Lost in Translation/ Voice acting

After reading comments about Space Rangers2, Hard Truck, and darkStar One (all games I plan on buying/playing after I’m done with my current batch), I’m dissapointed to hear of so many bad translations and voice acting jobs from interesting game companies overseas. I’m also surprised it’s not considered a top priority when much of your market speaks English (USA, Canada, UK, OZ, NZ as well as many other countries who won’t get a translation and know english as a second language).
My girlfriend has dabbled in translation jobs a bit, and I can see text intensive games being relatively pricey ( depending on your budget, for larger developpers a few grand is a drop in the bucket ). But seeing as often my sense of being immersed in a game world is destroyed by broken language and ridiculous expressions, they really ought to look to a proffesional to do the job right.
When movie watching, I always choose to see foreign movies in their original language and subtitles; you tend to lose less this way. I think I’d even prefer the same in games, if only I could rely on the subtitle translations being acceptable, and it seems it’s hardly the case.

I suppose voice acting is a more touchy subject, considering you often walk a fine line between camp/stereotypes/emotional appeal/etc and could very well depend solely on your director to judge whether the mood or atmosphere is being accurately reflected in their performances. But it shouldn’t be too difficult to hear a few lines read and decide whether the person does the job, or just sounds ridiculous.

Having just played some of the Darkstar one demo I fully agree. I’d either prefer some better voice acting or just keep the german and give me decent subtitles. It’s a very fun demo so far, but some of the voice clips (not all) are so bad I either cring or laugh. I somehow doubt those are the responses they were looking to envoke with the dialog.

I’ve been enjoying Kingdom Under Fire in spoken Japanese with subtitles (and no music). I’m 110% certain the english voice acting would be terrible. As it is, the script is pretty good and I’m getting a free education in fantasy mediaeval squad-level japanese! Bonus!

I encountered the exact same thing from the Nightwatch demo. Though voiced in English with what sounds like Anglophonic actors speaking with Russian accents, the actual dialogue sounds like a text book translation of the Russian. It takes more then a competent or professional translator to capture all the nuance and wordplay of the original lines, it takes an outright poet.

CDV (or Nival) did a really good job translating and V/O Hammer & Sickle. They even got the queer Russian sayings into decent enough English. It had to of done miserably what with the reviews. I’d be suprised if they went to that expense again.

it takes an outright poet

Couldn’t tell if that was just an off hand remark but its true that Poets make for the best translators. Shared aptitude and skills.

That’s par for the course. Here in Germany most media gets dubbed to German from an English soundtrack, and at least 90% of the results range from atrocious to mediocre. Fortunately, most DVDs and console games sold here also have the English soundtrack but most PC games don’t, so I have to import them from England. It’s not much better with books, by the way. Many are full of typical translation errors such as verbatim translations of idiosyncratic expressions.

Translation is a very difficult but (to my knowledge) low-paying job, hence the universally poor results. A native speaker will toss out acceptable lines with little effort, but you need a much more highly qualified person working much harder to get a good translation that sounds just as natural in a different language. Now add the typical language student’s lack of domain knowledge for gamespeak, technical or fantasy/sci-fi terminology, and the disaster is almost unavoidable.

This is why subtitles are superior to redubbed speech, even in games. The subtitles may not be the best translation either, but between the original audio and the translated subs, you have a reasonable approximation of the best of both worlds.

The developers of Throne of Darkness said that they considered making their game playable in a sort of “subtitled samurai movie Japanese mode” where lines were delivered in Japanese with english subtitles – and also in “terrible dub mode” where the lines were delivered in English of the quality you’d expect. Sadly these features never came to pass.

Localization teams everywhere: JUST USE SUBTITLES. Cheaper and superior.

Your examples probably pinpoint part of the problem. Take the original Space Rangers - Elemental/IC did the translation at their end (no doubt on the cheap)…and given they never found an English publisher, spending a lot on it would have been a waste of money. Space Rangers 2 was picked up by tiny UK outfit Excalibur and there is no way they were spending a lot…a US publisher didn’t come along until the sales potential had been proven in Europe.

In the end, I’m not sure English markets end up being bigger for many of these games (quite probably because of the poor marketing and localisation from these 2nd and 3rd tier publishers) but I doubt they are going to spend more money to test that out.

Wait…was Kingdom Under Fire released with Japanese voices? It’s a Korean developed series and the one that I played was in Korean, but I can’t say much for the other games…99 Nights is Japanese though.