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Author Topic: GTD: The Language Problem  (Read 4553 times)

The Ivy

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GTD: The Language Problem
« on: 24 Oct 2006, 01:02 »
I've been toying with the idea of having a few different civilizations in my next game that the player character could interact with. I'd like the player to be able to easily trade, share information, and form political ties, but that would require some kind of common
communication.

It would be more "realistic" to have each civilization speak their own language, with the player learning a bit as they go, but that would time-consuming and probably unexciting.

So, in the interests of balancing realism and good gameplay, here are the options I've come up with for this "language problem."

1) Have everyone speak English and don't even address the issue. I'm sure it's been done, but I feel like I can be more creative than that. :)

2) Have the character use a simplified kind of "pidgin" language that could be universal for trading. For example, simple phrases for "Would you like to trade?" "That's too expensive/not enough" "Do you sell food?" could be an interesting touch.  However, for more complex conversations, it wouldn't really be enough.

3) Suggest there's something about the player character that makes him very good with languages. That doesn't fit strictly within the plot, although it would add a bit of intrigue to the character.

4) Use some kind of "magic" to translate everything the player hears. I'm not really a fan of magic for magic's sake, so I'll say that's out.

5) Have another character act as a translator for various interactions. An interesting idea, but again wouldn't fit strictly within the plot of the game (i.e. the player character is an outsider wherever he goes).

That's all I've come up with for now. To be honest I don't play a lot of video games, so I don't really know how the language problem has been handled in the past. On a hunch, though, I figured the AGS community might have played its share of civilization and trade games. ;)

Any suggestions?

Re: GTD: The Language Problem
« Reply #1 on: 24 Oct 2006, 01:13 »
If the game takes place in a fantasy setting, I don't think the language indifference would be any problem; everyone may talk a common language like Basic.

As I have understood, the civilizations in the game had never encountered before; so there weren't any connection among them before the game's time. Maybe you can use a images-in-balloons system like in Buna Wants Beer? ( http://www.adventuregamestudio.co.uk/games.php?action=detail&id=608
1, 2 4 sounds good to me, though.

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Re: GTD: The Language Problem
« Reply #2 on: 24 Oct 2006, 01:41 »
A couple of games you might want to look at:

Captain Blood:
http://www.mobygames.com/game/atari-st/captain-blood
It used a "trading language":
http://argnet.fatal-design.com/bluddian.htm

Ultima Underworld:
http://www.mobygames.com/game/dos/ultima-underworld-the-stygian-abyss
Communicating with the Lizardmen required learning the language:
http://www.sircabirus.com/uw1walk/pages/level3.html
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Re: GTD: The Language Problem
« Reply #3 on: 24 Oct 2006, 02:07 »
If these civilizations commonly interact with each other, I'd think either the merchants or the player would know enough of the other culture's language to conduct basic business transactions. I'd think it would be something similar to Europe where (correct me if I'm wrong) it seems like it's common for people to speak 2 or 3 languages, or as Gord10 mentioned, there's a common "business" language (historically I think this would be French, nowadays probably English).

In this case, you could probably do something fairly transparent with respect to game play. Something like you can pick what language you're talking in, and while this wouldn't change the actual game output (everything would still be English), in the game world people that don't speak that particular language won't understand you. I'm sure you could even have a little fun with this - have the player purposely speak (or hear) bad english or say the wrong words because he's not actually saying what he thinks he's saying.

Now, if learning a new language is part of the challenge - maybe it's a culture you haven't bumped into before - than the player should have to learn the language. In this case you'll probably want to look at SteveMcCrea's suggestions to see how other games did this without turning into a language course.

Re: GTD: The Language Problem
« Reply #4 on: 24 Oct 2006, 08:45 »
One way would be sign language, but that might be hard to implement?

For example trading would go like this:
person1: points leather jacket in his/hers hands and shows four by fingers
person2: shakes his/her head disappointed and shows two fingers
person1: shows three fingers
person2: nods and smiles and leather jacket changes owner

Lost of animating in this option. :)

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Re: GTD: The Language Problem
« Reply #5 on: 24 Oct 2006, 09:47 »
Play an IF game called...

...called...

...ah damn. I think it was "Building", or "Tower". In it you played a chimp that entered a strange tower, and in that tower were three diferent levels of man's (pre-)history. In one of them you REALLY had to learn a stranger's language (syntax and all) to save your son's life. You did it by pointing, by showing, the whole thing. It was amazing. Wish I could remember the game's name. Maybe it was "Edifice".
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Re: GTD: The Language Problem
« Reply #6 on: 24 Oct 2006, 12:47 »
Ivy, nice ideas - it would definitely be an interesting aspect to the game. I like the sound of some of them, I think having a translator would be great so long as it worked with the theme of the game. I'm trying to think of situations where you wouldn't have a translator. Like, perhaps pirate times. Or back at the birth of Christ. But certain situations would certainly herald an interesting design for this as a puzzle. Aliens worlds would be a reasonable fitting location/scenario for a translator to me.

