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Localization Case Study: Crush Crush

More than 7 million people throughout the world have played Crush Crush on mobile, PC, and Web. It’s a project which combines naughty dialogue, sexy girls, and humor. In conjunction with Sad Panda Studios, Inlingo has prepared a detailed overview of how the project got its style and popularity.

We explain how the dialogue is created for each of the heroines, why humor is the cornerstone of Crush Crush, and how the translators managed to adapt American humor for an Asian audience without losing anything.

Sad Panda Studios and Crush Crush

Founding the studio and developing the game concept

The Crush Crush idle date simulator was the first project for Sad Panda Studios. It was the fruit of the efforts of three developers — writer Cody Vigue, artist Morgan Long, and a mysterious Programmer Panda. The three of them were working on projects for different studios, and spent their free time dreaming up concepts for their own games.

In 2015, the team had the idea of combining the two popular genres that they all knew best — date simulators and incremental games. Cody had experience as the creator of AdVenture Capitalist [a simulator about building a business empire — Ed.], while Morgan knew a lot about anime and manga. Thus the first outlines of the new project — Crush Crush — began to take shape.

For several weeks, we discussed the idea and made sketches on napkins and in notebooks. There were a lot of similar games we could see in both genres, but bringing them together turned out not to be so easy. For three months we thought about what the game could look like and threw ideas around. It took about the same amount of time to develop the visuals and prepare concept art.

The fastest stage was creating a prototype in Unity — we made a working demo in just a single weekend and immediately published it on Kongregate [an online gaming portal for mobile, PC, and console games — Ed.]. That was how, in 2016, Crush Crush first saw the light of day and immediately became a hit — our idea of combining genres was a great success.

— Morgan Long, CEO of Sad Panda Studios

7 million people around the world have played Crush Crush

After the launch, the development process became very flexible. The team was in constant contact with players, fixing bugs and testing out new ideas. Meanwhile, each of the Crush Crush creators continued working for different companies — creating their own project was an enjoyable side project to their main jobs. It was only after two years that the team hired more people and began working on the development of Crush Crush full-time.

Coming up with the plot and game mechanics

In English, the word crush is both a verb meaning to break or overwhelm, and a noun meaning a strong attraction to somebody. It’s no coincidence that the game got its name: the main hero’s story is a humorous take on the idea that whatever relationships he gets into will always end in a breakup. The first girl you crash into on your bicycle, and she’s taken by the paramedics straight to the hospital with multiple fractures. After that, your task is to quell her anger, get on her good side, and even start a romantic relationship with her. Yet more crazy situations happen with the other heroes, who end up “breaking” someone’s perception of reality or “crushing” their self-esteem. Whatever the situation, your task is to try and improve the relationship, even if it seems there’s no way of saving it.

The girl that the player crashes into while riding their bike.

As in other idle games, the foundation of the playing process is earning money to buy items in the game. You develop your character’s skills and hobbies to improve their financial position and characteristics. The more successful you become, the faster and easier it is to improve your relationships with the characters that you meet. Each heroine is special, so you need an individual approach and creativity to win their affection.

At the beginning, only Morgan Long and Cody Vigue were working on the storyline, but the team grew a little over time. Now it comprises 2 writers, who are tasked with thinking up entertaining stories for Crush Crush. For the first few days, the team discusses the basic ideas — the personality and peculiarities of the character — and then the writers create a full script for that particular hero. Normally it consists of around 300 strings, but developing even such a relatively short text can take up to a month.

Everything depends on the hero’s character and style. Some characters are easier than others to invent — when there are already a lot of stereotypes and images associated with them for us to draw inspiration from. In that case, script development can take as little as a week. But sometimes we feel that the story isn’t working — when it’s hard to find the right jokes that make sense at first glance. In that case, we start again — we rewrite everything from the very beginning.

— Morgan Long, CEO of Sad Panda Studios

According to the scriptwriters, the hardest part is developing the dialogue — making the short sentences not only cute or witty, but also complete. Depending on the stage of the relationship, the hero’s remarks are generated randomly. Each of them has to look organic both on its own and in the context of the entire dialogue with the player.

