Languages in Muds
by David Bennett
Many fantasy games center on ethnic diversity and they often fail in
the player to player relation aspect of this. Adding in languages for
ethnic groups can enhance the degree of immersion in a subtle way.
In this article I will look at the advantages and disadvantages of
having languages in your mud and methods of implementation.
Languages help to make foreign lands seem unusual and different.
However, for this sort of immersion to work, they
need to look uniform and portray a consistent feeling to the area.
The player needs to be able to read the
foreign language being spoken or written and think, 'Oh thats Djellian!'.
Languages can be a hindrance in terms
of player relations. If you make it so that all players start with only
their ethnic language, then you need to have some easy way for players
to learn a common language of some kind. Interaction with other players
is one of the major parts of playing a mud and things which get too much
in the way of this are very destructive to the mud atmosphere.
Remember that your mud is not as large as a real society, in terms of
the number of people in it,
so you cannot afford to isolate people too much.
User Friendly is a wonderful comic strip, this image is © 1999 by
Iliad, used with permission.
There are a few ways in which languages can be
implemented; you can do an 'on/off' method or a progressive
method. An 'on/off' method of handling languages is where the player either
of the language or knows none of the language. The progressive method is
where players slowly gain more knowledge of the language, so the
language can be partialy understood.
The 'on/off' method is by far the easiest and fastest way
of implementing a language.
It means that you either transform the entire sentence into something else,
or you do not transform any of the sentence.
The progressive method is problematic in a couple of ways. You need to
decide how people can gain the levels in the language; should they
learn the levels from another player or NPC, by listening to the
language being spoken or a combination? If you are implementing
the languages as
skills, do they fit neatly into your current skill system? Most languages
will probably have a maximum level of understanding and most skill systems
have no cap for skill levels. You also need to decide how to let the
players understand the language; for example
do you make it so they have a chance
to understand each sentence, each word or just each letter?
When you try to learn and understand
real foreign languages (like French or Swedish), people
tend to recognize things
on a word by word basis rather than a letter by letter, or on a sentence
by sentance basis. So it makes sense to make the transformations work
on a word by
word basis and only transform a certain amount of the words, such that the
longer words are the harder to recognise. You could also make
variations, such as having dialects of the same language, which would
require higher levels of skill in the base language to understand. This
could also work for older variations on the language, allowing the language
to change over time.
Since languages are often generated with the aid of a random number
generator, one of the big problems of
transforming languages is making the output consistent and reproducible.
If someone hears a person say something one time and if they hear the
same thing again, then it should sound the same. Part of the
problem here is that muds generally do not have a random number generator
that will generate reproducible sequences of numbers. This is not a problem
for most things on a mud, since you usually want the numbers to be truly random.
To achieve reproducible sequences you may need to write a small random number
Once you have decided how you are going to allow players to learn and
understand the language, you need to decided how you are going to garble
the language. Some sort of method which tends to garble the words to
sounds the same each time would be nice. Some very simple transformations
of text can result in a distinctly different looking word. For example:
if you map the 26 basic letters to 10 letters in a new language system,
with a few special transformations for some two letter sequences, you can end
up with a very foreign-looking language. Even though this transformation
is simple and consistent it provides a quite different looking output and
a language which looks and feels quite different to the casual observer.
A variation on this method is to transform syllables into the new language,
rather than each letter.
Another method of language garbling is to do it on a word by word
basis. To do this you just randomly transform the entire word into
a totally randomly generated word. One method of handling totally randomly
generated words, which still have a structure and a feeling to them, is
to have a table that defines how a word is put together. For instance,
you can create a
simple transformation table where capital letters are transformed into
other sequences of letters, and where lower case letters are not
transformed at all.
This method is used on Discworld to generate random names
for players and creates quite consistent results which sound like they
are from the given language. For example, this is the trnasformation
table for the black language from Tolkein:
W -> BME BQ BMEQ BMQ BE WW SE SEQ
Q -> D DQ
S -> bugd fauth duump durb gimb krimp lata prakh srinkh thrak throqu
B -> bu b b al am azd fa ga g gh gha gl goth gr h kh kr l m mat m n pr r sh sk sn sr t th uf ud ug ul ur uz y z
E -> ub zum onk ai al og goi t ash sh goth mog na
D -> aga at akh hai ishi ob u ug uga uuk ul um uur uurz z bai za gh
M -> ub gu arg urz ur sh uth aza ish or uzg azM az ii
A variation on the word-based idea of language transformation
is to allow for
common mistakes to be translated into the base language in similar ways,
for instance in dwarven:
"safe" <-> "sturdy","stable"
"home" <-> "cave"
"king" <-> "chieftain"
"brittle" <-> "as sandstone"
"iron" <-> "rock blood"
To work neatly this would also require a lot of checks for misspelling
and a large list of substitutions. It would
require quite a bit of processor and memory overhead but it is a neat
method of doing word
transformations when the language is almost, but not quite, known.
There are many different methods of implementing languages in your mud,
both sophisticated and simple. Languages do add a significant amount
to the feeling of your mud, but you should never do it at the expense of
April 1999 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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