Using Real World Geography in Voice Apps
One of TsaTsaTzu’s flagship skills is the open ended adventure game 6 Swords. In this game, the player leads a team of up to six characters on expeditions across a fantasy landscape. It’s easily the richest and most advanced skill on Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. This means that 6 Swords is an excellent test bed for trying out new techniques and concepts in Voice App development.
One technique we have blogged about previously is called the “Method of Loci,” a technique that allows a user to manipulate complex settings by configuring the decision tree into a geographical context. It’s an alternative to one of those endless telephone voice prompt systems where the user has to “press or say 1” to make a choice. In Method of Loci, the user navigates choices by choosing from north/south/east/west. Because our brains have lots of base level wiring for geography, this ends up being easier to navigate than a numerical model.
Lately, we have taken this concept to a different dimension. Literally.
Let’s look an example. In the free play area, we have a game map that goes in all directions infinitely. But, by traversing a “magical gate” (and paying a subscription fee) the player is admitted to the “premium area,” which is another dimension. (The setting in 6 Swords is contains a number of “parallel dimensions.”) This new dimension is a hand curated landscape with specific game features, background plots, quests and so forth. It was always intended to be one of many such dimensions.
We can’t take all the credit for this idea. A fan recently praised 6 Swords for its ability in 6 Swords to let players “get out and explore.” At one point she wished she could explore the “real world” as easily as she could explore the game world of 6 Swords. After considering her suggestion, we decided to give it a try.
There is plenty of GIS information available on real world locations. In many ways, it is almost easier than trying to procedurally generate a fantasy area that looks like the real world. We picked Ireland as our subject since it is a geographically distinct island, which fits well into the gameplay, but we also have a certain familiarity with the country having lived there for many years. (The Irish government has a wonderful site data.gov.ie which had all the needed data sets.)
So now, in 6 Swords, you can take a magic gate to Ireland! You can explore the geography, the towns and the villages. We’ll even be incorporating some local music in future updates. Now, it is still riddled with monsters and dungeons because, well, it is a fantasy game. But what if it wasn’t?
What other applications could this be put to? In its essence, this technique allows you to peruse a real physical space via audio. With height and terrain detail, hikers might use it to plot or plan courses from a first person perspective. Populate it with tourist information and it can be an interactive experience to learn about a destination. Populate it with geological and mineralogical information and you might be a good resource for training students in working out subsurface features from surveys.
Voice assistants are mostly past the “hockey puck” part of the graph. We aren’t seeing lots of new disruptive features appearing in the technology itself. But it is discoveries like this that show the real area of innovation here is in design and application. In that realm we’re only just being to discover what can be done.
Of note, it took us a few weeks to develop the Irish map for 6 Swords. However, it only took one week to create another map based on Iceland. Once you’ve got the technique, all you need is data to apply it to new areas.