Gone Home: Practical Outline of Localization

In the dead of summer, when almost anyone is dreaming of the vacation somewhere far away from the vibrant city, the SBT Localization team is still burning the midnight oil with the mild yen to translate more. Besides working on the current projects, SBT Localization representatives (Tetiana Cherednychok and Yevhen Tkach) participated in UTI-Camp 2019 on the 22-28th of July and delivered a presentation on the 24th of July. The video with the presentation will be available on our website, so do not miss it!

Learn more about the peculiarities of this conference by the following link: https://utic.eu/en. Who knows, maybe you will come up with the idea to join next year?

See also: SBT Localization at UTICamp

The other idea that crossed our minds was to share some hands-in experience we had many and many a year ago (actually, in 2017). The full localization of Gone Home (a first-person adventure exploration video game published by The Fullbright) into Ukrainian took five months, from April to August, 2017, and the final product was released on August 31, 2017. Are you interested in the traps and obstacles our team faced? Let’s get down to business.

The whole localization is based on the taxonomy of translation strategies proposed by Andrew Chesterman with the attention to its pragmatic subset. Below are analyzed a few examples that illustrate the most frequent translation strategies chosen by the localization team.

Example I

Like, her band and our zine and her hair and everything are all “anti-authority,” but I watch her in JROTC and she’s doing drills in perfect formation, following orders, no question.

Ну от її гурт, наші журнали, її волосся і багато іншого є вираженням непокори. А з іншого боку — курси військової підготовки юнацтва, де вона ходить у строю та слухняно виконує накази.

The first example of the cultural filtering can be found in one of the journal entries of the main heroine’s 18-year-old sister Samantha, where she describes her new high school friend, Lonnie.

Mentioned in this passage, JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) is a special federal program sponsored by the United States Armed Forces in high schools and middle schools across the country. This program is both culturally and historically specific to the United States and serves a primary purpose of instilling the values of citizenship, service to the United States, personal responsibility, and a sense of accomplishment into the students of secondary educational institutions.

Due to being country-specific, this term does not have an absolute equivalent in any other countries, including Ukraine. In order to make it closer to the target audience, the translators here had to apply the domestication technique and, if possible, use a cultural filter by finding a similar notion in the target culture.

Ukrainian translators opted for a functional equivalent of JROTC, translating it as курси військової підготовки юнацтва (КВПЮ), which accurately conveys the communicative purpose.

Example II

Well, there’s this girl, I think she’s a senior. She’s usually dressed… kind of punk.

Ну, от є така дівчина, мабуть зі старшокласників. Одягається звичайно… трохи по-панківському.

The second example demonstrates another case of the cultural filtering technique, as the target text includes the reference to the specific education system used within the United States.

In American high schools and colleges, first-year students are called ‘freshers,’ second-year students are ‘sophomores,’ third-year students are ‘juniors,’ and fourth-year students are ‘seniors.’ These terms are peculiar to the United States, yet in most countries of the world, a radically different system is used.

The educational system in Ukraine, on the contrary, distinguishes ‘primary’ (Grade 1-4), ‘secondary base’ (Grade 5-9), and ‘secondary last’ (Grade 10-11) school levels, which means that the US’s extensive description of each of the years of study would sound alien to the Ukrainian audience if translated literally.

In this case, translators went for the functional equivalent which would sound natural to Ukrainian players, rendering ‘senior’ with a neutral generalization ‘старшокласник,’ which simply means the student studying on the secondary last level.

Example III

But sometimes I see her in this, like, army uniform? And she’s always drawing in this notebook, looking so intense. I had no idea how I would ever, like, have an excuse to talk to her…

Але деколи буває в чомусь такому, ніби армійська форма. І постійно щось малює у блокноті, така серйозна. Я й гадки не мала, як, ну, заговорити до неї…

The third example demonstrates the use of the strategy of illocutionary change, as the translation renders the original interrogative question, which expresses uncertainty, with a statement.

The reasoning behind this choice can be explained pragmatically and only with the context taken into consideration. The English version is an audio recording voiced by an actor with the specific intonation, while the Ukrainian translation appears on screen in the form of subtitles. Illocutionary change here is used to make the message clearer and make sure there is no misunderstanding.

Example IV

‘Til I noticed she and her friends hang out and play Street Fighter at the 7-11 every day after school…

Доки не помітила, що вона щоденно після школи в “7-11” грає з друзями у “Street Fighter“…

The fourth example illustrates the technique of omission used when rendering the chiefly American slang phrase ‘to hang out’, which means ‘to spend a lot of time in a place or with someone; to act or speak freely, in an open, cooperative, or indiscreet manner.’

Omission seems to be rather justified in this case, taking into consideration that this phrase bears little relevance to the sense of the passage as a whole and would not evoke any specific reaction from the recipient. Moreover, the Ukrainian ‘грає з друзями’ has the connotation of relaxed pastime.

