from the Best
interview with Heather Chandler, founder and President of
Sunshine, Inc. and author of The Game
Localization Handbook and The Game Production Handbook.
CCAPS: You have worked in
the game industry since 1996. How much of your
past and recent work is directly related to G-localization
(a.k.a. the GILT industry)?
When I worked as a producer, localization
was just one of my responsibilities. For each
game I worked on, I organized all the assets for
translation, managed the translation process,
integrated localized assets and coordinated the
testing. This required planning during pre-production
so there were no surprises during the actual localization
I also worked with the production team to make sure
localization issues were accounted for during game development.
Oftentimes, localization is the last thing on a game
developer’s mind, because they are so focused
on finishing the primary version of the game (usually
for the US market). If localization is left until the
end of the project, you run the risk of having a localization
pipeline that is difficult and time-consuming to work
with. For example, the game text may be hard-coded,
which means the text that needs to be translated is
located within programming files that should only be
manipulated by a programmer. You may also find that
graphic files contain embedded text, instead of having
the text on a separate layer, making it very time consuming
to alter the graphic for other languages. You may also
find that the product you are working on is so specific
to a single country that it is hard to modify it for
other countries. For example, a game about Monster Trucks
would not appeal to many people outside the United States.
Now that you are working as a consultant and have
your own company, how would you say that your present
activity differ from the times you worked for companies
like Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, Activision and New Line
For me, the main difference between working for a company
and being a consultant is that, as a consultant, I can
work on several different projects. For instance, I
can spend my time teaching, writing or working with
others — and these activities are not all directly
related to game development. I also have the freedom
to pick and choose which projects I work on. It is nice
being your own boss and focusing on what you enjoy doing
and are good at. Because my main expertise is production
management, I also have a wide variety of services I
can offer. For example, I can manage a voiceover shoot
from start to finish, work with a developer on defining
a localization-friendly production pipeline, teach game
development classes, help small technology businesses
grow, create game pitches or any other number of production-related
services. While I did enjoy working as a Producer at
various companies, I could only work on one project
at a time. Oftentimes, these projects lasted one year
To date, you have worked on more than 30 games,
including Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter,
Ghost Recon 2, Civilization: Call to Power,
Heavy Gear, Apocalypse, Vigilante
8, Shanghai: Second Dynasty, and Zork:
Grand Inquisitor. Which was more fun to develop?
And the most complicated?
Of the games listed above, Shanghai: Second Dynasty
(S2D) was the most fun for me. Shanghai is
a tile-matching game where the player must match up
tile pairs in order to clear them from the board. This
game is also known as Mah Jong to some people.
S2D had several game variations on the tile matching,
as well as 4-player Mah Jong. It was fun because I learned
so much about game production while working on it. The
producer-director, Tom Sloper, had several years of
game development and design experience and really knew
the process of creating a game from the inside out.
He was one of my first mentors and taught me about writing
design documents, managing internal and external teams,
play-testing, marketing and project management. I had
a range of different responsibilities with the game,
including creating the installer, approving art assets,
working with the composer and creating the gold master
candidates. Localization of Shanghai was also
a learning experience. Not only did I have to coordinate
the translations, I also had to integrate the translated
assets, manage the testing, etc. — all for three
different languages (including Japanese). One of the
most complicated games I worked, at least from a localization
standpoint, was Civilization: Call to Power.
This was a very text heavy PC game, and the plan was
to release all the languages at the same time as the
English version. This was my first experience working
on simultaneous shipment localization. The development
team worked very hard to get the game finished and localized
into five different languages. We had to put together
special tools for the translators to make the process
easier — they had over 50,000 words to translate
for each language.
You also have a lot of hands-on experience with
game localization, correct? What was the localization
process like for Shanghai: Second Dynasty?
The localization process for Shanghai: Second
Dynasty was pretty straightforward. The game was
released in German, French and Japanese. First,
all of the in-game text was centrally located
in easy to access text files. I simply had to
get these files and send them off for translation.
When the translations were completed, I replaced
the text files with the appropriate localized
files. For the voiceovers, the script was sent
off to be translated and then a voiceover recording
session was planned for each language. Once the
recordings were finished, the localized VO files
were sent to me so they could be added to the
Once all the assets were added, we began testing. There
are two types of testing — functionality testing
and linguistic testing. Functionality testing is where
you check the game for any crash bugs or game play issues.
Linguistic testing involves the verification of all the
game’s language assets. The testers looked for text
truncations, grammatical errors, missing text, untranslated
text, etc. I can’t remember the exact word counts,
but I do remember it took about eight weeks to localize
the game into thee languages. The languages were determined
by projecting how many copies of the game would sell against
the cost of making the localized builds. These types of
decisions are handled by the sales, marketing and finance
departments, and sometimes they decide to localize a title
into 10 languages, while other titles only get localized
into two languages.
CCAPS: In The Game Localization
Handbook, you dedicate an entire chapter to "Localization
Production Pitfalls." What are these pitfalls and
what would be the ways to avoid them?
The major production pitfalls discussed in the book
Poor Planning – if localizations
are left until the last minute, it is likely that the
game code will not be localization-friendly. This makes
it difficult to create international versions in a timely
fashion. If planned for in advance, localizations do
not need to be a burden on the development team. When
planning for localizations, have a good idea of how
many assets need to be translated, their format, how
they will be organized for translation and how quickly
the translations can be integrated into the assets.
Achieving Simultaneous Release –
Simship of numerous languages is possible, but only
if planned for. If the team is thinking about localizations
well in advance, they are more likely to achieve simship.
Linguistic and Functionality Testing
– Testing is a very time-consuming aspect of localization.
In many cases, the testing is not planned or well organized,
which only adds to the time needed. If you are testing
five languages, you need to determine a standardized
way for the translators to report linguistic bugs and
then find a reliable way to track these fixes in the
Quality of Translations – Some
translators will do a straight translation of text and
will not adapt it to fit within the game universe. For
example, if a humorous game has very dry translations,
a lot of the humor is lost in the localized versions.
This can be remedied if the translators have a chance
to play a version of the game (even an English one),
so they fully understand how to convey its entertaining
CCAPS: Speaking of pitfalls, did
your team manage to avoid these when localizing the
games above or did you gather the information for the
book by learning from your own mistakes and those of
That’s a great question! I honestly have
to say that I have experienced most of these pitfalls.
However, when talking with my colleagues, I find that
most of them have experienced these same pitfalls as
CCAPS: What countries are the most
important players in the entertainment software industry?
And where are the best markets located?
Germany and France have always been big game markets.
Italy and Spain have also had a presence, but not as
large. Asia is also becoming a very large market —
in particular Korea and Japan. Other emerging markets
are Eastern Europe and the Netherlands.
CCAPS: Finally, what would be your advice
for those who want to enter the entertainment software
I think it is important that you play the games and
have an understanding of how the interactive medium
is structured. In my experience, translators who understand
and play games are more effective in this area of localization.
They have a better understanding of what needs to be
adapted in order to keep the tone of the game consistent
with the English version.
Maxwell Chandler graduated with honors from Vanderbilt
University and received an M.A. from the USC School
of Cinema-Television. Prior to the creation of MSI,
a company that provides consulting services for
game developers, publishers and vendors, she served
in various production positions at Ubisoft, Electronic
Arts, Activision and New Line Cinema. She agreed
to give us this interview in between diapers and
safety pins, busy with her son Jack, born last December.