Video Games That Make *YOU* The Voice Actor

I’m always intrigued by technological advances involving the human voice. And no, I’m not talking about the kind of “advances” that involve replacing the human voice with a digital facsimile, such as the recent blogbath over a New York Times Op-Ed piece concerning the Amazon’s new Kindle 2 voice synthesized audiobook narration (which I’m currently writing an Op-Ed on for this blog).

I’m talking about super-cool advances in technology like voice recognition software, especially involving video games. Gamer’s site Gamasutra.com recently interviewed indie game developer North Side on their efforts to create a superior voice-interactive gaming experience with “natural language-parsing AI” for their upcoming title, “Bot Colony.” Games using this technology essentially make you — the gamer — the voice actor. Your voice becomes a godlike entity that allows you to control the game, and what you say and how you say it could not only change the course of a conversation but also the entire outcome of the game.

But such technology is not easy to explain, as these highlights reveal:

Q: What was it like developing the natural language-parsing AI for the game over the last 5 years? What was the hardest part of refining it?

A: Precise parsing and disambiguation are huge hurdles when you do NLP [natural language-parsing]. Reasoning in real-time is another big problem. Finally, dialogue management and understanding the intent of the player (speaker) is a monumental challenge. When it comes to the player’s input, how complex a sentence can the game’s robots understand? We’d have to define complexity first. A first-cut definition could be the number of different words, their frequency in a corpus, but especially the way that they combine.

When we say Bot Colony will feature unrestricted natural language understanding, we mean it. There are no limits on the words that you can use, and as long as your English is correct, we should be able to deal with it (but that’s already asking a lot!).

Q: Is Bot Colony designed to give the player a “Game Over” at any point, or is it like an adventure game where players are stymied only when they can’t figure out how to solve a puzzle?

A: In Bot Colony, the clock keeps running and time advances (so from that point of view, it is similar to The Last Express that you mentioned). If the player keeps exploring the island and chatting with robots (who will be delighted to oblige), and does nothing proactive to accomplish the mission, I guess the spy will eventually succeed in destroying the island, or the player will eventually get fired by Nakagawa Corp.

The player’s score will, of course, go up based on levels successfully played. However, in Bot Colony there is another very important metric: successful verbal exchanges with robots, and their difficulty. If a player manages to get a robot to comprehend something new, she or he gets rewarded.

To read the complete article, click here.

North Side [link: NorthSideInc.com] says they hope to have a “restricted beta” open for testing this summer and to release an “initial version” by December 2009.

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