Hi, I’m James Stein and I’ve been translating for videogames since 2014 and playing them a lot longer. Prior to working in localization, I was an EFL teacher, and before that I was a student at the University of Notre Dame, where I studied mathematics and the great books with a side of Russian language studies.
Actually, how does it works?
Step 1: I receive a task (number of words, deadline, project)
Step 2: Assuming I can do the task in time, I accept. If I cannot, the task is either reassigned or we discuss what deadline would be possible. Other creative solutions are occasionally proposed as well.
Step 3: If I haven’t worked on the game before, I go online or ask a PM and try to learn more about the game – the genre, the visual style, etc.
Step 4: I hop to translating. In an ideal world, I look at the structure of the assignment, and start translating. During the process I check in the translation memory (a great feature of our translation software. It’s a highly searchable database of previous translations in a given project.) to make sure that terms that look new really are new and check the limits.
Step 5: Translating involves the basic stuff everyone thinks of when they think of translation, but it also involves recognizing cultural references (or recognizing potential references and asking the Internet or a coworker to confirm), as well as jokes, some of which don’t play very well when you see them without the accompanying images from the game, and then adapting them.
Of course, sometimes these things can come out very ham-fisted in translation if you have to shoehorn in a reference or joke where it doesn’t naturally occur. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to add a joke somewhere else and cut the joke from the line in question, thus keeping the overall cleverness/humor of the text. Typically, though, clients don’t like that. They worked hard on those jokes! Naturally, they want to see their jokes in the final version, not some other guy’s! So you do what you can, and sometimes it takes a bit of a back and forth to come up with a version everyone is satisfied with. In order to have that back and forth, it’s best to inform the PM about liberties you want to take before you turn in the document.
Step 6: Sometimes things require context or clarifying questions. I ask the PM about these things, and if the PM doesn’t have the answers, they pass along the questions to the client. When it’s finished I turn it in for editing.
And my FAVORITE story
Back when I was just starting out, I was working on a part of a gladiator-type storyline from some Russian developers. One of the opponents was called a фаворит. A transliteration of the English word favorite which is used in Russian to mean the favorite (often in a gambling setting). When presented with the translation “favorite”, the developer was shocked. They accused us of using Google translate and of not understanding what we were writing. They went on to explain that the English word favorite actually means the one everyone likes the most emotionally (like my favorite color), and wasn’t being used correctly to talk about the gladiator who was believed to have the best odds.
But there is always one “But”
But one of the things no one tells you about being a translator is that your job is sometimes to convince people that you know what you’re talking about, assuage worries, and generally prove your worth (often to people who don’t speak enough of the target language to fully evaluate your work). If you start to feel like you’re a genius and you are beyond question, you’re not going to keep clients for long. Sometimes that means compromising, and sometimes that means spending extra time to find supporting evidence for your choices from a trusted source.
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