Since its founding in 2018, Doppio Games has been developing new gaming experiences using voice technology. Doppio has created several games that can be played as Alexa skills, as well as a multiplayer word game that can be played through Zoom, the video conferencing solution.
The company’s co-founders, Jeferson Valadares and Chris Barnes, are passionate about changing the way people play games by letting them play with their voices. “Voice is very human, very natural,” says Jeferson Valadares, Co-Founder and CEO of Doppio. “There’s something magical when the game responds to what you say. The interface disappears.”
Valadares and Barnes have worked together for ten years, first at Electronic Arts (EA) and then at Bandai Namco. At EA, Valadares worked on games such as Harry Potter and Need for Speed, while Barnes started out on the online gaming side working on the Battlefield series, The Sims, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. In 2018, they decided to start their own business to create games using voice interfaces.
Designing Games for a Voice Interface Using Alexa Skills
The technology to implement voice interfacing in games had been up and coming for several years when Doppio Games began. Natural language processing was becoming more sophisticated, and Alexa devices were more common in people’s homes. To Barnes and Valadares, it made sense to apply voice technology to gaming.
“We all know how to tell people to do stuff,” says Valadares. “However, not everybody is good at using a controller. Being able to say, ‘Go there,’ and have the game do it adds a level of accessibility that is unparalleled.”
Using voice in games can also lead to fun and unexpected moments for players, especially when developers are able to create voice experiences that accommodate a wide variety of responses. “We’ve found great success leaving opportunities for players to explore and have aha moments,” says Chris Barnes, Co-Founder and CTO of Doppio. “When players think of a surprising thing to say to a character, and it ends up working, it blows the player’s mind.”
The company decided to double down on building with Alexa.
“We were interested in the creative design challenges of voice, but we also wanted to make it a business,” says Valadares. “When we saw that we could create Alexa skills and monetize them, we decided to go for it. Alexa has always been ahead of the curve in providing both voice and multimodal experiences.”
Doppio’s first game on Alexa, The Vortex, became a breakout hit; over three million people have played the game since it debuted. A narrative sci-fi adventure, The Vortex begins with the player waking up from cryostasis on a malfunctioning spaceship that’s being invaded by aliens. Players talk to robots that they encounter and progress through the game by giving the robots commands to put out fires, repair the ship, and repel the alien invaders. “We wanted to build something that highlighted our love of story-based games and immersive experiences,” says Barnes. The Vortex is Doppio’s longest running game and still has tens of thousands of players three years after its initial release.
In 2020, Doppio worked with Bandai Namco and the Alexa team to create PAC-MAN Waka Waka as part of the 40thanniversary of the original PAC-MAN game. Both Valadares and Barnes had previous experience working on PAC-MANfrom their time with Bandai Namco and were uniquely suited to adapt the game as an Alexa skill.
“It’s the classic PAC-MAN experience, but contextualized for voice interface,” says Barnes. “We really wanted to capture the feeling and gameplay of the arcade game in an experience that would make sense for Alexa.”
In PAC-MAN Waka Waka on Alexa, players direct the character to navigate through the maze-like levels by saying “waka,” “waki,” “wiki,” and “wika” to move right, left, up, and down. The game now has four times as many levels as it did at launch. Voicebot.ai, a site that covers the voice technology industry, ranked PAC-MAN Waka Waka as one of the top seven voice games of 2020.
Using the Alexa Web API for Games to deepen engagement
“PAC-MAN Waka Waka is a first-class Alexa Web API experience,” says Barnes. “Players can speak and see things happening in real time on the screen.”
The Alexa Web API for Games provides tools for building animation, audio, and other features commonly present in mobile games while integrating with the voice interface. The display responds to the user’s commands, and any on-screen actions, like tapping or swiping, feed back into the voice experience.
New features like the Alexa Web API for Games allow Doppio to innovate continuously – a core tenet of the company’s development philosophy.
“We don’t want to create a lot of one-off games,” says Valadares. “Instead, we create fewer games and put more energy into building them over time.”
For example, Doppio revisited The Vortex to add better animation, dynamic transitions, and a full range of background audio using the Alexa Web API for Games. “Once the API became available, we could build this game exactly the way we’d dreamed,” says Barnes. The game now supports multiple user profiles and has a new game mode where players can fly shuttles into the vortex and explore space.
In the future, Barnes and Valadares plan to use the Alexa Web API for Games to create integrations for multiplayer social games.
“The Alexa Web API is really exciting from a creativity perspective, raising the ceiling on the types of experiences that we can build,” says Barnes. “It provides a multimedia canvas that we can draw on and couple seamlessly with the voice interface.”