As a young kid, I played Star Fox 64 – or Lylat Wars, as the 1997 3D space shooter game is known in Europe – and never gave much thought to the battle chatter of my wing men. I did not speak English, so I had to read the German translations in the box at the bottom of the screen. In the heat of the battle, I often missed important cues or crashed distracted while reading. (It was my first lesson of never texting while driving, even before the spread of mobile phones.)

Fortunately, the developers scrpited these audio cues to always play at the same point of a level. Soon, I knew what to do, when I heard Peppy shout “Do a barrel roll!” (Which is infamously wrongly named. But I will talk about misnomers in a later post.)

Nearly two decades later, I played Star Fox Assault, which pretty much works in the same way. This time – being fluent in English – I skipped the translations and enjoyed the freedom of focusing on the fight, while listening to the battle chatter. It was in a completely different game, where I missed this feature.

For Dynasty Warriors 8, the game’s publisher Tecmo Koei decided to save money on the audio localisation. Since it only has Japanese voice over, I now had to read the translations again, to understand what my companions wanted me to do. In the midst of battles against hundreds of enemies, this was exhausting.

Unlike Star Fox, which uses calm parts of its linear levels to tell a story, Dynasty Warriors delivers story relevant dialogue in heated situations. Multiple times, I had to withdraw from a fight, just to know what was happening. In a game centered around fighting, this was not fun.

When we create games in languages we speak fluently, we often miss how difficult it can be to follow battle chatter in action packed scenes. This is especially true for young players. It is even critical for deaf players. But it can be critical for anyone, who wants to play in very quiet situations (e.g. at night) or very loud ones (e.g. at E3 booths), and without access to headphones.

If you want to tell your players anything, make sure that they can give it their full attention. This is mostly true in calm, safe situations. If you need to tell them anything during a dangerous situation, keep the battle chatter short.

Good examples for this often come from military shooters, like “Fire in the hole!” (meaning “Take cover!”) , which players automatically exclaim in Counter-Strike, every time they throw a grenade. As a general rule, shorten it to four words or less. If you cannot say it clearly in one second, it is too long. This helps your player to keep focused on the action. As a bonus, it prevents you from creating involuntarily comical situations, in which characters share their backstories at really inappropriate times.

What are your best – or worst – examples for battle chatter? I am looking forward to your shared experiences in the comments below. Over and out!

(Photo by Acool rocket on Unsplash)