Creating the Proof-of-Concept, Part 1 (of 2)

Hswaxgwmtóm, y’all! 

In today’s post, I would like to highlight some of the hard work the team did to produce a proof-of-concept  for the NEH.

It’s unlikely that the prototype of the game we develop this grant period will be in any way similar to the proof-of-concept, but it’s fun to see early stages of the creative process.

If you haven’t seen it already, click on the link to the right. Also, if you want to download the game to play it for yourself (PC only, sadly), click here

The work done on the proof of concept can be divided into two different stages: (1) writing the script & recording the dialogue and (2) creating the proof-of-concept in Unity. In this first post, I’ll discuss writing the script and working with the voice actors.

As many of you may have suspected, the idea for The Anatolian Trail arose from the work that Brenna R. Byrd, Jessica DeLisi, Chiara Bozzone, and I did on Far Cry Primal.

It was exhilarating producing something that introduced PIE to so many people who had never heard of it before. But while PIE, the language, was (mostly) used in Primal; PIE, the culture, was not.  I remember in one of my first discussions with the folks at Ubisoft, I asked, “So, there will be horses, right!?!” and they said, “No, sabretooth tigers.” Which, of course, is AWESOME, but it’s not exactly representative of the PIE people. Those guys loved their horses.

Brenna Byrd

About a year or so after the release of Primal, I had a bunch of conversations with my wife and fellow collaborator, Brenna (left), and my former grad student, Phil Barnett (right), about a way to bring an *authentic* version of PIE to people in an engaging way. 

Phil Barnett

We had initially planned to create a website with interactive lessons in PIE, but after discussions with Gretchen McCulloch and fellow students at the 2017 LSA Summer Institute, we decided that a video game would be the most effective way to introduce PIE to the people. 

We realized that the process of linguistic reconstruction needed to be experienced first hand.

Phil Barnett wrote two scripts, with lots of input from Brenna and me. He wrote one for the cutscene and another for gameplay after the cutscene.

For both scripts, we needed voice actors. 

  • Phil would play the old man
  • Damaris Hill, assistant professor of English at the University of Kentucky, would voice the narrator
  • Curtis Lipsey III, a theatre BA student at UK at the time, now an actor in Atlanta, voiced Lucas; and,
  • Tamia Fair, a theatre BA student at UK voiced Gwen. 
Damaris Hill
Curtis Lipsey
Tamia Fair

You can see how the cutscene script turned out by watching the proof-of-concept video above.

However, due to time & money constraints, we were unable to integrate the in-game dialogue within the finished product that was sent to the NEH.  (If we had had two more weeks, we could’ve!)

You can see what we had planned by reading / listening to the dialogue below. Enjoy!


Gameplay Dialogue, Proof-of-Concept (5/18)

The twins see a flickering fire light in the distance and can almost make out a figure sitting nearby.

Avoid the fire.

The twins avoid the fire, searching the perimeter of the beach instead. They find nothing.

GWEN: I’d really like to know how you got us into this mess.

LUCAS: Me? You’re the one who found the goat statue.

They see a flickering fire light in the distance and can almost make out a figure sitting nearby.

Approach the fire.

The twins walk toward the fire. As they get closer, they can see the figure of an old man, sitting by the shore, fishing. He is using the fire to roast fish and to keep warm. They finally get close enough to speak to him.

LUCAS: Hello! Excuse me, sir. Can you help us?


LUCAS: My sister was attacked my a bear. We need some painkillers. Do you have any?


GWEN: Lucas, he probably doesn’t speak English. Here. I know Russian. (In Russian:) Hello sir, can you help us? We’ve been attacked.


LUCAS: My sister. Gwen.

MAN: Gwen.


LUCAS: Yes! She was attacked. Big bear. [He imitates a bear’s roar.]

MAN: Xŕtk’os?

LUCAS: Xŕtk’os? Gwen, I know that word…

GWEN: Great, so you know what language he speaks.

LUCAS: Xŕtk’os is Proto-Indo-European for bear. No one’s spoken that language for 5,000 years.

GWEN: Lucas… look at what he’s wearing… Look at his house over there.

LUCAS: Where are we?

GWEN: I think the better question may be when are we.

