Welcome back to the our ongoing series of Developer Diaries for “The Alchemist Code.” Previously, we compared the differences between the Japanese version and the global version. We found out the reason for the title “The Alchemist Code”. We also know the global version includes a Tutorial Guidance to ease players into the game and help the global players enjoy the game even more.
With the recent launch of The Alchemist Code behind us, let us explore a little more in depth on how our language alchemists localize the game, the challenges and idiosyncrasies of translating Japanese-centric game into 4 culturally-unique languages.
So for this developer diary, let us take a look into the process of localization. Here to help us answer all of our burning questions, we have Mr. Hughie Hiroshi Kajino, The Alchemist Code Localization Project Manager . He is a Japanese American from San Francisco (before the tech boom), has been in Japan for 13 years, and most importantly, a Chuhai Connoisseur. Welcome Mr. Hughie Hiroshi Kanjino.
For those that are uninformed, can you share in your own words what Localization is and its process roughly?
Hughie Hiroshi Kajino (HK): This alone could take a whole book just to mention the overall process (lol). If I were to explain the bare bones of it I would say: First, analyze your current resources, then break down all the necessary tasks. Next would be to execute the tasks according to the timeline, and finally, test that the overall tasks have met their goal through either testing or outside feedback.
For translators, getting as much context as possible in advance is essential, although sometimes it may not be possible. In that case, it’s important to allocate time and resources for quality assurance and revisiting translation after more is understood about how the game works and it all fits together.
When working with multiple languages that are based on English translation, scheduling becomes very important, as English translation must be done well in advance, compared to projects that are all based on the same source language. It is also important to get the English translation right the first time, so that mistakes in one language don’t get replicated in others. However, since this isn’t always possible, it’s also important to be able to track changes so that improvements in one language can be rolled out into the others.
How does the company decide what needs to be localized and which ones to forgo? Is it based on popularity or other factors?
HK: Before a project starts we always look at the material that we have and the current situation of the market and our target audience. Then based on our goals, needs and restrictions, we make a plan that is seen from all perspectives, from business to game design and localization.
Popularity does indeed play a huge factor, but we always try to see things from 360 degrees, to make sure that we put our efforts where they will have the greatest effect.
For example, we decided to keep the original Japanese voices as is into our game mainly because we knew that our general audience is already used to these from other games and other media, like Anime, and we also wanted to keep that overall “made in Japan” essence for our global game. On the other hand, adding voices in other languages may only appeal to a few, while just having all the voices in the game may mean that the game requires more download times and more storage space to function, which is a burden for the whole userbase.
What aspects of the game is the team working on localizing?
HK: Basically any text inside and outside of the game goes through the Localization team for either writing or proofreading. The Localization team will always know if the text that is being made is correct from both a linguistic point of view and style wise, since all text goes through them, making use of native speakers.
However, this does not mean that the Localization team always makes the text from scratch. Our Marketing or Game Design teams will still need to write drafts, establishing the overall message that needs to be conveyed to the user, while the Localization team will be in charge of making sure that the essence of that message is properly communicated.
What does the Localization Team have to look out for when localizing the game?
HK: First of all, there needs to be a clear goal for the project itself. If the project has a specific target audience and goal, it becomes easier to establish the guidelines for localization.
Second of all, the text needs to match the needs of that target audience so they can enjoy the game all together. The localization is a vehicle for an audience who cannot enjoy the original source due to linguistic or cultural differences. Based on that, we decide what the overall style and tone of the game must have. It’s important to strike a balance between staying faithful to the source material and keeping our users engaged with material appropriate for them.
Localization is more than just translating the text, so did the Localization Team discuss the game’s inspiration with the Development Team?
HK: The Localization team tried to get as much information from the development team, in order to keep the translation as loyal to the source as possible. The team also went through multiple design documents about the lore and settings of the game before even starting translating, in order to get a general grasp of what was to come. There were quite a lot of documents, and we almost had to play detective in order to search for certain information and sift through documents that were outdated, etc.
Are there any common misconceptions you’d like to address on localization?
HK: One big misconception is that the source text is always perfect. Especially with system text and help text, it’s important to be aware of how the game actually works, so that the resulting text is factually accurate and not just an accurate translation. Sometimes the source text has mistakes that shouldn’t be replicated in the translations. And if the global version of the game has different or additional features, system text and help text have to be altered accordingly.
