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How to talk dirty and influence gamers: Managing Voice Communication

February 28, 2009 // Posted in Audio Software, Culture, Gaming  |  13 Comments

One of the biggest complaints I hear about audio in video games is the amount of homophobic and racist language used in voice chat during online game play.  As a Game Audio Designer, this is an issue that I want to fix.  We Audio Designers put our hearts and souls into developing rich audio experiences and so, we need to avoid creating situations where gamers feel compelled to turn down the volume.

A recent post in the blog of our local weekly newspaper The Stranger, suggested that we [game audio professionals] should “…get around to magically filtering the system’s voice chat,” so as to inhibit the sort of trash talking that goes on.

How can this be addressed?

A few options are available, muting offensive players, hosting “no-foul-language” or “foul language” rooms, compartmentalizing voice communication, enabling community moderation, using speech recognition to censor and having verbal abuse as a feature.  Each of these solutions comes with it’s own challenges.

1. Manually muting offensive players:

Giving each player the ability to selectively ignore other players makes it so that the annoying player only communicates with people that actually want to listen.  Selecting players to ignore could become tedious if there are too many annoying players.  Also, muting inherently reduces the potential amount of useful gamestate information that can be relayed.  For example, if you mute a teammate, you won’t be able to hear him when he tries to warn you about someone creeping up behind you.

2. Foul Language and No Foul Language Rooms:

Hosting a “no-foul-language” room creates a type of exclusivity that separates gamers from playing with one another.  Creating a “foul language” specific room might be undesirable by game companies wishing to avoid the perception of being complicit in facilitating morally offensive behavior.  Nonetheless, these are useful ways to manage expectations.

3. Compartmentalize players:

Reducing the number of players that can communicate with each other at any given point in time makes it less likely that an offending player will end up in your chat space although it doesn’t guarantee that you won’t hear any foul language.  Many games compartmentalize by making it so that players may only communicate with their own team.

4. Community moderation:

Community moderation puts the policing of behavior in the hands of the gaming community rather than the publisher.  Ebay has buyer and seller reviews, Linkedin has recommendations, Craigslist allows people to flag postings, anyone may edit Wikipedia and Xbox live has gamer reviews.

Community moderation can either be active or passive.  Active community moderation has tangible consequences.  These could be temporary removal of voice chat or banishment from rooms that require a certain percentage of positive reviews.  This could result in a lot of complaints from players who feel unfairly restricted, or could lead to abuse of rating systems by groups of people targeting a single individual for the purpose of hindering their gaming experience.

Passive community moderation is merely a review or ranking in a gamer card to establish reputation.   This would be useful to people who wanted to research their teammates and decide whether to play with them or not based off of the opinion of others.

5. Speech Rejection: “Magical filtering” using Speech Recognition

Speech recognition and voice communication have been in games for a while. Back in the day, SOCOM on PS2 had speech recognition enabling AI characters to respond to spoken commands. It would be a relatively simple process to add a delay and analyze phrases before broadcast and a keyword based volume control to that system. The problem is that this system would make using voice communication useless because of the lag.

Speech recognition software capable of running on a game console generally relies on compliance of the player to pronounce keywords the same way each time.  People would find ways around these roadblocks by changing the pitch or tempo of their voice, publishing the banned words and using different ones.

Additionally, all homophones to potentially foul language could get banned. The censors would need to ask themselves if words like cockeyed, titmouse and uranus should be included.  If this happened, the value of voice communication systems would be worsened and we might see Lenny Bruce styled protests and complaints about censorship, freedom of speech, etc…

6. Embracing verbal abuse as a regulated feature

According to Wikipedia:

In Monkey Island, Insult Swordfighting consists of a series of Call and Response exchanges, in which an insult must be countered with a witty retort. Should the responder counter with an appropriate retort, they win the right to call the next insult; fail to respond, and the caller gains an advantage. Win enough of these exchanges, and the duel is won.

A well known insult from The Secret of Monkey Island, in which the insults were written by author Orson Scott Card, is “You fight like a dairy farmer!” to which the correct response would be “How appropriate. You fight like a cow!”

While this is a very clever way to encourage more creative and family friendly banter, selective playback of pre-recorded dialog isn’t a full substitute for real time voice communication.

In conclusion:

All gamers have a common interest in participating in virtual spaces. While none of these solutions will single-handedly give the best experience to all gamers, combining them in the right ways can make the majority of gamers quite happy.

Processing power and memory budgets are best spent on creating fun rather than limitations.  To achieve success, game developers should focus on building environments that encourage participation by as many people as possible.

For those who are completely intolerant of the language on XBox live or any other gaming chat rooms, we can always take the headphones off and play with our friends.

– Adam Smith-Kipnis

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Review: Looptastic Electro

February 17, 2009 // Posted in Audio Hardware, Audio Software, iPhone stuff (Tags: , , , , ) |  No Comments

Sound Trends is a new music software company from the founders of MixMeister Technology.  Sound Trends recently released an application called Looptastic Electro.  It’s an application designed for aspiring electronic music producers and performers and includes a great library of loops created by the award winning composer Midihead.

