A Day in the Life of an Avid Game Translator

As a casual gamer, something I realized quickly is that casual games are really rather fun! They are often well designed and immersive, relatively short and enjoyable while playing at your own pace. Their content is also better suited to those looking to enjoy their games without the extra violence and adult themes often associated with other gaming genres. For those still seeking a little thrill however, some casual games do revolve around ‘dark’, ‘sinister’ and ‘spooky’ environments. Many casual games are barrier-free and come with upbeat, humorous stories, or contain charming puzzles and fun mini-games. Despite being geared towards players who enjoy a quick gaming experience, they can offer extensive storylines and exquisite dialogue with references to classical literature, pop culture, science-fiction series and even quizzes.

Casual game genres include: Match 3, Hidden Object, Time Management, Strategy, Board Games, Brain Training, Marble-Popping, Word Games and more.

Hide and Seek

One of my favorite genres is ‘Hidden Object’. Here are a few insights into the main aspect of localizing the Hidden Object genre.

As the name suggests, Hidden Object games feature puzzles based on finding objects in pictures. Underneath each picture is a list of items the player must find in order to progress through the game. Once you find an item on the list, click on it, and the word vanishes or gets highlighted as done. There are some hurdles to overcome when translating items found in Hidden Object games. For starters, one item may have different meanings in the original language. For example, let’s say the original language is English.

Lots of Casual Games produced in English feature items like fans, bats, letters, bows, screens, and beads. Developers like to use such words because the player is challenged to look for something they won’t recognize immediately. Does the ‘key’ look like something to open a door with, or is it a piano key? Is the ‘face’ the face of a clock or rather a portrait? The ambiguity of many of the objects is what makes this genre so much fun, but here’s the catch – terms that are ambiguous in English are rarely ambiguous in the various target languages and we’ve not even mentioned incorrect spellings and inaccuracies in the source text. Why can’t I find a ‘Hose’ anywhere? Which ‘Beatle’ am I looking for? Where is the ‘Roman’? Once you’ve found the horse, the Cockroach and the Roman numeral ‘IV’, you will appreciate that a well-localized product requires attention in the right places.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match…

So how hard is it to create top-notch translations of Hidden Object scenes? Well, it isn’t hard at all – provided that translation teams receive reference images, string ID’s, or a playable version of the game (with cheats just to save time). Sounds obvious? One may be quite surprised how often this vital information is not provided. ‘Can’t you just run the words through your term database?’ you might ask. Simple answer: Yes, we can, but just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean that it’s good. Many translation memory tools may trick you into thinking ‘It’s a 100% match so it’s 100% correct’ when this isn’t the case.
Hidden Object pictures load random lists of objects, even after three or more extensive test passes some words may not have come up yet and bugs may remain undetected even after game release, by which time a frustrated player contacts tech support in anger.

Taking the Confusion Out of Ambiguity

As we’ve seen above, many of the Hidden Objects in English may lose their ambiguity during the translation process. Does that make the translated game less fun to play? Well, once the translators know what an item looks like, they can find an ambiguous translation but it may not be for the same object! For example, the English word ‘Dots’. If it refers to five dots on a die, it can become ‘Augen’ in German, which refers to either dots on dice or eyes.

Translators can find context for their work in string ID’s, in the original text (in case the English version is not the original one) or simply by playing through the game as many times as possible. Luckily, in average-sized Hidden Object games, this is still a viable option for efficient use of translation time. Many games can be played in a few hours and a proactive translator will take as many screenshots as possible for team-members’ reference – including the Hidden Object scenes. This isn’t the most efficient way of going about translation however.

To conclude, the more pictorial context, cheats, game reference material and other useful context developers provide to the localization vendor, the more fun the finished game will be for the audience. Plus, as a developer, you won’t need to answer the same translator queries repeatedly. After all, the genre is called ‘Hidden Object’, not ‘Incorrectly Translated Object’ – although that might be rather fun, too!

Martin Schmalz, Game Translator (DE, EN), MO Group International

About MO Group International

MO Group International
 is a leading localization, translation and game testing provider. With linguistic expertise in over 40 different languages for every genre of game,  MO Group International delivers high quality QA testing, community management, and localization services. Working on small-to-large-scale projects, MO Group International caters to the cultural and linguistic needs of both its clients and its customers. For more information, contact us today.

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