“Escapism” is a term that gets thrown around a lot when it comes to video games. Unbound by the laws of reality, games allow players to dive into worlds unknown and take up the mantle of heroes of all shapes and sizes. Just within the past year, many of us slayed demons as a Sengoku-era shinobi in Sekiro, sailed across the Mediterranean to unravel an ancient cult in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, lived the life of an outlaw in Red Dead Redemption 2’s Wild West, and so much more. Games have endless stories to tell, and so many worlds to tell them through. But what does it take to make the world of a game feel truly immersive? It’s one thing to invent a culture for your game, but it’s another thing entirely to invent the language to go along with it.
A Tale of Two Languages
Ubisoft’s 2016 Far Cry Primal takes its players back—way back—to the dawn of the Stone Age. While records of the era are scarce, historians believe many modern languages can be traced back to a language formed in this time called Proto-Indo-European, or PIE.
The developers at Ubisoft gathered a team of linguists and asked them to use PIE’s building-blocks in order to create two new languages: Wenja and Izila. These weren’t simple languages thrown together for a few key lines and exclamations, though. They had to be fully-functioning languages in their own right, because Ubisoft intended to push their conlangs to their limits by making the game entirely voiced in Wenja and Izila.
So the linguistic team set to work, creating a lexicon of over 2,400 words for close to 40,000 words of dialogue. They built entire grammar systems for both Wenja and Izila, and even created dialectical differences in the morphology of these closely-related languages. Voice actors were coached in how to form complex sounds and emote through scripts that were wholly foreign to them. A herculean effort, to say the least, and one that definitely pays off. It doesn’t even take an hour of gameplay to forget these languages are only 4 years old, not the 4 millennia they claim to be.
Oh the Places You’ll Go (and the Languages that Get You There)
Be it conlangs made from lost languages of ages past, or the modern ones we use today, language is not only a means of communication, but a method of storytelling in and of itself. Making these stories accessible to people of all walks of life makes those stories all the more impactful. Just think of all the different narratives we open up to players around the globe through good translations and purposeful localizations. Language captures culture, and good localization can make any experience universal. And when you need to take your conlang games global, you can count on Supertext having your back. After all, you could say our drive to promote good game localization across the world is almost… primal.
Video via Youtube