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The localization process aided by technology

By Santiago de Miguel

Some colleagues still believe that localizing video games is, well, child’s play, simply because the software to be translated will be used for entertainment, but the truth is that the gaming industry is filled with challenges, such as time constraints and highly technical processes, and video game translation is no exception.

Fortunately for localization professionals, specialized translation management systems (TMS) are packed with handy features that can help overcome these challenges.

Back to the basics: translation memories and term bases

Translation software cannot be discussed without mentioning translation memory (TM), and the truth is that they are still the backbone of every TMS in the market, allowing linguists, language services providers and gaming companies to leverage previous translations, work faster, and ensure more consistent results. This is especially useful in game localization because strings (the term that developers use for text segments and sentences) tend to repeat a lot, either completely or partly, and because it is common to have several translators and reviewers working at the same time to meet deadlines in larger games.

So, having a carefully crafted glossary, or term base (TB), is essential in achieving excellent localization. Modern tools allow you to add notes, sample sentences, and definitions to terms, as well as to have moderated glossaries and forbidden terms.

Quality assurance to the rescue

In a fast-moving industry such as gaming, linguists are prone to making mistakes, so a robust quality assurance (QA) functionality can make a significant difference. QA checks can help you quickly find extra spaces, fix incorrect number formatting, and ensure terminology consistency, among other issues, that are common in every industry. 

However, video games are known for being filled with tags and placeholders that must be properly handled to prevent the game from being executed incorrectly, and quality assurance can also assist here.

Short and sweet translations

Game localization is known for its strict character limitations, especially with the steady growth of mobile games, which require text to fit into tiny user interfaces.

Thankfully, with modern TMS, project managers can set fixed character limitations or create rules in relation to the source text (e.g., allow for a 10% length increase). This is critical because, if linguists exceed the set limits, the resulting text will truncate or overflow, and the game will look amateurish.

Context is king

As we all know, context is key to producing good translations, but context is sometimes close to non-existent when it comes to game localization. It is very common to receive isolated words like “attack” or “store” without any clarification as to whether they are nouns or verbs.

Fortunately, modern software tools include features to overcome these challenges, and they now allow you to share previous translations with their context, monolingual files that could be used as reference to check for terminology or style, and even images, which is a game changer when translating user interfaces or item descriptions.

It is now just a matter of helping developers understand how important context is if they do not want their game to become the next localization meme!

Online workflow for better teamwork

Working offline and in isolation is a thing of the past for gaming companies since they need to be as efficient as possible.

Nowadays, several TMS offer communication features that enable linguists to raise queries for developers or project managers, and even to start discussion threads to make more conscious terminology decisions.

Also, all projects and resources (such as TMs and term bases) can of course be shared online with the team as well, which allows linguists to leverage their teammates’ translations in real time, saving time and improving consistency.

Bug fixes, patches, and updates

Video games, especially those that follow the software as a service (SaaS) model, are updated very frequently, which means the content continuously changes and new phrases are added with every update.

This can be a nightmare for project managers (PMs), but TMS have developed several features to tackle this challenge. For instance, most tools have version control that helps PMs keep track of regularly updated files, and strings are usually stored in TMs with their unique key, which is essential in being able to identify them. String keys are also vital for advanced pre-translation options because two exact phrases might be translated differently based on their context, and the only way of making sure the right string is leveraged is by checking and matching their keys.

Complex files handled by simple solutions

The structure of gaming files can be overly complicated, but most translation tools support popular formats (like XLSX, XML, XLIFF, HTML and Java properties) and allow for lots of customization when it comes to importing documents. Even in the case of less popular file formats that may not be natively supported, there are almost always workarounds to import these, for example, with the help of regular expressions or chained filters. On top of that, for even more complex files, custom scripts and developments are typically offered by TMS as well.

Speaking of regular expressions, while they are all Greek to common users, for power users they are a huge asset that can offer a ton of versatility for file import, advanced find and replace, custom QA checks, and tagging untranslatable content.

Quick automation for a fast-moving industry

For those who work in gaming, the term “crunch” surely rings a bell—it refers to the overtime workers are usually forced to do when the release date of a game is around the corner. And localization companies and professionals often fall into the same trap as well, so being able to speed things up is of great use.

This is where templates come into play, allowing project managers to simplify click-heavy processes, trigger automatic actions, and focus on other duties while their projects run smoothly.

Templates can be linked to custom filters and online workflows to achieve a high level of automation and avoid repeating processes over and over again, saving lots of time, which is a precious currency in the gaming industry.

APIs, CMSs and other acronyms

The most advanced translation tools can also be connected to commercial content management systems (CMS), several machine translation engines, and even custom systems or software tools developed by gaming companies themselves, all with the help of application programming interfaces (APIs).

In some TMS, connecting the content of certain file folders, FTP locations or even Git repositories to the tool itself in order to manage quickly updated files or create a pivot language workflow (e.g., translating from Chinese into English, and then from English into ten other languages). This is especially useful for Asian companies that make games in Chinese, Japanese or Korean, but still want to localize them into other main Western languages, like the ever-popular FIGS (French, Italian, German and Spanish).

Security features to keep games safe

To wrap things up, what use are all these great features if there are security vulnerabilities?

Gaming companies protect their games like gold because a leak could literally cost them millions. Full-fledged TMS are therefore packed with security measures that help managers keep control over their projects. Some of those features include single sign-on authentication, log reporting to identify errors and breaches, customizable permissions to better manage access to resources, licence control to allow or prevent linguists from using your server, and account lockouts to defend from brute-force attacks.

The video game industry has greatly expanded over the last decade, and the COVID-19 pandemic has boosted this growth even more. With such expansion, translation tools were forced to keep up to date or renew themselves.

While TMS are still not often used in some fields, such as literary or audiovisual translation, in video game localization, they are essential for both developers and linguists: the former to better manage workflows, have their games translated more quickly, and save costs; the latter to improve consistency, leverage previous translations, and work in a more comfortable environment.

It’s a win-win situation that will only get more technical as software tools keep adding new features. So, if you haven’t done so already, it’s time to step up your tech game!

Santiago de Miguel is a freelance video game translator and Gaming Solution Engineer at memoQ. He lives in Argentina.

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