One year on

School’s out forever!

It’s back to school time! And for only the second time in over thirty years, I’m not part of it. Indeed, I’m wrapping up my first year as an independent translator, and it’s time to take stock (and for some quite good news.)

First, and most importantly: I love this job. Despite the rhythm changes (some weeks are packed, others utterly chill), the uncertainty (switching from a reliable teacher job to “hmm, how much am I going to earn next month?”), and a financial downturn (caviar days are over!), I wouldn’t go back for all the gold in the world. Getting up in the morning with no more serious professional issues (apart from having my invoices paid…) than finding how to translate such and such particularly tricky phrase… it’s pure joy. At least it is to me.

Secondly, and quite importantly: I’ve had more than enough work. After a lull which lasted from October to December 2021, during which nobody seemed to need my services (except from actezéro, thanks to them, I’ll come back to that), I was lucky enough to be hired by the Warlocs, a collective of game localisers. Since then, probably because the more you work, the more you work, I’ve had my hands full. Here are the main projects I’ve worked on:

Tombstar (Steam, with the Warlocs), a twin stick shooter with rogue-like elements, in a space-western absurd setting. Many stupid puns, and a very funny game I’ve translated in collaboration with Killian Nari.

Lord Winklebottom Investigates (Steam, with the Warlocs), a point’n’click in which a giraffe and an hippo troublingly reminiscent of Sherlock & Watson investigate the death of an axolotl. A very weird and resolutely British tone that I quite liked. I’ve only translated a part of it, the rest having been done by Christophe Pallarès, a.k.a. “boss” (he loves when I call him that).

Sunshine Manor (Steam, with the Warlocs), a horrific hommage to 8-bit Japanese RPGs, in which you explore a haunted manor and try to help its denizens. A nostalgic trip for those who love pixelated horror.

Under the Waves (Steam, for actezéro), a submarine narrative adventure game developed by the French of Parallel Studio, with actezéro at the narrative helm. They entrusted me with translating Rik Godwin’s prose, and let’s just say I cannot wait for you to get your hands on the game (not before 2023, as far as I know).

Outside of localisation work, I’ve also translated the preface of a book on Michael Kenna‘s tree photographs, to be published by Skira. It’s allowed me to discover the fabulous work of an artist I only knew by name. I’ve also translated the subtitles for two short documentaries featured in the next exhibition at the EPFL, Cosmos Archeology (16.9.2022–5.2.2023).

Last but not least, and it might not for you but it means a lot to me: I was hired to translate my first novel! I can’t say much more than that, except that it’ll be published by Payot & Rivages, and more precisely by Rivages Noir since it is crime fiction… Which means that someday, in bookshops, there’ll be a book in which you’ll be able to read “Translated by Clément Martin”… which is crazy.

Clément Martin… hereafter named “the translator”. Crazy.

To wrap it all up, I feel infinitely lucky, and I’m starting this new (school) year with a lot of enthusiasm for all the projects to come — and with a book to translate! What a life.
Who would’ve thought?


This cryptic title is the abbreviation used for the activity I’ve been busy with for the past months: localisation (L + 10 letters (count them!) + n — clever, innit?) But what is localisation? Mainly, it is the name given to software, videogame and website translation. Why a different name? Because although localisation is a form of translation, with all the cultural adaptation it entails, it has technical specificities which I will discuss briefly.

Logo des Warlocs

First, a bit of context: last January, Warlocs, an independent collective of translators, were kind enough to entrust me with the translation of Not Tonight 2. In this game, you play three friends travelling across dystopian United States to save a fourth one who was captured by a group of quasi-Trumpian extremists. To fund their journey, they work as bouncers: the core gameplay is time-limited document verification, inspired by the most excellent Papers, Please.

So I enthusiastically dived in the pages… or rather the files. As usual in this field, some 70000 words were sent to me as spreadsheets, where each line can represent a bit of the interface, a narration paragraph, a dialogue line, etc. It is a bit daunting at first, but you get used to it. During the translation, I encountered three main difficulties that were specific to localisation.

Feuille Excel de localisation
So I heard you like words?

First, the character limits. The expansion rate, well-known to book publishers, must be watched very closely when localising. For instance, a book in English usually grows by 10 to 20% when translated into French. Although it is acceptable for dialogue lines, it can be absolutely impossible for UI elements which have only limited space (see for example how many letters there are in the French translations of “run”). That’s why in the picture above, there are three columns on the right side which I use to count the number of characters in English, in French, and the expansion rate, which turns red when it goes above 10%. I was always watching it when translating.

Next, the problems with spreadsheets themselves. Translating a text is usually quite linear, but it’s not necessarily the case here: the authors’ texts, often written with other tools, may appear in an arbitrary order once converted to spreadsheet format. Some dialogues must then be translated out of order, which makes any form of consistency and flow hard to achieve. Another issue: the identifiers of each line (Who is speaking? In what scene?) can lack clarity or contain errors, which means you have to be extra watchful. Thankfully, the developers had given us a beta version of the game to help us evaluate the context of each line, but it is a luxury that most localisers are not given.

Finally, you can’t always translate everything. Although the spreadsheets contain most of the game’s texts, it’s sometimes not the case for words appearing in background pictures. Let’s take an example from Not Tonight 2: there is a cult called “the Creed cult”, which you could translate by “la secte du crédo” (“crédo” is “creed” in French). However, the word “Creed” was present in the level background, and not translatable, so I’ve had to keep it and work around it. My translation then became “la secte Creed”, while its members, the “Creedsmen” in the original, became… “les Creediens”. I like this translation because it has religious overtones — “Creediens” sounds like Chrétien (=Christian) in French — but I might not have used it if I could have translated everything.

There are ways to prepare all the game’s elements for them to be translatable (this process is known as internationalisation, or i18n — i + 18 letters + n — can’t get enough of this). It is not always possible, however, or even desirable, and it can represent an unwelcome cost for a small studio.

Meme de bob l'éponge fan de tableurs
Me after several weeks’ work.

Localisation implies quite a few more constraints: one among these (which I didn’t have to deal with in this case) is translating lines that will be recorded by actors, which entails all sorts of problems that audiovisual translators know well. In the end, although all these parameters sometimes feel like you were given an impossible mission, localisation is a fascinating job, and one I really love. I will have more occasions to write about it, and to dive deeper, because I will work with the Warlocs on several more projects. In any case, if these few words allowed you to have a quick look behind the scenes, be sure to be indulgent next time a localisation seems a bit off: the translator has surely done everything they could!


Lexinomicon - VF - Détail.

Although I have worked in the publishing industry and I know that a book is a product like any other, I still have some reverence for the physical object. The Lexinomicon, a one-page RPG by Grant Howitt and Becky Annison, lets us desacrate said object once and for all.

What’s the goal, you say? To reveal the truths and entities hidden behind the words by doing all sorts of things to a paperback: blacking out some words, cutting out some others, introducing new characters in the margins themselves, burning and other unholy treatments. Translating it was very fun: recreating the layout was tricky (the original having been scissored & glued together), but the main challenge was to render the vaguely ominous tone of the English version.

Disclaimer: I had lots of fun translating this, but I still haven’t brought myself to play it… Maybe you’ll be braver than I have been! You will find my French translation here and the original there.