Tales from The Trenches Archive

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Lost in translation

I worked for a game company for almost 3 years, and when their first game was released in german, they oddly hired a Korean linguist … to localize the game into German.

When I had the first chance to check the game, I was shocked by the results and asked if they really intended to release the game in this state.

They were surprised by my reaction and asked “What’s so bad about it? When we put it through Google translate, it totally makes sense.”

The situation was really going downhill, and I couldn’t find words to describe the quality of the product. We were only 4 weeks away from Closed Beta, and I saw myself already hiding under a rock. I tried to get a good example from the game to show the state and severity of the translation, and I stumbled over this gem in the tutorial.

The player would see a little penguin with a brown cap and his mouth looked a little bit like a moustache. The speech bubble said “Möchtest du den Führer sehen? - (Would you like to see the guide?) Technically, the translation was correct, and the word “Führer” was correct in terms of a dictionary but, the combination of a penguin wearing a brown cap and moustache of a certain dictator in Germany around the 1940’s wasn’t really something i wanted to endorse in a game for 12 year old kids.

The possible options to choose from were “Yes,” “No,” or “Only at special occasions” and I was like “Seriously, special occasions? Like what? Reich Crystal Night?”

With that I went to the CEO and explained him that if this gets released, we can bury the game without going into the beta and move on to the next title.

He asked me what could be done, and I said that I would be willing to localize the game if i get the complete text. He agreed and within 4 weeks, I managed together with 3 friends to localize the whole game with almost 500.000 words into proper German.

I spent almost the full 4 weeks in the office and slept either in my chair, the couch, or not at all. In the end, the original localization person received money for the chaos she had been caused with her pseudo-German linguistic skills, and I had just received my regular salary.

We had a very tough week until the first maintenance arrived to implement the new translation. We did another 3 revisions for typos and strings which didn’t fit properly but we pulled it off.

Even today, I stumble across screenshots from that time and think, “Somehow … I miss that time in my life.” It was a nightmare, but I think it was the only time I’ve ever been fully in control about a project.

To release my anger at the time of the translation, I had rewritten some conversations in the game to express the horrors of the whole mess. 5 clowns in the middle of a city were talking about the madness of localizing and their side effects.