Mind Your Language

Mind Your Language

By Ed Fear

July 19th 2007 at 5:33PM

Develop offers up a look at the state of play in the localisation, QA and testing fieldsâ?¦

Now that the turbulent generation jump is nearing its end, once again the emphasis for developers and publishers is ‘more’.

More coders (if you can find them), more artists (if you can afford them), more assets (if you’ve got the time to make them) and, as a consequence, more hours in the day to make all that work. But schedules need to be tight to keep costs down, leaving development in even more of a race to that ever-distant finishing line than it has been in the past – and it is tail-end services like localisation and QA that are feeling the brunt of it.

“The main impact of this generation is that games are bigger. So we’re now dealing with dialogue scripts that are upwards of a million words. Previously 50,000 words was a big script and 10,000 an average,” explains Mark Estdale, OMUK MD.

Indeed, it’s not just core development teams that are swelling: localisation teams are similarly having to grow for next-gen needs.

Gone are the days when a translation could be bashed out by a single person within a month, such as Final Fantasy VI’s famous Japanese-English adaptation. “Now projects sometimes require in the region of ten translators and editors at times to meet quality and schedule requirements,” says Babel’s Keith Russell.

It’s not simply an increase in content that is squeezing localisation houses, though, but also an increase in the number of languages requested by the publisher.

“Whereas the common French, Italian, German, Spanish combination has been a minimum set of languages for the last few years, Nordic territories are growing significantly,” he adds. “Languages such as Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are now regularly requested for full localisation.”

Much of that demand, of course, comes from the growth of the games audience.

The growing games audience and its various laugages and demographics has meant localisers are in high demand, says David Hooker, VP of sales and marketing at Testronic Labs: “That growing market is rapidly segmenting with games for mature, professional women alongside the traditional ones for young boys - all of which means, as testors, we have a lot to offer in terms of our culturual and linguistinc knowledge when it comes to those target markets.

“Localisation is one one of the key and necessary outsourcing areas – but because we are at the back end we are having to be constantly adaptive.”

Another major issue is that of the increase in demand for simultaneous worldwide releases for games. As more gamers turn to the internet for their gaming news aggregation and reporting, its global nature means that people are more aware of the lag between releases in different territories – and nothing’s worse than listening to someone enjoying something you can’t get your hands on yet.

“The ideal from a localisation point of view is to have final, verified and locked original assets before the localisation starts. For this to happen with simultaneous release, the release of the originating language needs holding back until the localisation is finished. Consequently there is pressure to squeeze the localisation time as much as possible and ‘can we have it yesterday?’ is a phrase that comes with every localisation request,” says Estdale.

“If there’s no option to get finished original assets then it is essential that change tracking is bullet proof and context rich information provided.”

Bigger games and harsher demands on time don’t just affect localisation processes, of course – more content means more to test, and it’s not just the content that’s causing a stir.

“With the addition of HD, games are having to be checked on various screen formats and more than one screen type,” adds Vickie Peggs of PartnerTrans.

Similarly, says Orange Studio’s Gabriele Vegetti, new control mechanisms are also precipitating change: “The new interactivity brought by these two consoles has added new challenges to our work: a brand new glossary for interactions and peripherals, new linguistic issues such as DS voice recognition, and new procedures.”

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
It’s not a huge surprise that localisation and QA are often thought of as last-minute processes – by their very nature, they require the source material to be as close to final as possible, and it’s understandable that many developers or publishers will feel that tweaking shaders or adding last-minute enhancements are more important than readying assets for localisation.

So how can a deadlock like this be solved? How do you allow enough time for localisation while still shipping the master on time? There isn’t a general solution, and that’s the point: neither is there a general solution for the whole process. “Talk to your localisation suppliers early,” advises Estdale. “We know the markets intimately and localisation is what we do, day in and day out. Advice is free, and it could help to keep milestones intact.”

Indeed, advice was almost uniform across all the companies we spoke to. “Discuss your schedule requirements, the expected volume of words, audio assets, QA hours. Define everything. By providing information early, any potential issues can be assessed and dealt with,” concurs Russell.

“We work with a number of companies from the early stages of development to aid them in getting things in place for when the time comes to start localising,” adds Peggs. “This works so much better for the end product, but isn’t used widely enough.”

Regardless of when you schedule localisation, the most important thing is that it happens at all.

Warns Vegetti: “As far as localisation is concerned, some UK and US-based studios are so used to English being a sort of modern Esperanto that they don’t realise how many people in the world don’t speak English at all, or not well enough to enjoy a game in all its subtleties. Don’t think ‘Our game is so good, it’ll sell well even with a lousy localisation, or none at all.’”