Watch the episode on YouTube
LARA: Hi, everyone! Welcome to another episode of Open World. How are you doing today? Hi, Ale. Hi, Meli. And today we have a very, very special guest with us. Tamara. Hi, Tamara, how are you doing today? Thank you so much for joining us. We are so excited to have you here.
TAMARA: Hello, everyone. It’s amazing to be here, so thank you very much for the invitation, and I’m really looking forward to our discussion today.
MELISA: Thank you, Tamara.
ALEXIS: Thank you, Tamara. Well, I was hoping to kick the interview with you telling us a little bit about you, about your career, your journey, how did you start in the industry? What’s your first thoughts? And did you ever imagine getting to where you are now? Wherever you wanna start, we are all ears.
TAMARA: So, if we do a bit of time travel, back in… I’m not gonna say the year, okay? But I was around seven years old when I got my first computer. I’m not gonna say the model because that will reveal my age. But I became very excited and passionate about gaming and programming and games. And I also was very interested in languages. So these two things kind of defined my childhood, games and languages. And my studies led me in all sorts of sidetracks, very exciting ones, but it was just amazing, it’s quite a miracle that eventually, these two passions kind of came together in working in video games as a localization professional. But talking about my professional career, I like to say that I’ve been through the localization food chain, starting as a freelance translator and moving to become an internal reviewer, project manager at this small-ish SLV in Budapest, and then MLV, and then I am now on the client side, so to say, working at Frontier Developments for the last eight years or so, and it’s an amazing place to be.
ALEXIS: That is one of the interesting things…
MELISA: That’s amazing.
ALEXIS: Yeah. One of the interesting things about this industry is that you don’t only have to be a linguist and translate video games to be a part of this entire food chain, like you mentioned, right?
MELISA: Do you think, like… like, looking back, do you think it made sense for you to go through this journey to be able to be where you are today?
TAMARA: Yes, absolutely. Looking back, you know, in retrospective, it’s amazing to see how all these experiences, how my studies, the student organizations I was part of, and then, you know, all these steps in my career eventually added something, something very useful that I can still use today. I mean, just a simple example, if I think of, well, we work with, you know, partners, clients… No, sorry. We’re working with vendors and localization partners, and being on that side of the industry, I know what they need, I know how they work, and I am able to provide them everything that I possibly can so that they can do the best work that they possibly can.
MELISA: That’s great. Yeah, you understand the whole process a lot better being on both sides. And I have another question also. I read a Nimdzi report where you talk about a healthy work culture on your team as a leader. Can you share any specific tips with us?
TAMARA: Well, one of the things that I really love about my current job is managing a diverse team of absolutely amazing individuals. And as a leader, I believe that my job is to enable and empower these people to do their best, and also to explore and bet on their strengths and to have them continuously grow as a professional. And Nimdzi actually has been an absolutely fantastic partner in that for us. As for tips, hmm… I always encourage transparency and open communication within my team. We have, you know, daily stand-ups so everybody knows what the other people are working on. And this also helps us towards becoming better cross-cultural communicators, which is extremely important if… In our team of 11 individuals, we have nine different nationalities and cultural backgrounds, so it’s very important to do that. Also a really fun practice that we have in place is a weekly gathering called “La vida loca.” It’s a casual Friday session where we can, you know, geek out about languages, cultures, training, share ideas about a project and, you know, just celebrate all these achievements that the team members have.
LARA: That’s so cool.
ALEXIS: I love that.
TAMARA: Yeah. And not just focus on the day-to-day production method.
LARA: Oh, my God, amazing. That’s so cool. Thank you for saying and sharing…
MELISA: Yeah, it’s very cool.
ALEXIS: Yeah, I love that you give it a name to the casual Fridays, an ultimate goal, right? Now, if you were to say some of the biggest challenges that you’ve had in your role as Head of Localization or even growing towards your role, what would you say that you may have faced?
ALEXIS: Maybe it’s a tough question, I don’t know.
TAMARA: No, it’s fine. But I think my answer will probably resonate with the other professionals who have a similar journey to mine, so who have come from the language service providers side over to a game company or any other company, for that matter. And I think one of the biggest challenges when you make that move is to learn a new language or other many new languages so that you’re able to talk about localization to people who are from all sorts of disciplines, and talk to them in a way that it creates bridges and leads to a shared understanding and, you know, to solving problems collaboratively. And don’t forget that they don’t know anything about localization, so if you, for example, try explaining like the cost savings that you can achieve by leveraging your TM if you’re not allowed to say translation memory, fuzzy match, big translation… anybody of the game of taboo, if you remember.
