My objective is to create a simple children's game that would also provide education about nature during game play. The game is similar to Rock, Paper, Scissors. My concern about Rock, Paper Scissors is that it is destructive. Rock breaks scissors, scissors cuts paper, and so on. Instead, I wanted to create a similar game that is "constructive" and more appropriate for younger children. I went with bees, flowers and bears because of their positive, symbiotic relationships.
The game is fairly simple, however a number of flourishes have been included in order to make the game more appealing and engaging. The user plays Alexa and her friends (a variety of alternative voices). Also a variety of random alternative phrases are used throughout the the game. Fun facts about bees, flowers and bears are included, and sound effects are added to make the game more entertaining.
As such, I am hoping kids will play the game whenever they like, even if it is just for a few minutes during any given day. At the same time, I am hoping that kids will learn more about bees, flowers and bears from the facts that are provided during the game. In this way, I am hoping this skill represents a good example of applying "Technology for Good."
What it does
Upon invoking the skill, the user asks whether they are a bee, a flower, or a bear. After the user provides an answer, Alexa then provides a random fact based on their answer. Then, Alexa randomly will choose an answer. Based on the user and Alexa's answer, a winner is determined. Afterwards, Alexa asks the user if they would like to play another round.
How I built it
Storyline was used as the platform for building the skill. In addition, an Airtable was configured to manage the Polly voice SSML tags. An API is used to randomly call the voice tags, and additional SSML tags for Prosody (rate, pitch), and Emphasis. Random selections for the various phrases recited by Alexa are used throughout the skill. Most of the sound effects are from the Amazon Sound Library. One sound, a bee buzzing, however, is stored on the Amazon S3 server.
Challenges I ran into
The first major challenge is handling the Amazon Polly voices. When I initially developed the skill, the voices were only available in the US. However I wanted to also promote the skill to other regions that allow kids skills, and use Alexa's standard voice. As a result, I have two separate skills. One for the US region, and another for the UK, IN and AU regions. In the last several weeks, however, the voices became available in the UK, IN and AU as well. I updated the skill for these regions to also use the Polly voices, but I still ended up with two separate skills.
The second was creating some music for the video. I have little experience in this area, and took extra time to start learning how to use GarageBand, which is a digital audio workstation for creating music and podcasts.
The third was creating the video, as I have very little experience in this area. Also I do not own a smartphone, and so taking footage was a challenge. I also was unable to get Echosim.IO to work. I was ultimately able to make a video using my 12 year old Blackberry, and it is a bit rough. I ended up taking some extra time to learn how to use iMovie to put the video together.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
There are several. The first is being able to implement the Polly voices in a way that provides alternative voices each time a new session is initiated. I also used Airtable as an integration for the first time. Finally, I am proud of the video's song I created using GarageBand, and the video I created using iMovie.
What I learned
Utilizing Airtable to provide inputs into the skill helps provide an enriched user experience. Learning how to use the GarageBand and iMovie applications to create additional assets. Although I am still very much a novice with these, I like the idea of creating more content with these tools to augment marketing. Another thing I learned is how to upload, store and access a sound effect on the Amazon S3 server.
What's next for Bees Flowers Bears Game
Now that the basic game is in place, there are several enhancements planned. First, there will be ongoing updating of the fun facts about bees, flowers and bears, to keep the content fresh and to provide additional education.
Second, is to add a scorekeeping system. This would enable Alexa to keep track of the score during a session, and also possibly establish a leader board.
A third enhancement I am considering is a multiplayer version featuring Amazon buttons. The idea is to have two or three players having a contest, and each different colored button represents a bee, a flower or a bear.