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New video game uses voice technology

By Sid Lipsey
CNN Headline News

Konami's "LifeLine"

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(CNN) -- Let's face it: We've always talked to our video games. We yelled at Frogger to watch out for traffic. We uttered our best Schwarzenegger-esque kiss-off lines before blowing away aliens in "Doom" -- ("Hasta la vista, E.T.!"). And I may have silently proposed to Lara Croft once or twice over the years.

Anyway, we'd better start watching what we say, because video games are starting to understand what we tell them. Konami's "LifeLine," which debuts in the United States this month for PlayStation2, bills itself as the first completely voice activated action-adventure game.

Unlike some other games, voice commands in "LifeLine" are not optional -- they're the only way to control the action. With the help of a USB headset (sold separately), you talk to characters and they respond by following your commands and/or answering your questions. "It's more than a gimmick," Rob Goff, a Konami Product Manager, says about "LifeLine's" voice technology. "It really works with the plot and the story."

That story is a familiar one. Think of "LifeLine" as "Die Hard In Space." The futuristic saga unfolds on a space station that's attacked by aliens. You're trapped in a control room and your only contact with the outside is another survivor, a woman named Rio.

Communicating via your headset and microphone, you guide Rio through the station as she looks for your lost friends, finds out who (or what) attacked the station, and dispenses some futuristic payback along the way.

As it turns out, Rio is a great listener. "LifeLine" recognizes more than 5,000 words and 100,000 phrases such as "Run," "Walk," "Open door," "Go to this room," etc. During firefights, you have to tell her to where, when and whom to shoot.

Konami's "LifeLine"

Of course, if you have a virtual hottie like Rio at the center of an action game, some players will try to command her to do more than just run and shoot. " 'I love you,' 'Take your clothes off,' 'What's your sign?' We have responses for most of those," Goff says. He believes part of the fun in this game is seeing exactly what Rio will respond to.

U.S. consumers will likely respond to "LifeLine," if the game's popularity in Japan is any indication. Goff attributes the game's overseas success to a simple belief: Novice gamers would rather speak than punch buttons. "A controller can be intimidating," he says. "Talking is a much more natural way for people new to video games to interact."

That may be true, but an interactive experience like the one "LifeLine" offers is a novelty that remains fresh for us experienced gamers as well. I, personally, don't plan to propose to Rio (I've matured since my "Tomb Raider" days). But I will ask her if she's ever heard of the Duran Duran song that bears her name. Try having that conversation with Lara Croft!

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