How to break into video game translation (or prepare for your next game translation challenge)

Video game translation is one of the most challenging specialisms in the localization process because it involves:
– both huge and minuscule word counts
– platform-specific terminology
– genre-specific terminology
– glossaries
– a wide range of topics (fantasy, sci-fi, sport, technical simulation, historical and environmental subject matter…)
– many variables you have to [translate|not translate]
– the gender of the players and characters
– lack of context info
– length restrictions
– tons of CAT tools

Not all game translators play video games. Being a gamer helps, but sometimes having an outsider’s perspective helps with creative choices.

So how can a translator prepare themself for entering the world of video game translation? Here’s a quick list of suggestions:

1. Watch some gameplay
Don’t have a console? Not familiar with the genre of the game you’ve been asked to translate? Have a look on YouTube or Twitch and watch other people play (for a comprehensive list, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game_live_streaming). You’ll learn game-specific terminology, players’ slang and you’ll see the game mechanics.

2. Use Translation Memories (TM), Term Bases (TB) and CAT tool search
An important part of video game translation is the consistent use of genre terminology. It might involve ensuring coherence with a previous chapter of a saga or throughout the game you’re translating. When you’re working with other translators on the same project, TMs and TBs are a life saver because you can check how others have translated a term you’ve just found, saving you time and avoiding errors.

3. Bridge the context gap
As translation and game development processes increasingly take place simultaneously, you’ll probably be working on an unfinished product in terms of its development, with very little context information and with devs squeezed by super tight schedules. A few tricks are:
– Check the string ID of the segment you’re translating. Sometimes a GameMenu_Sound_TurnOn string name can help you translate a string whose content is just “ON”.
– Check the segments near the one you’re translating and find some common values. It could be the string ID, it could be a feature of the same item, that helps you understand which item you’re translating.
– If you’re missing information about a character’s or player’s gender, try to use neutral expressions that work for any of the options (an interesting solution in Italian could be replacing the end of gendered words with the neutral schwa, ǝ and з, from the IPA alphabet; see here for more info: https://www.italianoinclusivo.it/).
– Use your own judgement and imagine what’s happening in the game, based on the clues you have (see point 1).

4. Identify the variables
Some CAT tools highlight the variables in the source, so you can identify them, but if you’re working on a basic spread sheet, you have to identify and manage them yourself. The most common ones are similar to HTML/PHP tags:
– Variables between <>, e.g. “Here’s a <color=#52A731>word</color>to translate”, which means that “word” will be coloured according to the hexadecimal colour code 52A731 (Check it here. Spoiler: it’s green.).
– Variables between {}, e.g. “Only with a Level {0} character”, where the number/variable between brackets will be any number generated by the game (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 69, 420…).
In most situations, once you understand what the variables mean, you can treat them as a word or as a whole with the word in the middle and you’re good to go.

5. Ask
An excellent tool for gaming translation is Q&A (Questions and Answers), where you can ask the clients/developers to clarify particular situations/segments. It should be used only as a last resort when you have tried all of the above without success, especially using your own judgement, but it can sometimes be the only way to clear your mind of doubt.

6. Last but not least: run a spellcheck!

We didn’t talk about deadlines in this post, but…

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