A behind-the-scenes look at indie localization & localization stories to learn from

We are excited about launching our portfolio — today it went live on our website 🎉🎆

Below, we’d like to share a few short project descriptions, or as we dubbed them — “localization notes.” And hopefully, not only localization professionals and wannabee localizers but also game developers will find them interesting and insightful in preparation for localization of their own games.

Yearn – The Tyrant’s Conquest

Localization into 4 languages: French, Italian, Russian, and Polish
New project. Find localization notes and why testing during the localization phase can be useful in Case study: Yearn, Tyrant’s Conquest by Aurelie Perrin.

Pavilion

Pavilion is a multiple award-winning & IMGA nominated game by Visiontrick Media, dubbed as “a fourth-person puzzling adventure,” in which you “indirect guide” the unknown main character through the puzzling narrative and even more puzzling levels by manipulation of the surrounding environment, lights, and sounds.
Localization into 10 languages (+keywords SEO): French, Russian, Italian, German, Spanish (Spain), Portuguese (Brazil), Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Korean, and Japanese

Project lead’s localization notes:

Pavilion is a puzzle game in which the player learns about the gameplay and the world through exploration and audio-visual imagery. As such, the game doesn’t rely on text and has only UI strings (see screenshots in the portfolio).
Though most of these strings were common UI strings, one term was specific to the game: “Memory Map,” which is a map of the level (see a screenshot in the portfolio). This is the kind of term that needs extra attention (and the client’s explanation) because it is part of the gameplay. The translation needed to be accurate, not misleading the player, and also creative enough to match the Pavilion’s unique atmosphere.
As for the UI strings, we made sure to localize them concisely to remove the need for testing and reworking.
Another common issue with UI elements is the lack of context. Is this word a verb? A noun? One English word can have multiple possible translations. Only the context and client’s clarifications can help decide what is the case.
With UI elements also comes the design issue. Something to remember: Languages such as French, Spanish, or German can take up to 30% more space when translated from English. So plan ahead your code. The design must be flexible or the messages not too long. Work closely with your localization team and make sure they are clear about space constraints.
And there is the font issue too. Will it work with French or Spanish special characters? How about Russian or Asian languages? That’s why when working on one other project (Divine Ascent) we actually advised the client to test the font (during the localization stage), and they found out that umlauts in German didn’t work, and so we helped to find a solution.
In Pavilion’s case, neither one was an issue, which was a good thing for both translators and devs.
With this little text, the main work was to localize the game description for online stores. And the client wanted us to research and use the best keywords in store texts and follow length recommendations for the game title and store description.
We were localizing Pavilion into 10 different languages simultaneously. With my team being scattered all over the world, I had to make sure that everyone had enough time to work on the project and a solution to raise questions and get answers while respecting the client’s deadline. Mission had been accomplished!
Pavilion is a great example of how indie devs can make games that are low on volume of text and therefore localization-friendly and focus more on making them visible to players in stores.
By Aurelie Perrin, Pavilion project lead

Tale of Prisso (Tilted)

Tilted is a casual game where you play as a prism navigating your way through mesmerizing crystalline caverns of an alien world. You solve puzzles by using laws of reflection and refraction.
Localization into 13 languages (in publishing stage): French, German, Italian, Dutch, Spanish (Spain), Spanish (LA), Portuguese (Portugal), Portuguese (Brazil), Russian, Ukrainian, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese (Trad.)

Localization notes:

At the time the game was already available in English on the Play store so we could refer to the game itself for context. But not all of us had Android devices… This is when our localization platform proved very handy — we could directly ask the client to clarify the use and context of any string.

Some interesting and challenging strings from this project:

Ssenkrad” — not all of us recognized right away that this weird name for an evil creature is actually nothing else but “darkness” spelled backward (“darknesS”).
Joker” — this simple string was very tricky, was a perfect candidate for mistranslations, and took a long time and many messages with the client but we got it right. “Joker” is a name of a character’s avatar that looks like a pair of glasses and represents a clown or comedian. The client decided to change it because this name didn’t reflect its graphic representation (a pair of glasses). It went through a number of alterations. First, it was changed to Groucho (a reference to Groucho Marx, a bespectacled comedian). But we advised the client that this reference would’ve been lost on most players and most definitely on Asian players. Our German translator suggested “Glasses” — it made sense consistency-wise, as a few other avatars had names of some accessories. Another candidate we had was “Charlie” (a reference to Charlie Chaplin). In the end, the client opted for “Glasses.”
And sarcastic messages the player gets after repetitive failed attempts at passing an obstacle were a classic translator’s challenge. Some example:
“Hi, grandma!!!”
“I think you should stick to spinning the wheel!”
“Too bad you can’t skip this”
“Is it really you or your cat trying to scratch the screen? Kitty?”
“Tilted yet?” (A REFERENCE TO THE OLD TITLE OF THE GAME – TILTED)

Shooty Troops

Shooty Troops — The Endless Arcade Shooter is a fun mobile game developed by 804 Game Studios. Pick a character and battle wave after wave of baddies on procedurally created levels.
Localization into 14 languages (in progress, partially published): French, Russian, Ukrainian, Japanese, German, Korean, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese (Portugal), Portuguese (Brazil), Spanish (Spain), Spanish (LA), Chinese (Simpl.), and Chinese (Trad.)

