A conceptual art project that I'd like to do someday is to broadcast my life by telephone ... Anyone can call at any time and listen to whatever you're doing.
An Atari employee brainstorms 'audio games' in this message.
This here's the first round of a VAXMAIL brainstorming session on the subject of audio games. Please send any ideas or comments to me and I will in turn forward them back out to everyone who has written asking to be on the mailing list. (Let me know if you don't want your comments broadcast in this manner.) This process will repeat with a new round every few days until we've stormed our little brains out, at which time an in-person meeting might be appropriate. If this type of brainstorming works (or even if it doesn't), it might be a good way to work on other topics as well. The first rounds can be totally off the wall (much of the stuff below is), no ideas rejected as being too strange. Later sessions can start to refine the ideas into something practical. So what's an audio game, anyway? Mike Albaugh's been wanting for a long time to do some sort of interactive radio play. Remember the days (before my time) when you would go to bed and turn out the lights and turn on the radio real quiet so your parents wouldn't hear, and listen to The Shadow and all those other creepy old plays. Most of us TV brats missed that experience, but they say the pictures are better on radio. What if you could interact with the action? Wouldn't it be nice to start a new fad? I'll try listing some different categories that might come under the loose heading of audio games, in the hope they might cross-fertilize in someone's mind. 1). CB radio became sort of an audio game for a while, and made a lot of money before the fad died out. Just as people like Gutenburg and Ralph Xerox helped make everyone their own publisher, the CB let everyone be their own radio station, although with a very low signal-to-idiot ratio. I personally think everyone should have their own TV station, but that's another subject. 2). Some computer bulletin board services like The Source(?) have CB simulators that let strangers talk to each other, and some even let you publish poems, articles, etc., and pay you a royalty for every time someone reads them. People seem to like to talk to complete strangers, and the thought of getting paid for spewing your stupid ideas all over the globe is even more attractive. 3). The telephone seems to be one ideal medium for audio games. Everyone has one, for starters, and most people have played games with them. Like calling random numbers and asking if the person's refrigerator is running. Computer abusers and phone phreaks tend to go together (the phone phreak newsletter, TAP (Technology Assistance Program) deals with both.) The dial-a-joke, etc. numbers are one way communications (Wozniak had an especially bad one), but there have been a few interesting two-way phone services (almost all in California.) One of them had two lines, one to leave messages and one to listen to other peoples' messages. I assume the people who ran it did some editing, because there was lots of good material on the listening line. People say really funny and bizarre stuff sometimes, if they don't have to say it in person. Another service would hook you up to one or more people who had happened to call at the same time - talk to strangers without the guilt of waking up people by dialing random numbers. If anyone knows of numbers like this that are currently in operation, please share them. 4). A conceptual art project that I'd like to do someday is to broadcast my life by telephone. Walk around wearing a microphone, and a little transmitter that sends the signal to a base station, where there is an answering machine. Anyone can call at any time and listen to whatever you're doing. (Employers and lovers might not appreciate this.) The art of banality, the thought of listening to someone's boring everyday events, and knowing it's real, and live. (Oh, sounds like he's eating dinner now... sounds like he's throwing up now...) Just fascinating stuff. I would call, for sure, even if it was my life being broadcast (Yup, sounds like my life, all right.) A related project is to tape record my whole life, 24 hours a day. I need a very slow running tape recorder. I just like the idea of someone sitting down and listening to the whole piece. Or I could sell the tapes, in one day units. The trading of tapes could be incredible (Have you heard August 18, '83 yet? Primo!) 5). And of course there's Phone Sex. Pages and pages of ads in the back of Hustler, etc. $25 - $36, charge it to your Visa. The one I called was a blatant rip-off, and you can't contest credit card charges below $50. They must not be interested in repeat business. (If anyone knows of any good ones, again, please share!) 6). So back to the idea of interactive plays. If they were done by telephone, you could tell people how the phone push-buttons correspond to commands. The number keys could be N, S, E, W, etc. for an adventure type game. The star could be a help key, numbers could correspond to multiple choices, etc. Most people still have no experience with adventure games of any type, and would gladly play them if they were fun, required no extra hardware, and didn't require you to know how to read. Much more desirable would be doing voice recognition to determine the next move. Who wants to listen to a touch tone phone beep in your ear while you're listening to a play? People would be fascinated by a system that could interact with them verbally. People often told their deepest secrets to the Eliza (psychotherapist simulator) program, even through a keyboard. The effect would be that much greater with voice recognition. Voice recognition would be difficult, computationally expensive, and would need to be fairly fast and speaker-independent, for a limited vocabulary. It is probably do-able. 7). There could also be 2 (or more) person phone games. You could talk to the other person while you play, or you could get to know them only through the moves that they make, as translated by the computer to you. Your voices could be electronically disguised, vocoded, signal processed, etc., perhaps to the extent that the other player's speech is not even recognizable, but comes over only as a sound effect. 8). Phone games could eventually expand into something like the Source, where you have a menu of a number of different types of activities you can participate in - Games CB / party lines Voice store-and-forward messages which are indexed by titles that other people can call and listen to, etc. A menu of sound effects (might be fun for young kids, and it would be easy to do. Type 378 and hear walruses sneezing, etc.) 9). Perhaps Atari-Tel could sell a special phone for game play (preferably a speaker-phone). The processor for the game would be in the phone, and the base station would just download programs and play sounds when the user's game phone requests them. Anyone know anyone at Atari-Tel who would be interested in participating in this dialog? 10). How to make money at this? Albaugh's idea is not to try, just put an ad for the latest Atari game at the beginning of the call. Credit cards need a live operator, kids don't have 'em, and the games had better be real good. There's a new phone service, offered by General Telephone and perhaps Pacific Bell, which allows people who run a phone service, like dial-the-weather, to get money from the call, which will show up on the person's bill. You set the rate for the call - $.50 or whatever. This of course is in addition to how much the phone company gets if it's long distance. I believe this service is only available in L.A. currently, but if it is expanded to other cities, we could set up whatever hardware we develop in each major city. This is a fairly painless way for people to pay for games - you don't see the bill till much later. Also, it's free for kids (parents pay the phone bill.) 11). How do the economics of this work? I'm not sure. Do you have one simple hardware system, maybe the price of a coin-op game, which can only handle one call at once? Do you use a more powerful system, which can play many games at once? Here's some things the hardware might need to do - Decode touch-tone phone beeps Voice recognition Voice synthesis Random access of lots of sounds, speech, music Analog or digital signal processing of player's voice Lots of disk space for voice store and forward Letting multiple players talk to each other Decode serial data from a user's game phone 12). Another idea is to not do this by phone at all, but with some sort of audio game machine. There could be a Walk-man type machine, with a couple of cassette tapes and a microprocessor to control the game. Seek times are a problem. Or there is the possibility of getting a compact disk manufacturer to add appropriate controls to let you play audio games with your CD player. Especially if such games were played with headphones, there are 3-d spatial illusions that can be done that will knock your proverbial socks off. CD software is expensive and the seek times are a little slow, but it shouldn't add much to the cost of the player. The market is currently small, however. Anyhow (finally), these are some of the ideas that have been floating around. Send yours, don't delay. And even if you are temporarily struck idea-less, let me know if you want to be on the list to get further rounds of this dialog forwarded to you. Earl
May 01, 1984