Valentina Ambrogio — professional English to Italian Translator, Localiser and Subtitler

Level Up! ft. Anett Enzmann

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Level Up! ft. Anett Enzmann

Posted by Valentina Ambrogio in Audiovisual, Interviews, Level Up, Translation, Video Game Localisation 14 Oct 2015

Here we are again with the second interview of Level Up! the monthly interview series for all video game localisation professionals and wannabes, and not only! This week’s guest is Anett Enzmann, English to German translator based in Northern Germany. (Thank you, Anett, for accepting my invitation!) Anett and I do not really know each other. I spotted her comments on a Facebook group a couple of months ago and she immediately caught my attention. Why? Because she was talking about her job as video game localiser with such an enthusiasm that I just had to contact and ask her to take part in this series. Enjoy!

Introduce yourself and tell us about your skills as if you were a video game character.

mauph1-001-2Class: Phrase Mage
Stats: (basic)
Strength: virtually non-existent due to long hours of not lifting heavy stuff
Dexterity: slightly higher
Constitution: average, +5 if there is coffee involved
Intuition: +5 class bonus due to long studies of idioms and genre specific … research
Logic: +5 class bonus due to ruthless debugging of corrupt placeholders and coding
Speed: +10 if it involves typing (Critical Miss: Speed increases proportional to the number of keys hit)
Animal companions: Yes, four of them. Very furry. Do not help with work, although they try.

Special abilities:
Empathy: Instantly grasps the flavour and aspects of any given character/scene
Perception: Instantly spots typos and mistakes in any given text (works on not pointing them out verbally)

How did you step into the video game and/or localisation industry? Was it something you always wanted to do or did it just happen?

If you don’t mind, I will have to start from the beginning for this:

I have always been a gamer. In the 1980s my dad brought home a computer (or what passed for one in the former GDR where I grew up) and I started playing goofy looking games with characters made of ASCII-characters and wrote my very first lines of code (you know, stuff like LINE – very sophisticated). Later then we would try to beat each other in adventure games like Monkey Island and Indiana Jones – ah, good times! I was also always writing stories which my Mom and her friends liked to read (or pretended to, I don’t know).

Instead of pursuing a career in writing though (which never actually occurred to me) I was drawn to filmmaking – doing CGI and special effects, so I went to study Media Technology – at which I failed horribly (I still can’t look at physics textbook without feeling ashamed), so I dropped out after four semesters. But during that time I met people who introduced me to role playing and trading card games, which would come in handy later on.

Let’s skip ahead a few years: After studying philology (the old German variety) and musicology (my second biggest passion) I moved to Northern Germany to make a living from having a video blog on games (which was fun but financially a black hole) through which I made the acquaintance of a couple of writers with whom we did a show. We became friends and when we were talking on the phone one of them mentioned very casually that he had translated like one third of [very well known game franchise]. And I was like: Seriously? Wow! How do you get jobs like this? What qualifications do you need? How does it work? He introduced me to an agency with which he frequently worked together and a week later I did my first small job for a DLC for that very same franchise, which also happened to be one of my favourite gaming universes. How exciting!

And then the hard part started: The Waiting. The following year I didn’t do a lot of translation – it was 2011 and the industry was in one of its moods again. A few small apps and a role playing sourcebook. So I pursued the other branches of my small business (sound engineering, filming and such), until I finally landed another job with another of those high-profile franchises – to this day this was one of the coolest and most challenging jobs I ever did. More jobs came my way and a couple of months later it dawned on me that I was now somehow a part of the gaming industry!

My clients kept returning but not as frequently as I had wished so I finally decided to take up part time-work to keep the wolf away – and of course: the day I signed my contract (no kidding!) I had three different requests for a long term collaboration (meaning: MMORPGs) so I spent the better half of 2013 working part time and translating odd Korean Excel-sheets in the evening. Honestly, I do not know how I managed to keep that up without going completely crazy. A year later, when my contract for that day job expired, I was hanging out on Facebook and joined a translation group just because. And there a colleague referred a job offer from a very well known, multinational gaming company – a once in a lifetime opportunity! So I pitched, not dreaming to hope to actually get the commission. When they sent over the contract I felt six feet tall and I was finally home.

That client and the AAA stuff I did before opened a lot of doors, but I couldn’t have done any of it without being at the right place at the right time with the right people.

What I am trying to say is: My stepping into the gaming industry was a remarkable set of unique circumstances. I was lucky enough to have people who’d tell me what to charge, what kind of jobs to accept or not and to open doors for me – I was plain lucky and hardly a day goes by without me being grateful for it and the people who led me here. Thanks, guys!

What do you enjoy the most of your job?

I do enjoy a lot of things about it, but what I love most is this: Hearing dialogue that I laboured over in the final game. This is always an amazing moment, hearing the VO artist acting out that one hilarious punch line or that dramatic revelation… So of course writing that dialogue is something I enjoy a lot.

I see a lot of different texts on different subjects and in different setting so finding the right tone for each of them is not only a key aspect of my work but also – you might have guessed – fun. Getting to play around with styles, sometimes invent words for a fantasy game – that is truly enjoyable. And of course knowing that your work is received by hundreds of thousands of people sure makes up for the tough parts of the job: I do something worthwhile, something that people enjoy and in a field that I have felt at home at ever since I was a kid.

Is there any advice you would like to give to aspiring video game translators/localisers?

