We continue our series of articles about the different roles in the video game localization industry. Federica Lusardi, Senior Translator/Editor – Italian at Square Enix in London, walks us through her experience in one of the localization industry’s most critical subjects, translation.

Why game localizer and not just “translator”?

The job of a game localizer isn’t just about translating video games from one language into another, it also means adapting the text, the cultural references, and the idioms in a way that preserves the player’s immersion. Ultimately, the aim is to make the game accessible to a wider market without ruining the game experience that the developer intended. There is nothing worse than not being able to progress in a game due to an inaccurate translation!

I remember spending hours on Monkey Island II trying to understand that I had to use an actual monkey as a “monkey wrench” on the waterfall valve on the island (the tool is an “English key” in Italian and has nothing to do with monkeys) and I still don’t know what I would have done if I had been the translator for this game!

Linguist, researcher, and Layton-style detective!

The first thing that game localizers do in the morning is open their preferred dictionaries, a browser, and the necessary reference files. The day in the life of a video game localizer can  easily be broken down into three parts:

• The first part of the day is spent translating actual text. Obviously, that means being a good linguist and knowing how to deal with grammar challenges like gender, number tags, and other variables. This also includes character limitations and shortenings, all while making the text sound natural. Being creative is another challenge (albeit the fun one). You can invent specific speech styles for different characters, use your pop-culture knowledge to create puns and jokes, and generally create something that would be enjoyable to read.

• The second part of the day is spent on doing research: that means double-checking terms in various monolingual, bilingual, and other types of dictionaries (yes, including Urban Dictionary if you need to translate slang and swear words!) and looking for articles and explanations about the topic that you are translating. The wide selection of video game genres means that translators won’t be stuck on high-fantasy language or racing games for the rest of their careers but might also need to learn about cooking, board games, politics, astrophysics (okay, maybe I am exaggerating), and so on. The key factor is having a good general knowledge and the ability and the will to research the most varied topics.

A day in the life of a video game localizer

Nier (from NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139) and his traveling companion: the tome Grimoire Weiss. Weiss gives access to the game’s magical spells, known as “Words”. The same magical words that translators need to research to do an excellent job! 

• The last third of our working day is spent on investigation: the localization of a game often involves a lot of detective work. It may look easy when we receive a project and the developers provide us with a rich localization kit full of design documents, scripts, explanations, and possibly an early version of the game itself. But that’s not always the case, and often we will be drowning in a list of random lines in an Excel format, with no other info than a string ID. Imagine having a string that only says “Play” and no context whatsoever. It could be anything from starting a playthrough, playing an instrument, a sport, or a song on the stereo, all of which require different translations. This is exactly the reason why it’s crucial to have a direct line of communication with the developers through a Q&A file. Possible solutions include brainstorming with colleagues, or if not possible, hope for the best and toss the ball to your LQA friends. So wear that top hat and be prepared to solve some puzzles!

CAT tools (meow?) are your best friends 

(Spoiler: unfortunately, this paragraph is not about cute office kittens)

A day in the life of a video game localizer

Veronica is a mage that can be included in the player’s party in Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age and one of the main characters of the game. She can wear a costume that is very appropriate for this paragraph, a cat suit!

As mentioned above, the job of a translator also involves navigating through copious reference files, which might be design documents, in case you are translating in-game text, or mainly text files and glossaries if you are translating marketing materials. 

Here is where CAT tools come to our aid. There is nothing better than having one software that can group dozens of files in one single Translation Memory and being able to look through it with a few clicks. Furthermore, marketing materials and information included in a single campaign can be repetitive, and a CAT tool like MemoQ can help you look for matches and speed up tasks, streamlining the whole translation process. 

Campaigns are long and may last several months, and we don’t have the legendary memory of elephants (okay, enough animals for now!), so TMs are very important. Server projects might also help when the team includes more than one translator per language so that everyone can always be on the same page.

More than just in-game text aka “the epic critically acclaimed marketing translations”

Not only do game localizers translate in-game text, but we assist with any assets and materials that surround the release of a title. That means localizing official websites, promotional images (beauty shots for posters, for example), trailers and other promotional videos (featurettes with developers, designers, voice actors, etc.), press releases, metadata for the various platforms the game will be published on, and marketing mailouts.

These assets might be about a game you have translated yourself, games translated by others, or titles that might not even be published in your language. Once again, communication with producers, PMs, and marketing teams is crucial to understand the mechanics of the game you are promoting in order to deliver texts that are appealing to the public and increase sales in your country. Knowing how to use language that is appropriate for a marketing context (see the epicness of the paragraph title), that is not too plain or bland, is also fundamental.

Be kind to other translators and leave a legacy

Let’s be honest, everyone loves a good saga nowadays, and sequels, remasters, and remakes will always exist, even if the game translators inevitably change. Therefore, one of the responsibilities of a good localizer is leaving some legacy for posterity in the form of glossaries and style guides.

You had a brilliant idea for that NPC or weapon name that you are very proud of? You wouldn’t want your successor to butcher it, so build a nice glossary that will help with future titles of the series and ease the marketing team’s work. The same goes for the style guides; you spent hours trying to make that character sound like a peasant with a lisp? You wouldn’t want him to speak like a poet who majored in Latin in the next entry of the series. Style guides are also helpful to point out specific spelling and punctuation choices and the relationships between the various characters in-game (particularly useful when you need to choose between a formal or an informal register, etc.).

Conclusion

Although we are often invisible to the eye of the public (if we are lucky enough, we might appear in the game credits!), we do important work and are responsible for the positive reception of the game in other markets. After all, being invisible also means that the translation feels natural for the players, and our mission is accomplished!

It’s not all fun and games (pun intended, although we might get some free games now and then), and we have to deal with the stress arising from strict deadlines and overlapping tasks. But it’s always great to see friends and streamers enjoy your work and laugh about your puns!

A day in the life of a video game localizer

One of the delivery Moogles from FFXIV. They are NPCs that can be found around Eorzea delivering mail, like translators deliver their files under strict deadlines!

About the Author
Federica Lusardi
Federica Lusardi
Senior Translator/Editor - Italian at

A passionate gamer since childhood, Federica Lusardi began working in the videogames industry when she moved to London in 2011 to study for an MA in audiovisual translation. After a brief time as a language tester for SEGA and translating her first game for Codemasters as a freelancer, she worked at Pole To Win as an in-house translator and team supervisor. Federica joined Square Enix in 2016, where she currently works as a Senior translator/editor - Italian. Her work encompasses translation for games and marketing campaigns, and she has translated games such as Life is Strange 2, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, the FINAL FANTASY Trading Card Game, and Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.