Magic could be fun, especially if it's a fantasy game. I thought your second idea was probably the easiest to design, because you could just add a few words or letters here and there and create a whole new, simple language. More complicated words have more complicated syllables or letters and so forth, but the player will still grasp an understanding of the more basic elements. I think if you played around with it, you could design a simple language.  Having the player character know the languages would be a backward puzzle but it's a great idea! Would you have to dumb down the player character to find out what he/she's talking about? :P Maybe he could repeat in English some important parts of the dialogue - or, the game could be narrated... Anyway, it's an interesting idea! Let us know how your language problem shapes up!

Re: GTD: The Language Problem
« Reply #7 on: 24 Oct 2006, 14:33 »
I think I'm very much in favour of a system that forces the player (and not just the player character) to "learn" the language. Basically, it could be like a big puzzle, similar to the insult sword-fighting of Monkey Island 1. I imagine it somewhat like this: You'd start out with a very basic vocabulary (hello, bye, yes, no, buy, sell, me, you, friend, foe,...) that you probably learned from a trader or a stone slate or a dead traveller's diary and would be able to extend you vocabulary through talking with the natives, adding every word and phrase you hear to the list of words you can say, but not necessarily knowing what they mean immediately. You'd have to make educated guesses from the context in which it was said to you and also how people react when you say it to them. Preferably, there might even be a system that'd allow the player to write comments with their probable meanings next to the lines they already learned so they wouldn't have to rely solely on their memory or pen & paper. Of course, I have no idea, if and how well it would actually work in an actual game or how much of a pain it would be to implement. Also, it probably depends on how complicated concepts you want the player to be able to communicate. Asking for directions or simple trading might very well be possible, fine nuances of diplomacy might not.

1) Have everyone speak English and don't even address the issue. I'm sure it's been done, but I feel like I can be more creative than that.

If you decide to do that, you might want to give every civilization a distinct dialect (from Victorian English to Texan English) or maybe a different font for speech.

2) Have the character use a simplified kind of "pidgin" language that could be universal for trading. For example, simple phrases for "Would you like to trade?" "That's too expensive/not enough" "Do you sell food?" could be an interesting touch.  However, for more complex conversations, it wouldn't really be enough.

I like that one. See above.

3) Suggest there's something about the player character that makes him very good with languages. That doesn't fit strictly within the plot, although it would add a bit of intrigue to the character.

4) Use some kind of "magic" to translate everything the player hears. I'm not really a fan of magic for magic's sake, so I'll say that's out.

Those two sound a bit like deus ex machina to me. If the language barrier doesn't exist for the player character, why have it at all, unless, of course, that were the main plot, with the player character being the only one who is able to negoiate, because he belongs to both cultures (and to neither in a way) or something like that.

5) Have another character act as a translator for various interactions. An interesting idea, but again wouldn't fit strictly within the plot of the game (i.e. the player character is an outsider wherever he goes).

That one also sounds good. It might even be combined with 2) as an alternative way, possibly a completely optional side-quests, to communicate with the natives. Either you you learn the language yourself or you help to free the nomad from prison who can then translate for you (and would probably be as much of an outsider as you are).

Oh, and you might also want to have a look at http://americangirlscouts.org/bbc.com/yabb/index.php?topic=26088.msg329446 which also was about different languages and language barriers in adventure games, but in a different context.
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Re: GTD: The Language Problem
« Reply #8 on: 24 Oct 2006, 14:44 »
Try a puzzle with this solution:

Take off your dressing gown, and hang it up on the hook.  Then, get the towel and put it over the drain.  Wait until Ford is asleep, then nick his satchel and put it in front of the panel.  Put the junk mail on the satchel, then press the dispenser button. A babel fish will land in your ear, and you will be able to understand all
languages.

TerranRich

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Re: GTD: The Language Problem
« Reply #9 on: 24 Oct 2006, 15:41 »
In a certain part of By the Sword, the main character needed to get into an alien town, and get through its gates, and past the guard. The guard spoke the native language of Castor III, Castorian, and the player had to basically program a universal translator with bits and pieces of speech. You would speak to random people, just making them talk, and holding the translator up to where it could record, then it would tell you "Programming completion: 14%", "...27%" and so on until you finally had enough of the language recorded for the translator to translate everything from that point on. While talking to the guard at the gate, you would hear his speech in Castorian, then the translation from the device in English.

After you enter the town, the game would just have all Castorians speak English instead of the annoying double-talk everytime.

I never really considered having the player have to learn Castorian. Maybe I should do that instead. I could have the game come with a guide called "Conversational Castorian" with a few basic phrases (yes, no, please, thank you, etc.) and then the rest of the file conveniently saying "REST OF FILE CORRUPTED" so that that's all the player starts off with.

Basically, you could have basic sentences spoken and the player would learn from there. Something like "Would you like a hamburger?" from a hamburger vendor, and "Would you like a pickle?" from...uh, a pickle vendor. Then, the player would figure out which part of the sentences meant "Would you like...". The player would then also figure out what hamburger was, and what a pickle was, in that language. Then, the player would eavesdrop on a person telling another, " I like hamburgers!" You would figure out how to make an object plural. Then, the other person would say "I DON'T like hamburgers!" The player would then figure out how to negate something.

