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Inside Video Game Localization 90

Atlus USA is a company known for their skill at localizing games — that is, adapting the text and speech in a game to a different language or culture. They've written a summary of their timeline for modifying a game, explaining that it's much more complicated than just running everything by a translator. They also have other articles looking at various parts of their work with more detail. When work begins, they take a few weeks to familiarize themselves with the game, giving them the proper context to understand character interactions and names. The actual translation then takes anywhere from a week to a few months, depending on how much material there is and whether they need to bring in new voice actors. Another month or so is allotted to actually implementing the changes and making technical modifications, after which another month or two is dedicated to bug testing. Then the game is submitted back to its original manufacturer for approval, a process that can take two months, and finally the new discs and game boxes are created, which adds another month. Thus, what many gamers see as a "simple" localization process can take six months or more to complete.
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Inside Video Game Localization

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  • What is it, Take Your Slashdot to Work Day?
  • It's very nice to read the whole process, but as a publisher I would bear in mind, at least for PC games, that the biggest problem is to get a world-wide release on time: if a game is published in English and people need to wait before being able to buy the game just because of localization; then, a lot of people is going to download the game, in a legal or non-legal way. That's a side effect of building hype around a game, I guess :)

    You can see the same thing with "big" movies: lots of them are release
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rolfwind ( 528248 )

      Simultaneous worldwide release is nice if you know the game will be a hit, otherwise it's doubling down your gamble needlessly, imo. Besides, if the foreign gamers are so desperate to pirate it by downloading it, might as well just offer it for sale (download) to all takers the way things are going with digital media. Only problem with that is if your game runs afoul of some laws in country X - say Germany's ban on blood in video games.

  • Bollocks! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by HotFat ( 46399 )

    If the game is developed with localization in mind during production, there's no reason the localized version cant ship at almost the same date as the English. I've shipped ~20 games that have been localized and the EFIGS (English, French, Italian, German, Spanish) version has never been more than about 1 month after the English release.

    • EFIGS (English, French, Italian, German, Spanish) version has never been more than about 1 month after the English release.

      Technically, those languages are all easy enough. When you get into Arabic and Chinese, things may be a bit harder. But yes, if it's all developed properly with awareness and experience of the issues, there's no reason the translation process should take longer than (initial_play_through + translate + test) time.

      However, your point about other languages being able to ship on "almost"

      • Why isn't localisation considered part of the actual development process, just like user interface design, graphics, music, etc.?

        Because translation costs time==money. If you were developing free software in Europe, would you want the law to require all software published by a European entity to come with translations into all 23 languages of the European Union, even at version 0.01?

        • If you were developing free software in Europe, would you want the law to require all software published by a European entity to come with translations into all 23 languages of the European Union, even at version 0.01?

          Free Software is different, imho. The software is offered to all. Freedom is given to create ANY translation, even for the most obscure languages. Also, clearly, it's a community effort to build the software, so asking the community to contribute to the translations as and when they can is

          • by tepples ( 727027 )

            Free Software is different, imho.

            Granted. But there are still two issues: First, should commercial distributors of free software, such as CheapBytes, be required to complete all 23 localizations before selling one copy to an EU resident? Second, should struggling independent developers of casual video games be required to wait six months for translations to be completed before they can release their product as shareware?

            at least at version 1.0, I'd expect the vast majority of languages to be covered, even if it required social subsidies to do it.

            Social subsidies? Now that's something I don't often see advocated on a libertarian-leaning Slashdot.

            • should commercial distributors of free software, such as CheapBytes, be required to complete all 23 localizations before selling one copy to an EU resident? Second, should struggling independent developers of casual video games be required to wait six months for translations to be completed before they can release their product as shareware?

              CheapBytes and similar organisations are a tough one, yes. They're not so relevant now for most, but at one time, CheapBytes was an important service for me. Nonethele

      • by murdocj ( 543661 )

        There'll probably be a lawsuit for this sort of discrimination one day

        Really? There's going to be a lawsuit for not localizing games? Somehow, I don't think so. Or yeah, there could be, but it's not going to go anywhere.

      • by TheLink ( 130905 )
        Apparently right to left languages can be harder to localize because the native readers also expect stuff like pictures indicating sequence of events to go right to left as well.

