Video Game Localization: All Your Base Are Belong To Able

All your...what?

All my base are belong to…wait…what?

This meme is as old as the internet itself. Well, maybe not that old. According to, this poor video game translation started to circulate the net in 1998/99. Know Your Meme says this:

“All Your Base Are Belong to Us” is a popular catchphrase that swept across the internet at the dawn of 21st century as early as in 1998. An awkward English translation of “all of your bases are under our control,” the quote originally appeared in the opening dialogue of Zero Wing, a nostalgic 16-bit shoot’em up game released in 1989.”

Being part of the internet generation and growing up during the video game revolution, “All your Base Are Belong to Us” is part of my lexicon. But until I started working at Able Translations, I never really considered the issue that lies far beneath this translation blunder.

Video Game Localization

“All Your Base Are Belong to Us” isn’t the only poorly translated video game that came from my generation. Here is my favorite:

A Winner Is You?

Is this supposed to be Hulk Hogan?

There are a million more, some of which are more than embarrassing; they venture into the obscene.

Video game localization involves more than translation, however. There is a lot of behind the scene tech work that needs to get done for a video game to succeed in local markets. For example, text encoding needs to be changed for the locale. The standard now is Unicode which allows text to be written from left to right and vice-versa. It also supports a variety of characters for proper written text.

Bored Yet? Me Too.

So let’s stop talking about the technical aspects of video game localization (translation, text format, field length, etc) and talk about the culture of video games and localization.

In the video game world, setting and character development is king. Localization would change characters and locations to suit local taste while preserving the underlying themes, game play, and game atmosphere. Seeing as video games sell amazingly well across most cultures, would localization improve sales or diminish them?

I’ll use a concrete example. Call of Duty, one of the most popular video game franchises, has been banned in a variety of countries due to the graphic nature of the game, specific missions that target national leaders, and perspectives that some countries feel are disrespectful to their nation.

I’m not here to talk about censoring video games, I’m just a lowly blogger in the language services industry. What I am speaking about is the business perspective. Could this franchise, for instance, localize its content to suit their target market’s taste and increase profits with a globalized version of the game?

I actually think they could and it has, in fact, been done successfully.

Mario Bros. 2 was originally a game called Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki PanicA Japanese adventure game. The sprites were redesigned for the North American market and it became a commercial success!

So what do you think? Obviously video game localization is necessary as far as technical aspects but should cultural aspects also be localized?

Comment and let me know what’s on your mind or visit Able Translations to find out more about Localization

Man Vs Machine…Translation

Welcome to the Ring

In the red corner, standing 5’8” and weighing in at 165lbs. He types 80 words per minute and speaks three languages. He has remained undefeated for HUNDREDS and hundreds of years. I give you…THE HUMAN TRANSLATOR.

And in the blue corner, standing…well…it doesn’t really stand and weighing…um does computer code weigh anything? It can translate a document of any size into any language in seconds. He’s the newest challenger in the industry but seems to be unstoppable. Here is…MACHINE TRANSLATION.

The Blow by Blow

Human translation and machine translation both have their strengths and weaknesses and their usefulness depends on context. Let’s take a look at what makes both translation strategies unique and explore some of their benefits and drawbacks.

The Human Translator

The human translator is exactly what it sounds like, a human doing the translating. Now, keep in mind, we aren’t talking a pen and paper process here. Technology does play a huge role in human translating. Aside from word processing, projects tend to use project management workflow software to keep everything on track. Human translators can also use what is known as “translation memory management” systems. Essentially, this is a database that stores translatable “units” (sentences, headings, even paragraphs of text). It helps a project with more than one translator become one cohesive output. This software is especially popular with very technical translations (think machine operating manuals). You need to have processes, instructions, or machine parts defined in the same way. Translation memory helps you do that.


  • Human translators strike a balance between the words you use and the ideas you are trying to get across. This leaves you with a cohesive, error free project
  • Human translators are bound by significant quality standards thus your project is handled very carefully
  • Human translators can verify information and give recommendations to improve your project



  • Human translators are not available for free download
  • Their output isn’t instantaneous
  • They consume all of the coffee in the office


Human translators should be consulted when handling large, complex projects that require high quality translations (ecommerce websites, marketing material, software localization, books and ebooks, movie subtitles, etc).


Machine Translation

Google has done a superb job in their creation of machine translation software. They provide near instant translations, regardless of word count. Their algorithms have improved significantly since their beta-launch. Machine translation approaches a document from a word-for-word point of view. It looks at individual units of language, not the totality of meaning, sometimes with hilarious results.


