Hands (and tongues) On with Speaking Simulator – Robotic Mouth Action at PAX East

Silly, trusting humans…

When perusing the PAX East ’19 showfloor, one finds themselves constantly bombarded with spectacles of new and inventive games; Speaking Simulator is one of a kind. Upon approaching their exhibit, a model of a male character’s head with a questionably long mobile mass of muscle tissue hangs over a series of tongue-shaped business cards.

 

Jed Dawson and Jordan Comino comprise Affable Games, a game dev studio based out of Brisbane, Australia. Built on Unity, the two have been working on Speaking Simulator since early 2018, and a year later, they have a pair of monitors demoing the game beneath the floaty tongue head. In Speaking Simulator you play as a fully customizable robotic humanoid who may have been released from the shop a day or two early. Despite this, your mission is to infiltrate human society and eventually conquer the human race as a whole. Step aside, Skynet.

 

 

Where does any good plan for world domination begin? With a sit-down with human resources, naturally. More specifically, the first level is a date with a presumed coworker, Karen from HR. The level opens as the two begin a quaint and “flirty” conversation, one which must be maintained by a series of movements with the robotic character’s tongue and jaw. With the player’s right hand, the mouse clicks-and-drags the robotic jaw and lips in coordination with Dance Dance Revolution-inspired arrows that appear on screen. With the left hand, WASD controls the tongue within the mouth, displayed from a “tongue cam” that allows players to see a sideways plane into the robo-mouth. Inside this mechanical maw are three buttons the tongue can press, two on front and back aspects of the upper palate, and one located sub-lingually.

The focus of the player is divided upon the location of the model’s jaw and lips as well as the location of the tongue. On the bottom section of the screen, a text box displays the dialogue between the two characters, following what might be described as karaoke format.

With all that in mind, the gameplay becomes focused upon completing words quickly by manipulating parts of this totally human face. Level one has you moving jaw, lips, and tongue to the correct positions in time with words, but the levels beyond add challenges like proper timing of smiling, frowning, or eye contact. Mistakes and delays cause various parts of your robotic face to malfunction, and for the “suspicion bar” to fill. Similar to the mechanic used in “Octodad: Dadliest Catch” but rather than  game over when your octopus in a suit trips over one too many bananas, Speaking Simulator’s character will be recognized as a robot pretending to be a human when that suspicion bar maxes out.

When playing the game, I found myself in a mad dash to move both parts of the mouth in time, as the tongue seems to actually be an agent of chaos in disguise. Finer motions proved to be the trick, as more aggressive movements got the tongue stuck in my throat. Jed later related the experience, and the focus required, to “spinning plates.” Each movement creates a series of realistic mouth noises as the robot speaks, an unexpected factor that for whatever reason got me giggling.

Once I started to fall into the swing of how the game was played, I started to enjoy the dialogue. I almost missed that the robot was ordering a “fermented ethanol beverage.” The written dialogue is nothing short of delightful, as the creators are entirely aware of the humor that nearly all aspects of the game lend themselves to.

 In the mouth are a series of teeth that are absolutely only for decoration as errant movements of the tongue can cause teeth to detach and spill out mid-sentence.

Naturally this prompted Jed and Jordan to bottle some decorative teeth and provide them as prizes for those who complete the demo. I’m still not sure what to do with mine.

 

 

When not working on their game, Jed and Jordan are also involved in lecturing at University of Canberra, teaching facial animation and programming. After a night of playing QWOP, a silly and difficult game that requires meticulous keystrokes aligned with an olympic sprinter’s legs, the team began to wonder what a game crossed between QWOP and facial animation might look like.

Despite its humorous overtone, Speaking Simulator includes many minute details that cause it to stand out. The various shapes the character’s face needs to take all make distinct and delightfully (and perhaps uncomfortably) realistic mouth sounds. I spoke with Jed on the audible minutiae, who had done some serious research into speech, phonemes, a linguistic measurement for distinct sounds within words, and had a conversation with a speech therapist. Remember the three buttons that the tongue can press? Those locations were chosen specifically because of their research on speech, as the chosen locations are the most common tongue placements standard human speech. Jed even spoke of the the usefulness of even the shortest sounds that are almost imperceivable of around 300 milliseconds. Those minute audible cues are essential to speech and communication, and will become interspersed within the robot’s speech in greater capacity in further iterations within the game. Affable is far from done with their game, as Jed mentioned a few details he wanted to add, such as a guttural “choking on your own tongue” noise, and other movement responses to player input.

Speaking Simulator is affectionately classified as a comedy, physics, and rhythm game, and is well on its way to becoming a unique and exciting addition to the growing pool of simulator games. Overall the game was a blast; the absurdity of the situations and the humor the game presented create a fantastic experience, and I look forward to playing the game again in the future in its completed form.

Speaking Simulator is being developed by Affable Games and the demo should be coming to Steam later in 2019.

 

About Affable Games

With a total of ten years of experience working at Halfbrick Studios on titles like Fruit Ninja, Jetpack Joyride, and Age of Zombies, Jordan Comino and Jed Dawson set out to make their own company. Their philosophy is to make amazing games with innovative, intuitive controls, and be great to people.

 


Chace Perkins – Your friendly, neighbourhood, definitely a human-man


 

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Chace Perkins

Chace Perkins is a medical scientist based out of Upstate New York after graduating University of Vermont in 2017. He has been playing video games since childhood, and is an amateur Spider-Man cosplayer. He lives alone because he has no social skills. Follow his musings on twitter: @mutagen4
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