Between The Lines #4: Loek van Kooten

For this fourth edition of Between the Lines, we’ll be diving deep into Dutch, Chinese, and Japanese localization, as well as the future of CAT tools with Loek van Kooten.

Hi Loek! Can you please introduce yourself?

The name is Loek (pronounced as “Luke” as in “Luke Skywalker”). Physical age 47 years, mental age more like 17 years, avid gamer, judo black belt, D.Va in Overwatch, proud father of two sons, married to my beautiful Japanese wife, fellow-translator and co-owner of Akebono Translation Service / Loekalization.

How did you start your career in the games industry?

My native language is Dutch, and when I started out, games were still very much for nerds only, who all spoke English. That all changed when mobiles arrived and uncles and aunts also started playing games, be it silly mobile ones. So suddenly games became mainstream and even though the Dutch speak English pretty well, many of them don’t speak it that well… which is where it all began. 

My first game client was an agency in Spain that I dumped a few years later due to their payments coming in slower and slower, until I had to wait more than six months for my money. But by that time, I had found greener pastures already: Electronic Arts had appointed me as their Dutch language lead and I was now directly working with clients like Microsoft and SEGA.

Apex Legends trailer, subtitled in Dutch by Loek

Back to the nerd thing: I never understood the hate and sexism towards women in gaming nowadays: in my days, we were begging for e-girls to play with us! But nobody wanted us as we were considered total losers… Basically, if you had a computer, you’d never get a girlfriend. You were simply out.

Do you have any favorite genre? A particular title that stuck with you?

I started out with the famous Konami games on MSX… Shmups like Salamander and the Nemesis series, but also RPG’s like The Maze of Galious (which would really be considered as a platformer these days). But the MSX died, I moved to PC and I became a sucker for RPGs: Baldur’s Gate and all its spin-offs were of course legendary. From there I went to EverQuest, where I led an international guild with 60 members for about eight years or so, that even had very successful real-life meetings. But alas, the game grew stale and I quit. 

These days I play something I never thought I would like: Overwatch, recommended by my kids. I’m a Plat D.Va/Orisa two-trick pony and can often be found in competitive games with my two sons, Noah and Aska, as well as my future daughter-in-law Emi, who’s from Germany. Actually, Noah and Emi met in-game and have been together for more than three years already. Currently, I have put more than a thousand hours in D.Va alone, and I still suck, else I’d be much higher than plat already (laughs). I’m so obsessed with D.Va, that I even got a D.Va poster autographed by Charlet Chung, D.Va’s voice actress. Noah, who is a lot better than me, is my teacher by the way. He’s Diamond and one day hopes to become a successful esports gamer.

Which title you have worked on are you most proud of, and why?

You know, I could mention a few AAA titles from Electronic Arts… but that would not be truthful. First because most of these games don’t have any in-game Dutch translations: I merely do the marketing material, the promotion, the websites and the trailer subs. Of course, I’m very happy with them being my client and they’re absolutely great people, but as most of it is not in-game, it feels less real. 

So what I’m really proud of are Anno… I believe it was 1701 and Banjo & Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. Unfortunately, the latter was marketed really badly. The game had very little to do with the original franchise and the then-marketing manager stated in an interview the game would cost 20 euros more because of the Dutch translation. Which would be true if they were expecting to sell only 300 units. I believe they used that to cover up some mistakes on their side, but the tone was set, and at least one review site hated the translation with a passion. So unfortunately, this game was never a success. But good it was. SEGA’s Motorsport Manager is another title I’m really proud of.

But I don’t only translate to Dutch. I also do lots of project management for Asian languages. In the evenings my wife and I run a Japanese language school with about 70 students, and I speak and write the language fluently. So yes, Graveyard Keeper, Gremlins Inc., Spire of Sorcery, Beat Cop, which we localized to Asian languages like Japanese, Chinese and Korean, are also titles I’m very proud of.

Can you tell us more about Cattitude?

Hah! Cattitude. Where to start? So I was using this big famous CAT tool, let’s call it Mastercat, when I found out about ModernMT, the only machine translation solution that actually generated useful translations. I asked the developers to write a plug-in so that I could get those translations as a draft in Mastercat. They promised to help me out. Based on that promise I invested thousands of euros in the system that would become my neural network. But the devs suddenly backed out, stating it was too hard to create such a plug-in. We’ll never know why they made that move, but it is what it is. I was mad, but of course, I had no leg to stand on. 

Programming the plug-in myself would be the next logical option, but I was tired of being locked in and I wanted to get full control over the process anyway. Besides, writing a plug-in means that you need to work with the code of others, and as many programmers will tell you: it’s often easier to write your own code than trying to understand what the code of other people means.

So instead, I decided I would write my own CAT tool. I started programming like mad and got the very first basic version running within three days – I still have screenshots of that, and they look absolutely awful. But the proof of concept was there. 

I’m a strong believer in dogfeeding: using your own tools constantly so that you can continuously improve on them, reminiscent of the Japanese concept of kaizen. I don’t believe in monthly or yearly updates. I believe in continuous updates. So many translation tools are so sluggish and user-unfriendly that I sometimes wonder: are these people actually using their own product? 

By now, Cattitude has been dogfed for several years. A few months ago, I realized I needed more help with this, as I’m a very good translator but a terrible programmer. So I went to Osdev, an IT company run by a few very good friends and former judo mates of mine who know a lot about server infrastructure and Linux. They loved the idea. So just a few weeks ago, we switched to an online environment which will enable us to start selling the tool to other users. It’s currently in full production mode for five translators already, and we’re slowly adding more users one by one. The last thing we want is to be taken by surprise and get overwhelmed by support requests. Also, the tool is in constant development: on some days, we have multiple updates that are tested and implemented immediately.

Cattitude is also fully browser-based: no need to run Parallels on your Mac or take your laptop with you. If you want, you can translate on your tablet or your mobile. I don’t recommend it, but it’s possible.

We want to be lean. We want to be mean. We want to become the worst nightmare of all the other CAT tools. Cattitude is incredibly fast, I dare say the fastest tool out there, and it’s incredibly good at finding matches using all kinds of different methods. These are very important points that form the core identity of this tool. That, and its nerdy touch. This is for translators who want to be in full control, not translators who want to be controlled.

Do you have any advice for newcomers who want to establish their translation business?

During my first year as a translator, I made a mere 2500€ – be ready for that. Start while you’re doing another job on the side, and don’t try to depend too long on that first client with horrible rates and payment terms. But the most important tip is this: make sure you never extend more credit than you can miss. Don’t find out the hard way, like I did when a large client of mine, an IT company with 25 people, went bankrupt in 2000 owing me 18,000 guilders (when it comes to purchasing power, that’s about 18,000 euros these days). I never saw back one penny of that, and I can assure you that I didn’t sleep very well that year.

That, and kaizen. Constantly improve yourself. The only way is up. Never be satisfied with the status quo. You can always become better. Aim for 100, but be happy with 80, provided you promise yourself to improve on that.

How can we get in touch with you?

Of course, I’m in the Professional Translators group on Discord! I really like the vibe of that place. Discord is here to stay. I used to be very active on Facebook, but the place is dead these days. I’m also quite active on Twitter @loekalization.

Note: This series was inspired by the Interviews with Localizers series by Jennifer O’Donnell with prior approval.

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