Tips for Localizing Games from Chinese to English
Aug 2022 by LangLink Chloe
As the Chinese government has tightened its restrictions on gaming, game developers in China are going global in response to the slowing local growth. Hence, there is a surge in demand for localizing Chinese games. Localization usually involves native speakers of the target language, with the source language being their second (or sometimes third) language. That means a Chinese game is usually translated into English by English native speakers. But in actual practice, Chinese native speakers are often engaged to handle culture-heavy content in Chinese games. Whether you are managing a team of Chinese native linguists, or you are a Chinese translator interested in gaming and wish to enter the industry, we’ve provided some fundamental tips to help you or your team get started with Chinese game localization.
1. Think in the target language, i.e. English
A common problem with translating Chinese content is translationese, or Chinglish. Linguists usually fail to provide an intuitive and organic translation as they simply convert the Chinese characters into English characters. As translators, we all know that translation is not merely about converting the words, but the messages and the culture behind the written text. And that’s the key to localizing all types of content, including gaming materials, from Chinese to other languages.Take the below sentence as an example: 我们作为因特网系统，与多元出租车队合作结盟，您可以再次打开 App 打车了！ A Chinese native speaker may translate it like this: We, as an Internet system, have cooperated with the multi-purpose taxi fleet. You can use the app to request a ride again! Although the translation is grammatically correct and can be considered fluent, it can be further polished to align with the marketing practices in English. Some awkward expressions include:
i. Directly translating “我们作为因特网系统”
ii. “has cooperated with“: the word “cooperate” is usually used in more formal contexts
iii. Though the source says 您可以, it’d be better to put the focus on an action verb to drive actions instead of using “you can use…”
So, how can we provide an idiomatic translation by thinking in English? We can analyze the source and identify its key message. The content is about B2C communications, so it intends to promote something (i.e. the return of the app/service) and to drive actions (i.e. encourage customers to request a ride). Then, let’s think about how we can express such messages in English. Remember, we’re not converting the Chinese characters into English. We’re trying to express the Chinese messages in English. A possible translation may be: Our partnership with the MPT scheme makes it possible to once again request a ride in Hsinchu via our Internet-based app. A good translation should read as if it were originally written in English, so linguists should have a target-oriented mindset when localizing creative content. Non-native speakers of English can achieve a near-native level by reading similar texts to study and imitate the style of a certain content type, i.e. immersing yourselves in the English environment.
2. Explore the English culture
Allusions are a commonly used literary device in game localization, especially for games with a magical setting. For example, in Arena of Valor, a MOBA game developed in Chinese, this technique is used to translate the names of some skills. The AOV team took inspiration from the legendary King Arthur and created the character Thane in the game. He has two skills, “圣剑裁决” and “致命一击”, which are translated as Avalon’s Fury and Excalibur, as Avalon is the final resting place of King Arthur as well as the birthplace of his sword Excalibur. By adding cultural references, the translation would become more interesting and idiomatic. Try to explore the English culture by reading mythology, popular TV series/movies, etc.
3. Master game terminology
In a sharing session about game localization, a participant asked me, “I seldom play games, and I’m not really interested in games either. Is it a good idea for me to become a game translator?” The answer is definitely “no”. The game localization market is thriving, and many people want to get a piece of the pie. But if you don’t know much about games, and you’re not interested in exploring games either, it’s hard for you to deliver fluent and accurate translation. For example, when translating 眩晕 (Stun) in the MOBA game, amateurs may translate it as “Faint”. Here are some more terms for MOBA games: 近战 VS 远程 Melee VS Ranged普攻吸血 Life Steal法术吸血 Spell Vamp韧性 Resistance沉默 Silence We can see that the skills/abilities are not translated directly. Without gaming knowledge, you cannot translate these terms correctly. And playing games released in English is definitely the best (and the most interesting) way to get yourselves familiar with English gaming terminology. For example, if you are a fan of 王者荣耀 (Honor of Kings), you can try similar MOBA games like LOL. This way, you can get familiar with English gaming terminology while having fun. For multilingual games like Animal Crossings, you can simply switch to English in the language settings. And that’s why people who are not interested in games would find it hard to enter the industry. Try to discover the fun of games before getting started with game localization.
As for the way to get familiar with English game terminology, it’s definitely to play English games. If you like Honor of Kings and other MOBA games, you may want to play LOL. They have the same mode, so it will be easier for you to get started. Get familiar with English game terminology while having fun, why not? If it’s a multilingual game, you can change the UI language to English. That’s why I said that people who don’t play games are not suitable to become game translators. If a person is not interested in games, he or she is not motivated to learn things about games and thus won’t do better than a game player. If you want to become a game translator, you’d better discover the fun of games first. After all, no one really doesn’t like games.
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