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Hey, this is a big blog about my experience translating Epic Battle Fantasy 4 and Bullet Heaven 2, and how I’m trying to do things better in Epic Battle Fantasy 5.

Translating EBF4 was a last minute decision – it didn’t even cross my mind until the game was almost finished. But I knew I had a lot of fans that didn’t speak English, based on my Facebook page and Kongregate data, and the fact that my Flash games were quite popular on Spanish, Chinese, etc, Flash game sites. The languages I chose to translate to were Spanish, Portuguese, German and French. The first two because I had a lot of fans in those regions, and the second two because they just seemed like the most popular European languages to translate to (ie. they buy a lot of games). I didn’t consider Chinese because they already had made unofficial translations, and I figured they just pirate everything anyway. (I don’t know how much that’s changed in the last 5 years, but China seems to be really big on Steam now)

I asked for volunteers from my fans to translate and proofread, and a lot of people stepped forward. I couldn’t judge their skill at their first language, but I made sure they were at least fluent in English. My translation strategy was to turn all of the text strings in EBF4 into arrays of text strings, and dump them on Google Docs so that all the translators could work on them at the same time. “Word” would turn into ["Word","","","",""] and the translators would fill in the gaps. Once translated, the script was also shared publicly, so that anyone could provide feedback if they wanted to.

This wasn’t very efficient, but it worked. The worst part was going through all of the game’s code, trying to find every tiny bit of text, copying it to a Google Docs file, and then later doing that whole process in reverse. It also means that adding a new language now would involve all of that work again. With EBF5, I’ve put all of the text in seperate files right from the beginning, and each file contains one language. The game’s code just loads the relevant text file depending on the options. This means that adding a new language requires almost no extra coding work: I can just give out the English files, they can be translated, and the game can load them as a new language. So that should save me a lot of work in the long term!

But there were some other problems when translating EBF4:
• It turns out that most translated text ends up being a bit longer than the original, so I had to significantly increase the size of many text boxes. Lesson quickly learned.
• Translating parts of sentences separately is a very bad idea, for example: “A ” + “fire/water/ice” + ” elemental attack!” This works well in English and a few other languages, but you never know when weird grammar rules might pop up. From now on I’m sticking to full sentences, even if it leads to a lot of redundancy, like typing out the full line for 10 different elements.
• Dialects! I didn’t realise how different these could be. With French and German we managed to settle on neutral dialects, but with Spanish and Portuguese we went with south American ones, since that’s where almost all of the volunteers were from. Some Europeans were not very happy with these translations. I’m not sure if this problem is totally avoidable, but it’s worth talking to your translators about it before you start. (and then marketting your translation accordingly – luckily Steam let’s me specify that it’s Brazilian-Portuguese)

One thing that went very well was, uh, Flash! Flash handles special characters and text related stuff very well. So I never had any problems putting weird non-English characters in my games. The default fonts seem to handle everything.

So, in the end, was translating worth it? Well… kind of? It took me about a month to organise and implement EBF4′s translations, which also includes countless hours of work by the translators and proofreaders. The Steam sales for German (8%) and French (4%) are reasonably high, so from a financial perspective, those languages were worth doing, maybe even if I had to pay professionals instead of volunteers. But even though tons of Spanish and Portuguese speaking people played the free versions of EBF4, very few of them bought the game on Steam (less than 1% of Steam sales each), so if I was translating just for money, I wouldn’t have done those languages.

EBF4 was overall very successful on Steam, with around 100K sales in total – so 8% more sales is a lot in the end (well, I’m sure a lot of Germans speak English, and may have bought the game without a translation, but whatever). My other game, Bullet Heaven 2, on the other hand, was not so successful. The game wasn’t a flop – but it’s not far from it. Even though it had much less text to translate, I think translating that game was a waste of time – it just wasn’t worth the extra work. And if I had paid professional translators, I would have lost a LOT of money on it.

So I think that’s what it all comes down to for me. If I have a lot of fans in some region, and they want to volunteer to translate EBF5, I’m perfectly happy to work with them and make it happen so that more people can enjoy the game. But I wouldn’t bet on the translations to be worth it financially if I had to pay professionals. I guess I just don’t like taking too many risks. It’s also not particularly fun to program my games to support multiple languages.

