localizing puzzles very important and referring to one of her memories of an unannounced project, she said:

I have to write an 11th century poem. I would translate and somehow localize it in a puzzle. In the Japanese version, there were only words like ki, ke, ko, ku, etc., so it seemed like there was some kind of reading style for these words. However, I had to work on translating this 11th century poem, which I had condensed into five lines, and I had to convert it into a kind of computer code. Even though the final solution had inevitably changed, I told myself I did great. In any case, it was a lot of fun to turn an ancient poem into computer code.


On the other hand, bringing characters to life in another language can be difficult and often It requires creativity and subtlety to convey their characterization well to new audiences. Josh Malone, the editor of the Atlus company, referring to the game Judgment as his first project as an editor and the way Ryan Acosta's character was presented in the game, said:

If I translate literally Going forward, Ryan looked more like a Shin Megami Tensei character than a vibrant otaku. Instead, I had to draw inspiration from Kagosuchi's character and examine his conversations. At that moment, I knew that he was very interested in Japanese culture, and that's what the writers were looking for. So I implemented this idea. Luckily, her character ended up being well received, so I'm glad I added a little personal experience to her dialogue in this game.

BingMag.com <b>Localization</b> is not <b>translation;</b> The <b>challenges</b> and <b>ups</b> and <b>downs</b> of <b>video</b> <b>game</b> localization

It is said that during the development of Trails of Cold Steel, the Localization team toyed with different ways to portray Roselia's character. Originally, NIS America planned to give him an old English accent, but that didn't happen in the end. In fact, the Localization team has tried hard to find a suitable solution to portray different parts of his character. Eric Budensiek, the senior editor of NIS America, said that the production team finally reached a kind of middle ground between his two types of tone to present the different parts of his character.

Text space requirements

It's interesting to note that one thing that isn't often discussed is the challenges of character and word count. Dialogue text must fit within a certain amount of space specified by the game programmers, and while sometimes programmers can consider this space large for Localization and providing more explanation, this rarely happens. Derek Himsbergen says:

Japanese is a compact language, and orthographically, more information in fewer characters. Included. So there might be a combination that contains five characters on the screen, but in English it means something like a long sentence.

What makes this more complicated is that Japanese writing is They are very dense and cover most of the space. Therefore, it is up to the Localization team to rewrite and condense the text so that it includes all the information and fits in a smaller amount of space. On the other hand, they have to do all these things in a limited time.

BingMag.com <b>Localization</b> is not <b>translation;</b> The <b>challenges</b> and <b>ups</b> and <b>downs</b> of <b>video</b> <b>game</b> localization

Different limitations

There are thousands of dialogs in games that need to be adapted to the new language, and on the other hand, the time set for Localization and costs play a big role in this. Chavez said:

The framework that Localization teams have to work with is quite limited and we don't have much time for this process. Therefore, when you need to deliver work quickly, you have to choose between translation eloquence or logicality.

That said, this also requires doing research and sometimes meeting with the production team to better understand the texts. Is. On the other hand, the level of collaboration depends on the developer, but overall the level of engagement seems to be increasing thanks to evolving technology that provides easier and faster ways to communicate. Streichart says:

There is this misconception that the developer sends us the text and we translate it and they implement it in the game and no one reads it or cares about it. . However, there are regular meetings and it is now a very collaborative process. Of course it has to be because you can't localize a game without having some background.

BingMag.com <b>Localization</b> is not <b>translation;</b> The <b>challenges</b> and <b>ups</b> and <b>downs</b> of <b>video</b> <b>game</b> localization

Despite the issues And the limitations mentioned, some momentary decisions, even those that seem unimportant, can throw the whole project into chaos. Jessica Chavez fueled this issue by referring to the game Half-Minute Hero by Xseed Company. In fact, it seems that after the Localization of the game was completed, the developer team changed the font of the game texts for better readability. However, this font change affected the characters and the Localization team practically had to redo their work. It is interesting to know that they had a week to do this. He said:

I had to go through every single line of the game or revise and rewrite them. Fortunately, the game was relatively small, so fixing it was a fruitful process. However, there was a moment when I asked myself: "What am I doing?!".