You need to make each piece of dialogue interesting, and also complementary to everything that’s been done before — so the player has the sense of the relationship developing. Furthermore, there often isn’t much space for text, but that can’t be allowed to affect the meaning. The player has to understand every joke, even if all we have is just one little line to tell it in.

Your hero begins the game at the very bottom, with no skills and no income — starting right from scratch. They have to work in a restaurant to earn money and start learning, for example, dancing to upgrade their skills. This all helps to raise their attraction level, buy expensive gifts, and invite even the most unusual heroines on a date. The faster your relationships develop, the more achievements and bonuses you get.

From time to time there are small events for the players, during which they can get rewards like a new appearance, a collection item, or in-game currency.

The stats screen for your character.

We used to do one-time events, during which players could obtain free content — a poster, an outfit for their character, or even a new hero they could develop relationships with. It was unique content that wasn’t repeated anywhere else. After a while, however, we gave up on one-off events — it’s not fair to new players. That’s why we occasionally repeat events, so that everybody has the chance to earn free items.

— Morgan Long, CEO of Sad Panda Studios

In the breaks between missions, you have the chance to chat with a heroine who likes you — exchange messages and even get a couple of collection photos from her. The developers have worked hard to ensure that you have every opportunity to have a good time in Crush Crush.

Unique visual style and creation of characters

The style of the whole game is Morgan’s responsibility. She develops the main brand standards and approves all concept art that the Sad Panda artists produce. Visuals only get in the game on her say, and before that happens the team go through several stages of correction. Every detail is important, ensuring the final version is high-quality and cohesive.

We’re big fans of anime and US cartoons like Avatar, where the characters display a wide range of emotions. That’s why we chose a sort of hybrid of Western and Japanese animation. The anime style is very widespread in the date simulator genre, and it seemed to suit our game too.

— Morgan Long, CEO of Sad Panda Studios

In Crush Crush there are so many heroes with different poses, facial expressions and unique outfits that it really took a long time to create them. Initially, all the characters were drawn by Morgan alone, but the work took her around 11 hours per day. By the first anniversary of Crush Crush’s launch on Steam, players could already meet 20 girls.

It’s always nice for us when players show initiative and suggest new character types for future heroes. Sometimes they have absolutely crazy ideas, some of which developers even make a reality. Our favorite example is the character Bearverly. A real she-bear that you can meet in the game. It was an April Fools joke originally, but she was such a fan favorite that Sad Panda Studios were swamped with requests to make Bearverly a permanent character. Now she’s a member of the main cast, and she’s set a benchmark for craziness and fantasy.

Player feedback and preparation for localization

Soon after Crush Crush was launched on Steam, players started asking if the game would be translated into other languages. The team wanted to get it localized, but the project comprised thousands of lines of dialogue and there simply weren’t the funds for professional translators. Furthermore, the original text had been embedded in the game, which made it difficult to extract for translation.

At the start we didn’t think about localization, which is why the text was awkwardly integrated into the game. We actually had to rewrite the majority of the code and spend months fine tuning a better-structured system that would allow us to extract the lines from a single document.

Once we had the option of uploading the texts, we tried to choose the languages that were most popular among those spoken by our audience. Translations were originally provided by enthusiastic players who localized the game themselves, uploading the results to a crowdsourcing platform and then voting for the best version. To show our gratitude, we put the names of everyone who had contributed to the translations in the credits.

— Programmer Panda, Programmer at Sad Panda Studios

The Sad Panda Studios team is really proud of its relationship with its players. They don’t just write great reviews and support the project, they also help to make it better every day. The players sometimes find stylistic mistakes or typos in the fan translations.

Sad Panda Studios team is still quite small, so they rely on that help and really appreciate it. It’s nice to know that so many people all over the world play Crush Crush and get feedback from them to improve the translations.

One of the goals of Sad Panda Studios is to develop the project and launch it in new markets, so as many players as possible can discover Crush Crush. But the team couldn’t manage to find good translators into Japanese and Chinese, which is why they turned to us at Inlingo.

The majority of our players are from North America and Europe, which is why it was difficult to find volunteers who would take on the translation into Asian languages. The Inlingo team translated thousands of lines of dialogue into Japanese and Chinese in just a few months. We asked for explanations with a few issues, but we translated 99% of the text by playing Crush Crush and studying the CSV files provided for context.

