The game we’ll be telling you about today is an example of the lengths one will go to for love. Especially when what you love is surviving in a radioactive, post-apocalyptic world. Because if there’s one thing on this earth stronger than love, it’s a nuclear apocalypse.
The STALCRAFT project was conceived as a mod for Minecraft and made by fans of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series. During development, however, it became clear that it was something much bigger and more unique. It would have been a waste not to give it its own engine. After many long months of development and play-testing, the original idea had transformed beyond recognition, and the MMO shooter STALCRAFT by EXBO studio was born. As an independent project, it retains some of the distinctive features of its “parents”. Events occur in a detailed recreation of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. world while bearing the marks of Minecraft’s blockiness. In early December 2022, the game finally saw it’s long-awaited release on Steam in both Russian and English. The English localization was performed by Allcorrect.
This project was based on a well-known fictional world with existing lore. On the one hand, we needed to preserve the characteristic tone and terminology found in other materials based on this world. On the other, we had to allow the new characters and events find their own unique place within it. It was really very interesting getting to know the world of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. better while also having the creative freedom to capture the quirks of individual characters and factions as detailed and clearly as they appear in the original text. The popularity itself of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games already adds to the project's difficulty. There were also references to other popular universes, which also needed to be identified and localized correctly. One of the dialogues in the Russian version had a line in the fictional Zandali language from World of Warcraft. That one took a lot of effort. And yet, it is precisely these kinds of challenges that make translation a versatile and fascinating profession. The mix of the blocky sandbox world genre with the lore, weapons, and equipment of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise—it's a really cool idea. And as a gamer, I was especially motivated to help translate a game I myself would love to play! Translating those texts gave me an even better understanding of the options available to the player as well as the potential narrative twists in the quests and NPC relationships. As we worked, I realized how rewarding it was to dig into such a rich fictional world and translate the texts so that they blended seamlessly with the existing lore. I had never worked on a project set in such a developed and popular world like the one in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., with its huge number of games and books. Participating in this project was very fun.
If with great power comes great responsibility, then with great responsibility must also come great power. Which is why this localization was undertaken by professionals (and moonlighting hardship aficionados).
The volume of texts was massive. Especially when you consider they were translated by a rather small team of linguists, who also had to adapt the very colorful texts for English-speaking players.
A key feature of this project is the characters' diversity, so there is a lot of slang: professional, military, criminal, and so on. Each character has their own speaking style, and it would be a crime not to convey that in the translation. The project also had a lot of different types of weapons and equipment, so I had to work out a consistent system for translating the names of these things and stick to it. But the challenge was that some of these names commonly used in translation, and some were left in the original, so the battle for consistency has been a tough one. Watching how the English-speaking translators handled difficult Russian expressions was fascinating, as was explaining the meaning of tricky phrases, including swearing. I learned a lot of new English expressions myself. In a nutshell, it wasn't easy, but that's what made it fun!
I can say for sure that I've got better with Russian slang and colloquial expressions. I found it very interesting to think about the subtleties of different translations and choose the one I felt best fit the context. The linguistic nuances were intriguing, and this project demanded close attention to the nuances and shades of meaning.
Aside from the jargon, translating names, nicknames, and titles was difficult. We wanted to keep the flavor while making them understandable for the players. In the end, we decided to transliterate the surnames but go wild with the nicknames! Though we did encounter a few tough ones—characters with meaningful names, like Pravdin. On the one hand, he tells it like it is, but on the other, that's the name in his passport. So what do we do with him? As we worked, there were several times when the team's opinions were divided. The texts had a huge number of references and specific, emotionally-charged vocabulary. Honestly, I came across things during the localization that I didn't know myself, and I had to do a lot of googling and consulting my colleagues to answer the translator's question, "What does this mean?" For example, «иди бугру по ушам катайся, а мои не казенные» ("go pull the wool over the ringleader's eyes, but leave mine alone") or «дай ему в укер, он e отлетит в дукер» ("we're gonna ook you in the dooker"). Turns out, that last one is a World of Warcraft reference, but you try understanding that on the fly while digging through a completely different source. It was also interesting to "lay it all out" for the translators and help localize everything "by concepts" (so as not to catch it in the dooker from the players, of course). And this is where the team's opinions were, perhaps most noticeably, divided. Some of the editors felt that a cultural layer of this sort couldn't be narratively translated or adapted. So we would have to mark "ponyatiya" as a separate term without using the typical word "codex", or use "bespredel" instead of "anarchy", and so on. The others, particularly the native English speakers, were against that vision for the text and opted for adaptation. In the end, we stuck with this option because flavor is flavor, but making the players google half the words? That's just bespredel.
