AUDIO SPECIAL: High Score MD Hugh Edwards breaks down dialogue localisation

Are you local?

Here at High Score Productions, we are involved in lots of different audio-related activities in the gaming industry – music, sound design, dialogue production, midi-authoring, licensing, project management, etcetera.
However, one area which has grown hugely over the last few years is the localisation of dialogue into other languages.

Historically, dialogue localisation has always been less than perfect – there are always exceptions. Hence the modern-day pigeon-call from publishers that their audiences are now demanding an ever increasing bar with their localised dialogue.

History also shows us that there is a business model which still exists to this day which isn’t really suited to localising dialogue, where the developer pays for and manages the English dialogue and the publisher does the FIGS; French, Italian, German and Spanish. This has inherent problems which make it far harder to achieve good quality FIGS dialogue.

This column is aimed at illustrating what the publishers and developers can do to before we the audio-outsourcers are actively involved.


Following on from Ciaran Walsh’s excellent lecture at Develop ’09, involving audio-outsourcers as early as possible is ultimately key. No-one would dream of asking an art-outsourcer to start and complete all the art assets for a game a month before Alpha – audio is just as much a skilled craft and the more time dedicated to it, the better results will be achieved.


In general, most voice projects are run by first recording the English-language dialogue, and then localising based on the English audio files. As a model, this works well for a variety of reasons. The problem comes with the historic publisher/developer contracted relationship where inevitably you find a different company producing the English as to the FIGS. If your English voice director doesn’t pay enough attention to the fact that the dialogue will be localised later, you are going to have issues.

These problems are made much worse if there are time-constraints on the dialogue. For example cut-scenes, which of course are all being developed with the English dialogue. If you consider that German will have around 20 to 30 per cent more syllables than English, then over long sentences you end up either having to rush the German or having over-running sentences – I’ve actually seen localised titles where the game effectively pauses to wait for FIGS dialogue to finish.

Imagine Obi Wan Kenobi giving his famous speech to Vader and him having to deliver it twice as quick as he did on the film – it would sound ludicrous and you would lose all dramatic emphasis.

This is almost always why FIGS reviews historically came back more negative than the English – not enough attention was paid to the English recordings in the first place.

A lot of companies do recognise this now, and I estimate that 50 per cent of our voice projects are English and FIGS. But that still leaves fifty per cent.

So try and break the contractual cycle of the developer having one language and the publisher having the rest – fundamentally, the publisher will be left with whatever he is given from the English, however good or bad, and then it’s too late. And if you can’t break this cycle, why not employ a FIGS director to sit in on the English recordings? It’s a small price to pay – why negate four languages for just one.

The Devil’s in the Detail

There are plenty of other things that can go wrong with dialogue production before we, the audio-outsourcers, are called in.

* We do this for a living, day-in, day-out. If you want any help/advice in the planning stage – just call us.

* Employ a good writer – gone are the days when Bob from the QA team will suffice, just because he has a GCSE in English. Enslaved is a prime example of how it should be done.

* Streams: If you’re using multiple studios to develop your game for different platforms, make sure you have one dedicated audio project manager supervising the audio for all streams. This sounds obvious, but it’s rarer than you would imagine.

* Translations: Again, obviously essential, but use a reputable company. Educate them on the game. The number of times I have had native voice-actors question
lines which are so obviously mis-translated isn’t funny.

* Filenames: Use numerators preceding the filename structure. E.g., instead of 1_Filename.wav, use 000001_Filename.wav – this will save time and effort later.

Furthermore, be sure to steer away from concatenated filenames if at all possible. Know your base directory-structures for FIGS in advance.
Great FIGS dialogue isn’t hard to achieve, but everyone in the dev process needs to do their bit to get it right – and the industry has to stop believing that English is the only language in the world, just because we all speak it. Involve us earlier – we can help.

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