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As translation technology improves, game localizations are getting worse

Bullet Club

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As translation technology improves, game localizations are getting worse​

Game developers are becoming increasingly dependent on fans and enthusiasts to quality test their work. Localization quality is taking a critical hit.

One thing is clear about poor video game localizations: they stick in the mind.

Brazilian YouTuber Rodrigo "Plane Shifter" Soncin is able to precisely recall certain mistakes in games from 20 years ago. In Hexen II, for example, he says translators appeared to struggle with words that seem like English homonyms, but aren’t. In a dungeon, one text read “você encontrou o tombo do Lorick” or “you have reached the tumble of Lorick.” Presumably, Soncin says, they meant “tomb” – tomba not tombo. In another case, he searched for some people, when he should have been looking for a staff. Somehow, the sceptre had been mistranslated as a group of employees.

But modern games still struggle to get localization right. When Tabletop Simulator announced that they had added new languages via Google Translate, users from all over the world pointed out errors and explained why machines can’t do the job of trained and paid humans.

Several fans who reached out for this story also mentioned Hades, Supergiant Games’ Greek mythology roguelike, which was criticized, particularly for its Spanish translation, when it came out in 1.0 earlier this year.

“They picked up some translators from a Discord [server] along with some professionals, but the final product [was] not good,” one Spanish-speaking fan, Maria, says. She first played the game in English during the early access period, but wanted to check out the translation when the game launched in 1.0. “Some of them are very charming. Nintendo games, 13 Sentinels, or Final Fantasy XV had really good translations.” But she did not find the same charm in Hades. “A lot of the sentences had mistakes and typos.”

She also has ethical concerns about Supergiant using fans as translators. “When [they] spoke about avoiding crunch and healthy labor practices I thought the company was being a little hypocritical, because some of the Spanish translators were not paid.”
At the time, Supergiant clarified to PC Gamer that they actually had paid community members if they reached a certain level of contribution to the translation. Writer and director Greg Kasavin says to Input that “several of [the community translators] had professional translation experience already.” He adds that they were used “after working with a professional service to translate all the content that we had in the game at the time,” as the game moved through its many early access updates.

“Following that [online] discussion, we recruited a new Spanish translator with a strong background and knowledge of Hades to go through and improve our translation quality. He was great to work with, and integrated well with our other translators, and we got positive feedback about the resulting translation quality,” Kasavin says. He adds that Supergiant would “happily work with,” the community-sourced translators again, provided they are “experts in their respective languages and cultures, are willing to work closely with us, and have a strong knowledge of whatever game we're working on.”

Twitter user @marutsukete, who wrote the original thread drawing attention to the quality of the Spanish translation, says that some of the issues are fixed, though not all of them. “I noticed some minor typos and missing spaces. Those are still things that need to be corrected, and I remember complaining about missing spaces before,” though she noted that she couldn’t be sure if they were the same ones.



Argentinean games critic Diego Nicolás Argüello also highlighted some typos and says that it is “still a bit rusty in places.” He also says the translations are “quite literal,” where many localizers work to craft the writing in a way that sounds more natural to native speakers.

“I cannot stress how much of a heavy duty it is to not only translate the words you see in front of you, but also structure it in a way that makes sense in your native tongue,” says Jorge "Makhor" Sánchez, a fan translator and developer from South America.

Japanese to English translator Katrina Leonoudakis explains that “no two games are approached the same.” There may be complications with gameplay or story specific terminology, for example, or they may have to decide how to reflect character accents.

“Every language pair has its own difficulties,” she adds. “Japanese doesn't distinguish between singular and plural, but English does. English doesn't distinguish between male and female for adjectives, but Spanish does…each of these difficulties comes with a choice – do we ask the dev to reengineer something? Do we avoid pronouns entirely, or use abbreviations?”

“Localization involves dozens of people per language,” she says. Developers, engineers, editors and proofreaders, dubbing directors and voice actors, quality assurance, and marketing people are all just as important as the translators themselves. “No localization decision happens in a bubble, and good localization teams have a strong communication line between everyone involved.”

