Johanna Cohen makes sure that Dreams, and all the content that Media Molecule produces, is translated and supported in 13 different languages. Before you ask (because we already did), she can't speak all of them, but she does help bring together an intrepid group of translators to make sure that Mm content is well translated and localised. Here, we chat to her about Back to the Future, the challenges of localisation, and her appreciation of InfiniDreams.
Hi Johanna! What do you do here at Media Molecule?
I’m an assistant localisation producer for Media Molecule. There’s only three of us, so we’re quite a close-knit team. We have Luci who reviews the text in English, Gui who manages the translation, and I look after the localisation quality assurance with our external team. My role involves making sure the external team have everything they need to test our content and flag any issues. Our translators don't have access to all the tools and equipment we’re using to create content, so often they don't have a lot of context for what they’re working on. So it’s important to have a team that can provide context for the text as well, as the translations have to read naturally in all of the 13 languages that we support.
And of those 13 languages, how many do you actually speak?
I'd probably say two and a half, give or take. I'm French, so obviously I speak French, which sometimes makes me think that the French localisation testers probably have me on their backs more than any other testers. If they get something wrong, I'll definitely know! But I also speak English, and I know a bit of Spanish as well as I studied it for a long time. But because I don't speak it regularly, I don't want to make it seem like I’m fluent in Spanish or anything. Though it definitely makes it easier to work on translations or spot anything that might have been missed when you know a bit of the language.
Did you have an interest in languages at school?
I think how I got into it was that English was the subject in school that I was probably best at. I was watching a lot of American English TV shows and - whilst I appreciate the work that goes into dubbing, and that's the main way of translating media and content in France - I was always more interested in seeing the content in its original language, because you lose a little bit of the impact of the performance when you dub. I was always trying to my best to explore media in English, reading in English, playing games in English, all that. And so that's why I got pretty good at it in school. So I studied localisation at university, got the opportunity to do a one year Erasmus exchange in Guildford and just never left.
And what made you want to work in game localisation specifically?
I've always loved video games, but my brother was the person who really got me into them. Our first console was a Super Nintendo, but the one I'm most fond of is the original PlayStation, and that’s where my love of gaming stems from. After my undergraduate degree I studied a Masters in audio-visual translation, particularly working on audio description, closed captioning for deaf and hard of hearing people, and translation from French to English and English to French. It was almost by chance, I suppose, that I fell into the games industry.
There was a French testing quality assurance job opening at Sega, so I applied for it, got the job and immediately absolutely loved working in video games. It was such a dream to come into the office and get handed a console. I started out playing the games and looking for mistranslations or cut offs, and then after that I got a job for 2K Games and worked there for five years. Working in games was a no-brainer for me, and being part of this industry has revived my love for video games. I've been playing them more and more every day.
So what does localisation actually look like on a day-to-day basis? What kind of things do you work on?
We’re quite lucky, as we get the chance to work on pretty much everything that is going on at Media Molecule, which is very interesting. It's a unique way of working within the team, as a lot of people are separated into teams or projects for whatever they need to work on, but me, Gui and Luci sort of hover over everything. We have to regularly prioritise according to deadlines and competing requirements. But day-to-day pretty much how it works is we get requests from any of the teams saying that some text is ready for Luci to review, and then once Luci's pass is done, we carry on with the localisation process.
The signal for me to kick off my work is Gui telling me that he's sent everything off for translation - then, I can have a look at what the content is ahead of notifying our external localisation QA team. I have a look at what the content is and play the game, trying to find all the text that needs to be looked at, so I can make a test plan out of it, so that it's easy for testers to mark off what they've checked and translated. I make sure to gather all the material that they would need to understand what's going on, and then once the translations are back, I communicate with the external team leads to make sure they know what they're doing. I pass on all the materials that I've gathered for them and then I wait for them to send me any queries. Throughout the day there's always loads of queries coming my way.
Is it difficult to work with such a wide variety of people spread across the globe?
It is, because we have both an internal and external team, and we would love to have a more personal day-to-day contact and interactions with everyone. But because it's only Gui and I working with them, it's tricky to chat to everyone. So we really have to rely on the leads, to help us the best they can to relay the information from the testers as accurately as they can. But whenever I can, I just love to talk to them one-on-one and answer their queries. Because I have access to everything they need, all the developers and the amazing people making the content. It's best if we can have that one-on-one contact, but it's not always possible unfortunately.
When you're localising, do you encourage the teams to try and translate everything as precisely as you can from English into other languages, or do you try and make it more appealing to the audiences of different countries?
What we really want from the translators is for them to be as creative as they can. My idea of a really good translation is that you wouldn’t know the text had been translated from another language. You just read it and you don't think about the source language behind it. I think it's really important for us to communicate to translators and testers the tone that is uniquely Mm. So we really encourage them to not just stick to word-for-word in English, and as long as they can keep the overall meaning, that’s a great translation.
