Podcast S2 EP18 Arthur Flew

S2 EP18: Ft. Arthur Flew

MELISA: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the last episode of Open World. I’m here with Lali and Ale, and we are finishing this season on a high note. We have a very special guest today, Arthur Flew. We’re so excited to have you with us. Thank you so much for coming. We are big fans of yours. So would you like to introduce yourself to our audience?

ARTHUR: Sure. First off, thank you for having me. So my name is Arthur Flew. I’ve been doing localization for 17 plus years at this point, most recently at Epic Games. And then previous to that, I worked at Blizzard Entertainment.


LARA: So cool. How can you say that being so chill?

ALEXIS: This man’s luck is like this, you know?

LARA: Yeah.

MELISA: Well, we wanted to start talking about cultural adaptation. And, my first question is, can you share a specific instance where cultural adaptation led to unexpected but fantastic results in some of the iconic games that you worked through the years?

ARTHUR: Yeah. I mean, I think generally you’re always pleasantly surprised whenever you try something new when you’re doing localization. But I think… I think it’s easy to sort of go through the motions of doing the same thing over and over again. And so, whenever we have an opportunity to try something sort of out of the box, you never know how it’s gonna land. We had this one opportunity once where the game I was working on decided to have some DJ radio station in the game, and, you know, the normal way to go about it would be to, you know, hire some local voice actors and have them record those same lines. But we decided to go a little bit extra on it and talk to the marketing teams and the regional groups and things like that, and see if we could actually find some local DJs for the different countries that we localized in and try to maintain sort of the same vibe and feel of what the English DJ was doing, but kind of adapt it more culturally for those countries in it. We found some up and coming or just, you know, recently popularized DJs in every one of those countries and have them record, and it really gave those countries, like a little bit more, authenticity, right?

ALEXIS: Authenticity. That’s the word that I was thinking, yeah.


ALEXIS: It’s authentic.

ARTHUR: Exactly. And the DJs really liked it. And I think it really hit a chord with all the audience in those countries. And it was a really good, good experience. Everybody loved it. And it was outside the norm. We had to, you know, make all kinds of new contracts and work with them on, you know, what we could and couldn’t do and what they could and couldn’t do and all that kind of stuff. But it was, I think, a fun vibe for everybody.

MELISA: That is so cool. I love it. That’s definitely what cultural adaptation is about, at the end of the day. Like you want to connect with the different audiences and, you know, have a similar experience. If you had a DJ in your original language, you would be like… It’s just so cool that everyone had the same experience, like different countries. So it’s really, really cool.

ARTHUR: Yeah. It was a fun experience.

LARA: Yeah, with the rise of diverse voices in gaming, how do you approach inclusivity within localization? Because, I mean, I think this is very related to what you’re saying right now, having diverse voices to approach these different cultures. I think that’s amazing.

ARTHUR: Yeah. It’s always an interesting topic when you try to do inclusivity. Obviously, from a cultural standpoint, you really want to try to be as authentic as possible. So where you can, you know, you don’t try to do a straight adaptation of the content, you try to make it make sense for the region you’re adapting it to. But even more so, like, not even just cultural adaptation, but LGBTQ+ adaptations and things like that. It’s a bit harder for some languages than others. You know, some cultures are less inclined to support that kind of content. But where we can, we try to do that stuff while staying true to the source material, right? We don’t want to rewrite the original content, but try to adapt things so that it fits and works for that culture. But yeah, even within the language itself, right, you look at a lot of the Latin based languages which have genders, like, this is this word is a masculine noun, a feminine noun. Try to figure out ways to kind of get around that so it doesn’t feel like we’re injecting that stuff into the content using neutral pronouns and things like that, we don’t need to specify masculine, feminine, that kind of stuff. My team at Epic was really good about that.

MELISA: That is really cool. It’s happened so many times that I, like, choose the feminine character and then the text in Spanish is masculine, even though I chose a feminine character, so like talking to me as if I was a boy. So, yeah.

LARA: It happens. Yeah, I’ve seen that.

ARTHUR: Hopefully, it’s never happened in any game I’ve done.

LARA: No. No, don’t worry about it. No, no.

