Video games are more popular than ever, so that original and localized voice-over production is one of the most-requested services at JBI Studios. Localized video game voiceover is especially tricky – the production must ensure that the translations and audio recordings stay true to the original game, but also make sense to a new audience, often a very different one. In short, they can’t alienate existing fans of the game, but they have to attract new ones.
This post will provide four essential tips for successfully recording localized video game voice-over.
[Average read time: 4 minutes]
Traditionally, this is because there is a huge market worldwide that wants to play games developed in the US. Audio localization services for English-language video games has been a staple of voiceover production since the 80’s, with games going into scores of languages, from Spanish to Swahili. In the past decade, however, games developed around the world have started coming into the US market. South Korea, in particular, is a video game powerhouse – developers have produced hits like MapleStory and Ragnarok Online, and many more titles that are coming to the US. And it’s not just Korea – China and Brazil are also at the forefront of video game development, meaning that localization from Mandarin and Portuguese to English is also quite common for video games.
Video game localization, of course, is tricky, especially since developers place a premium on a video games localization provider’s speed and cost-efficiency. The following four tips are crucial to making sure that projects go smoothly, don’t require pick-ups, and get done in the shortest amount of time possible.
During development, the game’s creators write detailed descriptions for each character. They usually include a full biography, the character’s overall mental state, his or her preferences, how he or she feels about other characters, how they react to major events, and even how they should inflect certain phrases. These descriptions can be quite sophisticated and detailed – and often quite long. For this reason, it’s tempting to skip them during translation, especially when they’re longer than a character’s total dialogue (this is very common). However, these biographies are usually crucial to performing a character’s lines. For example, a fearful character will say “Stop!” very differently from an aggressive one. Ditto with a sarcastic character. Not translating the descriptions can lead to pick-ups, often with multiple talents – and pick-ups are the bane of video games localization.
The original audio often consists of thousands of small files, often with impenetrable or code-based names. Getting them to a multimedia localization studio can mean long uploads and downloads, and possibly wrangling missing or garbled files. But it’s completely worth it – having the source files can help establish a character’s tone, explain the context for a particular line of dialogue, or even provide a read or performance. This, in turn, avoids mistakes during recording – and pick-ups.
This is localization, after all, and the idea is to make the translated video game engaging for a US audience. This means that voice-over talents should avoid sounding exactly like the source characters, especially when they adhere to locale-specific tropes or narrative customs. For example, female characters in Korean games tend to sound very young – when recording the US voices, talents should generally “age up.” Before recording, consult with your client’s US marketing department to make sure you know what they’re going for specifically.
Action lines are the parts of the script that correspond to the sounds that a character makes whenever he or she does something that requires effort, like striking an opponent, receiving a blow, summoning the elements, gaining magical powers – or anything else that the video game developers can come up with. Since they are non-verbal grunts, exhalations, screams, or an assortment of other bodily noises, it’s very tricky to get them right during video game localization. They’ll be written out to approximate the sounds – for example, “Haaaaghttttt!” for the sound a character makes when landing a blow – but even then, it takes skill to get them right. In fact, we wrote a whole post about them, 4 Tips for Recording Actions in Video Game Voice-Over Translation.
A good director will know the expectations for video games in the US. He or she will know when it’s crucial to match a reference, and when the localized game should deviate from it slightly – or sometimes even radically. He or she will be familiar with action line conventions, knowing what each one should sound like – but will also know when to get alternates, to be on the safe side. Finally, a director will maintain a good session pace, making sure that you make your (often grueling) video game session days. This holds true for the studio as well – a skilled engineer will know how to ride levels, and when to re-record lines that have peaked or are inaudible, or pop on the track. In short, they’ll be sure that the game is recorded in a timely fashion, with strong performances, and correctly – avoiding pick-ups and keeping costs low.