RMMV Believably conversing with completely foreign entities

Is putting all this effort into explaining how a foreign species can converse with us even worth it?

  • Yes; it infuriates me when games are inconsistent in their logic!

    Votes: 2 28.6%
  • Yes, but it isn't that big a deal if you don't.

    Votes: 2 28.6%
  • No, just have them speak English and get back to developing.

    Votes: 1 14.3%
  • No, but it would be kind of cool.

    Votes: 2 28.6%
  • I have a better idea! (please explain)

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
    7

Philosophus Vagus

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First off, I'm not entirely certain whether this belongs here or in general discussion, though I think here since it's mostly focused on my own game than just a general idea, however it does kind of scratch at the border of general ideas in some respects so if it needs to be moved, so be it, but I did try and put it in the correct place.

Background: My game takes place on an Earth-like planet that has been all but taken over by an intelligent alien species, who after depleting their own resources abandoned their own homes in search of another sustainable planet to call home. They end up settling on mars as a staging ground to wage a short, two year war on humanity that ends with most of the major countries governments agreeing to demilitarizing their fiefdoms in exchange for being able to continue governing under the shadow of the aliens and those that refused being completely dismantled and replaced by others who are more willing to sell out their species for a few crumbs of power.

Afterwards the aliens establish Mars as their capital where their families can live at a safe distance from their human serfs while harvesting needed resources from their labors in order to terraform it, and the actual game takes place twelve years or so later in a world somewhat akin to many final fantasy entries where most people live in a style reflective of the late middle ages to early renaissance but with more modern technologies existing in ruin, but the restoration of which being a cultural taboo (people who restore and use firearms for instance being condemned as apostates or sorcerers who bring the wrath of the 'gods' down on the rest of society with their blasphemies).

Idea: Since these aliens mostly rule by human surrogate on earth (though there are dignitaries who stay earth-bound in each territory to insure it is governed properly) it would be odd (not at first, but especially so at the late game parts where you end up on mars surrounded by them) for the vast majority of the alien rulers to bother learning, or perhaps even be capable of conversing in the manner that humans converse with each other. In fact, they don't actually use a verbalized language when conversing with each other, but a psychic projection of images in a fixed procession that can then be interpreted by the one receiving them into the language of their personal understanding.

This means that in general the aliens can get their point across to any human they need to give orders to, but that it is generally much harder for humans to actually converse in kind beyond simple gestures (besides one singular savant-child whose mind adapted to the existence of alien technology in her environment and is capable of interfacing with the it, who essentially exists in order for the player to negotiate with the aliens in depth during the later campaigns and to reverse-engineer some of their technologies) as to the majority of the aliens we are merely overly-bright animals at best, not someone whom they would want to actually put forth the efforts of developing means of understanding our thoughts and ideas in the first place.

Problem: I am unsure how to go about actually presenting this process to the player. Obviously, once it is understood to them that the aliens aren't actually speaking, but projecting images that the target can then decipher into language I can just use text in italics to show it is a thought rather than a voice speaking, but I'm at a bit of a loss for how to demonstrate the idea for the player when they first actually encounter one of the aliens. If I were writing a book, I could just literally describe the images themselves (not ashamed to admit I kind of borrowed the entire idea of communicating through telepathic imagery from how Perrin converses with wolves in the WOT series) but I know that such walls of exposition are generally frowned upon by gamers.

On the other hand, I could actually display the images as a scene, but am unsure how to present the information in an intuitive way. I don't want the players to get lost or frustrated, but I also don't think that presenting such edicts visually and then translating them into language would go over to well either, because it's like the game is repeating itself unnecessarily. Right now my best thought is to have the first interaction be done visually, with the target character then commenting vocally about how they interpreted said images and basically asserting that the alien is communicating telepathically through images that can be universally interpreted, and then the alien confirming it; then proceeding the rest of the game with italicized sentences on the alien's part since I've gotten the point across for exactly how it is being understood even though it doesn't speak the same language as those it's ordering around, or really language as we know it at all. Half of me is afraid that this half-measure will be viewed as lazy or contrived, the other half thinks I am being overly critical and that that's both the simplest and most reliable way of conveying the entire concept for players. Thus I am here, seeking confirmation, criticisms or even suggestions on how to present this idea to players in a better way than I've already considered.
 

