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  1. If you have ever dealt with audio recording, whether character voice acting for a game or a voice-over for a video, then you probably noticed that it is not cheap. It is important to do everything right the first time in order to reduce additional costs. The same thing applies to the localization of audio: every error is multiplied by the number of languages. In this article, we will share some tips on how to interact with recording studios and localization services, how to optimize and accelerate the process, and how to reduce the risks as well as the costs of audio localization. It does not matter whether you are ordering these services from Alconost or from another company -- knowledge of all the following pitfalls will stand you in good stead. Captain C-3PO by Jeff Nickel 1. Project Formatting Matters The proper formatting of the script ensures a smooth and problem-free recording process. One best practice is to format the script in the form of a table, where each row corresponds to a single audio file. We at Alconost are sometimes faced with situations where a customer only wants us to record narration in a foreign language, and they leave it to themselves to synchronize the audio narration with their video. In this case, the customer must work with audio recorded in a language they do not know, and we for our part must do everything possible to simplify this task for the customer: When transcribing we ask the editor (a native speaker of the source language) to mark the timing (indicating what phrase should be said at what second) and to break the text into segments (for example, each scene occupies a separate cell in the table). The transcription itself is a process of "lifting" the text from the original recording, that is, of converting the spoken text into a written one; When translating we ask the translator (a native speaker of the target language) to preserve the original layout (so that it is clear how each part of the original corresponds to a respective part of the translation); When recording we ask the narrator to break the recording down into scenes (e.g., the recordings for each new scene are stored in a separate file). 2. Create a List of Characters and Describe their Personalities If you need several voices, create a list of characters and briefly describe them, including their name, age, gender, and other characteristics. This will help the audio recording studio to provide an adequate selection of narrators for the roles, to ensure that there are enough voice actors given the different languages, and to avoid mistakes such as recording a female voice instead of a male one or vice versa. Incidentally, the gender of the character does not have to match the gender of the narrator: professional voice actors with a wide creative range can successfully voice tomboy girls and respected ladies, for example. Describe the character's personality in order to allow the voice actor to present the character in the best possible way. For example: Character A: male, 40 years old, good-natured, simple-minded (farmer), "one of the guys." He is friendly towards his own (though he doesn't horse around), and he is curt to outsiders (though he stops short of being outright rude). He has a powerful voice, though it is not harsh. Normal rate of speech. Or: Raccoon character: high-pitched, child-like voice, but laughs and makes snarky asides in a husky voice. His rate of speech is very fast, but it must always be intelligible. He must have five kinds of laughter (good-humored, malevolent, hysterical, demonic, and loud laughter), and three kinds of exclamations of fright. It is ideal when the customer's assignment includes a screenshot or video clip depicting the character. Melancolia by Kristina Alexanderson If the voice actors could have the opportunity to listen to the recordings of their characters in any other languages, this would be plus. Any clarifications are welcome: "not as fast as in the reference clip," "just like in the example." What if the Narrators Ignore My Descriptions of the Characters? If the voice actors are unclear about a certain point, they will either ask you questions (this is the best option, but the need to exchange questions and answers can make it harder to keep to deadlines) or make a decision at their own discretion (what they think is right). In the second case, if it turns out that you do not like the version the narrator decided on, though the formal criteria have been satisfied, your complaint will be about something that was not stipulated in advance. In this case you may have to pay for another recording, although voice actors will often try to accommodate the customer's request. 3. Limit the Number of Voices Often people want to spend less money on the localization of an audio recording than on the original audio. Since voice actors usually have high minimum rates, so limiting the number of voices is a good way to reduce costs. For example, just two professional voice actors, one man and one woman, may be all that are needed to provide the voice-overs for a video featuring 12 different interviewees. 