Anyway, I’m almost ready to start translating. I’ll start doing research and asking for volunteers soon-ish. German, French, Spanish, and Portuguese are coming back, and the new languages I’m strongly considering are Chinese, Russian, Polish and Vietnamese. Feel free to suggest others, but I think those are the most likely. Of course, I can always add more languages after the game is released, as the new infrastructure makes that much easier than in previous games.

I’m interested to hear what you all think.

tl;dr: I translate for the fans, as it’s probably not worth translating a text-heavy indie RPG for financial gain, except maybe to German.

Add a Comment:
 
:iconhakkotu:
Hakkotu Featured By Owner Aug 22, 2018  Student Traditional Artist
I wish to translate for Japanese, if possible. There are many fans of the game series there, and I would love to be a part of the crew!
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:iconyugetamitlu:
Yugetamitlu Featured By Owner Aug 20, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
I am very interested to volunteer in translating the game in french! I've helped translate other games in the past, so I have some experience and very comfortable with working with other translators! Hit me up if you need anybody else for it~
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:icondanielbird18:
danielbird18 Featured By Owner Edited Aug 14, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
Will this game be on Newgrounds?
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:iconkupogames:
KupoGames Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2018
Yep
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:icondanielbird18:
danielbird18 Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
Awesome to hear!
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:iconkmau:
kmau Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2018  Professional Filmographer
Hah, glad to hear germany turned out to be profitable!

Regarding german:
For german just ask for "hochdeutsch", the common non-dialect that all other german dialects are based on - that should prevent all misunderstandings. Hochdeutsch also covers customers from Austria and parts of Switzerland.

Regarding chinese:
China is really opening up as both producer and consumer of videogames, so (based on experience with the games our studio worked on) a chinese translation is definitely worth considering. You need to be extra careful with the proofreading however, just like with any language you can't proofread yourself. I think I haven't read a single chinese review of our last game that didn't roast the chinese translation :'D
Oh and did you consider porting EBF to mobile devices?
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:iconkupogames:
KupoGames Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2018
Yeah, the translators mentioned there was a common dialect of German that we should be using. I don't remember if we started using it in EBF4 or just in BH2.

I'll make an attempt at porting EBF5 to Android, but I'm honestly not sure if I can get the performance good enough without a huge restructuring of the game. We'll see how it goes.
It'll run on mobile as it is now, just... not very well.
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:iconkmau:
kmau Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2018  Professional Filmographer
Oh yeah making heavy performance adjustments that late is usually messy, I understand your concerns. Mobile is obviously pretty big in the east so it could boost your sales there if you bother with a translation, that's why I brought it up.
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:iconkupogames:
KupoGames Featured By Owner Aug 16, 2018
Yeah, it would be pretty cool if I managed to pull it off.
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:iconnihilester:
Nihilester Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2018
As far as I know, EBF4 used to be popular on some Chinese websites.In this websites,unofficial translations version is still v1.0.3 without paid content。(But it is undeniable that there may be a version with cracked the paid content.)
In Chinese ,there are many people who used to play EBF4 when they are primary school students,but  now the real fans who still pay attention to EBF are just a few of them.
Some fans who play EBF4 many times,like my friends and I ,can play it without Chinese completely.
But for many new player who buy EBF4 on Steam,maybe it is a problem without Chinese.
About EBF5,my suggestion is that you would best do Chinese yourself instead of waiting for Chinese cracked version。
I have friend who want to translate EBF5 into Chinese,She seems to have contacted you.
If you can believe her and give her the task of translation, the translation could be very good.
Her English and Chinese grade is very good, and she is very serious about translation.
More inportant,she likes ACG very well,she can understant some intersting jokes that you said.
Reply
:iconbigattck:
bigattck Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2018  Hobbyist Digital Artist
About spanish language, i know why spain and italy would be mad (italy almost speaks like spanish). You chose to pick words that were not in common spanish dictionary. This lead to confusion like for example: "habilidades" means "abilities" but you really wanted to say is "talento" because its common for everyone to understand. Another would be "equipos" which is not the same in other countries like mexico, spain and italy, you wanted to say "cosas" or "armas".

