New Alexa Pac-Man Game Uses Voice Commands in ‘Wakanese’ to Get Pellets and Avoid Ghosts
Voice game developer Doppio Games has launched Pac-Man Waka Waka, a voice-based version of the classic arcade game for Alexa-enabled smart displays. The Bandai Namco character moves around based on commands issued in ‘Wakanese’ to add to the game experience and adds another layer of experimentation to the growing world of voice-based games.
Like in the original Pac-Man, the yellow orb with a moth moves around a maze, collecting pellets and fruit while avoiding the deadly, colorful ghosts. Instead of a joystick, however, you use your voice. To move Pac-Man around, the player says the appropriate command in Wakanese. According to Doppio, the word waka moves Pac-Man to the right because that’s the most used direction, while wiki means up, waki means left, and wika means down. The game can also be played using English, but special prizes are awarded for playing it entirely in Wakanese.
“We started from the iconic “waka waka” sound Pac-Man makes in the classic arcade game and worked backward from there,” Doppio CEO Jeferson Valadares told Voicebot in an interview. “We conducted testing with a wide variety of people from around the world to find words that Alexa would pick up most reliably and that could also be plausible parts of this fictional Wakanese language. Learning any new language takes a bit of repetition and reinforcement, so we added real-time on-screen instructions that can be toggled on and off, and our progressive help will eventually remind you of the words again if it detects if you are having a hard time (e.g., too many wall bounces).”
The game is playable on Amazon Echo smart displays, as well as Amazon Fire tablets. There’s also an audio-only version of the Alexa skill, but in lieu of the visual game, the user can talk to Pac-Man and hear him tell jokes, ask him to beatbox, and engage in other kinds of conversation. The story, as explained by PAL, the PAC-Assistant and Liaison, is that PAL is the equivalent of Alexa to Pac-Man, but the ghosts have stolen his voice, and Pac-Man needs the help of the player to help find them. That’s why the commands are in Wakanese; it’s the language used by Pac-Man to communicate with PAL, and why the mazes are “voice assistant-themed.”
“Another important step was considering how we presented the language to the player in the game itself,” Valadares said. We worked with the voice actor that voices PAL, the character that helps the player throughout the game, to make sure he pronounced each word in a way that would work best with ASR, providing the player with a good model to emulate as they learned to play.”
Valadares is the former vice president and general manager of Bandai Namco, the company behind Pac-Man. He’s had a long history in the world of video games but is now focused on the challenge of developing voice games. Doppio is the publisher of The Vortex and the 3% Challenge voice games. Each of Doppio’s games offers a different take on how to make a compelling audio game. Pac-Man Waka Waka’s combination of a visual game using voice commands in a fictional language is an entirely new angle. But, testing out a wide variety of gameplay and styles to find out which work well and appeal to more people is part of the evolving world of voice games.
The results encompass arcade games like Pac-Man that offer free content and the chance to purchase more, subscription games services like Labworks for trivia and party games, mobile-based voice games from DriveTime, and free role-playing games tied to specific intellectual properties such as the haunted house story in Earplay’s audio game The Orpheus Device. The spread of voice assistants in smart speakers, smart displays, and other devices will entice more people to think of voice-based games as another platform to pursue, and developers like Doppio will be there to give them a voice, in Wakanese or any other tongue