So first of all, I apologize for missing last week’s Speculation Friday. I was terribly busy and also just couldn’t think of anything to speculate about. But inbetween that time, some exciting stuff happened. Like I got an iPhone 4S and have been playing around with Siri, the built in personal assistant. If you don’t know what Siri is, she (and I use that term full aware that it is my phone) will set reminders, locate businesses for you, send text messages and basically turns alot of the cool features of the iPhone that might be really tedious to do, and streamlines it.
While not perfect, Siri is a testament to how far commercial voice recognition can be. That combined with how Bethesda handled Kinect control for Skyrim has really gotten me to think how voice can be implemented into a full on game. I know some games already do exist that use voice commands, and have for quite some time, but the limitations of the technology plus the fact that it would often involve an expensive separate peripheral that prevents it from really taking off.
So for today’s speculations, I’m going to imagine what games that utilize voice can do with some of the following assumptions. The first is that voice input is common and built in or packaged with the system. I’m imagining Kinect or Kinect 2 for the next Xbox and maybe even if the Wii U controller can be adapted to have voice recognition software (since the game pad has a built in mic). The other assumption is that voice recognition becomes more reliable in the near future. Siri has already shown me how that kind of software has gone leaps and bounds from “Hey You Pikachu!” and I can’t wait for more games that really adapt the technology.
1) What are your orders Squad Leader?
Unless you are playing with real people ala Battlefield 2142 or multi-player Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, squad mechanics are usually kept very simple or require a lot of tiresome ques. When it comes to commanding AI squad mates, I think Star Wars: Republic Commando is my favorite game that pulls it off correctly. In that game you give orders with just one button, and the AI’s behavior is based on the context of the order. Want them to heal? Tell them to go to a recharge station. Selecting a target focuses everyone on a specific target, and certain cover has different functions like used for sniping, anti-armor, etc.
The overall system was implemented masterfully but everything had to be so carefully calculated in terms of level design and some choice on the player’s part was taken away. For example, in one level, you have to fight a boss in a large arena like structure. There are plenty of sniping, anti-armor, and sniping positions, but while you choose where they go, you can’t really tell them what to do at each point, something that ruins the squad leader feeling. Other pet peeve of mine is that the game sets up your squad mates as specialists: Sev is the sniper, Scorch is the demolition expert, and Fixer is the hacker. But the way it is set up, you can’t really tell a specific squad mate to do a certain thing. The best you could do is assign everyone to a position, then free the one you want to do something up and give him a new order.
You can probably tell where I’m going with this by now. With voice commands, you could be really specific with your orders, with the added bonus of issuing commands without having to take your eyes off the action. Imagine it where you could be laying down cover fire and just yell at your game for squad mates to do some complex strategy like to head to a point and take up sniping positions. In the case of Republic Commando or similar games, you could easily order specific characters to do specific actions. Like telling Scorch to set a bomb and Fixer to hack a computer all without taking your eyes off the action. It would also force the players to learn their teammates names. One criticism I’ve heard about Ghost Recon: Future Solider is that you don’t really care about of your teammates or can really tell them apart. When you can name something, even if it doesn’t really know or understand you, you grow more attached to it. Whether it is a pet, a phone, or a game AI, knowing and referring to it by name can make tragedy and victory all that more meaningful. It’s why Sev’s death really hit player’s softspots, because you had time to learn so much about him and you could really him apart from each other character.
This could also be used in a game like Star Wars Rogue Squadron, with pretty much the same effect. But whereas games like that give you mass commands for your wing mates to either fly in formation, attacking enemy fighters, structures, or just run away, you could actually refer to them by call sign and give them specific orders. How awesome would it be to flying around in any game like Rogue Squadron and specifically tell 2 of your fighters to form up on you? The close games get to replicating those awesome experiences in the movies, the more and more emotionally invested players can become.
2) Cutting Down the Dialogue Trees
An interesting idea came up for me last week, where a game prototype I had helped develop was kind of scrapped because the team wanted to do away with dialogue trees. Their approach to doing so was one of two ways, the almost impossible (at least for college students) way of letting players type in anything they wanted and having the AI respond accordingly, or just having the player-character mute and only responding with “yes” or “no”. While for their particular game, I think they are over-complicating the problem, the idea of removing the dialogue tree intrigued me. Often times, dialogue trees snap us out of the immersive experience by not giving us the option we thought we had. Phoenix Wright for example is a game where you play as a smart, deductive person, but you don’t really feel all that smart or deductive because just pressing a person for more information could reveal new dialogue options. Several times I’ve wanted to present evidence or ask a question that I couldn’t because it wasn’t available to me and other times where something I never would have guessed is given to me.
So what if there was a game where you do detective work, but when interviewing people you had to ask the right question? No dialogue would be available and you don’t necessarily have a reason to be asking a certain question. For example, LA Noire only let you ask a question to a suspect if you had a clue or a piece of evidence pertaining to it. While LA Noire did have a pretty good system, imagine the possibilities if you could ask seemingly random questions and get some interesting information out of the character. Want to know what a person is like? Ask them where they hang out and maybe investigate it later even if you have no basis for it. It’s up to you to decide what information is important or not.
If you could get that kind of game on the Wii U, the game pad could be used to write in a journal.
These are just two of what I think it limitless potential for voice recognition in games and only focusing on the ones that could really use voice commands as main mechanic. Smaller mechanics could be implemented to give the player something like a third hand in say, an RTS or just navigating a menu a whole lot easier. It really is exciting to see how games are expanding and opening up new means of interaction, especially between man and machine.
P.S. I apologize for anyone who thought the title meant I was going to be talking about Skyrim with Star Wars….although….