By Camelia Tin Siow Wern
Resource Manager Assistant, Keywords Localization
Established in 2009, our studio in Tokyo delivers support around the full game development cycle for our clients.
With a team of 300+ passionate and skilled specialists from 20 nationalities working in various disciplines across all major gaming platforms, we have dedicated onsite client teams for seamless integration and continuity.
Recently we spoke with two of Tokyo-based Keywords Localization sound engineers about the art of audio translations.
Ryo Narigasawa is Lead Sound Engineer and has been at Keywords for almost two years now, and of course, his hobby is gaming.
Yuki Hiyama is a sound engineer and has worked with Keywords for two years. She has only got into games in the past couple years is now completely hooked.
We spoke with them to understand their day-to-day roles, if they had always wanted to work in video games audio and how they realised their ambitions.
Ryo recalls: “I actually wanted to work on movies at first, so I enrolled in a film school. Then I joined a film company after graduation. But I’ve always loved games and eventually I realised I wanted to try working in this industry, so I moved on to become a game sound engineer.”
Discovering a passion for audio
For Yuki, word of mouth and a push in the right direction from a friend convinced her to begin her career in video games.
She says: “Initially, I was involved in anime audio production. But I was friends with an old classmate who had joined a localization company, and it sounded so fun that my interest only grew the more I heard about it.
“So, I had my friend introduce me, and here I am. Thanks to that, I found my love of games, too.”
Video games development and production can be delicate processes, at the best of times. While there is no doubt that there are challenging aspects of game audio localization, there is just as much satisfaction to take from the work.
“The hardest part is trying to meet deadlines for game release dates,” explains Ryo.
“Many games start sales around Christmas so, counting backward, summer tends to be the busiest season for us. We also have to base everything off the original audio, so we have to double-check length and content all the time. Working within a short time frame is really difficult.
“The best part about it, though, is seeing our hard work appear in the actual game.
“When we record audio, there are always things we have to fix or change, but for all that effort, it’s so fulfilling when the release date rolls around and we get to hear our audio in the final product. Just playing and seeing that work really makes it all worthwhile.”
Enabling video games publishers and developers to maximise results by shipping these games simultaneously in multiple languages is what inspires Keywords Localization teams around the world.
Working in more than 50 different languages, we collaborate with these clients to help them delight players everywhere with immersive experiences with voice-over and dubbing services for quality audio translations.
And, given the surge in popularity of games in recent years, it is no surprise then that there are busy periods for both Ryo and Yuki.
Yuki says of seasonality: “Games these days come with so much voiced material, so it gets tough when the recording period stretches for a long time. For new releases from big titles, we are usually recording for it for about four months.
“Whoever voices the protagonist usually has a ton of lines in the game, so we have them come and record nearly every day throughout those four months. Usually, four or five weekdays each week for the protagonist.
“The best part is release day, as mentioned earlier. It’s playing the game and thinking, ‘Oh yeah, I remember recording that’. Also, we have a lot of different voice actors for each project. It’s really fun meeting all kinds of people working on the games.”
How to align audio translations
Given the many genres, platforms, languages and voice actors in games, it’s safe to assume that each project differs from the next.
However, the process of aligning Japanese voice-over recordings to the original language is something that has a defined structure, something Yuki explains is part of a normal day at work.
“Game audio localization is the recording of speech,” says Yuki.
“In a process called ‘waveform matching’, we play the original language audio for the actor two times, then after the second time, the actor will say their own line.
“First, we set up a session. On the recording day, we record each voice actor one by one, with separate scripts. Then in the wave matching step, lip sync and audio sync in the recorded lines will show up as plus or minus 0%, 10%, 20% or so on. We then use those values to continue recording.
“Once the recording is finished, we back everything up on the server and upload the data recorded that day. Then we send it off for post-production.”
In Tokyo and throughout our network of global studios, our audio translations’ teams are careful to preserve and deliver the same unique feel of the original product for each target language and culture, ensuring consistent immersive experiences for players.
It’s an intricate process with much more than just recording, saving, and fixing.
Ryo elaborates: “The uploaded data is fresh out of the recording session. We clip away silences and other parts that we don’t need, leaving only the audio we’re going to send to the client. Then we name it.
“Of course, we keep in mind the client’s requirements for length as we move on to level adjustments. Level adjustments are different for every project, so before we start recording, we always check over the requirements sent by the client and separate the audio by volume level.
“Then, once level adjustments have been made, we listen over everything one last time and if there aren’t any issues, we hand it all over to the project manager for delivery.”
Different recording processes
Keywords continues to expand its services beyond games and our work in the broader media and entertainment sector with Netflix, Amazon, Apple TV+ and others has increased in recent years.
Both Ryo and Yuki work with other forms of media that have nuanced differences in processes, be it anime or movie audio.
“For movies, you go to the filming location with a mic and record voices,” explains Ryo. “Once filming is finished, the dubbing process begins. You have to mix and strike a balance between the voices, the effects, the music, and so on.
“For games, you don’t have to make everything from scratch like that.”
Yuki adds: “Well, what separates game recording from anime is … it’s not ‘afureko’, or a post-recording with the full cast. For anime, usually all the actors get together and record the scene with each other like a conversation. For games, as we talked about before, we record each actor one by one.”
At Keywords, we take pride in the fact that our localization specialists are true gamers with a passion for technology and interactive media. So what games are Ryo and Yuki playing now?
Yuki reveals: My favourite game is Life is Strange. It feels like you are watching a movie. I really love games where you progress through a storyline. Also, I’ve been playing Dead by Daylight with friends over voice chat.”
Ryo adds: “I really like Borderlands, especially how the characters all seem to have a few screws loose. I’m also currently playing the latest Call of Duty with people on Discord, and Demon’s Souls on the PlayStation 5.”
Keywords has training and onboarding support systems in place to help those who are just starting in the business. And when it comes to advice for people interested in working in audio translations and voice-over for video games, both Ryo and Yuki are positive and encourage job seekers to give it consideration.
Ryo advises: “Well you would assume that everyone in this field has always liked games or anime but there are plenty who haven’t. If you are not interested in anime or games, but want to try out the job, please give it a go.”
Concluding the point, Yuki adds: “I think a lot of people have this impression that working in this industry is really difficult. However, when you get into it, you will realise that there are a lot of fun things about it.
“Even if you are worried that you might not be able to do it, I encourage you to try it.”
Discover more about how Keywords Audio Localization services can deliver proven, quality results for your game development project.