As a freelance game translator, it is rare that I am allowed to mention who I localize for and what games I work on. It is even rarer that developers spontaneously offer to add my name to the credits. Project CARS is one of those lucky exceptions. Translating the game into French was both fun and challenging, and I would love to share my experience with both gamers and game developers.
The files we got for localization from Slightly Mad Studios were pretty simple – standard Excel files with source/target columns plus other technical data. Something easy to plug into any professional translation environment.
The first part of the translation consisted in creating a glossary of terms that would need to be consistent throughout the translation. Since the volume was large, it can be easy to let inconsistencies appear.
From there, the actual translation could start.
Besides the usual challenges a translator faces, Project CARS came with its own specifics:
– Fact accuracy: The game is very rich in car racing facts, and a good knowledge of motorsports was a vital asset for this project. While the developers did a fantastic job at gathering interesting information for cars, teams and series sometimes decades old, there were still a few small mistakes or inaccuracies left when localization started.
This is hardly avoidable for such a massive project, of course, but it meant that as translators, we had to keep an eye out for potential blunders. I’ll share a small example: in the game, you will find a short biography of Lewis Hamilton, a F1 world champion (2008, 2014 at the time I am writing this article). It is mentioned that the Briton became the youngest F1 world champion ever with his first title in 2008, which was absolutely true at the time. The way the text was written led to think that this record still holds, which isn’t the case (Sebastian Vettel lowering the bar just 2 years later).
When I saw this, I made sure my translation left no ambiguity. The issue was then reported to the developers, who got it fixed in the source text as well. This example shows how important specialization is: a game translator with no interest in motorsports couldn’t have spotted this issue.
– Copyright issues: In the early versions of the source text, some parts were clearly written in a way that avoided any reference to series names that Slightly Mad Studio may not have been allowed to use. Initially, Lewis Hamilton was described as a “Grand Prix” champion, a term that kept showing up in several descriptions. The term “Formula 1” eventually appeared in game descriptions, but this was another potentially dangerous people. As a translator, it could have been tempting to think “Hey, he’s a F1 champion, I’ll just write that” and land your client in hot water.
Of course, as a good practice, it is always recommended not to add things that are not in the source text. But this example shows how small alterations can lead to big trouble.
– Translation of fictional names and series: Translating existing series, events and team names is not a big deal, but what about fictional ones? The big question here was: do we translate all fictional series names, none of them or only some of them? In the latter case, on what criteria do we decide to translate a name or not?
This was a tough one to come up with. In French, we do translate “Formula One”, but not “Super Formula”. So what should happen to “Formula Rookie”? For the French localization, I decided to look at how we usually proceed in French to translate series names, starting from the lower categories. I would then determine what was the existing equivalent series for each fictional one, and translate their names or not based on that.
– Technical terms and past concepts: As I said before, the game is rich in detailed car descriptions. And despite loving both games and motorsports, I have to admit some of the technical terms and concepts were slightly beyond my expertise. I know the basics of setting up race cars, aerodynamics, ride height, gear ratios and so on, but some terms were really specific.
There were also references to technical concepts that are not used anymore on race cars. Since I was not even born at the time some of these technologies were out and that Internet didn’t exist at the time, I had to scratch my head a few times.
This was the hardest part of the game to translate for me, but a few online searches and the explanations of Slightly Mad Studio helped me come up with the right French terms.
Communication with Slightly Mad Studios
As I mentioned above, the game refers to a lot of historical facts and sometimes advanced technical terms. Inevitably, there are times when you need to have a little more background information or context to put a good translation together.
The translation team shared a common query sheet where we would add all our questions for the developers. The list soon became very long, which is natural the large volume of the in-game texts and the number of languages the game was localized into. The big challenge here was for the very busy developers to keep up with these questions so that equally busy translators could go ahead with their job.
Thankfully, the communication was smooth and the guys at Slightly Mad Studios always made sure to reply in a timely manner with easy-to-understand explanations. It is easy to think you can just pitch your texts at translators and just wait for the translation to come in, but developers have a great role in localization success. This project was a perfect example of that.
As a video game and motorsport enthusiast, working on Project CARS’ localization was an immense privilege for me. The project itself offered interesting challenges, and the degree of involvement of Slightly Mad Studios was key to its success. I would encourage developers in general to adopt the same attitude: be attentive to your translators’ needs and be ready to help them when they need it. Every bit of information you share helps make localization better.