Monday, November 2, 2009

Video Games, Subtitles, and Tekken 6

Yesterday I finally got the chance to sit down with Scotty and play our new copy of Tekken 6. I had never actually played any of the other Tekken games, since I tend to like fighting games that use weapons (like the Soul Calibur series) more, but I found I really enjoyed Tekken for its beautiful graphics, smooth gameplay and controls that actually make sense for controlling a fighter on screen.

It also has an interesting way of doing subtitles that I like - not all of the characters speak English, so the game has a few options for subtitling. The player can either have all subtitles off, have subtitles on only when the dialogue is not in English or have all subtitles on. The latter is, of course, what I've left on, but originally playing we didn't realize it was an option. It's a good way of handling subtitling in the game, and staying true to the game's characters at the same time. However, it does highlight one fact about the game industry right now - there's simply no standard for subtitles, not between developers nor even between games.

Most games do have subtitles. In some games like Katamari Damacy, they're the only way the player is given any information. Other games subtitle at least the game's cinematics, but not the actual in-game action. Some games subtitle every tiny bit of dialogue but none of the other sounds in the game. And some are very, very meticulous. It basically all boils down to the philosophy of those developing the game, the amount of time they have to spend on it and the amount of money they have to devote to it. When, according to this article on Gamasutra, an extremely conservative number of video game players who are deaf would be around 4 million. That's not an audience developers will be able to afford ignoring for much longer.

Ideally, I think, subtitles would be handled in the same way that you'll see the CC symbol on the back of DVD cases, or the subtitling information. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all devote the back of their game cases to important information like the number of players, the game's rating, required hard disk space and other information. All of that information could potentially lose them customers, but it's providing valuable facts to possible consumers. Why not add in some information about the subtitles? Heck, for retail situations where you can read the manual, as you can at Gamestop, why not put that information on a page in the manual? I can tell you I absolutely hate buying a game and finding out I basically cannot play it because of the lack of subtitles.

For example, I will not buy Assassin's Creed because I was lucky enough to learn before buying that it doesn't have subtitles and even for hearing people the gameplay is severely hindered. Too bad, because that's a game I really was interested in. (While poking around for more information on Assassin's Creed and Ubisoft's justification for dropping subtitles, I did find this press release from 2008 detailing Ubisoft's plans to include subtitles on all their currently in-house games at that time. That led to the awesome subtitles I really loved in Prince of Persia. It's nice to see a company take that initiative.) Of course, the problem is that all too often customers buy the game and get home only to realize it is unplayable.

Subtitles on games should be a standard, and the information about subtitles should be right there on the box.


  1. I saw it from my roommate's and I think that's great. Hope that would encourage more develop to think of us and in noise room also.


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