Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Comparison of Two Video Game Subtitles

My copy of Epic Mickey.
I gotta say... a big Gamestop sale (buy 2 used games, get 1 free) combined with Gamestop gift cards for Christmas is a bad combination if you are out of space to store your games. My husband and I came home with quite a few games that day.

Two of the games we picked up over the course of the day were Epic Mickey, for the Wii, and Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time, for the PlayStation 3. Since then, I've been playing Epic Mickey, and Scotty has been playing Ratchet and Clank. The two games approach subtitles and captions differently and I found it interesting how the two approaches offer very different gameplay experiences when looked at as part of the whole package.

Ratchet and Clank has a subtitle option, but it only turns them on for cinematics (the pre-rendered movies that move the plot along). Unfortunately, while your character is running around on the screen, there is very often another character speaking. Why the developer or publisher thought we would need to understand what's being said in some cases and not in others is totally beyond me. Even when I know what a character's voice sounds like from the cinematic, so far I haven't been able to understand anything in those games that isn't subtitled. I think Ratchet and Clank is pretty darn funny when I can understand the jokes, but I can't see how I'll ever be able to play it myself.

Epic Mickey had me scared at first. It opens with a movie explaining the premise behind the game. (You can watch it here.) The movie is narrated off-screen and has no subtitles whatsoever! This really surprised me and had me worried for the game. As soon as I could, I checked the Options screen for a subtitle option, but it was nowhere to be found. However, when I began playing the game I saw that there isn't actually any dialogue in the game itself. Dialogue boxes appear at the bottom of the screen. But I still don't know what was actually going on in the first scene. The attempt to introduce me to the storyline failed for pretty much no reason. They could have easily used subtitles for that short scene, which is less than five minutes long.

In most cases, I prefer to have voice acting combined with subtitles for every sound in the game. The Mass Effect and Dragon Age series are exemplary in this regard; they're exactly the way I like it. The Epic Mickey option, with no voices, is okay but just gets annoying after awhile, at least for me. And of course, Ratchet and Clank just fails entirely. The addition of subtitles to the cinematics just makes me wonder why they couldn't have them during the regular game, too.

Maybe eventually there will be guidelines for game companies to follow about subtitles. Maybe developers and publishers won't be able to pull subtitles at the last minute, as happened with Assassin's Creed. I would love to see something as simple as the CC symbol on the back of a video game box someday.


  1. I've more or less given up with subtitles in games. If I need to hear voices in a game to play it then I just don't bother playing it at all.

    I remember GTA Vice City being a nightmare to try and play because the mission was described in a cutscene with not subtitles. After that I wandered around trying to work out what I was supposed to be doing.

    Have you seen the Deaf Gamers website?


  2. Steve - I don't think I ever tried Vice City, but it sounds frustrating.

    I hadn't seen that site. I'll definitely check it out!

  3. Argh, that's so frustrating. I've seen far too many games with either of these issues-- either subtitles on cut scenes but not in-game, or vice versa.

    Incidentally, have you played Portal? (If not, go check it out.) That's perhaps my favorite example of video game subtitling-- not only is all the dialogue subbed, but there's even an option to caption the sound effects!

  4. Would you explain more please? You try subtitles because you have different hearing? We are very interested to know if these games create quality captions/subtitles or not. Hope to learn more. If you have time, comment on our Blog too -

  5. codeman38 - Portal! Yes! I love Portal. The subtitles for me were a very pleasant surprise.

    CCACaptioning - Sure. What should I clarify? I'd be happy to explore the subject in more detail. :)


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