4. Avoid Audio Files that Feature Multiple Characters Ideally, the audio recording process should be simple and fast. The assignment should be provided with sufficient detail. The voice actors record their parts, and the recordings are checked by linguists who are native speakers and cleaned of any extraneous sounds and noises (such as the turning of pages). The recordings are split into files, and the files are named according to the assigned specifications. When you have a single audio file that contains several voice actors, everything becomes much more complicated. Since voice actors always record their files in isolation from each other, the audio files are divided and recombined during the final stages of the process. This increases the risk that something will go wrong. After all, the engineers who edit the files are hardly familiar with all the foreign languages in which the recordings are made. 5. Prepare a Pronunciation Guide If you read the text aloud, you will soon realize that some words are pronounced differently. This is especially true of abbreviations. Foreign languages make the task even more difficult. Some rules of pronunciation are generally accepted, but others must be determined by the company itself. Your studio should study the script and make a list of all the words whose pronunciation may present discrepancies. Translators and editors should clarify any difficult points before recording. If a recording should have a time limit, then Captain Obvious suggests that the voice actor should be warned about this in advance. 6. Leave Space in Your Video If you are familiar with localization, then you probably know that English is one of the most compact languages. If we were to translate the same text into Russian, it would increase in length by 10%, and if we were to translate it into French or Spanish, then it would increase by 20%. If you cannot change the length of your video, then it will be hard to speed up the localized audio to match the video without accelerating the rate of speech or reducing the length of the original text. Both of these options can make it more difficult for your audience to comprehend your video. Moreover, the text or action in a particular frame may not match the sense of the localized audio. This is particularly problematic for videos that would cost lots of money to lengthen or edit. Therefore, the best option would be to leave a little extra space in your original video: add pauses of a few seconds where this is possible. This will simplify and speed up the localization process. We at Alconost always try to adapt the word length to the necessary length of the phrases when translating or editing a text for our customers. This is how we are able to avoid unnecessary pauses or undue haste in our voice-overs. 7. Provide Plenty of Source Materials You will most likely be asked for them. In any case remember: you must provide samples of the original audio if you want the voice-over to be done in the style and tone of the original. When it comes to video, make sure that you have the source video: this way you can slightly slow down or speed up the scenes when localizing so that the animation matches the rate of speech of the voice artist in the new language. It is desirable in this case that the narrator's voice be separated from the music and sound effects in the sound track so that you can simply adjust the placement of the sound effects as you move the animations. And one more thing. When it comes to video, often the on-screen captions must be localized in addition to the text read by the voice artist. If you want to translate them as well, you will make this task easier for the service provider if you submit the video source files as well. 8. Ensure that the Script and the Video Match Each Other Exactly This is particularly important when it comes to videos. The voice-over usually corresponds to the written script, but often changes are made to the video clip at the last minute. This is how inconsistencies crop up between the audio and video tracks. Carefully check the final video. 9. Select Professionals Who Speak Foreign Languages and Have Experience in Audio Localization Often texts that are to be recorded are translated by the author's friends, the author him- or herself or by translators who are not native speakers of the target language. All of this provides reason to consider that you should allow a native speaker to proofread your text before recording the voice-over. Indeed, some voice actors may even refuse to provide a voice-over if they see that a text in their own language is not grammatical. Voice artists may offer their own proofreading services, and they may be better than nothing. However, ideally it is worth it to recruit your own editor (a native speaker of the target language) to proofread a text that has been translated by a non-native speaker. If the quality of the translation is poor, or if the sense of the original has been changed or lost in the translation, then it may be better to order editing instead of proofreading services (when the text is edited, it is compared to the original). Working with foreign languages adds complexity to the entire audio recording process. Localization of audio requires the utmost care when recruiting voice artists and ensuring that they are able to work well with each other, drafting scripts, determining recording techniques, and linguistic testing of the final product. For example, if you entrust an Asian language localization project to a studio that mainly translates into English, you risk discovering in the final product that a Korean voice artist was used instead of a Chinese one, phrases were cut off in mid-sentence, or other inconsistencies occurred due to lack of knowledge of the target languages. When you select a service provider to localize audio, make sure that they employ voice artists and editors who are professional native speakers of their working languages, have years of successful experience working in this market, and have received feedback from satisfied customers. The team here at Alconost is ready to help you with your localization projects to ensure that they are localized to high quality standards, even if the project should involve less common languages.
