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Alt.Ctrl.GDC Showcase: Voiceball

Voiceball will have players using the waveform of their voices to knock a ball back and forth, competitively making odd noises to score goals.

Joel Couture, Contributor

February 5, 2018

6 Min Read

The 2018 Game Developer's Conference will feature an exhibition called Alt.Ctrl.GDC dedicated to games that use alternative control schemes and interactions. Gamasutra will be talking to the developers of each of the games that have been selected for the showcase. You can find all such interviews by clicking here!

Voiceball will have players using the waveform of their voices to knock a ball back and forth across colorful arenas, competitively making odd noises to score goals in this vocal take on foosball.

Set to be on display at the Alt.Ctrl.GDC exhibit, Gamasutra sought out the developers behind Voiceball to learn about the challenges of incorporating several voices into a competitive game, and how they harnessed the natural screams and cursing of play into a more direct, useful form of interaction with a game.

What’s your name, and what was your role on this project?

SB: I’m Stephen Borden and I am a programmer and game designer on Voiceball.

AT: I’m Alex Turbyfield and I am an artist and designer on Voiceball.

TA: I’m Talal Alothman. I’m a programmer on Voiceball.

AY: I am Ali Yildirim. I am the sound designer for Voiceball.

IP: I’m Ilya Polyakov and I work on UI/UX and game design for Voiceball.

How do you describe your innovative controller to someone who’s completely unfamiliar with it?

SB: Our game uses microphones, so the controller is a bit less out there than some of the other Alt.Ctrl.GDC games. Though it can still be a challenge to convince some people to step up to the mic and make weird sounds to play our game.

What's your background in making games?

SB: I studied Computer Science in college and taught myself game development by doing a lot of game jams. Now I make educational games professionally.

AT: I started in college making art for games friends were making. I further developed my art and programming skills once I was hired to make educational games and interactive media.

TA: I learned Unity through taking a Virtual Reality class offered on campus. I attended a number of the local game jams with the objective of getting better at working with real time graphics.

AY: I got started making music for games at various games jams in Georgia. I have made music all my life and I started producing music on the computer in high school.

IP: I got into game development through game jams. I’ve been on the art, game design, writing and
programming side. 

What development tools did you use to build Voiceball

AT: We use Unity. For art, I use a range of tools including Maya LT, Blender, Photoshop, Krita, and After

What physical materials did you use to make it?

TA: A whole lot of spit stuck in the microphone. 

AT: Ew. Gross. 

SB: When we first started on the game we used Rock Band/Guitar Hero USB mics. Since then we’ve stepped it up with some audio interfaces and nicer microphones.

How much time have you spent working on the game?

SB: We’ve been working on it since January 2017. We created the first version for the Global Game Jam.

TA: We all either go to school or work full time. VB has grown in the time we have after school and work.

How did you come up with the concept?

SB: The theme of the jam was “waves”, so we were thinking about what we could do with audio waves.

IP: We were interested in making something multiplayer. After talking about using audio waves and specifically your voice, we thought about what sports would be good to model the game after. Foosball was a perfect fit because you wouldn’t have to use an input other than voice to move the “players” or lines in our case. 

How did you incorporate voice into gameplay? What thoughts went into this? 

AT: This evolved as we kind of just explored different options and went with what felt best. Our first version of the game didn’t use line waves at all, and involved moving the field itself. The field was broken up into cubes that raised with your voice. It looked interesting, but it was kind of confusing and gameplay wasn’t great. Then we tried using line waves on the field and it just clicked. 

IP: We were talking about using audio waves and I think we all liked the idea of groups of people making goofy noises to play our game. What’s great about using voice only for the gameplay is that players don’t need any experience with video games to have fun or be adept at playing. 

The use of audio waves encourages players to mess around with their voice to win. How does this add to the appeal to the game? 

AT: I think there’s a lot of agency involved in one’s voice that most games don’t capitalize on. We’re accustomed to using pitch, intonation, rhythm, loudness, etc., to affect everyday situations. There’s something novel in not just seeing your voice create a waveform out of a line, but then altering that waveform to try to hit a ball and score a goal.

TA: Vocal expressions are a core part of any game. Players shout, curse, and communicate with their voices, sometimes with very little effect on gameplay. (Think younger brother playing COD) Making a player’s vocal expressions their controller provides a way to harness that energy towards actual gameplay. 

IP: I think the bizarre and silly noises people make to play the game make it very entertaining to watch. It’s also interesting to use your voice to knock a ball around and to compete with friends. 

What difficulties did you face in harnessing sound (ambient noise, etc) as an input? 

SB: It’s been challenging to constrain the audio spectrum data to a range that works with people’s vocal ranges. We are still trying to get it right. 

How do you think standard interfaces and controllers will change over the next five or ten years?

TA: The inclusion and synthesis of more modalities is hopefully something a lot of games will not shy away from. It’s becoming easier to understand where the player is looking, their body gestures, and what they’re saying. These modalities are crucial to how we communicate in our daily lives. Bringing these modalities together in a way that is fun, less intrusive, and intuitive is only a matter of time.

IP: I think the biggest changes we’ll see in controls and variety of such will be for VR. We may not see a big shift for classic styles like platformers or fighting games.

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