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Game Localization for Martians: The Martian Language, & How Localization Helps

Perseverance Rover’s dramatic Mars landing on Jezero Crater last week has been captured on the news everywhere. The car-sized rover lifted off Earth on July 30, 2020, and finally landed on Mars a year later in a descent often called seven minutes of terror, because those moments are critical in the descent. When it reached its successful landing, there were tons of celebrations at NASA and worldwide, with Google even giving fireworks for anyone who Googled “Perseverance Rover.” So, it landed, now what?

Now Mars and space games are in high demand (video games for gamers, of course, but even educational games for kids). Indie Mars-simulation games like Occupy Mars and Surviving Mars and Terraforming Mars are all the rage now. So, what are the best game localization ideas that could seamlessly handle the localization of different languages in Mars-based games?

But before we can talk about Mars-simulators and space-simulators, we have to talk about the Martian language or languages. What Martian languages are being used for video games?

What Is The Martian Language?

Perseverance Rover’s main mission is to look for life in the previously water-logged lake that’s now Jezero Crater. So what it does is to send back all types of information that it can send, like rock compounds on the surface of Mars, all in the attempts to find extraterrestrial life. Now that the Perseverance Rover is sending images of Mars to scientists on Earth, NASA has made life on Mars the topic of conversation. So, if it finds alien life on Mars, what language could it have spoken?

There are a few fictive Martian languages that were around before the Perseverance Rover. You can find them in film, theater, and books. Of course, we on Earth have to use our Earthly imagination:

1. The Martian Language That's Actually Chinese

An unconventional representation of Chinese characters online, the so-called Martian language used on the internet is from Taiwanese students who were asked to translate "martian language" on an exam, which they did, in Chinese. This mistake by educators got so popular that bloggers and netizens used it, to the extent that localization software was made to translate this disambiguation of the Chinese language to traditional Chinese.

2. Fictional Martian Languages

In the late 1800s, Helene Smith, a Swiss psychic, claimed to have discovered Martian languages through her séances. She'd communicate with Martians and then write down the communication in the martian language, and then she'd translate it to French. Needless to say, it was a fluke.

Then there's Barsoom, which is completely fictional from the science fiction novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but it's pretty popular as far as fictive languages go. NASA even included a reference to it in its pages. In the novels, Barsoom is the name of the language and another name for Mars.

And then there are video games. There's the video game, Fez, released in 2012 by Polytron Corporation, which is an indie puzzle-platformer game. You live in a 2D world as the character Gomez, until you're granted a fez, and then you can see the world in 3D. You discover runes all over the island, which is an alien language. You decipher the Fez Alphabet slowly through the game. But Fez's alphabet isn't an alien language, really, it's just a cipher.

3. The Real Martian Deal

Perseverance Rover isn’t out to find existing life on Mars, it’s out to find signs of an ancient civilization that once existed there (it really sounds like a video game exploration). So, scientists know the terrain, the moons, and the climate. But they don’t know the language.What they speculate is that the martian language could be like the human language, and since our language has many dialects, the martian probably does too. And since the laws of this universe are the same, the laws of the martian language, like grammar, are probably very similar to the laws of ours, too.

Mars-Based Game Localization Ideas

Because of the pandemic, the global video game industry has risen more than 100% in the last year, for X-box One, Playstation 4, Steam, and Nintendo Switch across the board.More and more people are playing video games now. And with Perseverance Rover’s landing, Mars video games are going up in players, too.

Now that the real-world Mars project is in full force, what gaming projects could turn Mars exploration into real fun?

1. In-game Martian dialogue, for one.

Surviving Mars, released in 2018 by Paradox Interactive, lets you terraform Mars and build a whole Martian civilization. But before you can set out on doing just that, you have a ton of hurdles to overcome, because the planet is not friendly. And before you can launch the first human colonists to Mars, you have to make sure the planet is liveable or else you'll kill them all. Yet, the thing about Surviving Mars is it builds human colony, human civilizations on Mars.

Even their Martian University is filled with humans. It doesn't take into account actual alien Martians. There are definitely certain levels where you interact with ancient civilizations on Mars, but these aliens won't communicate, or they'd destroy the player before they get a chance to talk. That's convenient, because what would come out of the alien's mouth when they try to speak? What kind of Martian language would they use?

2. Sophisticated Languages, too.

I mentioned Fez earlier, but Fez actually has in-game dialogue in the Fez language. There's even a Rosetta stone to legitimize the language. But since it's an English-alphabet cipher, it's not as sophisticated as, say, Elvish in science fiction.

There's a lot that game devs could pick up from the iconic Star Trek movies, where the alien language is Klingon. A very sophisticated spoken and written language, Klingon is as real as constructed languages get. There's the Klingon dictionary, alphabet, phonetic codes, and the Klingon Language Institute. It's the most widely spoken fictional language in the world.

Contrast it with, Arrival, created in 2014 by Christopher Nolan, which attempts an alien language, Heptapod. There is no correlation between the spoken and the written language, making it very difficult to translate or communicate to humans. And it's not at the level of Klingon in either scope or popularity.

3. Good localization, of course.

Ok, so we've talked about language on Mars but what about languages here on Earth?

Released in2013 by Focus Home Interactive, Mars War Logs' initial English localization ran into some problems. They had to localize and relocalize into English. The setting on Mars, the ideas, and the ambition to set the world in Mars was a success, but poor localization and story issues in localization made it disappointing in English.

Good localization of Mars games includes not just keeping in mind Martian culture and characteristics, but also of the characteristics of the region you're localizing for. If you don't do that, no matter how great your world-building is on Mars, you're bound to run into problems here on Earth.

What Is the Future of Martian Game Localization?

In the future, changes in alien languages may equip us with a better game-playing experience. With the new findings from Perseverance Rover, especially future findings on the Martian language/s, we'll have a better idea of what Martians speak and how we can communicate. And yes, how we can either destroy them or befriend them, in the games.

How Can Localization Shape the Future of This Field?

First, localization services deal with language. Second, they deal with game localization. Put the two together and you have a good video game localization that’s perfect all over the world for Mars games. If there are more updates on what the language is actually spoken on Mars from Perseverance Rover, then it’ll be important to include those in the games and in its localization for different countries. Localization services, which captures game localization in all its intricacies, is apt for this service.

And, if Perseverance Rover does find life on Mars, it’ll be imperative to reach out to that new (possible) market: Martians. Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, we could be localizing video games for aliens, speaking different languages on two planets. Then, the video games on Mars that you’re playing will be much more real, sooner or later.

About The Author
Angela Fabunan

Angela Fabunan is a copywriter with interests spanning video games and languages.

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