The ICS-translate team includes many dedicated gamers, and game localisation is one of our core services so it’s little surprise that the language choices made in Ubisoft's highly anticipated release, Assassin's Creed Mirage has been a major focus of office discussion.
While the game is already generating buzz as a return to the series' roots, one significant change has captured the attention of both fans and critics alike.
In this edition, set in 9th Century Baghdad, Ubisoft has taken an intriguing step by recording the game's performances entirely in Arabic.
This is in addition to players still having the option to choose English dialogue. Nevertheless, the developers have stated that they hope that players will opt for the more "authentic" experience of hearing the game in Arabic.
ICS-translate Senior Account Manager Daniel Rennie is keen to get to grips with the game due to professional and personal interest:
“As a seasoned gamer who’s worked in the translation industry for many years, video game localisation never ceases to fascinate me and Ubisoft’s decision to put Classical Arabic at the heart of the latest Assassin’s Creed is a compelling case in point.
“Based on my experience of working in game localisation, both as a translator and account manager, I can’t imagine the painstaking research that went into doing so in the name of providing the most immersive gaming experience possible.
“One thing’s for certain, I’ll be giving the English dialogues a miss when I get my hands on this game so I can experience it the way Ubisoft intended.”
While previous instalments of the long-running stealth franchise have ventured through various locales in the Caribbean, the Levant, Colonial-era North America, Europe, and Africa, the characters were traditionally voiced by English-speaking actors as a default - so this shift is an intriguing one.
When we think of best practice for translation and localisation projects, topics around accuracy, process and technology crop up frequently and while these are essential elements, it’s important to place meaning and the human factor at the heart of projects.
This is particularly the case when it comes to representation, inclusivity and bringing multiple audiences together.
This decision to use Arabic as the default language in the game was evident in the first global trailer released in late August but the dialect used has been particularly praised.
Behind this linguistic transformation is Mohammed Al Imam, who works for Ubisoft's Middle Eastern and North African branch.
Speaking to the BBC, he explained that the language spoken in the game is classical Arabic, a language with a history spanning over a thousand years, but one that is still preserved in schools, academia, and media.
While this dialect of Arabic differs from modern spoken dialects, it remains widely understood and in this case supports the immersive nature of the game, while adding an element of authenticity and representation.
ICS Key Account Lead Jeremy Whitehead welcomes the potential for an enhanced sense of immersion:
'It's really nice to be given a choice of languages in an AC game - considering all the amazing regions and timezones we've been to in the past, it does feel that older games were lacking certain levels of immersion when Ancient Egyptians were talking in a typical English accent. Mirage bucking this trend can only be a positive, and I'm excited to see how it's received, and mirrored in future games too.
“It’d definitely be interesting if more game studios take a similar approach - that would definitely present interesting opportunities and challenges for translation agencies like ICS.”
One of the guiding principles of the Mirage project was to ensure that every Arabic line was performed by fluent Arabic speakers but the ‘performance’ aspect can’t be separated from the ‘practical’ aspect of ensuring subtitles matched the quality and authenticity of the vocals.
As a game set in Iraq, it will also be interesting to observe if search interest or perceptions of the country shift among younger international audiences whose primary understanding of the region might have been shaped by more recent history.
While it’s important to remember that this is still ultimately a game that will sell or not based on its entertainment value, it’s a mass media platform that will represent the historical significance of Baghdad in that era through the narrative of the game story.
This isn’t to say that there’s a lack of the action gamers crave - in terms of historical setting, Mirage depicts 9th century Baghdad - a century that saw 12 caliphs, of whom some died in ways commensurate with a game based on the exploits of an assassin.
Amidst the action, there’s scope to inform, engage and represent. As ICS Senior Project Manager Mike Mortimer says:
“Assassin’s Creed games have always begun with a statement from Ubisoft that their team are formed of many different gender identities, religious beliefs, and sexualities.
“By recording the full game in Arabic and working with such incredible voice talent they’re leading by example and setting the standard for immersive and inclusive game worlds. The game is a pleasure to play and I’ll be hundreds of hours in before long.”
Looking at game localisation more generally, there’s a number of key principles the ICS-translate team advises clients to follow to engage and excite target audiences:
Early reviews of Assassin's Creed Mirage on PlayStation, Xbox, and PC have generally been positive, according to aggregator Metacritic but of course gamers will have many opinions on story, gameplay and mechanics, as they do with every other game.
For translators and linguists, it’s exciting to see how Assassin's Creed Mirage will be received more generally, and if Ubisoft’s translation decisions will inspire more Middle Eastern game developers to create content that represents their cultures.