Localizing Shadow Fight 3 into 10 Different Languages

Lead Project Managers at Inlingo Natalia Potekhina and Julia Maydanyuk talked about localizing Shadow Fight 3 for various audiences, explained how they edited the game after it was translated, and discussed the necessity of localization.


80.lv: Please introduce your company. What do you do? What languages do you translate the projects to? What projects have you localized?

Natalia Potekhina, Lead Project Manager: The Inlingo team does localization – we translate, voice, and test game projects. We have more than 40 languages and a huge team of translators from around the world at our disposal. Besides that, we recently opened an art department and now help developers with visuals: we create memorable characters, interesting locations, items, and 2D and 3D environments.

In the last nine years, we have localized more than 1200 projects, including the games Satisfactory, Cooking Diary, Lost Ark, and Othercide. Our team works with all game genres: from match-3 to fighting games and MMORPGs.

80.lv: How did you get into the world of localization?

Natalia Potekhina: In 2012, I was working towards my second degree in Professional Communications Translation. While I was studying, I also got a technical job with a translation agency. I had to learn the CAT software used by the company and then regularly assist full-time employees in solving any problems they had. That experience helped me learn about working as a project manager and about the behind-the-scenes processes. I realized that I liked the industry, and in a year I became a localization manager for game projects.

On my first day at work after training, I received ten tasks at once from a client. They came through an automatic project assignment system that only had one button – accept. When I realized I couldn’t do it all, I started asking more senior colleagues if there was a “Decline” button. They told me that was not an option, and that this work tempo was normal for project managers. I was simply shocked.

My first independent client was the company Game Insight. They had several mobile games that we translated first from Russian to English, and then into multiple languages. It was so interesting for me to work with their texts that in the evening I would read the translations from Russian to English and then respond to the team’s questions for the multi-translation, referencing the Russian original and domestic realities.

In my eight years working in game localization, I participated in all kinds of different projects, and nearly all of them had their own little twists. For example, I once worked with the Inlingo team to translate a sailing simulator. To understand the terminology and the principles of piloting a sailboat, we had the translator and editor study textbooks and encyclopedias. That was our first hardcore simulator, and it made us more confident taking on similar projects, such as motorcycle, agriculture, and aircraft building simulators.

Julia Maydanyuk, Lead Project Manager: First, I organized interpretation services. I also worked with technical and legal texts. In 2009, I got into game localization – which began my journey in the game industry. I still remember the massive Chinese MMORPGs the team and I translated into Russian. That’s where I first encountered tags, problems with terminology consistency, and translator sinologists – I’m still in touch with several of them. 

With time, I started working with projects that were translated straight into 10–14 languages, including relatively exotic ones like Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Swedish. I was a novice project manager back then, so the experience was both difficult and interesting at the same time. At first, it wasn’t very clear how to check texts after translators and editors or how to set up a team, but then we developed a quality management system: we built a database of proven translators, introduced tests for new contractors, and started evaluating them on specific criteria.

I encountered various situations in this process that could be both stressful and amusing. For example, one time I found out our German translator actually lived in Palestine and was using a made-up name to pass as a native speaker. The deception was revealed, and we simply stopped working with them.

There was another incident at the very beginning of my career where we segmented a Korean text into phrases instead of sentences. The translators translated all the phrases, and as a result, the characters spoke like Master Yoda from Star Wars, because the word order in Korean is different than Russian – the predicate is always at the end. If you translate just a few words of a sentence at a time, the phrase “Today we are going to a movie” would look something like: “Today we / to a movie are going.” The editor spent several sleepless nights correcting the text.

Now I can’t imagine something like that happening again, because Inlingo has the process down to the details. We only work with proven translators, we have editors on staff in almost every language, we use checklists and style guides, we immediately create glossaries and stick to them, and we also know the unique features of each language we work in.

Memorable Projects

80.lv: What are the best localizations you have encountered? What is your take on the localization of games in general?

Natalia Potekhina: If we’re talking about mobile games, Supercell and King have consistently good localizations. It’s harder to talk about large projects – don’t hold your breath for any revelations from us. Nostalgia plays a major role here – whatever we played in Russian as kids are well localized by default.

