Should gamedevs help localizers doing their job? A live example.

When localizing a game, developers aim for great translations, while investing as little effort as possible. However, helping translators is crucial for success, and here is a live example.

Shadow Play is a puzzle game for PC and Android, which I translated from English to Russian. You play with light and shadow and roll a ball through a stage to collect the stars. The game offers majestic soundtrack, 100+ stages and unique mechanic.


Unclear context

When a translator works with a game text, not everything is clear from the context. A translator doesn’t see the game and can understand something wrong. When it’s a short string from menu or game controls, nothing is clear at all.

Example:

I came upon a string with a text: “Speed bump”. As far as I could guess, it was something related to speed restriction: a kind of a brake, a force slowing a ball, or even an obstacle on the ground, decreasing a ball’s speed. I tried to read upper and lower strings to get more context, but found nothing. A problem has arisen.

Translating the thing wrong could have led to bad consequences. If “speed bump” had been an obstacle on the ground, while being translated as a “break”, players would be confused. Just imagine: a game is telling them about “breaks”, but they don’t find it. They fail to find any breaks and fail to complete a stage again and again. And they tell you: “The game is broken! Give me my money back!”

So what I had to do to solve this problem?


Asking questions

In such situations translator asks questions – one question for each problem. I highly recommend to answer all of them, and to explain everything, as if you explain it to a child. And that’s the thing my partner Han Jaehee has done. He gave me a comprehensive explanation with a screenshot: “speed bump” is an obstacle on the ground, decreasing a ball’s speed.

Screenshots help a lot. You see – I didn’t only understood the context, I saw the picture with my own eyes. There was no way for me to understand the answer wrong.

I advise you to answer all questions, answer them promptly and in a very detailed way. If you think that there is a chance of misunderstanding – attach a screenshot. Invest some time in this, and you won’t lose money on wrong translation and frustrated players.


Lazy translators

Posting questions is a work, translators are payed for. If I don’t understand something or have a doubt, I post a question. However, there is a trap here. First of all, there is always a chance of misunderstanding. A translator may be sure in their translation, but they may simply get it wrong. As a result we have confused players.

There is also a second, psychological trap. Posting and reading answers costs time, but translator is actually payed not for the time spent, but for words translated. It means that when there are too many questions to ask, or when a translator is tired, they have less incentive to post questions and more incentive to “guessing”.

To prevent this, I encourage developers to create “comments”. My partner Han looked through a game text and created comments for almost each string. Some comments were short, some were long, and some contained screenshots. His comments saved me a lot of time and energy, and I invested them back in improving readability, style and overall quality.

Example:

I had a string with a text: “Bloom”. I could hardly understand what it was supposed to mean, and my next step was to post a question. But then I read a comment: “Bloom means glowing effect”, and there was also a screenshot attached. The text was from options, and clicking on “Bloom” you could enable glowing effects. All is clear, thank you Han!

I recommend devs to look through your game text, to find strings, which are hard to understand without context, and to create comments for them. You will save translators time for asking questions and your time for answering them. In return, grateful translator will spend this time to improve their work.


Let’s play

Another good decision is providing a game to a translator. They will find most strings by playing your game and will ask less questions. This will also prevent misunderstanding and help translator to better stick to the atmosphere of your game. Giving a Steam key will cost you so little time, while helping a lot.

Example:

I had a string with a text: “You can check the limit with the gauge on the left”. According to a context, a player could stop a ball, but only for a limited number of times. The problem was with a word “gauge”. I didn’t understand how that “gauge” looked and how to translate it. The only way to find it was to play the game. The “gauge” looked like a sphere in the upper left corner, divided into several parts. When you stop a ball, a part of the sphere disappears. When all parts fade out, you lose.

I translated the word as a “sphere” and was quite happy with it, but then another problem has arisen. The thing was previously mentioned as “a button” – clicking on it you could make a ball roll. Meanwhile a “sphere” was placed around that button to show your stopping limit. I thought what to do, decided not to confuse players and named a “gauge” a “button”. It was a simple decision, but without playing the game and seeing that “gauge” that would be impossible.


Diversity of platforms

If the game runs on several platforms, it’s better to provide a translator with all game versions. Each platform has a different control scheme, and game versions may have a slightly different UI. When a translator tests game controls themselves and includes this live experience into translation, it greatly improves the quality.

“Shadow Play” was made for PC and Android, and there were two strings for controls and UI: one for PC and one for Android version. Han gave me both game versions and helped me avoid many silly mistakes.


Conclusion: if you want to get a great game localization, do as much as you can to help your translator! Provide them with a game client; add comments to strings, if a text may be hard to understand without context; answer all questions in a timely and detailed way. Save translator’s time and effort, and they will spend it to improve the quality.