  2. Every third client requesting localizations from us at Alconost asks a very basic, but very important, question: "And what other languages do you recommend translating my game/app/site into?" To answer this question at least for developers of mobile games, we researched sales figures for mobile games on Google Play and the App Store in different countries. We were so surprised by the results that we made an entire video: [media]https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=wm5SoBGdxDU[/media] In this article, you'll find more information about the top 10 languages for localizing mobile games. Let's start with the behemoths: Japan - the biggest source of game sales on both Google Play and the App Store. So while Japanese buying preferences can seem unusual to outsiders, localizing your game and promoting in Japan can bring fantastic results. U.S. -- no surprises here. English is a "must" for any game that is sold internationally. Korea is ahead of even the U.S. in Android game sales. For perspective: Just three countries - Japan, the U.S. and Korea - account for 75% of game sales on Google Play! China is present only in the App Store for now but iOS sales have been impressive indeed. Google recently announced its return to the Chinese mobile app market and it will be interesting to see the numbers for Google Play in China a year from now. Germany and France look small compared to the others, but for developers in North America and Western Europe, understanding French and German tastes is usually easier than Korean or Japanese ones. And who knows - maybe your game will strike a chord and be a massive hit in Germany or France? Don't forget about Taiwan, which despite its small size is number 10 on the list. Did you know that Taiwan uses Traditional Chinese, which is very different from the Simplified Chinese used on the Chinese mainland? A person from Taiwan is lucky to understand even half of something written in Simplified Chinese! If your localization budget allows it, you might also consider markets that do not make the top 10 but show good growth in mobile sales: Russia, Latin America (Spanish) and Brazil. So here is our list of the top 10 languages you should consider when localizing your mobile game: Japanese English Korean Simplified Chinese German French Traditional Chinese Russian Spanish Brazilian Portuguese Data courtesy of App Annie. P.S. We made this video in our free time because it seemed neat. We like to make videos "just for fun": check out our video about $100 as seen by modern artists and video infographic about the cost of adding a second to site loading times. If you have interesting, unusual or unique data or ideas that could help us to make another video, let us know!
  3. This is a question we often hear from our clients. Recently we produced two video trailers for mobile games. The trailers were in the same style - epic battles, swords, Viking knights - but there was one big difference. One trailer had voiceovers and the other did not. Looking at the results, we wanted to share our thoughts about when videos need voiceovers, and when they don't. There are important pluses and minuses we think everyone should be aware of. And while we're at it, we wanted to ask your thoughts on the matter too. Here are the trailers: [media]http://vimeo.com/120471188[/media] [media]http://vimeo.com/120471186[/media] With voiceover Videos provide an enormous advantage when you deliver your message to potential customers: you can involve more sensory and cognitive inputs by offering visuals, sound and voice. People use their ears to augment what they see. When we see events that are "mute", we subconsciously think that something is wrong. We are less trusting and prepare ourselves for danger. In terms of evolutionary psychology, think of our ancestors who survived by hearing their enemies coming in the distance. After thousands of years of living in society, people are really good at picking up on the subtle nuances and intonation of how others speak! We use this information to form impressions of the people we talk with. So when we hear information given in a pleasant, confident voice, we begin to subconsciously trust the speaker. Voice, timbre and tone are an important way of influencing viewers. Voice is also the simplest way of conveying emotion and setting the tone of a video. [rollup="Example. Darklings II Teaser"] [media]http://vimeo.com/120479578[/media][/rollup] And if you have an information-dense video - such as a presentation or tutorial - voiceovers are a critical tool. Without voiceover If your video's main message can be expressed visually (as can be done for some simple and obvious products), voiceovers may not be needed at all. For products like these, it's hard to write a good voiceover text because there is almost nothing to say. [rollup="Example. Two teasers"] [media]http://vimeo.com/120470198[/media] [media]http://vimeo.com/120471187[/media][/rollup] But if you skip voiceovers, you must compensate by putting more effort into graphics and animation. Sometimes a voiceover and music set the mood and the visuals do not have to be 100% polished in order to achieve the right effect. In a video without voiceovers, every second of video must be spick-and-span. But these videos can offer savings due to the absence of recording and studio work. The #1 advantage of going voiceover-less is that these videos are immediately understandable to any viewer anywhere in the world. And even if the video contains bits of text, these words can be easily localized into other languages. Localizing a video without voiceovers is easy! Just change the labels shown on screen. By comparison, localizing voiceovers takes a lot of time and money. Translating the text, finding voice talent and assessing pronunciation in languages you don't know - that's the easy part. The hard part is that all the animation needs to be redone for each new voice, since different languages have different timings. That is why making the visuals sync up with the audio in a new language can cost 50 to 70% of the amount of the original animation. The bottom line is that if your product is simple, you have a simple and understandable message for your viewers, and you want to cheaply make a video that everyone can understand, you probably do not need voiceovers. But if your goals are loftier, our advice is to do it right the first time and get the most out of your video by adding voice. What do you think?
