Inspiration

I started as an independent Alexa developer almost one year and half ago. It has been a stunning experience as the process of creating a vocal interface is a complete change on the development paradigm. After testing some skills, some of them very successful in Italy, I had the luck of expanding the team and get in contact with River Horse that has a great experience in traditional game development. We joined our skill sets and we created a sci-fi Alexa game, called VoidWarper.

What it does

The game is a complex sci-fi adventure (built in English and Italian), where the player is the Captain of a spaceship controlled by a third-generation AI called Valerie. The mission is to transport Princess Victoria back to the Royal Palace on Earth. The problem is that Earth is far away, since we start in deep space, and there are Revolutionaries that plan to assassinate her. The player will have to overcome many dangers and obstacles, destroy enemy spaceships and warp to different planets and sectors in order to complete the mission. There are a lot of different paths that may be followed and even secret shortcuts that may be discovered. There are different type of endings, and the ending really depends on how the player will face the adventure.

How we built it

The game is built with Javascript and NodeJS. It uses Alexa SDK for NodeJS and DynamoDB as persistence layer. We used APL 1.1 for interface rendering on devices with displays. We used some free sound effects taken on freesounds.org

Challenges we ran into

One of the biggest challenge was to find an effective way to collaborate, since the two companies (Aloud.tech and River Horse Ltd) have completely different businesses and are located in different countries (Italy & UK). Writing a story is a completely different task from writing software, especially with a vocal interface. We found a good solution after some trial and error. Then the problem was to develop a good language interaction model, because, in a vocal adventure, a user may answer to the questions being asked using different sentences. With Alexa is quite easy to solve this, but finding the right amount of sets of example sentences is not an easy task. Last but not least, the development process of an engine that was able to handle the story (consider that SkillFlow was still not published when we started the development) was not an easy task. River Horse wrote some passages that were very tricky to be programmed (e.g. same "nodes" in the game graph had to be overcome differently according to the game status), but after a lot of tests, everything is stable.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

The whole game has been built and tested by different people. Everybody enjoyed the experience and we are very happy about that feedback. We are also proud because the ISP part that we developed is, in our opinion, very linear and easy for the user, as well as well-grounded into the story itself. Let me elaborate a little bit about it. We wanted to provide a complete free experience to users and let them enrich it through a purchase of a single entitlement. We discussed a lot about this and what we decided to do was to create an "Omega Clearance" pass that allowed you to enter into the "restricted" sections. River Horse had the task to think about the creativity and the message and we were tasked to develop the whole experience. We are very happy with the result, because Valerie, whenever a user tries to enter into a restricted section, says that in order to go there, an Omega Clearance is needed and that she has a converter for Terran current currency to the future one. This sentence gives the message that something must be purchased, but is still in the context of the game and so it is frictionless for the user. The whole ISP experience is very good and we really hope to see how users will react to this.

What we learned

Building an Alexa skill is a though task, more than it may seem. Building a game is even more difficult, since you have to mix and match narration, sound effects and graphics, trying to retain the user's attention in order to let him/her play again and again. Building a game with a premium experience is something even more difficult: ISP requires you to take care of persistence and to guarantee a frictionless experience to the user. Implementing ISP is a really daunting task even from an interaction model perspective. You are required to implement different intents in order to help the user buy, ask what is buyable, and refund what he may have bought. Being able to complete this part was great for all of us.

What's next for VoidWarper

We are going to see how users will react to this skill. We are particularly curious about the Italian market, as it is still almost new to this kind of skills. If everything is going to go as we think, then we already planned to build some kind of sequel to the story. We are full of creativity and are really willing to put this into brand-new Alexa skills!

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