And so on. I think this is a brilliant idea. This could go on and on until the player has what he needs to understand the guard. Basically, the guard would ask you a "secret" question, something the player had heard many times before in the game, and instead of an automatic response, I suppose the player could have to type in the answer and as long as it's close, he proceeds.

I'm really liking this idea. Gets the creative juices flowing!
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Re: GTD: The Language Problem
« Reply #10 on: 24 Oct 2006, 15:41 »
Maybe it was "Edifice".
Yup, that was it. Edifice.
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Re: GTD: The Language Problem
« Reply #11 on: 24 Oct 2006, 19:00 »
I'd go with something like Captain Blood. I thought the icon-driven language system worked really well.

Didn't Final Fantasy X have a language that the player had to learn, by finding volumes of a dictionary dotted around the game world, which was slowly revealed within each dialog? :-\
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Re: GTD: The Language Problem
« Reply #12 on: 24 Oct 2006, 19:11 »
If I may, I think the 'common trade language' route is really the way to go. It's the easiest method to allow people of different cultures to communicate without having to design something that would become a very large and percievably superfluous part of gameplay. This is the route that Sierra took for "Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire", as well as the 3rd and 5th games in the series, in which only select few people could speak the same language as you did - mostly traders. Granted as you spent the entire game (I'll keep to 2 in my analogy) in Shapier and Rasier, respectively, the number of people who could speak the hero's language was rather large, but it wouldn't be strange (or perhaps it would be more appropriate, all things considered) to have only a select few speak the character's language. It's my impression of the old QFG games that this was little more than a way to make it so that they didn't have to program in a method of interacting with every single background character they had walking around as 'filler', but it really added an element of realism, when most of the characters just said something in a foreign language and went on with their business.

So people who needed to be able to trade would learn a trade language, much like it works in current society, and those who had no business with outsiders would not. The only drawback of this method, of course, would be that you'd have to work out a pretty decent reason why some characters are able to speak the language when logic would dictate that they shouldn't be able to.

I think that having a rather sturdy language barrier in-game would be an interesting twist in gameplay, honestly. And it keeps things relatively simple as far as 'how to set up interaction with tertiary characters in-game'.
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Re: GTD: The Language Problem
« Reply #13 on: 24 Oct 2006, 20:47 »
Though I love Captain Blood very, very much, I don't see how an icon-system could be done in ags that wouldn't either seem derivative, or underworked. I suggest a 'common trade language' as well.
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Re: GTD: The Language Problem
« Reply #14 on: 24 Oct 2006, 22:34 »
If you look at Star Wars: Knights of the old republic, for example, the main character speaks all languages. So whilst you hear Jabba speaking a load of gobbledy gook, the subtitles are in english.

The Ivy

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Re: GTD: The Language Problem
« Reply #15 on: 24 Oct 2006, 22:52 »
I'm hearing a lot of support for this trade language idea, which would be a neat way to get the whole trade thing rolling. Maybe at some point I could have a "passage of time" cutscene, after which the main character starts hearing things in broken english (or subtitles; if it's text I guess it really doesn't matter :P). Eventually you could get to the point where you'd be conversing with everyone in their native tongue.

The Final Fantasy X method was good, but I don't think it'll work if I want to give the impression of several different languages.

TerranRich, your idea is interesting, but it has a certain degree of subtlety and concentration that I don't think would work well in a game. It would be very time consuming for both me and the player to deal with an entirely original language. Or several.  :P

Anyway, this idea is still in its fairly early stages, so hopefully with some thought I'll be able to create something that works intuitively. I'll keep you posted. :)

TerranRich

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Re: GTD: The Language Problem
« Reply #16 on: 26 Oct 2006, 16:52 »
The Ivy, you're right in that it would be complex and probably too obtuse to use. However, with some help from the main character's own thoughts ("Hmm, that looks like a hamburger...and that looks like a pickle...I'm guessing 'kara lotura' means 'would you like' or 'do you want'..." etc), it might be feasible. Just a few minor hints to push the player along.
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Re: GTD: The Language Problem
« Reply #17 on: 28 Oct 2006, 16:22 »
A more lighthearted approach would be to use a different font for each languange. They used that technique occasionally in the Asterix comics.

This would mean that the player would understand all the game's 'languages', but wouldn't be able to 'speak' them until they'd listened enough to ask a viking for a "Swørd" rather than a "Sword".

I suppose this could work rather like Anym's suggestion - and it would work better if you could use multiple fonts in a single line of dialogue. I don't know if that's possible at the moment.

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Re: GTD: The Language Problem
« Reply #18 on: 29 Oct 2006, 14:39 »
One thing that might work is something like

Code: [Select]
If (player knows language) {
  DisplaySpeech ("Hello, it is nice to meet you!");
} else {
  DisplaySpeech ("DHjsk, vn anfj vah4jna.");
}

If you do it consistently, a good player can pick up the clues before the character learns the language somehow. That may or may not be a desirable alternative to randomness.