Game localization

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Game localization or game globalization refers to the preparation of video games for other locales. This adaptation to the standards of other countries covers far more than simply translation of language. There are different areas, such as linguistic, cultural, hardware and software, legal differences, graphics identity and music. Globalization refers to general Eastern/Western variations, while localization refers to several regional sub-divisions within the globalization.

Tasks and challenges[edit]

The major types of localization are as follows.

  • Linguistic and cultural: the translation of language and cultural references maintaining the feel of the game but making it more appealing for the receiving locale.
  • Hardware and software: for example the change between PAL and NTSC, re-mapping of hotkeys, gameplay modifications.
  • Legal: age ratings may differ depending on the country of release. They are controlled by national or international bodies like PEGI (for Europe), ESRB (for US and Canada), ACB (for Australia), or CERO (for Japan).
  • Graphics and music: Some games may exhibit different characters, or the same ones with a slightly different appearance in order to facilitate players identification with their avatar. Music may also vary according to national trends or the preferences of major fan communities.

As the international demand for video games rises, successful titles depend on their adaptation to various cultures and languages in a slightly different way from other audiovisual creations such as films. These products tap into a very emotional activity within society: "play". It is "play" that first bonds us to our own culture and history, to what we see as normal, fun, appropriate, or funny. Semiotics play a great part on this adaptation since the function of signs and symbols in natural languages can be significantly different from one culture to another, differences that extend from the syntactic layer of communication, to the semantic and the pragmatic one. Some of these disparities may be so small they are easily adaptable, but many other can be notably distinct or even contradictory, so translators may have a challenging task ahead because their input might require the alteration of the actual game in some cases.

Video games, unlike any other entertainment products, aim at motivating and challenging players at their own level and pace. They do this by various means, for example, a customisable avatar, an adjustable difficulty level, and a relative freedom of movement and interaction within the virtual world. The country and language of destination may also affect the game itself (Bernal 2006), especially when dealing with violence, historical events, foul language, or sex, since different cultures are more sensitive than others to these matters. But there is also what Sutton-Smith (1997:99) calls "counterludic identity", which means that sometimes the country importing the game refuses to play them the way the exporting one does, putting more emphasis on their own way of playing. As a result, the same game released simultaneously in the United States, France, Germany, China, and Japan for example, might show different features to adjust to fans’ expectations, as well as the various cultural and legal frameworks.

When games are more story- than action-driven, culturalising them can be challenging because of all the premises the designers are taking for granted in the development of the plot. Asian gamers seem to prefer more childlike characters, while Western countries might emphasize adult features. An example of the changes that are likely to happen during localization is Fatal Frame (known in Japan as Zero and known in Europe as Project Zero) (Tecmo 2001). In the original Japanese version the female protagonist, Miku, was a frightened seventeen-year-old girl looking for her brother Mafuyu who disappeared after entering a haunted mansion. In the US and European versions Miku is nineteen, has Western features, and is not wearing the original Japanese school uniform. Unfortunately, developers did not think necessary to change her brother’s appearance, so when players do find Mafuyu at the end of the game they do not seem to be blood-related.

A similar thing happens with the depiction of blood, and real historical events; many things have to be readjusted to fit the country’s tolerance and taste in order not to hurt sensibilities. This is probably one of the reasons why so many games take place in imaginary worlds. This customisation effort draws on the knowledge of geopolitical strategists, like Kate Edwards from Englobe. During the 2006 Game Developers Conference in California she explained the importance of being culturally aware when internationalising games in a presentation called "Fun vs. Offensive: Balancing the 'Cultural Edge' of Content for Global Games" (Edwards 2006). Both developers and publishers want to please their clients. Gamers are not particularly interested in where the game comes from, or who created it any more than someone buying a new car or DVD player. A product for mass consumption only keeps the branding features of the trademark; all the other characteristics might be subject to customisation due to the need to appeal to the local market. Therefore the translation will be in some cases an actual recreation, or, to put it in the words of Mangiron & O’Hagan (2006), a "transcreation", where translators will be expected to produce a text with the right "feel" for the target market. It is important for translators to be aware of the logic behind this. Video games are a software product, and as such, they will have manuals and instructions, as well as interactive menus and help files. This will call for technical translation. On the other hand, we will also find narration and dialogue closer to literary texts or film scripts where a more creative translation would be expected. However, unlike most forms of translation, video games can adapt or even change the original script, as long as it is in the search of enhanced fun and playability of the target culture. We can only find a parallel of this type of practice in the translation of children’s literature where professionals often adapt or alter the original text to improve children’s understanding and enjoyment of the book.

