Planet Story is an immersive educational voice game that helps players learn about optimal conditions required for habitable planets, through the experimental experience of creating their own planetary systems. We utilised NASA data and resources to create the game logic and educational facts to ensure the gaming experience is as close to science as possible. We hope to inspire more people, both young and old to develop an appreciation for the tremendous possibilities of our incredible universe, discover the amazing findings and contributions that NASA has given to humanity, and inspire people to learn more about NASA’s missions and projects, such as the Kepler project discovering new exoplanets around the universe.
Our website: (https://planetstory.co)
Additional files to supplement our submission: (http://bit.ly/planetstory-additional-2019)
- Official Planet Story Voice Game [YouTube]: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfTIFtPj9K8)
- Official Planet Story Voice Game [Vimeo]: (https://vimeo.com/372502496)
- Planet Story demo video: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTtnNbYKz4E&t=75s)
Planet Story is an immersive educational voice game that helps players learn about optimal conditions required for habitable planets and through a personalised narrative experience that is engaging and entertaining to guide players of building their own planetary systems with the control of their own voice. We utilised NASA data and resources to create the voice game logic and incorporated educational facts to ensure the gaming experience is closely linked to science education, whilst also being fun and engaging.
We hope to inspire a variety of individuals, young and old to develop an appreciation for the tremendous possibilities of our incredible universe, discover the amazing findings and contributions that NASA has given to humanity; and importantly inspire learning more about NASA’s missions and projects, such as the Kepler Space Telescope project which made discoveries of potentially habitable exoplanets in the Milky Way galaxy.
The Imagineers team wanted to make a game that can help educate players on some of the requirements needed to have a habitable planet. The player should realise that Earth is a very unique planet and show more appreciation for what we have.
There are a limited number of science-related voice games on the Alexa Skills store that is entertaining and engaging for players learning about the planetary system.
Because Voice User Interface (VUI) is the trending technology movement from the web to mobile and currently to this date of evolving tech voice user interface is the niche that will progress getting better. In addition to ‘inclusive design’, accessibility is also considered for the visually impaired and those users are able to experience the interface equally as the majority of non-disabled users. Voice User Interface (VUI) is instantaneous and the younger generation would, therefore, become more accustomed to learning using such tools. Therefore, there is a need for a modern educational platform which can enable the younger generation to learn more about the planetary system and the specific conditions required for a habitable planet.
Inclusive design and accessibility are also seriously considered as the inspirations of this Planet Story project. Our aim and intentions are to target the visually impaired and especially those players who are missing out on the visual digital interactions. We heavily thought about immersive and appealing voices for Planet Story’s game narration. Highly considering the subtle audio cues and story narration has been our inspirational motivation to build Planet Story. This is how we believe, Planet Story will have the capability to persuasively educate the game story experience and players will learn to be more aware of the unique position that Earth happens to be in and our communities could be more compassionate towards looking after our planet.
Our intention of creating the voice game is how we can help educate players on some of the requirements that are needed to have a habitable planet and what are the optimal conditions for life to thrive. The player should realise that Earth is a very unique and precious planet and show more appreciation for what we have, and that habitable planets are hard to find.
Our team also believes that if people are more aware of the unique position that Earth happens to be in, our communities would be more compassionate towards looking after our planet.
Most popular voice games on the Alexa skills store are created with personalised voice characters or narrators other than the default Alexa voice and because learning science can be quite overwhelming or sometimes an enduring experience. A charismatic or persuasive voice that is humanly realistic of its narration and teaching will enhance the Planet Story voice game experience. It is what we believe that will make our science-related voice skill game to be enjoyable, entertaining and delightful to allure players to return to interact with.
It is our mission to build a voice game with personalised voice characters that align with the character profiles that we have scouted and researched for and to record in the highest-best quality that is close to an industry standard for players to experience a premium-like voice game experience. Hence we believe these unique voice upgrades of an in-skill purchasing is worthwhile and the personalised voices are meticulously captured and edited with the leading industry software that delivers its premium-like quality.
Gamification has been proven from primary research of user testing voice games to be a useful tool for educational purposes.
We hope that the customisation and interactivity will help inspire gameplay and in turn improve the ability of the game to educate its users in a fun and engaging way.
