Alternatives for direction words

This is a bizarrely specific question, but…

On a fit of inspiration I’m trying to see if I can write a short piece of parser IF in an obscure dead language. So far, most of the technical obstacles are coming apart nicely before me.

But…for this language, we don’t actually know the words for “north”, “south”, “east”, or “west”. Or in any related language. Or in any other language spoken in the vicinity, in fact! As far as I know, they didn’t use compasses to navigate, and didn’t divide up the directions the way we do now. (Not even using the stars or the directions of sunrise or sunset, it seems?)

This makes a lot of classic parser IF puzzles kind of difficult.

I can think of a few different things to do in this situation, but I’m not sure which is most appropriate.

  • Have the whole game be situated near some landmarks, and navigate that way: south is always “riverward”, for example
  • Derive some new words from combinations like “sunrise-ward” and “northwind-ward”
  • Just make up some new words and acknowledge that they’re not historical; after all, I’m making up characters and places too
  • Assign the directions to whichever letters are most convenient, and acknowledge that they’re just part of the interface rather than part of the game
  • Find some way to do navigation without compass directions, and hope that getting used to this on top of a whole new language isn’t too much for players to handle

If you were trying to play a simple piece of parser IF to learn a new language, which of these would you prefer?


I like the idea of making things up. There was an IF game waaaay back in the 80s called Xenos that had its own directions at one point in the game. I think it’s a great idea!


Of course right after posting this I finally find an instance of direction words-ish in an especially archaic text. “Ish” because it’s written in logograms—glyphs that represent entire words instead of sounds, so I know the meaning but I don’t know the pronunciation.

Literally the logograms here mean “from the god of the sun”, meaning “east”—that is, “from the direction of the sunrise”. (“Whatever territories ‘from the god of the sun’ = in the east revolted, I defeated them all.”) So I’ll call that a vote for deriving words from “sunrise-ward” and such.


How should I handle directions in a parser game in a dead language?

  • Prominent landmarks in the setting
  • “Sunrise-ward”, “northwind-ward”, etc
  • Make up my own words
  • Part of the out-of-game interface
  • Get rid of the compass entirely
0 voters

Would it be too difficult to be one-room-ish, like Shade? Then you don’t have to deal with directions at all.


Given that the vocabulary I can use is very, very limited, it’s a lot easier to write functional puzzles if I can work with multiple rooms. But I can probably get by with fewer than a full complement of directions—I’m not planning to use the intermediate ones (northeast, southwest, etc) at all.


Some problems/thoughts…If you don’t know North,South etc how do you know northwind-ward?
Also, if you use prominent landmarks, they would need to be referential to your current position.
So I’ve opted for making up words.


Toki Pona?


Going with the landmarks idea, something like this would probably work well:

You are standing near a fountain. Several yards away is a stand of willow trees, and
somewhat to the left of that, a small pond. In the opposite direction you see a white

>go to willow trees

<<Trying to resist the temptation to run off and implement it!>>


I like this idea. Just GO TO whatever landmark thing you can see. That’s how we actually behave, after all.


English is actually a bit of an outlier in deriving the names of the winds from the names of the directions—in many languages it’s the other way around! Latin borealis as in aurora borealis comes from boreas, the north wind.

The idea would be that they’re far enough away that your position relative to them doesn’t meaningfully change during the game. For example, the Akkadian word for “east” is šadûm “mountain-y”, since no matter where you go in Mesopotamia, the mountains are always generally east of you.

A bit less limited than that, thankfully!

Yeah! That’s basically what I mean by the fifth option, ditching the compass entirely. Dialog does something like this for its choice-based mode already, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to make rooms work the same way: no directions, just adjacency, and give the name of a room to go to it.


Someone did start a translate I7 into Toki Pona project


In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld universe, people navigate using Hubwards, Rimwards, Turnwise and Widdershins.

PunyInform comes with an example of how to use these directions in a game:
(PunyInform/howto/custom_directions.inf at master · johanberntsson/PunyInform · GitHub)


Or even not adjacency: Castle of the Red Prince is probably the most traditional (has items, feels like it has a map) of the go-to-any-unlocked-location games that I’ve played, but there’s also at least Toby’s Nose and Lime Ergot. I feel like there’s another big one I’m missing but

After the initial exploration, you do lose a lot of the feel of traversal between places, but I think that’s usually not too critical and I think you can still do most kinds of traditional puzzles…

Hmm. I guess the difficulty is then each room needs to have a unique name that doesn’t collide with an object. Which might be a problem with a very limited vocabulary? Dunno.


In Inform at least you can avoid this problem by defining the grammar to only match on room names.


To be honest, it really depends on how meta the game is anyway, but the point is that I think either GO TO or like, RIVER itself is good enough. Give me a command and I’ll grow into it.


A variation on this would be to use arrow keys or another set of keys that are arranged roughly in a compass rose shape on the keyboard. Or allow the player to assign keys to the directions.


So far landmarks seem to be winning the poll. Based on the words we know in this language, I think the game is going to take place in between a river (H), a plain (T), a forest (W), and some cliffs (P)—those seem like they could plausibly surround a city and each start with a different letter.

Then “examine” starts with K, “look around” starts with A, and “possessions” starts with…A again, but “things that have been taken” starts with D…

Or, since this is about language learning in the end, I just won’t worry about abbreviations for anything except directions.


This had already been done in Trials of Rosalinda. Apart from compass directions, there was also a GO TO LOCATION option. Locations that were not unlocked yet will not be visible.

Why is this the case?

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This project seems to be interesting. We will see which language it is… :slight_smile: