How Developers Localize Game Characters: Names, Voices, and More. Facts & Finer Points22 Nov 2022
Some games are so simple that interface localization alone is nearly enough to launch them globally and start printing money. With other games, however, developers can’t get off so easily. You may need to do far more than translate buttons and items when your game features characters. How does the game localization process go when there are dozens of characters with their unique tone of voice, intentions, role in the game, etc.? Alconost, a game localization services provider with 18 years of experience, shares its opinion.
First and foremost, let’s see how characters express themselves in games.
- Dialogues: written phrases, strings
- Voice narration, if any
- Look: facial features, clothes, other attributes
- Actions: gestures, behavior, interaction with other characters and the player.
Your game does not necessarily need to have all this. But the more you’ve invested in plot development and narrative design, the greater the chance that when preparing to go global, you’ll have to take these layers into account at the localization stage.
Names & Dialogues: More Meaningful Than You Think
Let’s start with the simplest: character names. Take, for example, a name such as Alexander. It’s evidently a masculine given name, and this simple fact communicates an important piece of information to the translators. But if it were in the shortened form, Alex, the gender identity wouldn’t be that obvious, and this would give rise to questions—or to a translation blunder. The same occurs when the character has a made-up name that doesn’t give any clues about gender.
Or, imagine that your character is an animal. The trick here is that in English, animals are usually referred to as ‘it,’ which is genderless. But for a proper localization of this character into certain languages, for example Spanish, Italian, or German, the issue of the animal’s gender will come up.
The thing is that the English language doesn’t have gender-specific endings. In many other languages, when the character speaks or is being referred to in a dialogue, its gender might need to be expressed. That is, in certain languages, some adjectives or even verbs inherit gender, just like the pronoun ‘she’ in English indicates that the character is female. Yes, you got it right: even if your characters were designed as ‘genderless’ initially, and the source language of your game is English, these characters will have to obtain a gender in certain localizations!
The good news here is that when you work with a localization team, you don’t need to delve into intricacies of this kind. The team naturally knows how to localize the names and dialogue lines into their native language without making linguistic errors. The only thing you need to be aware of is that you might be asked about characters’ gender and maybe some other features that are not evident, such as if the character is a child or an adult.
Ways to localize game character names
Character names can reference books, movies, historical events, or culture in general. To maintain these references in localization, you might need more than simple transliteration, and that’s why some names in localization may look far from the original.
Without properly localized names, some character features could be lost.
Image: © Alconost
It might be that the same characters are known by different, specific names in the target market. With the aid of native speakers, you’ll be able to select the right names to keep the allusion visible. Take, for example, Humpty Dumpty from ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ The book is well-known in many countries, but to keep the reference evident, you need to know what Humpty Dumpty was called in the book’s most popular translation into a specific language!
If the names are self-explanatory and refer to the character’s personal features without external cultural references, consider allowing a creative approach for choosing equally self-explanatory names for each localization. The same approach won’t hurt if the names were unique wordplay-based inventions by your team.
Other solutions are either to sacrifice the implied meanings to keep everything simple for the players, or to supplement your game with a knowledge base where all allusions are explained clearly.
So, now you’re aware of some underwater streams that may lead to a non-obvious and non-literal way of localizing specific names. And again, when a localization team takes care of your game’s new language version, you can relax and simply answer questions if they’re asked.
Tools That Help With Game Character Localization
Before we list two significant tools that help with quality-first localization, let’s state quite an obvious thing: the more context the translators see, the more accurate and natural the localization will be. When preparing a file where all localizable lines are put together, consider adding screenshots of your characters in conjunction with strings that contain the respective names and briefly describing their key features. This way, some questions simply disappear even before they’re asked, and the localization process will go swiftly.
Technically, a glossary is a small database of the terms used in the game repeatedly. It helps ensure that objects, locations, and functions are named the same way throughout the game.
The characters’ names should also be glossary items. If a game update brings new characters into play, their names should be added to the glossary too. The glossary can also contain instructions on how to deal with a specific name. That way, every time the name appears in a string, it’ll always be handled as intended.
When you order localization for the very first time, you may not have a glossary, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be the one who creates it. Your localization team can do this for you.
A quick case study: To localize ‘Days After,’ a mobile game developed by Reaction Games, into eight languages, including Korean and Traditional Chinese, we suggested creating a glossary and keeping the same team of linguists for this project. Since then, our linguists have been expanding the glossary with each new update.
Another tool that can help maintain consistency is translation memory. It’s a feature that localization platforms, such as Crowdin, have by default. Translation memory scans the previously translated strings in the localization project and shows how a specific line has been translated before, if at all.
The translation memory also helps if you have characters with specific speaking styles; for example, some have a rustic vocabulary, while others use a high-flown language. The translation memory shows how repetitive vocabulary items were localized previously, so that translators can refer to the existing translation of repeated words and translate them the same way — or at least with the same spirit, depending on the context.
The bundle of the glossary and translation memory works wonders to keep the characters’ phrases unique & consistent at the same time. It also accelerates the tempo of localization, enabling developers to roll out localized updates as soon as possible.
