Cunning Linguists: Crafting In-Game Languages

The issue of created languages is hardy new (cf Esperanto), but I've not seen a lengthy discussion of created languages in games — the challenges and pitfalls of designing a working, intuitive, and integrated linguistic system that's really a part of a game is an interesting issue. James Portnow spoke with Richard Garriott, lead designer of Ultima, about the keys to creating an intuitive in-game language that isn't too intrusive. Portnow further muses on the 'language' of games, and how created languages can inform our design of other aspects of the user interface:

Consider any game you've played recently. At least some information was conveyed to you in a symbolic manner. What makes this information intuitive? What makes it counterintuitive? Studying these languages, even to a limited degree, made me more conscious of exactly what the difference is.

What is particularly fascinating is the fact that games have already formulated parts of a learned symbolic language for games. Consider the life bar. A life bar is completely alien and counterintuitive, but we'd all recognise and assimilate one instantly. By agreeing on a symbolic notation for health, game developers have acclimated players to it and taught them to recognise it whenever they encounter it. Developers have expanded their toolbox of symbols and added to what can be instantly expressed!

I'm far from arguing that the common video game conceits should be codified into a common symbolic language, but it's interesting to note that, without trying, we've done exactly that to a limited degree.

It's a quick read, but interesting. I can't say I ever pay much attention to in-game languages, other than when I'm more or less forced to, but that's probably one mark of a good one — something that adds colour and 'authenticity' without being in your face.

In Tongues: Richard Garriott on In-Game Languages [GameCareerGuide]


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