        So if you have an image with the pictures/diagrams in the order of A, B, C. They would think C happens first, then B, then A.

        Of course, in a game, the players would probably figure it out eventually ;).

        As for shipping all on the same date, I don't see why it matters that much. Many nonnative speakers can still play the english versi
    • by tepples ( 727027 )

      If the game is developed with localization in mind during production, there's no reason the localized version cant ship at almost the same date as the English.

      Unless you're a small company and you're planning to pay for the translators and voice actors for other languages with the revenue from the English version.

      • The problem in that case, though, is that the UK release - being a part of the European release - cannot (or at least often is not) be released until all the other European languages are done. Even though the game's already been translated to (or released in) English.

        When it's a game you've been waiting for since before even the American (or Japanese) release, it just feels like a massive insult. But then they wonder why people import or flat out download the games. Once it's in English, English-speaking ga

        • Obviously, it takes large amounts of time and money to stick in all those extra "u"s like in honor and color and turn the z's in colonize and disembowel-ize into s's.

  • I live in belgium, and i've never played a game in dutch. It's always been in english. If it's the original language, it just makes more sence. If the game has been ported, then quite often the english still sounds/reads better. I've once seen a dutch version of a sci-fi game; it was horrible.
  • Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Amarantine ( 1100187 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @07:08AM (#28825859)
    I know every country is different. I live in the Netherlands, where tv shows and movies are NOT dubbed, but subtitled instead. Every kid in school learns English.

    Yet, every game on the shelves appears to be translated to Dutch nowadays. Thank God not the software itself, but the packaging and manuals are all Dutch everywhere. I asked around a bit amongst friends, but nobody understands why they exactly do this. For the small percentage of kids games who don't understand English, we can understand, but why translate the paperwork of Grand Theft Auto IV? The target audience has learned English in school, watches English on tv anyway, and the game itself is English as well. On the other side, the manual is written as a tourist guide to Liberty City, with sarcastic remarks between the lines about how crap the city is... But all these are lost in translation.

    Why do they even bother? If nothing else is translated on our (tv) screens?

    EA learned a hard lesson with the first Black & White game, one of the few games that got translated completely to Dutch. After a storm of complaints from just about everyone, they offered exchanging discs for a native English version, and later even offered separate voice pack downloads. It's not the the voices are bad (which they weren't, honestly) but nobody wanted a Dutch version in the fist place.
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @07:17AM (#28825889) Homepage Journal
      Maybe the law requires documentation, at least, to be in the local language?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gaspyy ( 514539 )

      Same thing in my country (Romania). For some reason everyone prefers subtitles. One big TV network tried about 10 years ago to dub a soap opera... they spent a fortune on advertising but everyone hated it - it was such a massive flop no one ever tried it again. I have some dubbed Disnay movies but they translated the songs too - and guess what, my 5 year old son prefers the originals.

      As for software, I know a few people forced to use translated Office versions. All of them grumble as they need to map the te

      • Well, dubbing is often done cheaply. Also - especially in live action - the lip syncing issues can be rather jarring. Lip sync is less of a problem in cartoons, but Disney do hire some decent talent for the original songs. There are all sorts of possible reasons for this - Romania not seen as a particularly valuable market, international sales of CDs being based on English language versions of the songs, and so on.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by CrashNBrn ( 1143981 )
        That's easy enough to understand, just compare the English dubbed Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon to the original with subtitling. Albeit some in my direct family prefer the English version. I literally couldn't stand it. When you take something that is Art and dub it, it becomes something else - more easily digestible media perhaps. Easy to digest, and bland.
        • by Ster ( 556540 )
          I normally agree with you, but I think there are a few different versions of the dubs out there - the one I saw was quite good, to the point I didn't really notice that it *was* dubbed after a few minutes.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by JJJK ( 1029630 )

      That's still better than in Germany, where they dub ALL the movies and tv shows. It sounds awful, and many things get lost in translation, including acting, jokes and meaning. The best you can hope for are DVDs where you can switch to original audio and use subtitles if you don't speak the original language.

      Games are even worse. When they are dubbed they get even more horrible voice actors. We use a lot of english words for recently developed things, but those tend to get translated as well, making the whol

      • So wait, you are telling me Bill Cosby is NOT Bavarian? Then how does he know all the good Bavarian jokes?
        • Assuming your comment isn't one of the Bavarian jokes of which you speak:

          Then how does [an actor on a well-known U.S. sitcom] know all the good Bavarian jokes?

