The Kyoto Study Group for LocJAM4 took place on April 22nd and was followed by a networking party. The goal was the same as usual: embody the spirit of the LocJAM by gathering game enthusiasts with various degrees of experience to discuss localization, learn from our collective experience and simply have fun.
For my third LocJAM presentation in just a little over a year, I decided to move away from the game localization process approach and instead went for something a little more concise and practical.
Here is how we approached this year’s event:
- Quick introduction of the LocJAM: Because a quick reminder of what the LocJAM is and isn’t always helps. The slide is pretty self-explanatory
- Introduction of Ikinari Maou and playthrough: To understand where the LocJAM4 game is coming from, we introduced and played the original version of Ikinari Maou. Most importantly, we analyzed what is going on in the game (who is who at what time) and how to beat it. Getting that part right is essential to produce a good translation – more on this later
- Comparison of LocJAM Japan winning translations: The reason I chose this approach for this presentation is that, although the Amateur and Pro winning translations were ultimately picked up by the same group of jurors, they came up with two radically different submissions in terms of style:The Amateur translation is a very creative one, with a well-crafted glossary and a bit of extra humor. It occasionally gets in the over-localization warning zone, but gets away with it thanks to the very solid writing and natural integration of the spiced up bits. And well, it’s a localization contest, so can’t blame people for trying to show off their talent in that area.The Pro translation, on the other hand, is a more faithful one, funny when the original is, neutral when it should be. Clean and accurate, to the point it sometimes gets close to be a little too literal – the perfect opposite of the Amateur translation.You can check the slides for a few examples opposing those two styles, or download the whole text here for Original/Amateur/Pro/LocJAM4 versions of Ikinari Maou.
- Takeaways: So why did the jury went for two submissions that don’t seem to have much in common? The answer is simple: because above all, those two localizations were executed with talent.People keep asking us if jurors would prefer such or such style. But the truth is that, more than a specific style, jurors will be mainly looking for entries that grasp the spirit of the original game and offer the player a solid experience.Ikinari Maou is a puzzle game. Conveying hints and explanations properly is critical here. Only a few participants really understood what was happening in the game and transcribed that in English. Some other entries had great writing but lost tips in translation, effectively making the game harder than it is supposed to be. So my first advice here for LocJAM4 participants is to really understand how to beat the game and how to ensure the player experience isn’t altered by their translation.The second point is that there are lots of valid styles between over- or under-localization. You shouldn’t focus on what style the jury may or may not like, because 1. there’s no way to know that and 2. it’s not a critical factor in determining winners. More than anything, you should find your voice and stick to it consistently throughout your work. LocJAM Japan winning entries both got that part right, and it’s what truly made them stand out. Reading through their submissions, it was obvious they enjoyed translating the game and were in absolute control of their writing. Just focus on what you do best, and translate the way YOU think is right.
- Introduction of LocJAM4’s version and quick playthrough: Here, we focused on how characterization and dialogs were purposely exaggerated for the main LocJAM event. We also mentioned the special set of instructions for Japanese translators, who are asked to find their own unique style for this “back-localization”.For the other languages, although we’ve got a spicier version here, the challenge is exactly the same as it was for LocJAM Japan: ensure your localized version preserves the original puzzle-solving experience, find your tone and don’t be afraid to exhibit your craft when the source text calls out for creativity.
- A bit of fun with the machine-translated version: To end up on a lighter note, we checked a few parts of the original game translated with Google Translate. The result was… interesting, shall we say. Silly fun, but a good way for everybody to relax at the end of the presentation and get in the mood for a chat.
Topics Raised by Participants
Before and after the presentation, the study group gave us all an opportunity to chat about various game localization-related topics:
- How to get started in the industry: a classic for aspiring translators. We quickly discussed of common job-hunting tactics: contacting localization agencies with a carefully crafted CV, networking, participation to industry events…
- How to gain experience: the LocJAM, of course! Past edition texts are freely available for translation, regardless of your language pair. Something you can show potential clients, and thus solid marketing materials. Also mentioned the Manga Translation Battle contests for those with a broader interest
- “A good localizer should also be a spontaneous consultant”: A non-translator participant noted that the game’s font was hard to read and that, if he was a dev, he would appreciate if translators mentioned that issue. It was the starting point of a fascinating discussion about the role of translators and communication with developers. How far we translators should get involved? Are we responsible for offering a similar experience in our native language by making recommendations for font/interface changes? If you’re working with direct clients, you may want to keep in mind that they may desperately need your advice on such issues. Time to polish our consulting skills?
- How to handle translations for languages heavily depending on context and for which gender/numbers can be ambiguous, like Japanese: in short, experience, careful text analysis and queries when all else fails. If you need context for a large number of strings, try to go for general queries (“can you mention who is talking for each line?”)
How Did it Go?
- We had a total of 20 people, mostly localizers (good mix of hopefuls/established ones), but also a small number of designers/devs, which encouraged constructive discussions, beyond the sole topic of translation
- What really pleased me is that everybody blended in naturally. People just started exchanging naturally, and the atmosphere was very friendly. I sort of felt sorry to interrupt the audience to start my presentation
- Getting a bit personal here: I’m a shy French guy with 0 public speaking skills. I’m not a native speaker of English nor Japanese. Of all the participants, I was probably one of the least qualified to make a presentation. And still, just because I took the initiative, we were able to have a fun event during which everybody learned something and made important connections. It doesn’t take much to organize a LocJAM event, and it doesn’t need to be perfect. Just do it and great things will happen, because we have an amazing community