What do you think is the most challenging and enjoyable moments the team has of localizing the game?
HK: I would say that the most challenging part was to compile all the text that was required for translation and put it into a common translation pipeline for the whole team. Our localization team is not as big as in other companies and we also work across multiple international studios, so just trying to get everything started and moving forward was a big feat, especially because we had to do start this process well before the project got official approval and we got the resources we needed.
The text length limitations were also a big issue, especially because we did not really know how much text would fit when we started translation. Fonts and screen specs were still being debated, and in many cases, we did not know where certain text would appear. For the most part, we had to play it by ear and try to keep translations as concise as possible, and then shorten them even further once quality control starts. This was especially challenging with the European languages.
As a localization project manager, I find it exciting when story-related translations are delivered, because I get to see how the translators decided to translate a particular turn of phrase, often in a way I never would have thought of myself. Also, it’s great to be able to experience the localized story before anyone else.
Somehow translating the battlecry “うおおおおお” as “Huzzah!” was pretty funny to me, even the game designers over there got a chuckle out of it. Trying to figure out the right battlecry for each language was one of the enjoyable moments I had. You’ll definitely see plenty of “Huzzah!” in the game.
Many fans are discussing about the name change of the original title and the character names (Why Dias?)
HK: Well, Dias’s original name in the Japanese game is spelled “Dios (ディオス),” which is actually the translation of the word “God” in Spanish. This was immediately pointed out by one of our Spanish-speaking staff. So we made the decision to look for an alternative for it, in order to avoid offending our users. “Dias” had a good ring to it.
After delving into the game design documents mentioned above, we realized that actual original inspiration for the name of this character came from the Greek word “Diasthisi (διαίσθηση),” which means “intuition,” so we had lucked out!
The reasons why changes are made can vary from cultural reasons, to technical or style-related. The ultimate goal we have during localization is to make sure that the game can be played by the userbase without it feeling like it had just been made originally in the target language, with a natural language that can please our audience and keep them immersed into the game. Any changes to the original text need to be based on this premise.
I’m sure we do have a couple of aspiring translators/localisers among our readers, could you share any interesting points to guide them?
HK: To people aiming to become localizers I recommend to them that they analyze the games that they look from a professional perspective and try to bring up their own conclusions. Questions like “Why is certain text made in such way?”, “Why is this translation different from the original?”, “What is the aim of changing the UI of this game for the global version?”. This analytic thinking can be the key to learn how to become a true professional in the future.
Next, I recommend getting some knowledge on how games work internally. Even though translation is a big part of the process, you also have to make sure that the text you make fits the needs of the game as a system, and that goes from knowing the limitations that text has inside the UI, to knowing where and how text is stored, etc. The best Game Localizers I know have also certain level of engineering or game design expertise, which helps a lot in order to make the localization process fit the needs of the game. There are multiple books about Game Localization that teach the basics of these.
And lastly, I recommend to grasp good knowledge of the target audience and language. It does not matter how good your language skills you have if you are not able to understand your target user, because you will not be able to provide something that suits their needs. Connecting with multiple people from overseas and getting to know them, while also keeping your eyes on multicultural groups over the internet to know how users may react can be a way to achieve this.
Do you have any message for the fans?
HK: To the fans, I ask them that they always give proper feedback to the team, whether it is good or bad. No matter how much we try, mistakes are made and we need to learn from them in order to improve for the future. Also getting good feedback when stuff has been delivered properly helps boosting our morale to keep giving our best.
The For Whom the Alchemist Exists has a ton of IPs (intellectual properties) besides the game itself, and we would love to hear from our super-fans what they would like to see brought to the West. (You heard that! Tell us what you would like to see!)
Thank you Mr. Hughie Hiroshi Kajino for this insightful Q&A.
We hope you had a better understanding and a deeper appreciation for the hardworking translators/localisation teams.
You can play The Alchemist Code now for free on iOS and Android! Experience the story that captivated audiences in Japan and beyond in English, French, German and Spanish.
For our next Developer Diary, get ready your passport! We’ll be heading into the world of Babel, learn about its dark and rich history, and a closer look to the main cast, so stay tuned!
- The Alchemist Code Team