Star Citizen Special Edition: Around the Verse – Alien Languages

Star Citizen Special Edition: Around the Verse – Alien Languages


Closed Captioning provided by Relay.sc Patrice Naiambana (PM): [Speaking Vanduul] Andy Serkis (AS): [Speaking Vanduul] Chris Roberts (CR): Both Andy and Patrice
weren’t speaking English obviously, they were speaking Vanduul which is a made up language,
but a proper language that was created by Britton Watkins who’s a specialist in creating
languages and actually does it for films. PM: [Speaks Vanduul] [Laughs] Conlang apparently
that’s what it’s called. Constructed language. [Speaks Vanduul] AS: Yeah the language is very guttural. It’s kind of [Makes a awkk” Sound], lots
of [Makes a “Hhccc” sound] sounds and you know [Makes a “hkkk], there’s a lot
of that going on. PM: [Speaks Vanduul] AS: Yeah it’s quite rich and it’s very
fun to do. ATV Interview David Haddock (DH): Hello I am Dave Haddock,
Lead Writer over here at Cloud Imperium Games. I’m joined today by Britton Watkins (BW): Britton Watkins, nice
to meet you all. I’m here working on the languages, the non
human languages for the Vanduul and for the Xi’An. DH: What is your sort of history with language? BW: I’ve had about five to six years experience
with Hollywood related Xeno linguistics including right now doing my own documentary on constructive
languages. I’ve created several languages including
the Ocklow language from the Lovecraftian Mythos. My own language from my own Indie Sci-fi film
called Cen. Worked on Star Trek: Into Darkness teaching
Zoey and the Klingons their own Klingon lines so lots of different activities involved with
alien languages and Xenolinguistics. DH: And you’re also involved with Avatar
too right? BW: I do know the Na’vi language from Avatar
and that’s really kind of my gateway into this whole world I guess. [Speaks Na’vi] I can speak Na’vi fluently
and it’s a lot of fun. It’s an interesting global community of
people who like alien languages. DH: What has brought you onto Star Citizen
and do we have you tasked with doing? BW: Well in this big universe and on this
fascinating set of interrelated projects, I’m doing right now two different languages
for the franchise and they are Vanduul and Xi’An, Also known as Xian. DH: We’ll get to that a little bit later. So let’s kick off with the Vanduul, I know
a lot of the backers were excited to hear just some inkling of the language from the
Andy Serkis, Squadron 42 thing. So when you’re approaching a language like
this, specifically with the Vanduul. What was your approach to it? How did you approach tackling that language? BW: Well I looked at… I mean it’s kind of a standard process to
see in the writing what names, personally names, place names, sometimes there’s some
concepts that already exist that are alien that show up in the backstory. So I looked at that for the phenology or the
sounds that would end up in the language and then they have a very interesting ability
to talk verbally and in other ways too and I took that into consideration, and essentially
wanted something that sounded as powerful as they are and also not too related to other
languages of course. I mean it’s what we would call in linguistics
an “Isolate”, it’s not related to anything else we know of yet. DH: Right. BW: So I took all those factors into play
and it’s, you know has a combination of a strength and an elegance to it I hope. DH: And one of these things you’ve mentioned
was the nonverbal aspects of it and that was one of the things that I remember when we
were first talking about it: So there’s the spoken language and then there was the
bioluminescent of them and the application of that bioluminescent in addition to the
language adds another depth of meaning. How do you tackle something like that? BW: Well the bioluminescent is again something
that will play out as the final visuals and the final kind of innate sense of the characters
is developed. I looked at the ability to express things
with Bioluminescent as a way to add an extra layer of tone or mode into the language and
they’re also some gestures, some body gestures, arm, you know hand gestures that fit well
into the fact that it’s also a military culture so there are times when silence is
required, but you still need to give orders so the idea that they have a full verbal grammatical
language is based on sound, but also visually are able to queue each other with body movements
or changes in colour or other control over those elements of their unique physiology. It just made up a tapestry where the different
elements overlap each other in certain cases. DH: Now, with the written language for them,
we just got out of a really exciting meeting where you pitched an approach that you would
take to how their actual script developed. Kind of walk us through that process because
