Design Unique Terasology constructed language ("conlang") script

Discussion in 'Suggestions' started by Cervator, Sep 25, 2016.

  1. Cervator

    Cervator Project Lead and Community Wizard Staff Member

    TL;DR: We're going to have our own unique font/script! Please check this site or maybe specifically the few used in popular fiction then comment here on a few scripts you like (for Terasology), a few you dislike, and why.

    Goes closely with the identity thread but is also a thing on its own, thus separate thread. Forgive me below on getting some of the terms wrong for sure, still learning the finer details of font vs script vs alphabet vs ...

    I went and invested a bit of my personal funds in a crowdfunding campaign about doing a documentary of constructed languages (conlangs) both because the topic is cool as well as with the expectation it could help out Terasology. Both to get us an actual script/font (the stated reward) and to reach out to a new community (conlang fans). In addition to the campaign I signed up as a member of the Language Creation Society, again with the thought of connecting our project to that community (we can set up a sub domain on their site to help present our project)

    I'm in touch with Britton Watkins who is doing the script/font reward. As part of putting that together he has asked me/us some questions:

    Some topics and my thoughts follow:

    Character set

    Should we aim to pair the new font with the standard a-z + 0-9 ? Include capital letter variants? Throw in a few extra letters or too much hassle? Any multi-letter flair like connecting things or also too much hassle?

    I suspect for simplicity probably just go with one conlang character == one character in the English alphabet. Although we could add in a few "dead" characters (a few of the language-specific extras like ç that we wouldn't necessarily ever use as a letter as it wouldn't exist in our basic English set - but we could use it as a symbol meaning something specific)

    Most character sets / scripts / languages remain simple left-to-right then top-to-bottom individual letters forming words. There are some very neat variants to that, especially when the letters start interlocking like crazy, but that's probably way too problematic to consider using.

    Dual purpose

    In addition to serving as characters we could have the symbols also stand in for a word or concept in any particular system. Imagine runes that can be used either as letters or "this particular letter also means fire" or even particular plants in a specific world. Or drawing a particular symbol in the air could be a spellcasting system so drawing fire + water causes steam.

    In addition to elements we could include some shapes/concepts so you could have fire + ball + momentum == fireball moving in a direction (fire + ball alone might just cause an explosion in-place, such as an improvised landmine. Naruto / some animes seems to do that a lot). In this case we'd want to consider how many concepts we could fit into an alphabet of the target size, although we could "cheat" by involving position (elemental position takes one meaning per symbol, then the shape position takes a different meaning per or for most symbols).

    Alternatively non-elements could be indicated by adding an accent or maybe a digraph or something? So turn the letter/rune for "Fire" into an enhanced version with an accent or so. Maybe a bit like how kanji or some other Asian scripts where there are symbol variants with a different but related meaning (like turning "tree" into "forest"). Probably that could again over-complicate things.

    If going for something like the Ancients alphabet you could even squish the letters together to get bigger inscriptions that as a whole could perhaps serve as something extra, like a big QC code. Probably too much hassle.


    We start with one basic script/font. Any gameplay setting/era could make customizations somehow if desired/worthwhile.
    • Sub-languages: let the script represent several languages rather than a straight letter-to-letter conversion from English. Usually a lot of work and not likely to happen any time soon, but maybe if we attract an actual conlang expert at some point curious to invent an outright language. So the base / main language in the era/world might convert directly to English while a custom racial language would first convert to English characters then be translated from its unique language to English.
      • Option to cheat: You could use encoding to create languages, like with a simple +character position swap (every letter converts x positions to the right). Could make for simple puzzles.
      • Exactly how to handle this in-game and for translations might need some more thought. A true conlang could simply be another (custom) entry on Weblate.
      • Example could be: Russian (using Cyrillic) in Weblate -> English (using ISO basic Latin alphabet) -> Gooey-Elvish (using TeraScript X)
    • Variant scripts: let the symbols change occasionally over time. One setting mostly underground in stone caverns might have very sharp lines for easier carving (like Cirth) while another mostly using softer materials or painting/drawing could have more curvy versions.
    • New / removed characters: in particular in eras/worlds with different elements it may make sense to remove or add characters only used to represent those elements (although probably more add than remove - you tend to need most the letters to write anything big in a language)
    World (instance) specific

    This would go beyond customizing for a single gameplay setting, instead customizing per instance of said setting. This is something I've considered as part of a discovery system that would get around "spoilers" like looking up recipes online. Think like the dynamic flowers that @glasz worked on - they would first generate a palette unique to the world just created, then use said palette to make a set of actual plants themed for that world, unique for every playthrough.