You made it too hard for anyone in spanish to know what you mean.
Reply
:iconflamerxmagofire:
FlamerXMagofire Featured By Owner Aug 18, 2018
Luckily, we had a translator from Spain on BH2, who helped neutralize a lot of the translation, and hopefully he'll join us again on EBF5.

Btw, "cosas" and "armas" don't work as good translations of "gear", either, since "cosas" is way too general and "armas" won't work with armor or headgear...
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:iconbigattck:
bigattck Featured By Owner Aug 20, 2018  Hobbyist Digital Artist
but "armas" do work because weapons can be armor or headgear. What you reading is one word but that does not work in spanish. In english it is only been one word to follow but in spanish one word does not mean the answer, it can be something else. You have to closely paid attention to it.
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:iconsonofea:
SonOfEa Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2018
Spanish and italian may have the same latin roots but i can assure you that they are far from interchangeable, i'm italian you can trust my words :) . Anyway european spanish and italian are not profitable for translation since they are spoken only in those two countries ( especially italian, unless you plan to sell very in Ethiopia which is unlikely )
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:iconbigattck:
bigattck Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2018  Hobbyist Digital Artist
The trick is having common easy words to understand, "habilidades" is not easy or common for anyone but "talento" is common and easy. That is what im saying.
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:iconaffabilis:
Affabilis Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2018
If you need some good ol' South American spanish translation, you know you can hit me up again!
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:iconniranufoti:
Niranufoti Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2018
I was wondering, since you're saying "South American Spanish" – are there significant differences between South American and, say, Mexican Spanish, or is it all mostly the same ("Latin American")?
Reply
:iconcandystash:
CandyStash Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
An example of this is the word "equips" translated to a rough, South American Spanish it would be "equipos" but in some dialects that's more like "armor"
Reply
:iconaffabilis:
Affabilis Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2018
LOADS! To the naked, foreign eye it may look the same, but to us native speakers it's like two different languages altogether. There are a lot of words that, for example, we in Argentina use that our fellow Mexican brethren rarely (or at all) use.
Even Chilean Spanish is different than Argentinian (also known as Rio Platense) Spanish. Honestly, Spanish it's dialect hell.
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:iconniranufoti:
Niranufoti Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2018
Ah, alright. To be fair, I wouldn't know what it looks like "to the naked eye" since I don't really get in contact with Spanish media, so it was more of a general question. I guess in Spanish, one of the problem with dialects is that there are actually a ton of different countries that can each have their own "official" form of the language, whereas for us in German, while there are wildly different dialects, there's also one official version of the language for the entirety of the country, and since there are far fewer countries speaking German, that doesn't leave room for that much in terms of big differences (Schwizerdütsch being to obvious exception to this). I guess there are upsides to not being a widely spoken language.
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:iconbigattck:
bigattck Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2018  Hobbyist Digital Artist
a good rule of thumb is if you want to talk to everyone in spanish, always be simple about it otherwise if you are in a group that speaks the same native language you use that one.
Reply
:iconaffabilis:
Affabilis Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2018
Well, there is this thing called Real Academia Española, or RAE in short, which is kind of the official regulator of the Spanish language. But trust me, most american countries butcher those set of rules...
Reply
:icongermanminer13:
GermanMiner13 Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2018  Hobbyist Artist
hey Kupo ever considering to make a cute Nolegs plushie?
Reply
:iconniranufoti:
Niranufoti Featured By Owner Edited Aug 14, 2018
I personally have made the experience that a lot of the time, the German translations of media in general tend to suck. Part of that might be because German translations of movies (which I've had the displeasure of watching in German) seem to be done by only a handful of people whose voices just sound horrible; especially compared to the original voices. Also, there was the time in some MMO (that didn't let me choose the UI language) where someone translated the "share" button (that let you brag to your friends about your latest victory) in the sense of "market share", leaving me utterly confused as to what that button would do.
Either way, I tend to only read/watch/play media in their original language (if I understand it), so I've never played EBF in German, which means that, sadly, I can't give any opinion on how good the translation is. I'd be worried that, with EBF being filled to the brim with jokes and references, it would be difficult to do it justice in translation.
I guess I'll have to check out the German version of EBF4 some time.

