When I was at the Ubisoft Campus, my teachers often talked about political correctness and moral issues with video games. Be it violence, sex, religion, racism, these are many of the factors that will affect the potential success/failure of our games and may limit its distribution in certain regions of the world or impact the rating from General to Mature. But just as important is the cultural background of your target audience and the language barrier.
A few weeks ago, when I was asked to write the Death of the Council event, I was pretty psyched at the opportunity to do an event that would stray from the invasion/monster bashing type and go with something a bit more interactive. But I quickly realized I really needed to rein myself in because some of my puzzles, though they seemed pretty obvious to me, turned out not to be that easy for others. And while I may be a big mystery fan, the event still needs to cater to the players that aren't.
But the biggest shock came when I was asked if the event text was ready to be sent to Japan for translation.
It suddenly hit me that the Rebus puzzles I put in the quest can prove to be a significant challenge for non-anglophones. French is my first language and though I consider myself fluent in English, it's still tricky to me at times. So I'm thinking about the Japanese players and wondering how they will fare with English word plays. In the end, the Japanese team had to change the rebus passwords to something more culturally accessible to their players.
It reminded me of when I used to work as a sound engineer in movie dubbing. We were recording the French version of the movie Sphere and there was this scene where the crew is going down to the space craft that landed in the ocean and they are breathing helium. They were making all kinds of silly comments with that funny helium voice and one of them said "follow the yellow brick road". I was surprised when the director asked me if I knew what that meant or referred to. And I said yeah, and explained how the Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz had spoken those specific words with an helium kind of voice. To me, having been extensively exposed to the American culture, the Wizard of Oz is a classic known to all. But to the director and actors who were more versed in the French Canadian culture, this was not common knowledge. Unfortunately for them, they had to try to convey the same message (or at least intention) as the original movie, in the same lapse of time and make the actors' words fit with the lips movement on screen. Synch 4tw!
So this little reminder has given me a greater appreciation of the work done by the localization team. It will also likely impact the kind of puzzles I come up with in the future.