ALEXIS: I really don’t think so. I really, really, really don’t think so. So, Arthur, beyond these things that are… that really cater to gamers of different identities, from different places, you know, where accuracy is also involved. You were talking about different things that you’ve tried to make some elements of the games pop. What do you consider to be the secret sauce to some really outstanding game localization? Maybe this is too much of a broad question, you know, but take it wherever you want it to be, whatever you want it to take it.

ARTHUR: Sure. So, you know, so accuracy is important, but I don’t think it should be the number one driving force behind the approach to localization. So like, you want to be accurate, but you also want to adapt, you know? The easy example is, an English joke may not land in French, right? So you want to try to figure out a way to make that joke have the same sort of feeling that you would expect it to have. But, beyond that, there’s a couple of things that I think are truly important when you’re dealing with trying to localize content is, you want a team that really understands the source material. You know, anybody can translate a sentence into another language, but if you really hone in on trying to understand what the original source is trying to convey, you’ll get a better translation than you would otherwise. So like a good example would be, like, if you’re trying to translate something sort of goofy, like Cuddle Team Leader from Fortnite, you could take that in a lot of different directions, in every language. And so you really want to try to hone in on what the source material was trying to do with it, find something that makes sense for those languages. But the other part of it that I think often gets overlooked is the tools, specifically the tool set that you’re working out of. A really good pipeline and functionality behind everything really makes or breaks what you can and cannot do with localization. So the flexibility inside the original product, you know, even things like allowing gender tokens or allowing plural forms, all that stuff really determines whether or not you can provide a quality localized product. And so a lot of times what ends up happening is you have a bare bones product from a localization standpoint, it’s just you have a string and you can localize it. And so you will often find those situations like you described where you might have picked a female character, but they only had the opportunity to write one version of a line, so they default to male or something like that. And so that flexibility needs to exist inside the product. And I think it’s an often overlooked aspect of localization.

MELISA: Absolutely. What you were just saying it’s like, a lot of the things have to be considered in a previous stage, like, in the developing stage.

LARA: Yeah. Once it comes to localization, you’re like, what do I do with this? So this is like the perfect intro for my question. Like, have you ever encountered major ethical dilemmas while localizing and how did you navigate them with your team?

ALEXIS: That’s a great question. Sorry, but that’s a good one.

ARTHUR: I don’t think I’ve worked on a product that hasn’t had ethical dilemmas. It’s one of those things where they’re often innocent, like people who are making the content or things like that, they don’t know everything about other cultures. I don’t pretend to know everything about other cultures. And so, you know, they’ll build something and they think it’s cool. And then, you know, it comes to us and we take a look at it and go, you know, “This is maybe not the best idea.” And, you know, it’s not that uncommon for it to happen. And so what we usually do when that comes across our plate is we take a look at it and we try to sort of build a document explaining why this is a problem. If it’s minor, it’s something that we might just directly talk to whoever designed the content. But if it’s something more significant or we think it might have legal repercussions or significant impact on sales or something like that, then we would definitely draft something up that we would then bring up as a concern to the team at large and try to find a solution from there. And usually it’s resolved, it’s a matter of discussing things. The designer is usually not so gung-ho about something that, you know, that they wouldn’t make changes to it. And there’s compromise there always to be found, right? Like, the only thing we need you to change is this little thing over here, and then the problem goes away because nobody’s going to associate it with whatever it is.

ALEXIS: That’s a good way to put it as well.

ARTHUR: Yeah. I think it’s fairly common, and it’s just a matter of discussing it with… The issue is if it happens too late and it doesn’t get caught and it goes live. But thankfully, I think that’s only happened sort of once for us. For me. Long time ago on Diablo, during beta. Diablo 3 during beta. We hadn’t noticed it, but at some point, I guess, somebody had taken the cover of the Quran and placed it as the cover of one of the books inside the game. And, if you play Diablo, you can click on the bookshelves and all the books fall off onto the floor, and you can’t have the Quran on the floor. So that caught a little bit of an uproar. And it was fixed as soon as we were notified. But that’s something that, like, sometimes those slip through the cracks.

ALEXIS: Now, to be fair, when the books fall on the ground, they’re like this.


ALEXIS: Very, very small. That’s having quite a keen eye for detail.

ARTHUR: And for sure the artist didn’t realize that he had grabbed the cover of a Quran either, right? So it was completely an innocent mistake that happened to fall through the cracks. But since then, you know, we’ve put things in place to make sure those types of things don’t happen.