I think the backers would really get a kick out of it. BW: Well the Vanduul have basically have the
equivalent of three fingers or talons- DH: -claws- BW: -claws, yeah that relate or equate to
our fingers and I imagined that when they conquered whoever it was that they were conquering
that they might actually use their talons to tag their prey if you will or their vanquished
victims. DH: Right, right. BW: So in that sense I imagined symbols that
they might each have as a unique identifier and then looked at the evolution of that into
a formal writing system that maybe later in their culture would apply to their language
– so they would take these symbols that were originally for this hero  or this commander
or this whomever it was in their history and re-use those symbols to become eventually
something that is phonetic and useful for representing the written language. Again, evolving over time as any kind of spoken
or written language will., DH: So the individual characters will basically
represent a person that did something that was reflective of that character in a sense. BW: Well, originally yes, you can imagine
a sort of pantheon of heroes, for example, who through old history come down as being
famous and with that also the symbol that got carved into whatever that individual conquered
and those symbols eventually taking on a specific meaning or value and again, any kind of culture
that uses symbols for communication and by symbols, I mean any kind of abstract symbols,
could take those classic images from history and then incorporate them into the way they
document their spoken language or whatever their version of writing the language down- DH: OK. BW: -happens to be. Over time that could evolve into something
that again is normal, logical orthography – a normal writing system. DH: Sure. BW: They are a space faring society so clearly
they need to write language tools to engage in the science that they need to be a spare
faring society – something that could have been something very old and traditional can
evolve into something that’s very contemporary. DH: So you have these heroes that basically
had marked enemies that they killed or cities that they burned and stuff like that – so
how did you come up with that kind of imagery? BW: To go through the process of what I imagine
might happen on the battlefield as somebody’s scratching their tag into something else. I actually came up with three polymer clay
talons or claws and put them on my own fingers and disabled my pinky and thumb and figured
out what actual designs might look like. So it was a process of sticking them on and
getting out some tinfoil and making impressions in the foil and cutting out the shapes and
seeing what they look like in this raw form they might have thousands of Vanduul years
ago and then imagining how that would evolve into a set of unique characters that are visually
distinct from each other and then how that might after a couple thousand of years and
lots of technical innovation be something that might show up on a ship monitor for example. DH: So go from claw mark to ship monitor thought. BW: Yes, I mean, why not? The same thing happened in western society
with chisels in stone and quills on parchment and the tools change over time and the language,
both spoken and written, will evolve to suit where the culture is at the time. I approach it in the same way it might have
happened again with western tools out of the European evolution – even lowercase writing
is an innovation that came about much later than original writing. In Asia, there is a lot of influence of brush
and ink and what happened and how the letterforms started looking. So we started everything from claw one, claw
two and claw number three. DH: Right, right, and yeah, it had this great
calligraphic look in the beginning but as you see it get ported over into computer screens
it gets a little bit more refined and with some new innovations added onto it and stuff
like that – but you could see- pull out the foundational, traditional if you can call
it that- BW: Right. Writing is just a tool that humans or non-humans
invent to make everything go more smoothly with all of the elements of culture that writing
used to be a part of. DH: Right. BW: You might need a special notation for
music for example or you might need a special notation for a specific branch of mathematics
for example and these are all just tools. So we imagined how it might be used as a tool
and might have evolved as tool in Vanduul culture and society. DH: Right, right. I remember you actually put together … when
we were doing the original Vanduul motion capture … you put together a sort of packet
and when we were doing auditions and stuff like that for some of the … for the actor