    You could do the same for language concepts like which symbol means "fire" and have the player (re)discover what means what every world, rather than be able to simply look up what symbol goes with what element on a spoiler site. Actual recipes could be the same, like fire + water == steam, they would just translate to different symbols.

    If you really wanted to go nuts you could let the symbols mean different things for every player so you'd have to go through some learning/skilling process before your character could cast certain spells. Although that might just be painful.

    My answers

    Going back to Britton's questions I would cover them like so:
    1. New script would do a letter by letter mapping to English letters, with an option to later on go nuts making additional in-game languages that would use the same script. But we can't guarantee that'll ever happen so we should focus on solid fundamentals.
    2. Definitely want players to be able to learn (and maybe puzzle through) the language/script. At the same time use the symbols in a secondary way where a single one means something (like an element per symbol) and you could use a single one decoratively in a suggestive fashion. See below for example
    3. In-game advantages - maybe, depending on game setting. This would be up to content authors. I would like to see a "discovery" system like the one I covered above but aimed at the player's character (as a player you may know combining fire and water makes steam, but your character may need to learn which symbols represent those, sort of like training a skill)
    4. How alien - tricky. I envision (see the identity thread), a multi-era setting where the script has become a global standard for "the world that was" before whatever apocalypse lead to the world being a mostly empty slate. So keeping that in mind I expect it would have been fairly minimalistic and distinct/easy to use, so many cultures could use it. Then the world ended and later eras discover the script (or part of it) through ruins and maybe old books or other artifacts. As such I don't think it would be super alien or very abstract. Maybe not very alien, but approaching "medium alien" to make it distinct and unique. If desired some content author could later decree that an actual alien race landed, bringing with them a very alien and totally different script.
      • Extra: If we go for symbol == letter AND element/concept and especially if we allow "shuffling" of the meaning we probably want there to be a pretty solid distinction between individual symbols. Yet with "shuffling" enabled we wouldn't want outright pictographs - you don't want the symbol for "fire" or "tree" to actually look like the thing, then shuffle and suddenly the tree-looking one means fire and vice versa.
    5. Scripts I like / dislike / have comments on:
      • I like Cirth or even Uruk Runes, in part probably from being Scandinavian and being exposed to viking runes for ages, but also because they seem very flexible in use and meaning. Runes are easy to carve into things and can be modified pretty easily. Add a dot here or an extra branch there and viola! Easily distinct new letter/meaning. They're also well known and often connected to lore and magic systems.
      • With that being said I also like some of the more colorful scripts like Futurama's or Hymmnos, as they are quite distinct and fun (although Hymmnos could probably get confusing / very alien).
      • Finally I do also like the artistic flair of Atlantean or even Daedric, but don't think something close to them would work, it would just be nice to have the ability to tweak our script into a "slightly artistic version" maybe when used for in-game poetry or lore in books.
      • As for dislikes: I think Dancing Men is just silly and something like Halo Covenant or Romulan seem too tricky for general usage. Tsolyani and other highly artistic ones easily get too complex, difficult to tweak, and seem like they'd have limited materials to apply them to in-game (calligraphy only).
      • Idea: Maybe we could aim for a sort of Runic Kanji ? Slightly fancier than typical runes, but still fairly easy to write (very square / straight) and very distinct (bonus: "runic kanji" returns only 17-22 hits on Google right now). Maybe there could be a set of capital variants (clearly same symbol, but "enhanced" a bit or more curvy) more meant to go on finer materials / look more artistic, rather than actually be used as capital letters in regular writing? Could perhaps be more like a boldface / italics version.
    Example usage of individual symbols

    Right now Light and Shadow is probably our most fleshed out concept from the artistic side of things, complete with a whole series of slabs / glyphs containing the Light & Shadow creation story. Right now they're ordered by having a roman numeral per glyph, the idea being the player could find all of them then by putting them in order could learn the background creation story. We could replace said roman numerals with our new script for the number (several of the scripts have incremental symbols for numbers that are easy to figure out) + a concept symbol. So the first one could be the symbol for the number 1 followed by the symbol for "creation" (which would also represent a letter, like 'c'). The second one could be number 2 + "faction". Third the number 3 plus "equip". 4 and 5 could be "plant", 7 could be "friction", 8 "conflict", 9 "summoning". And so on. That could be one way to tie into a magic system giving the player a clue to the meaning of each symbol based on the part of the L&S creation story it represents.

