Tuesday, December 23, 2008

TA-ncient History #11: Around The World

This is skipping ahead a bit, but I always liked the visual simplicity of this French box that bundled Total Annihilation and the Battle Tactics expansion pack.

One of the last tasks as production nears completion on a game is translating the game into various languages. Humongous Entertainment always took a very aggressive approach to translating its games. When most companies in the US seldom went beyond FIGS (the oh-so-hip developer acronym for French, Italian, German, Spanish), HE was regularly releasing their most popular games in a dozen or more languages, including Hebrew, Dutch and Norwegian. That attitude carried over to Total Annihilation, though we settled for just doing FIGS. I like figs.

It's always interesting to see what issues arise during localization. For instance, in the UK I just misspelled the word "localisation." It's crazy... or mad.

Anyway, Total Annihilation was relatively easy to convert to other languages. The bulk of our in-game text used the same tools Humongous used, including their in-house animation tool, Splat, for the 2D artwork (this is what created those .gaf files you 3rd party folks know so well). It only took an artist a few days to replace the text seen in the interface and other parts of the game. Most of TA's movie sequences intentionally contained no speaking parts for cheap translation reasons. We made the game for a mere 1.1 million bucks, so we had to make decisions like that on a regular basis.

We did replace the voice narration for the mission briefings and the intro cinematic. Gamers in Germany might have recognized the voice of the guy who dubbed the German voice of James Bond for decades: Gert-G√ľnther Hoffmann. I'm told Total Annihilation was Herr Hoffmann's last project before his death in 1997.

The voice of Total Annihilation in Germany.

GT Interactive's marketing experts in some countries disliked the name "Total Annihilation." It can be difficult for many non-English speakers to say. Plenty of English speakers stuggle with it too.

The folks in France pressed us to change the name completely. They said they were concerned that "Total Annihilation" might sound too much like "Final Solution" to European ears. They suggested the name "Hegemon" instead. The folks at GT's French office also thought the Arm Commander on the front of the TA box was too similar to a character in Heavy Gear, so he was removed from their version of the box.

The strangely empty French Total Annihilation box layout.

The people handling the marketing for Germany had ideas too. They attempted to translate the English name and lobbied for "Ganz Vernichtung," which definitely has a cool ring to it. It also might have compensated for the fact that German words barely fit on our interface. The German box was somewhat different as well. They placed hash marks indicating the number five in the background. This tied in to their marketing campaign which used the number five to connote the five senses, along with the slogan "Use Your Senses." It's sort of catchy, but I don't remember how Total Annihilation smelled... or tasted. Anyone who does, please keep it to yourselves.

"Ich bin ein Riesen-Roboter."

Humongous was already established as a successful division within GT Interactive, so we were asked nicely about the the renaming ideas and not simply ordered to comply. We felt it was important to keep the name consistent throughout the world, so we did. It may be an awkward tongue twister, but it was awkward for pretty much everybody, including Americans.



Anonymous said...

So, this was never released in Japan with one of those odd translations like, 'Robot Hassle' or 'Really Cool Wargame'?

Clayton Kauzlaric said...

heh... Nope. Not only did our engine not support Asian character sets, there was next to no market for PC games in Japan back then.

Our only possible shot at something on that side of the world might have been Korea, since they're such huge RTS players, but TA didn't really catch on there. A Korean buyer once explained that they preferred games like Starcraft in part due to the short play sessions. You can play a quick game during a lunch break at a LAN parlor. TA (and its infinite resources) never really lent itself to tidy little matches like that.

Molloy said...

It did catch on with at least some Asians. There's a little community of Chinese TA players that someone on the TAUniverse forum found recently. They've created mods and even a little arcade shooting game with TA units.


Clayton Kauzlaric said...

Oh yes. There are definitely some folks in Asia who are into TA now. I was just talking about the market we faced in 1997. You know, back in the 20th century.

Clayton Kauzlaric said...

Oh, and to answer one of the comments over at TAU (I can't find my old password for the forums), I didn't say that nobody could SAY the words "Total Annihilation."

What I was trying to communicate is that it's not exactly the sort of catchy, short name that trips off the tongue in a way marketing people tend to like -- So we had some resistance to it. That, and GT's marketing people always seemed eager to make their imprint on a product, however unnecessary.

I probably overstated the awkwardness of saying the name a little because it's fun to be sarcastic. That's something else that suffers in translation.

As for the form of the German name, there may well have been other, more grammatically correct options proposed by GT Interactive's translators. I just happen to recall that particular one. It could have been suggested by some non-German speaking corporate dweeb.

I still think it sounds kind of cool, in spite of the grammar.

Johan said...

Thanks for the interesting read. A shame they didn't make it in Norwegian, as i am a Norwegian myself. I have always loved the translations where I could get them, because it sounds so wonky compared to its original language. Oh, and I remember impressing my english teacher when I was 11 years old and used the word 'annihilation'. I even pronounced it right.

As an old TA fan, things like these are always fun to stumble over. Any chance you'll have more like this about TA? Like for instance, why they stopped with the Core Contingency and Battle Tactics? :)

Clayton Kauzlaric said...

I will certainly make more posts about TA's history in the future.

The reason for no expansion packs is pretty simple: We piled on so much content with Core Contingency, it made any further expansions seem ridiculous.

Also, there was internal/corporate pressure to make the next product a stand-alone that would fill the gap between TA and the other upcoming Cavedog titles, like Amen, Elysium and Good & Evil. An expansion pack wouldn't cut it. There wasn't enough time for a full sequel.

A "TA 1.5" containing a new faction was considered for a couple months, then tossed. Again, we looked at the hundreds of units for TA and felt adding more would be self defeating. Many of us had been crunching for almost two years. We were ready to do something else for a while.

More on that later.

CaesarZX said...

At last!! Thank GOD! Translating begins...NOW.

CaesarZX said...

ok, done. I finished translating it into Chinese haha. welcome to my blog...

lang said...

we had translate TA to chinese,but char unpossable translate,just all Picture

CaesarZX said...

Hi Clayton, I'm still waiting for new episodes of TA-ncient History... if there will be some...