MELISA: That was really, really interesting. And I think that’s also cool kind of like to talk about more for… Because, like you said, a lot of times it’s like, most of the times it’s not even, you know, intentional. So just, if culturalization is taken into account beforehand is always good. So thank you for that. And now I wanted to ask, can I change topics here and introduce the metaverse? I know you’ve worked in this, like, developing concept of the metaverse, and I was curious about, like, what’s your vision about it? Do you think it’s something that will be localized? Like, how do you envision that happening?

ARTHUR: So the metaverse is interesting. I’m going to preface this by saying that I have no idea what shape or form the metaverse will ultimately take. And I think anything can happen between now and that day, should it ever happen, that could dramatically alter the course of things. But in my opinion, and I’m no engineer, I’m not a professional in this space, but in my opinion, I think, like, the technology of today or the near future wouldn’t necessarily allow us to build a world that millions of people could be in at the same time. So I would expect something where we have, like, you know, worlds within a platform that exists, that can be thematic. Something like, you know, this is the Japan world, or this is the Star Wars world, or this is the…

LARA: I will be there.

ARTHUR: The Nike world, or whatever.

LARA: You can find me there.

ALEXIS: If you build it, they will come.

LARA: Yeah.

ARTHUR: Yeah. And so you’d have these… I don’t know if you saw Ready Player One, but I think they do something similar where they have one world for, like, the school and a world for, like, you know, gaming places and blah, blah, blah. So I think sort of that idea is probably the most immediately achievable concept of the world. And… As far as whether or not we localize it, I think yes, I think the answer to that is yes. But I think that it’s going to take a few different approaches. And I don’t think that one solution to encompass the entire thing makes sense, right? So like if, as an example, if the Government of Japan had decided that they wanted to make a replica of Tokyo inside this world to allow people to come visit Tokyo for whatever reason, I don’t know that it necessarily makes sense to localize all the signs in the streets and things like that. Like you want that authenticity forthe people that are going there. But I could see something like, you know, an overlay where, like, you look at a sign and there’s some kind of translation that pops up over it or something that’s optional for you if you wanted to actually understand what you were seeing. So I could see that making sense. But if you’re looking at a Star Wars world or something like that, I think that you would want to localize and make that experience more I guess inclusive of all the different cultures that are out there. And I think, like, if you look at something like that, it’s absolutely way too much. If you’re building a platform that anybody at any time could submit content to and prop up the world, there’s no way one single entity can try to localize all of that, right? Like, it’s just too much. So I think that… sort of similar to how, if you want to put out a content on Sony PlayStation or Microsoft Xbox, you have to submit the localization for it, I would expect something similar to that where, like, Nike wants to put out a Nike building where you can go in and look at all the different shoes that you can buy from Nike, that they would supply whatever localization is that they want. And there’d be certain requirements that the platform would have, like number of languages or, you know, no cuss words and blah, blah, blah, whatever it is. But that they would supply it and it would maybe go through a round of QA or things like that to make sure everything looks okay, just like any other content submission platform. But yeah, that’s sort of what I would expect, where the people making the content would provide the localization, and there could be an option of hiring providers by whoever makes the metaverse to help localize it as well. But, yeah, that’s sort of how I imagine it working.

MELISA: That makes sense, yeah. This is such a such a fascinating topic, honestly, because, like you said, we don’t know, like, what’s going to look like in a few years. But it sure would be very interesting to see what happens.

LARA: Yeah. And if you find out, like, some kind of metaverse world about Star Wars, call me, please. I will be there. Yeah, yeah. So beyond video games, what other forms of media or artistic expression do you think will benefit from your unique localization expertise?

ARTHUR: Uh… So… So, for me… This may sound a little weird, but I think localization as sort of like a solution that’s been solved, in a lot of ways. Like, we know how to take a file and localize it and give it back. Like, that’s not a complicated process. What I really enjoy is solving the pipeline of localization, like going to the roots of, like, hey, we have this product, we want to localize it, how do we get the product in a way that makes sense to get localized and make it easy for the people to do that actual work? That’s what I really enjoy ultimately out of the work. So it’s not so much about the content for me, I guess, as much as it is the technology and trying to figure out ways we can make that better. And for me, something like the metaverse would be a super interesting challenge. Something like AR I think would be super interesting to try to solve, like how do we overlay content on the real world without it being annoying? That kind of stuff to me is super interesting. And not to say like, you know, a movie or TV stuff wouldn’t be interesting, but like it’s a solved problem, right? The problem is the volume, right? Like how do you tackle so much content and get it back in time? But that’s, you know, more hours or more time. Pick which one gets done.