          It's called Woolseyism: the translation team recognizes a U.S. joke and slaps in a Bavarian joke for the Bavarian voice actor to tell. See Woolseyism on TV Tropes [] for more examples.

    • by dissy ( 172727 )

      Why do they even bother?

      Seven words: All your base are belong to us.

      That is why.

    • Most countries have legislation dictating this, both to protect the minority who only speak the native language, and simply to protect the use of the language so it doesn't gradually get forced out by english.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm not a native English speaker, but I always take the (usually original) English version over the one translated into my own language. This goes with operating systems, desktop applications, games and so on. I absolutely hate using something like that in my own language. Either the translations suck, use incomprehensible and made up words, or especially in games just sound so stupid that it completely breaks the immersion. Whenever I have to use a localized version of anything, I'm usually completely lost

    • I'm American, and speak only English. When I bought the movie "Run Lola Run", it had both the English voice-overs and the original German with English subs. The voice-over was honestly excellent and couldn't have been done better, but I still preferred the sound of the original German.

      I think I would like to play S.T.A.L.K.E.R. in a similar way - with the original Russian being spoken with English subtitles. Normally this sort of reverse localization isn't done, but I see there's a mod for that, which
  • Captain Obvious (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CarpetShark ( 865376 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @07:22AM (#28825913)

    This could be the most obvious article I've ever seen posted on /.

    There are interesting things about localization, such as not being able to write the message like:

    print greeting + " " + greetee

    because in other languages, the greetee might come before the greeting. Instead, you have to make sure your app is coded to work with full sentences, using something like:

    print_with_named_args(greeting_message, greetee="John")

    Likewise, issues like presenting dates, times, and currencies in local formats are interesting. But this article superficially ignores that stuff. Instead, it seems to be an advert along the lines of "we do good localised ports. Let us do your next game."

    • Those programming issues are really interesting - to us. But you have to remember the audience - a bunch of video game fans on a forum who are likely not interested in technical details. As for it being like an advert, Atlus primarily localizes their own Japanese releases - e.g. their Shin Megami Tensei series. []

      If you're interested in all the technical details, there are some sites dedicated to fan translations and ROM hacking - even more interesting since ROM hacking groups don't have access to the sour
    • by vadim_t ( 324782 )

      That's not enough either, in some languages like Russian the sentence changes depending on the gender.

      So for instance a notification like "$avatar logged in" needs a male and a female version.

      To make it more fun: "shark" is a feminine noun in russian, so if the nickname was translated as well it'd imply you're female even if you're not.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by zalas ( 682627 )

      For problems such as variable placement of variables, there's two ways I've seen it done, at least in Japanese Windows games. One is for a smart parser in the game engine, which turns your example into something like:

      1. print "Hello, $charactername1, how are you doing today?"

      Another choice is to separately issue text display commands and insert a special text display command in the middle:

      1. print "Hello, "
      2. printcharactername 1
      3. print ", how are you doing today?"

      This can be reduced to the previous problem

  • by necronom426 ( 755113 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @07:30AM (#28825935)

    The thing that annoys me about localisation is when here in the UK we have to wait an extra month or two after the US release and the game hasn't had the spelling mistakes fixed (things like color, etc.). This is especially annoying when the game is made by a British team.

    • by mqduck ( 232646 )

      spelling mistakes fixed (things like color, etc.)

      I'm sorry, how do you pronounce "our"? And how do you pronounce "colo(u)r"?

      • Differently. The same reason that cough and ugh don't sound the same.

        Anyway, that's not what I was talking about. The fact is that color is a spelling mistake in the English langusge. When a game comes out over here I expect them to spell words correctly.

        I'm sure the French or Spanish versions don't have words spelt wrong because it's easier to spell them that way.

        • color is a spelling mistake in the English langusge.

          Not as much as langusge is a spelling mistake in the English language. More seriously, Latin and Spanish also have color without 'u', but French has even more 'u's in couleur. Where did British English "colour" with only one 'u' come from?

          • :-) I couldn't help laughing when I saw what I'd done.