There are even more considerations when dealing with non-Latin scripts, explains Mansour Sorosoro, an English to Arabic translator.
“Even talking about the bare minimum, it's often not met,” he says. “Some translator teams are forced to make do with left-aligned text that looks extremely off — how would you like it if you're playing an entire game with the text off-center or to the right? Or with auto line wrap routines designed for English text causing lines to appear out of order?” This is not a problem limited to video games. Notarabic.com demonstrates where companies like Disney, Google, and Coca Cola have written gibberish — most often because it reads left-to-right or is disconnected. “Even for Russian, Polish, or Japanese, I keep seeing games revert to stock fonts,” adds Mansour.

Several fans were aware, however, that it likely wasn’t the localization staffs’ fault when issues arose. “Probably the real problem is that the publisher of the game didn’t give enough time for the translators to do proper work,” says Jose Rigata, another Spanish fan, after detailing some issues within Final Fantasy VII, whose English translation suffers from similar problems. In that case, the English translator worked alone, without being able to ask the developers for clarification, and without tools that allowed them to put the lines in context within the game.



Emma Ramos, a former translator and tester who worked both freelance and in house, has some experience with similar issues. “As a whole, the main issue is always [that] we rarely get the game material to work against, so we only have text and no context. If you add that low pay, really tight timelines, and that people leave for greener pastures when they get burnout, the result is always low quality.” She says that some companies do give localization teams the time and tools they need and the pay they deserve, but that “this is the rule with bigger companies.”

With so many considerations, it’s not surprising that localizations sometimes end up with issues. But Mansour says that people know it’s not easy, and are willing to forgive problems as long as they can tell that developers are putting in the effort. “Translators and audiences tend to be understanding [of the] plight of developers rushing to wrap up development and not demand too much. But that begging for scraps becomes wasted when the lack of effort undermines [that].”

“Even the most minimal attempts make a difference and don't go unnoticed.”

Source: Input
 

killatopak

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MikeM

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FF7 being borderline incomprehensible? Lol wtf. And if you think that's bad, you haven't seen me after two beers.

Jokes aside- it blows my mind that context is not provided. Its probably the most important piece to translation.
 
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DonF

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I speak spanish as my native language, but fortunately I know English.
I play games in English cause Spanish translations always suck. There are 2 kinds of Spanish translation, Spain Spanish and Mexican Mexican and oh boy... Choose your poison.
Also, if a game has a slight hint of pop culture, this is going to be fucked for sure. It's like translators used by the games industry have zero knowledge of pop references. Or puns...or humour hahahah.

Very little translations stand out to me. Recently I liked the apex legends one (kill leader in Spanish is "la parca" as in the grim reaper) but the voices aren't as good as the OG English.
 
Feb 23, 2018
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Maybe a nice jelly filled donut will put your mind at ease.

Honestly, its fucking Pokemon, if that dub wasn't like it is why would anyone ever want to watch it? Same with Yu-Gi-Oh, these are children's shows - the only way they are watchable is if they are hilarious. It's like Ghost Stories: could you imagine someone actually wanting to watch a real translation of that show? A show that shows elementary students panties over a dozen times, that's the show you want to listen to a pristine translation that ensures that the original meaning is conveyed?

Besides, nobody ever truly knows what they want anyway, the same people with pitchforks that they replaced David Hatter as Snake would have pitchforks about a bad localization ruining source material, completely ignoring the fact that the script he used for MGS1 was vastly different than the original and Hayter added in numerous, very very localized, lines that never existed in the Japanese version.

In the end all that I care about is if it's good. Nobody is ever going to make Cowboy Bebop better than it is (lol Netflix), so obviously it should be accurately translated. But Ghost Stories? The only hope of it being good is a wild localization.
 
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Magic Carpet

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I rememer the times of fan subbed anime when things would go from Japanese into Chinese into French into English. What remained might as well been from another world.
One Piece Luffy was Roof, Sanji was Sunkist, and Ussopp became Crook Buu.
I mean sure it did make sense when you followed the chain back.
 

arvfab

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I can't believe that the PS5 after almost a year and multiple updates still has a translation error (maybe more) in German:

"NAT: Type 2" was translated as "NAT: auf 2 tippen" (as in "to type" instead of "the type").
 