What it does
Our team has created a game which allows the players to decide the properties of the planets and the stars. While the player customises their stars and planets, an option for additional information of the customisable properties will be given to the player, which helps to educate the player about the decisions they make in building their planetary system.
The game features fun graphics to make the game more engaging for the younger audience. As the player becomes more accustomed to the results of different planetary phenomena (e.g. solar temperature, mass, planet size, age, etc.), they may begin to understand the necessary conditions required to construct a habitable planet with the use of voice. Our team has used NASA research data to derive the game logic.
We cannot determine all the types of players and their personal preferences as we are all uniquely different human beings. Hence, Planet Story offers voice upgrades if our personalised NASA astronaut host bores or does not appeal to our players, there is the option to upgrade to a different voice that suits their preference all the way through to the end of the voice game.
Through meticulous research and arithmetical solving on the number of combinations that can be done in Planet Story, the team was able to narrow down all the possibilities that can be built in the Planet Story game. By sectioning the voice game experience with three questions and providing options for the player to utter choosing, it subtly builds on to the voice game and players are in full control. They have the additional option to learn more factual NASA Space information whilst building their Planet Story.
The voice game also features fun graphics on display that makes it engaging for the younger audience and to those with the Alexa devices that has an interactive screen. As the player becomes more accustomed to the results of different planetary phenomena (e.g. solar temperature, mass, planet size and age etc.) players can begin to understand the necessary conditions required to construct a habitable planet with the use of voice. Our team has used NASA research data to derive the game logic.
Why Alexa is the perfect platform for Planet Story
Voice games are the future. As digital & home assistants become more widespread and integrated into our daily routine, we are seeing a new experiences open up to people, young and old, that provide a fresh, engaging and immersive approach to gaming and learning. (https://developer.amazon.com/blogs/alexa/post/d015fcc0-d6c3-40d9-bd1a-f3d2a2508a7a/why-voice-games-are-part-of-the-future-of-gaming)
Voice is one of the fastest-growing mediums. There has been a huge spike in popularity of Alexa and Google Home all over the world. In December 2016 we saw Amazon’s Echo products become most popular during holidays. Google Assistant is now available on 400 million+ devices which include products like Google Home, Android phones, and tablets, iPhones, headphones, TVs, watches and more. Comscore predicts that “50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020”. According to Alpine.AI more than one billion searches were made by voice. “37% use Siri, 23% use Microsoft’s Cortana AI, and 19% use Amazon’s Alexa AI at least monthly.” — Hubspot (https://medium.muz.li/designing-for-voice-a84aeeed6425)
This is not the only reason. We want to ensure our game is accessible to everyone.. Including people with vision impairment, who would otherwise never have the chance to experience the beauty of the universe. Games are traditionally not developed to cater for these audiences - however, the voice experience allows us to transcend sight and visual impairment. We are committed to empower those who are blind or partially sighted to experience the wonders of space, by utilising our experience in human-centred design, audio, and emerging technology to create inclusive gaming experience for both vision-enabled and vision-impaired audiences.
According to the WHO (https://www.who.int/blindness/GLOBALDATAFINALforweb.pdf). The estimated number of people visually impaired in the world is 285 million, 39 million blind and 246 million have low vision; 65 % of people visually impaired and 82% of all blind are 50 years and older. Our game will help us transcend the barriers and make knowledge of NASA available to more people.
How we built it
Planet Story is a game built for Amazon Alexa. We used Python to code the backend which is run on AWS Lambda. Using the Alexa Developer Console, we built a Natural Language Processing model that defines user interaction with our skill. Intent schema and created the framework to determine the behaviour of our skill.
The display of the planetary system is done using APL (Alexa Presentation Language). We made use of audio capabilities to enrich the user experience by creating our own narrations. We also utilised high-quality Amazon Alexa Polly voices for dialogues by using Text-To-Speech.
We designed the user flow and developed a storyline for the game based on the results of our NASA data & external data research. We wrote out all the utterances to define the intent schema and added logic for different choices in the game.
We utilised Github as our code repository and adhered to CI/CD principles to set up our development environment for continuous development, integration and testing.
We utilised the Amazon Alexa Developer Console and Alexa-enabled devices for testing. The app successfully passed certification and has been submitted to the English (US) Alexa Store for publishing (pending review by Amazon).
In the future, we will be considering publishing the skill to more Amazon Alexa local stores to reach more space enthusiasts around the world.
