Fantasy game Shiness invents new language from scratch (Wired UK)


© 2013 ENIGAMI


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A new role-playing game from
French developer Enigami is aiming to offer more than the usual
random battles through fantasy realms that proliferate the genre.
In an impressive feat of world building, the developers have
created a entire spoken and written language for the game.

Shiness: The
Lightning Kingdom
is currently running on Kickstarter, where it has exceeded its initial $100,000
(£59,000) goal. Now due for release on PC in Spring 2015, the game
casts players as Chado, a young adventurer from a ferret-like race
known as the Waki, as he travels through the splintered world of
Mahera. It’s a planet of floating islands and elemental magic,
filled with both human and anthropomorphic heroes, and with
gameplay blending action-focussed combat with the story-driven
quests and world exploration of console
RPGs. 

Shiness – Kickstarter TrailerShiness

The game’s universe was created by Samir Rebib and Hazem Hawash,
and influenced by Japanese anime such as Dragon Ball,
Naruto, and Yu Yu
Hakusho
. Rebib created the characters over 20 years ago,
and has even been producing an online comic series
set in the world. Hawash, Shiness’ producer and
composer, tells Wired.co.uk: “It was inspired by manga but also
Sonic, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars.
It’s like a melting pot of everything Samir loved when he was a
kid.” Like other European series such as Wakfu,
the creators have taken inspiration from the anime aesthetic but
added their own twist. The result is a bold and colourful
world.

When it came to developing the game, the pair knew they wanted
their characters to speak, but were concerned about the costs of
recording, translating, and releasing Shiness in different
countries. The solution? Create their own language for the
inhabitants of Mahera to speak. “It makes it easier to translate
the game to other languages, as we only have the subtitle part,”
says Hawash. “We have also integrated the language into our game
design. For example, some puzzles will be resolved only by knowing
the language and the
writing.” 


Chado
Chado

The
hero of Shiness, Chado fights like Naruto or Dragon Ball Z’s
Goku

© 2013 ENIGAMI


Their goals for the language are lofty too, with Hawash adding.
“We wanted to get into people’s minds with a new language. It’s
like a signature for the universe and it makes it unique. Our dream
is to have teenagers talking in that language between them.”

However, neither Hawash nor Rebib are linguists, their
backgrounds instead being primarily in music and art. To craft the
language of Shiness, they brought Clement Michard and
Deborah Lebon on board, both post-graduate students of linguistics
at the University of Bordeaux. Both are preparing their Masters
thesis and are pursuing PhDs in the field, with Michard focussing
particularly on the ridiculously complex-sounding “influence of
derivational morphology on the structuring of mental lexicon.” In
short, they know their way around a sentence or two, real or
fictional. 


Shiness
World
Shiness
World

There’s a strong Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
vibe to Shiness’ visuals

© 2013 ENIGAMI


“My grandmother introduced me to Star Trek and I
will never thank her enough for that!” says Lebon. “Since then,
I’ve been a fan of Trek and science fiction in general,
which helped me discover and like imaginary languages.” The likes
of Star Trek’s Klingon language or Tolkien’s Elvish
weren’t direct influences on Shiness  though, with
Michard adding: “We knew they existed and were therefore examples
but we didn’t use any of their particularities.”

Instead, real world languages were the basis. “Samir and Hazem
asked us for a mix between Japanese, French, Arabian, and African
sounds,” says Michard. “The problem at that early point was that it
sounded more like Slavonic
languages
, not fitting the universe.” Returning focus to the
desired sounds was more successful, as Michard continues “we
figured out a way to include each one, so you can find a bit of
each language in the different dialects [of the game’s species] –
Japanese for Waki, French for Human, and Arabian and African for
Shelks.” 


Shiness
Concept
Shiness
Concept

There’s meticulous detail in the environments
of Shiness

© 2013 ENIGAMI


Even with multiple real world examples serving as inspiration,
creating a whole language is a daunting task. One of the questions
the pair had to consider was, “what even constitutes a
language?”.

“There are different conceptions of what people call language,”
explains Michard. “You can just invent a new form of coding for the
message you want to deliver, as a language is just a code, like
swap an A for an E and so on with the vowels and do the same for
the consonants. I wouldn’t call that a language though!”

So, Michard and Lebon began work on on what would become
known as “Maherian”
 with the bare basics. “Starting
with the phonetic aspects seemed to be a good idea,” says Lebon.
“Some of the first information Samir and Hazem gave us was the
consonances they expected to hear. Then we started to create words
and develop grammar — tenses, gender,
number.” 


Chado
Ponders
Chado
Ponders

Chado’s unusually adventurous for his people,
the ferret-like Waki

© 2013 ENIGAMI


“I’d say that first, you’ll have to know a bit about the form of
the language you want — do you want it to be short like Chinese or
long like the Japanese?” adds Michard. “Then, you’ll have to know a
bit of phonetics and phonology, so that you can give character to
the speech. Naturally, then you’ll have to be able to invent words,
and to decide sentence order. I think that’s the minimum if you
want to be able to create something that seems like a
language.”

Matters naturally grew more complex as the language developed.
“Currently, the word database we have contains about 430 terms,”
says Michard. “On each word, you can make a verb or an adjective
like in English, so you can easily make it triple that. Then, we
have about 15 sentence patterns, in Verb-Objects-Subjects form. We
also made a Tense-Mode-Aspect basis for the inflexion of verbs, and
for a hint, there are six aspects, three tenses and three
modes.”

“We also developed three dialectal variants from the main
language,” adds Lebon. “For each of these variants we emphasised
phonetic and phonological levels [and] integrated variations at the
morphological level, developing different personal pronouns for
each race. As an example, the dialects do not express politeness in
the same way.” 


Shiness
Cast
Shiness
Cast

Chado and the other heroes of Shiness

©
2013 ENIGAMI


“Writing wasn’t supposed to be part of the language in the
beginning,” admits Michard, but while developing the spoken form of
Shiness, he couldn’t stop himself creating a written form
too. “As a font creator and a writing system creator — I write my
mémoires in my script. I’m kind of a nerd — and a writing system
history fan — so I proposed to create one,” he says. “I even made
it a True Type Font file, so that it can be used on the website. I
love to create symbols, and mixing phonetic regularities and
combining characters. It’s a real code, but I must not say too much
— I think there’ll be a quest on it, I already made clues!”

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Beyond the already successful Kickstarter for the main game,
Hawash — whose in-progress music for the game can be heard at Soundcloud — has
big plans for the universe. “Shiness will not be only a
game. It will also be a manga and probably a TV series,” he says.
“I want to expand the Shiness universe with games on
Facebook, mobile, and also portable consoles like Vita and 3DS.
This is only the first project — our goal is to tell stories
around our universe and not simply do business.”

5 June 2014 | 8:49 am – Source: wired.co.uk
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