ALEXIS: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
TAMARA: So yeah, that’s quite a challenge. But, you know, after you spend some time listening to your colleagues talk about their challenges and their work, it’s not that tricky to figure out how to talk to them about localization in a way that makes sense for them. A couple of examples. If you talk to a EU coder about how you handle formatting text or placeholders, they’ll be really thrilled to hear that, producers, budgets, timelines, how you stick to them. And of course, if you talk to management, they will want to hear about the ROIs for the different languages, cost savings, if you achieve those through efficiency and new tools and technologies, as well as how you’re driving growth and revenue for the company. And also, in my experience, everybody loves hearing about things like transcreation tricks and game culturalization so that [inaudible] good, you know, lunch time chat, how you can generate some excitement about your daily work.
ALEXIS: It’s always an interesting topic for those who are in the localization industry, the transcreation part, isn’t it? It’s like a constant. Everywhere.
TAMARA: Yes, it’s a bit, “Wow! I never thought about that before.” Yeah.
ALEXIS: But hey, you don’t know what you don’t know.
LARA: I’m a huge, huge fan of Planet Coaster and, obviously, Planet Zoo, right? And I know about Planco. Would you like to tell our audience about it? And do you know someone that speaks Planco? Because that’s so cool.
TAMARA: Yeah, of course. I really love Planco and I love talking about it, but, come on, what kind of language geek would not be excited about talking about a constructed language?
LARA: I know! It’s so good.
TAMARA: So yeah, Planco was born during the development of, as you say, Planet Coaster, which is, for those who don’t know, a theme park simulation game that Frontier released in 2016. And there were a couple of ideas generated about how to create a living world, a world where the player gets a tangible connection to all the guests that roam around in the park and whom, you know, as the player, I’m supposed to entertain. And one of these many suggestions was a substitution language based on English, Planco. And the idea came from our amazing audio team, from an excellent Sound Designer, now Dialogue Manager, actually, called James Stant, and he is the father of Planco. And the idea was that, we wanted the players to have more connection and more quality beyond the “Ooh!”, “Ahh!”, “Wow!”, “Grrr!”, and you know, all these non-verbal sounds to make the guests more real. And we didn’t want to localize any of that chatter because we wanted these parks to be location-agnostic, and the Planet universe is a separate and completely entirely separate world without connection to the real countries, real languages, so creating Planco was just a fundamental aspect of creating this experience. Um… Yeah. Apart from the creator, I honestly don’t know anyone who is fluent in Planco. But of course, many of us know a couple of words and expressions. So a couple of my favorites would be, “Hayo,” which is “Hi.”
LARA: “Hayo!” Oh, my God, yeah.
TAMARA: “Veyb oe,” “Thank you.” “Alle-ooma”, “Rollercoaster.” If you say the word, “Alle-ooma,” that’s kind of how the coaster…
TAMARA: We have “Hass-wuuf”, “Hot dog.” So “Wuuf” as in, you know, what the dogs say here in the UK. And my personal favorite is “Wippi tentifu,” which is “A happy octopus.”
LARA: Oh, my God. So cool.
MELISA: That’s extremely adorable.
ALEXIS: So creative. I love that it has an intention behind. “Alle-ooma” is like… It makes sense.
LARA: Yeah. And when you’re playing, like, Planet Zoo… Yeah. I love to hear like the little people saying, “Hay! Hay!” to the animals, like “Hey!” Oh, my God, it’s so cute!
TAMARA: Yes, there is definitely an intention behind the words because, since these are, you know, not understandable for the players, we still wanted them to give information. I mean, “Wippi tentifu,” that’s just the happiest thing you can imagine, just saying it. And then words that are related to frustration and anger, they will have those kinds of sounds, so even though you don’t understand the actual words, they do carry information about the happiness, tiredness, anger of the guests, so as a player, you can actually act upon.
LARA: Yeah, absolutely. It’s so good.
MELISA: It definitely adds to the experience in the game, for sure. And in your experience, Tamara, how difficult would you say it is to build a new language for a video game?
TAMARA: It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, but in our experience, it’s totally worth it, while keeping in mind that the creation and maintenance and the use of a constructed language does create a lot of collaboration between various departments, and they all bring their expertise together. So you have game design, audio, localization coming in and joining this endeavor. And at Frontier, the concept artists and 3D modelers have also been absolutely amazing in embracing it and just decorating the world with Planco signs and things. And… Yes, so Planco at the moment has a vocabulary of about 5,000 words, so that’s quite big, so you need to have a pretty solid process in place from the get-go in order to manage and use a language. So our translation tool is memoQ, and we have a couple of custom hacks in there so we can use it as practically a translation engine to convert English text into Planco, along with the pronunciation.
LARA: Yeah, it’s so cool. For the people that don’t know, there is like an entire page dedicated to Planco, like a dictionary, so you can go and check it out online. It’s so good. So good.
ALEXIS: We can put it on the description of this video.
LARA: Absolutely. You have to.