Deadlines are part of the job, but some of them put too much burden on the Localization team. Referring to Lost Judgment, Streichart explained:

This game was the pinnacle of the challenge, and over the course of a year we localized it with the amount of sound and texts that had to be changed. This time limit, of course, harms the result of the work. Under the pressure of work you tell yourself that next time we should do it this way but this time, let's just get it over with.

BingMag.com <b>Localization</b> is not <b>translation;</b> The <b>challenges</b> and <b>ups</b> and <b>downs</b> of <b>video</b> <b>game</b> localization

Streichart went on to state that it was difficult to start the Localization process from the very beginning because half of the game had not yet been developed. For a team that was used to just running the game and seeing how the characters interacted, this time we had to ask the developers things like how two characters communicate or their tone in different dialogues, and that was a big learning curve for us.

On the other hand, some games also need more research than others, and the only way to accurately convey the concepts in it is to know it accurately and completely. Josh Mellon says that he learned the flavors of different drinks, the intricacies of gaming machines, etc., all because of the realistic dialogues that leave a deep impression. It is worth mentioning that he has worked on Shin Megami Tensei and Persona, along with the Yakuza and Judgment series. The game included a lot of trivia.

I had to do a lot of research on the name of some term in another language or the name of a certain region and it took a long time.

He also mentioned that in Fantasian, the editor of the Localization team read many scientific journals to understand the Higgs boson.

BingMag.com <b>Localization</b> is not <b>translation;</b> The <b>challenges</b> and <b>ups</b> and <b>downs</b> of <b>video</b> <b>game</b> localization

It's not an easy job for members of Localization teams, and these challenges don't help that people who try to get into the field are often taken advantage of. On the other hand, the expectations of the manufacturing company can sometimes be strangely high. John Ricciardi said about this:

"I have heard many stories of freelancers working for companies. I've heard they work differently, and they've reportedly been asked to do 10,000 characters a day, which is crazy. Our standard for translators is a maximum of 4,000 characters, and that's something I've found over the years to be easy enough for a typical Japanese to English translator to do in a day.

He also stated that people They get paid as much as two cents per character. However, it seems that, like other areas of the gaming industry, Localization also has problems that require proper solutions. Furthermore, the names of the members of the Localization teams are usually not mentioned in the end credits of the games. Many companies also offer non-disclosure agreements that actually prevent these people from even saying they worked on a project or including it on their resume. This hurts a lot of people who are new to this field and sometimes stops them from progressing. Ricciardi added:

Everyone should get credit for everything they do in any industry. I have given credit to people who sometimes worked on our project for an hour. However, in some cases technical limitations may prevent a certain number of people from being included in the end credits of the games, and you can only include the name of your Localization company. Regardless of these events, you should use the opportunity in any case.

BingMag.com <b>Localization</b> is not <b>translation;</b> The <b>challenges</b> and <b>ups</b> and <b>downs</b> of <b>video</b> <b>game</b> localization


A lot of blood, sweat, and tears goes into localizing video games and translating them into other languages, and we as gamers never see much of it. There are a lot of expectations from Localization teams. They must not only be experts in the language, but also creative and good at solving problems. Most of the people who do this have a big task and they don't take it lightly. John Ricciardi says:

I've been in this business since I was 19 and for me, the games are the most important thing. I love the game and appreciate them. I respect game creators, and when I work on localizing a game, I want to keep the themes of the work as much as possible.

Janet Hsu also wraps up the Localization discussion wonderfully:

I like to think of Localization teams as bridge builders; People who build the smoothest bridges to bring entertainment from a different culture to a new audience, so that as much as possible the game remains intact during translation and the themes are preserved. Sometimes, you can use words from the original language to help build your bridges, and other times, you may need some extra context to fill in the gaps to keep the bridge standing. Sometimes, you may find that a narrow stone bridge is not suitable for a large cart and you need to expand it horizontally with more explanations or cover it with cement by rewriting a part to better understand the audience. Each sentence of a unique bridge has a role that it must fulfill during the journey from the beginning to the end of the game.

Source: GameInformer
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