Great localization starts early! What game developers can do to ensure outstanding localization results

Has your company ever had a game localized and absolutely loved the results? Or, on the other side of the coin, have you and your players been less than thrilled?

Why is it that some localization projects sound so much more natural and engaging than others?

There are a variety of reasons, and the good news is that—if you’re a game developer—most of them are within your control. In this article, we’ll explain a bit more about how game translators do their workhow you can help them deliver great results, and our recommended best practices for preparing your localization files.

With the right preparation and a little advanced planning, you’ll be able to avoid common pitfalls and give the game localization team everything they need to make your localization project shine.

How game translators and game localizations work

To get started, let’s look at how game translators work and what they need to do their jobs well. You probably know that they are reading the text you provide and transferring it into their native language—but that is only part of the story. There is much more going on behind the scenes.

Not only are the translators reading the text you’ve given them, but they are also taking the subtext, context, and background information into account. It takes more than just linguistic skill to do this well; there’s a bit of cultural alchemy at work, too. That’s the real secret of localization: creating a finished translation that conveys all the meaning and nuance of the original text in a way that feels totally natural for the new audience.

Context is key

To work their cultural alchemy and create a natural-sounding translation, the translators need to understand the context of the game, the character, and the particular sentence they’re working on. What exactly do we mean by context?

It can include information such as:

• who is talking
• who is he/she talking to
• where are they
• what are they talking about
• what is the backstory

In the world of game localization, context also includes the text category. How and where does a particular piece of text appear in the game? Is it:

• part of the dialog
• instructions to the player
• a system message like “You earned 1 token!”
• a description of a spell or a weapons upgrade?

This type of information is essential for translators to do their best work. Knowing where the text appears helps them to capture the subtle nuances and create a truly immersive experience for the player. It also lets them follow the standard conventions of their language for particular types of text. For example, should a screen title be written in bold, with capitalization, or with special punctuation? Then the translator needs to know that the sentence they’re looking at is a title!

What game developers can do to ensure great localization results

Now that we know what translators need to do their best work, let’s take a look at how game developers can help them. What can you do to make sure that playing your game is a fantastic experience for players in all your target markets?

First of all, you’ll want to ensure that the writing style and conventions in the translations are similar to the original language. To make that happen, it’s a good idea to create a style guide for your localization agency. This will not only tell them exactly what you want, but also help them maintain consistency across all the languages.

A style guide can include details such as:

• how to address the player – formally or informally?
• any special requests for capitalization/spelling/grammar
• any terms or names that should not be localized

In addition to the style guide, you should share as much information as possible about the game world, the context of the story, and the context of the individual text strings.

Provide plentiful reference materials

The more reference material you can provide, the better. For characters and NCPs, information about their gender, age, and speech patterns, as well as to how they look, are immensely helpful. When it comes to items, weapons, etc., a picture is worth a thousand words—especially when it is combined with a string ID!

For example, let’s say there are three strings that say “needle.” One is a weapon, one is an item, and one is an obstacle. If the translator can look up the string ID and see a picture of the object in question, they’ll be able to choose appropriate translations for each string. Without the picture, they’ll have to make an educated guess.

Create clear context IDs

Make sure that your localization files indicate what type of text each string is. They should be divided into categories such as: systems message, dialog, item name, weapon name, etc. This information is essential for the localization team!

Export dialog strings in working order

When translators can’t follow the conversation and tell who is reacting to what, it is extremely difficult for them to create dialog that flows naturally. The result will be wooden and awkward at best, and nonsensical at worst. For dialog choices, please clearly indicate which line comes after the player makes their choice. It might seem clear to you, but to a translator who hasn’t played the game, it may not be.

As a rule of thumb: if someone on your team (who didn’t help write or design the game) can’t understand the conversation just by reading through it in order, the translator won’t be able to either.

Our recommended localization best practices for game developers

Think about localization from the very beginning, before even building the game. This will allow you to build your localization files from the ground up so that they can be translated as effectively as possible.

Make sure that the string order makes sense from a translation perspective. For example, group all the items together, group the weapons together, group the dialog text together, etc. If text categories are mixed up, it will make them very difficult to translate.

Build extra contextual information into the localization files, as shown in the downloadable sample file we provide here.

Design the text strings for maximum flexibility—remember that the translators may need to change the word order for other languages. One sentence should never be split into two separate strings. For example, a string like “You obtain {0} from the {1}” can be split into “You obtain” and “from the” in English without any trouble. However, those strings will be in a fixed order in the game, and that could make it impossible to translate the sentence into other languages.

Use unique string IDs—if the same word or bit of text appears in different contexts throughout the game, make sure that each instance has its own string ID. Although the same word might make sense in English in both cases, other languages might require two different words.

For example, the word “apply” can have several different meanings. You can apply to a guild, apply an upgrade, apply a bandage… but other languages will need a different verb for each of these concepts. Without separate (and clearly labeled) string IDs for each of them, the result would be linguistic chaos!

We’ve said it already, but it’s worth repeating: the more context, the better. Storylines, backstory, images, character characteristics, and clear context IDs make it easier for translators to do their jobs well. When they have that information, they can spend less time puzzling out the meaning of a text string and more time polishing and refining their translation! The end result? Localizations that feel natural, play smoothly, and give your players a great experience overall.

The Altagram localization platform

Since all this information is so essential to the localization process, it’s something we’ve kept in mind while designing our upcoming localization platform. We’re working on a variety of features that will help guide developers to include all the details we need to create localizations that they’ll love. If you would like to learn more, or to find out how you can become an early adopter, fill in this form with your contact information and we will get in touch with you.

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