By Adolfo Gómez-Urda and Laura Gutiérrez IGDA Localization SIG Vice-Chairs
That Magic Character Only French Translators Use
Automatic line-wrapping in video games is the source of numerous localization bugs that can only be seen by the Localization QA team. In the normal workflow, translators localize texts but don't have access to the game itself, so they have no visibility over the size of the text box where their translation will be displayed and what it will look like on the screen once integrated into the localized version of the game. If a translation doesn’t fit into one single line within the text box where it's used, it will be automatically split into different lines of text. Automatic line-splitting is an excellent and necessary feature, but it can introduce many localization bugs due to inappropriate line-wrapping or orphaned words.
There is one "magical" character that can help alleviate these issues, but translators are not often aware of its existence. We are of course talking about the non-breaking space (aka no-break space, non-breakable space, hard space, or fixed space), which can be typed by using the ALT+0160 key combination. Although it looks like a regular space when typed, it will behave as a very special space that will allow us to keep two or more different pieces of text together. French translators are the only ones who normally use them, due to a French punctuation rule that states that a space should be left before certain punctuation symbols, such as question marks, interrogation marks, colons, and semi-colons.
Automatic line-wrapping when a regular space is used instead of a non-breaking space
This character is very powerful and, if used properly by the translators, it can reduce dramatically the number of localization bugs found by LQA.
In order for translators to freely use this character, the development team should ensure it is properly supported by the game fonts. Most modern fonts support this character, but some development teams may create their own custom-fonts and omit this character or intentionally reduce the number of characters supported by the game to save memory. As a senior localization project manager, it is my responsibility to always analyze the game fonts to ensure they support all the necessary characters for all the supported languages. This character is always included in my analysis and, if not supported, I flag it as a necessary character for localization as important as any other accented character.
Some examples of the correct usage of the non-breaking space in French.
Asking if the non-breaking space is supported should be one of the first questions translators ask developers as it will avoid lots of hassle and firefighting after LQA is done.
Here are some examples of translations where this space should be used instead of the normal space (of course, only if you are supposed to use a space to follow your language's punctuation rules):
In French, before the question/exclamation marks, colon, and semi-colon:
In German, before the ellipsis character: Warten auf Benachrichtigungen …
Between numeric values and units: 20 km, 30 MB, 100 %
Between a numeric value and the following word: 5 coins
Between the words "press", "hold", "tap", "swipe" and button variables: To continue, please press [START_BUTTON]
English is no different, of course, and it would be great if the development teams started to use this character more often when writing the English texts and dialogues, since this would force the translators to use it and benefit from it more often.