Among relatively new games, I can name the Russian localization of Disco Elysium – that was a huge project with very difficult texts. It’s hard to imagine how many hours went into translating and editing it. If we are talking about one of the best Russian voiceovers of the last decade, I would name Far Cry 3. From the early 2000s, I can remember Alexander Gruzdev in Postal 2 and Peter Ivaschenko as the Prince of Persia. 

The advantage of a good voiceover is that it can stick with you, even if the translation or the original itself is not particularly memorable

Working on Shadow Fight 3

80.lv: How did you become the team responsible for the localization of Shadow Fight 3? How big was the team? How was the process organized? How would you define the stages of the process?

Natalia Potekhina: When the guys at Nekki needed to localize SF3 into 10 languages, they contacted us and asked us to do a test for them. We prepared several different translations: both close to the original and slightly adapted, in a formal and more freestyle. That helped the Nekki team figure out which format they wanted. They asked us to stick with a formal literary style in the translations for all languages. We discussed all the nuances and drew up a style guide.

Translators were recruited based on their work experience in a similar setting and genre. It was important for them to be interested in the oriental theme and understand the tone of the project. As a result, our team had two managers, 20 translators (two in each language), and ten editors/evaluators, who monitored the quality of the finished product. They sent us the texts by chapter – the game has seven of them. Each chapter contained dialogues, a mission description, new gear, and weapons.

The character screen in English and Spanish:

Nekki was great to work with. They promptly responded to our questions in detail. They made sure to provide all the necessary references: a description and history of the factions, character images and biographies, the game’s plot, and a detailed glossary with descriptions and pictures. All of that helped us build a database of terms that we used to translate the game into all the languages.

Julia Maydanyuk: We started by translating SF3 into 10 languages, and now there are 14. Two translators are working with each language, and that’s for a reason. One of them is the primary translator, and the other is a backup. The backup is also very familiar with the style guide, understands the nuances of the project, and can jump in at any moment.

This approach is important to protect yourself in case of unforeseen circumstances. If one translator is sick or is just running behind on their part of the work, you can engage the backup. They can pick up the process without putting the game’s release date at risk.

Localizing Characters and Weapons

80.lv: The game features different characters with different backgrounds, were they difficult to localize? How was the process of localizing characters organized? The game also features a huge assortment of eastern weapons, how were the weapon names localized?

Natalia Potekhina: The client provided an extensive file on each character in the game – biography, appearance, personality, plot motivation, pitfalls, friends, and enemies. That helped us figure out how characters should address the player and each other. We transliterated character names, since the plot takes place in a particular universe, and no cultural adaptation was necessary.

A table with Shadow Fight 3 character descriptions:

Items were harder to translate – there are many varieties of oriental weapons in the game. At times, it was hard to understand the difference between two very similar items, but illustrations from the client, video demonstrations of their use, various internet resources, the personal experience of Japanese translators, and the active game community helped get the job done. If players notice something wrong, they report it, and we decide with the developers what exactly to change.

And this is a table with weapon visuals for a more accurate translation:


80.lv: Were there any other challenges regarding the localization of Shadow Fight 3? Maybe some other parts of the game that were particularly hard to adapt for the consumer.

Natalia Potekhina: We had a problem localizing the game into Thai. That language does not use spaces between words, but unlike Chinese or Japanese, a word at the end of a line cannot be broken just anywhere. In the testing phase, we tried to place the hyphens manually, but that proved unwise – as soon as a new correction was made to the text, the position of the words changed, and we had to redo everything. In the end, we started placing special Unicode symbols between all the words, so the program would know where it could start a new line.

We had another problem getting a feature approved in Google for the Asian audience. We didn’t pass the check the first time – we received a set of screenshots and a standard explanation for being declined. A problem often arises not because of the low quality of the localization itself, but because of the nuances that come with it: choice of font, hyphenation in languages without spaces, whether text matches the context. We tested the localization for several hours, made some changes, and the game got a feature in many countries.