            Anyway, it seems that we based it on the ending from the French word, but not the beginning.

            But regardless of all of this, it's very bad to publish a game in any language with wrong spellings.

            I'm just very surprised that they spend time localising a game, then miss the main point of it.

          • by ratboot ( 721595 )
            In fact, the British English word colour comes from the Old French word with the same spelling : colour (circa 1050-1100 A.D.). It's in French that the spelling changed for couleur!

            A similar situation is with the English word connoisseur (borrowed form Old French), which is now spelt connaisseur in modern French.
      • Something more akin to col~er/col~eur, I think. I believe the spare 'u' just acts as a phonetic modifier, like a silent 'e'; it's inclusion should be a pronunciation aid. After all, it's not pronounced col-or either.

        It's probably not something to get too worked up about; but it does smack of laziness on the part of publishers that they can't be bothered to change this stuff. It's prevalent across all mediums though, and doesn't seem to work the other way around. The colour of Magic, for example, is billed

        • by mqduck ( 232646 )

          It's probably not something to get too worked up about; but it does smack of laziness on the part of publishers that they can't be bothered to change this stuff.

          Hey man, you're making me look bad with all your being-level-headed-and-reasonable crap.

  • Atlus (Score:4, Informative)

    by lyinhart ( 1352173 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @07:59AM (#28826023)
    You've got to give credit to Atlus - they've done a good job bringing the Shin Megami Tensei series over to the western world, especially when Final Fantasy gets way more attention. But they did a hatchet job on Maken X [] - to the point where the plot was incomprehensible and the voice acting was laughable. Still, it's good to see that they're working so hard at a job that so many other companies do so wrong. Jaleco's USA division didn't even try to translate stories in most cases. They did one of the worse localization jobs in history when they brought over the third game in Rushing Beat series.

    Reading about Atlus's localization process really makes me miss Working Designs [], who no one really properly appreciated for their localization efforts.
    • I don't miss the fact it usually took years for a game to get translated by them. (Oh, and I actually liked the humor they'd inject. True it wasn't in the original game but it usually got a chuckle out of me.)
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by lbbros ( 900904 )

      who no one really properly appreciated for their localization efforts.

      Perhaps because they inserted a lot of things that weren't even loosely related with the original text? Adaptation is one thing, inserting pop culture references were they aren't there another.

      • Re:Atlus (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Toonol ( 1057698 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @04:39PM (#28829691)
        That's the goal of the adaption. They aren't trying for academic veracity; they're making an entertainment product. When the original game has an obscure joke comparing a Japanese pop idol to a historical figure from the Heian period, the translators will (and should) make an entirely different joke based on Britney Spears and Can-Can dancers... or maybe something entirely unrelated, which still works for characterization and plot. The craft and style of the translated product is more important than the accuracy.
        • by lbbros ( 900904 )
          However, sometimes in doing so you end up with lines that look totally out of place in the overall setting of the game. This is because no matter how good the translation/adaptation is, subtlety is bound to be lost anyway. Trying to recover it anyway like WD did (which was completely different from other companies, I have to say), ends up most of the time with stuff that is borderline on the ridicolous side.
    • Speaking of Shin Megami Tensei... I bet, like me, you'd kill for that unnumbered Devil Summoner 2 special edition sitting on his desk.
    • I agree whole-heartedly on the quality of the translations of the Shin Megami Tensei series.
      Playing Persona 3: FES, the thing that struck me the most about the character interactions was that they were so natural. Considering that the game setting is modern times in an urban area, the dialogue was teenager slang. In most games, attempts at slang are heavy-handed and laughable.
      The dialogue in Persona 3 was incredibly natural sounding though, which is a feat I thought impossible!
  • Where this gets hard (Score:5, Informative)

    by Pikoro ( 844299 ) <init&init,sh> on Sunday July 26, 2009 @08:15AM (#28826083) Homepage Journal
    Where this gets hard is in the non-game arena. Dialogs and buttons and menu options originally designed for Japanese, will not normally scale well when you have to translate 2 kanji into a few words. That stretches things, which makes it overlap other items which, when not programmed correctly from the start with translation in mind, makes things a major headache.