ALEXIS: We will.
LARA: Yeah. I know that Planet Zoo has been releasing a lot of DLCs, right? Because I have them all. And I know that you mentioned to me that you’re a big fan of Planet Zoo, too, and I have to ask, which expansion is your favorite? Because to me it is the Tropical Pack because I love sloths, like, oh my God, the cutest, and Grasslands because the challenge one takes place in Argentina, so that was amazing, too. So, yeah, which expansion is your favorite? Can you choose one? I mean, it’s so hard.
TAMARA: Yeah, it’s a really tough one because, you know, they are all so unique. But I think my personal favorite would be the Conservation Pack.
LARA: Oh, yeah.
TAMARA: Yeah, which highlights the important role that zoos play in helping the planet. And it features some endangered species, some eco-friendly buildings and scenery, and it educates people about the importance of sustainability. And that’s actually one of the main pillars of the game, so I think it’s really amazing that an entire pack was dedicated to it. But talking about packs, I would be happy to share my favorite part of working on all these packs.
LARA: Oh, my God, yes, please do.
TAMARA: So, as you know, most of these packs highlight a geographical area or a specific habitat and brings in new animals and scenery pieces. So when we start working on a new pack, localization is actually brought in quite early, so we get to do some research and feedback on the proposed scenery items to make sure that they’re not just beautiful, but they also represent the culture in a respectful and relevant way. For example, the Australia pack that features some indigenous artwork, and for that we worked with an indigenous artist and cultural ambassador called John Smith Gumbula, and it even featured his own original artwork on, I think, a collection of painted rocks and such. And the second aspect where we bring in this connection between the animal species and the cultures or the area to which they are related to is the naming pools. When a new animal is born or purchased in Planet Zoo, they get assigned a default name, which the players can change to their heart’s content, but the default name comes from a bucket of names. So for example, our first DLC was the Arctic Pack, and for that, the reindeers get their names from a bucket of Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian names. Then the polar bears and the Arctic wolves get a Innuit name, and then the dall sheep get some popular North American name. So we all gather these names for the buckets. And of course they are all sanity checked to make sure that the meaning is okay and they don’t sound like something rude or offensive in a major language. So yeah, I love how with these thematic packs we can celebrate the diversity and the cultures around the planet, and bring those in for our Planet players to enjoy. And this is also a really exciting way for localization to get involved and contribute.
LARA: Yeah, it’s all amazing. I mean, I love seeing the llamas and the capybaras with Spanish names. It’s so cool. Like, I love it. It’s amazing.
MELISA: And it’s great to know that your process incorporates the localization team early on. That’s such an important part, that we can contribute exactly in that like, you know, and it can be beneficial for the game to have that insight from people from different places… and the language impact… the impact it can have in different languages, how it sounds. I think it’s great that you have the process like that.
ALEXIS: Yeah. Such a great care. And it shows. It really shows. Tamara, we know that you’ll be giving a talk at Game Quality Forum, which will be in Amsterdam on June 27 and 29… through 29. We truly can’t wait. We’ll be there. Can you tell us a little bit about what your talk is gonna be for our audience?
TAMARA: Yes. Indeed, I’m going to Amsterdam… oh, it’s already next month, huh? And I’m very excited, very excited about that. I will be speaking about integrating localization into the game production pipeline. And, you know, this is a topic that often comes up with localization professionals as we explore how we can be brought in earlier into that process and, you know, in a meaningful way, and how we can shift from being [indistinct 20:16] center to a growth driver. Because, you know, you can’t really make games for a global market without involving the expertise of the localization teams. And over the years, Frontier has built quite a mature localization program, so I’m really looking forward to sharing our journey with my fellow game localizers, and also to learn about their journey. And with these events, I find that I always head back home with my head full of ideas and motivations and insights to go home…
ALEXIS: You have an outlet.
TAMARA: Yeah. And just, you know, take all these valuable treasures back home and start improving things even further. And I’m actually not going alone from Frontier, my colleague Ekaterina Zaytseva is also joining me, she’s a Senior Localization Manager, and she will be joining the panel discussion on Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity, which is led by Marina Ilari from Terra Localizations, if I’m not mistaken.
ALEXIS: Yes, it rings a bell. It rings a bell, yes. No, such an interesting topic. Such a useful one. We’re looking forward to it. And it’s a topic that everyone involved both in the video game localization and in the video game development and publishing side should check out. So thank you for that. And with that, it’s the end of our episode with Tamara. Thank you everyone for joining us. Thank you, Tamara, so much for taking the time off your schedule to meet with us. We’ll be seeing you guys again in 15 days with another episode of Open World. Don’t forget to follow us on our socials, we are on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, everywhere. So thank you very much, and see you next time.
MELISA: Thank you, Tamara!