Crush Crush was never played in 9 countries only: Svalbard and Jan Mayen, Liberia, Guinea, Central African Republic, Burundi, Lesotho, Chad, North Korea, South Sudan.

Inlingo Studio: how we translated Crush Crush

The Inlingo team began work on Crush Crush in 2018, when the developers asked us to translate part of the game into Japanese. Almost 60 000 English words were turned into logograms in three months. Players rated the results highly, and the number of Crush Crush fans among Asian players became much larger.

Two years later, the Sad Panda Studios team proposed another job. This time, the aim was to localize the whole game into Chinese and also to make additions to the Japanese version by translating the updates that had been released in the time since our first collaboration. As the project was already familiar, the Inlingo team agreed to help.

We realized straight away that the project was quite complex. It combines play on words, a lot of references, and a specific sense of humor. It was important to put together a team of translators that had an in-depth knowledge of contemporary pop culture, were proficient in the language, and had experience of working on adult games. Crush Crush is an erotic date simulator, so the audience should be genuinely excited by and interested in the heroines.

— Kristina Kulemina, Project Manager at Inlingo

The developers were in constant contact and answered any questions about the plot, ensuring the translators understood every joke and reference. It was important that the Japanese and Chinese translations reflected the humor of the original version as exactly as possible.

The humor really is the hardest thing. A lot of the jokes in Crush Crush are aimed at audiences in North America and Europe, where people understand specific references. In Asia, pop culture is completely different from America, so the translators had to find a new approach. Developers wanted to retain the effect of every joke in Japanese and Chinese: even if the literal meaning of the text was different, the humor had to be there.

Alongside the adult audience, Crush Crush is also played by minors. That was why the developers made the effort to create a censored version of the project that doesn’t contain even a hint of obscenity. This also affected the translation work — the Inlingo team was preparing two versions of the text simultaneously.

Localization examples

Humor, references and the differences between American and Asian pop culture — those were the main problems that had Inlingo’s translators searching long and hard for solutions. But any obstacle can be overcome if you approach a translation with intelligence and a genuine interest. Here we’ll demonstrate that with some specific examples.

1. Shooting the Sheriff

There’s no problem with puns in Japanese, as the language also has plenty of space for them. However, there are difficulties with references to pop culture, which is very different in Japan from America — even online memes are different. Which is why the translators had to find new solutions that would be understandable to an Asian audience.

In one of the episodes of the game, the girl ends up in jail and asks the main hero what she should do. He answers: “Insist you didn’t shoot the deputy.” This is a reference to the popular Bob Marley song with the lyrics: “I shot the sheriff, but I didn’t shoot the deputy.” This reference would not be understood by a Japanese audience.

The Inlingo team took the decision to replace I Shot the Sheriff with a Japanese children’s song about a police dog. In the song, the dog finds a lost kitten that doesn’t know where its home is and answers every question by going: “Meow, Meow, Meow.” That’s why in the Japanese version the heroine starts meowing every time a police officer goes past.

2. Winnie and Poo

Some of the jokes really had the translators scratching their heads as to how to convey their meaning in, for example, Chinese. In one episode, the heroine jokes about the Winnie-the-Pooh: “Why is Winnie called pooh? Poo comes from butts! He is Crap Bear!” — In English, the logic is clear, but there were obvious difficulties for translation.

The problem is that in Chinese culture Winnie-the-Pooh has a completely different name, and trying to tie the joke into it would be impossible. The translator found a different solution, and the phrase came out as follows: 為什麼小熊維尼會發出噗噗的聲音呢?噗噗就像便便的聲音!他是便便熊! (“Why does Winnie the Bear make farting sounds? Because farting is like pooping! He’s Crap Bear!”

Furthermore, the word “crap” in Chinese has the secondary meaning of “plump”, so it was also possible to bring a funny play on words into the translation.

The defining feature of this project was that literally every line of dialogue had a reference or an untranslatable play on words in it. It took hours of looking at websites, rewatching anime, trawling through fan forums, listening to the Ninja Turtles theme and even asking my daughter for My Little Pony advice. The flow of information was so big that it didn’t just expand my worldview, it almost blew it apart.