Example V

Write back soon! I miss you, roomie!

Відпиши якнайшвидше! Сумую!

Another example of the omission strategy can be found in the letter from Carol, the friend of the main character’s mother, Janice Greenbriar, who uses an informal American form of address, ‘roomie’ (short from ‘roommate’), in the closing remarks of her letter.

Translators preferred to leave out this word due to the ensuing reasons:

a) Ukrainian does not have a similar informal phrase to indicate a roommate;

b) both women have already graduated from college and are not sharing the dorm room anymore.

The aforementioned reasons make the address merely an indication of warm, friendly feelings, which are preserved in the Ukrainian version by an intensified adverb, “якнайшвидше”, and general affectionate tone of the letter.

Example VI

Oh honey, let me tell you, I understand how you feel. Bob and I have had our down periods. It’s become a bit of a way of life, actually… You get used to each other, you live your own lives in the same house, the kids grow up, they go away…

Сонечко, я тебе прекрасно розумію. У нас з Бобом також були кризові часи. Та потім вже й життям стало… Ви звикаєте один до одного, кожен живе своїм життям в одному будинку, діти підростають, роз’їжджаються…

The sixth example demonstrates the case of information change and is drawn from another letter from Carol. In the first passage of the original text, the informal phrase ‘let me tell you’ is used to emphasize the content of the statement and introduce the opinion of the person.

The translated version, on the contrary, does not follow the same syntactic structure, opting for an intensifier, ‘прекрасно’, instead.

The reasoning behind this is that wordiness and complex structures do not sound natural in informal conversation in Ukrainian, which justifies the choice of the omission strategy.

Example VII

I’m sorry, this isn’t helping, is it?! Don’t worry. Terry will get over whatever’s distracting him, things will go back to normal.

Пробач, це не покращує ситуацію. Не турбуйся. Террі розбереться з тим, що його непокоїть, і все повернеться у нормальне русло.

The seventh example is taken from another Carol’s letter and demonstrates another case of illocutionary change in the process of translation. The original version contains a positive question tag. This type of intensifier, along with other ways of achieving a similar result like phrases “Don’t you think?” is very common, as are “Right?”, “OK?”, “huh?”, “hey”, “eh”, is often used in informal English to encourage the interlocutor to make a comment on what has just been said, keep the conversation open, and achieve stronger engagement. In this case, it serves mostly an emotional function.

The reason why Ukrainian translators went for the strategy of omission and illocutionary change lies in the limited use of this type of questions (‘чи не так?’, ‘авжеж?’, ‘хіба ні?’) in Ukrainian. However, because of that, one may argue that an emotional coloring observed in the original version of this paragraph is lost and that translation may be improved by incorporating a compensation strategy.

Example VIII

I asked Lonnie what she had to do to get ready to ship out for Basic Training.

Я спитала Лонні, що їй треба, аби підготуватися до від’їзду до військового табору.

The eighth example gives another case of the strategy of cultural filtering and is taken from one of Sam’s journal entries. The original version contains the notion of ‘Basic Training,’ which is another example of military-related vocabulary in the game. United States Army Basic Training is the recruit training program of physical and mental preparation for service in the United States Army. This notion covers a range of training locations (basic combat training sites and training stations) and their curriculum. The translators opted for the generalization technique to avoid confusion among the target audience.

Example IX

But I shouldn’t be complaining about this good old split-level we’ve had since Bob got transferred to Winnipeg. We just got new vinyl siding. Jealous yet? Let me know if you ever want to trade places…

Та мені нема чого жалітися на цей старий будиночок, який Боб отримав по переїзді у Вінніпеґ. Ми нещодавно зробили вінілове облицювання. Заздриш? Дай знати, якщо захочеш помінятися будинками…

The next example demonstrates another technique of information change, particularly the case of omission, as the target text includes the reference to the peculiar type of houses which are often seen in the United States, but are quite rare, especially as a separate notion, to the Ukrainian culture. A split-level house is the building that has part of the ground floor at a different level from its another part, usually because the house has been built on ground that slopes.

In Ukraine, this type of houses is rarely encountered, which explains the reasoning behind omission of its description.


Summing up all above-mentioned, SBT Localization team has encountered a number of obstacles from the pragmatical viewpoint due to the fact that the game describes the specifics of the life of an American teenager and mentions a set of cultural and historical phenomena which have no absolute equivalents in the Ukrainian culture.

As shown above, the main priority of the translators while working on the localization of Gone Home was to translate the text in a way which would make it more relevant and appropriate to the target audience, which manifested in the use of cultural substitutions, omission of certain elements, and introduction of changes to the speech acts in the original. What do you think about their choices?

See also:

Multimodal challenges in localization

Game localization: Specifics

By Yuliia Hladka and Mariana Voitseshchuk

August 18, 2019

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Gone Home: Practical Outline of Localization
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