Obviously we don't want them to rewrite everything and make it sound like a completely different game, but we want it to sound fun and natural in each language. So if, for example, we used an expression in English such as, “It's raining cats and dogs”, we wouldn’t want them to actually say that if it doesn't make sense in the translated language. So we really encourage them to try and be as funny as they can in their own language and add their own puns and culture into it, for sure.
So what’s the most interesting kind of stuff that you oversee?
I love working on in-game events. It's always tricky because we really don't have a lot of time to get those shipped, but I love working on them because it's more of a challenge for me and I get to create intricate test plans, figuring out what's the best way for testers to efficiently get through everything in the time we have. And secondly, it's just such a great showcase of the talents we have. Just thinking of All Hallows’: The Land of Lost Dreams, for example, it's just a pleasure to work day-to-day on this type of content which is so amazing. CoMmunity content is also a favourite of mine to work on, even though unfortunately we don't localise players content, but just seeing what the coMmunity can do makes me glad I work here every day.
You mentioned you worked at Sega and 2K as well. What kind of things did you work on there, and was it any different to Mm?
Having only worked for publishers before, working in a development studio like Mm is a dream come true, to be honest. As much as it was fun working for Sega and 2K, they have very, very established processes and the main difference is that publishers work with a lot of different studios. As a result, you don't really have much of a personal relationship with the developers. You miss out on a lot of those discussions with the developers and everyone involved in the pre-production of content, and that’s probably the main difference to working in the studio at Mm.
The best thing about Mm is that you get to see all the talent and creativity happen in front of you. It's just really inspiring to witness all the creativity that goes on and it's nice to be involved with a project from the start, because then we can educate everyone on what aspects of design they can think about to make sure that it caters for all the cultures and languages that we support. Working for the publishers was different, as I was the one testing and playing the game in French, so that was really fun. But I always wanted to work on the studio side of things.
Do you have any kind of advice or tips for anyone that would be looking to get into localisation?
What I've learned is that as long as you have a passion for video games, whether you want to work in localisation or in development, you can make that happen. Obviously having specific qualifications helps, but it didn't really matter how many degrees I had on my CV, as they were looking for passion. When I was interviewing to get the job at 2K, I actually did terribly on the interview test they asked me to do. They even straight up told me that after the interview. But they could sense that I had a passion for localisation, and was qualified in all other areas, so they decided to give me a chance. So I think as long as you can show that you have a passion for your work, you can make it happen.
Mm staff seem to have a lot of interesting items on their desks. What's on your desk at the moment?
I don't think I have anything too ridiculous, but I do have a Marty McFly Pop figurine here. I love sci-fi media, and Back to the Future is my favourite franchise and I've had this one for years. It’s pretty much come with me everywhere I worked. It was on my desk at work, and since the studio's being refurbished right now, it's at home with me at the moment. I also love Animal Crossing, so I've got an adorable little KK Slider Amiibo. And then I have this massive cup of coffee. I love coffee so much and I could not live without it. I definitely need it in order to get any work done.
To wrap up, what are your favourite Dreams, and are there any that you'd like to recommend?
Well, I’d really like to talk a bit about how awesome InfiniDreams are. They already know this, but I absolutely love InfiniDreams (headed up by ChevalierBore and Elfiooh). They’re just an awesome team, and amazing at what they do. We actually did a French stream with them and they created the coMmunity jam, Bon Appétit. And they were so happy to participate and jump on stream with us, which was just the most wholesome thing. Like we asked them to come up with a theme for the coMmunity jam, and they made this proper PowerPoint presentation, which was incredibly professional, and it showed how seriously they took the task.
So out of a bunch of choices they presented us with, we picked Bon Appétit as it was definitely one of the best coMmunity jam ideas we had received for a while. There were so many incredible entries, but my favourite just so happened to be the winner and it was called Quartier de Misu by Fr0d0_FragginsS79. Basically, you just take a stroll down a Parisian street but it just looks amazing. It's ridiculously impressive. But I would say another one of my favourite things that InfiniDreams do is their Speed Creates.
There was a really impressive one that I remember, called Il était une fois... And that creation honestly made me laugh so hard, which dreams don’t often do, and that's why I think it's so fantastic. Basically they blind-created an assortment of elements and then put it all together to create a retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. And I would really encourage everybody to watch it because it's really funny, the narration is great, and there's a brilliant little twist at the end that made me just howl with laughter. When you discover something like that, it reminds you that Dreams is capable of creating some absolutely incredible experiences.
The Dreams User Guide is a work-in-progress. Keep an eye out for updates as we add more learning resources and articles over time.