    A lot of Japanese programs I use have very compact interfaces since, in Japanese, you can compress an entire sentence or meaning into just a few characters, whereas with English this would take an entire sentence. It's really a pain in the arse.
    • This indeed is a problem. This also happens when translating games from English to other languages. The worst case to my knowledge is EA games, which are usually translated to numerous languages. For example Finnish. Unlike in some other games where most sentences are long and leave room for translation, EA sports games usually use words that are around 5 letters long like "start" and "leave" in their menus. These are very hard to translate because EA wants the translations to be exactly as long as their En
  • by blahplusplus ( 757119 ) on Sunday July 26, 2009 @10:40AM (#28826895)

    ... they provide original english and japanese voices AND subtitles.

    It also helps that SF4 was designed from the start for both japanese and english speaking markets.

    Even though I have quibles with the voice over work since I've seen so many SF anime movies with different voice actors (the ones who did the anime that came with the collectors edition of the game in english sucked pretty bad).

    Capcom and Sony usually have done pretty alright voice work, it's finally good to see original japanese + subtitle options.

    I really wished over PS2 RPG's went that route, although if you want to see OUTSTANDING localization check out level 5's rogue galaxy, that game is effin amazing in terms of what they did. []

    • by PKFC ( 580410 )

      The first .hack series had Japanese or English audio which was great. The fact that the game was spread over four games wasn't so good... But the tone and intonation was lost between the two and is a frequent thing. I'm enough of a japanophile to notice/care/whine about things like that.. When you get things like MGS4 which they claim fills the 50 GB BD DL without room for multi audio, I get suspicious, but it's mainly RPGs that I care about anyway... Theory goes that Bluray's capacity will help this proces

  • Whenever I play a J-RPG the first thing I do if there is an option is set the voice acting to Japanese with English subs. It makes the game a whole lot better I have found. I don't mind watching subbed versions of anything, especially when the dubbed version is usually terrible. And then you have the issues of fan translations for the older RPGs that end up failing whenever they release the "official" version (though I do think Bartz is better than Butz)
    • by mqduck ( 232646 )

      Whenever I play a J-RPG the first thing I do if there is an option is set the voice acting to Japanese with English subs. It makes the game a whole lot better I have found.

      I guess... Though I have to say that I found it really hard to accept the Final Fantasy VII-related stuff (like the movies) where the CGI characters have distinctly Japanese features. It's just very at odds with my own conception of the characters as a 12-year-old. Nothing about the game (other than the gameplay) felt Japanese.

      Having said that, I've never actually played any JRPGs with voice acting (or, in fact, any that came after FF8).

  • I bought the French version of Oblivion and it was simply awful.
    For example, they translated the Weighing scale and the Fish scale with the same word : ecaille
    I don't speak about the voices, the missing dialogues, etc. ...
    All the game was like this and there is no way to buy to an English version in France.
    And to make it worse, you have to wait longer and pay more for a game of lesser quality.
    I you can speak English and want to play the game with all the content, either you buy it on the net and have to pay

  • NTSC to PAL conversion can be a major problem on console games, I have a collection of adventure style games at home that had some kind of speed challenge in them where you have to beat the clock on a specific event where the 'clock' is slightly sped up running on a PAL system to the point where even perfect execution is not fast enough. Incredibly frustrating.

    • Which games, and which consoles? My experience - at least with 8-bit Nintendo, for which I have a good selection of cartridges and for which there are some decent emulators and ready access to NTSC rom images - has been the opposite, and that the PAL versions are easier because of the extra time from the slightly slower clock.
      • by Macgrrl ( 762836 )

        Generally N64 and GameCube games, I haven't encountered any on the Wii yet.

        • Interesting. With the exception of a few titles optimised for PAL, or the Rareware stuff that was largely designed to run at the same speed on either version, I thought the N64 PAL versions were slower too. I seem to recall there being a bit of griping about Mario Kart being about 20% slower on a PAL N64 than an NTSC one, and had thought that applied to most of Nintendo's own and most of the third-party stuff too. But that's just hearsay; I have no NTSC N64 carts, and no NTSC GameCube discs (got a Datel Fre
  • They built it for Asian players and are translating into Western culture and language. As of the last round of Beta, all the voices are still Japanese (sounding). So the female avatars all sound like 13 year old girls. i suspect that will change soon. There's also a rather anime style to the game.

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