Talkin’ Loc at GDC 2022

While the majority of sessions at GDC this year focused on things like art, narrative, design, and production (all very important things to have sessions on) I was also able to catch a couple of sessions relating to localization. I’m hoping that there will be more localization focused sessions in the coming years, which goes along with my hope that l10n becomes more present and widely discussed in the gaming industry. That being said, I’d like to give a brief summary and some key points from each of the 3 localization-related sessions I attended. I already posted about Anne Ferrero’s talk, which also briefly discussed localization as a factor in indie devs’ struggles in production.

Localization Roundtable (Presented by the IGDA)

This roundtable was my first interaction with the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). The roundtable was hosted by Julia Gstoettner and Aurélie Perrin, both of whom are freelance localization specialists and leaders for IGDA’s localization special interest group. The roundtable was made especially interesting not only by everyone’s passion and love for discussing games and good localization in games, but also by the diversity of participants. There were students like me who were just starting to explore the professional world of gaming, localizers who had been working on video games for years, and mobile game specialists. Each person came to the discussion with a different approach and perspective on the topics.

Key Points:

The gaming industry has changed, and so
has localization

Remasters/remakes present unique l10n challenges

The struggle between sounding modern and dating a game

The overall landscape of gaming localization continues to evolve alongside the gaming industry. Production aspects like the majority of major games pivoting to a global simultaneous release model has changed the localization workflow for all language teams. Experienced localizers discussed how in their view, transcreation is now more widely accepted than it was 10+ years ago. It was also mentioned how things like gender neutral characters and accessibility features are more common or expected in games. There’s also just the fact that the gaming industry continues to grow, so there are more and more eyes on the localization team’s work.

Remakes/remasters were discussed fairly in-depth because we are now in a period where popular games in the 90’s or early 2000’s are being remade. One of the struggles of localization is maintaining the overall charm and character of the original localization while still modernizing it. One of the biggest dangers in working on a remake is changing things to the point where you lose the audience of the original game. Another big issue is faithful fans protesting any changes at all, even if it is a technically better localization.

As with other industries, using slang or references can make the dialogue of the game fun and fresh when it is released, but runs the risk of immediately dating the game. This is very difficult to balance when the way a character speaks or scene plays requires some kind of slang or informal language. The modern political/social climate is also constantly evolving and localizers need to be able to stay on top of that and reflect it in their work.

Understanding Developer Challenges with localization, Player Support and More (Presented by TransPerfect)

This was a very short 30 minute session with 3 panelists from different backgrounds – one with a focus on VR games, one from a French studio with many releases under its name, and one from a production management company. Although this talk was less accessible to me because I lacked solid background knowledge on game production, it was intriguing to hear about what challenges developers are encountering. .

Key Points

Streamlining localization/translation

What does a successful
project look like?

Partnership longevity

Streamlining the localization process is becoming more and more essential as global simultaneous game shipments become the norm. One way to alleviate the bottleneck in localization is the client preparing localization kits in advance. I wasn’t aware of what a localization kit was before this session, so I was very interested in learning more about it. From looking at this article from Level Up Translation, a localization kit seems like a beefed up content brief with added important technical information like location of tags and string names.

Another suggestion for streamlining localization was to build repurpose-able tools. Making multipurpose tools or tools that can be adapted easily to a variety of different projects saves time, money, and critical localization resources. Plus, knowing what settings/tools your localization team will be using in advance can help to develop an even more in-depth localization kit. Panelists also urged developers to decide what/how many locales to localize into and bring in the localization team in the alpha stage of production.

Panelists were also asked by what metrics they defined success. From a vendor’s perspective, the project is a success when they have met the client’s requirements to the client’s satisfaction (and gotten paid). Since the panelists come from game studios, success isn’t just at completion of a job. Their focus was more on longevity – how many people in a specific locale were using their product and how many continued to use that product or play the game after the initial post-release hype. Keeping a long-term user base was the priority for success.

It was also commented that there isn’t a massive wealth of localization talent available, especially in the world of entertainment where many projects across industries are clamoring for localization. When choosing a localization vendor, or any vendor, it is important to consider the longevity of that partnership. Evaluate if you would like to work with this vendor again, and then work on a plan for talent retention. In gaming, where it is common to have several games in a series, it can be especially valuable to form a long-term relationship with vendors. Of course, making localization teams feel appreciated and properly crediting them for the games the work on goes a very long way in talent retention.

Respectful Nonbinary Representation & Localization

Creating non-binary characters

Cultural connotations of gender neutral terms

Relatable, respectful, and affirming

Non-binary identities are becoming more recognized and talked about in cultures across the world. As a reflection of that, localizers need to develop strategies for localizing stories about non-binary people respectfully and accurately. Benjamin Williams from the Xbox Gaming for Everyone team spoke about introducing more non-binary characters into the video game space and some challenges that localizers face.

Before localization, there obviously needs non-binary characters to be present in games. Williams pointed out that there are some simple shortcuts for making this happen – like by simply removing the need for a gender selector in a character creation engine and not gender locking traits like body build or hair styles. Secondly, when non-binary characters are introduced, they need to be allowed to take up space. This means not just introducing a token background character, but actually making a character with a non-binary identity be a part of the narrative.

While non-binary pronouns like they/them or ze/zir have begun to enter the English vernacular, some languages have a harder time adapting to non-binary linguistics. Languages like Spanish or French where nouns are gendered in particular struggle to make language more inclusive. Cultural knowledge is always important for localizers to have, but in this case it’s critical for knowing what the accepted linguistic norms are to refer to non-binary people. That being said, in some cultures, terms to refer to non-binary people exist, but should not be used in the same way that they/them is. For example, in traditional Hawaiian religion, the māhū referred to someone who had both male and female identities. But this shouldn’t be used in this context, because the word also carries deep spiritual and cultural value. This is also something that localizers need to be aware of before making a critical mistake.

Finally, the goal when localizing non-binary characters should be to be “relatable, respectful, and affirming.” This is taking into account not only the character, but also the potential players that identify with that character. As we all know, language has power. Localization has the ability to shape that power, and localizers should always be cognizant of that. The best way to achieve relatable, respectful, and affirming localization is to involve non-binary people to share their perspectives and actively work to accurately portray characters. In any situation when working with a concept that is unfamiliar to you, the best approach is to involve someone who moves through the world from that viewpoint.

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