Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Habla Español? Parlez-vous français ? Вы говорите по-русски? Across this big, wide world, there are players of Bungie games who would answer those questions “Yes!” To make sure they can love our creations just as hard as players in our own backyard, we keep this guy busy….
Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?
If you’re reading this, and English isn’t your second or third language, odds are good my work won’t impact you very much at all. If you can’t read this, it’s a good thing I’m here - assuming you can read some other language. If you just can’t read, it’s time to put the controller down and hit those books, son!
“But, Dad, I’m almost an Inheritor in Halo: Reach!” In all seriousness, what is the nature of your job, and how does your work impact people who don’t speak English?
I’m the Localization Content Manager and it’s my job to translate all of Bungie’s game assets — text, voices, manuals, and so on — into other languages so that players around the world can understand the answers to such important questions as “Why am I shooting these baddies in the face?”, “Why are these baddies trying to shoot me in the face?” and “Where should I go next to continue shooting things in the face?”
My day-to-day duties vary, but the main responsibilities of the position are managing the pipeline for text and audio localization (creating software tools for automation where possible), coordinating with external localization teams, managing internal localization staff, and overseeing the linguistic testing process.
So, how many languages can you speak?
Let’s see… English, Japanese, the full arsenal of Spanish profanity, and a handful of phrases my brain managed to retain from three years of French in High School. So, two.
And how do speak the universal language of fun when you’re not building a universal translator into our games?
Traveling, photography, games, reading, being a wine and coffee snob. Lately I’ve been reading a lot about theoretical physics and spending as much time as possible outdoors, making the most of what has been an amazingly long Seattle summer with my wife and giant, floppy-eared Doberman. (Don’t mutilate your puppies’ ears, people. So not cool.)
A coffee and wine snob must be right at home in the gloomy bosom of Seattle. What other localities have you visited to prepare you for this job? What did you do there?
I went to Japan on the JET Program after college and taught English at a public junior high for a couple of years. After that, I was lucky enough to land a job as a video game translator at one of the big Japanese publishers and worked there for a little over five years before eventually coming back stateside for a position at the U.S. headquarters of another major Japanese game company.
My first job in the industry was hands-on, in-the-trenches localization, and that experience was invaluable. I spent years working as a translator alongside development teams on a variety of platforms, and because of that, I understand what translators need in order to produce their best work possible--and what can be done on the development side to ensure the whole process goes smoothly.
The job after that involved more project management than translation. It turned me into a better organized and more effective communicator, capable of juggling multiple projects and competing tasks (i.e., staying sane and keeping myself and others productive when there was more on my plate than I could hope to get through any time in the foreseeable future) while also managing expectations on both sides of a vast physical and cultural divide. (U.S. and Japanese work cultures are…different, to say the least.) I also had an awesome boss who taught me a lot about being a good manager.
The teaching gig — well, uh, that got me to Japan (and gave me deep and profound respect for middle school teachers!).
When you were growing up, did you always want to be a man of the world and its broad spectrum of languages?
I never really had a concrete plan. I went through a bunch of phases as a kid, and even changed majors at the last minute the summer before college. More than anything else, I wanted to learn a second language and try living in another country. There was always a vague goal of ending up in the game industry, but not much beyond that.
Don’t keep us in suspense. When you changed your major at the last minute, where did you land?
Computer science, with minors in Japanese and math. A few general education requirements aside, pretty much everything has been useful to my gig at Bungie in some way. I use the programming in my current position, and learning another language was, obviously, pivotal to getting where I am today.
That’s a unique blend of skills. How did you convince us that we needed them?
I never asked why Bungie picked me over other applicants, but I would guess it was a combination of experience and demonstrating real passion for the specific job I was applying for. Working a position like this — and being responsible for the quality of languages you don’t even speak — you need to be a strong advocate for localization. You need to care about making sure the game doesn’t just get translated, but gets translated well. We need to create an experience in that language for players that’s just as awesome and immersive as the one players of the English version are getting.
Did that same dedication to excellence in linguistics propel you through your Bungie interview loop? What was your inquisition as a candidate like?
It wasn’t “an” interview, it was a full day of them - one interviewer after another, never knowing what topic to expect next. Even lunch was a sort of interview, so there was never any downtime to collect my thoughts. By the end of the afternoon, my brain was mush.
If your ability to translate our games is still intact, I would say that you made a full recovery. Now that you’re here, what’s the best part of your gig?
Knowing that I’m contributing to something awesome that I’m excited about as a gamer, and having the ability to influence decisions that will make the experience better for millions.
We certainly hope that many people will attend the feast we’re preparing. Describe for us a day in the life of setting the table for such a diverse audience.
I usually have some coffee at home, get to the studio a little after 8:00, grab some more coffee, work until lunch, eat, grab a little more coffee, and work some more. Sometimes, if I’m feeling a bit drained, I’ll get a late-afternoon coffee to mix things up. You don’t want your routine to get too predictable, right?
You make Bungie sound like coffee snob heaven. Is that your favorite perk? If not, name the one thing that Bungie does for us that makes you the happiest.
The music in the bathrooms. Why on earth people seem to think making bathrooms the quietest places in a building is a good idea is beyond me. Every restroom everywhere should be pumped full of loud, awesome music. No one wants to hear the things that go on in there.
Let’s get this conversation out of the toilet. Shall we? No one who works at Bungie is allowed to sit still, at least not in terms of their skills. What’s your plan to become ever better at what you do?
I’m actively involved in the IGDA Localization SIG, and I do my best to keep current on any and all industry happenings related to localization—the good and the bad. Also, I married a native speaker of my second language. Does that count?
That should certainly keep you from getting rusty – especially around the holidays. Would you recommend the path you travelled into this industry? What would you say to someone who shares your passions for languages and gaming?
Don’t do what I did! Moving across the world without any kind of plan worked out pretty well for me, but in retrospect, it’s rather amazing I ended up in this industry at all.
Before we say “Arigato!” please translate this riddle into an answer: Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent? Rank them in order of importance to your role.
Tough question. Experience is definitely big. Knowing the kinds of issues you’re likely to encounter lets you plan effectively and nip potential problems in the bud. Work ethic is right up there too, though. There are a million ways to cut corners on localization, and all of them hurt the end result. So, maybe it’s a tie between those two, with Talent in third place. Talent is critical for translators, but I’m just the man behind the curtain in my current role.
Bungie needs people who speak all sorts of languages to help us make games. In Tom’s case, some of those languages are literal. In other cases, the languages we speak are rooted in math, or science, or even art. To find out if your favorite language might lead you to one of our seats, you should check out the Breaking In
archive. Right this very minute, we are hiring translators from all disciplines.