Tag: game localization

SDL Tados 2021

Paper Mario’s Controversial Translation

Localization Culture

Nintendo’s Paper Mario video game localization team has sparked a dispute about how it translated sensitive language from Japanese to Traditional Chinese.

Even without the pressure COVID-19 has put on game developers, video game localization requires several considerations. From redesigning food graphics or fashion choices, to adapting jokes to better communicate humor through culture, a video game localization team can stumble into sensitive content without even realizing it.

Nintendo’s July 2020 release of its newest game Paper Mario: The Origami King has sparked a dispute on social media about its localization process, specifically related to its translation into Traditional Chinese.

The argument centered around the translation of a conversation between game characters Toad and Mario. In the Japanese version of the exchange, Toad says he wants “human rights” and “freedom,” but the traditional Chinese version translates to “plain outlook” and a “peaceful life,” according to social media activist ShawTim.

The Japanese words for “human rights,” 人権, and “freedom,” 自由 are both part of the Japanese Kanji characters, many of which derive directly from Traditional Chinese. In fact, the only difference in the two words would be that the second character in “human rights” would look like this: 權.

With such a direct translation clearly available to the translation team, ShawTim’s believes the changes might shed light on pressure from the Chinese government, or at least the Paper Mario Chinese localization team’s proactive measures to avoid making waves in Mainland China.

Still, Niko Partners Senior Analyst Daniel Ahmad pushed back on any conjecture that the change was forced by the Chinese government. In a twitter thread, Ahmad questions the claim that the Chinese government exerted any direct influence, adding that the game has not yet been released in Mainland China.

He goes on to retweet an explanation that points out how the Chinese translation uses puns to make a statement about both better governance and origami. The tweet says that the joke is about toads not being forcibly folded into origami. “Toad needs a neat appearance” and “Toad needs a peaceful life” are puns — the pun is that 平整 (neat) and 平静 (peaceful) both have the component word 平 in it, which is a Chinese word for flat.

Along with the punning that occurs in the Chinese translation, the two end-words reflect linguistic play. Pronounced “Ping Zheng” and “Ping Jing” using Pinyin phonetics of Mandarin Chinese, respectively, the second character in each phrase carries a “J” and “Ng” sound to create a slant rhyme. In this way, the translation might elicit more of a jocular tone than a politically indignant tone, even while insinuating heavy subject-matter.

Whatever the video game localization team’s intentions on the translation, this dispute reflects a natural response to the sensitive nature of localization. Even in the absence of geopolitical disputes like that between Mainland China and Hong Kong, the process of translating from one language or region to another could unleash a world of unintended connotations.

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Journalist at MultiLingual Magazine | + posts

Jonathan Pyner is a poet, freelance writer, and translator. He has worked as an educator for nearly a decade in the US and Taiwan, and he recently completed a master’s of fine arts in creative writing.


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Seven steps to prepare a mobile game for localization

Localization, Localization Strategy

According to App Annie’s “The State of Mobile” report, in 2018 games accounted for 74% of consumer spend in app stores. Games are huge, which is why MultiLingual‘s latest issue, which just went live, focuses on the topic. In 2019, mobile gaming is going to reach 60% market share of consumer spend. One of the reasons that makes it possible is the global presence achieved with the help of localization.

Here is a guide for understanding whether the mobile game is ready for localization. In other words, this is a draft for a game localization maturity model.

Language analytics

A game might be developed and published by different companies. But even in this case, and even though the promotion team might also have the final say, it is recommended that marketing and analytics teams — in collaboration with localizers — make a general decision on what languages the game needs to be present in. Ekaterina Zaitseva, lead localization manager of RJ Games says that “we don’t translate game descriptions a few days before release in the App Store now. Everything is planned in advance.”

When selecting the target languages, consider the following:

  • The experience of your main competitors, including the popularity of their games in the country of your interest
  • Publicly available research, such as insights on the game’s localization ROI
  • The number of potential users speaking the language and their paying capacity
  • Planned cost of localization
  • Availability of quality translation service providers

A few years ago, issues caused by miscommunicated expectations and process details between the development, design and localization teams emerged here and there in many games. The community reported cases of unlocalized text embedded in graphics, violated character limits and non-resizable text which both resulted in truncations, grammatical issues with gender and so on. Even today, in 2019, you download a game that boasts supporting, let’s say, the Russian language, and still (sad but true) you may get machine translation instead of a proper translation.

