thin line between full (and good) localization and (not always
so good) remakes
have a confession to make: I get hooked easily on anything
that is considered to be addictive: Coca-cola, chocolate,
the Internet, videogames... even movies! I am the kind
of person that can watch the same film 50 times and
memorize the dialogue from beginning to end. One of
those movies that I have seen several times is Terminator
II: Judgment Day. It is funny that one of the most
famous lines the entire Spanish audience still remembers
is “Sayonara, baby!” And this is one of
my favorite examples to explain localization.
the original version, Schwarzenegger said “Hasta
la vista, baby!” So here is my question, how do
we translate “hasta la vista” into Spanish
if it is already in Spanish? Well, you simply do not
translate it. It has to be “localized,”
adapted and analyzed in context. This is a sentence
written in Spanish in an English script. The adaptation
into Spanish is perfect: While the translator has chosen
a way to say goodbye in a language other than Spanish,
it is still an expression familiar to Spaniards. “Sayonara”
is to Spanish what “Hasta la vista” is to
until a few decades ago, movies were the main form of
entertainment in the modern world. Today, videogames
threaten to take their place. The spectacular systems
from the 1970s have evolved into consoles, portable
handhelds and mobile phones. Videogames are forever
evolving and are omnipresent today. They have outshined
the toys of our parents and, according to recent studies,
the revolution has just begun. From the point of view
of localization, there are a series of common elements
between movies and videogames, although these are two
completely different phenomena.
is no doubt that Hollywood is the worldwide headquarters
of the movie industry. American movies are watched everywhere,
whether dubbed, subtitled or in plain English. Although
most films bear the unmistakable “Made in USA”
stamp, this is also a successful form of entertainment
overseas. However, the American audience does not welcome
foreign films so warmly. Japanese, French, Spanish and
Italian productions rarely make it to North America.
Then again, we are used to watching American remakes
of foreign films. The French 3 hommes et un couffin
(Coline Serreau, 1983) was adapted to Three men
and a baby (Leonard Nimoy, 1987). The Franco-Dutch
production Spoorloos, directed by George Sluizer
in 1988, and the Danish movie Nattevagten,
directed by Ole Bornedal in 1994, became The Vanishing
(1993) and Nightwatch (1997), respectively.
The Ring (Gore Verbinski, 2002) is the remake
of the Japanese box-office hit Ringu (Hideo
Nakata, 1998). Last but not least, Alejandro Amenábar’s
Abre los ojos (1997) became Cameron Crowe’s
Vanilla Sky (2001), with Penelope Cruz starring
in both the Spanish and US versions.
The reason why foreign films are not successful in North
America goes beyond language. The film industry has
a better chance of making more money by investing millions
of dollars to create an entirely new movie based on
that foreign flick with proven success beyond U.S. borders.
|3 hommes et un couffin
||Three men and a baby
will not defend or criticize this practice and I
will not analyze whether the final product is better
or worse than the original, but I have no doubt
that this is localization on a grand scale, the
biggest and finest example of localization. We are
not dealing with the mere translation of a script
for dubbing or subtitling. This is about gathering
a new cast of American stars, choosing a new background
that is more familiar to the public and altering
the story to fit all those changes. The script is
rewritten in a different language, with another
style and approach. In the end, this is a product
tailor made for the end consumer. However, there
is nothing left of the original film but a mild
The videogame industry is predominantly American.
This does not mean that North American products
are better. Companies simply invest more money and,
like any other form of entertainment, they export.
And they do it in style. Similarly to the movie
industry, developers and publishers have taken for
granted that the rest of the world will welcome
their games with open arms. However, it has not
always been this way…
have evolved. They are no longer those simple programs
like Pong or Pac Man, with nothing but dots, bars and
simple-shaped spaceships. Now, they tell stories and
feature images and sounds that look real. You can even
watch baseball players breathe when they are standing
at the plate! The possibilities are endless, the product
becomes more complex and the player demands a localized
product, one that comes ready in their language, with
references to their culture and with characters, stories
and jokes they can identify with.
gamer turns on their computer, console or handheld system
and whole new worlds unfold: fantastic stories, impossible
challenges, fictional heroes that allow them to attain
the fame and glory they cannot get in their daily life.