Localization notes:

Shooty Troops is a small fast-paced game that doesn’t rely much on text. But because it’s a mobile game the main goal was to translate strings in a concise manner to avoid any cropped text. Also because we knew the client wasn’t planning any extensive localization testing.
Localizing in a concise manner is vital not only for mobile products but for any product with a UI (and not only digital products, by the way).
Therefore, for any localizer it’s important to internalize and always remember this Golden Localization Rule:
The translation is wrong if it won’t fit in the client’s UI, even if it’s translated right and beautiful
Another tricky thing was localizing character names. For example, this one:
Kbar, a character’s name: It was tempting to simply transliterate this name and move on to the next strings. But a quick online search by a seasoned localizer who smelled something fishy revealed that this was a reference to Ka-Bar, a particular type of gun. We had to find names for this rifle in our languages and then translate the character’s name in a way that this reference is still there.
Another interesting case was “a tunnel rat” — very easy to miss it, translate literally, and move on… But a seasoned localizer’s eye will not let it slip through. The tunnel rats were American, Australian, and New Zealand soldiers who performed underground search and destroy missions during the Vietnam War.

Yesterday!

Yesterday! is a 3D Puzzle Game with amazing art about the philosophy of love and encounter developed by Triple Tree studio.
Localization into 15 languages (in publishing stage): French, German, Italian, Dutch, Greek, Spanish (Spain), Spanish (LA), Portuguese (Portugal), Portuguese (Brazil), Russian, Ukrainian, Japanese, Chinese (Trad.), and Korean

Localization notes:

The client kindly provided a demo build of the game. We ran the project on our platform where we asked the client plenty of questions because the game was quite a challenge.
It was the language of the game which posed the biggest difficulty. Much of the text is written in a very poetic (like a freestyle poem), metaphysical language with mysterious, train-of-thought passages and meandering metaphors (trying to imitate it…).
It was clear that simply translating such passages without fully understanding the author’s thoughts behind them would most likely produce incomprehensible, unusable word soup that would make the game far less enjoyable and thus ruin it. Luckily, on the platform, we, translators, could work closely with the client and ask any questions we had.
As the game was originally developed in Chinese (Simplified), we started by translating all content into English and then used this English version to translate into other languages.
The client provided third-party translations into several languages. These translations were a bit too literal, but this actually proved to work quite well for us. We used them as a reference when the thought behind our English (poetic) translation of a string was particularly hard to grasp to get its original idea (in addition to asking the client).

Some typical examples:

“[Him]Time is like waiting in a darkroom, developing a photo in a pool of reflected stars, fish disturbs the lotus leaves, our encounter slowly develops like a photo.”
“When memories are bound inside a book, time begins to blur.”
“Each air ticket is aware of the beautiful dream she carries.”
“Stopping and going, whirling and twirling.”
“Holding it, holding you.”
“Was it you who was searching for the collected memories? Or was it my imagination?”

Unearned Bounty

Unearned Bounty is an action-packed free-for-all multiplayer game where you battle to become the most infamous pirate on the high seas.
Localized into 14 languages: French, German, Italian, Dutch, Greek, Spanish (Spain), Spanish (LA), Portuguese (Portugal), Portuguese (Brazil), Russian, Ukrainian, Japanese, and Korean

Localization notes:

The game is small and not text-heavy, so it was mostly UI strings that needed localization. The client provided us with community translations which were already used in the game at the time but had many issues, particularly too long strings.
We also had a demo build of the game kindly provided by the client which greatly streamlined the process.
The trickiest part was to produce concise translations that do not overflow once in the game, so as to avoid localization testing.
We localized all strings from scratch but used fan translations to validate the length of the strings (if it didn’t fit in fan translation, it had to be shorter in our version). The project lead did a quick QA check for all languages, referencing the demo and screenshots, and had translators provide shorter translations where necessary.

Divine Ascent is a strategy-puzzle game with simple but original and addictive rules. Ancient civilizations compete to be the first to reach the sky.
Localized into German, Russian, and Japanese

Localization notes:

Divine Ascent was a pretty straightforward project but it’s an example of a proactive professional service.
There was a font issue that’s worth mentioning.
German has special characters called umlautsä, ö, ü, and ß. With most fonts, they should work just fine, but the game used quite a rare font. And the client even asked us to translate everything all caps because the font didn’t differentiate between lowercase and uppercase.
Knowing that our German localizer advised the client to test the font to see if umlauts worked fine — and do this during the localization stage, not after when we would switch to other projects. The client found out that umlauts in German didn’t work, and so we worked together to find a solution.
The project was set up on our localization platform which facilitated the discussion. In the end, having not found the font that worked with umlauts and looked suitable visually, the client asked us to avoid umlauts and use 2-character sets instead (a quite common walkaround solution): ae, oe, ue (the so called diphthongs)and sz.

Head over to our portfolio page where (besides the above notes) you can view all showcased projects and even some actual game/app screens in different languages (our work)!