As an Lose Weight Exercise to familiarize myself with iMovie and the iSight camera, I created this review of Looptastic.

Buy Looptastic Electro from the iTunes Store.

– Adam Smith-Kipnis

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Tom Sawyer of the web: Games with a purpose

February 17, 2009 // Posted in Culture, Gaming  |  No Comments

Luis Von Ahn is an assistant professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. In 2006 he gave a Google Tech Talk presentation about Human Computation. I found it to have a significant impact on my views about technology.

Von Ahn’s doctoral thesis was on Captcha.  Captcha is the system which prompts us to retype scrambled letters for access to email or other services.  He mentions Captcha in this video but quickly segues into showing how computer games can be used to harness labor.

– Adam Smith-Kipnis

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Atrophic Communication: The impact of technology on language

February 16, 2009 // Posted in Culture  |  5 Comments

The language we use sets a standard of expectation which is adhered to by those we communicate with.  I’ve noticed that as we are given more avenues to communicate with each other, the expectation of quality in our communication is changed and often times reduced.  Or, “t3h Qw/\L17y 0v ur 1337$p33k iz pWnd n00b!!!111!11eleven kekeke”

Lolcats

Lolcats

Over the years I’ve become inundated with tools of communication.  I currently use text messaging, text messaging based social networking services, multiple email addresses, I’m on several mailing lists, another half dozen or so social networking websites, I have a mailing address and a telephone.  In my experience, this is relatively common, especially in metropolitan areas.
As time is often considered as “the ultimate luxury,” these services were developed as a means to save time in some way or another.  The downside of having so many avenues of communication is that people begin to expect instant responses.  In the interest of time and ergonomics, people will take shortcuts in their communications.  I’ve seen vowels removed as well as substituting glyphs, letters and numbers as homophonic replacements for words.  For example, “at” becomes “@” and “later” becomes “l8r.”
We’ve all had the experience of meaning being “lost in translation” in emails and text messages.  Tone of voice, body language and facial expressions are lost.  As communication is compressed into fewer and fewer characters, people begin to rely on their audience understanding what they mean and not what they say.

As language is like a muscle that needs to be used to stay fit, not striving to say exactly what we mean causes our linguistic ability to atrophy.
In her book, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves ” Lynne Truss says:

“In the 1970s, no educationist would have predicted the explosion in universal written communication caused by the personal computer, the internet and the key-pad of the mobile phone. But now, look what’s happened: everyone’s a writer! Everyone is posting film reviews on Amazon that go like this:

‘I watched this film [About a Boy] a few days ago expecting the usual hugh Grant bumbling … character Ive come to loathe/expect over the years. I was thoroughly suprised. This film was great, one of the best films i have seen in a long time. The film focuses around one man who starts going to a single parents meeting, to meet women, one problem He doesnt have a child.’

Isn’t this sad? People who have been taught nothing about their own language are (contrary to educational expectations) spending all their leisure hours attempting to string sentences together for the edification of others. And there is no editing on the internet! Meanwhile, in the world of text messages, ignorance of grammar and punctuation obviously doesn’t affect a person’s ability to communicate messages such as “C U later”. But if you try anything longer, it always seems to turn out much like the writing of the infant Pip in Great Expectations:

‘MI DEER JO I OPE U R KRWITE WELL I OPE I SHAL SON B HABELL 4 2 TEEDGE U JO AN THEN WE SHORL B SO GLODD AN WEN I M PRENGTD 2 U JO WOT LARX AN BLEVE ME INF XN PIP.'”

If people are treated like animals, they will act like animals.  If adults are treated like children, they will act like children.  If children are treated like adults they will act like adults.  We rise or fall to the standards of expectation established by ourselves and those around us.

xkcd.com

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Creating an AdamSonic iPhone App

February 14, 2009 // Posted in Audio Hardware, General, iPhone stuff, Software  |  12 Comments

So today I created an iPhone app for my blog in less than 5 minutes.  Here’s how I did it and how you can add AdamSonic to your iPhone too!

  1. I downloaded and installed the WPtouch iPhone Theme in WordPress.  WordPress has a one click installation process that makes adding a plug-in as easy as watching a YouTube video.  The WPtouch iPhone theme will automatically detect if visitors to the blog are viewing it through an iPhone.  If they are, it automatically reformats the blog to make it much more friendly to a mobile device with a touch screen.
  2. I opened the Safari browser in the iPhone and navigated to www.adamsonic.com/blog.  As you can see from the picture, the blog formatting worked!
    BlogSonic in Safari
  3. I clicked on the + and added the blog to my home screen using the built in “Add to home screen” function.Add to Home Screen
    This creates an icon for the website and adds it to the home screen.BlogSonic logo
  4. Enjoy!  If you would like to use the standard web view to on your iPhone, there is an option on my blog to use that view instead.

Special thanks to Brian Geoghagan and David Battino.

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