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Gamers, recreational or pro (or somewhere in between), are always searching for new ways to interact and control their characters to get a competitive edge over other players. Some gamers prefer using a console controller as an input device, while others prefer a keyboard and mouse. However, there are a large number of gamers who suffer from disabilities which prevent them from playing video games with a traditional controller.
Voice controls provide a great accessibility option for individuals who can’t interact with technology in the same way as everyone else. The initial purpose of the Games SDK for Alexa was not to target accessibility, however coming from an extensive game development background, I see great potential for indie game developers to easily create accessibility options for their players.
I interviewed Austin Wilson, the creator of the Games SDK for Alexa, who is a college freshman at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Keep reading to learn how easy it is to implement the Games SDK for Alexa into your Unity project.
Interview with Austin Wilson
Austin, why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us about yourself? What piqued your interest in game development? Have you created and released any games yet?
My name is Austin Wilson and I am currently a college freshman at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. I grew up here in Cleveland (more specifically Rocky River) and have seen the tech industry evolve throughout my life and I am proud to be part of it now.
I have been coding since 6th grade where I did little basic web apps and Raspberry Pi work. My sophomore year in high school was when I got my first job in a college-level position at Hyland Software, a company headquartered in Westlake, Ohio, as a DevOps developer.
It was at the end of that summer in 2016 when I was introduced to Alexa and the PubNub platform. It all started with my first projects that I built for Alexa contests like a Voice Controlled K’nex Car and the Elite: Dangerous Ship Assistant. My K’nex Car project won second place in Amazon Alexa’s Internet of Voice Challenge and my Elite: Dangerous Ship Assistant won first place in Amazon Alexa’s API Mashup Contest.
Both of these projects gathered some attention, with my Elite: Dangerous Ship Assistant video achieving over 50,000 views in just three days of it being uploaded. My Elite: Dangerous Ship Assistant also attracted some attention from some other popular web publications like PCMagazine, IBTimes, and Popular Mechanics.
In the wake of these projects (and some others), Amazon officially recognized me as an Alexa Champion and wrote two developer spotlights, one of which was part of a video series titled “Alexa Pioneers” that was featured at Amazon’s Alexa’s Re:Invent Event in 2017. This year, I won best Lexa Presentation Language Skill at the Alexa Hackathon at Re:Invent 2018. Checkout my highlight video below.
Going alongside my Alexa projects, I have also been developing a school safety app using PubNub as well. The app is called eyeAlert and has been under development since 2016 and has greatly improved alert times in the schools we have been testing in.
Currently, I am still working at Hyland Software as an AR/VR developer working on a project that I proposed to the company. I have always loved video games, because, for me, they are like books. When a game comes out and is able to immerse the player in stories, or allow the player to create their own stories, that’s when you know you have a quality game.
With this idea, I want to build a game, but my bandwidth is not large enough right now to take on such an artist masterpiece, so I instead do AR/VR development at Hyland Software and build tools, such as Games SDK for Alexa to enable developers to add new ways to immerse a player into their games.
Do you think Alexa-powered video games are appealing to gamers? What kind of interactive experiences do you think game developers can take advantage of with Alexa Skills?
Take my Elite: Dangerous Ship Assistant as an example of a use case for Games SDK for Alexa. While Elite: Dangerous does have an onboard ship AI, you, as a player, cannot interact with it. By funneling Alexa through it, you can fly your ship with your voice, adding a whole new layer of immersion to a game.
Why did you choose to go with PubNub to send data from Unity to the Alexa Skills platform?
I depend on PubNub for a series of different use cases. One of my favorite parts about PubNub how sending messages on channels is very simple, which is crucial for building interconnected services for games, and apps without all the setup.
Were there any resources that helped you get up and running quickly?
The comprehensive documentation found online was a fantastic resource and how I got started so quickly.
What was the most challenging part of creating this project? What was the simplest part?
The most challenging part was getting the skill to call into the game and have the game send a response back before the interaction closed. The simplest part was the setup of PubNub.
Getting Started with Unity and Alexa
To get started with the Unity Games SDK, first sign up for a PubNub account below: