We recently finished the bulk of the localization work for Industries of Titan, a city-builder with a tonne of UI text, dialog and tutorials. I have helped localize another Unreal Engine game so I thought I knew what I was doing, but it turns out you learn something with every game!

These are some of the things that surprised me as the UI programmer supporting localization of an Unreal Engine game.

I've split this into what I learned in general, and some things I learned from working with an external localization company.

General Localization Tips

Concatenation is a Bad Idea

I've written about how concatenating strings can break localization, but I still managed to make decisions that were not localization-compatible.

One in particular was thinking that we could come up with some cool ship names by having two lists of parts and sticking them together…


Don't do this, it won't work in any language with gender (French, German, Italian etc.), or one in which adjectives can change position (French), and probably for other reasons I forget right now.

There might have been a way to solve it with a smarter localization system, choosing different versions of "Giant" depending on the gender of the noun with which it was paired. In the end we just generated 100 static names and let the localizers translate them.

Giant Hawk
Giant Raven
Giant Macaw
Magnificent Raven

There is no "Placeholder" Text

"Hey, can you just add this button while we're prototyping this feature? There's no need to add its label to the localization table."

I guarantee that this placeholder text will end up production and you will get a report of untranslated text. Ideally you will catch it at the start of your localization passes, but if the text is hard to find, you might not catch it before release!

In Unreal Engine C++, some placeholder text might look something like this.

MyTextLabel->SetText(FText::FromString("Just Show This"));

FText::FromString should set off warning bells in your head. There are very few cases where it is justified.

Make All Text Localizable from Day 1

In gamedev you want to make the workflow of each team-member as simple and easy as possible. This usually means different solutions for different team-members.

For Industries of Titan we used a shared online spreadsheet for defining both the logic and player-facing text of tutorials. This meant creating scripts to scrape that tutorial text and add it to the localization table.

It's also important to make sure that all player-facing text in your game is in the stringtable. In Titan, we use "Construction Units" as a measure of building cost, shortened to "CU". We thought we could keep the text as "CU" for all languages as it is short, simple and techy, and we would have a tooltip to explain what CU was short for in every language.

Fortunately, our very helpful localization company politely informed us that:

You should know that "cu" means "ass" in Brazilian Portuguese.

So we decided to make it localizable.

Working with A Localization Company

Once you have the groundwork complete, the next steps are to prepare files to send to a localization/translation company. These tips should help you to make their job easier and help them produce higher-quality translations.

Add Comments For All Localization Entries

You should be creating easy-to-understand contextful keys for each of your localization stringtable entries. e.g. MainMenu_NewGameButtonLabel. However this is not enough.

It's important to understand that translators will do the majority of their work with just the CSV file you provide them. Their time is too valuable to spend playing the game. So they need as much information as possible within the CSV file itself.

Your comments should clarify any ambiguity in the text. Here are some of the questions that we received because we were missing comments:

  • "Is 'Research' a noun or a verb in this situation?"
  • "In one situation you referred to this character as *Chief* Waste Management Officer, but in another they are referred to as Waste Management Officer. Were they promoted in between? Should we differentiate?"
  • "What is Xethane?", any technobabble or invented nouns needed clarification.
  • "What does this acronym stand for? How is it used?"
  • "What is the gender of this speaker? What is their role?"

These are the kind of comments you can add to clarify the text:

mainmenu_newgamebuttonStartButton label, verb.
production_inputmodule_mineralsInput Mineral Modules:Label preceding a list of all modules that receive Minerals for processing.
dialog_speakername_aiAI ConstructName given to the hybrid artificial intelligence that attacks the player. Technobabble-ish.

What to Give to External Localizers

As I've said, translators' time is incredibly precious, they don't have time to wade through a custom XML file to find strings. Typically localization companies will want:

  • Only CSV/XLS files.
  • As few files as possible, ideally just one.
  • Provide only modified and new strings, or tag them so localizers know what to work on.

The more files you have, and the more complicated the workflow, the greater chance you have of strings being missed

Keep Keys Consistent Between Batches

It is extremely unlikely that your entire game will be localized in a single pass. Localization takes time, so there's a real possibility that new text will have been added to your game while localization is happening.

Don't do this:

help_page1_titleStarting a New Game
help_page2_titleHow to Play
help_page3_titleWinning a Match

Two weeks after sending the text away to be localized, you decide that you really want to add another section to the help menu, and you want to put it right after "How to Play", so your localization table now looks like this:

help_page1_titleMain Menu
help_page2_titleStarting a New Game
help_page3_titleHow to Play
help_page4_titleWinning a Match

You can see that the text and keys have been shifted by one. All the localizations that come back from the outsourcing company will now be wrong and have to be done again.

Instead, do this:

help_page_mainmenu_titleMain Menu
help_page_newgame_titleStarting a New Game
help_page_howtoplay_titleHow to Play
help_page_winning_titleWinning a Match

If keys are added, or the English text is changed, the keys will be able to remain the same.

Language-specific questions

Depending on the languages you are targeting, you may have to give additional information to the localization company.

To give you an idea of the kinds of things that might be asked, let's take the example of translating to Japanese and Chinese. Japanese and Chinese don't have spaces between words, so technically the text can wrap at any point, even mid-word. Localizers often prefer to put in manual line breaks to avoid awkward splitting of words. But in order to do this, they need to know the number of characters on a line.

To help you achieve this, you should:

  • Design your UI with a consistent set of widths for text elements.
  • Use a consistent set of font sizes.
  • Using sample text work out how many characters there are on a line in every part of your UI where text will be wrapped.

Lowercase All Localization Keys

Sometimes a single problem can make you change the way you do things forever. For all of Industries of Titan's development I didn't think that case in localization keys was it was a big deal.

When we got our localizations back, a good chunk of them were not being found and it took me an embarassingly long time to work out that it was because of case-mismatching.

Force all of your localization keys to be lowercase, and you will never have this issue. When CSV files come back from external localization, you can force-lowercase the keys just in case.

Shameless Self-promotion

Industries of Titan is out on Steam Early Access on June 21st!