Hugare

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Thats the reason why I play with English subtitles 99% of the time instead of Portuguese

I'm replaying Death Stranding right now, and its very bad. 2h in so far and have spoted many literal translations that made any sense. I know Kojima writting is not that bad.

Witcher 3 was amazing. God tier translation. Considering the game's scope, its freaking incredible.

Yakuza 7 is another one thats great.

Many Sony first party titles fuck it up, probably because they only have the script but they dont have any context since they dont have the game yet to work with.
 

justiceiro

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The reliance on IA these days is ridiculous considering how bad IAs still are. If indies really want to have their game reach a global audience, just make easy to mod the in game text just by editing a text file, and please, let me choose the language on the fly instead of attaching it to steam/windows/console language.
 

Kataploom

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Well, yeah that's a never ending thing, I have the idea that native spanish speakers are more delicate with these issues somehow, we can't even stand our own accents... I mean, not other countries accents but ours, I've never talked to someone outside of Mexico saying they loved all the local words and jokes used on a dub (actually the reason I stopped watching pokemon as a teenager).

What bothers me regarding translations/localizations the most is when they change names... I mean, most of the people playing japanese anime games are anime fans or anime watchers players so name changes always sounds wrong.

Also, this is not regarding translation quality but localization choices like FUCKING LANGUAGE LINKED TO SYSTEM LANGUAGE... if there's a dev here reading this, please, DON'T... If you do, let the player change the voice and text languages independently. Only english speaking people want their games always voiced and read on their language.
 
Oct 26, 2018
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One thing that games have which other products dont is massive amounts of text to translate, especially if its a adventure game.

Maybe some of it is an error simply due to overlooking a mistake they didnt catch to fix.

But if it's truly a mistake because translators cant get the grammar right despite supposedly being bilingual, thats another issue. Maybe got to hire better versed translators.
 

Karonoth

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There used to be a time when big publishers made really good translations in Spanish (EA and Sony come to mind). But even today those suck as well. It feels like most translators these days just go to Google Translate and call it a day. And since people don't complain too much they keep doing it.

I don't think I've played a game in Spanish in the last 5 years or so, I got so tired of awful translations I don't even try anymore.

Indie games' translations are almost always bad because they use companies like Transperfect/Mogi Group, which are fucking terrible and have translators that would not be able to get a job in any other entertainment industry (some, not all).
 
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Oct 26, 2018
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There used to be a time when big publishers made really good translations in Spanish (EA and Sony come to mind). But even today those suck as well. It feels like most translators these days just go to Google Translate and call it a day. And since people don't complain too much they keep doing it.

I don't think I've played a game in Spanish in the last 5 years or so, I got so tired of awful translations I don't even try anymore.
When it comes to games I wonder how many translator they even hire for games with lots of text.

At my old company way back before Google, we had a team of 5 French translators who would translate everything from the product packaging, to pre-attached price labels to promotional ads etc.... There was not giant 100 pages of adventure game text to do yet it was still a 5 person team alone.
 

01011001

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I completely stopped playing games in german because the translations are often so absolutely braindead it's ridiculous.

in Mortal Kombat 11, there's an option that was translated to german as
"Vertikales Aussehen der invertierten Krypta"
which translated back to English means:
"The vertical appearance of the inverted Krypt"

in actuality of course this is supposed to say "Krypt: Invert vertival look" (which to be fair is a terrible way to name that option)
which, correctly translated into german, would be "Krypta: Invertiere vertikales umsehen" (which sounds just as weird in german as it does in english tho lol)

or just recently in Aragami 2, where the german version tells you "Ausgewählt: Gold" every time you pick up money.
which translates to "Chosen: Gold"... yeah

in Apex Legends these mistranslations actually made it into the german dub of the characters.
the"Ultimate Accelerant" was translated to "Ultimativer Beschleuniger".
this is a correct translation if you have zero understanding of videogames and don't know the context. which is a common theme when it comes to translations. often the translator has no idea what it is they are translating, often video game translators never played a videogame in their life.
so out of context, "Ultimativer Beschleuniger" is a possible translation of Ultimate Accelerant, but in a videogame, Ultimate refers to the noun "Ultimate" as in the Ultimate ability of a character...
Ultimativer Beschleuniger on the other hand uses "Ultimativer" as the translation of Ultimate, which is the adjective form... making it an Accelerant that is ultimate and not an Accelerant that accelerates your Ultimate.

