On the 16th of November, 2021, the RPG Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One was released by the Ukrainian studio Frogwares. This project was eagerly awaited by fans of the detective genre, RPG, and the open world, as well as the fans of the studio itself, because this game was about to tell the story of a young Sherlock – Sherlock, who we can only imagine, and Frogwares dared to embody.
And how was the process of Ukrainian localization? Tetiana Cherednychok and Olha Sushytska will share their impressions.
Ukrainian Localization: Project Manager’s Opinion
Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One has a symbolic title because this is the first project that the developers have released on their own. It’s my first major commercial project as a manager, the first project that tells us about the young Sherlock, and for many members of our team he was the first in something.
And we, as well as young Sherlock, as inexperienced in these first steps, but full of determination and ambition, stubbornly overcame all the difficulties that we met on our path. No jokes, this was the hardest project for me so far, as it required constant attention and full readiness for any situation with localization. There were also sleepless nights of translating, editing, and manual importing of the finished text, searching for the right word, idiom, or the right rule for the use of punctuation because the refined language of the game did not allow you to relax for a moment. What is more, we had to pay attention to the text not only from the translation but also from the source side since the game was under development and changes were quite normal. However, the developers provided us with a lot of reference materials for the game, greatly helped and clarified the context, which, of course, is very important during localization.
Nevertheless, no matter what challenges we faced, it was interesting to work on this project as original stories surprised and touched us, and unexpected solutions shocked and sometimes stunned us. I would really like each player to experience the same range of emotions from the plot that we experienced when localizing Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One.
What is going on here?
Sherlock Holmes Chapter One became for me the first project of this size (150+ thousand words), which I worked on from the beginning to the victorious end.
The fact that this was the localization of the game in the development process made the work a bit complicated for sure. You are working on a game that is not completely ready yet, on a text that has not yet been completed and is edited and changed several times during the game development process.
The first videos of the completions from the developers were very “schematic.” It was often impossible to see what was needed. What gender is the person I’m translating about? What is the character holding? What is shown in the picture? There were only placeholders instead of many key elements in the game. Then a lot changed, and when the developers provided updated videos, we had to watch them again.
The texture just wasn’t added… When I translated the first batch, it was about a shoe. However, it was a worker’s boot in the video.
From Chat Notifications
At the same time, it is interesting to work on the text of the game step by step and even with a very limited visual component in its own way. It’s like playing an old-school text quest. We began the translation process with the main dialogues, then added various notes, newspaper articles, and letters. Then a description of the evidence. You start translating a quest and you only know its “skeleton,” and every month, when the updates come from the developers, it receives with new and new details.
The last few months of working on the game have been the most difficult. Then we translated the “technical text,” which consists of the game interface, all the instructions and hints, button names, and many more. This is always a difficult job that requires much more effort than translating dialogues, not just because there is always a limit to the number of characters.
In addition, I worked on the final proofreading: in record time I checked all 150+ thousand words of the text. Additionally, in recent weeks, the Authors themselves were refining the original text and changing something almost every day. Sometimes they changed just a few words, but all these changes had to be tracked and reflected in the translation, if necessary. This is not an interesting creative work at all.
Well, it took an incredible amount of time to translate the wardrobe, items from Sherlock’s house, the quests’ titles, various Easter eggs scattered throughout the game, and some phrases that sound when Sherlock interacts with people on the streets.
Watson on the Head
The authors of Frogwares have added to the game plenty of hints not only on books, movies, and series about Sherlock, but also on other films, and also games and “memes” from pop culture (on the portrait of Keanu Reeves and Conan Doyle in the first quest. I suppose everyone paid attention to this). There was a lot of headache with this because there are not many visual hints in the game that do not require translation and will be clear to everyone. Although what about the text ones, there are plenty of those. There are many direct quotes from games or movies that have never had a Ukrainian translation, so in Ukrainian, they are not read as easily as in English. We tried to get out of these situations, still, come up with something interesting when translating. Quite often, if you do not listen to the original soundtrack, these Easter eggs can, unfortunately, not be noticed.
While writing the text for the wardrobe, the Authors simply went ashore, forgetting about the translators and the fact that they will have to somehow adapt it to other languages. It seemed to me that the favorite trick of the Frogwares authors is a pun, based on paronym, i. e. the similarity of sound of completely different words. A constant expression is taken, one word in it is replaced by a similar one in sound – and we have a witty pun. The only problem is that we cannot use it in Ukrainian. It seems that every other item in the wardrobe can be described with such a word. For example, they spelled “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” as “Keep your friends clothed” (lit. “Keep your friends dressed”); description of the cape, which Watson wears in all the films – “Watson your head?” (it sounds like “What is on your head?”, and it is written like “Watson your head”); description of the waistcoat – “The vest is yet to come” (a variation of the steel phrase “good things are ahead”, but in English, there is only one letter replaced in the word “best” – and it suddenly becomes the waistcoat). There are even more rhyming phrases and yet again quotes from songs, series, and so on.
I cried, struggled with this wordplay, and sometimes I wanted to just give up and leave it all. Although, I overcame all those jokes somehow. As a result, there are no less funny jokes and phrases in the Ukrainian localization in comparison to the original.
We met the game release with pleasure and sadness at the same time. Those were good news because the world will finally see this game and our localization. However, that was sad news as this project has been completed. Nonetheless, thanks to all the participants in this project, especially for those who worked till the victorious end. And also we’d like to express huge gratitude to the developers, who entrusted us with their work and did their best to help with the process of localization. We sincerely wish to Frogwares studio further development and success.
Olha Sushytska, Tetiana Cherednychok
Translated by Yuliia Hladka