ARTHUR: So, yeah, for me, it’s the technology. It’s finding ways to make lives easier for everybody finding solutions.

LARA: I love that. Beautiful.

ALEXIS: Yeah. And especially AR. I mean, AR really… I mean, with the VR thing, I get dizzy, on a personal note, but the AR thing, I think that once it explodes, once it’s done like just right… And there are many companies that are really aiming towards that. I’m looking forward to what’s going to come in, I don’t know, I wanted to say five years, but even a year from now.

ARTHUR: See, for me, like, I’ve tried the VR headsets and I’ve tried, like, I’ve looked at the new Apple Vision Pro or whatever you call it, I don’t remember, but, like, they’re still too big and they still require you to have cables and all that kind of stuff.

LARA: Oh my God, yeah.

ALEXIS: It’s like the initial cell phones, right?

LARA: Yeah. Ughh!

ARTHUR: I need it to get to a point where it’s literally like my glasses.

LARA: Yeah, exactly.

ARTHUR: That’s what I want. And the day that happens, I think it blows up. Like if I don’t need to carry around like this heavy headset, if I can just put my glasses on. And I think Google announced like years ago this Google Glass thing, which is supposed to be a tiny thing.

ALEXIS: Yes they did. I think they didn’t move forward with it.

LARA: It failed because society was not ready for it at the moment. It was just like, no.

ALEXIS: You know what I want? I want to go like Aloy, you know? Like… The Focus. Something like that would be fine.

LARA: You’re asking way too much, bro. We’re just asking for glasses.

ALEXIS: Okay. With the glasses.

MELISA: He’s thinking further into the future, kind of like when we’re grandparents.

ALEXIS: Hey, ten years from now. For my kid.

ARTHUR: But that’s what I want, I want it to be simple, right? And I think the public at large is waiting for that, right? Like, it needs to make sense for people to walk around with these things. And until that happens, I don’t think these things are really going to take off. They’re cool, but they’re not massively popular until then.

ALEXIS: Arthur, let me change the subject a little bit. And for someone who has been in the industry for so long, in such massive companies for so long, working in so many IPs, projects, developing pipelines, I’m sure you have funny anecdotes. This question, it has a structure, right? But I just want to ask if you could share something funny, unexpected, without breaking any NDAs, of course, but something that really still makes you giggle to this day.

ARTHUR: Yeah. So let’s see. I guess this one isn’t a secret anymore. So back in the day, we were working on Diablo 3 and we had already shipped the PC version, and we had decided to ship a console version post-launch.

ALEXIS: Yeah, because it took a little longer.

ARTHUR: Yeah. It required a lot of changes to the UI, and we had to add couch co-op and things like that to it. And so it took about a year for us to get the console version out after PC. Don’t quote me on that, it’s been so long. But yeah, we were nearing the end of the release, it was getting close to submission time, and the designers had come up with this cool idea of creating a secret level where you can…

ALEXIS: The cow level?

ARTHUR: No, that one was in the original PC version. But it was a secret level you could access where, if you got in, you could kill all the people on the team, so all the developers on the team. And they would have, you know, their names and then a title underneath them. And… I was one of the monsters that you could kill in there, as with everybody else. But… The title they ended up giving me was Destroyer of Dreams, and it was sort of a funny tongue-in-cheek moment because, as we sort of neared, you know, the console submission, this was Blizzard’s first console title, I want to say, in 15 or 20 years or something like that, I had to more regularly tell them, no, you can’t do that, that that would cause a lot of changes for us, so no, you can’t do this thing. And so, that was the nickname I was dubbed.

ALEXIS: Inside joke.

ARTHUR: Yeah. The Destroyer of Dreams. It was a fun one. Everybody laughed when we saw it, but it was it was….

MELISA: Is that your bio on social media now, “Destroyer of Dreams”?

ARTHUR: No, no.

LARA: It should be. So cool.

ARTHUR: I try not to say no, usually. I want to give designers and UI people as much freedom as they can do. But, you know, there comes a point in the project where you can’t change everything anymore, where we need to ship things. So… Yeah.

