In the last blog about game localization I talked about making your game text localization friendly. This is the first step in the game localization process, especially when looking to achieve a high quality game translation. If you’d like to know more about making your game text localization friendly, then you’ll find the first step in the localization process here: Developers make your text translator friendly (Part 1).
In this localization blog I will focus on ensuring that dialogue is defined in the most appropriate way possible to make the game localization of your project a smooth process. I will look at max text length in game translation, and include a quick note at the end on handing game translator questions throughout the game localization process.
We often receive game localization requests that have an amount of game source text that is dialogue related. Not necessarily to be recorded in the studio but perhaps to be used as subtitles, or perhaps used in place of English source text used in the game (also not audio). It’s regularly all in the same sheet or text file and mixed in with all the other text. This creates a number of basic problems when translating the game:
- Finding and separating the dialogue text strings
- Ordering the text strings
- Understanding the context of the dialogue
Those are just the basic issues. Then we have issues based on:
- Who is the line delivered by?
- Who is it directed to? Is it one person or a group? Who is in the group?
- What gender is the speaker?
Setting up your strings
To tackle these issues and streamline your game localization process, you initially need to plan where these strings will be stored. You could of course use a game localization tool (like our LocDirect system) that separates these strings into folders. However if you want to stick with old skool files then it’s best that you work in a spreadsheet. In my humble opinion please steer clear of .txt files.
Create one sheet that contains the “ingame” text and then another that contains “dialogue”. Alternatively if you want just the one sheet then you should clearly separate ingame and dialogue within that sheet. Your call but make it clear.
I’ll go with the separate sheet concept for now. The ingame sheet should contain columns for the String ID, Source text, String description and then Order. Some ingame text may have a specific order, however if the ID doesn’t feature that order then this can be missed by the game translation team.
The game translator could decide to sort the text in a different way or perhaps use a separate system for translation which may order on ID. This is very possible!
Now if reordered on StringID:
OK it’s a pretty simplistic example but you can see that the “fire” ability will be translated differently depending on the understanding of how fire is used. Whether to start a fire or whether to open fire on the enemy. If you include an “Order” column then this can be used by the translator to understand context. Alternatively you can add a number prefix to all strings.
So even if sorted on ID they will be in the correct order. Note that you need to ensure that there are enough digits to allow an effective sort. If you have just 1, 2,11, etc. then these will not sort correctly as 0001, 0002, 0011, etc. would (obviously). I would recommend that you step in 10s instead of just 1. For example: string_0000, string_0010, string_0020 etc. This then allows you to add strings in-between without having to rename all strings or add an a,b…
Understanding the context of the dialogue
The string description column here is of great use. The order of the strings helps the game translator with an understanding of dialogue flow and context. However in many instances there may be additional information that you can provide so that the game translator is aware of what is intended by the string. Is the person meant to deliver in an urgent manner? Is the person irate, joking etc.
Additional columns for dialogue
So we have the ingame sheet and all is looking good. Then we have our dialogue sheet. You should add at least two further columns here (of course up to you on whether you feel there are even more that would help with the game translation).
Speaker - Who the line is delivered by (add the gender of the character).
Recipient - Who the line is being delivered to (character name/group and gender needed).
An example here for you, note that not all columns from the dialogue sheet are shown here (no String ID, description etc.).
Of course putting this kind of information together can take some time but will certainly be worth the effort. You want to receive the best quality game translations and minimise on error and translator questions. You may want to look at using a CMS system that allows you to add custom fields!
That said however, you can scale this detail back if time really is against you. As a basic rule you certainly need the Speaker name (and gender) and Recipient gender information to help with game translation quality.
Gender in dialogue
On the subject of gender, in some languages women use different words and styles than male counterparts. When you have M/M, M/F, F/M, and F/F dialogue, all of those can be very different strings. In some cultures men use a more forceful language and women more deferential, but then can reverse the forms in certain situations, like an older woman or mother speaking sternly to a young man. When it comes to three person and four person discussions, the gender of speakers can make things really tricky for game translators.
Supplying video or audio files separately is a great way to improve game localization quality and cut down on translator questions. If you do supply these though, ensure that it’s easy for the translators to reference the string with the file. It’s extremely painful trying to find a string when it’s in a long video or in a large number of audio files. If you do supply reference files then it’s a great idea to include a timecode column in the dialogue spreadsheet/tab. Also note that sending massive 2GB files is a pain, the game translators don’t need 1080p quality video to review audio (or even text). If you can compress then that’s a great idea.
Max text length
All too often the request is to “keep the game translations to the English text length”. This is next to impossible to do. Most other languages are longer than English and if you have structured the display so that English fits “just right” then you are going to have problems localizing your game. Check out this interesting blog on the subject: The "Same length as English, please" Fallacy. If you have a scaleable font then that will help, but you may find that the length of the string will mean that the localized text then becomes illegible. You should really budget for a 30% minimum additional space to accommodate other languages. Note that even this may not be enough.
Line breaks in subs
If you have a max text length for subtitles then you may want the game translator to introduce line breaks. Note that the line breaks in translations are usually not going to be in the same place as the English, so ensure you are flexible. The best way is to use something like \n to denote where translators feel the line break should be. Line breaks performed at the developer should be discouraged as it regularly leads to phrasing that appears and sounds very clunky. It also sometimes break up phrases that shouldn’t be split. There are also instances where your code may split a word that has a hyphen and drops that second part to the next line. This results in a hyphenated word being split across two lines which looks pretty bad (and spoils flow).
So game translator questions, unfortunately a necessary evil! Believe me, game translators don’t particularly want to ask you questions; they want to translate your game. They are however professional and most want to do a great translation job. Asking questions isn’t fun and is actually a negative for them. It adds time and effort to the game localization project and they aren’t paid any more for it. Just worth bearing that in mind. They have to ask them to provide great game translation, you have to answer them to receive great game translation. So the more information they can get at the start, the better for everyone involved in the game localization project!
That said however, even with the greatest game localization preparation, there are almost always translator questions. And usually the larger the word count the greater the number of questions posed. That’s not a rule as such but certainly a trend I have experienced on many projects.
So how do you plan to receive, answer and return these queries during your game localization process?
You often find that what may appear to be a straight-forward text string to one person may not be to another. However the query answered may then lead other game translators to reconsider their original translation. It is therefore a great idea to expose these queries to all game translators working on the project. You can do this by sending around an excel file but this is a massive massive pain. You need to coordinate the file and this is extremely time consuming. My suggestion is again to use something like LocDirect (our game localization tool) or alternatively use an online spreadsheet for your game localization queries. Something like a gdoc spreadsheet could do the trick for your game localization process. Then just give access to all the relevant people working on the game’s localization project. The beauty being that it is easily accessed by the team, so there’s no need to send actual copies anywhere (and creating even more work).
So a few things to think about there, time spent on defining and providing information to game translators is no waste at all. It will improve the game translation quality, improve the player’s impression of the game (and ultimately their perception of your studio) and also cut down on game translator questions.
Hopefully you’ll have found some (if not all) of this of use. I will be following this up with another blog (which is now available). We also have a number of other blogs on game localization on our website: LocaliseDirect Blogs If you would like to follow updates on Twitter then search for @LocDirect. More updates and posts to come on localization and game translation.
All the best!
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