Technical architecture: (https://drive.google.com/open?id=1XPdlCRlngclxiwwKB5TRt7SSgxj7D-3S)
Using Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop to recreate personalised vector images that were sized to the specific pixel requirements on the Alexa Developer Console.
Audio files were meticulously captured with a voice recorder in a soundproof studio and carefully edited on Adobe Audition to be exported into the required audio file format and be hosted on AWS S3.
The demonstration in the showcase video is successful with the use of the Alexa Developer Console to simulate an Alexa Echo Show device with a display of the Plane Story skill graphics.
The 30 seconds intro video was edited on Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe After Effects. Space planets, galaxy and universe footage were from NASA’s open resources on Flickr and Github. Other footage was retrieved from Adobe Stock and YouTube.
User testing demonstration of the Planet Story skill on the Alexa Developer Console was captured with a Canon 800d camera and Zoom H1n recorder.
In addition as certified Alexa Developers from the Australia New Zealand Amazon Alexa Master Skill Builders Program, we had access to Alexa's Video generator and our designer/video editor was able to utilise the Alexa video template assets and amend unique changes to work in favour as a marketable video pitch for our Planet Story skill.
Challenges we ran into
There have been multiple challenges we have faced during our journey. What we ran into during the duration of the challenge were:
- Figuring out which components were needed for the game.
- Figuring out kind information the user wants to learn from using the Alexa Skill.
- Researching factors that come are needed when building a solar system.
- Deciding on a valid source of information.
- Narrowing down ideas to figure out which of them are suitable for children under 13.
- Trying to figure out the platform for the game.
- Debugging and testing code in the Alexa Developer Console.
- Developing the game logic for sun & planet customisation.
- Figuring out how Alexa will respond to the user.
- The character’s voice script for the Planet Story game and recording the actor’s voice.
- Holding back the temptation to laugh along with the actor’s impersonation of the character.
- Researching and testing phase of the skill name that is easy to pronounce and different from the other Alexa skills.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
- We are proud to be one of the top 20 global virtually nominated teams for the NASA Space Apps competition which we simultaneously entered during the course of our work in the Alexa ISP competition.
- We learned how to integrate In-Skill Purchasing in Alexa, which will be very helpful for future developments.
- We learned a lot about creating educational voice games and gamification.
- We were able to successfully submit our skill to the Alexa store and pass the certification.
- Despite the game logic being tricky to implement due to the vast amount of customisation options for star-planet combinations for planetary systems, we were able to simplify the experience for an engaging gameplay experience whilst staying true to science.
- Recording and implementing different voices was a very fun experience for the team.
- We did some user testing with our target audiences and received good feedback.
- We are really happy with our work and proud of what we’re able to create and can’t wait to add more features.
- One of our team members never knew how to edit sound audio professionally and was able to learn and master it with the leading industry software and how has become our leading professional sound engineer
- We have been proudly certified as Alexa Developers from Azi Farjad's Australia New Zealand Amazon Alexa Master Skill Builders Program.
What we learned
- The Alexa platform is perfect for an interactive educational experience. With the use of voice, it reduces the friction for learning and particularly for kids.
- Voice User Interface is the present trend and being able to use it to control your experience has inspired us to build voice skills.
- We are really grateful for the learning that we’ve made along the way, and the opportunity to work together and learn from one another's skills. It has been a very rewarding and amazing experience.
- We also learned a lot about space, planetary systems, stars, planets, habitable zones, and enriched our own understanding of how precious and rare earth is. It is a miracle that we are lucky enough to call earth our home, that we live in a place full of abundance & life, and that life is fragile. We hope that our game will inspire more people to be aware of the conditions required for habitable planets and inspire more people to be considerate about the environmental impacts on our planet.
What's next for Planet Story
Planet Story will continue onwards being developed further with more stories, information and research of our universe, stars, planets and greater worlds after the competition. We have already submitted the game to the Amazon Alexa store and the game will be publicly available to enable and experience before the end of Nov 2019. We will continue to test, develop and improve the game experience with:
- Enriching the gaming experience with music and immersive sound effects.
- Events of asteroids, comets, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and black holes.
- Ability to create more planets, or add multiple suns in the planetary system.
- Create a website which allows the player to view and share the planetary system they have created.
