The Best Thing Online This Week Is This Cyberpunk Game You Control With Your Voice
It's hard to say what is the coolest scene in Ridley Scott's cyberpunk classic "Blade Runner." But for me, it's the first apartment scene. After just being absolutely bombarded with LOS ANGELES 2019 AD, both the audience and Deckard get a brief reprieve within the comforts of his messy, dirty apartment.
Finally with a moment to himself, Deckard loads some photos into a computer, plops into his couch and then, with fatigued determination, starts mumbling commands to his machine. The machine obliges with mechanical clicks, moving this way and that through a image of a hotel room until Deckard locates a workable lead on the rogue Replicants.
If you're familiar with this scene, then you'll know exactly what "ENHANCE.COMPUTER", a "cyberpunk voice game" released today by Nicole He is about. He, a developer who specializes in voice technology, wants you to be Deckard, using your voice — and only your voice! — to manipulate photos and find a secret code that will prevent crimes.
The first thing you will learn about "ENHANCE.COMPUTER" is that you will need to be in the right environment to fully appreciate and enjoy this game. While none of us live in a cool, dilapidated, shitty-future apartment (Yet! Hurry up late capitalism!), like Deckard you will most likely want to be in a place where no one else can hear you, since you will probably find yourself shouting at your computer.
The second thing about "ENHANCE.COMPUTER" is that you will need to figure out how to properly say things like "move left," "zoom in" and yes "enhance." You can't just say them, you have to SAY THEM, in the same tone, cadence and emphasis every single time. Or else the computer will, in a hilariously cruel role reversal, inform you how incoherent you sound. When you speak the game will display the text it thinks you said. "Move Up?" Nope, sorry. I believe you said "Moo duck." Please try again.
The end result is you shouting at your computer all the different permutations of dead-simple voice commands and them only working half the time. At some point you almost wish that you could just take your cursor and drag the picture around yourself.
And while it might be easy to blame the technology, I think this initial awkwardness of "ENHANCE.COMPUTER" is exactly the point. While every depiction of voice controlled technology in science-fiction — From "Blade Runner" to "CSI" to "Celery Man" — seems robust, responsive and even cool, at the outset "ENHANCE.COMPUTER" feels very much the opposite. But then you remember: Deckard lives in a world in which this kind of interface is commonplace. He's literally done this kind of thing thousands, if not millions of times before. Of course it looks like second nature for him. Think about the first time you laid your fingers on a keyboard or a hand on a mouse. It felt alien, imprecise. By now, most of you probably sit down at your computer and look like you're reading The Matrix.
The third, and final thing, you learn about "ENHANCE.COMPUTER" is that voice control doesn't work like you think it does. Once you get over the initial awkwardness of uttering monotone detached phrases, you start to feel the interface between yourself and the machines grow. You're not taking to the computer, you're feeding it inputs. With your voice. After about five minute of play, you'll catch yourself Doing The Rick Deckard Thing, just instinctually uttering these phrases the right way — forgetting you're speaking at all — and essentially moving the image with your mind. It's wild!
Sure, voice control technology has a ways to go — honestly manipulating an image with basic commands isn't the ideal sure — but you can see where this is going. Maybe it'll be nice to just tell your computer to pull up the 2019 Q1 budget spreadsheet instead of having to spend minutes digging around, trying to remember if you left it in your downloads folder or if you made the effort to file it away in a clearly-named folder. For now, we get to pretend to be Deckard.