Gaming with your voice.

The folks over at Wired News have an article up on Konami’s new adventure game Lifeline for the Playstation 2 in which you control a young female heroine not with the fast manipulation of the system’s controller, but with your voice.

The game’s premise is as intriguing as its control method. You are a guest at the grand opening party of the first Space Station Hotel when the events are interrupted by an attack from unknown forces. During the chaos you’re separated from your girlfriend Naomi and knocked unconscious. When you come to you find yourself locked in the hotel’s Monitor Room where all the station’s security cameras are monitored. A young woman named Rio who works for the hotel appears on one of the monitors, the only other survivor of the attack you’re aware of, and she offers you a deal. Help her navigate through the station as she looks for something she needs and she’ll help you find Naomi. With nothing more than the security monitors and a microphone you’re going to have to talk Rio through the crisis.

Yep, using a USB headset and the game’s built-in voice recognition software, you have to literally tell Rio what to do next. Konami boasts the game will recognize 5,000 words and 100,000 phrases and the folks at Wired are impressed with how immersive the game ends up being as a result. Especially as Rio won’t always do what you want her to without some encouragement.

Wired News: Talk Your Way Out of Trouble

The designers have made a conscious effort, in the various game sequences they’ve devised, to raise the level of your communications with Rio beyond “go here, do this.” Sometimes you’ll need to brainstorm ideas with her to “jog her memory”—in the infirmary, she’ll ask you to start naming things that are in a hospital (and she’ll recognize everything you can think of). In another memorable scene she will become frightened and refuse to enter a room. Simply repeating “enter the room” won’t work—you have to tell her to “calm down.” Sometimes, as in the example above, conversations with Rio go swimmingly. But if you don’t enunciate perfectly, well …

“Go to the living room.”

“I am standing up.”

“Go to the living room.”

“The bathroom. OK.”

“Go to the living room.”

“What? Take a shower? Not in your lifetime.”

Indeed, at times it takes the patience of Job not to get frustrated with Lifeline, but the player’s anger is typically not directed toward the program’s failure to function but toward the character’s “stupidity”—and as soon as the player fires off a swear word or two at her, Rio’s got a snappy comeback. And she’ll sense if you’re having trouble finding the right words: “You’ve got to have patience, and you’ve got to think,” she gently admonishes during puzzle-solving sessions.

Well, if nothing else, it sounds pretty cool. How much fun it actually turns out to be is another question, but this is one I’m definitely willing to try. The folks at IGN.com only gave the game a 6.8 rating, but the reader reviews have been a little more generous giving it an average rating of 8.0. If nothing else it should make for a good rental to try out in the near future. Of course, I’ll need to pick up a USB headset at some point first.

I have to admit that I find these new uses for voice technology in games pretty exciting. I’m already more than used to using voice chat inside of games either in Valve’s Half-Life based games that have had integrated voice chat for awhile now or through Team Speak, but designers are starting to do new things with voice in their games above and beyond mere communication. Controlling Rio is just one example, another is Rockstar Games’ controversially violent Manhunt  which takes advantage of players with USB headsets to actually use their voices to attract the attention of the thugs they’re trying to take out in the game. I’m looking forward to some of the other possible uses developers may come up with for integrating voice in game play.

5 thoughts on “Gaming with your voice.

  1. Wow, as a longtime fan of gaming, I have to say this sounds like a hell of a lot of fun! I’ll definately have to show this to my husband, thanks for the info.

    Great site by the way!

  2. Bwahahaha, DaveR.

    Reminds me of the time I was a beta tester for a voice-recognition “personal phone assistant” called Wildfire.  Most of the other beta testers were in the US where the system was, but I was in Europe.  There was a LOT more static on the long-distance line, and I worked in an office with a lot of background noise, so I had to repeat my instructions a LOT, much to the amusement of my colleagues within earshot.

    Wildfire was supposed to use “natural language,” so to access a certain menu of commands, you had to say “Do me a favor.”  “She” would answer, “What kind of favor?” and then you could get to work.

    Well, I just couldn’t get that phrase recognized.  I would say over and over again, “Do me a favor.  Do me a favor.  Do me a favor.”  And my colleagues would either giggle (if they knew who I was talking to) or look worried.

    Finally they explained to me that in British English, “do me a favor” was kind of a sarcastic expression, like “give me a break!”  And they all thought I was chewing someone out over the telephone on a regular basis …

  3. GeekMom made me think of an interesting problem with voice recognition devices - accents!
    Each country has several accents, some more noticable than others. It can be a real pain getting an American one to understand the many British (and even Oz) accents. DragonDictate seems to cope quite well. Hope this game can cope with non-US accents…

  4. Back around 1987, I spent way too much time teaching the Talking Moose desk accessory on the Mac to say (with a Janis Joplin accent) “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz / My friends all drive Porsches; I must make amends.”

    You had to work really hard to tweak the phonemes, as normally the Talking Moose sounded like a tone-deaf Norwegian.

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