When I first heard that the BBC were taking their first steps into creating entertainment content for the Amazon Alexa I was excited.
The news that aunty was having a crack at building an interactive, choose-your-own-adventure style Drama for the Voice-activated market was not only another sign of the potential and continued growth of the medium. It also presented that tantalizing possibility that something creative, innovative and engaging would be created for the burgeoning platform… and now its finally here (on Alexa for now and Google Home soon).
This week, “The Inspection Chamber”, an interactive sci-fi comedy-drama from the BBC Research and Development team (who teamed up with Rosina Sound for the project) was released.
Inspired by computer games such as The Stanley Parable and Papa Sangre, and authors like Franz Kafka and Douglas Adams users take an active part in the adventure, playing the part of an unidentified “being”. The story revolves around said “beings” identification by a team of scientists and a computer named Dave. You are asked simple questions by the various characters involved and your answers influence the direction, dialogue and outcome of the story.
Build wise, the team developed a graphical story editor, which lays out the story in a visual form, allowing the content team to map out the user’s journey and the different routes that can be taken. A “story server” also keeps tabs on where that journey is up to enabling a user to dive back in at any time. These are similar tools to those used by Amazon themselves in the creation of their own Skill, “Bosch: A Detectives Case”.
It’s not the most innovative of “Skills” on the market but what it lacks in boundary-pushing technology it makes up for in creativity and audio-production (an area so often ignored by voice-powered App makers).
In picking Sci-Fi as a genre the BBC have cleverly been able to embrace the occasionally “robotic’ nature of Smart-Speaker interaction. Much of the interaction within the story is via a robot character who shares many characteristics with Alexa. This helps create a more believable world in which the adventure takes place. The script also plays with the 4th wall, taking the limitations of the media, embracing them, and turning them into part of the story. It’s clever and it’s funny. What it lacks, however, is any feeling of progress. When playing the game I didn’t feel like I was truly effecting the story. My choices and responses felt arbitrary and although the characters would respond to me in a suitable fashion it didn’t feel like I was influencing the journey. Because there was no real challenge or reward for my efforts I didn’t feel truly engaged and my time within “The Inspection Chamber” was short.
The Beeb has dubbed this new venture “Conversational Radio” and you can see some BBC staffers interacting with the story in the BBC video below: