Recently I wrote a blog post where I describe how to check localization of a game for free, with almost no effort. It was aimed at indie game developers. I reposted it at Reddit’s /r/gamedev and in the discussion that followed it occurred that a localization style guide is rather an unknown tool for indie game developers. And from my perspective, it is one of the most informative and easy to create tools, that has an amazing, positive impact on game localization quality.
Indie game developers are constantly reminded of “develop your game with localization in mind”. You must be fed up with this. Even I, as a translator and localizer, am bored with all the “do not use texts in images”, “translations to other languages tend to be shorter or longer”, “pay attention to placeholders” etc. All of this is VERY important, but you already know this. Yet, there are some less technical solutions that can be as important when “developing a game with localization in mind”. What I mean here is a style guide.

What is a style guide?

Depending on:
– your time
– complexity of the game
– your dedication to localization quality, a style guide might be a simple text file just several sentences describing your game and your expectations towards localization quality, OR this can be a lengthy multimedia document with all the tiniest details about personality of each character in the game, expected tone of voice containing all sorts of graphics and instructions on how to deal with proper names and many other.
See this very simple yet informative style guide from one of my non-gaming clients.
game styleguide
This is short, concrete, informative and facilitates my work A LOT. Yours can be similar or way more elaborate. The rule is simple: the more information you put into a style guide the higher localization quality will be. Below I will try to describe, why.

Why should you prepare a style guide?
Linguistic focus

When you need to compile even a short list of localization requirements, data, resources, you start to think about it from translator’s perspective (at least to a certain extend). And then you might get new ideas, how to rephrase some texts in your game, introduce changes, perhaps you will spot some spelling errors, polish the language here and there and make your game strings even better.

Game/localization knowledge in one place

This is your game and you want it localized the best way possible. You devoted a lot of time to find perfect localization specialists, so now spend 2–3 hours more and provide them with the reference materials. As professional as they can be, they do not know ins and outs of your game. You do. So share it.

Translation quality

Quality in -> quality out. If you deliver a lot of informative, high quality materials of all sorts and formats (texts, graphics, videos etc.), your localizers will be able to produce translations of higher quality.

Time-saving tool

You compose a style guide only once and all localizers can use it when translating to any language. You will not have to answer the same questions several times and deliver the same resources. Time spent on creating a Style Guide is the time saved (many times), as your translators WILL ask questions and you WILL be answering them. Imagine if you have to answer similar/same questions asked by translators localizing your game to 10 languages. This is tedious and after a while becomes frustrating. You write a style guide only once, and all your translators will use it and ask way less questions (if you prepare a thorough style guide). And perhaps you will also create a style guide template and use it when localizing your future games.

What should a style guide contain?

You can think of a style guide as a document holding all the information about your game, that you want to pass to your translators. Below I suggest some of the vital, language-independent (although I localize only from English to Polish) localization-related aspects you can use while compiling your style guide.

1. Information about the game itself

– Short background story/introduction to the game’s world.
– Basic information about the main character. This can even/especially be information that is not delivered in the game, but allows to adapt style, vocabulary and other linguistics aspects of the translation.
– All possible visuals/graphics, eg. map of the game’s world, images of weapons, models of vehicles pictures of characters, etc.
– A walk-through or a link to one or even better — cheat codes and god mode option.
– Who is the intended target audience of your game? Perhaps any specific age group? It allows to adapt terminology and tone of voice in translation.
– YouTube “Let’s plays” of your game. Other people perspectives pleaying and commenting your game might share knowledge about some aspects you would not think of.

2. Linguistic requirements

– String length restrictions. Are there any? If so, are they really strict, as in “no string can be longer than 30 characters”, or not as strict “localization should not exceed source text by more than 50%”.
– Glossary. Perhaps you have a glossary of key terms used in the game?
– You do not have glossary? Describe, how you want to deal with questions from your translators. Do you have any Q&A system, a Google Sheets list (insert a link to it here), or you prefer questions in batches via e-mail?
– You have localized this game previously to other languages? You might have answered some queries from your localizers — deliver all questions and answers, it will save all of us a lot of time.
– If you have any names, item, products that are not to be translated — list them.
– Curse words — allowed/not allowed?
– Perhaps you noticed some common errors or misunderstandings in previous localizations? Describe them here.
– Units of measure. Localize, leave as they are?
Ask your localizers to use Xbench (see my post about Xbench and quality assurance). Supply them with a short video manual.

3. Technical requirements

– State, if your game is in development/finished/published.
– What is the planned date to receive localized strings.
– Remind translators to ask questions, when in doubt.
– Ask to use standard console terminology.
– Serial number/code/license for your game and where to download it from.
– Your strings contain %(na), #it_na# or other not so clear placeholders? List them and tell, what they mean. This might be a huge time-saver.
– Ask your localizers to report errors in source texts — spelling, logical, etc. Your original language version will benefit from this, a lot.
– You introduced Xbench quality assurance work flow at your end? Tell your translators that they will receive error report to comment.
A style guide is a great, easy to prepare tool that positively impacts localization quality on many levels. Additionally is saves your and my time, allows to handle knowledge about your game and your quality requirements in a concrete manner. Now select some of the above mentioned items and compose your own indie game style guide. Or use this list as a reference and compose a style guide that is substandard but suitable to your game.

Originally published at freeindiel10n.com on January 26, 2018.
Cover: Undertale & Artem Nedrya