Martin Michl has been translating from English for fourteen years. Among other things, he specializes in the localization of computer games, i.e., their translation into Czech language including dubbing. “The accurate translation of games is absolutely crucial, it can even determine whether a player will advance to the next level,” describes Michl, who cooperates with the Skřivánek language agency, in an interview for the online daily Aktuálně.cz.
What expressions in computer games are most difficult to translate? Would these include the names of fantasy games that are created in the original language? Or vulgarisms?
In general, idioms are the most difficult to translate, and not only in games, at least in my opinion. For example, the English texts that I usually translate are full of idioms. Although I know quite a few of them, I come across a new one all the time.
Also, a lot of puns are used in games – their creators often try to work with parts of the name of the game, the names of characters or worlds and incorporate them into various sayings and established phrases, which simply do not make sense in Czech. Accurately translating such texts is sometimes a problem. This is all the more true when one is paid by the word, which is the case for the vast majority of the work I do. I like to give it some thought and be creative, but you have to make a living and it is simply not possible to spend half an hour coming up with a brilliant name for a monster in the game.
And last but not least, interjections are also difficult to translate. This is especially true in computer games; there are many interjections in games and translating them to make them look natural is always a challenge.
And how important is translation accuracy for computer games? Isn’t English enough for players today?
Accurate translation is absolutely crucial, it may determine whether a player advances to the next level or unlocks a certain game location. The pitfalls in this respect are the previously mentioned idioms and puns, which often make no sense without a relevant context.
It should be emphasized that the translator usually does not translate the game from the player’s point of view – the translation procedure does not correspond to the progress in the game and rather depends on the type of text and such. With so-called software strings (code snippets) translated first, often without context, the translator does not see where they “belong” in the game and the translation can, without sufficient references, turn out bad.
How does computer game localization work in practice? What other people are involved in the process besides the translator?
From my point of view as a translator, I have limited insight into the behind-the-scenes of the entire localization process. An agency will send me a text that has already been prepared in a specific translation software, and from my experience working in a translation agency, I know that the text from the game itself must be somehow put there, which may be a problem specifically for those IT specialists called localization engineers. In addition to the translation, usually proofreading, quality assurance (QA), or a final check take place before the output; the whole process can include two, three or more linguists.
For games, it is often common for several translators to work on localization at the same time to speed up the entire process. The translation itself takes the longest amount of time in the entire process. On the other hand, the proofreader has the difficult task of “putting it all together” at the end.
Is it necessary to consult with the game creator on the translation of the game?
It is definitely more convenient, but it depends on what resources are available to you, so to speak. Some game studios are able to supply a huge amount of reference materials – videos from beta testing, detailed descriptions (almost biographies) of the characters and their themes in the game, demo versions or screenshots… Translating is then a joy and the translator has resources to rely on. However, sometimes you just have to make do with only the text to translate and what you are able to find about the game on the Internet. Another specific challenge regarding games is that there may only be minimal information available, because the game usually has not been released yet.
A translator usually receives the text to be translated in electronic text form. What does a computer game translator actually work with?
I receive the text to be translated in the format for the specific translation tool (the CAT tool) that will be used. There are many such tools, and every good translator is able to work with several of them. Some work online, either directly in the browser or through their own application, while others work offline. Each of them is always connected to a translation memory. You just open the file/project and start translating.
However, translation is an activity that is not continuous but rather requires interruption. The translator is constantly looking up something on the Internet, viewing reference materials, or searching for terminology in the translation memory or glossary, etc. Therefore, the translator always has a number of windows open while working and is constantly switching between them. He/she simply cannot do without a large screen (or several connected ones).
Are there any terminology databases used today? Do modern technologies actually facilitate translation?
Let’s start with the Internet (if it can still be considered a modern technology since it is already an indispensable part of our lives). Without it, translating would be almost impossible. Specialized software is a great aid, because it contains text to be translated, translation memory, a glossary, and other useful tools that are needed for translation.
When it comes to terminology, every client, every project and every game usually has its own terminology and it’s not possible to use a universal glossary. In fact, for all translations, clients want to use their own terminology and translators are forbidden from using their own glossaries. An exception in the field of IT translations is Microsoft terminology, which is considered the gold standard.
Are there any types of games for which the localization requires more time or money?
Everything is related to the amount of text, because both translators and agencies are paid according to the number of words or hours of work. Therefore, for example, an action game that contains hundreds of words may be much cheaper than a complex RPG (a role-playing game) or an adventure game, where there may be hundreds of thousands of words.
Does localization add value that can positively affect game sales?
Personally, I don’t attach much importance to localization, and it provides no added value for me, paradoxically, because I grew up with games that were only in English and in fact games played a big part in my motivation to learn a foreign language. For example, in contrast to book translations, game localization is a very dynamic process, and in today’s flood of games that are constantly appearing on the market, it is simply a matter of routine. The deadlines are strict and most often everything (from the translator’s point of view) takes only days or a maximum of several weeks for larger projects. When minor updates, DLCs (downloadable content), add-ons, or various in-game events are about to be released, the translator has only a few hours to meet the deadline. Marketing deadlines are relentless.
We must not forget that game publishers need people to click, download, spend and generate profit. And this is why every publisher wants their games localized. Successful localization (sometimes with dubbing) can definitely affect the sale of the game and the companies know that. For example, the localization of the game The Witcher 3 by CD Projekt is a real feat, and due to the great amount of text (and therefore the high cost) I take my hat off to its authors. To be clear, I’d like to point out that I did not participate in that game’s translation (smile).
Is thetranslation of computer games as popular with Czechs as dubbing?
Dubbing plays an irreplaceable role in Czech cinematography, and sometimes the same can also be said for games. Translations of computer games are not very popular. For example, Minecraft, which is localized into Czech, is still played in English by most players.
How does the creation of a game translation and dubbing differ from the creation of dubbing for movies and TV shows?
From the translator’s point of view, these two use completely different tools. The translation of movies and TV shows (in terms of dubbing and subtitles) usually takes place with specialized software, which differs from localization software for games and other content. I have only worked on subtitles for one movie, because the pay simply isn’t good enough due to the competition from many amateur film translators and enthusiasts. Foreign studios/agencies dealing with professional subtitling pay little, so that’s not a very attractive option either.
As for dubbing, it’s often done by dubbing studios with the help of their own translators or collaborators. Games are localized in the same way as translations of other text, it’s just another field.
Would it help to improve the knowledge of foreign languages in the Czech Republic if films and TV shows were subtitled instead of dubbed?
It would help but it’s not part of our culture. Czechs like quality dubbing, and they can do that well. One can learn foreign languages (especially English) in so many other ways that I don’t think it’s necessary to forcibly change our “dubbing” culture to a “subtitling” one.
If, instead of dubbing, subtitling started to be used more often, how do you think Czech viewers would react?
I think that generally they would not be happy about it. It’s kind of comfortable when you can actually just glance at the TV once in a while and watch a film passively while doing something else. I also sometimes do it that way and I’m definitely not the only one. But perhaps specialized channels dedicated to films with subtitles would help.