Immersion is a critical component to game design, and many months are spent in making a game as living and organic as possible. One way certain games achieve this is with the task of creating an entirely new language for in game characters to speak, which is referred to as video game language, artificial script, and or artificial dialect. Language is something that can really alienate you when you’re in a unfamiliar place, like if someone threw me into a Russian press conference, or if you took a trip to Bangladesh and somehow got on the wrong plane and ended up in France but everyone spoke German. When you’re listening to the native language of another region, you get this weird mixed feeling that makes you feel like you’re in a brand new world. Today I just want to highlight some video game languages I know about since it’s a topic that many people seem to ignore, even though it can really add a layer of polish that makes a video game come to life.
I’m warning you that this article will be VERY large. Maybe my largest yet.
These are in no order, so feel free to skip around if you wish.
One language that seems to get overlooked a lot is the language of the Dn’i tribe in the Myst series of games. Myst was released back in 1997, so many people don’t know about D’ni simply because of Myst being an oler game, even though it was ported to every console and its mother. As the protagonist, you explore strange, alien settings and solve puzzles to progress through the game, but a good bit of the clues and lore are actually written in D’ni. Named after the mysterious tribe who used it, learning D’ni became essential if you even hoped to make it through some of the infamously complex puzzles later in the game. There are many resources for D’ni, so if you like puzzle games, why not try Myst out? Maybe you’ll pick up on some D’ni along the way.
A fun fact about D’ni: my dad beat this game solo on release, and since he was new to the joys of parenthood, he played it on and off for about 5 months until he beat it. Taking that into the equation, I can safely assume that on top of working, changing diapers, and general dad business, my dad learned D’ni just to beat Myst in his spare time. Given that this is the man who could speak fluent Elvish and Klingon until recently and looking at the unorthodox symbols, I can only assume how difficult it was to learn D’ni accurately with no guides and constant distractions. Props to you, old man.
Yorda’s Tongue (ICO)
ICO (which is actually pronounced EEE-co, by the way) is a tale of a mysterious horned boy named Ico who must solve the puzzles of a strange castle with the help of Princess Yorda. Ico and Yorda, however, don’t speak the same dialect. While having no official name, which leads to people calling it “Yorda’s Language” or “Yorda Talk“, Yorda speaks a runic language that Ico has no clue how to decipher, so they must communicate through the game using basic verbalization and gestures. While being a very basic code to decipher, as it’s essentially just hieroglyphics, fans had no basis of any kind to start assembling a Rosetta Stone of sorts.
Luckily, 1UP.com sent a few people to ask Fumito Ueda, the game’s director, about the language. According to the article, the game was planned to have subtitles in subsequent playthroughs, but due to a rushed schedule, they were unable to implement them in time, which left fans to fend for themselves when it came to narrative dialogue. Knowing that he left his fans hanging, he provided the the full alphabet and fans could finally crack the language, which surprised everyone with its mix of both simplicity and complexity.
While the mystery is long gone by now, Yorda’s Tongue will be remembered as another layer of mystery on the enigmatic puzzle game that captured our hearts almost a decade ago.
Standard Galactic Alphabet (Commander Keen)
The Commander Keen games, while being from a series I never experienced, is something that many people grew up with. Being exposed to the game at a young age, I can understand their fascination with the Standard Galactic Alphabet, or SGA, when they first lay eyes on it. As stated on Omniglot.com:
It was created by Tom Hall, who originally just wanted to make the writing on signs in the games look futuristic or alien. Then he realized that he could create a whole alternative alphabet and add cryptic messages throughout the games.
Tom Hall worked to make a memorable language, and he certainly succeeded. I know a few people that still know the SGA by memory, and these people are well into their 30’s by now, which proves that the SGA was a very memorable language taht some people couldn’t forget. The SGA was even recently utilized by Minecraft creator Notch in Minecraft’s enchanting system. Now there’s a nice tidbit of trivia for you, eh?
Daedric Alphabet/Dragon’s Language (Elder Scrolls)
The Elder Scrolls series is widely regarded as one of the best RPG series of all time, and with good reasons; having tons of lore packed into each game, the Elder Scrolls utilizing artificial scripts shouldn’t surprise you. The two most common scripts found in the Elder Scrolls series are the Daedric Alphabet and the new Dragon Language.