  • Extremely fast
  • Extremely inexpensive (often free)
  • Near endless options for language availability
  • Conveniently available from any computer



  • Will not contextualize the translation, which often leads to some pretty funny translation errors
  • Will not proofread. If you’ve made a mistake, it will translate it anyways
  • Some English phrases and idioms cannot be translated with the same meaning, machine translation doesn’t notice.


As you can see, machine translation software is pretty awesome if you need to quickly translate something. Say, if you’re emailing your Korean pen pal or your Romanian grandmother sent you your favorite recipe (at least that’s what you think it is…). But because it can’t contextualize your words and it won’t alert you to an error if your thoughts won’t be expressed as intended, you should avoid using machine translation on projects associated with your business or organization. It’s risky. Some companies have had PR nightmares from poor translations.



The human translator retains its title. Well, maybe I fixed the match but I truly believe there is no replacement for human translation.


Visit us for information on translation services.

For more on international marketing check out:

Translate Tweets to Explode in the Twitterverse (and make more cash online)

or head back to Toronto Translators

If I Could Speak a Million Languages – Poem

If I Could Speak a Million Languages

– Michael Thorpe (Able Translations)

If I could speak a million languages, my message would still be true

With all the words available

I’d tell you I love you

I’d say it in French, in Polish, and Swahili

With all the words available

You wouldn’t need to translate me

If I could speak a million languages, my message would be the same

I’d tell you that I need you and that will never change

I’d say it in Arabic and German

or chirp it like the birds

But I’d really rather show you

Because actions speak louder than words.

Able Translations

Dogs, Widgets, and Internationalizing Your Brand

Advertising boils down to basic sociology. Of course there are external factors that can change the behavior of consumers, but at the core, society functions on the idea of shared meaning. Shared meaning, or consensus, is at the root of communication. For example, if I type the word dog, in most instances, everyone will picture the same thing.

Well, wait a second, if I said “dog” to a non-English speaker, would they picture the same thing? Perhaps not…but I’ll come back to this later because it’s important.

Okay, where was I? Oh yes, shared meaning. I’ll give you another example. Carl Jung’s work centered on the idea of archetypes. Essentially, he spoke about universal symbols and experiences. These symbols and ideas are recognizable to most people.

They aren’t part of the Jungian archetypes, but I’ll give you an idea of some universal symbols and ideas. Ready? Here are a few to get you thinking: Family, friendship, love, sadness, good and evil, and life and death.

(You might be asking how this fits into brand internationalization. I’m getting there, I promise.)

Let’s revisit my point about the dog. The word “dog” might be meaningless to a non-English speaker but most people would recognize a dog if they saw one. The qualities attributed to the dog might also be different. I think of loyalty, friendship, and family but you might think smelly, dirty, and unruly (my dog storm is a combination of all of those). So depending on your perspective, a dog might mean different things.

The Point

You have two options when internationalizing your brand. You can either create a new brand image in every market OR you can create an international brand identity and make small changes to your graphics, idioms, and language. The second option is not only more efficient at creating a strong brand but it’s also more cost-effective. You won’t have to re-brand in every market.

Basically, you need your brand to be based on a universal but make tweaks to the dog. Confused? Let me clear things up with an example:

Widgets and Doohickeys Canada wants to internationalize their brand. Looking at their sales demographics, they see that their widgets and doohickeys are bought by married couples with two or more children. Naturally, they decide to base their international brand image on the universal idea of family. So, they create their Canadian advertising. It shows a family skating together during a snowy Canadian winter.

The caption reads: “Keeping Families Warm When It’s Cold Outside”.

A great Canadian piece of adverting that absolutely won’t be effective in Puerto Rico.

Widgets and Doohickeys want to keep that “family” message; it symbolizes what their brand is all about. So, they make tweaks. They change the language, the graphic, and the idiomatic expression to suit the tastes of those in Puerto Rico and how they view family togetherness.

With this method, they are cultivating an international brand image using the universal notion of family but are making adjustments for cultural perceptions of what family means.

The Role of the Language Services Provider

Language Services Providers offer what is known as localization. We work with your universal appeal but target it to the tastes of different cultures. This might mean adjusting graphics to give it local appeal, changing colors to those that a culture associates with your main message, arranging typesetting and content flow to appeal to cultural standards, and translating your message to engage your target audience.

The goal is to maintain your global brand image while also carving a niche in a local market. Taking this approach ensures that you avoid a generic marketing message. This helps you leverage your communication efforts and differentiates your product from local offerings.

