[MUD-Dev] In-Game Languages

Andrew Ritchie ritchie at pacific.net.au
Fri May 26 23:13:17 CEST 2000

On Fri, 9 Apr 1999, Hans-Henrik Staerfeldt wrote:

>As many of the posts in this thread have focused on, the representation
>of a foreign language by transformation of the text has many pros and
>cons. Pro is the idea of introducing the language as an in-game setting,
>with the sounds that you choose. A con to this, is that players could
>write translators to automatically translate the text once the algorithm
>is 'hacked'. The intention seem to be that this allows for the player to
>slowly 'learn' the language.

I'm not sure what the policy is on joining discussions late (over a year
old in this case), however this particular topic tickles my fancy.  Hans, I
do not really believe that any player would invest so much time as to
program their own external translator.  Even if they did, you could
(feasibly) alter the scrambling algorithm, yet I do see disadvantages in
this solution.  I personally believe characters within the MUD should be
able to learn foreign languages if they exist, and if players can do this
they will probably invest their time in learning the language online rather
than programming a translator.

Another issue I wish to raise about in-game languages is translation.
Assuming one can slowly 'learn' a foreign language, how have other people
gone about the translation process? For instance, I know that some language
systems implement a "scramble by letter" method, whereby the server
replaces instances of one letter with another.  If the listener has say a
50% skill in the language being spoken, only 50% of the letters would be
scrambled.  However, to me, this system is not very realistic, as people
tend to learn the meaning of words in foreign languages, rather than

Thus, I wish to implement a system whereby scrambling takes place word by
word, not letter by letter.  The longer the word is, the more likely it is
to be scrambled.  Conversely, the shorter the word (presumably more common
and easier to learn, although I realise that this isn't the entire truth),
the more likely the word won't be scrambled. For instance, if Bubba had a
50% skill in Elven, and Buffo said (in perfect Elven):

"Climb to the summit of the glacier, and once there raise your eyebrows."

Bubba may hear:

"Blurh [to the] harken [of the] jucieni, [and once there] areni buun

The []'s are added to ensure that the listener knows the text in between is
translated and not simply scrambled text that randomly becomes an English
word.  As you can see, this looks fairly straight forward.  However, there
are some problems that we need to plug.  For instance, what happens if
Buffo said exactly the same thing again?  Realistically, the same words
would be translated/scrambled, as they are the words Bubba
understands/doesn't know.  This means that there cannot be a random element
to the scrambling process, instead it must be based on certain criteria of
each word (in the simplistic case the length of the word).  However, as
stated before, length of a word doesn't define it's complexity.  I learnt
the Indonesian word for "Mother" before I learnt the word for "Peak".

On Sun, 4 Apr 1999, Matthew D. Fuller wrote:

>Consider how you learn language; generally, you learn more common words
>first.  Ignoring practical constraints on storage, you could keep track
>of how many times a character has 'seen' this word in a language he is
>growing in proficiency in.  On the basis of that, you can determine a
>sort of cutoff point at which he 'understands' that word, and thus can
>translate it.

Matthew raises a realistic and feasible system here! Fantastic! The only
minute problem is that how many times a character has seen every single
word would need to be stored for each player on disk and in memory.
Assuming 400 players hear 500 different words in 5 different languages,
each word of approximately 8 bytes in length, that makes 8MB of data that
needs to be stored in memory/on disk.  Also, this method presumes the only
method of learning a language is by listening - teaching would have to also
affect in some way your knowledge base.

Another question to ask ourselves is what happens if Buffo doesn't speak
perfect Elven, but instead only has say a 75% skill in the language?  In
that case, some of the words he may say probably would be slightly
scrambled (to highlight speech difficulties). If Buffo wanted to say
'Mountain' in Elven, it would probably sound something like "Munton" to
native Elves, rather than something totally incomprehensible (indicating
that Buffo simply made up a word for Mountain). In real life, if you did
not know a word in a foreign language you simply wouldn't use it, whereas
this really can't be controlled in a MUD environment.

Comments and thoughts apprecated.

Andrew Ritchie
ritchie at pacific.net.au

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