Kes

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I think your proposed solution should work. Obviously you can refine it e.g. the first person who has the images can be upset/nervous/surprised about this, and everyone is worried about the aliens being "inside their minds". You could build this up into a whole concern about having anything 'secret' in the presence of an alien, because if the aliens can read their minds, who has any privacy? I could see this aspect being an interesting sub-theme in the story (if that's what you want to do).
 

Labyrinthine

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You could have the first encounter with a bunch of images and flashes, and the rest could just have some minor visual effect in addition to the italic text, like the character's head flashing once or something.
 

SamJones

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So does your character's first encounter with the aliens is some kind of alien tourist who is trying to make themself understood with some kind of super telepathic alien-to-human phrasebook? Because I do not believe that the aliens, on taking over, would rely on such a spurious and unreliable communications method.

Do you WANT unreliable and commonly misunderstood communications a central theme of your game? If not then just have the aliens that do come down to Earth learn the lingo before being deployed. If the Mormons can do it it shouldn't be too hard for the aliens either. Or have some over-the-phone translation service set up that the character can ring up if they need to speak with an alien. Or have the aliens keep a translation app on the Space Smartphones.
 
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Philosophus Vagus

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Oh hey, replies! I wonder why I didn't get any notifications?

Anyway @Kes I love that idea, don't think I want to actually have the aliens capable of reading minds, only showing their own selective tidbits, but it's a fairly logical assumption to make given how they 'speak' and also the perfect kind of rumor for a ruling class passing themselves and their superior technology off as god-like to want to cultivate and spread as much as possible. Plus it gives me something to focus on when the player is interacting with them, maybe even have a few choices throughout the early game where you can try to lie to one of the dignitaries so the player can actually risk/test the rumors before it's confirmed that they are just rumors.

@SamJones It's only really unreliable because we can't reciprocate it, maybe I didn't explain it too well but the idea is that they can literally show exactly what they want to explain immediately and deliberately, and because the recipient of the speech sees what they are being told rather than hearing it even information gleaned second, third or even fourthhand should be as clearcut and unblemished as if it were a firsthand account (at least so long as the speaker isn't intentionally misdirecting) so unlike our manners of communication that are writhe with nuances and double meanings (not to mention separate dialects/languages) theirs allows them to be understood equally whether speaking to an equal or a being from another galaxy or even a simple animal.

I do actually want the aliens to be enigmatic and unpredictable in fact, especially in the beginning phases where the player is living as one of their serfs while slowly building up to the beginnings of a rebellion. Late game I will empathize them a bit, but from their isolated perspective as a whole we're pretty much just space dogs. So while dogs do have a rudimentary form of communication that can be understood if we pay attention (body movements, presenting their arse as a show of submission etc) most of us don't even pay that much attention to them and those that do wouldn't debase ourselves to mimicking that communication.

That's how I'm looking at it while trying to build their perspectives of us, communications will open up once you actually get to Mars and force them to acknowledge that humans aren't simply space animals but intelligent beings in their own right, but in the meantime I'm struggling between conveying that aloof superiority and unwillingness to come down to our level and not having the player be completely confused by it. On that point we are agreed, I don't want the player to be lost on a contrived plot point, but neither do I want an ME level deus ex machina 'translation machine' to just handwave away all the problems that such a situation would create.
 

SamJones

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@SamJones It's only really unreliable because we can't reciprocate it, maybe I didn't explain it too well but the idea is that they can literally show exactly what they want to explain immediately and deliberately, and because the recipient of the speech sees what they are being told rather than hearing it even information gleaned second, third or even fourthhand should be as clearcut and unblemished as if it were a firsthand account (at least so long as the speaker isn't intentionally misdirecting) so unlike our manners of communication that are writhe with nuances and double meanings (not to mention separate dialects/languages) theirs allows them to be understood equally whether speaking to an equal or a being from another galaxy or even a simple animal.
So it is NOT actually unreliable. It is very clear and reliable, clearer and more reliable than our own forms of communication, and you are just struggling with how to present it in your game.

So just use a combination of images and text description from the PoV of your character telling what he understands the aliens saying to him.

You will have a whole other problem with that communication and the aliens inability to possibly even understand ambiguity because you will have to go over what you want to make them say to remove the normal ambiguity that is an integral part of our languages. Good luck with that.
 

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