This may be familiar to you: for hours now you’ve been battling your way through a dingy dungeon, warding off enemies to the left and the right, on the search for secret passages in the crumbling stone walls. The troll back in the last room has severely dented your breastplate, and you’re in dire need of a new one. Cautiously you go around the corner and there it is – resplendently perched on the armour stand, a magnificent piece of armour. You inspect it carefully. It’s far more robust than your old one, and you’re strong enough to wear it, too. But then you stop in your tracks: “Put on: treasure chest”? And what are those peculiar “baseball bats” that – obviously bemused by your look of confusion – look down at you from the ceiling of the vault, wiping their grinning maws with their leathery wings?
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Now and then we’re approached to localize a computer or mobile-phone game. Products like these are especially context-sensitive, which is why a great deal of reference materials are necessary, for example manuals, videos, screenshots, and descriptions – ideally the game itself. Without access to such materials, there are any number of curious translation errors that can arise that bring the gamer down to the ground again with a bump: hey, this isn’t real after all! And the illusion disappears in smoke.
When a translator is working on a video game, most of the text content that has to be translated isn’t written as continuous text as in a book or on a website, but instead many of the so-called strings are made up of single words that then pop up in the game at the appropriate places. In the case of “sword” or “dragon”, it’s not too much of a problem to find the correct German word, but with “chest” or “bat” then things get more difficult. If the translator at least knows that the game takes place in a medieval fantasy setting, then he may reasonably deduce that the word “bat” refers to the small flying mammal and not to a baseball or cricket bat, but the word “chest” is more of a dilemma. In this case the word “Brust” is the correct term – strap the breastplate onto your chest (i.e. your upper body) – but a chest full of treasure wouldn’t be out of place in a ruined castle either.
One point of reference can be the “key”, which clearly identifies each string and thus sometimes provides a bit of context. The key for “chest” could be e.g. “en.strings;EquipmentSlot_004”, indicating that this is a slot where an object is donned. If the individual strings in the translation tool are sorted by key, it may become apparent that EquipmentSlot_001 to 003 refer to “head”, “legs”, and “hands”, in other words other body parts.
But why choose “breast” (Brust) in the first place, and not “upper body” (Oberkörper) when this is more suitable in German, since a breastplate usually goes all the way down to the waist? There’s another reason for this, too, since the text field containing the English term “chest” may also be limited to just five characters and is thus too short to accommodate a longer word. Aspects such as this are additional reasons why it’s ideal to have screenshots or, better still, the entire game available.
In a nutshell: translating a video game poses a range of entirely unique challenges – and we’re familiar with them!
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