who was playing the Occuri, there were certain vocal qualities that you were looking for. From your experience is there a human physiology
that lends itself better to being able to pronounce these languages. I mean what were the qualities that you were
looking for with that type of stuff? BW: Well with the actual performers I was
just looking for a broad range of abilities to produce vowels and consonants that not
everyone has in every language. So we have, for example, in Vanduul in the
phrase [speaks vanduul] we have [vanduul sound] is a  very unusual vowel that we don’t
really have in English. DH: Right. BW: And at the end of [vanduul sound], at
the end of that sentence we have a glottal stop which in English we don’t typically
make at the end of words like that very often. So the ability of the actors to listen to
me having recorded what they are supposed to be saying, and then listen to that and
– without too much pain or crying – reproduce it is the kind of quality that I look for
in that side of the talent. A kind of innate linguistic ability. Part of it is mimicry, but part of it is also
just being able to hear a sound and … DH: And reproduce it. BW: … have your brain know to move the parts
of your mouth in order to get that to come out without too much pain and suffering. [Patrice Naimbana speaking Vanduul phrases] BW: And I will say that the people who have
worked so far were extremely talented. DH: Yeah, they’re pretty grand. BW: And the burden on me was almost zero because
they were cast so well. DH: Yeah, they really … and they got really
into it too. You could … we’d also talked about – earlier
– about the non-verbal stuff which is kind of what helps elevates the Vanduul into truly
an alien language because it’s something that’s intrinsic to them. ‘Cause only they have that combination of
stuff. But yeah, when they were developing some of
the hand gestures and … the things on set, it was really … incredible to watch. BW: Yeah the language has these kind of “mood
particles” that come, that tend to come, at the end of phrases or at the end of sentences. And those often accompany movements and instead
of my doing that we thought it would be … you know, as a kind of “this is what you must
do for the gestures” … DH: Right. BW: … we thought it would be better to involve
them and let them come up with the gestures as a function of how they felt about … DH: Right. BW … the emotion of what they were saying. DH: Playing the scene. BW: And then I’ll get to put those in a
“gesture dictionary” and publish them for everybody who cares to learn the gestures. DH. Right, right. So actually just moving on to the Xi’An for
a second. So you’re also sort of developing this one
in tandem with the Vanduul. And we actually shot some of it … you worked
up a very rough sketch of it early on for some performance capture shoot that we were
doing. It’s interesting because it was always the
thing in the community –  which you alluded to earlier – of “how do I pronounce it?” Is it Xi’An or Xi’An? I think you finally have given us a solid
answer. BW: Well it was interesting to me when I joined
the project to hear, in the same meeting, clearly different people referring to the
same people … DH: Yeah, probably in the same sentence too! BW: … same culture in … using different
labels. But I only ever saw it spelled one way so
I imagined “Okay, what kind of parallels do we have to this in English or in other
languages?” And frequently there are registers or dialects
that are not always reflected in spellings. So there’s one standard spelling that’s
usually more proper and formal and would be used in books or paper letters or what not. And then there’s the way people really talk. DH: Right. BW: And in the Xi’An society, or the Xi’An
society, they do about 30 years of compulsive military service. So it seemed to me that there could easily
be a dialect, there could be this register of language that was used primarily in the
military but if everybody’s doing military service then they would all have this shared,
second … DH: Sure. BW: … dialect. DH: Right, right. BW: In their society now we are going to be
sharing the fact that there is this kind of formal polite language of government and art
and education. And then there’s the language that everybody
spoke for 30 years in the military. And depending on what you are doing you might
switch register. You might use the different dialects. So if you’re out with your buddies getting
intoxicated you’re more likely to be referring to yourself as Xi’An. And if you are in front of a delegation from
another planet then you are more likely to be the Xi’An. DH: Right. BW: So we’ve come up with an interesting
way to differentiate that … DH: Right. BW: … in the pronunciation and some of the
