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Crafting Meaning

This is a post about ku, a game where you create worlds by speaking them to life. You can find an intro to the game here.

Last time, we covered the basics of speaking the language of ku. What we didn’t discuss was how you use this language to create people. I claimed that the language of ku doubles as both a natural language and a programming language! How does that work?

There are two ways to speak when playing ku. The first is by using something I call the “profane” language: what the people of your world use to talk to you and to each other. The profane language is the language of daily life.

The other way to speak is by using something I call the “divine” language: what you use to create life and sculpt the behavior of your people. The divine language is your connection to the inner workings of the universe. In other words, it allows you to control the underlying AI engine of ku.

So what makes speaking the divine language different than speaking the profane language? Actually, basically nothing: they are the same language. To turn a profane sentence into a divine commandment, all you have to do is prefix it with the word ku.

Here’s an example of such a commandment:

Vocabulary:

saku : “soul” or “person”
taya : “stay”
sasu : “sleep”

( 1 )

ku ma saku mi taya na ma saku mi sasu
commandment: when a person sleeps, they stop moving
lit. “person stay when person sleep”

(For an introduction to reading the language of ku, see my last post)

Sentences like these are how you shape the behavior of the people that inhabit your world. When you speak a ku sentence, its correctness is verified against the heavens, resulting in either a boom of success or a crackle of failure (hopefully with a helpful heavenly explanation of what you did wrong). I’ll save a more detailed explanation of how the AI engine works (and how your magical sentences are understood by the game) for a future post.

But when you use the ku particle, you’re not just describing the actions of your people–you’re also forging the language that they speak. In the previous post, I mentioned that in ku, you craft all your own vocabulary. How does that work?

ku provides a small number of elemental “building block” words called “primes.” Primes represent extremely basic concepts. For example: MOVE and CONSUME are both primes in ku. All of the other words you create in your language–whether there are 5 of them or 500 of them–derive their meaning from primes like these.

Nearly all the primes in ku have no definition in your language to start with. The way you begin crafting your unique language is by binding each prime to it, word by word. If you don’t want there to be a word in your language for DIE, for example, then you never have to make one. In that case, “death” has no meaning in your world.

Once you have bound all the primes (or just the ones you care about), you can start combining them into totally new words that only have meaning within your civilization.

Let’s take a look at an example of how to make a binding:

( 2 )

ku ma yasa mu MOVE mi ya
commandment: “yasa” means “to move”
lit. “yasa MOVE is”

Wait a second–did we just see a word in English?

The word MOVE is a “local” word: a word in whatever the game’s local language is. Since you are reading this blog, there is a decent chance that this is English for you.

Phrases in ku’s language practically never include words in the game’s local language. In fact, these words only show up in one place: sentences just like the one above, where the player binds a prime–represented by a local word–to the language of their world. But why do local words have to show up at all?

Remember that primes represent basic, fundamental concepts. Since your language has essentially no words in it to begin with, these concepts have to come from somewhere! The game’s local language is a straightforward, accessible choice.

Of course, there are many other choices. You could technically use an existing language you had built earlier in ku for this purpose. Or some kind of fundamental language shared by all humans: music? Gestures or facial expressions? Compiler developers are already familiar with this process–it’s called bootstrapping.

In the above example, we are defining a new word in the language, yasa, to mean “to move” in English. The equivalent when using Japanese as the local language might look like this (romanized):

( 3 )

ku ma yasa mu IKU mi ya

When using the Roman alphabet to write sentences in the language of ku, primes are written in UPPERCASE. In the game, the shift key (or caps lock) is still used to type primes, but their letters are drawn in an entirely different way (and in terms of sound, cannot be spoken or whispered by characters at all). As they should be! Local words may as well be gibberish to your world’s inhabitants.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, here’s a phrase in the profane language, using our newly minted word yasa:

( 4 )

ma kasutaki-saku mi yasa
the person kasutaki moves
lit. “kasutaki-person MOVE

Hey, what’s that hyphen doing there? Oops, looks like I forgot to mention it last time…

The hyphen is the only punctuation mark in the entire language, and is used to join two nouns together, like “onion bread” or “apple pastry.” In ku it’s really only used for one purpose: things with names.

