Multimedia localization

Contrary to popular belief, a successful product implementation in a new market no longer depends solely on product quality. A well-weighted and professionally designed presentation of the product for the new region has also become key to success.

Almost everything may be understood as the product here, from mass consumption products to multimedia content. Today, high-quality localization of the latter is of the essence. Although localization is often confused with translation or adaptation, there is a big difference in the application area and implementation quality. Adaptation is a broad and general concept that may include content of any kind. Translation is just one content adaptation method.

As anyone in the industry knows, translation is a rather superficial adaptation aimed only at sending a key message to the consumer. Language localization is a more complex and multistaged process that takes into account cultural aspects of the new market, including consumers’ mentality, discourse and world perception.

To date, creation of large international projects is based on two concepts: globalization and localization. The first arises at the planning stage, when the developers try to erase cultural barriers as much as possible so that the product may be easily adapted into different language and cultural environments. Localization comes up immediately upon launching the product to a new market. LISA (Localization Industry Standards Association) classified localization into five segments: linguistic, physical, business, cultural and technical. Moreover, both processes are closely interconnected, and often a product not globalized at the development stage cannot pass through the localization phase either. To globalize means to elaborate a project and the ways of its promotion based on the specific nature of the multinational audience. This will help to save huge localization costs for each particular country and region.

Most often, language localization goes in line with bringing multimedia content to a new market. Several types of content for localization can be distinguished:

• games

• online training

• movies, TV series and TV shows

• advertising, websites

The localization process often comes down to translation (voiceover) of movies, series, video games, websites or software. Working with texts is certainly easier as the additional insight information can be simply put as a note. However, even localization of book texts greatly depends on the skills and creativity of a translator. Allen Carr’s words seem to be a perfect example here: “Once I typed chaste instead of chase.” In a translation of this sentence, a Russian-speaking reader would not understand how such a typo could happen, as in Russian these words spell out quite differently. So, the translator footnoted that line, explaining the difference. True localization would involve finding two similar Russian words also differing by one letter.

Audio/video localization requires even more painstaking work. Mere translation of dialogues making them as clear as possible is not enough. You have to write scripts, select suitable dubbing actors (with appropriate voices) who can voice the material in-studio. Localization of games is even more complex than movies, as the plot may develop individually for each player. In contrast to films lasting about 90 minutes and having all the dialogue consistent, in video games you need to translate a huge amount of material that will be voiced at a certain moment in the game, or may not be played at all.

In the case of the voiceover, technically, quality of dubbing plays a crucial role for the audience’s content perception.

The most expensive and professional is full dubbing. This approach is supposed to give the feeling that the characters speak the language native to the viewer. During translation, words and phrases are selected in a manner to achieve lip synchronization. With dubbing, the original soundtrack is removed and another is recorded. The story scenes in games sometimes have character communication voiced in full dubbing mode, with all intonations preserved and the text synchronized with the facial expressions of the characters and movements of their lips. For translators, this is very labor-intensive work. This kind of dubbing may cost at least $100 per minute.

Voiceover translation is a simpler and less expensive option. This is when a translated soundtrack is laid over the original one. However, the quality of the voiceover translations varies greatly, from delayed single-vocals to high-quality synchronized multivoiced tracks put on the muted original track.

Finally, the simplest technologically is subtitling. In this case, there is no need to record in the studio or hire actors to dub. Many localizers prefer subtitles, as they keep the real voices and intonations of actors. This technique is frequently used in online training, an industry that is rapidly growing.

In the West, there are many companies involved in content localization. These companies involve translators, actors, sound engineers, huge voice databases and sound effects. Both distributors and manufacturers can be responsible for the localization of large projects. It is sometimes easier for the giants of the film and gaming industry to hire localization services from a specialized company than to send source materials to each country. How does it happen? A client provides video materials and scripts (detailed scenarios of the episodes with time and speaker indicated). Sometimes a multitrack is provided, consisting of several audio tracks, including a voice track, background noises or musical accompaniment. In such cases, the voice track is replaced, and other noises are rerecorded to a certain number of audio tracks. It can be vice versa — the noise is added from the existing files (sound of rain, snow crunch) or specially recorded in the studio, and sound effects such as reverberation (working with sound intensity, echo effect) can be superimposed.

In addition to the linguistic and technical elements, the cultural aspect is also essential. The release of computer games or a movie may be delayed or prohibited in the country if the content is contrary to the ideological or national values. Here, as a rule, problems are caused by the issues of history, religion, political correctness or geopolitics. For example, one famous computer game was banned in Korea because it depicted a very quick capture of the Korean Peninsula by the Japanese army. Despite the historical accuracy of this fact, the Koreans felt that it was a disgrace to the national image. Finally, localizers had to add a patch showing long battles of the brave Korean army against the Japanese invaders.

