So it’s about midnight mid-week and my boyfriend comes home from work to a sight that was somewhat unusual. There is me – his boyfriend – covering my entire body and computor monitor in a blanket. From underneath this he can hear me clearly speaking ‘Corrin. Move to the stairwell’.
Then again ‘CORRIN. Move. To. The. Stairwell‘.
And then ‘FUCK, GODAMMIT‘ and a female voice responding ‘Maybe you’re talking to loud?’
I remove the blanket and see him, and he beats me to the punch for witty quip with “Adi, I know you jerk off you don’t have to hide it.”
Of course, he originally assumed I was doing some voice-recording and was using the blanket to block sound. I’m a semi-professional voice-over artist whose done a few paid local commercials but more often than not, I lend my voice to friends who need a narrator or a wacky voice. It’s fun, etc, etc. Which is what he assumed I was doing.
He was wrong. Very wrong. I was in fact, trying to play the game ‘There Came an Echo': a sci-fi isometric strategy game starring Wil Wheaton, Laura Bailey, Yurilowenthal, Ashly Burch and more. Basically voice actors that most nerds know from other awesome video game roles, or in the case of Wheaton, our childhood crushes.
Its primary claim to cool, though, is that you control the game entirely using voice commands. The idea of commanding a squad to move to different points in a pitched battle was intriguing to me since I hate multiplayer and axiomatically the idea of headsets to talk to other players (I’ve been called ‘fag’ enough in high school and I’M VERY SENSITIVE ABOUT MY MOTHER).
But unfotunately, ‘There Came an Echo‘ just wasn’t ready to work for me, which is odd. Voice Recognition is famous for not understanding accents, as many a Youtube Siri video made by Scots can demonstrate.
But it seemed that this game was incredibly hit-and-miss. For as many good-to-positive reviews there were I could find a fair number of reviews complaining that the voice command system just never worked. I found even more frustrated players on forums with similar problems.
In fairness, the game can be played with a mouse-only, but that’s kind of like playing Guitar Hero with your controller and not the fun guitar accesory. Or seeing a PG-13 version of Robocop: It really defeats the premise.
Voice Recognition is just not ready for prime-time in games, I think, because it’s so hard for designers to test.
Unlike traditional inputs, you have two massive variables – One is the microphone, its quality and calibration, and the second is the voice of the person speaking.
You can’t guarantee that any person’s microphone will be up to the task nor can you guarantee they won’t have a tiny mouse voice like my boyfriend or my (apparently) booming mountain-man voice no matter how quietly I spoke. I watched demo videos of someone succesfully using the commands and I honestly couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.
The game looks fun, it has a great cast, and though its tutorial is an almost verbatim ripoff of The Matrix’s ‘office escape’ sequence, it still worked through a combination of a meta-awareness of the scene it was replicating and some decent one-liners with the acting talent behind it.
I wanted to play more, because I assume the game’s plot was going to take off from there. Perhaps in a full review I could have said that
“by using The Matrix‘s office sequence for the tutorial it helped acclimatize the player quickly because they knew what to do”.
But I couldn’t get past that point in the game, really. You need to understand it’s not that I didn’t try to make this work – GOD I FUCKING TRIED – but instead of feeling like I was giving directions to a character played by Wil Wheaton I felt like I was actually trying to direct real life Keanu Reeves
1. My first attempt was with an old headset. I use this to Skype occasionally if I have to type while talking, or if I’m working my dayjob as a sex phone operator (I’m Amber, a cheerleader from Oregon – THAT’S HOW TALENTED I AM). Unfortunately the microphone is good enough for Skype communication but the quality was just too low for the game. Fair enough, though, it’s a damned old headset.
2. The Rode Video Mic – This is the microphone I mount on my camera or attach to boom poles. With its narrow field adjustment I can make it aim directly at my mouth, and limit background noise. Unfortunately even after calibrating the microphone physically and in my computer settings and in the game, I was still having no luck. While SOME of omy commands would get through, most of time I was being told by an in-game character I ‘might be talking to loud‘ . If I wasn’t yelling before, I FUCKING AM NOW.
Worse though, is that the game started reacting to its own characters so suddenly the game would pause, or act as if I’d given an odd command. So I switched to headphones. But alas, still no luck with voice commands.
3. Time to break out the big guns. I have a professional voice-over mic that takes an irritating amount of time to set up because of its settings and how it reacts to background noise, but it’s what I use when recording for clients. So I set it up, put on my headphones, and then draped a blanket over myself, the microphone and the computer screen. That’s when my boyfriend came home and that’s when I just gave up.
The most frustrating part of the whole experience was the amount of ‘helpful hints‘ on the load screens and before starting the game telling me ‘to enunciate’, ‘to speak clearly‘, ‘to not yell‘ during loading screens.
As someone whose done voice casting sessions these are directions I would normally give actors, and I’m perfectly aware of the level of my voice.
Weirder still, my accent is a Southern Ontario accent from someone raised by British parents. In terms of North America, I varied with my normal voice and eventually tried the ‘news reader’ accent you hear a lot where one deliberately flattens their affect to not seem regional in any real way (I mean, there’s always going to be a bit of Canadian in there from me).
If you’re going to buy this game, you just need to be aware of this. If you’re in it for the acting and the story, and you don’t care about the intended gameplay, then you might be fine with the mouse controls (though I’ve read even that’s a bit glitchy. I wish I could corroborate but I DIDN’T GET THAT FAR).
Sadly, there’s no demo through which you can test your microphone and voice, which seems a pretty serious oversight. The developers have said that with deadlines the idea of a demo was just too much extra – and fair enough – but if you could have at least let players test their voice and mic with the calibration software to see if the game is playable, because it seems very, very random for whom the game works.
So in conclusion, I may try again one day once they’ve smoothed things out. I empathize with the designers in the difficulty of voice recognition but really, if you make a game designed on it, it needs to work before the game goes out. You wouldn’t release a game in which 2/3 of the players ‘R1‘ button or ‘X‘ button didn’t work (Unless you’re EA! HAHAHA!) so maybe extending their deadline to get it right would have been the correct call.
I’m assuming they used a third party piece of software they bought the rights to use. And if I find which third party that was I will find THAT company and I will tell them “YOU HAD ONE JOB! ONE. FUCKING. JOB.” and you know what? They won’t understand me.
Because I was speaking too loud.