• June 1, 2007
  • By Leonard Klie Editor, Speech Technology and CRM magazines
  • FYI

Videogame Voices Go 3-D

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In the ultra-competitive home videogame landscape, game developers can ill afford to sit on their hands. Many are turning to new voice technologies as a way to enhance the experience for players and differentiate themselves from their peers.

One of the leading technologies emerging of late in the gaming arena is high-definition, 3-D voice positioning, as at least five game developers have recently unveiled versions of their games with the technology embedded.

Developed by DiamondWare, 3-D voice positioning works off a proprietary set of codes written into the game software. The software allows the game to relay to the servers the position of each avatar in the game, and positions their voices accordingly. For example, if a player’s character is engaged in activity in the upper lefthand corner of the screen, other players will hear that voice through their headset speakers as if it were
coming from that direction. The volume of the voices also reflects the distance between characters.

Transmitting the voice in high definition creates a digital home theater-quality sound rather than a telephone-quality sound, says Keith Weiner, CEO of DiamondWare.

Originally developed for use by the military, 3-D voice technology also could be used for Internet radio and by enterprises for conferencing, IP
telephony, Webinar hosting, and other collaborative applications. But, “gaming will grow to be a significant share of our business,” Weiner says. “It’s the fastest growing of all the segments we serve.”

Games that have recently added DiamondWare’s 3-D voice technology include “Fury” from Auran, “Hero Engine” from Simultronics, and the Monumental Technology Suite MMOG from Monumental Games.

The technology is particularly appealing to developers of online, multiplayer games, Weiner says. “It creates a real level of immersion, so that you can feel like you’re having a real conversation. It’s like really being in the game. It reinforces which avatar goes to which voice and vice versa. The technology is also a perfect fit for the many online virtual worlds, and has been incorporated into “A World of My Own” from Trainit and “Real World,” a program created by Total Immersion Software for the military to be used as a training tool for troops assigned to particular missions like rescue operations and natural disaster response.

“An immersive, digital environment has to let anyone walk up to other people and interact,” Weiner states. David Laux, IBM’s global executive for games and interactive entertainment, agrees. “Integrated voice communications is an increasingly important part of online worlds. Voice chat contributes strongly to tactical game play, immersion and natural social interaction in the user community,” he says.

“DiamondWare’s 3-D voice technology will quickly become a must have feature because it transforms the experience of online gamers,” predicts Neil Harris, executive vice president of Simultronics. “3-D voice will help grow the market for online games.”

That’s a feeling shared by Weiner, who calls 3-D and high-definition capabilities “a paradigm shift” for the gaming industry. “It’s the completion of evolutionary improvements that have been going on for years.”

Another technology that is increasingly finding its way into online gaming changes the voice of speakers to make them sound like the characters they play, whether they choose to be a giant or a grumpy dwarf. Screaming Bee, for example, has a product called MorphVox Pro Voice Changer that provides high-quality voice modification for online games, instant messaging, and chat. New versions of Morph Vox, which are currently available in Japan, feature advanced voice learning, background noise cancellation, push-to-talk, sound effects, and audio alarms.

Morph Vox also offers greater flexibility to recording and audio/video professionals who could potentially save time and money by creating multiple voices from existing stock audio or a single voice talent.

Fellow voice technology vendor Animo and software developer Celsys have also teamed up to develop a speech synthesis software package for developers in the gaming, anime, and entertainment industries. The software, which is based on Animo’s Free Speech speech synthesis offering,
will generate narration and lines of dialogue as a way to avoid having to spend lots of time and money on studio recording time and voice talent.

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