MELISA: That’s hilarious, I love it. Arthur, thank you so much for everything you’ve shared so far. And the last question I wanted to ask you, looking back on your career, what’s one piece of advice that you’d give to someone aspiring to get into game localization?

ARTHUR: So as I mentioned, I think one thing that often gets overlooked is understanding how everything works behind the scenes. So one thing that I often encourage everybody that’s worked for me is really sort of dig in and understand what happens when you press run. What does that button actually do? Because it helps you troubleshoot things a lot when things break unexpectedly. If it breaks in a certain way, you can go, “Oh, it’s because of X, Y, Z,” and you can go and either fix it yourself or tell whatever engineer you’re working with, “Hey, it’s broken in this location and we need to fix it.” Really understanding how things work I think is an undervalued skill set for anybody working in localization.

MELISA: That’s like really good advice. And I’ve never heard anyone say it. That’s awesome. So thank you for that.

LARA: So I want to know, Arthur, what are you playing at the moment?

ARTHUR: Right now, I am in my fourth playthrough of Baldur’s Gate 3.

LARA: Oh, my God, same! Yes!

ARTHUR: I’ve played the first time as a goody-two-shoes Paladin. And the second time I played as a Dark Urge character and went the full evil route, which was harder than you would think. Not in the sense of difficulty of the game, but actually pressing the evil options.

LARA: Oh, my god, yeah. “Minthara would be so proud of you.” “Minthara is thrilling for you right now.” I hate her.

ARTHUR: It’s harder than you think it is, but yeah, I managed to pull that off. And then, I think my current playthrough is, I wanted to try a Bard because it’s not a class that is part of the companions that you can get, so I just wanted to get a feel for what it plays like.

LARA: That is my class. I’m a Bard.

ARTHUR: Yeah? You like it?

LARA: Yeah I love being a bard.


MELISA: There’s something…

ARTHUR: Go ahead.

MELISA: No, it’s just it’s really funny because it was the same thing we were doing. We’re playing with my boyfriend, and I’m always like, “No, we can’t harm this person,” so I’m always choosing… And then he was like, “Okay, but then we can have to start again and choose all the evil options.” So I will have to go through that thing very soon.

ARTHUR: Yeah. It’s harder than you think because you feel bad.

LARA: Yeah.

ARTHUR: But yeah, it’s fun. It’s really interesting how different the game feels based on the choices you make. They did a really good job. I don’t know that I’ve played a game before where, you know, it sort of doesn’t matter what choice you pick, the game just keeps going forwards. So if you just take too long to do something, the game doesn’t care, just moves on. And it’s really interesting. Normally it’s like you can just sort of wait until the right time to make decisions. But now here it’s just like, okay, you’ve made this choice. We’re just going to factor that into everything that you do going forward. And it’s very interesting, it plays out surprisingly differently. And believe it or not, I have found things in the game on my fourth playthrough that I did not know existed. I somehow missed them in my first three times around, so I think that’s really cool.

LARA: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the hardest part for me in the game is not to fall in love with Astarion, because I love him so much. But, yeah, I mean, I’m in my fourth playthrough and it’s just like insane the amount of things I’m finding out the fourth time I’m playing.

MELISA: It’s a well-deserved Game of the Year for sure, in my opinion.

ARTHUR: On my Dark Urge playthrough, I decided to romance Lae’zel, and it was fun because on my good playthrough, she was probably sort of the meanest or most, you know, reproachable character in the game. And then, in my evil playthrough, she was the nicest, because everybody else was super mean, right? Like, you know, you get Shadowheart to go evil and you get Astarion to follow his questline and become evil, and so she was the nicest.

MELISA: Wow. That’s amazing. I love it. Honestly, I would make this episode like three hours long.

LARA: Yeah.

MELISA: It’s so great to hear you and all of your kind of like wisdom that you shared with us in this episode. We really appreciate it. And for everyone hearing, thank you so much for all this season. It’s been a wild ride. And yeah, thank you for listening.

ARTHUR: Thank you for having me.

ALEXIS: Thank you, Arthur. Thank you, everyone.

LARA: It’s an honor. It’s a pleasure. Thank you so much.

MELISA: Bye-bye!


ALEXIS: Bye-bye!

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