I built this skill originally to help learn how to use the gadget api for Alexa skills, but it turned into one of the most fun skills I've ever worked on. I enjoyed trying to imagine the flow from the perspective of kids of various ages and make it as simple and straightforward as possible to use.
But, I always wanted to offer something even better. I enjoy writing novels, and so I wanted to write short little stories that would include the animal sounds and be fun for the children. This gradually morphed into a sort of choose-your-own adventure open world skill that where children can travel the world and see different animals.
Having access to the APL was what made this a reality. I tried to design it in such a way that children can use their imaginations and hear the sounds, but being able to sync that up with a visual experience made all the difference in the world.
What it does
The simplest way to use the skill is to open it up, say various animal names, and then listen to the sounds that they make. It will also occasionally tell you cool facts about the animal you just heard. You can scroll through the animal pictures on an echo show device and then tap the screen to navigate through the sounds, and you can even tap Echo Button devices to hear random sounds (from one to four buttons).
But, that is just where the skill begins.
The meat and potatoes of the skill and newest feature is going on adventures around the world. Just tell the skill that you want to go on an adventure and it opens up a story mode where you travel with a tour group to different countries and locales.
Through a simple interface you pick where you want to go, interact with other travelers, and hear animals in their natural habitats. The use of character voices gives each person on the trip a distinct personality and brings the story to life, and the choices that the users make change their path through the story.
Each adventure is short enough to be bedtime stories while still having depth and easter eggs for the children to discover. With the initial launch of these new adventures, the children can visit a swamp in Florida, the plains of the midwest, a watering hole in Africa, the Sahara in Africa, the oceans around China, or the wilderness of China and see and hear various animals while meeting other children and adults including Ivy, Brian, Justin, Amy, and the tour guide Matthew.
Available Stories Right Now (with more to come):
How I built it
I use Java and lambda along with a lot of custom components, Cloud Front for images, and then my own custom structure for the adventures for building the choose-your-own adventure options.
Using APL, I focused on using a simple and easy to navigate screen as the root functionality of the display with up to four options available to tap at any given time. This allowed me to use touch wrappers, sequences, scrollviews, pagers, and more in the design while making sure everything was at-a-glance and voice first in the functionality.
Challenges I ran into
Building the custom structure for the adventure game took a lot of time and required a lot of modifications to get it to where it is today. The hardest part was building the underlying structure and designing the voice interface. I settled on an 'up-to-four' input methodology because it is the most information I can convey without overloading the user with options and it also works very well with the visual display.
I am also a writer of novels and short stories, so creating this skill and using the voices gave me a chance to breathe life into the story and build characters that weren't really possible in earlier iterations of this skill.
Ensuring that the interface was simple enough to be navigated by multiple age groups was important for me as well. If anyone still wishes to utilize the basic functionality of tapping to hear animals or just saying an animal name that is completely possible.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
I'm really proud of the new choose-your-own-adventure aspects of it because I think it can be a great bedtime story or family game that kids can play whenever they want to use their imaginations, and it also gives me the opportunity to merge together my two favorite activities of writing compelling stories and developing Alexa skills.
What I learned
I learned how to use the APL as well as developing a custom story structure for children. Originally I wanted to make the choices open ended text recognition, but I settled on a one through four structure of answers that gave me flexibility in design but also power in implementation.
What's next for Animal Sounds
Next up is adding in more stories and missions. I plan on separating out more categories in the navigational flow of the skill for things like seasonal stories. I would also like to add more depth and variation to the adventures, as well as more characters and personality. The goal is to make the screens and interactions seamless for telling stories.