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How Tough Is Video Game Localization?

January 6, 2011 IADT Seattle, Game Design and Production, IADT General 0 Comments

"All your base are belong to us."

Many gamers remember the 1991 video game "Zero Wing" not because it featured stellar game play or amazing graphics, but because of its unbelievably poor language translation. One of its lines, "All your base are belong to us", which should have been translated "All of your bases are under our control", has been featured in Internet videos, songs and T-shirts. The game also featured a number of other dialogue gems, including "Somebody set up us the bomb", "You have no chance to survive make your time", and "We get signal!"

When video game localization goes well, no one notices. When it is flawed, however, it can garner tons of unwanted media attention. Learn more about what goes into game localization and consider whether or not you'd be a good candidate for this type of career.


Language translation is so tough that even one of the best-selling games of 2009 suffered from a severe mistranslation. "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" features a scene where a villain tells his cohorts "Remember, no Russian", meaning they weren't supposed to speak Russian as they killed civilians. In Japan, however, the line translated to "Kill them; they are Russian". This led many Japanese players to kill the wrong characters, earning a quick "game over".*

Translating a game's dialogue can be a challenge for a variety of reasons. First, a game's context may dictate that a phrase has a slightly different meaning than it usually would. Since translators usually work off of a spreadsheet; however, they may not always understand the context of the phrases they're translating. Idioms, wordplay and language-specific jokes can also be impossible to translate. Even when games are translated by top-notch localizers, they often contain dozens of typos and grammar mistakes that may or may not be discovered through quality assurance tests.


Video game producers long ago discovered that a country's culture determines how it will receive certain types of video games. For example, a 2004 MSNBC story reported that violent first-person shooter games generally do well in the U.S. before bombing in Japan, where gamers prefer fantasy, strategy and role-playing games.** Many localizers tweak aspects of a games to make it more appealing to their country's culture by altering level goals, local items and material that may be considered taboo.

Characters and Music

Characters and music are often changed when a game moves to a new country to appeal to that culture's tastes. For example different cultures have different ideas of what a beautiful woman looks like. If a character is supposed to be attractive, a localizer in one country may slightly alter her appearance to match up with his culture's preconceived ideas. Music and even sound effects can also get altered to fit a country's culture and licensing guidelines.

Loose Ends

Localizers have a variety of additional responsibilities that often get overlooked. For instance, if the source language takes up less space than the destination language, menu boxes and layouts must be rearranged and resized. Also, since each country has its own ratings board that determines how appropriate games are for children, localizers are responsible for submitting their games to their country's board and responding to feedback. Finally, localizers must fix all glitches that their changes create.

This article is presented by IADT - Seattle. Contact us today if you're interested in developing marketable knowledge and career-relevant skills with our Game Production degree program. IADT – Seattle does not guarantee employment or salary. All trademarks are property of their respective owners.

* http://magweasel.com/2009/12/01/adventures-in-localization-mw2-edition/

** http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4780423


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