  4. Pain-free localization is the dream of everyone who develops software for foreign markets. Interfaces with dense thickets of terms, rendered in many languages, make this dream even stronger. Perhaps it is strongest of all among developers, agile or otherwise, who constantly release updates and with the same regularity must translate... translate... and translate an unending stream of strings. These are just a few of the challenges that we at Alconost conquer every day thanks to a tool that makes the localization process almost magic. In medicine, they would call it a panacea. As localizers though, we know it by the name of Crowdin. The Crowdin crowd platform has enabled us to localize apps, sites, and games into 40+ languages for dozens of clients - all at the same time. Here are the six biggest localization difficulties that Crowdin solves: 1. So. Many. Formats. The variety of file formats to localize is simply astounding: .xml, .strings, .resx, .properties, .po, .yml, .json, .ini, .xliff, .csv, .xlsx and many, many more. As soon as you load a file into Crowdin, it is converted and shown to translators with text only - no code or technical information. This is a big deal, since translators can otherwise get confused or accidentally introduce errors into the functional aspects of your software (imagine the damage that can be caused by a simple encoding error or extra ">"). The variety of file formats in one project 2. Bottlenecks and delays translating into dozens of languages. So you need to translate your product and all of the marketing materials into 20 languages. Remember how difficult it can be just to get the original text correct in English (or whatever your source language may be). Now multiply these difficulties by 20! With Crowdin, the translation process is transparent and understandable. You are always in control and can monitor how each string is translated into each of the target languages. For maximum speed you can set up an API-based workflow: Crowdin monitors a particular file on GitHub for updates. When the file is updated, CrowdIn grabs it and your translators and proofreaders are automatically notified. After their work is complete, Crowdin gathers all the strings and returns the updated resource file to your repository. 3. "Show and tell". Seeing is a hundred times more effective than hearing. So sometimes it would be nice to attach 100-500 screenshots to explain the context to translators. And add a few hundred comments, for good measure, while marking off all the strings that should never ever ever be changed. Crowdin can do all this! Include as many screenshots as you like. They are available to the entire team of translators and editors, so you don't have to send copies to everyone individually (yay!). The same goes for comments. Another example: a translator asks a question, you receive a notification, and you provide an answer. And - here's the awesome part - the entire team sees the answer too, even the translators working with the other languages (as you probably know, most questions are about the source text). Everyone's time is saved: translators do not have to spend time re-asking their colleagues' questions and you do not have to repeat yourself. 4. Your product is constantly changing. You are making your product better and better, which means that you are constantly adding new strings. All of these strings need to be commented and translated into 20 languages. Whether you are adding one new string or one hundred, the fact is that when you are translating into many languages, things will always be more complicated than you expect. At the end of the day, continuous localization is a service, not a problem. At Alconost, we first get budget approval from the client and ask them to upload new strings directly to Crowdin. Then, as soon as the next update comes in, we are immediately notified and start localizing. 5. Centralized translation memory and glossaries. Both these features simplify handling of terminology. Otherwise, you end up needing to explain to each translator that "waterfall approach" isn't actually referring to a national park trail. This is even more important for localizations that have been dormant - say, the translator has not worked on the project for three months and is starting to forget project-specific terms. With translation memory and glossaries in Crowdin, it is easy to get up to speed. When bringing a new translator on board, terminology references are invaluable as well. Glossary 6. Keeping resource files intact! One part of the dream of pain-free localization is that translators are working only with the text, instead of trying to writing code at the same time. Then the text together with code is converted, via magical dream wand, to its original form. In Crowdin, you can be sure that nothing will happen to your code. You do not need to leave unwieldy comments or export/copy. Simply upload your files and select the strings to localize. As an Alconost client, you do not even need to spend your time on this - our managers are happy to do this for you. .xml file in Crowdin So we think that this platform is an all-around win: for developers, for translators, for localization managers, and for editors. And if our experience can save even one developer from localization pains, our article will not have been in vain!