(EDIT: I've just tried it, and it's just as cringey as I feared. Maybe I'm just a bit elitist, but wow.)
(EDIT the second: Problem is, some of it is just about impossible to get rid of without just changing the thing in question entirely.)

As for the "not particularly fun to program my gages to support multiple languages" part, I might not have the practical experience you have, but as far as I can tell (from a software engineering point of view), externalizing your strings is probably a good thing, whether you want to support translations or not. It's essentially the same as avoiding code clones – if you want to change something later, you only have to do it in one place, instead of going through your entire codebase. (Problems can arise, of course, if two strings just happen to coincide and you'd later want to change one but not the other.)
An interesting way I've seen internationalization done is in the Freeciv Project. Instead of externalizing their strings directly, they're using a tool called gettext to (a) mark strings that should be translated (to get a list for the translators), and (b) pass them through a function that applies the translations at runtime. This adds the benefit of still having the strings in the code, which makes it easier to understand the code without constantly cross-referencing the language file, but it adds a few additional steps to the build process. Also, if you forget to mark a string when adding new code, that could be difficult to spot later on.
Just thought I'd throw that out here. There's a lot to learn from open-source projects.
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:iconrumakashi:
Rumakashi Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2018
You got me curious, can you give an example of something that got translated in EBF4 and turn out cringey? Like to be fair the older games most likely have outdated memes that would be cringey nowadays even in English. There is also always the issue of directly translating but making no sense or making it work within the new context at the cost of losing the original meaning. 
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:iconniranufoti:
Niranufoti Featured By Owner Edited Aug 14, 2018
Well, as Matt mentioned in the OP, some stuff tends to be longer in other languages than in English. For some things that makes the translations seem a bit cumbersome IMO. For instance – some things that are short, concentrated and clear-cut in English, such as "Triple Sawblade" (pun intended) and "Mighty Oak" just lose some of their power when the translation has some additional syllables in it. In this case, they were translated as "Sägenblatt-Trio" and "Mächtige Eiche", each adding about two unstressed syllables (technically, for Sägenblatt-Trio it's a minor emphasis and a stop, but that doesn't make it better), which just kind of lacks the kind of flow. There's a reason the Pokémon translators turned "Oak" into "Eich" (without the second syllable). (Note though that this isn't the only sort of problem the translation has, just a good example.)
The problem in this case is that while "Triple Sawblade" could instead be translated as "Tripelsäge" (and "Sawblade" as just "Säge", which technically only means "saw"), I have no idea how I'd salvage "Mächtige Eiche" – my best approach would be to just find an entirely new name, such as "Eichenfaust" ("oaken fist", and in reference to Eisenfaust), with the upgraded Battle Mountain version becoming "Panzerfaust" ("armored fist", and a weapon).
That's also a reason why oftentimes, subs can be better than dubs (unless they're really good dubs) – when you just want to explain what's going on, using terms that don't sound as cool isn't that much of a problem, but when the user/viewer only sees the translation, just explaining what's happening doesn't work as well.
In general, I think that it's better to use a different term than to stick with a literal translation – in the German version of Disney's Jungle Book, "Look for the bear necessities" is pretty different ("Probier's mal mit Gemütlichkeit", "try it with some Gemütlichkeit") and shockingly poor in puns, but it's a good song on its own nonetheless.
Of course, when we're replacing something that can't be translated nicely with an entirely new term, the translation is better by itself, but switching between the original and translated version becomes more difficult (like when my brother insisted on showing me where to find the Estoc in Dark Souls and was confused for a moment, since in the German version, it's called "Panzerbrecher").

Conclusion: While making a shoddy translation isn't too difficult, making a good one can be quite a shitshow. Also, you need to define what exactly you mean by "good".

Also: Holy fuck I'm writing walls of text today.
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:iconrumakashi:
Rumakashi Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2018
Wall of text is fine, I just wanted a few examples in EBF4 but thanks for going into detail though. I feel it is harder to over explain something than to under explain but with that said I'm the type who also often write walls of text. I'm sure you had gotten a few times where people just TL;DR you if you are anything like me.
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:iconniranufoti:
Niranufoti Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2018
Yeah, which is why I tend to add some kind of summary to my longer posts. Sometimes.
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