The success of many top gaming titles can be attributed to their immersive stories and unforgettable characters. But sometimes, the player’s immersion is broken, and the most common reason for this is: bad localization. It might start with a line of dialogue that just seems weird, followed by a subtitle that says one thing while the corresponding voice-over is completely different… suddenly, the player is disenchanted.
Without proper resources, most games would probably suffer from these kinds of avoidable issues. It would be extremely difficult to write up a colossal script for an RPG or any text-heavy game without a single typo or oversight. It’s also important for the script writers not to perform the final proofreading check on their game, since it’s a known phenomenon that an external editor would catch mistakes more easily.
Enter Localization Quality Assurance (LQA): a team of testers dedicated to finding all linguistic-related issues in a game, including cultural inconsistencies, unnatural expressions, visual implementation issues with the text… the list goes on.
Since LQA consists of more than just proofreading line by line, there are several things we must look out for to ensure the highest quality of language for the end product. Below are some of the most common linguistic issues found throughout the testing process:
Fixing simple “linguistic bugs” like spelling and punctuation issues is relatively straightforward, but we don’t find them through the game’s text files; we progress through the game so that we experience the text in the same way that actual players will. This practice helps us make more informed decisions, since we understand who is speaking, what event took place before this text appeared, how the line looks in the UI or dialogue box, and so on.
Aside from individual mistakes, testers also need to agree upon how to apply grammar rules consistently. Take these topics which are commonly debated: should there be a comma before “and”? And should punctuation be placed inside or outside of quotation marks? To standardize corrections, an LQA team usually agrees on one main dictionary to use for the target language, such as Merriam-Webster for American English. But of course, a dictionary’s suggestions aren’t always right for many games that favor more casual language, so we are in constant discussion with other testers about these issues. The more opinions we gather on a contested topic, the better the final correction. Thus, the importance of teamwork in our day-to-day cannot be overstated.
At times game developers also provide style guides to writers, translators, and the QA team, which can be extremely useful. They might establish rules for how ellipses should be formatted (often used to indicate pauses in dialogue), or how grunts and other exclamations should be written (is “aaaaaahhhhhh” an acceptable spelling, or should there be fewer a’s or h’s?). There might also be suggestions on how to handle made-up words and slang, which can be tricky at times. For instance, if a game uses a made-up word with a spelling that’s very close to a real word, we have to ask if players will understand this is intentional, or if they’ll think there’s been a typo.
While an increasing number of games are being released to international audiences, some are intended for more local regions, such as a game made for Brazilian Portuguese and Latin American Spanish players versus European Portuguese and Castilian Spanish. It’s important for LQA to look out for differences in spelling and the types of expressions used in the different varieties of any language.
Testers also need to correct any awkward, unnatural expressions in dialogue. These are often the result of a word-for-word translation or a misjudged use of slang, which can happen especially if the translators do not have sufficient contextual information. Having native speakers on the LQA team ensures that expressions sound as natural as possible in the target language. And even then, testers can come across slang that they’ve never heard before, but it turns out the slang is in common usage among a group of people that might correspond to the game’s audience. In these instances, the infamous Urban Dictionary is sometimes used (with caution) along with other forums to find out how people actually talk in certain social groups.
Finally, it’s common sense that cultural references need to be well adapted. If an American game makes a joke about American politics, you’d want to find an equivalent reference for audiences in Japan that might not know what you’re talking about, and vice versa.
When LQA testers are familiar with a game as a whole, it’s easy to identify inconsistencies in the way that character names and in-game locations are spelled. It also happens that from one language to the next, there is commonly no direct translation for an expression, or a word can be translated in several different ways. For example, in a game where a character is levelling up their “endurance” skill, this could be translated as “stamina”, “persistence”, or “patience” in different languages, which each have significantly distinct meanings. If the translation isn’t done consistently, a game might have several different words used to refer to the same skill across different menus, which would understandably leave the player confused. In short, it’s never a good thing when time is spent trying to understand the semantic aspects of a game instead of enjoying the actual gameplay.
If you’re an avid gamer who’s well versed in the lore of a series, chances are you’ve come across some plot points that don’t quite add up. While plot holes are great for meme-culture, they undoubtedly lessen the credibility of a game’s story upon seeing them. Unfortunately, there’s not much that LQA can do with a plot hole that’s so large that it takes up a whole scene in a game, but we do have the ability to catch and fix smaller discrepancies. For instance, if a character tells you that “100 years ago the kingdom was brought to ruin,” and then that character’s partner tells you the same event happened 80 years ago, the inconsistency would just look sloppy in the final product. So when testers can fix details like these, it is satisfying to know that the game’s narrative is more polished as a result.
Similarly, due to incorrect translations of individual words or sentences, sometimes a conversation between two characters doesn’t make sense within the context. Again, it’s a huge benefit for LQA testers to be familiar with a game inside and out so we can fix these types of issues. This way, not only are the individual sentences grammatically correct, but they make sense in the story as a whole.
For games that contain voice acting, the audio is a large focus of our attention in LQA. Sometimes there are intentional discrepancies between voice overs (VOs) and subtitles, such as when a character is talking very fast and there isn’t enough time for the player to read every word of dialogue. Shortening the written text is a good solution in this situation, but it’s less pleasant when the differences between subtitle and VO are not intentional.
A case in point is that some stylistic choices work well in writing but sound unnatural when they’re spoken aloud, like the use of italics on certain words. In such cases, the voice actors might change the wording slightly to make it sound more like people really talk. And if it happens that an actor places emphasis on a different word, it looks better when the subtitle reflects this. For example, the script might say “Hey, that’s not nice,” but the recorded VO sounds a lot more like, “Heeey, that’s not nice”. If LQA can change the text to “Heeey,” now the feeling conveyed in the line is nearly identical in both sound and writing.
Although these details might seem minor, they are further examples of ways that a player’s immersion can be broken. Whenever attention turns from the game experience towards the game’s mechanics, it’s a slightly tarnished moment for the player.
Every LQA tester has a diverse range of experiences depending on the titles they’ve worked with, so there is far more to localization quality assurance than what’s been said here–not to mention the implementation issues that we routinely deal with, like cut-off text, unsupported characters, or misplaced graphics. But the common thread is that having a dedicated team of linguistic testers leads to less confusion and frustration for the eventual players of a game. Whether we’re checking the written dialogue, the VOs, or the whole story, there are key issues to look out for, and after successful LQA testing, a more pleasant gaming experience is all but guaranteed.