slang and other things. So it should be a lot of fun. DH: Historically we’ve presented them with
this very austere, very stoic – it’s considered immature to show emotion,  all that type
of stuff – and I think it’s easy for people to forget that they are … there’s more
to them than that. Like there is this side of them – and this
helps bring that out – that there’s this side to them that … there’s another layer
that you can get to if you … if you are familiar with them enough. Like if you are good enough friends with the
Xi’An they might feel … okay talking in this more military slang with you. Which is a lot of fun. BW: Yeah, if they’re meeting you for the
first time and the language that is being spoken is Xi’An then they’re more likely
to refer to you as ‘lae’ but if you’re getting intoxicated or you’ve known somebody
for several years and you’re hanging out with them then they might do you the honour
of casually calling you ‘I’ instead of ‘lae’ so that kinda… you would know
you’re kinda an insider… DH: Right, right. BW: If you get referred to as ‘I’ instead
of ‘lae’ by a Xi’An.    DH: That’s awesome, we have these two dialects
basically.. are they technically dialects?    BW: You could refer to them as dialects or
a register, the more linguistic term is one is in a higher register and one is in a lower
register… DH: Ok. BW: But let’s call them dialects, we have
the standard dialect and we have the military dialect. DH: Could you give sorta an example of what…
how they would sound? Cause you said written wise they’re the
same. BW: Yeah, so if we think about the funny sentence,
Thlon sucks at making jokes, Thlon being a character name with ‘Thl’… T, H, L being kinda a unique sound that they
have in the Xi’An language. If we said that in the standard dialect, we’d
get ‘Olay ha twa Thlon weth owa’ however in the military dialect, we’d get ‘Olay
had dwad dron vedo vava’. So, it’s different, I mean it’s… the
vowels are pretty much the same but a lot of the other sounds change in the two dialects. So you wouldn’t necessarily recognize the
word ‘wawa’ as ‘vava’. DH: Right. BW: They sound quite different if you’re
filtering them through English. DH: Right. BW: But the Xi’An or the Xi’An would filter
‘wawa’ and ‘vava’ is the exactly the same word – one of them is just slangy and
maybe sounds seldom like where I was born in South Carolina. DH: [laughs] Right, how much do real world
languages factor into your design into it? I know that you would stress an eagerness
to allude to current languages but not make it recognizable to speakers of that language. So how does that work? BW: Well, we- you’re doing performance capture,
you’re doing motion capture with live actors so they need to be able to pronounce everything
– so the phonologies of these languages are pronounceable by human beings, 100%, and they
will be pronounceable by talented game players and other people who want to learn to make
those sounds so we had to start with a normal human palette – we are not creating sounds
in a computer that human beings can’t make and using those as consonants or vowels for
example. DH: Right.. BW: So there’s that baseline of using normal
human phonology but beyond that we want to put the pieces of that language together in
a way that’s unusual and different and kind of fun and surprising. So Vanduul, for example, is much more of a
synthetic language where pieces tend to clump together to make longer words and Xi’An or
Xi’An tends to be more analytic – where words tend to be shorter and more independent of
each other. So we are taking these ideas of synthetic
language or analytic language from human, natural languages and also incorporating that
into what we’re doing in the intentional design of these languages for these cultures
so that they a richer sense of authenticity. The tapestry of the way all the pieces and
parts of the language is woven together is not ‘oofa doofa doofa doopa fupa’ – just
something people just made up a bunch of sounds but they are actually grammatical and they
will have vocabularies and hopefully a certain segment of the fanbase and the players will
take that and run with it and enjoy it and get a whole other level of linguistic exposure
and depth out of the project. DH: Well, Britton, thanks for taking some
time and sitting down with us. I’m sure like I said, all the backers are
thrilled you are on board and are chomping at the bit I’m sure to see some of the work
you’ve come up with. But that’ll do it for this segment, thank
you all for joining us, do you have any final words for the backers? BW: Thanks so much Dave, and I just want to
encourage everybody to get excited about learning Xi’An and Xi’An – the same thing, by the way
– and I’d also to encourage everyone to be excited about learning Vanduul because
it’s a really cool language.