But, on the other hand, localization is being increasingly integrated into the development process. The growing trend is for all the teams involved in a game creation to communicate constantly on how and when to do things. And interest in improving the quality of the process and its outcome is growing steadily

Collaboration with the development team

So, a responsible localizer does research and tells the developer in advance what problems may arise from a linguistic point of view. The priority and relevance of the main internationalization issues are to be carefully set depending on the project, as Ekaterina Zaitseva from RJ Games states:

  • “Resourcing” all of the strings (when user-visible strings are put into resource files)
  • Avoiding hard-coding or embedding text in any graphic files as much as possible
  • Testing of every font for every planned language
  • Paying attention to special characters, such as umlauts. (If you cannot find a font that blends appealingly with the game design and at the same time supports umlauts, use diphthongs instead)
  • Remembering that UTF-8 is the right encoding choice most of the time
  • Deciding whether or not you plan on mirroring the interface to consider the difference between LTR and RTL languages
  • Making strings scalable, allocating space for size change, as some languages take more space than the source
  • Enabling wrapping for multiline texts
  • Taking into account how English is unique. Word order, use of genders, plurals and possessives, and other rules vary drastically between languages
  • Creating text strings with variables for grammatical changes as well as time, date, currency and number formatting

Localizers need to remember that collaboration with development and design teams covers not only the text and interface itself. Game sound and art need to be thought through and made localizable in advance as well. Ideally, all images, symbols and logos need to be focus-tested with the target locales to minimize the risk of offending certain audiences. IGDA, the International Game Developers Association, advises gaining awareness of the top four cultural variables as they apply to your target markets: history, religion, ethnicity and geopolitical considerations.

In the subsequent discussion with the developers, when the process is already set up, it just makes sense to go through a localization sanity checklist, which should be compiled based on publicly available sources (such as “Best Practices for Game Localization” by IGDA), and of course, personal experience.

Documentation and processes preparation

Usually at some point when the game is still cooking, you already know what the target audience is, or what languages and game setting are planned, though there is no actual text to translate yet.

Now is the time to set up the following:

  • The localization processes and workflows, including decisions on what CAT environment to use, or who reports to whom and in what cases. For instance, how the work of Support will be organized and automated, and will it be multilingual or in English only?
  • Documentation such as templates, checklists and rules, style guide, onboarding guide, language vendor scorecard, or the “Project localization Bible.” You can also start compiling a glossary: even though there’s no full source text available, some of the key terms are already known.
  • A reference system for context. If you can ask the development team to leave some notes for text strings, all the better. The precious information on game logic will help localization teams a lot, even if there’s going to be a full-scale linguistic testing.
  • A draft of the testing plan. At the linguistic testing stage linguists verify in-game texts and overall game performance (such as the correct response of game elements to user inputs). A testing plan will help to get the most out of this stage. If it seems hard to draft it at the preparation stage, you can at least think of the environment to use. Will your testers report bugs and upload screenshots in a simple Google Sheet or use an online repository, such as Jira?

Advanced companies create special onboarding kits for developers, something like “Globalization 101,” which can focus on internationalization and culturalization aspects, or, for instance, feature common mistakes found in some other games.

The alternative is seamless continuous localization. Predefined and tuned processes are a benefit. But what if some of them could be bypassed for good? Open source solutions such as Serge, which stands for String Extraction and Resource Generation Engine, offer a trendy way to make manual localization management (exporting, converting files, sending them for translation, doing reverse conversion, committing changes to version control) unnecessary.

The tool gathers new source, publishes it for translation, acquires translations and integrates them back into the product, pulling and pushing changes, and will also synchronize with an external CAT tool of your choice.

Serge is being developed by Evernote, which has its products and marketing materials continously localized into 25 languages. This solution is mostly tailored to work with text translations, though. Its effect is not so noticeable in the localization of non-textual formats such as graphics or audio. So if you need to localize these things for a game, Serge will only grant you partial automation

QA and testing setup

Another extremely useful means of partial automation is QA checks. When a language vendor delivers the job, you can apply industry standard practices such as a third-party review of a sample translation and extensive QA metrics. But in a budget or time-constraint environment it makes sense to at least run a simple in-house check prior to importing localized content into the game build for future linguistic testing. Use QA tools: QA built-in CAT, Xbench or Verifika. QA or at least spotcheck methods should be thought about in advance, as they may and most certainly will be another expense item.

