Danish developer creates a voice-controlled game in Google Actions: “It’s a pretty good development environment”

Illustration: Bolverk Games

“Objection, your honour!”

There are probably many fans of legal dramas who have dreamed of being the lawyer who keeps the prosecutor from harassing the witness by uttering those three words.

This dream is turned into reality in the voice-controlled game “Voice Attorney” from Danish game developer Bolverk Games.

The game is designed for Google’s Nest Hub, which is a platform for Google Assistant.

The player assumes the role of the prosecutor to solve four cases, but instead of controlling the game with a mouse and keyboard or a joystick, one uses their voice to interact with the game.

“We have to make it work”

The game is inspired by Capcom’s popular courtroom adventure game series, Ace Attorney, Game Director Jaime Monedero March says.

“We went for an Ace Attorney-like game—but with voice control. We think it’s a really interesting formula. Especially considering that the players should be able to ask the witnesses anything they come up with,” Jaime Monedero March says.

But even though the developers were enthusiastic about the idea of a voice-controlled legal drama in which the player can ask the witnesses anything, it was also an intimidating goal.

“On the one hand, I thought: ‘Great, we can make that work.’ On the other hand, I thought: ‘Oh no, we’ll have to make it work.’”

Game Director of Voice Attorney, Jaime Monedero March. Illustration: Bolverk Games

Leading people down a path

“Voice Attorney” is published by Google, and the tech giant was also the one that encouraged Bolverk Games to develop a game for Nest Hub.

Bolverk Games therefore had to develop the game in Google’s web-based development environment “Actions” and with JavaScript.

“It’s a pretty good development environment, with an integrated voice recognition tool, and it’s in fact surprisingly easy to implement,” Jaime Monedero March says.

But while implementing the voice recognition tool is not complicated, making a voice-activated game has not been an easy task. Because even though the developers want to give players the illusion of taking to the game freely, it is of course not quite like that in reality.

“We can’t just give players a list of limited things they can ask. But of course, if you look under the hood, there’s a limited selection of things that you can ask,” Jaime Monedero March says.

This is where the legal drama form helps to keep the player in check, because it is about figuring out something that had already happened.

“We lead people down a certain path,” Jaime Monedero March says.

“The cases will always follow the same form, but we try to give the players the freedom to be an asshole once in a while. This may be when your assistant asks you: Are you ready to go? Then you can just say, ‘No.’ You may end up with a slightly different dialogue, but in the end, you will always end up in the same place. But the game takes into account that you were cheeky.”

The biggest challenge

Bolverk Games has set up voice control by defining a number of intentions, which players can then formulate in all sorts of different ways.

“For example, it could be asking about the witness’ alibi. There are many ways you can inquire about it. So we code different intentions,” Jaime Monedero March says.

“It could be called: ‘r_askalibi’, and then you feed the AI with training phrases. They could be: Where were you that night, what were you doing when the murder took place, were you nearby when the murder happened? And when the player says something reminiscent of that, it matches with the right intention.”

And according to Jaime Monedero March, this is also where the biggest challenge in voice control lies, because players can sometimes choose to articulate themselves in surprising ways.

“The other day I was talking to a player who said he was on case number four and didn’t really understand where he was supposed to go from there. Then he explained what he had done. So I just had to tell him: It really does makes sense that you did that. We simply didn’t take into account that people would phrase it that way,” Jaime Monedero March says.

According to him, it is fortunately quite easy to adjust the game when developers discover new variations in player behaviour.