The player becomes immersed in the action, and they
live a parallel life. There have even been reports in
the media in recent times of people committing crimes
because their character was slighted in a Massive Multiplayer
Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG). In a product that
demands such a commitment, so much concentration and
promises such a huge experience, it is crucial that
the environment be in their own language.
Most videogames are now localized into other languages,
i.e. they are internationalized on a linguistic level:
the in-game text, manuals, boxes and dialogues are translated.
If we are lucky, the dialogues are well adapted, the
cultural references are taken into account and substituted
by expressions from the country and region, and the
script is dubbed to give the product a more authentic
demand a more radical transformation similar to that
of American movie remakes. When planned from early stages,
it is not necessary to create two or more products that
are completely different to target several markets.
Rather, paying attention to several key issues is sufficient.
There is little difference between making a movie from
scratch and remaking a movie for your own audience.
Even though you have the recipe, you still need to buy
the ingredients and cook the pie. Adapting a game for
several audiences entails having the flexibility to
adjust the level of blood on the screen.
the American spectator prefers to watch The Ring
instead of Ringu because it feels more familiar,
why should we think that a Japanese player will be happy
in the shoes of the hero type that the North American
industry force-feeds them?
factory and Candy Candy next to Disney’s Snow
White and Warner Bros’ Bugs Bunny illustrate
the difference between famous Eastern and Western
Just take a look at videogames developed in Korea and
Japan and compare them with those from the United States:
the differences are huge. The Asian public prefers more
slender and stylish characters clearly inspired by Manga
and Anime. They do not try to be realistic. They are
more like wide-eyed “toys” with nice little
faces. Even the bad guy is cute! American gamers love
the muscle men, like Rambo and G.I. Joe, with tons of
weapons and those voluptuous girls that invite the player
to reach out and touch her curves (or something else).
They look so real!
not all differences are purely aesthetic. Violence and
blood, coarse language, explicit images and nudity are
not accepted in the same way everywhere. Where some
might find speed thrilling and vibrant, others might
get a headache. A complicated story with missions that
demand lots of concentration can be a real challenge
for some and pure boredom for others. Some players are
happy to play alone at home, while others go to arcades
to share the experience with friends and strangers.
Some are more social and choose cooperative modes, while
others are more competitive and always ready to challenge
opponents. Some get into the head of the main character
to get the experience and wisdom they do not have in
real life while others only care about fame.
mentioned earlier that the North American industry controlled
the global market. However, this is more of a European
idea that is not completely true, since Japan also has
its share of the cake. True enough, we know about Nintendo,
Sega, Capcom, etc., but when the player is playing,
they are not always aware that the title in front of
them is Japanese. If the game is in English, the consumer
simply assumes that it is American, when in fact it
has been localized from Japanese. Second, because Japanese
developers have always tried to offer a “light”
version of their product in order to succeed in North
America and, therefore, the rest of the world. This
is a product that has fewer cultural references and
which is suitable for all audiences.
we talk about differences between countries, it is clear
that we mean more than just the difference in languages.
We are also including differences in culture, mindsets
and ways of thinking. For a game to succeed among a
certain audience, translation is not enough. It is vital
to study their taste, relationships and the way in which
they communicate. The videogames that are localized
and adapted, similarly to those movie remakes, tell
the same story. They just have a different reality as
a starting point, another approach, another background
and are intended for a different audience.
players who participate in this interesting industry
(from both sides of the pond), eager to take their product
to every corner of the planet will have to do their
homework and surround themselves with a good localization
team, one that is properly trained to tackle this fascinating
task. After all, although we cannot foresee the future,
it seems like we will be enjoying videogames for a long
time to come.
Díaz Montón started translating
videogames in 1998 with an internship at EA Sports
in Madrid. Since then, she has participated in
the localization of hundreds of titles of all
genres, for all platforms, from PC and PS2 to
Gizmondo and mobile games. After working as a
freelancer for major translation companies in
Europe and North America, she now runs Wordlab
Translation&Localisation Services, a company
that specializes in videogame and software localization.