Sul Sul! - Nondescript Dialogue in Games


 

There's no better way to make a game globally appealing without the need for recording dialogue in different languages than completely making up a new language for the game. I'm not talking Lord of the Rings or Star Trek level language, but more a type of gibberish that doesn't really need to be understood. For a game that I'll be working on soon, the developers wanted a nondescript form of dialogue for the characters, much like the dialogue heard in Animal Crossing or even The Sims. However, some of this dialogue would need to express a particular emotion and convey the way a character is feeling, and a game that does that brilliantly is;


The Sims

The Sims' very own language, Simlish, is a completely nonsensical language that mostly relies on a voice actors ability to express emotion in their performance. I had no idea Simlish was so adlibbed and I thought there were more than just a few phrases throughout that actually meant something, but a majority of it is off the cuff when the actor is in the booth;

The incredible thing about the Simlish is that it can be universally understood because it; has it's own specific cadences and vowel sounds that are pretty similar to words in other languages, and because the actor's performance focuses heavily on the emotional cadence. This means that every person playing The Sims, regardless of what language they speak, will be able to understand what their character is trying to tell them, without even having to read the in-game messages that tell you, making for a smooth playing experience.


Over the years Simlish has become such a well-known part of the franchise that it's almost impossible to replicate without creating a total copy, but I might be able to use the idea of emotional cadence to get across the feeling of what the character is saying.


Animal Crossing

In one of my favourite games ever, Animal Crossing, all the characters other than yourself speak Animalese, which sounds like somebody talking but sped up, But there's something that's just a bit different to regular spoken English sped up, it sounds a bit sort of synthesised and chopped up. It's definitely not as random as The Sims because you can often make out particular words because they're written in the subtitles below as the character speaks, here's an example;

On the Animal Crossing fan wiki, it states that each letter spoken is stated to synthesize the basic sound of a letter, leading to mispronunciation of some words. (i.e. "Animal Crossing" would be pronounced "Ah-n-ih-m-ah-l c-r-o-s-s-ih-n-g".) So if I was to create something similar to Animalese, I could record myself pronouncing each letter of the alphabet as if I was sounding out the letter within a word, so A would be "Ah", E would be "ee", I would be "eye" or "ih". I think the biggest thing would be deciding which way I could pronounce the letters, but if anything there will be very few characters that speak in the game I'm working on so I could get away with a fairly simple way of doing it.


Sometime later...

It's a good thing I left this blog for a while because I was actually able to attempt this Animalese inspired dialogue, and the result is far enough from the animal crossing equivalent to sound original, but still feels like the style of dialogue I'm looking for. I achieved this by recording myself sounding out every letter of the alphabet and then placing each sounded out letter in order to form a word. This clip says "Hello, how are you?"

I think it's heading in the right direction but I will definitely need to work in some natural cadence when I build full sentences using this technique. For this, I can probably use a pitch modulator to move the tone of the voice up and down as the character talks.


I had a quick meeting with one of the devs the other day about what they needed from me at the end of this planning process, and they mentioned they needed dialogue, but not in the capacity that I have been planning for. Instead, what they wanted was basic "Hey" or "Oi" exclamations to put into their playtest. I would probably think they were just looking for place holders but I don't like delivering assets that aren't finished, so I should be able to create something using the dialogue technique I've made, instead of recording really basic sounds.