Jay Button: Will you be at PAX East? Let us know!

April 4, 2012

It’s finally happening once again. PAX East is upon us as it comes every year, and yet each is always more exciting than the last. My buddy Tom, some members of my sketch group and I will all be skulking around the floor looking for deals on games and screwing around and maybe meeting you! I want to get to know each and every one of you who’s coming to PAX East this week. I mean it, if you’ve ever spent any time on Snackbar I owe you at the very least a hearty handshake or a big manly hug. So be sure to tweet at me and let me know you’re on the floor.

Also let me know about what panels you’re seeing, especially if they were included on my list of the 10 you should not miss. PAX East’s schedule is packed with a wonderful array of panels that cover nearly every facet of gaming culture you can think of. I say ‘almost’ because somehow a topic very dear to me will not be represented by a panel at this year’s PAX East. That topic is video game localization.

Game localizers are some of the unsung heroes of the gaming industry. Much like the inkers of comics, their job and its importance is overlooked by most fans of the medium. Without localizers we might never have gotten some of our favorite games made in other lands, most notably Japan. Japanese companies used to translate games in-house using employees whose first language is not English and did not grow up in the country to which they are sending their game. This is more important than people think.

Localizing a game is more than just providing one-to-one translations of the game’s text and speech. The language barrier goes much deeper than the words coming out of someone’s mouth. Things like historical and cultural references, slang, and jokes usually don’t translate well to another part of the world. That’s why it’s important to have a localizer who knows the area their game is going to well.  Some companies go the extra mile. Putting together a retail game requires more than what’s on the disc, you’re building a whole package. This includes the cover, instruction booklet, and any sweet inserts like a map, soundtrack or artbook.

One great example of this is XSEED‘s release of Ys I & II Chronicles. Ys is an incredibly obtuse game. Many RPGs from its time were, but Ys definitely takes the cake in the “What the hell do you want me to do?” video game canon. The good folks at XSEED included a full guide for the first game in the PSP title’s instruction booklet. They leave II up to the player to figure out, but it’s a great example of localization. Since it’s the first game in the series, many will be starting with this release when checking out the Ys games. It’s obtuse nature has been seen as a barrier for years, and XSEED really did their part in bringing new fans to the franchise.

It’s also a quite opaque little corner of the industry. There aren’t as many companies as you might think doing game localization, and getting into it is no specific science. Most people with the job have the same story about falling into it after teaching ESL in Japan, writing about games or working on some other section of the industry. And they usually live overseas before they get the job or after relocating quickly.

So if there’s one thing I’d like to see at next year’s PAX East, it’s a panel about game localization. Perhaps we don’t have one because so few with the position live over here, there really are less doing it than I think, or not enough people are interested in it. Well I am, and I hope you are too because it’s a career that I’ve always wanted to pursue. Is this a topic that interests you? What are some other points you think could be better annotated in the game industry? Be sure to let us know in the comments and let me know when and where you are at PAX East! You could end up on this very site.