Currency conversion, symbolism, the attitude toward colors or sounds of different cultures — these make up a small portion of the nuances that must be considered when localizing a product in a new market.

Another aspect that is specific for video game localization is the multiple choice of possible texts, often implemented by variable substitution. For example, the game interpreter will not be surprised by a phrase like “{bossName} deals {number} damage and {whatHappens} {toWhom},” where the first variable is taken from the list of possible enemies, the second is the number, the third describes the possible consequences, such as “kill,” “maim,” “wound,” “have the enemy on the run,” “makes the enemy think” and, finally, the fourth indicates the target of the impact. In Russian, nouns and adjectives alter their form depending on the case in which words are used in the sentence, sometimes it is necessary to invent entirely new clauses that have nothing to do with the original ones in order to have all variables (parts of the sentence) at their correct places and in nominative case (“who does” and not “with whom somebody does something”).

Sometimes we also have no idea if the character is male or female (and it is good enough if we can ask the customer about it, though it also happens that the same phrase is pronounced by both male and female characters). In Russian, the form of predicate often depends on the gender of the subject; however, there are ways to avoid it. Therefore, an experienced translator often begins to speak in gender-neutral phrases even in real life. It is an occupational hazard!

At the same time, words that are substituted for variables can be located in a completely different place in the shared database and can be used many times in a variety of phrases.

Some developers now take into account the fact that their games will be released in different languages and include, for example, separate phrases (that are the same in English) for male and female.

Here, funny moments may occur. As game localization expert Oleg V. Martynov explained to me, he once had to translate a book in which the main character appears with a space admiral between the chapters to discuss what is happening. There were hundreds of English phrases such as “Admiral got up,” “Admiral sat down” and “Admiral said.” In Russian, this equates to “admiral vstal,” “admiral sel” and “admiral skazal.”

However, in the last chapter, the character says to the admiral:  “Thanks, mom.” Surprise! It turns out that the admiral is a woman. We learned this at the same time the reader did, and with the same wonder. It would not have happened in Russian, as we immediately understand what gender the character is with the help of verb form in the past tense that ends in [a]. What could we do? The option to rewrite “the admiral said” as “admiral skazala” is impossible, as the reader is supposed to find out who the admiral is only at the end.

We thought a lot about it, and the editor offered an idea: to rewrite these scenes in the present tense. “Admiral says” and “Admiral sits down” becomes “admiral govorit” and “admiral saditsya” regardless of the gender of the Admiral. So we found our way out.

Still, there are realities that our readers are unfamiliar with and it is necessary to think these through.

If it’s something like “hit a home run,” then we need to find some known idiom. However, taking into account that the idiom should meet the context, it is clear that if we replace the game baseball (baseball is not popular in Russia) with the game gorodki, a reader would understand what we meant to say. However, this would throw a reader out of the cultural context. If the game is all about baseball, it is to be hoped that the target audience is familiar with these realities.

The translation should be adapted to the target audience, or at least the translator should be aware of it. Who is the target audience of the product in Russia? For example, if the product does not have any rigid cultural references, we can replace any well-known American characters that are barely known to our players by other characters in jokes.

If the characters mention Zodiac, the serial killer, we can replace him with Chikatilo, but if it takes place in the USA, we will replace him with Charles Manson. Because we do not know the Zodiac killer, and people in the United States do not know Chikatilo. However, Manson is known to everyone.

Cultural adaptation is all about how to make the content as close to the meaning of the original sources as possible.

Filmmaker Oleg Dorman made a wonderful movie about translator Lilianna Lungina. He told a story from his youth, when he had been a student of her husband, Sima Lungin. He and Sima had been sitting together in the kitchen writing a script. In the midst of this process Lilianna came in, upset. She had been translating something in the next room, and said: “You know, the character has some kind of “hamburger,” and I have no idea what it is. He carries it around the airport.” Sima suggested: “I believe this is a cloak.” “That’s what I’ll write,” said Lilianna, “He had his hamburger over his arm.”

She went out.

After a while she came in again and said in a strained voice: “He ate it.”

Localization for a particular audience is not just a translation, but a meaningful interpretation of the material on a different cultural level. Not every ordinary interpreter may cope with this mission. Such work requires a creative approach and high intelligence. For games, it is better to avoid gender-based attributes for the players to increase the audience of users. Also take note of the age of potential players and many other factors.

In the future, localization may also be affected by user-generated content. Perhaps, in the future, bloggers will localize their content to attract new audiences. This may be especially suitable for blogs where content is based on general concepts as beauty, children’s content and so on.