Winning in translation

New 'Myst' game from Cyan Worlds reaches out to the world

Karl Johnson, a beta tester for Cyan Worlds, works on finding glitches to the company's new game, Myst 5, on Thursday. The game will be available in Japanese, German, Italian, French, Polish, Russian, Spanish and Czech. (Jed Conklin )

Tom Sowa
Staff writer
July 5, 2005

Gone are the days when the gamemakers at Cyan Worlds put out an English edition of their newest game, then gradually produced a version in three or four other languages.

When the Mead-based company releases its next game this fall, the product will ship in eight languages along with English: French, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, Czech, Polish and Japanese.

The game, called Myst V: End of Ages, is likely to continue the popular successes of the preceding editions of the Myst game series.

Ten years ago, when the first Myst came out, company founders Robyn and Rand Miller sent it into the world just in English, then later produced versions in German, French and Italian.

With the game world now plugged into a much-quicker marketing cycle, Cyan Worlds now realizes it needs to get its product into the global market now, not later, said Chris Brandkamp, director of business development at the company.


"The trick for us is to have it all be done right off the bat," said Brandkamp.

Brandkamp said the company learned a few years ago that waiting only meant others would produce illegal versions of their games. "We need to do it, or the gap will be filled one way or another," he said.

High expectations already surround Myst V. It's been in development for close to a year, and is the culminating chapter to the intricate, mythic tale that has kept fans actively playing the game, plus buying books and related materials related to the Myst story.

Rand Miller, Cyan's president now that his brother Robyn no longer plays a role in game development, said it's ultimately Ubisoft, Cyan's partner and Myst V publisher, who decides which languages will be used.

Asked why Myst V isn't being immediately translated for Chinese gamers, Miller said in an e-mail message: "I'm sure they (Ubisoft) have valid reasons for their choices, but we are not privy to that information, and probably we don't need to be."

As a game involving a mystery and a puzzle, Myst V relies on a fair amount of spoken words and readings, requiring translators who understand the Myst culture and history, said Brandkamp.

The new game features journals left by different characters. Since the stories range over a span of time, the language is anything but standard modern English. The key is finding translators who add nuance and style within each language, Brandkamp said.

The company relied on two sets of translators about 20 overseas specialists who handled the bulk of the work, and a second Spokane-based group who managed quick, urgent text translations.

All that work would then get sent to game testers in the eight different languages. "They'd play the game (with the new translation) and make sure the words fit and belonged," Brandkamp said. "We'd hear from them sometimes the translations were just awful," he said.

One of the best local successes was finding Cheney resident Sara Preisig, who is a Ph.D. in French literature and who became Cyan's main Spokane translator.

"She's U.S. born, but she was fully fluent in French," he added. Preisig's translations won raves from the overseas testers who read her work, Brandkamp said.

"Not only did Sara get it, she'd put the (text or language) into the right and appropriate context for our story. That was great," he said.

To help the translator gain a full view of the Myst culture, Cyan Worlds has them use online directories that include file art, storylines and other materials. All the work is done via e-mail or by FTP file uploads.

"We pay the industry average for the work," said Brandkamp. The cost of "localizing" Myst V will come to about 5 percent of the total game project. He declined to say what the budget total for Myst V will be.

Last week Brandkamp realized that a simple last-second translation was needed. He didn't have time to contact overseas workers. All he needed was someone to translate the phrase "loading sound information" into Spanish and Italian. Somehow that basic onscreen information had not been rendered into those two languages.

"Normally I call the community colleges for someone. But this time of year, they're closed," he said.

His solution in the first case was to contact a neighbor, Beto Rodriguez, who provided the Spanish translation. For Italian, Brandkamp turned to one of his favorite restaurants, Mama Mia's. There he found Tony Dinaro, a friend of the owner, who translated the phrase without asking for anything in return. "He wanted me to email it to him, so he could be sure," Brandkamp said.