Join Me on Facebook Tomorrow
I will be doing a Q&A on interpreting, translating, localization, internationalization, and anything else you can think of. Just like us at:

Cost More Important Than Quality, Says the Translation Bureau

I was reading the Benchmarking and Comparative Analysis report which was released by the Translation Bureau and a quote caught my attention:

“With some exceptions such as certified or legal documents, quality is not considered as important to clients as cost”.
The Translation Bureau – Benchmarking and Comparative Analysis (2012)

Before delving into what this quote means to translation businesses, I want to explain the “fast, cheap, good” pricing strategy and how it fits into an overall consumer strategy for buying and a company strategy for pricing. This pricing method has been a mainstay in business for decades. Here is a quick rundown:
Essentially, a customer can pick two of three of these qualities when purchasing a product or service: fast, cheap, good”.

• If you want it fast and cheap, it won’t be good
• If you want it cheap and good, it won’t be fast
• If you want it fast and good, it won’t be cheap

In the market in general, we’re seeing a shift in consumer behavior. In my opinion, quality has become assumed and companies are left to compete on price and speed. This isn’t a problem in highly regulated industries but I think it spells disaster for consumers when purchasing services from industries that aren’t required to adhere to national and international standards.

For the translation industry, this purchasing strategy (cheap>quality) is dangerous. With the high availability of machine translation software, consumers may run the risk of improper translations from companies that choose to neglect quality in favor of price and speed.

In our industry, consumers should focus not on cost, but on return-on-investment. If you follow the news, we’re seeing countries spending exorbitant amounts of money correcting poor translations on public signage. What was cheap is no longer. In other areas, just as an example, a poorly translated website may be less costly initially but errors in translation can lead to fewer conversions in international markets. You may even end up offending someone because of differences in cultural context. Before deciding on a company purely from a cost-perspective, at least ensure they adhere to third-party standards. Price is important but quality translations are critical to your organization in the long run.

To my readers, are you finding this in your industries? What effect do you think this has had on your pricing strategy? I’m interested to know.

For More Information on This subject visit Able Translations atTranslations Toronto

Sign Here, Please?

Accessibility is at the heart of the Canadian medical system. We often think of accessibility as our ability to receive medical care regardless of geography, income, or if you’re a persons with a disability. For a moment, I’d like you to think about accessibility in terms of wait time. After all, doesn’t increased wait time impede our access to health care?

Now, I’m not writing about how long it takes Canadian’s to see a doctor; space here is limited. I’m writing about the wait time faced by the hearing impaired. Imagine this: you arrive at the hospital needing urgent care. You sign to the triage nurse that this is an emergency. The nurse responds in pseudo-sign language the “one moment please” finger while she furiously tries to find an American Sign Language trained staff member. After 30 minutes, you are finally able to get the care that you need. You breathe a sigh of relief.

This is a problem faced by over 310 000 Canadians. Language services providers (LSP) have found a solution. It’s what those in the industry have dubbed VRI or Video Remote Interpreting. For the first time, doctors and nurses will be able to access an American Sign Language interpreter almost instantly; an invaluable tool in those crucial moments. But VRI isn’t limited to sign language only.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say an emergency room physician gets a patient that speaks only Tamil. The doctor would sign into a web-based application, where they would request a Tamil to English interpreter. They would then be linked through a two-way video interface to the interpreter. This is significant because visual cues are sometimes critical in aiding the doctor’s diagnoses of the issue.

Basically, what we are seeing here is the on-demand aspects of over-the-phone interpretation coupled with the amount of information that can be processed by an onsite interpreter. No longer will clients have to choose between quickness and descriptiveness. They can have both.

For More Information on This subject visit Able Translations atTranslations Toronto

How to Choose a Language Services Provider

There has been a large influx of language services providers in the market place. This has made it difficult to differentiate between “mom and pop” language services providers and those that offer high quality, comprehensive services.

Here are the top five criteria you should use when trying to find a language services provider.


  1. Is the language services provider accredited by third-party “standards” organizations?


When choosing a language services provider, always make sure they are recognized by a local association that monitors quality and standards. If the company has offices internationally, make sure they are also accredited by international organizations.

Certifications to look for include: ISO 9001, CAN/CGSB – 131.10-2008, and EN 15038. But never accept the bare minimum.

  1. Have they made significant investments in the field of language services?


This is an important one. Is there evidence that the company is making significant investments in improving the provision of language services? Do they offer innovative services like “video remote interpreting” (this service will be explored in my next post)? Did they develop the interface or did they license it from another company?

A company that invests in “added value” types of language services is generally better equipped to serve you, both technologically and in terms of personalized service.