  5. If you want a high-quality localization of your product, linguistic testing is an absolute must. To get good results for any kind of project - whether a site, application, game, or mobile app - you have to do more than just translate strings in resource files. At the final stage of localization, linguistic testers must carefully and thoughtfully perform one more task: testing the translation as implemented in the final product. Linguistic testing accomplishes three (and sometimes even more) tasks: First, testing allows pinpointing strings that do not fit into their GUI elements, be these menus, buttons, or toolbars. This can happen because the length of words is different in different languages. When translating from Russian to French or German, for example, the length of text increases by 15 to 20%. Things are even more complicated for Asian languages. A handful of Chinese characters when translated into English, for example, turn into a long phrase that simply cannot fit in the relevant GUI window. For character languages it is also a good idea to increase the font size, so that all the small details of characters are legible. GUIs should be beautiful and localization testing is critical for keeping them that way. The second job of linguistic testing is to make sure that phrases fit their context. Most often this question arises when testing games: does the translation match the in-game situation that the end user encounters? When making the initial translation, the translator was looking at resource files and, although helped by comments and screenshots, still saw only a list of strings. So there are probably places where the translation does not capture 100% of the context. Common errors in games include incorrect gender, repeating units, and incorrect object names. Non-games can have their complexities too: if we are translating the word "rate" from English, do we mean the price ("hourly rate") or ratio of currencies ("exchange rate")? Or maybe "rate" is used as a verb - but then is it in the sense of evaluate ("to rate an app") or to deserve ("to rate a mention")? These aspects are tricky and deserve close attention. Third, it's important to check how the text in your interface is displayed in different localizations of the target operating system. This can help solve possible issues with text encoding, such as when special characters (for example, diacritics or umlauts) in different languages are displayed incorrectly. This screenshot shows incorrect display of special characters. Without linguistic testing, this is what French gamers would have seen in the interface. What's the right way to do linguistic testing? For almost ten years, we at Alconost have offered professional translation, localization, and linguistic testing in forty languages. Here are a few hard-won tips for linguistic testing based on our experience. Let's say that all of the interface strings have been translated and integrated into the product. What is the next step? Optimally, the translators now receive the localized product and carefully review each window, checking each and every piece of text. Why do we say "optimally" here? In practice, complications crop up both on the translator side and on the client side. Sometimes a translator may not have a device capable of running the product, or the client cannot provide a custom build or grant access to the product. As a workaround, the client takes as many screenshots as possible for review by the tester. Testing goes beyond just checking interface elements - it includes system errors, help materials, and other accompanying documentation. When a tester finds an error, he or she makes corrections in the translation file and also records the error in the bug list. Bugs can include pieces of untranslated text, missing text, incorrectly formatted dates or numbers, incorrect first name/last name order, or incorrect currency. Keeping a bug list gives the client a visual representation of how many bugs have been found and how each of them has been fixed. The situation is more complicated when, besides translation errors, there are cosmetic errors: the translated strings may be too long and get cut off, or even spill out of their button/window. In these situations, the usual method is to find a shorter way of rephrasing the text. If worst comes to worst and there is no way of rephrasing the text, then we can simply remove a portion of it. Another solution in some situations is to leave a word in the original language (i.e., in English), but this works only when the term is very well known and translation is not truly necessary. Three secrets for awesome linguistic testing Secret No. 1: By choosing the right tools during the translation stage, you can significantly simplify and speed up linguistic testing later. Unlock this "magic" by automating as much of translators' work as possible. At Alconost we do this by using the latest computer-assisted translation tools (SDL Trados, SDL Passolo, OmegaT, Sisulizer, Poedit, and MemoQ) and cloud-based platforms (Webtranslateit, Crowdin, GetLocalization, Google Translator Toolkit). These CAT tools allow multiple translators and editors to work on a project at the same time, as well as utilize translation memory. Translation memory is powerful: each translated word is memorized, and when a word is found in the text a second time (or third or fourth...), the translation memory will make a suggestion based on the existing translation. This makes the translation consistent, reducing the time required for linguistic testing and preventing issues from occurring. Secret No. 2: It's critical to write the test plan carefully. Make the work as simple as it can be, while making sure that everything (and we mean everything!) is verified and proofread. The test plan should explain to the translator how to view all texts in full and provide access to hidden areas of the product (error messages, bonus levels in games, paid functionality in software). When testing games, it's best to provide translators with cheat codes for quickly completing all levels. Secret No. 3: Linguistic testing needs to be done by professional translators who are native speakers in the language being tested. Ideally, translation should be performed by only natives as well (in our nine years of experience at Alconost Translations, we have seen that excellent translation quality is possible only when native speakers are used). But if for whatever reason the translation was performed by non-natives, it is even more important that linguistic testing be performed by a specialist who was raised and educated in the target language. Only native speakers can pick up all the subtleties of context, as well as carefully and accurately shorten words and phrases. As you can see, linguistic testing is a key step in the localization process. If you want a high-quality product, ignore it at your peril! Test well and prosper!
  6. We conduct interviews with remote workers via Skype. We have a test job and such questions at the interview which allow us to imagine a portrait of the employee in details, and make a right decision.    What about the business structure - Alconost has a common structure, nothing special.
