Monday, May 07, 2007

S.T.A.L.K.E.R - localization disaster.

Yesterday I’ve managed at last to get my hands on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. I was extremely interested in this game since the day it was announced (November 2001) for several reasons.
First, the game is loosely based on a sci-fi novel “The Roadside Picnic”, which is one of my favorite sci-fi novels of all the time. In Russia it was (and, probably, is) a cult novel, read by almost everyone. A masterpiece movie by Andrei Tarkovsky, also loosely based on this book, added to its popularity. (By the way, do yourself a favor and read it – not only will you treat yourself to one of the finest works of science fiction, but also, if you are playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R, you will get some insights on nature of the game world). The setting of the novel seemed to be amazingly well-suited for a computer game, and I dare say that it was a dream of many Russian programmers to create such a game. (I did one, very primitive, for a programmable calculator when I was in school). So, the news about a full-scale game based on the “Roadside Picnic” immediately caught my attention.

Second, I am very interested in the state of the game development market in Russia – partially because of my general interest in game design/development, partially because of myself being of Russian origin, and partially, because I am somewhat puzzled with the fact that Russian programmers, artists and game designers, having tremendous potential, still didn’t realize it in any significant number of world-class games.

And third… Well, as I said, the project was announced in November 2001. The original release date was sometime in 2003, but the game was delayed so many times that I thought the project eventually will be sacked to cut losses. So, when I’ve heard that the game is being released at last, I was all curios as to what is the result of the over-ambitious and over-delayed project.

Well, I am not going to write a game review here. It will be enough to say that the game is a resource hog, but is definitely worth playing. It looks beautiful, and it sounds…

Here we came right to the point I was going to talk about. It’s not the quality of the sound – it’s the fact that the sounds in the game were not localized at all. The game features a lot of speech – and in the version I’ve bought 3 days ago from a US retail store, all the speech is still Russian. (Well, to be more precise, all but the speech of some main characters.) It’s not only bad that the amazing ambiance effect is totally lost for non-Russian speaking players (I’ve spent 10 minutes just listening to a random conversations of non-player characters sitting around a campfire: they were discussing their lives, telling jokes and even playing a guitar! This is so cool – but 100% in Russian, without even subtitles). Some quite important phrases are left in Russian too. For example, if you approach certain characters with a gun in your hands, they will react by saying: “Uberi pushku!” which is Russian for “Put away your gun”. If you don’t understand this, too bad for you. Or, early in the game a helicopter appears above your head, and you can hear a radio conversation of military men in the ship, which goes something like the following:
-What’s this jerk doing down there? Let’s kill him.
-Let him be, he’s not that important to waste ammo on him…

And, as you could guess, the conversation is also in pure Russian, without any subtitles. So without knowing the language the player misses an important bit of information – the attitude of military towards him.

I feel really sorry for the developers and designers of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. It seems like someone was trying to cut some corners in localization. But as a result, not only the corners were cut – foreign players were also cut off the game. Such a stupidity!

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