    We could probably even do something similar for Metal Renegades - just maybe there the player finds old schematics instead of mysterious glyphs. Again the "first" schematic could show some sort of creation alongside that symbol, showing somehow a "spark" being given to a robot making them more properly alive in that setting. Or something like that.

    Need feedback from others including attempted answers to the 5 questions please! :)
  2. Re: character set - a-z + 0-9 and a few characters to cover language-specific extras sounds good. Non Latin Script Languages Of The World suggests that non-Latin scripts tend to contain either 20-40 characters or >100 glyphs which would be too impractical to implement, so about 10-15 extra characters should do. I also really like the idea of randomly assigning the conlang characters to letters (then placing a randomly generated translator reference somewhere in the world!)

    Re: appropriate scripts - since Terasology's a voxel game, it would be nice to have a script where each letter could be drawn on a 3x3 / 3x4 / 3x5 square. Marain (the 3x3 circle variant) is a nice example, as is Old Hylian. Note that the simpler blocky script could coexist with a fancier (runic) script used in books and on smaller signs - for Old Hylian that would be Modern Hylian. EDIT: I wouldn't go for stylized high-fantasy scripts that won't work well in a more modern era (Daedric / Tengwar) or unconventional scripts that are just plain difficult to decipher (Hymmnos / Tenctonese).
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    Last edited: Oct 1, 2016
  3. chessandgo

    chessandgo Member

    Personally I like the glyphs, as the more square nature seems to fit voxel better. (and some scripts would be very hard to read on small thing).

    Now on the the actual langauge. There should be a custom font, but that won't be a language.

    There should be a simplistic emote like interplayer communication system, thats Asian like (think japanese or chinese character sets).

    For example, "place the block, place it, place your held block, etc" is so common in a voxel game, but so simple to the universe of voxel, it'd make sence that it would be be one character. Perhaps like in TF2 there would be ways to invoke these easily. So instead of typing up "place the block and build a walll", it be something like "[rune for placing block] [rune for creation] [rune for wall/structure]"

    I think the language would be very structured, to ease readability and evoking. (if theres hard rules for what can come after what, hitting your combos to invoke it would be easier, as the amount of characters decreases depending on the rune before it). The language will probably be very utilitarian, so it might lack some concepts.

    This would extend to whatever, and perhaps have more verbose extensions.

    I could also see the written script being different. (if its worthy of being written i'd suppose the culture valued it enough to make it very specific/detailed).

    For an unknown/mysterius script, its either forever unreadable, or readable but generated like you said.

    As far as alien or not, i'd like it to feel derived out of the world. Think minecraft, starting it theres an odd air of timeless-ness and post-something. The script can feel post-something (post civilization, post you being 'born into the world', etc) , but it should feel timeless-ness in fact that it fits snuggly in the world. Even if feels like it some how was there from before (like pistons in minecraft, you "create/invent" pistons, but the texturing and creation of a piston makes it feel like a rediscovery of some lost civilization (perhaps yourself in a past life). But even if you hadn't discovered it, you would have created the piston in that same way because its derived of the world)
  4. Skaldarnar

    Skaldarnar Badges badges badges badges mushroom mushroom! Staff Member

    Thinking about it I can imagine two scenarios: (1) a readable (non-alien) script/font that can be understood by players, and (2) a mysterious ancient language of glyphs and symbols.

    To (1): a readable script, probably a 1-1 mapping (with some extras) to English, is one viable option. The mentioned runic scripts (Cirth, Uruk) could work well. I guess they fit into the voxel/pixel style, fit onto square blocks, are visually distinctive and can easily be tweaked. As magic symbols they would fit into many scenarios, and I can also envision them in different scenarios, e.g., medieval, sci-fi, etc.
    However, I don't think mixing the runes with plain English would work well. Furthermore, I don't know whether it would be too much if the glyphs would have both, an associated meaning (fire) and an associated character ('f').

    To (2): a mysterious and completely alien script (like Matoran) might not interfere with other scripts so easy. We could use a (world-instance specific) assignment of glyphs to meanings, so that players could somehow understand (parts of) it. On the other hand, this approach would not work so well for forming complete works, i.e., I would refrain from matching these glyphs to English characters.

    Overall, I'm fine with a simplistic runic approach for the start. If we go for alien glyphs, we should have another look at the old Firmament & Reflux Magic System thread.
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