— Irina Zonova, Chinese language editor for Crush Crush

3. Little kitty

Sometimes the language you’re translating into helps develop a joke all by itself, as was the case with Japanese. In the story, the heroine promises to show the player her kitty. The hero, of course, thinks of pussy. In the end, the girl shows her little cat, but the hero is already hot and bothered, having expected a different turn of events. The heroine, embarrassed, says that she always mixes up those two words.

In Japanese there is also a similar double meaning: the word ニャンニャン (nyan-nyan) came to our rescue, as it almost perfectly fits with the English equivalent: it’s a slang expression meaning “to have sex” and also the sound a cat makes — “to meow.” So that was the word the translators used to prompt the hero’s confusion — in this case, luck was on our side.

4. Which “I”

Japanese has a very rich stock of pronouns. The perception of a character is hugely influenced by which pronoun the author uses. In Crush Crush, we managed to introduce around 10 variants of the pronoun “I”, which helped underline how different the images and characters of the heroines are. Most of the girls use the standard pronoun watashi, but there are some special heroines.

When approaching the translation, the question of each heroine’s style — and therefore pronouns — was on the agenda. It was easiest of all to decide the question for the Japanese girls: their pronouns were dictated by cultural traditions. With other characters, we sometimes had more difficulty. When we were translating dialogue for the vampire Lustat, it took a long time to reach a consensus as to whether she should use the grand archaic pronoun ware or keep the flirtatiousness and playfulness that defines her character. In the end, playfulness scraped over the line — she is called Lustat, after all.

— Alexandra Kisina, Japanese language editor for Crush Crush

5. What’s in a name?

In one episode, the main hero gets a message from the girl Mur, but thinks it’s from another girl called Lake. He asks: “Lake?” and gets the answer, “No, I prefer hot tubs. Don’t change the subject.” — The unusualness of the name Lake means that Mur doesn’t immediately understand the hero’s mistake.

In Japanese, Lake is called Reiku, In order to convey the joke, the translator decided to use the near homophone “Meiku,” meaning make up. Now Mur thinks it’s a typo by the hero, that he’s written “Reiku?” instead of “Meiku?” As a result, the girl’s answer to the hero’s question is: “What? Make up? Yeah, I’m wearing some, but don’t change the subject!”

Crush Crush is a game that’s quite unique in its difficulty with language and has faithful fans who we really don’t want to disappoint. That’s why we took great care with every decision. Communication with the translator often turned into mental ping pong with heated arguments and discussions. That was the case here: we spent ages playing around with the name Reiku, and it wasn’t until a day before we had to submit the project that we came up with the typo version.

— Alexandra Kisina, Japanese language editor for Crush Crush

6. Frankenstein cusswords

In the story, one of the heroines finds herself trapped in a reality that won’t allow swearing. So instead of saying “shit” and “fuck” she has to use euphamisms — Shitzu and Duck. Conveying something similar using Japanese logograms is basically impossible, but the Inlingo team managed to find a solution.

The translators cobbled together “Frankenstein cusswords” — words that start in English and end in Japanese, or the other way around. Like this: しt, ふck (shi-t, fu-ck).

There was one member of Inlingo team who read the whole text and put all the memes, puns and references they could find into one file. The file grew as the work on the project progressed, and that helped us not to miss anything — either in the Japanese or the Chinese versions of the game.


1. We translated the game into Japanese and Chinese

Our translators have turned 180,000 words into hieroglyphs in just 4 months.

2. We kept the humor of the game adapted for Asia

Pop culture in Asia is very different from in America, so the translators had to look for unusual solutions in order to preserve the jokes and fit them into a new context. We managed to do this by selecting a qualified team that was immersed in the project and had a good understanding of the specific features of the Asian audience.

3. We established an autonomous process for localization

The developers did everything they could to ensure the translators had access to any material that could help them in the localization process. As a result, we were fully immersed in the context and able to structure a process that didn’t require constant attention from the client. If we ran into difficulties, we tried to find answers to the questions by ourselves, using the references, the game build, and research on the Fandom Wiki.



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