SCEE David Reeves, has stated that the main reason that Europe is often affected by significant content delays is because of language localization. He stated "the problem is that there isn't enough incentive for developers to work on multiple language translations during development. Hence, Europeans suffer delays and may never see a particular title". He also commented on why the UK and Ireland which are English speaking countries, also experience the same delays as those in continental Europe with many different languages despite little or no modification. He stated "With PlayStation Store we could probably go in the UK almost day and date. But then what are the Germans and the French going to say to me? That I'm Anglo-centric" indicating that the reason that these countries also must wait is to avoid criticism from other large European gaming countries such as Germany and France.[1]

Linguistic assets[edit]

Video games come accompanied by a variety of texts, for example manuals, dubbing scripts, and subtitles that need translating, but they also have other type of texts in a format only common to utility software, like a word processor, or an internet browser. All these programs have one thing in common: information and commands are readily available at the click of a button. It is what we call ‘interactivity’. The interactive element of computer programs has serious consequences for translators because it means that access to texts and information is random, i.e., each user will activate a particular message or command at a different point, or not at all. An arbitrary sequence of events does not allow for linear texts and contextual information, therefore, translators lose two of the most important sources needed in the decision making process: co-text and context. When the program is still unfinished or no localization kit has been prepared, some information is still available, although difficult to obtain, from similar manuals, the localization manager, or the actual technical team responsible for the software. Esselink (2000) is probably one of the best references for the localization of utility software and web pages.

Unfortunately, the localization software industry has not been able to create a GUI (graphical user interface) localization tool for translators to use with video games, like the ones used in the translation of utility software and web pages. These programs (like Catalyst and Passolo) allow users to work directly but safely with the game code, generating a visual representation of the final product, which means that translators can see exactly what the end result will look like and adjust the text or the interface to suit the space available as well as the general look. The LRC (Localization Research Center) and LISA (The Localization Industry Standards Association) have ample information on these programs.

Linguistic assets will be utilised in a variety of ways at different times throughout the creation, development, and launch of the game, mainly: the game itself, which has a variety of texts in multiple formats, the official web site of the game, promotional articles, game patches and updates.

Textual Types and File Formats[edit]

Within these products there are different textual types, each of which has its own characteristics and purpose. Because we are dealing with a multimedia product, the challenges translators have to face are also multimedia. Within the same project they have to deal with a wide variety of issues like reproducing the oral quality of dialogue in writing, lip-synching for dubbing, space and time constraints for subtitling, number of characters for subtitle, UI, etc. The following paragraphs are an attempt to classify the several textual types that accompany the standard PC video game:


(Written form. May be a Pagemaker or a Word format) Although it always has some attractive and engaging creative writing, partly promotional partly literary, most of the manual would normally be filled with didactic texts when telling players the instructions to be followed to fully enjoy the game. Manuals would also include technical texts with the appropriate hardware and software specifications to be able to run the game application. In addition players will always find corporative and legal texts, informing users of their rights and responsibilities attached to the acquisition of an entertainment software product.


(Written form. Pagemaker or Word format) Like manuals, game boxes and packaging present a mixture of textual types, the difference being the space provided, limited not only by the size of it but also by images of the game, logos of the companies involved and legal labelling requirements. It mixes an alluring promotional text, together with concise technical information and legal notices.

Readme file[edit]

(Written form. Wordpad format) This small .txt file is probably the last thing in the development process. It is used to inform users of all the last-minute adjustments and how to make sure that the product runs smoothly, as well as to correct mistakes and typos in the printed material, such as manual and packaging. It is mainly a technical text.

Official Website[edit]

(Written form. HTML or Java format) It mixes a promotional text with a journalistic one, but it will also have technical details like minimum requirements, etc. A lot of the information offered through the official web will be similar to the one that was shipped with the game. But websites tend to include previews and reviews of the product, notice boards, customer support and downloadable files to fix specific problems, or patches with new language versions, as well as screenshots, concept art, thematic screen savers, merchandising, and fan blogs.

Dialogue for dubbing[edit]

(Spoken form. There will be a separate sound file per utterance. Written scripts will normally be in spreadsheets or Word tables) Speech delivered by game characters where registers, accents, and idiosyncrasies have to be conveyed into other languages. Some times an extra column is included to add inflection comments for the dubbing director. A part of the dubbing script may include atmospheric utterances also in a spoken form. Many games might feature characters talking or reacting to players’ actions. These characters may have little or no relevance to the plot, but their inclusion and to the immersion of the player in the virtual world. No synchronisation is normally required, but orality has to be maintained.

Dialogue for subtitling[edit]

(Written form. Spreadsheets and tables are preferred for this although subtitles might be hard-coded in order to synchronize them with video and animations). Oral text in written form. The dubbing script may be applied directly in the subtitling of the game, which results in cluttered and fast subtitles with no character limit per line, nor lines per subtitle. In addition, translators may be faced with the fact that not all languages allow for the same freedom when writing subtitles. Often translators will have to apply techniques used in the translation of children’s literature and comic-books to convey certain characteristics that would otherwise be lost. Time and space constraints are very relevant here.

User Interface (UI)[edit]

(Written form. Table format, sometimes hard-coded text file due to the interactivity of each item). Space in menus, pop-up windows and hint captions is at a premium and redesigning is rarely an option, so translators will have to maintain a similar number of characters to that of the original label. Similarly to what happens in software localization, video games may have very detailed and crowded menu options to control different features of the game such as difficulty level, as well as graphic display selection, mouse sensitivity, or feedback preferences.

Graphic art with words[edit]

(Written form. A multi-layered graphic format will be needed). Players will normally find this type of graphic-text in game names but they can often be seen throughout the game as part of the branding of the product, as well as in advertisements.

References and bibliography[edit]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]