MTF Epiphanies

05Jan09

On one of my former projects I became responsible for the MTF, without any previous warning. Not having dealt with an MTF before I approached the task with a certain naïvety I no longer have.

How bad can it get? It is merely a file that collects all the text appearing in a game. This text needs to be translated. Easy. Keep it updated. Easy. Merge translations. Easy.

Not really that easy.

The problems started with the translation studio. In retrospect I would be as bold to claim that they were not really a professional studio but rather a congregation of part-time second language speakers who think they know a language well enough to translate it into another. What they did not keep in mind is that style and register need to be translated as well. A rather colloquial tone of in-game text is not accidental but deliberate. We were not aware of the fact that this is not clear to the translators but needs to be emphasised more thoroughly.

During the project for a mobile game I more and more noticed how much more needs to be communicated with the translating studio.

  • Style and register
    As mentioned above, make sure that the translators know that the style you have chosen is the style you want in the game. Otherwise street slang will be translated into some 16 year old girl’s diary in Victorian England.
  • Character limitation
    Especially in the mobile industry the rather small screen size needs to be considered. Lengthy text do not fit every screen, screen sizes differ from model to model. Always make sure to let the translators know what the character limitation is for each line to avoid re-sending lines because they do not fit the screen.
  • Code-related special characters
    If there are special characters in the text that are linked to code make sure to let the translators know about this. Let them know what happens to the marked text in the game and explain how to include the characters in their translation.
  • Changes
    It can and will happen that changes need to be made in the original text. This will mean re-sending heaps of lines that need to be re-translated. Make sure to give them every information necessary. What has changed, why has it changed, is it due to character limitation, is there another reason that might be essential to know for translating the text correctly? Let them know.
  • Genre-specific terms
    The translators might be pure genius and know all these things already. Better be safe than sorry and let them know about technical terms that might be translated incorrectly. My favorite example is landscape mode for the mobile phone. “Landscape” is a technical term and should not be confused with the beautiful countryside and the respective terms in other languages. As I’ve said before – you might not tell them something new but to avoid funny in game texts let them know before you spot the error.
  • Communication
    This one might be mighty obvious (which probably goes for the other points as well) but let the translators know that asking if something in the text is unclear is not a sign of being unprofessional – it is a sign of actually being professional enough to gather missing information that ensures a correct translation.
  • Information
    This might be just as redundant as the point about communication but make sure to give them as much information as possible about the game. Send screenshots, a short summary on every level, etc. so that they have a better image on what the game is about and how they should translate certain names/terms.

There are more aspects that need to be considered. Depending on the genre of the game, the devices delivered to (especially for mobile phones) and the device-specific options administrating the MTF can either be a walk in the park or a pain in the backside. Hopefully, these points may help avoiding the latter.

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One Response to “MTF Epiphanies”


  1. 1 What the hell is an MTF? « Berzerk Raccoon’s Blog

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