Prior to actual QA, a handy approach for advanced teams is to build a pseudolocalization tool for the mobile application testing. Even MT helps get a view of the localized product. And this might lead to useful proactive design changes.

In addition to linguistic testing, some games can afford to invite focus groups to actually play the game. Their gaming experience is recorded and analyzed to evaluate their playing habits, if and when (and why) they face any difficulties in the game. This type of testing, though, belongs at the final stage of the project.

Budgets and legal matters

To dive into the localization stage at full speed, one must come prepared. And this is almost impossible without having agreed on who would actually do the job. So test the waters with localization vendors in advance.

Communication with vendors prior to the actual project’s start will help with calculating localization budgets (advice: add 15-20% for unforeseen expenses, especially if there is a voiceover planned on the project), and avoiding delays in production due to any possible legal issues. Early collaboration with your legal department on setting up vendor contracts will streamline your future mutual localization efforts.

Each new language, though, generates additional costs associated with globalization, as you would likely need to invest in social media localization and tracking reviews in app stores.

Feedback collection

Speaking of reviews, you can actually start gathering feedback from gamers related not to your game but to similar ones. Search for competing games and pay attention to the comments and ratings in app stores. There’s always something to learn: if the errors themselves aren’t useful, the root causes for them will be.

Another smart move is to make it easy for gamers to leave feedback in the game itself. But if you’re conducting a survey, for example, you should give an incentive, maybe by providing an in-game currency per reply. This is something to discuss with development and design teams, especially considering the multilingual background of the users, but any way to thank a user for informative feedback adds a nice touch.

(Yearly) plan and user engagement

Continuing on user engagement, the #1 thing to include in the game plan for the next year is culturalization.

2018 saw a trend of labeling culturalization as a fictitious step created for demonstrative localization activity purposes only, which some localizers get offended by. They’re putting their hearts into making the game content viable and meaningful. And to make content meaningful, it pays to ask questions. So open discussions inside and even outside of your team that relate to plot, characters and objects during the conceptual stage, which will help identify cultural patterns and possible issues.

As The Game Localization Handbook says, culturalization is all the more effective the earlier it’s applied to game content. The same could be said about the planning itself. But it’s even more fun to make amendments to the plan in the localization process. So with all due circumspection, let the game begin!

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Yulia Akhulkova graduated from Moscow University of Electronic Engineering as a software engineer. Since 2010 she has worked in localization, currently combining research functions at Nimdzi with leading the localization department at ITI.

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English to Japanese game localization considerations

Localization, Localization Culture

Interview with Clyde Mandelin

The Legends of Localization website features the “best and worst” game translations.

Clyde Mandelin (who often goes by Mato on the web) is an author, blogger, video game localizer and more. Perhaps best known for his work on the fan translation of Mother 3, he also runs Legends of Localization, a website dedicated to “a detailed look at video game translation and how games change during the translation process.” Here, he’s interviewed by Quin Callahan in anticipation of our upcoming issue on game localization.

Quin: Some Japanese to English translations seem so poorly translated that it can make English speakers wonder how such a translation passed any sort of QA. You also mention on your site that this same issue can happen with English to Japanese translations, especially in terms of which honorifics and tone is chosen for a given piece of text. Why do you think it is so common that issues get into games or other media that a single person who natively speaks the language being translated into easily recognizes?

Clyde: I think the big reason is that most people haven’t had formal experience with what translation is and how it actually works. It’s generally seen as a simple 1:1 process that anyone can do as long as they know both languages involved. Most people also aren’t aware that there’s a big difference between translating into your native language and translating into a non-native language. This stuff is very basic for people in the know, but it’s not common knowledge for most of the world.

On top of everything else, having someone who speaks the target language natively needs to be in the equation somewhere, and it’s difficult and scary for the average person to find and communicate with such people.

So, for example, if an American game developer wants to release their game in Japanese, it’s very likely that that developer doesn’t understand Japanese to begin with. The combination of the lack of understanding of how translation works, plus the lack of a native target language speaker, plus the lack of understanding of the target language will naturally lead to poor results.

Quin: Perhaps this was more an issue in the past, but sometimes English voice acting in Japanese-developed games is strangely acted. I admit the reverse might also be true, with poor Japanese readings in games coming from English-speaking developers. How do you explain poor voice acting in blockbuster Japanese titles? Are there any titles coming out of English-speaking countries with similar issues in Japanese?