An example of a localized dialogue screen, English and Chinese versions:

Besides that, right now we’re having problems getting an ISBN license for the project. Any mobile game made outside of China must receive permission for distribution – without that, it cannot be published in the country and available to Chinese players. The project must comply with a series of requirements: graphics, gameplay, monetization, time limits, and, of course, textual content – no blood, murder, spirits, or demons. A fighting game is, of course, full of such things, so we reworked the Chinese localization to meet the requirements of the PRC. We hope that SF3 will receive its coveted Chinese license very soon, and we will be glad to share that victory with the Nekki team.

Julia Maydanyuk: Working with Chinese texts to get an ISBN license is a difficult and unique task. Our team of Chinese editors studied the game’s text closely to find words that might catch the eye of the Chinese committee. For instance, in the phrase “Help Captain Phang get back at his rebel crew,” we had to remove the word “rebel,” because the game should not contain any suggestion of rebellion. We ended up with “Help Captain Phang get back at his untrustworthy crew” (帮助庞船长报复失信的船员).

We also softened certain phrases. A character in the original version utters the bold phrase: “You better shut your mouth, Herald, or I’ll cut off your cheeky head personally,” but in the Chinese version, we changed it to: “You better be silent, Herald, or I’ll deal with you myself.” A huge amount of work was put into all the game’s texts to allow the Chinese audience to enjoy SF3.

Editing the Final Product

80.lv: How was the final translation edited after it was done? Who were the editors? What were the final steps of the localization?

Natalia Potekhina: The localization process for each chapter had the same structure: a native translator worked with the text, and then the material was given to an editor/evaluator to be checked. Their task was to make sure the translation was accurate – we have a special editing chart to help them. They checked the texts, gave feedback, and the manager sent the corrections to the translator. The final touch was extensive game testing in all languages to rule out any cosmetic, technical, or contextual errors.

This is what the Shadow Fight 3 localization process looks like in memoQ, the translation tool where translators and editors work together:

The Necessity of Localization

80.lv: What do you think about the necessity of localization in general?

Julia Maydanyuk: Most players enjoy content more in their native language. It allows them to be more deeply immersed in a project and truly appreciate its worth. That is exactly why we need localization: it helps developers enter new markets and attract new audiences.

And it’s really important for the translation to be high-quality and adapted to the local culture – European and Asian players, for instance, have very different backgrounds. If the player doesn’t understand the humor or is constantly finding typos, that can ruin their impression of a project. Our mission is to create the illusion for players that the game was made in their native language.

80.lv: Can it be replaced by machine learning and neural networks?

Natalia Potekhina: Our grandchildren may live to see a day when a creative text can be translated by a machine at the human level, but right now that’s not possible. In this process, everything depends on the difficulty of the text and its uniqueness. Legal materials have been translated using machine translation for some time now – they contain a series of repeating elements with concrete meanings. But creative texts are harder. Here, not only is cultural adaptation important, but also the intention of the particular author, the style, idea, and form of writing.

It’s pointless to talk about the complete replacement of humans with machines. The machine is just one more tool in the translator’s toolbox. And the better the specialist is, the more accurately they will apply new technologies in their work.


80.lv: Is localization in demand these days? How does one become a part of the localization world? What can help the beginning interpreters/translators?

Natalia Potekhina: All kinds of different people work in localization, so first you need to understand what you are capable of and what you want to do. Besides Translators and Editors, Project Managers, Machine Learning Experts, Sound Engineers, Voice Actors, Business Developers, and QA Testers are all needed.

For translation specifically – you need to love games, have an educational background in linguistics, and then gain experience with amateur teams or as an intern working for a studio. There you will learn to work with CAT software, attentive editors, and tight deadlines.

This probably goes without saying, but in order to be a good translator – you need to translate. Try out different genres and settings, and learn to translate business, creative, and scientific texts. This experience will help in your work with games, because Dr. Kleiner may have another singularity collapse, and you might need to translate it. In the end, there is just one answer – only practice will help, as well as feedback from those with more

Natalia Potekhina and Julia Maydanyuk, Lead Project Managers at Inlingo

Interview conducted by Theodore Nikitin

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