  1. Do they use human translations instead of machine translations?


With the advent of Google Translations and other translation software, organizations may opt to do their own translations. This is a huge mistake because this type of software does not take into consideration context or cultural nuances. An even bigger mistake is spending your hard earned cash on a language services provider that relies on this type of software to do their translation work.

Choose a company like Able Translations. They only use human translators.

  1. Do they offer more than just interpreting and translating?


The long-term strategic plan of major organizations often involve a plan for global market penetration. Make sure that the language services provider you choose offers more than just the core services. Even if you don’t need them right away, services like multicultural design, application and product localization, and cultural consulting will eventually come in handy. You don’t want to have to switch horses mid-race.

  1. Do they offer free quotes?


Would you buy a car without test driving it? Even more to the point, would you sign the lease before knowing the price? The same situation applies to language services providers. You need to be able to anticipate costs. Getting dinged with a large, unexpected bill for services can disrupt your cash flow. If they offer free quotes, take advantage of it. It will allow you to update your budget and it also shows you that the language services provider is committed to customer services.

There you have it, the top five things to look for before hiring a language services provider.

For more information on Translations in Toronto visit Able Translations.

Proud to be Canadian

Before celebrating the accomplishments of our Canadian competitors, Able Translations just wants to take a moment to congratulate every Olympic athlete on their performance. Top three finish or not, you’re all champions. You represented your country beautifully and you should be proud.

                As in every Olympics, our Canadian athletes showed the world the true spirit of our nation. They exhibited dedication, poise, and sportsmanship. We’d like to take this opportunity to highlight some of our athletes’ accomplishments at this, the Games of the XXX Olympiad.


Our first gold medal was aptly awarded to Rosie Maclennan of King City, Ontario in the Trampoline event. No, no, this isn’t the “backyard tumbling” we’ve come to recognize as trampolining. Olympic trampoline is a highly skilled form of gymnastics involving bounces up to 10 meters high and forces up to 10gs upon impact. Ms. Maclennan, a fierce competitor, edged out Chinese athlete Shanshan Huang by a miniscule 0.575 points. Way to bounce ahead of the competition, Rosie. Sorry about the pun.


Both our woman’s eight and heavy weight men’s eight pulled out all the stops to secure silver medals in Olympic rowing. One of the most physically grueling events in the Olympics, rowing is as much a mental battle as it is a physical one. Our athletes dug deep and came away sporting some Olympic hardware. You guys sure can row, row, row your boat…


Ryan Cochrane (the swimmer, not the Olympic kayaker) and Brent Hayden claimed Olympic silver and bronze, respectively. Cochrane left nothing in the pool as he sprinted the last 50m in the men’s 1 500m freestyle but fell short to China’s power-house swimmer, Sun Yang. Hayden, who was suffering from back pain before stepping onto his block, fought hard in the men’s 100-metre freestyle and finished with a respectable time of 47.80 seconds winning Canada our first medal in swimming.

ImageCanada hit a stride in Olympic synchronized diving, with two of our women’s teams being awarded bronze. Both our 3-meter team (Heymans and Abel) and 10-meter team (Benfeito and Filion) performed flawlessly. Their grace and skill was only outshined by their connection and dedication to each other. Absolutely amazing

ImageOne of our toughest athletes (I mean that in the truest sense of the word), Antoine (Tony) Valois-Fortier, took the bronze after two difficult repechage bouts. Demonstrating that his iron will is just as strong as his iron jaw; he beat out American Travis Stevens to steal the Bronze. This is nothing short of amazing considering Valois-Fortier had fought four bouts in about five hours. 


In a Canadian Olympic first, Christine Girard from British Columbia finished third in Olympic weightlifting. Competing at a mere 63 kilos (138.6 pounds), Christine lifted a staggering 103 kilos (226.6lbs) in the snatch and 135 kilos (297lbs) in the clean and press. Just to give you some idea, that’s like lifting the equivalent of a full-grown male lion over your head!   

We’ll get the rest of these amazing graphics posted as soon as we can. Good luck in the closing days of the games, Canada.

-Able Translations

Translations Toronto


Dear Internet-users from across the globe,

Able Translations is now on WordPress and boy are we excited to be here.

On our blog you’ll find company updates, articles about the language services industry, how-to’s, and other content that will interest YOU.

Drop by our Facebook and Linkedin profiles to share suggestions on some topics that you would like to see explored here at the Able Translations Blog.

Just so you have an idea of what’s in store over the next week, we’ve got some amazing graphics, which were designed by Rui from our creative team, that celebrate our Canadian Olympic medal winners. Exciting, right? we think so.

Until next time!

Thanks for visiting,

Able Translations

Translations Toronto