It’s not every day that you go into a Witcher 3 photobooth only to be greeted by the Witcher 3 team. Luckily such a day did happen during my adventures at PAX Prime 2015: I had the opportunity to talk to some of the team from CD Projekt Red, and asides from being an unbelievably down to earth and chill group, I found it, as a fan, super easy to connect and talk to the team. I also spoke with Travis Currit, who, in short, is one of the many hardworking team members who played a crucial role in ensuring The Witcher 3 was unreal.
I was given the chance to have a one-on-one discussion with Travis – his role at CD Projekt Red intrigued me. Being one of the translators of the game, he works closely with the translation team to ensure that we, the fans, get best possible Witcher experience.
It was wild listening about his job and his journey to Seattle from Warsaw, Poland, that I just needed to know more and share not only his story, but the team’s.
I connected with Travis for a chance to interview him just before this week’s upcoming new release, which is the first expansion of The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone.
“Step again into the shoes of Geralt of Rivia, a professional monster slayer, this time hired to defeat a ruthless bandit captain, Olgierd von Everec, a man who possesses the power of immortality. This expansion to “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” packs over 10 hours of new adventures, introducing new characters, powerful monsters, unique romance and a brand new storyline shaped by your choices.”
Without further adieu, here is the interview – and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did talking with Travis.
Travis: CD Projekt RED, as you and your readers may or may not know, is based in Warsaw, Poland, and one of our chief assets is our crack writing team, who are all Poles and thus do their best work Polish. For that work to reach the rest of the world, however, it has to be rendered into other languages, English being the most important of them. That’s where me and my senior colleague from our two-man English Adaptation Team, Borys Pugacz-Muraszkiewicz (a fellow American, but with Polish roots), come in. We take the Polish text and use it to create an English version that is as idiomatic, colorful, moving and just plain good as possible. This version is then used as the basis for the game’s translation into 15 other languages.
So my core role is that of Translator, but I end up doing a great deal of other things besides translation. Our company’s increasingly international both in the make-up of our team and the scope of our activities, so we need to produce a lot of writing in English, and as a native speaker with a background in literature (my BA was in English, before I went on to grad school in Polish studies), I tend to help proofread or write a good chunk of it.
Orion: What would you say is the most challenging, yet rewarding part of your job in doing translations for the games?
Travis: Songs and poems are the first thing to come to mind. In translating those, we are simultaneously more constricted than normal – by a rhyme scheme, a meter or a melody – and freer than normal: since these constraints mean a literal translation is out of the question, our task is to take the key bits of information and the tone of the Polish and write a new English song or poem that conveys that. This makes for a challenge that tasks our creativity to its utmost, but when we finally come up with something that works and we think is good, we can sit back and enjoy a moment of pride… until the writer informs us the poem now needs to give a clue about oranges, not apples, meaning our rhyme scheme is shot and we have to go back to the drawing board. 🙂
Another difficult yet rewarding aspect of translating game dialogue is characterization. We devote a lot of time and effort to getting to know our characters and creating an idiolect for each that fits his or her personality, social status, geographic origins and role in the game. Part of this involves choosing which real world English accent or dialect to base their speech on, and for that we have some general guidelines: Dwarven speech is inspired by Scottish, while the Skelligers incorporate Northern Irish speech patterns and the Velen peasants talk in an idiom based on England’s West Country. But more importantly, it’s about coming up with little tics and mannerisms in a character’s speech to help bring him alive — and then making sure these are applied consistently throughout the game. Doing this effectively requires considering the English version as its own entity, more than transferring something directly over from the Polish; it’s where we really take ownership of the text and infuse it with our own vision.
Orion: We know that The Witcher 3 is a game that can be enjoyed in many different languages, and that the game is translated from Polish to English. How big of a team do you have when working on multilingual translations, for example such as Korean, Spanish, and German. For these translations, is the base translation built off the English or from the original Polish transcripts?
Travis: As I mentioned before, all language versions – except for Polish – are based on the English. This is done for several reasons. First of all, translation from Polish into other languages is somewhat of a niche industry – it would be very difficult to find enough great translators from, say, Polish to Japanese, to handle the amount of text in our games. When you translate from English on the other hand, you have a vast established base of localization vendors and top-notch translators to choose from. Similarly, many recording studios are set up to use English as a reference, as the majority of films, TV shows, and games they dub are made in English. Asking them to work with Polish references they can’t even understand would throw them for quite the spin.
Finally, we realize many gamers like to play games in the “original” language but don’t exactly have a perfect understanding of English, so they play with English audio and subtitles in their native language. Though in our case, the question of what is the “original” language is complex (and we’re quite proud of all 7 of our VO languages and heartily recommend players who normally can’t stand dubbing in their native language give them a try), we know old habits die hard. Basing the other languages off English makes it so players listening to English audio and glancing down at German subs to make sure they understood everything will experience fewer head-scratching disconnects than if the translation had been made from the Polish version.
As for the number of translators we end up working with for all language versions, the best I can say is – a lot. We have three Localization Project Managers who work full-time coordinating the multitudes of people required to localize a game the size of Wild Hunt into 17 languages.
Orion: Coming from a multilingual background myself, I have to know: has there been any wildly hilarious mistranslations? Or even sayings that would only make sense in Polish that have been tweaked for the English translation?
Travis: Mistranslations? Us? Never! 🙂 In all seriousness, working so close to the writers and other parts of the dev team keeps such things to a minimum; though, of course, we still have our fair share. For example, the words for “north” and “south” in Polish are somewhat similar – “północ” and “południe” – and are also the words for “midnight” and “noon”. At one point, I developed the unfortunately persistent habit of swapping one for the other, meaning players would head south at noon looking for a nightwraith, when they should have gone north at midnight to fight a noonwraith. Luckily those were all caught in testing, before the confusion could be inflicted on the gaming masses.
As for sayings that had to be tweaked, one of my favorite examples involves a monster hunt in Novigrad, which starts when Geralt finds a notice about a certain “imp” bothering local merchants. Now in Polish, you can call a typo a “chochlik drukarski,” which literally means “a printing imp.” When Geralt goes to the contract-giver, he asks if they really are having imp trouble, or if that’s just a… “printing imp”! Which makes no sense in English, so we changed it instead to… “an imp-erfection in the notice.”
Personally, I felt at first this wasn’t quite as punchy as the Polish version, but then Doug Cockle, Geralt’s English voice actor, and our dialogue team did an amazing job implementing the line — the timing and Geralt’s facial expression make it one of the funniest moments in the game (there’s even a great YouTube remix of this scene which I highly recommend).
Thanks to Travis Currit for the opportunity to talk shop about translating a complex and rich game such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. And for those of you looking for something to play this week, check out The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone DLC this Tuesday, October 13th.
Orion, AYB Field Correspondent. A lover of cats, he has a high gluten tolerance and enjoys a firm handshake. Trust us when we say his opinions are his own.