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 knowyourmeme.com, 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

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