  7. We decided to go office-less at the very start. For a small translation agency focused on working with IT companies via the Internet, this was a logical step. Now, ten years later, Alconost includes more than 300 people worldwide. Our staff is diverse: besides translators, we employ marketing specialists, contextual advertising experts, sales staff, editors, localization managers, and video production pros. But despite our growth, we still think that offices are inefficient and we feel good about the choice we made. As company co-founder, I, Kirill Kliushkin, would like to share about how we make the absence of an office work for us. Not having an office has had a large and positive effect on our business. Our clients are located all over the world, so they often write to our managers outside of our local working hours. Because of this time difference, an ordinary, office-bound company would take days to communicate with distant clients and resolve issues. But not us. We do not hold our employees to a strict eight-hour regimen, instead asking them to answer messages quickly whenever they have the opportunity. Clients truly appreciate fast answers, even if it is just to say that "I will get the necessary information and write back to you tomorrow." The client is happy, which means that we are happy too. We have gone without offices not because we wanted to take a more relaxed pace. If anything, the answer is the opposite: often tasks need to be finished in minutes, not hours. Half of orders on our Nitro rapid online translation service are completed in less than two hours. We promise to reply to all client questions regarding Nitro within one hour. If we were stuck to a fixed office schedule, we could never attain the responsiveness that we have today. Our formula: remote work + people + freedom - control Our formula for success consists of remote work plus excellent people and an open schedule, minus overbearing control. Remote work is common enough these days - work wherever you want, as long as you get the job done. The same goes for the schedule too: we do not actually care when and how much you work. What counts is that tasks are resolved, processes launched, projects completed quickly, and the other employees not waiting because of any delays from you. Often I find it easiest to write articles or scripts at 2 or 3 AM, when the day's problems are finally set aside and I can get more done in two hours than I have during all of the last week. We do not ask our employees to fill out time sheets or, even worse, install tracking software on their computers to monitor time worked and get screenshots of what they are working on. Our approach is fundamentally different. Standing over an employee's shoulder with a stopwatch and a calendar is counterproductive both for the employee and for the company. If a person is putting in the proper effort, we can see this by the tasks that get done and the satisfaction of colleagues and clients. If someone is lagging behind, we can see this too. We value the results, not the processes that led to these results. Business is what interests us, not control. The next component of our formula is "excellent people". Without them, nothing else works. But "excellent" is the key part. If someone just wants to sit in a desk chair for eight hours and does not care what they are working on, that person would not last long here. If work for someone is exclusively a way to earn money, that person would not fit us either. How do I identify excellence? My way involves asking a lot of questions at the job interview - some of them personal, some of them uncomfortably so. By the end of the conversation, I have a high-resolution psychological portrait of the candidate. Looking back at all of my interviews with potential employees, I think that our conversations have usually allowed figuring out right away whether a person is the right one for us. Mistakes can always happen, of course, and sometimes employees lose their motivation and start to drift. We battle for each employee: we try to figure out the reason for this change in attitude, inspire the employee to get back "into the groove", and think of interesting work that could excite him or her. If we still lose the battle, we cut our losses and part ways. Motivation vs. internal crisis If we are on the topic of motivation, I should add a few words about the importance of motivation for employees at office-less companies. It is not a question of salary. When you are not sitting side by side with your boss, colleagues, or subordinates, it is easy to forget that you are part of a team. After working online for six months or so, an internal crisis sets in - you can forget that you work at a company and fall out of the corporate culture. Even Internet-centric companies like ours have a culture: in our case, one of care for the client, the desire to be a step ahead of the game, and the ability to answer questions that the client has not even thought of yet. There is no one-size-fits-all technique for fighting off these teleworking blues. One effective method in our toolbox is to ask the employee to write an article for the media or to speak at a conference. While the employee is preparing the text or presentation, he or she dives into the topic and feels like part of something bigger. Another way is to simply meet and socialize informally, maybe drink a little whiskey. One way or another, managers need to think proactively about how to preserve motivation and help employees to feel socially needed, so that they do not suddenly snap one fine day and jump ship for a company with a plush office and after-work drinks on Fridays. It is absolutely critical to be in contact with every employee and provide them with proper feedback. Don't forget to praise a job well done, and don't be afraid to say if a job could have been done better - but critique the work, not the person. The most important thing is to keep the lines of communication open and not be silent. I learned this the hard way, unfortunately. Last spring I traveled together with the other co-founder, Alexander Murauski, to Montenegro (another advantage of remote work, incidentally!) for three months with our families. All of the hassles of the temporary move distracted us from communication with employees. As a result, we lost a pair of workers