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Splinter Cell
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Imported versions vs. translations
Red AlertEven though this is a particular problem of non-English speaking countries, you may be intrigued to know how other countries try to tackle it - in this case Germany. At the beginning of the 1990s, the situation in the gaming industry was exactly vice versa: at that time, games from English or American software houses dominated the market - German versions were rarely seen, let alone well translated ones. Naturally, there were a few exceptions worth mentioning like the brilliant translation of the equally great The Secret of Monkey Island. But in most cases, German gamers had to put up with the original version, whether they liked it or not. As a positive side-effect, you could fresh up (or more likely gain) your knowledge of the English language while playing your favourite game.
Awful beginnings:
When German distributors eventually recognized the profit potential of the new medium, and computer gaming gained in popularity, more and more translated versions of the English originals appeared on the market. Above all at the beginning, the results were awful, full of stylistic mistakes and with the advent of speech often dubbed by laymen. The best example for a stylistically and gramatically blundered game was Sid Meier's otherwise flawless classic Civilization (also the second installment), with sentences like "Rome constructs settlers" or advises like "We recommend construct chariots" (being a translation of a translation, I hope that you still get the point). When it comes to voice-overs, the positively mediocre adventure Flight of the Amazon Queen made you cry out for mercy: bored speakers and a horrible pronunciation finished off what was left of the game's fun.
What made it so difficult:
Civ 2As always, the reason for this unacceptable situation could be put down to the high costs for an adequate translation. In order to save money, English-speaking developers often sat down with a dictionary as their only guide and gave us literal (and thus highly entertaining) translations for expressions like "joystick" or "gamepad" (which, by the way, are called the same in Germany). Latest example for such politics is Westwood's Tiberian Sun, which suffered from the colorless translation. But fortunately, the quality of synchronized games has increased, not least because German distributors hire well-known speakers to do the job, for example in games like Discworld 2 or in Infogrames' Outcast.
The other side of the medal:
It's undoubtedly a positive development that the number of synchronized games has risen both in quantity and in quality. What gives rise to concern, though, is that it has become more difficult to purchase the English original version of a game. Fans of the English language have to search hard before they find a computer store offering their desired game in English as well. Since the demand for English originals has been curbed with the advent of translated versions, you often have to pay an extra charge for the English original - a highly unsatisfying development, especially in the age of the internet.
The assets of original versions:
Half-LifeIn an increasingly number of cases, the original version has indisputable advantages compared to the German one. For one thing, it ensures that nothing originally intended by the programmers like puns is lost during translation. Also the speakers' voices often have a different intonation and are thus more convincing than in the synchronized game. Delicate issue: in order to prevent that games with dubious content are prohibited on the German market, more and more German versions have to be censored or reprogrammed. Afterwards, human opponents are displayed as robots (e.g. Tiberian Sun, Half-Life), blood changes its color from red to green or lila (e.g. Tomb Raider 3), or morally questionable scenes or animations are simply cut out of the game (e.g. Einstein meets Hitler in Red Alert). In the USA, such alterations to the original cause some amusement; some companies have even made use of these facts to advertise their games, based losely on the motto: "Buy this game! Already prohibited in Germany!" If the unnerved gamer wants to enjoy the original version, he has no choice but to import the English original.
But it's not only the fact that import versions allow us to avoid being treated like a child. What I'm trying to say is that everyone should have the opportunity to purchase English games for the same price as synchronized ones. Fortunately, there's light at the end of the tunnel in form of DVD: this enhanced CD-ROM (to put it simply) would have enough space to leave the choice to the gamer which language version he prefers - as long as manufacturers are prepared to take such a step and DVD becomes a generally accepted medium for computer games, of course.
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