Jurassic World Revealed is a premium audio experience for Alexa-enabled devices, and there’s no way to say all those things without it sounding corporate and robotic. It’s premium in that you have to pay to play the whole thing (it’s $3.99 now, and goes up to $4.99 on June 29), it’s an audio experience because it seems strange to just call it a game and it runs on any device that can install Alexa.
All of that is awkward to explain, and shows just how early we are in the days of for-pay, branded content on these services and devices.
The stage is set through the lead character introducing herself, and of course you, before explaining what’s going on. You’re following a podcaster named Janet Best who is traveling to Isla Nublar to get the story of what’s going on with the dinosaurs on the island, and you’re there to back her up. Best makes a series of bad decisions, because you have to at this point for their to be a story near dinosaurs who have a long history of eating people. It’s up to you help her make decisions about how to survive by speaking the commands into your device.
The experience of playing feels like someone clamped a Telltale-style adventure game onto a radio play, complete with moments in the action where characters will ask you what they should do, almost always after giving you an explicit list of choices. You have to be careful about playing the game in the way the prompts ask you to play, as my vocal command of “don’t pay him the money” was interpreted to mean the opposite. Things got a bit easier when I learned to pay better attention to the vocal cues.
“One of our guidelines is, for example, you can’t have any rhyming syllables in the array of options in our possibility space,” Jon Myers, the CEO of Earplay, the company behind the experience, explained. “We’re going to funnel people into only having a few sets of options, if they sound too similar, there could be mistakes on the Alexa side in the interpretation of what was said.”
It was pretty easy to learn to relax and enjoy the story, and the audio had enough roars and screams to at least sound like Jurassic Park. I even had a note about the quality of the sound design and production before I realized how much money a release like this saves due to not being forced to ever show the dinosaurs. A few good sound effects over the headphones, and I believed what was going on. The special effects were exclusively in my head, outside of the sounds of what was going on. It’s pretty neat, despite how strange it can seem to say random words into your phone every now and again if you’re playing near other people and you’re wearing headphones.
And creating this sort of release sounds like quite the process.
“We start with some high-level pitching, and go for a script and a design that happen kind of simultaneously,” Dave Grossman, chief creative officer of Earplay, told Polygon. He previously work at Telltale and Lucasarts, so he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to telling a story. “The two are so intertwined you can’t really do them separately. We try to break down the story beat by beat in terms of what’s going to happen and what the player gets to do, and then there’s a frenzied period of writing when we do all the dialog and the sounds and stuff like that. Then we go into production where we bring in sound designers and hire actors and do lots and lots of voice recording and create a whole heck of a lot of sound files.”
There’s also the creation of what amounts to a vocal UI that should seem as invisible as possible when players are enjoying the story. The team has to think about how words are pronounced and how to explain things and write prompts that won’t be easy for the hardware or the player to misunderstand.
“There’s a certain amount of voodoo to that process,” Grossman said. “It’s good to start it early and test it thoroughly before you get very far.”
Playing Jurassic World Revealed felt like a throwback, despite all the technology that goes into making it work. It reminded me of listening to the classic War of the Worlds radio play with my grandpa, mixed with a Choose Your Own Adventure book you speak to. It’s a fun idea, especially with a good set of headphones or very tolerant roommates.