Clyde: This was a bigger problem in the past as you mention, but probably mostly because everyone in the industry was still learning and figuring out everything for the first time. I assume the poor voice acting was a combination of poor translation with awkward wording, inexperienced directors, inexperienced or no-experience voice actors, and a general “it’s good enough” attitude.

I don’t play a whole lot of English games translated into Japanese these days, so I’m not too familiar with the English to Japanese dub situation. A quick search shows there are very strong opinions on subs vs. dubs in Japan too, as well as bad examples like Painkiller: Hell & Damnation and Fear 3. Also, there’s the usual problem of “the more popular a game it is, the more criticism it’ll receive as well,” so super big budget games that are super popular like Skyrim and Fallout and Call of Duty all have plenty of dub-haters.

Quin: As the world becomes more globalized, is translation and localization becoming easier for both Eastern and Western companies?

Clyde: I believe so, but mostly in the sense that it’s now easier to reach out and find the resources necessary to do proper translation and localization. Before, you either had to know someone who maybe knew the languages involved, had to go out of your way to find an agency, or had to forego the translation/localization entirely. Now there are more resources and personnel out there that are easily accessible around the world.

Quin: Do you have any advice for a company looking to get text translated from English to Japanese?

Clyde: It really depends on what’s being translated, but the biggest thing of all is to make sure the final version gets proofed by a native-level Japanese speaker! Ideally, that Japanese speaker would also be the translator.

Also, it’s important to provide as many details as possible before the translation begins, and to be there to answer questions — or ask questions — as the translation progresses. Translation isn’t like a restaurant — you don’t just give your order and wait for the finished product to arrive on your table. If you do, your translation will have problems.

Quin: Localization often seems like an art. For instance, I can recall seeing a Japanese game’s English localization where all Shinto references were replaced by Christian ones to try and maintain understanding and tone among readers more familiar with that religious tradition, rather than maybe the original exact meaning of the text. What sort of balance do you try to maintain in your own translating and localizing?

Clyde: Since I’m a translator-for-hire, this is more up to whatever the client prefers and whatever the project calls for. In general, when I have the freedom to choose, I prefer to change text only when a straight translation wouldn’t work. But again, every project and every translation choice is different, so it’s always a case-by-case thing.

Quin: Understanding that both languages are complex and often very different, with entire websites like yours able to be devoted to exploring the topic, why do some of the common spelling and grammar errors we see in Japanese to English translations happen?

Clyde: Early Japanese games were often translated into English by non-native English speakers, so poor English skills were to blame most of the time. Today, native-level English speakers do that stuff now, so the grammar and spelling mistakes we see in modern games are usually no different from the types of mistakes you’d find in any writing field. In a best-case scenario you’d have people checking translations and proofreading the final translations before the final product is released, but that adds time and money that not every company can spare.

Quin: Are there any fundamental changes you’d like to see in how the West tends to view localizing and translating?

Clyde: I think it’d be helpful to clear up the misconception that every language can be converted into other languages in a 1:1 way. Movies and the like gloss over what translation is and how it works — translators in movies can instantly translate anything and make it all rhyme and pull all of the contextual information out of thin air as if it’s nothing. And since this is the most the average person learns about translation, it makes it seem like translation is quick and easy and should be cheap.

The term “localization” is still new to the average person in the West, and there’s no real clear definition of what “localization” means. If you ask different people you’ll get different answers. For some, it’s what’s done to make jokes work in translation. For others, “localization” is a synonym for “censoring.” Some professionals use “culturalization” to mean what we call “localization” and use the word “localization” for something more geographical in nature. Basically, it’s sort of a big mess and I’m hoping that the work I do helps clear the air at least a tiny bit.

Quin: On the flipside of that issue, are there any changes you’d like to see from the way Japanese businesses or fans approach localizing and translations?

Clyde: I’m not as familiar with the Japanese business side of things, but in general I’ve always felt that Japanese businesses are held back by excessive bureaucracy and a lack of motivation to evolve. From what little I’ve seen, the companies with passion seem to do the most well-received translations/localizations, while the old corporate giants are slow to catch up and thus produce translations/localizations of lesser quality.

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Quin Callahan has worked as an English and economics tutor at Warren County Community College for over four years, while also freelance writing for a variety of organizations. Callahan focuses on both the PC and tabletop gaming spaces as well as on mental health and addiction.

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