LUCAS: Let’s not jump to any conclusions. Here, I’ve got my Proto-Indo-European notes in my bag.

Open Lucas’s Notebook

Lucas’s Notebook opens revealing words and phrases taken as notes in a language class. The notebook first shows the player notes on what Proto-Indo-European is, what its branches are, etc. They can scroll past this without much in-depth reading without it making them unable to play, but the information is there for players who are interested. Lucas will also briefly explain it aloud as well.

LUCAS: So Proto-Indo-European is an ancient language that was never written down. All we know about the language is from its daughter languages like Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Russian, and even English. In that class I took last semester, we went over a few phrases in Proto-Indo-European, but we focused more on the daughter languages. Let’s see if my notebook has any useful phrases.

When the player turns to the first interactive page, where they can speak through Lucas by selecting phrases and words, they find a list of typical dead-language-learning phrases like the crow flies by the river and the suspiciously relevant my sister was attacked by a mighty bear.

LUCAS: Well huh. I never thought these phrases would come in handy.

LUCAS: The crow flies by the river.

MAN: I’m not sure what you mean…

LUCAS: My sister was attacked by a mighty bear.

MAN: Ah! Attacked by bear? Yes?

LUCAS: Yes. Can you help us?

MAN: Yes. Witéis lóubhom.

LUCAS: Hmm. I don’t have that written down. I think that lóubhom means something to do with a plant. Let’s look for other words that sound like the first one.

Lucas’s notebook flips to a page with words that sound like Witéis. The words are grouped by meaning; some mean “white”, some mean “willow.”

LUCAS: I think he wants us to bring him a white plant or tree. But that could be anything.

GWEN: Well, here look at my notebook. I’ve taken a lot of notes on Indo-European culture and agriculture over the years.

Gwen’s notebook pops up. It flips to a page that has a sketch of a birch tree on it. Next to the sketch is a brief description followed by illegible notes.

GWEN: Here look. Birch trees are very white in appearance. Maybe he needs a birch tree.

LUCAS: Let’s go look for one.

The twins look for a birch tree in the surrounding area. Near the man’s hut, they find one.

Harvest birch limb.

You have acquired one birch limb.

Return to old man.

The twins return to the old man and offer him what they have found.

MAN: Ne. Wéhitis laubham.

LUCAS: I guess I misunderstood.

LUCAS: I think he wants us to bring him a piece of a willow tree. But for all I know, any of these trees could be a willow.

GWEN: Here, look at my notebook. I’ve taken a lot of notes on Indo-European culture we can use, and that includes agriculture.

Gwen’s notebook pops up and flips to a page with a sketch of a willow tree on it.

GWEN: So we just have to find one of these.

LUCAS: Let’s go look for one.

The twins search the surrounding area for a willow tree. Near the man’s hut, they find one.

Harvest willow limb.
You have acquired one willow limb.

Return to the old man.

The twins return to the old man and offer him what they have found.

MAN: Wésu! Nū́ lóubhom. Duzǵustís. Mórom. (Good! Just bark though. Bad taste. ????.)

Lucas’s notebook opens and has words that sound like mórom. The words are grouped by meaning. Some words mean “sea” and some words mean “blackberry.”

I think it means “sea.”

LUCAS: I think he wants us to bring him some sea water.

The twins go down to the ocean and harvest some seawater. They bring it back to the old man.

MAN: Ne. Mórom.

LUCAS: I guess I misunderstood.

Lucas’s notebook opens back up.

LUCAS: I think he wants us to bring him a blackberry. Do you have anything in your notebook on what a blackberry bush looks like?

GWEN: Yeah, of course.

Gwen’s notebook pops up and turns to a sketch of a blackberry bush. The twins go looking for a blackberry bush and find it among other berry bushes near the man’s hut.

Harvest blackberry.

You have acquired one blackberry.

Return to the old man.

The old man takes the berry and combines it with the bark in a pot above his fire. He then offers the resulting infusion to Gwen, who drinks it, restoring her health bar.


We had also intended for the twins to razz each other as they wandered around the proof-of-concept. Here are some samples below:

Next time we’ll talk about the work EKU students did to create the proof-of-concept in Unity. Until then!