Comments

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    Morph Verse

    Is it really sensible to make a new language just out of the alphabet and stamp new symbols over the letters?.

    I think that should be way more sophisticated then just that..

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    stabilisedchaos

    Over half the western world can't speak PROPER English and this dude is creating alien ones?Sheesh,SHEEESH! 😛

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    chedar munkey

    so much care and passion is being put into every aspect of this game you can tell they want it to be a really expanded universe.

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    Trubaduren

    Now we (eventually) need some being with a super-convoluted/impossible for humans language made synthetically via a computer program. 🙂

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    carrapaz

    That's really cool, but personally i think that is compleatly optional.
    the game is a horribly bugged alpha till now, spend time and money fixing bug ang giving to the comunity some new game mechanics and not a cool but usless alien lenguage.
    That's my opinion.

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    Aktheon

    rudely you can split social thinking into 3 levels (ofc you can split them into sublevels for more accuracy):
    – Primal. My Health and my Needs is everything i need to worry about. Animals use this level of thinking.
    – Family level. (remember you can split this into more sublevels if you want) My Health, my Family and my Needs are important. If my familiy (or people important to me) is not in danger than i can start solving my own problems and achieving my own goals.
    – Sociaty level. My Health and my Society are important. I've responsible for any action i do and how it will affect other living spicies. My life is as important as other's lifes. I will not harm anyone untill i'm sure that society will benefit from it, but before doing so try to fully understand the situation. etc..

    My point is: I'm afraid that technologicly advanced alien race will behave like some tribals fighting for women and luxury…

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    StormishBreeze

    I kinda hope (Most definitely in vain) that we could play as the Vanduul, Human, and Xi'an races… Sadly that is very unlikely.

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    C4terpillar

    Wow triple WOW..this things are amazing..u join the game and die for no reason when u try to go inside ur ship,or u can t spawn the ship on the base,or u can t join the game or if u don t have bug,glitch, or something else u can do 3 mission against pirates bugged or u can visit a asteroid whit automatic distributor of cola…u are serious guys? We are talking of the same game???? OMG they talk to add things and stuffs but nothing happend for years…i hope so if they add planet in the next patch there is something to do and not a single point of interest but a lot of things in all the planet if not this game is dead. They create a fking big universe whit realistic distance and space and there is nothing inside…how long we have to wait?

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    Calbeck

    This is actually something I'm REALLY looking forward to in terms of immersion. Thanks for all the hard work you folks are clearly putting in!

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    tired

    One Question I got a i3 4170 4.3ghz(dual core) , gtx 960 2gb , 8gb ddr3 yet it lags really bad on low, but on ultra it works 50x better than on low , yet it still laggs, what should I do?

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    Revermen

    I wish alien languages weren't developed for the human ears.
    "Hey I inventsd a language for bad aliens who are actually a threat to humanity. Guess what they sound like!"
    "… gutteral and manly? Like Elites?
    "Uh yeah…"

    At least they consider the medium for the development of the written language.

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    TheMarineGamer IGGHQ

    I love the way this will mean that people that have played the game for long enough, will be able to understand the vanduul and xian without any subtitles or anything, and thats awesome. Like what they do in Star Wars

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    zzzspawn

    Love it, and it would be amazing if you could get enough exposure to the languages in game to be able to learn them mostly by conversations you were having :F 😀 even though I'm guessing it would take a looot of writing, and be fairly hard to do; unless players start speaking it of course, then you could get some interesting divides in game. not sure how one would do the bioluminescence and hand gesture parts though, unless you have like electrodes connected to your brain, and learn some weird waves :P(an macros, loads of macros/ key bindings)

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    Chemical Druid

    that moment when you realize the white guy with the motion capture suit is the actor that play Smeagol (not yet gollum-ified) in the LotR2

    ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

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    Chingus Bringus

    I have been waiting for star citizen to come out for 4 years and what are they doing???? oh they are creating another aspect of the game that is so unnecessary

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    Zé Nirvas

    Hello, Star Citizen…ALIENS!!! This is a very BAD ideia…this gonna make Star Citizen another STAR WARS game…you could make another advance human race and not ANIMAL ALIIENS…please change the characters.

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    Barrie Wright

    Omg, they have got one of the greatest voices behind one of the greatest characters in lord of the rings! ? Hole sh#t this just put more wait behind this for me, even more ! and the other voice over artist is him self very impressive from the short dialog that he gave. They are spending big guy's they are going to give us every thing including the kitchen sink! .

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    Casanova Frankenstein

    "we're not creating sounds in a computer that human beings cant make &using those as consonants etc" …..why not?

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