How LC Publishing used the Alexa Web API to take The Dark Citadel to the next level

Staff Writer Mar 24, 2022
Alexa Skills

Creating new worlds comes easily to Ryan Jordan, aka author and web developer Lincoln Cole. 

Cole is the author of dozens of sci-fi novels and horror stories. His most recent project, CRISPR, tells the story of two mercenaries who stumble onto a secret that has grave implications for the future of humanity.

Cole developed a passion for gaming when he was younger, which in turn inspired him to complete a master’s degree in computer science and bachelor’s in humanities. Today, he works as a full-time software developer, specializing in full stack application and web development. His introduction to building with Alexa came from an Amazon promotion in 2016 that asked developers to “Build a skill, get some free gear.” 

With previous experience writing novels and a love of tabletop gaming, Cole took naturally to voice. “I have always gravitated towards oral storytelling, so I took to developing Alexa skills quickly. Voice is very intuitive and allows me to develop immersive experiences,” says Lincoln.

Finding a new audience through Alexa

Cole’s first breakaway success was The Dark Citadel – initially intended as a straightforward choose-your-own-adventure story. 

The Dark Citadel challenges players to save the fictional kingdom of Alderton from hundreds of unique threats, all while growing in power to overcome traps and mythical creatures along the way. Today, the Dark Citadel features 23 distinct chapters, tons of places to freely explore, an enormous selection of character attributes to customize for different playstyles, and over 1000 unique sound effects to bring the game to life. 

“I just kept adding more and more to the Dark Citadel, and what made it all possible was Alexa’s dynamic entities component. That was a godsend because it allowed me to create over 4,000 separate locations to the game where players can visit, each with its own unique text-based responses,” says Cole. “All without having to build a model that was well beyond the allowed capacity.”

[Learn the basics and see code snippets of how dynamic entities personalize voice experiences]

The Dark Citadel also broke new ground in allowing users to connect with each other in real-time.

“I created an optional chat system where players can communicate with each other,” says Cole. “I discovered that having real-time chat capabilities was especially meaningful for explorers so they could collaborate with each other as they traveled the world and took on new challenges.” 

Cole was able to introduce another massive enhancement to the Dark Citadel when Amazon introduced the Web API. Alexa Web API for Games allows developers to enhance Alexa games with custom animations, and turn existing HTML games into multimodal gaming experiences that run on Alexa-enabled devices, such as the Echo Show and Fire TV.

Web API unlocks new dimensions for designing skills

As the Dark Citadel amassed more and more users, Cole sought to add complexity to the game and further expand its reach through the Alexa Web API. In addition to a voice-first experience, the Alexa Web API gives players an added visual experience that makes at-a-glance information easier to consume. 

“Alexa Web API was a game changer for the visual side of the game, both in what it helped me create and how simple it was to use. There’s so much overlap with what I already know. Being able to utilize React was incredible,” says Cole. 

[Learn how to use your JavaScript, HTML5, and CSS knowledge to build an immersive Alexa game and check out a code sample]

Through Alexa Web API, The Dark Citadel went to the next level with real-time game updates eye-catching displays to help advertise in-game purchases, leaderboards to scroll other players and see where players stack up against their peers, and visuals for side games players (such as a fully functional chess tournament.)

[Take full advantage of Alexa Web API by following these multimodal design guidelines]

A leaderboard designed using the Alexa Web API

Now, Cole is able to explore different monetization strategies with interactive visuals and up-close views of swords, suits of armor and other add-ons. He has incorporated suggestions from customers to implement more leaderboards (the game has twenty-four currently to track player rank across various activities) as well as paid add-ons. Users also requested more dragons and unique monsters to fight, and ultra-specific world-first achievements and titles.

[Get inspired by a few more game developers’ monetization strategies]

In December 2021, the Dark Citadel saw its largest profit increase to date. “In terms of strategy, mine was content-driven,” Cole explains.

“The more content I added, the easier the game became to monetize. I refuse to box out content from players because I want everyone to experience the entire story for free, but now I can monetize other perks that help users develop and personalize their character.  When I created weekly package deals that rotate offerings instead of relying on one-off purchases, it provided a sustainable bump in earnings. What’s more, with Web API and the new visuals I was able to increase engagement with In-Skill Purchasings by 15%, which has resulted in a huge boost to revenue!”

As his games evolve, he’s excited to continue building a community for role playing gaming enthusiasts while growing as a developer each day.

“It feels amazing to work on something that creates such a sense of community among people. Not only do they fuel each other’s passion to discover more in the game, and in the process, help me solve bugs, they have a place to connect over a shared interest.”

Get more game-building tools on the Alexa Game Skills website.


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