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  • Damien Yoccoz

The Writing and Localization of Ghost of a Tale - Part 2/2: Localizing an 80,000-word RPG

In the first part of our interview with SeithCG, Lionel Gallat and Paul Gardner shared the secrets of their game's writing. A great story needs to be shared, so SeithCG reached out to us to localize Ghost of a Tale in 6 languages. In the last part of our interview, Paul and Lionel tell us about their localization process, the problems they bumped into, and how their investment paid off. From early drafts to last-minute font issues, through developing custom localization tools, you will know what it really takes to localize an 80,000-word RPG.

Our interviewees

Lionel Gallat Lionel Gallat, also known online as Seith, currently lives in the south of France. His professional background is in animation. Lionel worked many years for DreamWorks on their first 2D (The Prince of Egypt, The Road to Eldorado, Spirit, etc…) and then 3D movies (Sharktale, Flushed Away). He was also the animation director for movies like Despicable Me and The Lorax (for Universal this time). And then one day he thought, “Hey, why don’t I make a game?” Paul Gardner With Lionel, Paul was responsible for the writing and game design of Ghost of a Tale. Paul has been writing and designing for games for almost 20 years now, and he has worked on games like Crash Twinsanity for Traveller's Tales, Afro Samurai and Splatterhouse for Namco, and Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite for Capcom. He's currently based in the Bay Area in California.

You told your fans early on that you wanted to give the game proper localization. Why was it important to localize your game in the first place, and why did you need professional localization?

Lionel Gallat

Well, after spending five years carefully developing the game and its lore we were not going to hand it off to a non-professional staff. If players were not going to read our words because they’re not fluent enough in English, then they would get the next best thing. And as you know, that requires professionalism and dedication!

Fun fact: "Scrunt" is a curse word that exists only in Ghost of a Tale.

It’s a word too rude to define, but which had to be localized and start with an "S," as some NPCs make a connection between the note signed “S” that Tilo finds at the very beginning of the game and the word “scrunt.”

"You have to be available to answer any questions they have and give feedback, of course."

Paul Gardner

It was, of course, important to localize the game so we could reach as wide an audience as possible. Lionel and I would write in English, and we used a lot of puns and wordplay. Sometimes Lionel would joke, "The localization team is not going to be happy." I'd worked on a number of games before where that was an issue, but in my experience the best localization teams are creative individuals in their own right. You have to be available to answer any questions they have and give feedback, of course. But if they're given the freedom to run with it, a great, professional localization team can create a true adaptation of the story. The wordplay and songs still work in the target language: it’s not just a literal translation.

In the ballad mini-game, the player is asked to find every second line to write a song about two thieves, Gusto and Fatale.

In most languages, it was nearly impossible to translate literally from the English version. As a result, our translators created custom songs from scratch in order for the mini-game to work as intended.

How did you decide which languages to localize your game into?

Paul Gardner

We had fans of the game requesting that the game be localized for their region for a long time, and we’re still receiving requests to add new languages. Also, because two-thirds of the core team is French, I always assumed that the game would be localized, at least into French. We found during our initial IndieGoGo campaign, and later during early access on Steam, that so much of our support came from Europe and Russia, so it made sense to do the work to try and reach that audience.

"Localization is not a cheap process by any means, but we didn’t want the result to be cheap either! I'm happy to say it all paid off."

With 80,000 words, Ghost of a Tale is pretty “wordy” for an indie game, which represents quite an expense in terms of localization and a financial risk for a small studio. How did you evaluate the profitability of localizing your game?

Lionel Gallat

It simply came down to the fact that we needed to be able to sell a certain amount of copies in a given language in order for it to make sense financially. We simply budgeted for as many languages as we could at the game’s release. Localization is not a cheap process by any means, but we didn’t want the result to be cheap either! So let’s call it a carefully planned gamble, a financial investment based on how many copies we expected to sell in each language. I’m happy to say it all paid off!

We always emphasize the importance of keeping localization in mind and including it as early as possible in the development. When did you start preparing your game for localization?

Paul Gardner

We'd had some preliminary discussions about the best format to use earlier in development, and decided on using a parallel series of directories – one for each language – each containing localized copies of our text files. A good week before the localization process began we discussed it with Damien at Level Up Translation to test our workflow and make sure we were providing files in an appropriate format.

"Whenever the localization team needed further information, they logged a query in an online Q&A file."

What was your localization process like?

Paul Gardner

Due to the nature of our dialogue tools we ended up with a lot of individual files – one for each quest, one for each dialogue, one for each book page, etc. Fortunately Level Up Translation's tools were able to keep track of each of these files, including any changes we needed to make during localization. Damien had created an exchange folder where I uploaded batches of files that were ready for localization. He would then give me an estimated time for delivery for those files, and I would retrieve them from the exchange folder when they were ready. Whenever the localization team needed further information, they logged a query in an online Q&A file, or Damien would reach out on Skype if anything was urgent or required clarification. Once the translations were ready and implemented into the game, our engineer Cyrille and his partner, who spoke four of our six languages, were our first line of defense when testing the localized files. This was supplemented by bilingual members of our GoaT community forums.