The Saga Continues! Greetings again, ye noble Destructoid readers! This is my third and Ė at least for now Ė final entry in the Epic Tale of Struggle and Suffering of a Lone Gamer in the Land of Bears and VodkaÖ
Okay, okay, that was an exaggeration. Although in my two previousblogs I did write about the issues a provincial Russian gamer has to face. Namely, social disapprovement with the hobby, economic and logistical troubles in acquiring new games, PC platform domination and out-of-control piracy. This time though Iíd like to discuss the issue that bothers me the most. Sure, it is not the biggest problem out there, but to me itís the most annoying of them all, so I guess you could call it a personal grudge.
Problem Four. Localization Believe me or not, in the past few years I have not completed a single game with full Russian localization on (meaning both text and voiceover in Russian). And itís not because there arenít any, or because I havenít bought any fully-localized games. Actually, itís quite the contrary Ė but letís not rush things up.
First, a statement to define the whole topic: the overall quality of all current Russian localizations ranges from ďjust barely passableĒ to ďoffensive, terrible and god-awful crapĒ, with the balance leaning towards the latter. And itís not like we donít have good translators, or editors, or voice actors. Itís just that the localization efforts are rather... effortless.
At least two of the reasons for this have been mentioned earlier; firstly, the gaming culture being, so to say, in the egg, few Russian publishers feel the need for quality control. Sometimes I get the feeling they really think we gamers donít deserve any better. And secondly, because PC gaming market is held hostage by piracy and the demand for console games is too low the publishers are trying to cut costs in any way they can. Thus they employ unpopular yet cheaper DRM (like StarForce) and pinch pennies when it comes to localization.
It all starts with translation. Oh how I wish I could show you the examples of the half-assed translation efforts Ė but alas, I donít think many people know Russian well enough here at Destructoid. Letís just say that their name is legion. Factual mistakes are often so abundant that they simply get in the way of understanding the plot. There were a number of times when, after completing the localized version of a game, I tried replaying it in English and found myself saying ďAh, so thatís whatís going on!Ē Sometimes we get three different translations of the same characterís name, making the player think these are different people, sometimes female characters are translated as male and vice versa, and often oneís progress in a game can be impeded by mistranslated instructions. In worst cases we can even get some in-game text obviously done through unedited machine translation (like it was the case with the Sleeping Dogs localization).
Sometimes those mistakes are translatorís fault, sometimes itís the publisherís avarice and couldn't-care-less attitude that makes creating a good translation impossible. A friend of mine was once given a job of translating a licensed Sponge Bob tablet game. All that he got from the employer was an Excel file with the in-game text in one column and blank space for the translation in the other. No context, no commentary, not even screenshots. ďWell, itís just a licensed tablet gameĒ, one might say Ė but when I look at some AAA gamesí localizations I sometimes canít help wondering whether they had been translated in the same way. And I donít think some of the publishers even hire an editor Ė let alone an expert from the developerís side.†
All that said, we do get decent translations from time to time, and there are even gems like the localization for the first Mass Effect game. Done by an indie publishing/localization company it was thorough, fastidious and inventive in bringing the immense space opera in all its glory to the Russian gamer. But then, as Iím sure we all know, EA took the reins of the franchise and the next two games in the series were localized by EA Russia Ė with abysmal results.
But itís not the worst part yet, the worst comes with the voiceover. Now, maybe I am too much of a highbrow but there have been only a couple of Russian-voiced games I was able to enjoy in more than a decade. Further still, I couldnít even stand playing Metro: Last Light in Russian Ė and it was the gameís original language! Most of the times the voice actors doing game localizations act half-heartedly, either overplaying their roles or simply reading the script without even trying to act. Judging by what I hear, the primary issue is with the voice direction Ė or rather lack thereof. Most of the lines are recorded on the first take, with the actors sounding rather hasty (because in the Russian language phrases are generally longer than in English) and disinterested in what they are doing. Hence the charactersí lack of any personality at all (Depth of character? I barely knew Ďer!), the names are often mispronounced and the overall performance is simply immersion-breaking. Honestly, when my wife is playing Russian-voiced Skyrim, I literally start every time I hear an NPC say something. :)
And in case you wonder, most of those voice actors are seasoned professionals; I often hear them dubbing movies and TV shows and there they perform admirably. Of course there are high points and low points in everything and sometimes we get games voiced with at least some effort. On the other hand we occasionally get something like the Dragon Age: Origins localization where you could hear actors talking to themselves and to the sound engineer, rereading lines (and occasionally swearing after a bad take), female characters voiced by men and even one actor finishing a line after the other.
Seriously, just watch this video. You don't need to speak Russian to notice that the guy is talking with a woman's voice, continues talking after he's been knocked out and then the other one... ah,dammit, just watch it.
Now I expect someone to ask, ďOkay, but what why donít you just play games in English?Ē Thatís the problem: I canít. Due to really low prices Russian PC games have been prone to exporting to the EU and in attempt to fight this, the publishers restricted retail games in CIS countries to Russian language only. Which leads me to a most stupid situation when I buy a game and still play its pirated copy Ė just because the latter lets me choose the language.
Well, at least Steam allows me to play my games in whichever language I wantÖ Wait, what!?
Well, sure, not all the Russian gamers are as picky as me and many are content with the localizations. And Iím well aware that a whole lot of people donít have enough language skills to enjoy untranslated games. So maybe they are the ones who benefit from this situation? I say, hardly so. You see, most translated games are big-budget cross-platform ones with a mandatory PC release. Anything other than that Ė console exclusives, indies, niche titles Ė arenít getting a translation at all. Console games usually have translated manuals, but even those are done poorly. So I guess Iím the one to complain, huh?
Hopefully, little by little the situation is going to improve. In the recent years many publishers have moved to dropping Russian voiceovers whatsoever and releasing games with only the in-game text translated. While itís certainly a nice move to me, what Iíd actually like is the right to choose the way I play my games.†
And this concludes my mad, childish rant about localization and to the whole ďGamer in Provincial RussiaĒ trilogy. Thanks to everyone who read it!
About Tonich One of us since 12:03 AM on 05.06.2013
Please, call me Tonich. That's what everyone calls me. I live in Nizhniy Novgorod - a pretty large and picturesque city in Central Russia (yep, that's it on the header image).
Currently at the age 30, I am a taught historian, reluctant archivist, occasional tour guide and aspiring composer/musician. I write songs, play guitar and sing (badly) for the art rock act The Heckfish. Oh, and I also play videogames. :)
My gaming habits started with the NES era, and my favourite consoles are Sega Mega Drive/Genesis and PlayStation 2. I'm more of a PC player currently, so why don't you check out my Steam Page?