In this case, kasutaki is the name of a person, so whenever you refer to kasutaki, you refer to them as kasutaki-saku (“kasutaki person”). If kasutaki was an object, you might refer to it as “kasutaki object.”

Interruption over; back to primes. Now that we understand a little more about how creating your own words actually works, I will stop supplying vocab ad hoc the way I’ve been doing so far. In the actual game, all of the player’s words are listed in a divine book they carry around with them called the “lexicon.” So from now on, we’ll list vocabulary in lexicon form, and update our examples to match.

Let’s say that along with yasu, you also define the prime CONSUME as numa in your language:

( 5 )

ku ma numa mu CONSUME mi ya

In that case, our lexicon so far is:

MOVE : yasu
CONSUME : numa
SOUL : saku

It’s great that we can make words in our language that correspond one-to-one with words in English and all, but how about something a little more interesting? Let’s define a totally new word that uses both of the words we just made, instead of just binding some sounds to a prime.

First we should make a commandment that tells the heavens what kind of word we’re forging. For this example, we’re going to make a word we can use to describe someone: an attribute.

Lexicon updates:

ATTRIBUTE : kapu

( 6 )

ku ma nasaya mu kapu mi ya
commandment: “nasaya” is an attribute
lit. “nasaya ATTRIBUTE is”

Next, we should describe what it means:

Lexicon updates:

UP or BIG : kuta
DOWN or SMALL : manu
CHANGE : yatasu

( 7 )

ku ma nasaya nu saku mi kuta yatasu na ma saku mi yasu
commandment: a person’s “nasaya” grows when they move
lit. “nasaya of SOUL UP CHANGE when SOUL MOVE

( 8 )

ku ma nasaya nu saku mi manu yatasu na ma saku mi numa
commandment: a person’s “nasaya” shrinks when they eat
lit. “nasaya of SOUL DOWN CHANGE when SOUL CONSUME

Congratulations! We just added a new custom word to the lexicon. Crafting new words like this is the meat and potatoes of ku’s gameplay.

But if you had to translate nasaya to English, how would you do it?

That depends. While primes have fixed definitions in the game’s local language, words you create yourself only really mean something in the context of your world. In the game, you will never be forced to assign an English word to nasaya–it stands on its own. Words that you come up with may even be very difficult to express in English!

Or… they may not be. Given the way we defined nasaya above, doesn’t it sound a lot like the word “hunger”?

Here’s a profane example of nasaya in a sentence:

( 9 )

ma nasaya nu kasutaki-saku mu kuta kuta nasaya mi ya
the person kasutaki is very hungry
lit. “nasaya of kasutaki-SOUL BIG BIG nasaya is”

I didn’t include this example just because I think more examples are better. I included it because, while you will be typing ku sentences often to make divine commandments, the profane language is what your people will be using all of the time. Therefore, profane sentences are what you will be reading most of the time! The example above is exactly what a character might say after you define the word nasaya and they MOVE around a little too much.

Okay. We just crafted a new word. But didn’t we also create some behavior too? When we introduced nasaya just now, we didn’t just put some sounds in the alphabet together. We also defined some very simple rules for what it means to be a person. It’s up to you where to go with this next.

For example, you could say something like this:

( 10 )

ku ma saku mi numa na ma nasaya nu saku mu kuta nasaya mi ya
commandment: the hungrier a person is, the more likely they will eat
lit. “SOUL CONSUME when nasaya of SOUL BIG nasaya is”

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is only scratching the surface of what ku’s AI engine can do–in a future post, I’ll make sure to go into more detail.

So is ku a game about language, or a game about AI? You tell me.




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