Conveying Spirit Through Form to Achieve a Unity of Form and Spirit

Conveying Spirit Through Form to Achieve a Unity of Form and Spirit

Localize a game in the right style

30th June 2022 by LangLink Miller

Game localization is a very broad concept, ranging from in-game text and press release processing to UI translation and layout adjustments, and even localized dubbing. In any case, the first thing to do before proceeding with localization is to understand the original style of a game. Mobile MOBA players who excitedly participate in the localization of strategy games may find it difficult to understand those complex tags and gameplay. Similarly, a player who is an expert at complex business games may not be able to handle a simple, fun indie game with ease. The key is about localizing the style of a game.

This is a process of understanding the original style of a game and then conveying it to the localized version. To convey the original style of a game to its best, it is necessary to convey spirit through form to achieve a unity of form and spirit.

    1. Understanding the original style of a game

    An ideal game localization specialist should be a player with a wide range of interests and a willingness to experiment, but there are always some game genres that we are not familiar with. In this case, we should figure out the following things first:

    • Is this a brand-new game or the latest in a series?

    • Is the game available in its source language?

    If it’s the latest in a series, we can look for the information about its predecessors on the Internet because there should be massive references online. Even if the game is new, there are plenty of English (and even target language) references if its source language version has been out for a while. We can also look at other games in the same genre, for example, referring to the Anno series for translating the Tropico series (as they share similar gameplay) and Company of Heroes 2 for translating Battlefield V (as they share similar background). Game trailers and live footage are often the best materials to get familiar with the style of a game, but there are many other resources available, for example:

    In general, videos are often more useful than text, and even audio can provide more clues. The visuals, the tone, and the pauses, they all reveal a little bit about the game. If it’s a new, unreleased game, we must make full use of limited resources, including references and clues from clients and the project content, TM, and glossary.

    We learn about the tone of a game from these resources, for example:

    • What is the basic gameplay: match 3, business, or RTS?

    • Is it an intense, dark hardcore game, or is it a fun, varied party game?

    • Is it a story-focused, immersive game or a competitive game that focuses on the online play?

    It is vital to understand the overall style and set the tone of a game before translation and indispensable to know more about the style and adjust it during translation. Understanding the style during translation is a progressive process. As we know more about the game, we may need to adjust the style of text already translated, which often feels painful and consumes a lot of time. However, it is critical for guaranteeing a consistent style across a project (especially across a large project). Such adjustments also highlight the importance of understanding the overall style before translation.

    2. Conveying the original style to the target

    There is an art to conveying the original style of a game in the right way. Let’s look at a simple phrase:

    Home, Sweet Home.

    Let’s say it’s the title of a side quest. A literal translation could be “甜蜜之家”. There seems nothing wrong with it, but we rarely see this expression in our lives. So we need to think about the style of the game. If it’s a fun, entertaining game, we can use “快乐老家”, a well-received meme, to convey the basic meaning of the original without going too far. If it’s a hardcore game, this wordplay seems inappropriate, and a more discreet version could be “温馨家园”.

    We call this approach “conveying spirit through form to achieve a unity of form and spirit”. “Spirit” is the style of a game, and “form” is the way we convey the style. Here is a simple example of a card from Hearthstone:

    Hearthstone is an entertaining card game. Even if we’re not familiar with the game, we can see that the English text is a parody of “Nothing Can Stop Us”. Therefore, we can be bold to add some humor to the translation. As this card has an extra effect on Murlocs, the translator uses a parody of “余勇可贾” to express the meaning of “have the energy to spare”.

    However, it should be pointed out that this kind of translation is skillfully done when there is a perfect chance for a parody. In other cases, we should not try when the original meaning may be compromised. In fact, our advice is to use plain but attractive language. While “plain but attractive language” seems contradictory, it is not. Let’s take Du Fu’s poem as an example: “Two yellow orioles sing amid the willows green; a row of white egrets fly into the blue sky” (两个黄鹂鸣翠柳,一行白鹭上青天). The language sounds plain without any flowery speech, but the color contrast, visual presentation, antithetical parallelism, and rhythm in it are all worth appreciating. The same is true for localization. We pursue poetic language while conveying the content and style of the original text to its best, no matter it is a work of introspection full of critical thinking or a romantic ode featuring a flow of mind. Here is another example for your reference:

    The moon shall be tinged with blood;

    The Sun shall be obscured.



    The Earth shall be covered by waters,

    And the brilliant stars shall fall From their sanctuaries in the heavens.



    Fire and smoke shall rise up.

    Until they reach the very skies.



    It’s from a hardcore game that gives players an epic experience. We must treat this descriptive text with caution after understanding the style of the game, as it shapes the world view of the game and plays an important role in players’ experience. To create a horrible eschatological scene and convey the style of the original text, we can use some mystical expressions (i.e., conveying spirit through form), such as “晦暗不明” (obscured) and “星辰” (stars), and pay attention to the rhythm such as “将…也将” (shall be… shall be…) and “拔地而起,冲天而去” (rise up. Until they reach the very skies). We can see that the expression here is actually very plain without flowery words or deviating from the original text, but the target text remains attractive and achieves “a unity of form and spirit”.


    We can draw a conclusion for localizing a game in the right style in two steps: (1) understanding the original style of a game and (2) conveying it to the target. First of all, we should make full preparation for translation by collecting all useful materials to have a basic idea of a game and its style. Then we need to present the style in the right way, either rigorous or lively according to the tone of the game, while plain, attractive expression is a safe, universal approach.

    With all of these tips in hand, how can we improve our ability to localize a game in the right style? We intend to illustrate this with a dialog from the Analects of Confucius:

    Zi Gong replied, “It is said in the Book of Poetry, ‘As you cut and then file, as you carve and then polish.’ The meaning is the same, I apprehend, as that which you have just expressed.”

    The Master said, “With one like Ci, I can begin to talk about the odes. I told him one point, and he knew its proper sequence.”

    In short, only by exploring all available resources, referring to games that have been released, observing, practicing, exchanging ideas, and pondering, can we “begin to talk about the odes”. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Let’s step into the universe of games to experience it now!

    LangLink Gaming Localization

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