The Daedric (DEE-drik) language is found all over the Elder Scrolls universe. Having an association with the art of magicka and the ancient Daedra, Daedric is used in-game with combination of the Dunmer people’s native language. Found on many well-known in game books, such as The Bible of the Deep Ones, The Tome of Unlife, and the Mysterium Xarxes, the Daedric script is full of sharp, edged symbols that reflect the chaotic nature of the inhabitants of Oblivion.
Dragon language debuted in the latest addition to the series, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Also called Dragon Tongue, Draconian, and Dovah (which is the name I prefer), this language only saw a rebirth due to the recurrence of dragons in the Elder Scrolls universe. Having been extinct for ages, the return of dragons has sent Skyrim into pandemonium, with draconian ruins being epicenters of various events. The Dragon’s language can be seen scratched into walls, and their script can be spotted sprawled across the walls of various cave systems.
A common misconception is that there is a spoken version of Daedric, which is actually false according to the Elder Scrolls Wiki. Daedric is simply a substitution cipher, with each symbol corresponding to a certain character in the English language. Only Dragon’s language can be spoken, since in game dragons speak to the player in this tongue. If you’re curious, try some tutorials and get to learning some Dovah.
Britannia/Runic and Gargish (Ultima)
The Ultima series is well known for their utilization of several scripts made just for the series. One set of script called runic, or in some cases Brittanian Runes, are used in game for signs and such. Over time, however, Britannian runes were utilized for more diverse purposes. While the people of Britannia, the setting of the Ultima series, speak clear English, the use of Britannian runes were used for more traditional purposes.
Another script made for Ultima is Gargish, or the language of the gargoyles. While being the primary form of communication for the Gargoyle race, it’s also utilized by other races for spellcasting. What sets Gargish apart from Britannian runes is that while the runes were merely a script, Gargish was a fleshed out language meant for day to day use for Gargoyles. While some details on actualy translation are a bit foggy, it certainly seems possible. As stated on Omniglot.com:
There’s a small amount of resources on Gargish since it’s an older artificial script, but there IS one page that goes into a bit of detail about the actual phonetics of Gargish, so maybe with a bit of refinement, learning Gargish could be achievable?
Hylian (The Legend of Zelda)
While having numerous inconsistencies across the games, Hylian is a substitution cipher that was only recently cracked. From the beginning of The Legend of Zelda, the mysterious Hylian language had perplexed thousands of players for years with its intricate and elegant symbols. While there are many rules and processes you have to follow to properly translate things, you can find them all on the Legend of Zelda wiki and translation project on deviantart. For the more vocal language enthusiats, you’ll be sad to learn that there is no proper method of learning the language. Maybe you could scrounge something up from Wind Waker or something? Time for some innovation! Make that tutorial!
Simlish (The Sims)
In some cases, game devs actually hire linguists to construct dialect from the ground up. EA’s The Sims franchise is widely known for its virtual life simulation gameplay, but what most people don’t know is that the random, jumbled words Sims speak was the product of a team of skilled linguistics. The series director, Will Wright, stated that in order to avoid expensive translation fees and hiring additional voice actors, he hired linguists to create an entirely new language that was later dubbed “Simlish.” Often mocked for being random nonsense, Simlish is actually a defined language, and there are many resources available to those who are curious or devoted enough to learn it.
Al Bhed (Final Fantasy X)
Probably one of the more well-known video game languages, Al Bhed (AL-bed)debuted in Square Enix’s Final Fantasy X. While the script is very complex and ornate, it’s not seen much in game or utilized in any significant way, save for decorating a few Al Bhed structures. The main draw about Al Bhed is that, while being a simple substitution cipher like other languages listed here, it’s actually used with high levels of fluency by in game characters.
Many people have tried to learn Al Bhed for themselves using available resources because they’re a big fan of this game, and many people don’t sound half bad at it. If the voice actors can do it, why not normal people, right?
Al Bhed lyh pa tyihdehk yd vencd, pid yvdan y frema, oui zicd sekrd kad icat du ed!
While it might not be a very popular subject, video game languages/artificial script can add a bit of magic to a game that can really get you invested in the game world. Video game linguistics has always been an branching hobby of mine, and I’ve many attempts to learn a few of them myself, to different results. It might sound stupid, but people do stupider thing in their time, right?
Maybe video game languages is something that’s caught your interest? If you enjoyed this glance at video game languages, why not spread it around so others can join the fun? If you do decide to look into one of these , tell me about your progress sometime! I put a lot of time into researching each script, so if you enjoyed it, tell me!