We had a chat with Justin Potts, localization manager at Active Gaming Media, about what life is like inside an East to West video game localization studio in Japan. The Osaka based company translated Demon’s Souls for Sony and handled the additional European languages for No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise.
Localization projects begin as they would at other companies – with lots of planning. Active Gaming Media decides how many translators they need and then gather as many assets from the publisher as they can. Playable builds, videos, screenshots, background information, and anything else to help the translation team create a term bible so they can begin translating a Japanese game into English so it feels natural.
"That being said, there is a HUGE gap in the degree of support which we might receive from a client," Potts expressed. "Occasionally we work directly with the publisher or developer, getting questions answered and feedback almost instantaneously whenever we need it at almost any hour of the day, while in some cases, being a company that other operations outsource localization services to, we sometimes get projects from other outside translation service operations, which means that the actual developer/publisher may not even know who it is that is actually localizing their game."
Can you imagine that? A publisher who doesn’t know the people localizing their title? While the idea may sound bizarre, Potts is used to it and understands the business side. "Naturally, it’s going to be more difficult to get adequate support in this setting as well. This also means the addition of another ‘middle-man’, resulting in bloated localization costs, and the team actually working on the project having to get the job done at a significantly lower cost and under stricter time constraints. I wanted to point this out, not as a complaint (‘tis life, and globalization!), but because it’s significant, and it’s something that I don’t think a lot of folks are aware of."
Potts shares one of the localization trials he and the staff at Active Gaming Media tackled.
“As an example, I recall working on a title scheduled to launch with new hardware that contained features that no one had experienced, with a localization turnaround time of about 48 hours and almost no info about the product. There wasn’t a great deal of text to be translated, and the content itself wasn’t difficult, however no one had any idea as to HOW this hardware really worked, or what it was like to interact with, making explaining how in-game features worked a significant challenge. When you consider that a typical game for a home console likely takes at the very least a year to develop, it’s somewhat of a shame to think that after all of the time, money, and energy poured into development that such little consideration would be given to the localization. This would be a case on the ‘less-than-ideal’ end of the spectrum”.
I tend to agree with Potts. After months perhaps years of development, video games deserve more than two days of localization polish. While this probably doesn’t apply to the title Potts is referring to, this is especially important in the case of text heavy games like RPGs.
Check back later on because we have other tales from (*dramatic music*) a localization studio in Japan!