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The neon signs, adverts, and computer monitors of smash-hit kitty sim Stray read as incomprehensible to me as they must to the game’s precious little feline protagonist, but it turns out they’re actually very communicative.

Josh Wirtanen, writing for Half-Glass Gaming, discovered that the language of Stray is actually a simple substitution cipher⁠—everything’s in English, but BlueTwelve studio replaced the Latin alphabet with its own symbols. Helpfully, some of Stray’s letters do somewhat resemble their normal counterparts, and the game’s chapter title cards come with helpful subtitles, giving Wirtanen a handy starting point for his decoding efforts.

With a freshly-cracked cipher in hand, Wirtanen was able to go about deciphering the game’s various signs and messages⁠. It’s cool that they actually mean something, just don’t go holding your breath for earth shattering kitty cat lore.

Many of the messages are exactly what you would expect⁠: a store labeled “store,” a soda machine with a raffle advertisement on it, or a bag with “best bag” written on it because it is an exemplar of bag-kind. In other places, it’s just gibberish. It’s a little disappointing, but BlueTwelve was probably correct in prioritizing areas of the game other than the obscure texture art on environmental detritus, and what is here already displays a lot of love.

Decoded alphabet from the videogame Stray

(Image credit: Half-Glass Gaming)

Stray is in good company when it comes to silly little texture details in videogame environments. I’m reminded of the goofy magazines strewn around Vampire: The Masquerade⁠—Bloodlines or the impeccably built, destructible “Beefy” computers in Counter-Strike: Source’s cs_office map.

Substitution ciphers are pretty common as a simple way to add some dimension and worldbuilding to a game. The Legend of Zelda’s Hylian “language” is a classic example, and Star Wars’, ahem, Aurebesh alphabet always tickled my fancy when playing KotOR. The Tunic team went above and beyond with its constructed language, baking its decoding into the indie Zelda-like experience.

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