Greater than 6 minutes, my friend!
René Bühling is the indie game developer behind A Room Beyond, the award-winning point-and-click adventure game available for download on Steam. After experiencing localization problems with Episode 1 and Episode 2 of the game, René reached out to our team of game localization specialists at Level Up Translation.
Gamers from the French gaming community were complaining that poor localization was hurting the game experience, which heavily relies on narrative to pull users through its story. With our help René was finally able to deliver to French players the original experience he intended for A Room Beyond.
Here’s how we did it.
About the project
A Room Beyond describes itself as a “dark pixel-style fantasy point and click adventure game inspired by literature, art, games and movies in the genre of Victorian horror fiction”.
Gamers are challenged with helping villagers solve murder mysteries while uncovering their own back story that brought them into the game. The game calls itself an “interactive graphic novel” based on elements of spirituality, occultism and philosophy of life. All of which are pretty heavy topics that French gamers were missing out on due to poor localization.
Our goals with the localization of A Room Beyond
René knew that his game was underachieving and losing potential sales/downloads by failing to recreate the same experience for French gamers. The heavy narrative of his game was failing to resonate with non-native speakers and it was hurting the success of the game’s first two episodes.
René had put a lot of work into the series and created a great game in the process, so it was a shame to see it underachieve because of under par localization.
We set out the following localization goals to improve things for episodes 1, 2 and 3 – plus create a system for better localization in future episodes:
Improve poor translation
Ensure translation consistency throughout episodes
Capture the Lovecraftian genre influences in the French version
Keep within budget
So the localization project for A Room Beyond started with improving translation, but that was only the beginning. To successfully localize a game you have to consider its topical themes (in this case Lovecraftian mix of horror, spirituality and mystery) and make sure these themes also translate into other languages.
Translating words is one thing, but capturing an idea in another language is something else entirely.
A Room Beyond translation errors
Our first task on this project was to fix a number of translation errors that were found on episodes 1 and 2. French gamers had complained about errors in the game that they said were preventing them from becoming truly immersed in the storyline:
After analysing the first two episodes of the game, we highlighted a series of mistakes, including:
Error: Voulez-vous éffacer tous les paramètres sauvegardés?
Correction: Voulez-vous effacer tous les paramètres sauvegardés ?
Error: Pour accéder aux Extras, connecter avec votre compte.
Correction: Pour accéder aux Extras, connectez-vous avec votre compte.
Error: Sélectionner un réseau social pour s’enregistrer.
Correction: Sélectionnez un réseau social avec lequel vous enregistrer.
Error: Capture d’écran pas sauvegardée.
Correction: Capture d’écran non sauvegardée.
Source: Enter code…
Error: Entrer le code… (a very common mistranslation)
Correction: Saisissez le code…
Source: Select Save Slot
Error: Sélectionner fente pour sauvegarder (“Slot” was literally translated as physical slot for good old memory cards)
Correction: Sélectionnez un emplacement de sauvegarde
Aside from these errors, there were also inconsistencies with the use of verb types throughout the game. While the main villain in the story – the “Fog Wanderer” – was poorly translated to “Le Nomade”, which simply means “The Nomad”.
Finally, the overall tone and style of the game failed to come across in the French version, making it difficult for gamers to get involved in the story.
What we did for A Room Beyond
Reference material and workflow
In order for us to get a better understanding of A Room Beyond we asked the studio to provide us reference materials. René sent us his Conceptual and Style guide, containing information about the plot and detailing the personalities of the main characters in the game – including their way of speaking.
This kind of information is essential for any game localization project. We need to know the experience gamers should be feeling and how the characters and storyline build this experience. Then we can work on recreating that for gamers from other language backgrounds.
Next, we set up an online question and answers sheet so we could get more context information regarding certain strings. This sheet and René’s fast and detailed responses were key to us getting this project finished on time and delivering a flawless translation.
Making key decisions
Our first big move was to rename the Fog Wanderer as “Le Rôdeur (dans le brouillard)” to better translate the vagueness of a threat lurking in the fog and the predatory nature of the Wanderer.
We also paid special attention to improving the style, following the Lovecraft philosophy that “Prime emphasis should be given to subtle suggestion”. By adding touches of eeriness and a sense of indefinable danger we were able to bring the translated versions of this game in line with the original concept René had in mind for the players.
Episode 3 of A Room Beyond introduces Cthulu, a character created by the very H. P. Lovecraft who influences the game so heavily. With several references made to the mythic character we decided to do some of our own research into the original figure and its background.
The game also features an excerpt from The Call of Cthulu, the novel where Lovecraft first introduced the character. In order to stay consistent with the novel stylistically, we looked at the many existing French translations of the story and chose the excerpt we felt was most fitting with the game.
Ensuring accuracy and consistency
Because A Room Beyond is an episodic game, there can be several months of development between releases. This leaves a lot of time for translations, process and previous mistakes to be forgotten about. With approximately 2.500 words per episode and two more episodes to be made, the studio needed a more robust localization process that would guarantee consistency across each episode.
To make this happen we created a dedicated translation memory to store all of the strings we edited, plus a term base to build the terminology of the game into one resource. This way existing translations can be used as a reference for future episodes – both saving time and ensuring better consistency.
Finally, there’s the usual accuracy check, where our game localization specialists ensure all translations are free of typos, grammar mistakes and other errors that could hurt the experience for gamers.
Staying on budget
Budget is always important for any localization project and the key is finding the right balance between quality and efficiency. We always recommend starting from scratch with poor translations, rather than trying to fix them – because the result is almost always better.
In the case of A Room Beyond, though – with its indie game budget – this wasn’t an option. So we went for the compromise of heavy editing as a halfway road between proofreading and a completely new translation.
This allowed us to get the maximum quality for René’s budget, which is always our main aim with every studio we work with. And it’s clearly worked, too. There hasn’t been any bad feedback from French gamers since we improved the localization of the first three episodes and we’re looking forward to working on the final two very soon.
What did the studio have to say about our work?
Working with René was a pleasure for us and we wanted to reach out to him to get some feedback on his own experience of working with us. Here’s what he had to say:
“Games that have a heavy focus on narration and content are very challenging to localize as context, references and idioms need a proper handling beyond simple word translation. Quick and uncomplicated, yet very professional performance of the translation job helped to publish a high-quality product in time.
Thank you very much for making a special indie discount for me.”
Taking localization lightly is like playing with fire. It’s an almost sure way to annoy gamers, so why not make a little effort and offer them a great experience in all languages? Even with a very limited budget, we were able to devise a localization process that improved the localization of the existing episodes of the game and lay the groundwork for better localization in future episodes. The game has since been fully localized in Spanish by our team…. from the beginning this time. Lesson learnt! 🙂