who, if we had been "virtually" at their side, could have stayed, had we been able to help them in maintaining their motivation. But leaving the country is not the only way of losing contact with employees. Simply concentrating too much on one aspect of the business can leave other employees feeling lonely and uncared for. Now I know how dangerous this can be. Trello, Skype and The Cloud Setting up workflows is much more important for an office-free company than it is for a company with employees housed in a giant cubicle farm. We realized this right away at the beginning of our company's growth, when we needed to hire a second and later third project manager for handling client requests. We had to design processes and mechanisms to make telework just as efficient and seamless as working with a colleague at a neighboring desk. Finding task management tools was a long effort. We tried Megaplan and Bitrix24, but later migrated to Trello, which is both very convenient and intuitive. Trello remains our project management tool of choice, although we continue to refine our processes. For localization of large projects, we often work with translators through a cloud-based platform. The rest of our communications go through email, Skype or Google Hangouts, which allow sharing screens in virtual group conferences. All of our documents and files are stored on Google Drive. We forego Microsoft Office and other offline programs in favor of online documents only. The advantages are that documents are accessible from any device and the group collaboration/revision process is convenient. We also have created an internal wiki to centralize and systematize our knowledge, rules, references, and procedures. Everything is in there, from step-by-step setup of Alconost email accounts to basic principles for working in Trello. Wiki articles are regularly added and updated, which helps new employees to get oriented quickly and makes work get done quicker. Automating routine tasks and simplifying business processes is key. This saves work time, reduces headcount needs, and simply frees up resources for more creative tasks. A monotonous task that eats up five minutes every day will consume almost a week over the course of a year. And of course, I recommend acquiring the tools you need so that you can work anytime, anywhere. With today's devices and mobile Internet access, this is eminently doable. I remember when I spent an entire day writing video scripts, communicated with clients, and managed the company as I was waiting in line at a customs checkpoint. All I needed was my mobile phone and its five-inch screen! Three tips for those working without an office First: create a schedule. Wake up at the same time every day and figure out which times are most productive. People need rhythm. Second, if you cannot work properly where you are, create the right setting so that you can. You simply cannot be productive in a two-room apartment with screaming kids and hyperactive pets. You need your own clearly marked, private space. For me, this is the study in my apartment. For Alexander, the other Alconost co-founder, the solution to two noisy children is a small room at a nearby business center. And third: when there is no set schedule, your working day imperceptibly begins to "morph". You do not have the clear division between personal time and working time that an office gives. Some people become fatigued by this, which is a sign that remote work is probably not right for them. When you like your work - if it is something that you are passionate about - it does not matter which of the day's 24 hours you choose to spend doing it. Personally, I don't even like the word "work". I don't "work", I live and simultaneously pursue my business. It makes me happier - and lets me truly live.
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  9. Recently we at Alconost were producing several videos for games and, in the process of working with clients, we heard questions again that we had heard before: what should we show, should the video have a voiceover or not, how expensive is it to translate into multiple languages, what source materials do we need, how can we capture video of the screen of a mobile device... To answer these burning questions once and for all, we would like to share with you and give specific examples of how we make videos for games. We think our experience will be useful both to anyone who is trying to produce video independently and to developers who are outsourcing creation of video for their games. Here is the video creation process: Choosing a video type The first we question we ask our clients is, "Why do you need a video?" Based on this answer, we propose one of the following video types: - Teaser. No gameplay is shown and nothing specific about the game is said. But we create interest in the game and tease the viewer. Example: Our teaser for the gloomy and addictive game Darklings 2 from Mildmania [media]http://vimeo.com/120479578[/media] - In-game video. Used as an intro or closing video or cut scene. Can be placed in game reviews as well. Example: Our opening for Lost In Reefs from Rumbic Studio [media]http://vimeo.com/120479579[/media] - Trailer showing gameplay and game features. Used everywhere suitable for attracting the attention of a potential gamer: in-app advertising, social networks and online media, even TVs at malls/stores. Example: Our trailer for the multiplayer version of LandGrabbers from Nevosoft [media]http://vimeo.com/120471186[/media] Idea and script The storyline of an in-game video always follows the plot of the game, a teaser evokes the same feelings and emotions as the game itself, and the trailer immediately dives into the gameplay and the essence of what makes the game special. When writing the script, we split the document into three columns: Scene Purpose, Video Action, and Voiceover Text. When writing a script, we start with the "Scene Purpose" column. For each scene we write a one-sentence outline of why the scene is necessary in the video. This could be "Beginning of the video and introduction to the game", "Main unique feature", "Engrossing gameplay", or "Call to action". So we establish the sequence of scenes and form a bare-bones outline of the script. When there is text only in the Scene Purpose column and the other columns are empty, it is easy