Multimodal Challenges in Localization


Despite how gripping the term “localization” might sound to you, it presumes a quite daunting task. The question of coming up with a correct equivalent of both connotative and denotative meanings might puzzle even a seasoned translator. That is a reason why I have decided to share some experience and offer to your attention some multimodal challenges that face all translators while dealing with video game localization. Let’s get down to business.

Linguistic aspect

The linguistic aspect, in this particular case, is of utmost importance since a video game is a complex, multitextual product which may include a variable quantity of linguistic assets depending on its genre and complexity. Making a notable example, in some games, linguistic material is highly restricted, while others feature thousands or even hundreds of thousands of words. With the help of language, video games unfold their plot and familiarize the players with their characters and background story, provide assistance in navigating the game and adjusting it to the player’s preferred settings. There are several types of linguistic assets we are going to have a closer look at.

The first type of linguistic assets which arise in the process of game translation is a narrative textual type which comprises information about the game itself, its world including character roles, languages, the player’s objectives, etc., its background story, as well as specific texts including in-game books, letters, documents and so further.

Translation of narrative-related content may be compared to literary translation. As in the case of cinema or literature, there are various genres of video games, which, essentially, determine both a linguistic material and the approach to it. Furthermore, several typologies should be applied in this case due to the fact that it is quite productive from the point of view of translation. The RPGs, for instance, are mostly narrative-driven and may include more text and translatable assets simply due to complex storylines and the variety of choices

The second type of assets presented in the textual form is an oral and dialogic textual type which essentially manifests in the transcription of characters’ speaking in the game world, including dialogues, the script for dubbing, and subtitles. In terms of challenges, translators may be faced with the fact that their target language does not have the same linguistic forms so does not give linguistic freedom.

The characters of video games often have idiosyncratic speech, which results in creative spelling or pronunciation, deliberate mistakes and the use of regional expressions, which reveal the personality and background of the character. This makes the video games even more fascinating yet causes one of the biggest challenges for a translator, namely the translator has to draw vast attention to graphical and stylistic choices when dealing with these speech patterns and mannerisms.

Example I

Ain’t no big deal, the army’s gonna take care of this.

Дурниці. Цим займеться армія.

This line may be found in the co-op action horror game Left 4 Dead. Apart from the double negation “ain’t no big deal,” which is one of the most widespread mistakes among the novice, it features informal contractions for “is not” and “going to.” As can be seen, Ukrainian translators used the colloquial word дурниці to reproduce the communicative effect, but the examples of spoken English are not rendered.

Another challenge arises when dealing with lip-synchronization. A translator is limited in their word choice due to the need for integration of the script for dubbing with the lip movements of the character on screen. In any case, the balance is tilted in favor of the creative experience, which means that both the translator’s imagination and traditional methodology and techniques may come as practically useful in the process of decision-making.

Lastly, there is a functional textual type, which includes UI (user interface) with a menu, pop-up windows, hints, etc. When working with this type of linguistic assets, space limitations is the most difficult problem a translator has to solve. The user interface is made up of short text labels that trigger specific computer behaviors and are placed in special text fields. For this reason, translators have to come up with lexical solutions that contain a number of characters comparable to that of the original label.

Example II.

Check for Video Driver Updates…

Перевірити наявність оновлень для графічних драйверів…

The aforementioned example is the text label on one of the buttons of the Steam interface, which exemplifies the difference between Ukrainian and English syntactical constructions in terms of length. Besides, the formatting difference, in this case it is capitalization, is also obvious.

Visual part

Moving to the visual part of the video game, it is worth noting that because of the development of graphic design and programming techniques, video games became more complex in terms of their visual component without any doubts. In fact, this aspect may be considered to be the most universal one, as it is ought to be present in any game irrespective of the game genre and specifics.

Video games may include both two-dimensional art such as concept art, textures, and environment backdrops and three-dimensional art such as models, animations, and level layout, and may be arguably viewed as an art form.

Through the visual component, the game receives the visual representation of its narrative, including the appearance of characters, in-game objects and premises where the events take place. The primary aim of the well-thought graphic design is to intrigue the player so the complexity is justified.

From the perspective of localization, however, the visual component of video games is far less flexible in comparison to the linguistic one. In order to align the design choices of the game to the preferences of the cultures which the game will be localized to, it should be designed and programmed with the localization in mind. This demands great knowledge and awareness so despite how complex the linguistic aspect is, the visual one is even more daunting.

All aspects of gaming experience, namely characters, graphics, icons, color scheme, and the overall look, may be the subject to the localization process. Sometimes, even the choice of the appearance of the leading character or gender may differ according to the target country. One of the examples of this localization technique is the Spanish version of the game Formula 1, which has more Spanish teams and drivers, than the US version.

It is therefore important to note that the perception of visual aesthetics often differs in different parts of the world. Have a closer look at the ensuing examples and they will clear the air for you from the very first glance.

Figure 1. Western (left) and Japanese (right) versions of the same character in Nier Gestalt and Nier RepliCant.

Figure 2. The difference between German and USA version of 10 Second Ninja due to Germany’s censorship rules.

As far as you can see, what may be appropriate in one culture may be entirely inappropriate in another. Because of this, cultural expectations and social context should be taken into consideration when working on each specific localization project

Audial part

Last but not least is the audial part of the video game. Despite remaining to a large extent unrecognized for its impact on the player, sounds are a vital part of game design. Having evolved from rudimentary synthesized sounds and music, it has now reached the state of high-quality original soundtracks and become as crucial as graphics and gameplay in building pace and excitement of the game.

In video games, sounds are used to provide an audio complement to action on screen and to create a sense of a real physical space. Those may include the voices of characters, the sounds of nature, movements, and different objects, as well as the use of pre-composed music aimed at creating a specific atmosphere to make the game world a more realistic one.

Videogame music encourages and enhances the narrative experience of gameplay, being one of several elements that make gameplay a compelling visual and aural experience which immerses players in a fictional space. Much like the visual part, sounds and music may be subject to the localization process to meet the expectations of the target audience. For example, Project Gotham Racing 1, a racing video game developed by Bizarre Creations, featured radio stations with the musicians representing the target country of the locale. This way, the game is brought closer to the player, which results in higher levels of immersion.

All three aspects mentioned above, appeal to the senses of the players and to their minds. It is more engaging to play and delve into the well-thought ambience than to note the differences or errors.

In case you have any other examples that will complement with article, feel free to leave the comment below. Let’s discuss some possible challenges 🙂

By Mariana Voytseshchuk and Yulia Hladka

June 12, 2019

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