In Dark Waters
When players praise or criticize a localization, they usually start with the dialogues. But dialogues are just the tip of a giant iceberg that is the full collection of in-game texts.
The magnitude of work felt rather daunting from the start. STALCRAFT was and still is the biggest project I have worked on. It has so many different locations and characters. When you work on something for so long, you're really able to dive into the world and figure out how to breathe life into your translation, how to make the kaleidoscope of characters and locations as vivid as in the original. On the other hand, knowing that I was contributing to a universe with a large, already established fan base put a bit of pressure on me. The scope of the project was so big, I had to keep a lot of information in mind all at once: various storylines, locations, character voices, and their relationships to one another. We (the team of linguists, Ed.) really tried to keep to a common vision for the characters. Because several translators were working on the project at the same time, occasionally one of us would make a decision without having the full context. When we finally found the context, we had to discuss the different translations and come to an agreement on which fit best. Once again, I saw how important it is to work as a team on large projects. Luckily, we worked wonderfully together with the other translators and editors. They are very professional, and we could always count on them. I enjoyed the variety of the texts we had to work on. There I was, translating weapon names and descriptions, diving into the internet to learn the difference between two similar terms, and then I would be doing character dialogues, where I had to get the slang and intonation right. I liked exploring the storyline as we went on and learning what happens. By the end, I was extremely curious to see how it came out!
I also found that the terminology and structure in previously translated texts for the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. universe were not uniform throughout. Since the project required consistency, we had to choose the best option in each specific instance. It was necessary to constantly check in with translators and editors to maintain consistency in the text, and it really helped that all my colleagues understood the importance of refining the terminology and working together.
When translating such a huge volume of texts, it's crucial to organize the communication process well. And I think we succeeded. The developer communicated with us through Telegram and responded to all our questions and requests quite quickly. We created a special chat for the English- and Russian-speaking linguists, where they helped each other with difficult jargon or abbreviations, discussed the work strategy, and gave and received feedback. Of course, as it goes with many other projects, this one was not without that classic challenge—lack of visual context. Sometimes, we had to change terms and correct texts we had already delivered, tweaking emerging inconsistencies here and there, which is unavoidable in projects of this size and complexity. The translators had to slog through text fragments filled with difficult words, which slowed them down, and we had to bring in more editors. But the client always treated our questions with understanding, and in the end, the localization was a success.
This was our first experience entering a foreign market and our first localization. We had literally no idea what to expect or worry about. Like with any other task, you don't know how difficult it is until you try to do it yourself. Turns out that localization is an incredibly complex and difficult process that requires attention to details you may not even realize exist in your own game. Moreover, it's impossible to fully predict the outcome of the process, because the consumer is a user with a completely different mentality. It's still difficult to gauge just how well we did, but players in the open beta tests have given positive feedback about the localization, so we're happy! In my opinion, the literary texts, particularly the quests, turned out best of all. The most problematic part was the proper names and titles. I never thought I would understand Maria Spivak, who is often criticized for adapting the characters' names in the Harry Potter books, but now I get it.
This project confirmed for me once again that responsive, enthusiastic, competent colleagues are more valuable than gold. Seriously. If you work hard and pour your heart into a project, it shows. I am incredibly grateful to all my colleagues for their efforts. We hope that you enjoy delving into STALCRAFT's world as much as we enjoyed delving into its texts so that seeds of this universe will take root and grow in its new language. The game has been available on Steam since December 2022. If you still haven't installed it on your computer, what are you waiting for? This is the end of the article—go get it!
Authors: Inna Dyachenko and Anastasia Ershova