Friday Slide: Watch Your Speelling, Developers

There are two kinds of people on the Internet: Those who take an almost frightening pride in their spelling and grammar (going as far as to call themselves “Grammar Nazis”), and those who simply can’t be arsed to put I before E. Camp Perfect Spelling wages its crusade every day, but Team Give Not a Crap wouldn’t peel itself away from its text messages to take notice of an atomic bomb explosion, let alone angry Internet phantoms.

Given the Internet’s hot and cold standards about spelling and grammar, it surprises me that more iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad games aren’t criticized for sloppy writing. Though I love the fact the App Store is a haven for independent developers, it’s rare that I play an indie game that isn’t peppered with typos, sloppy punctuation, or even problems with its word-wrap.

Dominion HD App Store screenshot

Obviously, an independent studio is going to be more concerned about producing a playable product than a readable one. But a quick check for errors by someone in the know (not me, I suck at grammar) lends a game an all-important coat of polish. And if a game’s onscreen instructions are punctuated so that they read like a monologue rambled off by a five-year-old on a sugar high, well, that reflects poorly on the developer, and it’s bad news for the player.

Indie developers are often on tight deadlines, or are just eager to get their product out into the wild. Spelling and grammar fixes are left for subsequent updates, if they’re addressed at all. To my snooty self, blatant and repetitive text errors can make a game seem amateurish and half-finished, even if it plays well. Truth is, it’s not likely you’ll ever buy a modern game at retail with faulty wordwrap. Even downloadable games on Xbox Live Arcade, WiiWare, PSN and DSiWare at least give the impression of having undergone a once-over before release.

“But Nadia!” cries the crowd, “video game history is steeped in awful translation! Remember ‘All Your Base?’”

When I’m 109 years old and drooling into my kidney mush at Shady Pines Rest Home, I’ll have forgotten my name but never “All Your Base.” But wretchedly translated video games were the product of an industry that once operated almost exclusively out of Japan. “Engrish” was inevitable, and instances of terrible mistranslations faded as the console market matured. Some games in the 16-bit era were even translated and localized masterfully. Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger come to mind, thanks to a controversial translator named Ted Woolsey.

Seed 1- Rise of Darkness trailer screenshot

However, the games industry goes far beyond Japan now; games come from all over the world. And though I can give a bit of leeway to a studio staffed by people who don’t speak English as a first language, befuddling dialogue and grammar seems to really pour from studios based in North America and the UK.

Dearest developers, I have no talent for programming, and even my spelling is spotty at best. But I want to offer this advice, anyway: Hold on to your games for just a moment longer and comb through your dialogue. A polished script will go a long way in helping Apple’s platforms mature as gaming options.