One of the most talked-about technical developments in the language industry is a machine translation. In 2016, Google switched to neural machine translation, whereby Google Translate continually learns how to translate using a sophisticated database of words and phrases. Nowadays, when people want to translate something, they often turn to AI translation apps like Google Translate first. Below we’ll look at how that affects video game translation.
From Scripting to Video Game Translation
How do I localize a video game? To see how AI impacts how games are translated, let’s look at how games are translated in general. To start the process, translators often work from scripts. How do you translate a game? The translation process usually involves the translator converting text to a new language line by line off the game script.
But it doesn’t stop there. It’s much more complex to translate a video game than it is to translate an immigration form or a marketing presentation, for example. Programmers must work the new translation into the in-game text. Designers have to handle the digital content so the layout fits with the new language. The project itself must also be coordinated by one or more project managers to ensure everything is coordinated.
Video game translation is very complicated from a linguistic meaning perspective, too. Video games often have complicated storylines. They make heavy use of figurative language and cultural references.
An example of this is the way that many Japanese video games make heavy use of yōkai. These are supernatural beings that feature in Japanese folklore. The term itself has no entirely suitable direct translation. If you translate the word “yōkai” from Japanese to English Google Translate, it comes back as “apparition.” So video game translation has to take into account that the non-Japanese player needs to understand that yōkai are supernatural beasts. The game might have to explain that directly or through inference. Those responsible for the video game translation have to factor this into their work. A professional Japanese to English translation agency can do just that.
Furthermore, when a game is translated, the voices in the game must be re-recorded in the new language. That can mean bringing in a whole new cast to read a whole new script. Even background noises like character yell or crowd cheers must be re-recorded to fit local language sounds.
Why AI Can’t Handle Video Game Localization
Another massive part of the video game translation process is localization. Ofer Tirosh is an expert in video game localization. As CEO of translation agency Tomedes, he advises clients on how they can use localization to ensure that their games connect successfully with foreign audiences. He points out that video game localization handles a range of factors that enhance the gaming experience, in addition to the language itself. Video game localization can include updating the source code to help the translation process run more smoothly. It can also include other details, like updating language selection menus or changing the information on app store listings.
Localization is a balancing act, as the game needs to suit the new audience and also retain its original tone and feel. An example of this is when games or anime series change their theme songs into English songs. This often loses too much of the original tone. Gamers are famously loud when a game feels too localized, so a delicate touch must be taken by the video game translation company to ensure the right balance during the localization process.
Localization is an area where AI falls majorly short. AI can’t (yet) understand the human nuances of when a game becomes too localized or how a gamer will respond to a particular layout. That’s where video game translation services come to the fore.
How AI Can Help the Video Game Translation Process
As you can see above, video game translation is a very people-centric process. It requires a human eye to translate meaning accurately, plus all the project managers, voice actors, and programmers who are part of updating the game. So where does that leave room for AI in the video game translation process?
One of the areas AI machine translation is helping the translation process is that it can provide a first rough translation of a game’s script. Some translators use translation software in this way to make the first pass so that there’s less typing. However, they must still go through line by line and make sure the content makes sense in the new language, as well as being culturally appropriate.
Google Translate was reported to be 60% more accurate in 2016 when it moved to machine learning. The language sector was interested to see what a difference this made to the quality of the resulting translations.
However, neural network AI translation still only has a 60-90% accuracy rate. Translation apps, while ok for conversational uses, don’t deliver the professional-level quality that human translators are able to. It then becomes the translator’s duty to look at the machine translation and the original script, bringing the translation up to professional quality.
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