to spot and fix any errors in the flow of the narrative. The amount of detail necessary for describing the video action depends on the talent and artistic flair of the video designer who will be working on the project. For some of our people, all you need to do is write "logo appears with a spiffy animation" and give a link to a reference; in a handful of cases, we have needed to be more specific - "an object appears by increasing the scale with a bounce effect and reduced opacity, with acceleration from the left edge towards the center", and so on. Very important: The amount of voiceover text in each scene must match the number of events in the video. Here is how we calculate the balance: 2 voiceover words = 1 second One major on-screen event = 1-2 seconds. Source materials We can, of course, make all of the graphics ourselves. But why spend time and client budget if, during the game creation process, the client has already done enormous work to illustrate the characters, game interface, backgrounds, levels, and other visuals? We can simply take these source materials (layered .psd or .ai files, 3D models, etc.) and add all of the necessary touches ourselves. Oftentimes the graphics provided by the client are entirely sufficient for creating a video. Example: Sources for Landgrabbers Incidentally, we can recommend a good app for getting video grabs on iOS devices: Reflector (the trial version allows recording up to 10 minutes of video in a single session, which is more than enough for showing gameplay). We have not found an Android equivalent that is quite as convenient, so if you have any recommendations we will be glad to hear them! Storyboard The storyboard allows us to visualize the video long before the work is finished. Depending on how complicated the video is, the storyboard can take on different forms: from a set of hand-drawn sketches to near-stills from the video-to-be. Adding detail to the storyboard means fewer unexpected comments from clients at later stages of work (which means fewer fixes and less time spent). We try to include all of the key scenes in the video in the storyboard. Example: Storyboard for Darklings Our experience shows that going without a storyboard makes the end result unknowable and unpredictable. Voiceover Does a game video need a voice? Our answer is yes, it does. Voice is too important of an avenue for reaching viewers to be ignored. Voiceover-free videos are easier to localize into other languages (since you do not have to redo the animation to fit the new audio track, which will have different timings than the original) but reduced production costs may be a false savings compared to the lessened impact of the video. Is it worth it to save money by using an amateur instead of a professional voiceover artist? No, it is not. A professional voiceover artist records his or her voice on expensive equipment in a studio with excellent audio isolation. The voice is recorded evenly, without jumps in volume or frequency. The artist regularly works with advertising and informational texts and speaks properly: there is no or very little aspiration and unwanted sounds are not present (hissing, whistling, popping, etc.). This kind of voice is easy to mix and combine with music and audio. Note that audio is ALWAYS recorded before the animation is created, and animation is created only based on an existing voiceover recording. Doing the opposite will waste significant time. If you are unable to record a voiceover right away for any reason, here's the workaround: first record a "rough-draft" voiceover (yourself, on a karaoke microphone through a laptop's run-of-the-mill audio card) and create the animation based on that. Later, the voiceover artist reads the text in high quality so that it fully coincides with the timing of the rough draft. But this will add 30 to 50% to the cost of the voiceover artist's work. One thing that should be obvious, but we'll say it anyway: if you are recording in another language, have the voiceover done ONLY by a native speaker! Animation This stage is worthy of an article in itself. This is where the main magic happens, turning still pictures into a moving, emotion-provoking video. Our advice: Animate in time to the music. Usually we give our video crew a metronome, which they use to animate all of the video events in rhythm to the music. The animation must follow the Disney's Twelve Basic Principles. Camera perspective in the video must be "live", not static. Even if the video contains only static objects (for example, a logo and URL), the camera should shift about a little, zoom in/out, or slightly sway and "breathe". Music and audio We write music from scratch for each project or else buy royalty-free tracks from stock sites: http://audiojungle.net/, http://www.neosounds.com/, http://www.premiumbeat.com/. How does one select the right track? Obviously the music should fit the mood and content of the video; the music should not contain abrupt or startling sounds that distract the viewer. Often the best tracks contain a pulse and feature deep, clear bass. All events in the video should be marked by sound, so that the video on a whole is perceived smoothly. Make sure that the voiceover is loud but with slight compression, and that the frequencies do not overlap with the music. Localization Properly localizing a video involves many tasks: translating all on-screen text, recapturing gameplay video in the localized version of the game, recording a new voiceover, and retiming the animation to fit the new voiceover. Depending on the complexity of the video, full localization can cost 50 to 90% of the budget for the original video. The low-budget option for localization is to translate all on-screen text and add subtitles in the target language. Ta-da! It's done! The video is ready now. The video, if intended for in-game use, is integrated into the game. Trailers and teasers are distributed on social networks, blogs, and media sites, where they draw the interest of potential players and build up pre-release anticipation - and even get added to app store pages (we still hope that Apple will soon add the ability to place video alongside App Store descriptions). If you have any questions on the process of video production, we will be glad to hear from you! Write us at video@alconost.com or just leave your comments below.