My name is Igor Kozlov, I’m an English to Russian localizer -- and also a keen gamer, with more than 7 years in translation and 20 years in gaming.
Of course if you like computer games, translating them might be your dream. However not everything is as easy as it seems. Today I would like to speak about 10 serious challenges in videogames localization. These can help you get started, and even if you’re a seasoned localizer, you might also find something new. I placed these from 10 to 1. Not sure if that’s from most important to least. Here we go!
10. Always follow your language intonation, your language tone. Do not blindly translate the interface, especially the instructions. Europeans for example are sweet. And Americans are sweet. And Canadians. They say: "Please remove the disk", "please push the button". But Russians are grumpy! We never say please unless we really enjoy you. Personally. So in Russian localization there must NOT be that “pleases” from English. Just "Push the button", or “нажми кнопку” in Russian. Period.
I’m sure, your native language also has some differences from English. Unless you’re English, of course. Always note that when localizing, you should localize it for YOUR people, so they would feel it’s their buddy from the neighborhood speaking, not some American (or whatever your source language is).
9. Quotes are nasty. For example, this one, from Shakespeare: “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes”. And I’ll tell you what, there’s no exact analogue of this quote in Russian -- neither Lozinsky has, nor Pasternak. If some character in some point says something VERY VERY STRANGE, 99% it’s a quote. Some popular quote. So don’t ruin it. If you run into such thing, first -- Google its official translation. Second -- consider replacing it with some relevant analogue in your language.
8. Swearing is different in every language. Different words, different meaning, different MESSAGE. You see? For example Russian language is much more expressive than English. So is Russian swearing language. Russian translator can’t normally translate the word F@#K literally. In English it’s simple -- f@#k this, f@#k that, I’m bored, f@#k that. But in Russian we can’t say the same way because it will sound much more expressive. Because this word itself is much more expressive in Russian. Like, oh, we’re totally f@#ked -- that’s how it will sound in Russian. Besides it’s strictly forbidden in most places here -- don’t forget about local legislation too. So use common sense and translate responsibly -- the MESSAGE which your character means, not the words itself.
7. If you are a localizer, you should seriously consider learning some programming languages. No, seriously. At least the HTML mark-up.
So, as it’s called, basic programming skills. Or at least HTML to work with maybe some game news pages on the Internet. HTML is simple, honestly. Of course the customer has his own specialists, and it’s their work to do the programming thing. But there are different situation, and if you can fix some missing or corrupted piece of simple code in case someone up there screws up, you will be valued by the customer much more. So remember this.
6. The placeholders are actually small pieces of code which are later replaced by some text. They usually look like these: %s, %1$@, but may also look like capitalized words or however else.
These should never be translated or altered in any way. If you change or even delete them, then the app, game or website is probably in a big trouble.
The placeholders are especially hardcore you know in what languages? Russian, German and the like. Because of cases. Nominative, Genitive, Dative… German has 4. Russian has 6! And you must always build the phrase to include the placeholder value in Nominative case. Woo-hoo, extra challenge! Unfortunately, it’s never extra-paid. Never.
5. The next is about gamers’ slang. How many of the following words you know in context of gaming?
But these terms are very popular. It’s DOTA, an e-sports tournament game. With multimillion dollar rewards.
I once translated articles for a game like this. My editor always said: no issues grammatically, but I have honestly no idea what this is all about. You — MUST have an idea. And you must also know which of these terms have a translation in your language, and which are used as-is (which is more often).
4. If your language has polite addressing (like in Russian or French, for example), the user must always be addressed politely.
In Russian for example it’s “вы”.
And in French it’s “vous”.
Unless of course your game’s audience is VERY-VERY YOUNG. In your opinion gaming may be childish and stuff, but — always politely.
Of course this is not about what characters say, it’s just about interface, instructions, notifications, manuals and so on.
3. This is the famous Russian proverb, and as you may see, it’s perfectly true in case of video and mobile games. Always remember that the screen and the message boxes are usually small, so keep your translation as short as possible. Without unneeded abbreviations (unless the client has explicitly asked you to), but -- as short as possible.
2. I once localized a videogame, and there was a Broken Doll character skin. A skin is an alternative hero appearance.
That skin was called like this: Broken Doll. But I translated that as Forgotten Doll. Because in Russian — Broken doll is “Сломанная кукла”, and Forgotten Doll is “Забытая кукла”. It sounds shorter, more dramatical, and more like the horror movie reference (which it actually was). In the end it turned out she was actually forgotten (storywise), so it was a bullseye. But some fans which considered themselves cool translators started spamming the Community Manager about why it’s Forgotten, when in English it’s Broken?
And that’s why they’re not good translators, but we are. Never translate. Transcreate! I love this word. This is not the technical instruction, you are not supposed to keep every word. You should localize the game so it would sound like it never was in English (or whatever your source language is). That’s the point. And if you need to change some words, do so.
1. Just be a gamer. If you think “videogames are simple toys, there’s nothing difficult in localizing them” -- you’re wrong. Today videogames are natural works of art, like books or paintings (and sometimes even better). You can’t translate steam turbines instructions without actually being an engineer. And likewise you just can’t localize games if you don’t like them.
I once had an editor who was much more experienced than me. But when our agency received a game, and I sent my translation, her fixes were just pure nonsense. Do you know what the hit point is?
It's basically a health point. Monsters point at you and hit you, and you lose hit points. Well she thought hit points is something like your attacks are hitting precisely. Well, the point is -- be a gamer, play games, love games, and I’m sure you will be a great and well-paid localizer one day!
Thanks for attention, guys!
Get in touch at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ikozlov/
And for best English-Russian Localization visit http://applocalization.net/