this shit happens so often that I just gave up on playing games in german.

sadly there are still a ton of developers that don't give language options in game, so you have to change around the system language of your console, which is annoying as fuck

The Halo Infinite beta is a complete horror show when it comes to the german translation, there are literally 2 settings that are completely blank and not translated at all, while basically all the aiming sensitivity and acceleration settings are unintelligible due to their nonsensical translation, and no it's not machine translated because many of the words are not even related to the English words used for these options
 
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Lethal01

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It's like Ghost Stories: could you imagine someone actually wanting to watch a real translation of that show? A show that shows elementary students panties over a dozen times, that's the show you want to listen to a pristine translation that ensures that the original meaning is conveyed?

Yep, Give me a translation that really conveys the Original meaning as much as possible, Give me that EVERY SINGLE TIME. I know first hand how hard it can be sometimes and can understand concessions being made but to often that is just used as and excuse for when a localizer doesn't have the time to think up a good translation, has to deal with other factors, or just injects too much of what they think the audience will find appealing.
 

Isa

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Doesn't surprise me that Schreier can't get the gist of... much of anything at all.
Now there are certainly some moments that have been butchered over the years, and plenty of meme fuel but I'm not complaining. Seriously man, I don't recall so many games getting translated at all, usually if I wanted to play some Japanese games I'd have to rely on fan translation patches which is a miracle in and of itself.

I do sympathize those who play games in other languages though, its clear that the ability or desire for companies to do a proper translation for other regions is miniscule at best.
 

SantaC

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The localization really improved with each new installment of Final Fantasy back in the 3D era.

7 was bad, 8 was a bit better but still average. 9 was good from what I remember. No compliants on 10.

12 was godtier in terms of Voice Acting.
 

CGiRanger

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I don't think you remember how bad translations once were.







And later on, you had localizations that had to force English Dubs for some reason, and some went.....well......hah (to be fair, in this case, the original game script is also utterly horrible in native Japanese)
 
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Fbh

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This thread is missing some classic FF7 in spanish:


"Here they translated party as in the "celebration", not group


Here they interpreted the word cool was talking about the temperature. So instead of "how cool, hug?" the character is saying "how COLD, huh"


And of course my favorite FF villain....Sífilo
 

Perrott

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This thread is missing some classic FF7 in spanish:


"Here they translated party as in the "celebration", not group


Here they interpreted the word cool was talking about the temperature. So instead of "how cool, hug?" the character is saying "how COLD, huh"


And of course my favorite FF villain....Sífilo
You're missing the GOAT FF7 spanish mistranslation:

 
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Captain Toad

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This thread is missing some classic FF7 in spanish:


"Here they translated party as in the "celebration", not group


Here they interpreted the word cool was talking about the temperature. So instead of "how cool, hug?" the character is saying "how COLD, huh"


And of course my favorite FF villain....Sífilo
Was this a translation from the English version? A bad translation starting from a bad translation.
 

Claus Grimhildyr

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FF7 being borderline incomprehensible? Lol wtf. And if you think that's bad, you haven't seen me after two beers.

Jokes aside- it blows my mind that context is not provided. Its probably the most important piece to translation.

Its Jason Schreier. Dude is a fucking dipshit with the reading comprehension of a 2 year old.
 

Holammer

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In the case of Hades where there is a near incomprehensible wall of text to translate, I understand how things could go wrong when you get translators on the cheap via Discord.
Whomever did the translations for Swedish Master System manuals back in the 8-bit days always mixed up invisible and invincible. To my annoyance, still irks me to this day.
 

Plantoid

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That's so annoying that my default language to play anything is English, it's rare to get good translations like Witcher 3, gears 5, all blizzard games...