One of the things I have been asked hundreds of times over the past 27 years of ADOM development is the question “Will you translate ADOM to <insert-language-of-your-choice>?”

The answer always has been a resounding “no”.

Why? Because translating software is very hard (contrary to what most people seem to believe) and it gets harder in a game with tons of generative content. Translating static texts on the surface is trivial – just use a base placeholder like “YouAttack” and provide an English translation (“You attack!”) and a German one (“Du greifst an!”). And there we are! So why is Biskup not doing translations?

Because that was the trivial example. Take another text example: “You hit the orc with your battle axe for 12 points of cutting damage and 2 points of cold damage.” Again easy, isn’t it? Provide a placeholder like “YouHitMonsterForDamage”, provide some parameters (the monster object, the weapon object and a list of damage numbers together with the respective damage types).

Well, let’s take a second successful attack example and then look at the German translation: “You hit the medusa with your long sword for 12 points of cutting damage and 2 points of cold damage.”. In German these two translate to:

“Du triffst den Ork mit deiner Streitaxt und verursachst 12 Punkte Schnittschaden und 2 Punkte Kälteschaden.”

“Du triffst die Medusa mit deinem Langschwert und verursachst 12 Punkte Schnittschaden und 2 Punkte Kälteschaden.”.

Look at the subtle but essential differences:

“Du triffst den Ork mit deiner Streitaxt und verursachst 12 Punkte Schnittschaden und 2 Punkte Kälteschaden.”

“Du triffst die Medusa mit deinem Langschwert und verursachst 12 Punkte Schnittschaden und 2 Punkte Kälteschaden.”.

Ok, so you might think “Let’s just use two different templates”. But that’s not good enough. Because the change depends on the gender of the nouns. And we have three genders in German (male, female, neuter) that all make a difference. So you’d need eight templates to cover this simple example (and internal code logic that recognizes the gender for each noun and applies the correct form – which requires a lot more internal data and logic than for English were you just can fill in some blanks).

(and we ignore the fact that both “Schnittschaden” and “Kälteschaden” are not really good German)

This gets ever more complicated when you e.g. look at attributes of things:

“You hit the blessed female giant.”

“You hit the blessed male giant.”

In German:

“Du triffst die gesegnete Riesin.”

“Du triffst den gesegneten Riesen.”

Again we need to differentiate gender. And remember that the attribute might be connected to the battle axe from the example above. And you might have more than one attribute. And note that in English you can use the gender as a prefix while in German the gender changes the noun (Riesin/Riesen).

Again this is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

As a consequence it’s impossible (well, with reasonable effort) to translate a procedural/generative game that creates lots of text unless you design the game for that from the very beginning. Which is yet another huge challenge for a small team. Because – among the team members of Team ADOM – we speak Spanish, German, English and Polish. And probably a couple of words in a couple of other languages. But none of us are trained linguists that immediately think of all the special rules of their languages – but the internal API needs to be designed for that. So there is ample room for many stupid mistakes. And this ignores the fact that we might want to translate to Russian or Chinese – languages we don’t know at all.

Even if you solve that there is yet another layer of complexity: Words have different lengths in different languages. English is rather short, French very long in many cases. If you design a user interface or dialogs this creates tons of problems (because suddenly your buttons are not wide enough to take up all the text, there is more text in French than fits into the tooltip that easily displays the English version, etc.).

And then we go beyond text: Some cultures have very distinct meanings for colors – so if you think that black is a color of mourning… not really. You at least need to think about that. Some cultures do not enjoy certain references… if you want to be successful in Asia you have to be extremely careful about how you handle and depict dragons and skeletons in your game (yes, skeletons – dragons might be somewhat obvious but I never would have thought about skeletons).

And so on and so forth.

Does this mean you can’t translate a roguelike game? No, it only means that you have to plan very carefully.

We tried to plan very carefully for Ultimate ADOM because we want to provide different language versions due to the rather extensive fan bases we have in other cultures. We are not yet sure if our planning was good enough because the actual act of translating content will only begin in 2019. We will hire a professional company for that (which is doing translations for many major titles) because they have an engine that has lots of grammar understanding which – looking at the examples above – is obviously very important. And they will be doing the text translations, too, because we want to have professional and quality translations.

But this comes at a price. Due to the huge amount of text contained in ADOM we expect costs between $10.000 and $30.000 for each and every language we are going to translate to. This obviously is lots of money for a small Indie studio. But we will try. We will start with the more important languages business-wise and then see if the translations bring in enough revenue to justify more. Our first language is English, the second one will be German (because we understand that well and it’s a very complex language – which helps getting a better feel about what is possible and what not). Then we will see. Obvious next choices are French, Spanish, Portugese and maybe Russian (the latter  being a very complex issue). Chinese or Japanese might be interesting – but they are really hard. We will have to see.

So that’s it for today.