Yes, tons of it.

First of all: Know your games. That may sound obvious but you need to know as much as you can about games, the gaming industry, how games are made and so on. My background in coding helped a bit to work through placeholders and stuff that you will encounter regularly.

Play games in the language you’re translating into. This is also not always easy (I am a big fan of seeing/hearing the original language and tone of a game) but it will help to remember key phrases like: what are “buffs/debuffs” and such in your language? Which things are usually translated and which aren’t? How is a specific ingame-culture/item/place called in a franchise that will be around for a while? It’s sure nice that you can name all the English card names/mechanics/sets in Hearthstone but should you ever happen to have to translate for them your research time will be next to nothing if you already know them in your target language.

But the most important advice I would like to give you (and I do that repeatedly) is: Do not get lured in by the gaming industry’s (or any client’s actually) promises to “get you loads of work and exposure if you do this one for a reduced price”. Yes, you need to get a foot in the door. No, by accepting portfolio work or “work for credits” you just mark yourself as someone who can be exploited. People so desperately want to get in that they’d accept underpaid work on insane deadlines just to be a part of it and thus making it extra difficult for the rest of us to get paid appropriately and convince clients that our rates per word/page are indeed justified – because there is always someone out there willing to work sixteen hours a day for 0,04€/word to make a living. Don’t be that guy!

Join networks of colleagues, educate yourself not only about your specialty, but also about the business aspects – taxes, insurance, payment practices, how to get your money when a client won’t pay you (and trust me, this will happen sooner or later). Keep in mind that most of us are freelancers so you need to build a business – even if that business is games and your tax adviser will give you funny looks.

I told you my story in the beginning. It might have a happy ending but what I left out was the struggle, the fighting, the constant need to prove myself in the beginning, the long nights, the tons of boring and/or annoying projects/clients you will have to take on to pay the bills – games that aren’t your favourite genres or even your area of expertise (learning to turn down jobs that are more than you can chew isn’t always easy). It’s not all about the epic dialogue, the powerful cinematics and all the stuff that is highly visible. In fact: Very little of it is. You’ll do UI-interfaces, menus, manuals, strategy guides (although those are kinda fun) and you will slave over this MMORPG with placeholders and item lists in an unsorted Excel-file, waiting for clients to get back to you regarding your questions and so forth. Be prepared not only for the fun parts but also for the really hard and often unrequited work that is games translation.

Hmm, I want to end this paragraph with something optimistic though… did I mention how important networking is? The fun part about networking in the games industry is that you’ll get to hang out with people who have the same passions as you and basically can talk games with them all day (circling back to my first point of advise: Know your games!). You might also want to find a colleague inside the  industry whom you can ask for advice – I am sure glad I had “mine” – they may not get you any work but at least you can ask them whether to take a project for price X, whether agency Y is a good choice of client, to give feedback to your work and so on. Don’t be shy, most of us aren’t biting and like to help a young colleague out!

List five things any game localiser should have/do to master this profession: 

Beyond everything I said before I believe that these things are important to master (not sorted by relevance):

1. One CAT-Tool, no whether which one (memoQ or Trados would be my choice, most of my clients use the first). Why? When translating a game with hundreds of items and set names you want a Termbase. When working on shared projects you want a Translation Memory. (Actually, you always want a Translation Memory, chances are that lines will repeat themselves and you will need them to be consistent.)
2. Your target language/culture. Why? Isn’t it obvious? You’re going to translate not only manuals but also tone and atmosphere of a game. You will need to be able to write precisely and creatively and an impeccable command of your target language/culture (preferably your native language) will help not only with an idiomatic translation but also with cultural pitfalls to avoid. You also might want to read as much as you can in your target language to constantly improve your own writing skills.
3. Your business skills: Why? See the advice-paragraph.
4. Your social skills. Why? Your clients might hang out on Teamspeak or in the newsgroups once in a while but you will need to be able to address them in an appropriate manner. You will also need to talk to colleagues, accountants and other people who aren’t gamers to advance your business. It’s all fun and games until, well, it isn’t. So try to make a good impression. (Not having typos in your CV also helps, as well as giving it to a native speaker to proofread if it’s not in your native language. This may sound obvious but I am reading CVs pretty regularly – in gaming groups – and that’s always an issue.)
5. Your common knowledge/research methodology: Why? You will come across this one popcultural reference that you aren’t able to crack and/or to localize or that one historical fact in the game that you never even heard of before (and that might not even be real). One minute you might be looking up the fauna of the Caribbean, the next Nepalese fighting styles and then weaponry from the 14th century or sports terminology. Knowing how to research (and whom to ask) tremendously helps with that.


Name: Anett Enzmann
Bio: English to German translator / localizer based in Northern Germany. Specialized in games with a subspecialty in trading card games she mostly translates narratives and lore, as well as marketing, texts on game design theory and strategy guides. She is a core gamer at heart, writer, game designer (on a very small level), musician and TV show junky with a bunch of cat tools (the not helping variety). She didn’t think of a brand name yet, but you can find her LinkedIn Profile here:
Company/Business name: just me
Favourite game character(s): Garret (Thief series)
Favourite game title(s): Ori and the blind Forest, Thief series, Elder Scrolls Series, MTG, Hearthstone, Fallout NV
Game(s) you are currently playing: Hearthstone, MTG, Metro Series, and soon Fallout 4


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