A quick case study: EdkonGames localizes three games with us: ‘Modern Ops,’ ‘Fire Strike,’ and ‘WW II: Battle Combat.’ Each game has its own terminology, which needs to be preserved in the translation. A glossary and translation memory accelerate the work and make localization for each language uniform. On top of that, there’s a permanent team of translators who work on localizing these games; their immersion in game contexts helps them to translate in the proper style and as quickly as possible.*
3 Secret Ingredients of a Flawless Game Localization
Solid communications between a developer and a localization team representative helps localizers avoid blunders and deliver a high-quality product as quickly as possible.
If you’re a developer who has been asked to fill out a localization brief, you might consider it a time-wasting formality. But try to look at it from a different angle. The questions in the brief can help you hone your requirements and articulate expectations, as well as give the localization team a better understanding of your game.
Remember that you can benefit from your localization team’s expertise. If you’re facing game translation for the first time in your career and simply don’t know all the possible pitfalls, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. If you work with a professional team that has localized dozens of games, they’ll have you covered. They’ll ask you the right questions and point out the nuances that require closer attention during the localization process.
A quick case study: The chief nuance in localizing Next Epic’s ‘The Hotel Project: Merge game’ into Brazilian Portuguese had to do with the names of the characters, objects, and locations. We coordinated with the client on the guiding principles for handling names and titles in translation. Then we compiled a glossary that helped the translator to correctly deal with terms in different groups: some were to be translated, others transliterated, and still others left in the original language.
Another factor that makes communication efficient is the function of commenting on strings that cloud-based localization platforms have. When the localization team communicates on a cloud platform, translators and the manager see each other’s comments instantly, as well as clues and clarifications from the client in conjunction with a specific string. This non-stop and focused communication with no missed messages contributes to the speed & quality of localization.
If you’d like to learn about other capabilities of different translation management platforms, explore The Ultimate Localization & Translation Management Platform Comparison we’ve prepared.
Localization kit & style guide
A localization kit, or loсkit, usually looks like a spreadsheet with several columns. Apart from content that needs to be translated, the lockit can also shed light on the specific strings’ context or requirements for particular phrases. It helps the localization team from the very beginning. Such columns as, for example, ‘Label,’ ‘Screenshot,’ or ‘Character limit’ give the localization team vital clues. Yes, the lockit can regulate not only the creative aspect of localization but also the technical part, such as string length, specific punctuation rules, etc.
As the game expands, you might face the need to give the translators more information on a broader level, especially when it comes to characters and their relationships. You might want to provide details on every character’s background, highlight their attitude towards other characters and how their relationships change throughout the game, and describe all the context that may influence how the characters express themselves verbally.
A quick case study: Alconost has been localizing ‘My Cafe,’ a mobile game from Melsoft Games, into ten languages. The game features dozens of characters who each have a unique look, background, and communication style, and they have complicated, developing relationships. What helps us keep this band of characters running smoothly and implement newcomers seamlessly is specific documents that supplement the localization kit. Some of these documents describe a character’s occupation, personal features, short biography, and even the internal conflict that affects this character’s behavior. It was extremely helpful, for example, when localizing the character named ‘George from 1887’: to maintain this character’s persona in every localized version, translators were instructed to use a slightly archaic speaking style, intentionally implementing words that are a bit out of date.
The more content your game has been accumulating, the more details the lockit should cover. At a certain stage of your game’s development, you might find it makes sense to gather all this knowledge in a kind of unified book that collects all the meta-level information and keeps it well organized, where particular cases are showcased as examples of a specific pattern, which is also spelled out clearly. This is how a localization style guide is born.
A comprehensive style guide doesn’t come out of nowhere. Usually, it’s a snapshot of the work carried out so far. On top of that, every target language may require its own edition of the style guide, as the particular cases common in one language may not be an issue at all in other languages, and vice versa.
The more comprehensive information the localization team is given,
the better they will transmit the characters’ spirit and mindset to the target culture.
Image: © Alconost
Localization testing services help you round up semantic errors, contextual mismatches, font display problems, and other string-related issues before the final build reaches players.
Although functional testing can detect several issues of this type, the key word here is ‘several.’ A comprehensive check of the localization is a job for localization testers (not functional testers), and the competence of these specialists varies. To learn more, read this article focused specifically on localization testing.
In broad strokes, localization testing is more than a perfectionist’s best friend. It’s a process that allows you to see how the localized product will be perceived by the target audience and make quick fixes before your support service goes nuts with complaints received. The good news is that localization testing shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg, especially if you are prepared for it.
A quick case study: When doing localization testing for Vizor Interactive’s game ‘Mahjong,’ our testers got cheat codes and in-game coins to quickly reach the precise level that required testing. When localization testing was needed only to check the UI translation, Vizor provided us with a gameplay video, and it helped reduce testing time significantly.
To keep exploring this topic, learn more about the intricacies of voice and visual content localization, and find the most popular questions answered, please check out the full version of the article on Alconost’s blog.
Company info: The article was written at Alconost, where over 600 native-speaking professionals localize games into over 100 languages. The company also helps integrate localization into the game development process and conducts game localization testing. Alconost’s game localization services are backed up by 18 years of experience in the translation industry with a focus on the IT market. Learn more: https://alconost.com/.
Author info: The article was written by Natalia Shuhman, an information & communication specialist with a master’s degree in sociology. At Alconost, Natalia is a copywriter and editor; her mission is to raise the IT community’s awareness of the importance of high-quality localization and video production to ensure a product’s success. Natalia’s favorite games are Heroes of Might and Magic III, TES V: Skyrim, and Godville.
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