- Randomiser / Random name generator or personalised sun/planet naming
- Factual up-to-date data from NASA to display on the Alexa Echo Show devices and mobile devices with Alexa
- In-Skill Purchasing incentives to purchase for the player’s solar system
- Unlock something fun (collection, achievements, badges)
- Galaxy Map system for our player base to travel to another player’s planets, a leaderboard for most inhabitable planetary systems
- Challenges built with certain correlations.
- Missions eg. make a planet habitable in a binary star system
- Tutorial stage to teach player before they start the sandbox path.
Future plans of in-skill purchasing
- Habitable planets that have been created will earn life critters and options to track and purchase resources to save your planet from diminishing and save your life critters.
- Potential possibility of a trade-share voice upgrades with other players that can be tracked through a web-based mobile application. We will consider haptics responses for the visually impaired players.
- Capability to add more planets to your planetary system
- Create new planetary systems without overwriting existing systems. Therefore players can save their planet story game experience before quitting or stopping the audio game.
- Unlock a planet trivia true/false mini fact game to earn incentives that can be used towards building their Planet Story.
- Evolve life on your customised planet.
- Additional voice packs: Space paladin (English accent like a medieval Knight), Valley girl (Californian girl), ASMR voice (whisper), Space wizard (Morgan Freeman/Harry Potter - Dumbledore).
Our project roadmap is as follows: Image (https://drive.google.com/open?id=1zLkWVztUZUh7f4yJik6u0dXiSuzQ-O6F) PDF (https://drive.google.com/open?id=17wB-OmFTC80Hr5HuLiau20tEe7GoviU5)
- PHASE 1 - Initial Release and Public Beta at NASA Space Apps 2019 - Features built and fully working game tested and published to Alexa store. Voice integration completed.
- PHASE 2 - Additional Features - Build more planets, binary star system, more facts, more graphics, a website to view and share the planetary you’ve built. Integrate background music to create ambience. Improve Alexa performance. Conduct user testing and research to identify and prioritise features. The research pricing model for premium features.
- PHASE 3 - Marketing and Growth - Promotion through social media, partnering with schools for demos and giveaways, partnering with universities and institutes to improve the knowledge base and game logic. We will aim to raise $5000 to scale the development of the game through a Crowdfunding campaign. For more updates on our product roadmap and exciting future features in the pipeline, please visit our website (https://planetstory.co) - we will be posting updates regularly. Enter your email address to signup for updates, be the first to hear when our app lands on the Alexa Store and get exclusive invitations to our upcoming public betas.
How to play
Enable the Skill on your Alexa device:
- Enable the Skill by saying _ “Alexa, enable Planet Story” _
- Start playing by saying _ “Alexa, play Planet Story” _
Enable the Skill on your mobile device:
- Depending on if you have an Android or iOS device, please download the Alexa app from:
- Android: (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.amazon.dee.app&hl=en)
- iOS: (https://apps.apple.com/us/app/amazon-alexa/id944011620)
- Enable the Skill by Saying “Alexa, enable Planet Story”
- Navigate to Skill & Games on the left the side menu,
- Tap on the search icon, type Planet Story
- On the Skill page, tap Enable to use
- Start playing by saying “Alexa, play Planet Story”
Alexa Store Links:
Note: As this skill makes use of APL if your device does not have a screen it may not work correctly. In this case, please send us an email (email@example.com) and we can add you as a beta tester which allows you to play the game on the Alexa Developer Console.
To ensure that the mechanics of our game are accurate and reflect science, our team spent a lot of time throughout the weekend to conduct extensive research on planetary systems with habitable conditions, exoplanets, star formation, planet formation, and more data, to distil facts and insights from a wide range of data sources. After gathering the resources, we spent a considerable amount of time verifying the facts to ensure it is backed up by reputable sources. The information gathered allowed us to create complex game logic, which was utilised for ensuring that results and outcomes of the game were true to science, thus allowing the educational facts to be weaved seamlessly in the voice game.
Example of game logic matrix derived from facts gathered from extensive research: (https://drive.google.com/open?id=1TuwL0GhrT7nLLcU_a6ihQ6X57u9J6fAQ)
Note that in order to simplify the game for voice and to ensure we are able to create a full working publish-ready game suited for the Alexa voice platform, some logic relating to planet customisation were simplified. We will, however, explore more customisation features in the future and add more advanced options in upcoming versions of the game.
We made use of the following NASA resources: