SAN FRANCISCO – You've probably already heard the news that Amazon's Alexa digital assistant can respond to your commands in Destiny 2. What you might not know is that Amazon has done a tremendous amount of work under the hood to ensure that Alexa responds to just about any Destiny 2 query, no matter how players phrase it, or what kind of terminology they use.
I had a chance to see how the technology works firsthand at GDC 2018, and although the voice commands feel effortless, Amazon has taken a tremendous amount of variables into account in order to make it run as smoothly as it does. Amazon representatives showed off how the technology worked, then explained some of the programming underlying the feature.
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First off, if you haven't tried out the Alexa/Destiny 2 connectivity, here's how it works: You link an Alexa device (probably a speaker) with your Destiny account on either a PC, PS4 or Xbox One. From there, Alexa acts as a vocal link between you and Ghost: your robotic sidekick in Destiny 2. Just begin a query or command with "Alexa, tell Ghost…" or "Alexa, ask Ghost…" and go from there.
Alexa and Ghost are surprisingly good listeners. You can ask Ghost to "equip my best rocket launcher," and he'll change your equipment for you. Ghost can also save specialized loadouts for modes like Nightfall or Crucible, tell you your next story objectives or even put out an automated call for help on your friends' list. These are all things you can do in-game, of course, but issuing them via voice commands can save you a little time and effort, especially if you're currently engaged in a firefight or navigating your way through a crowded hub.
Amazon representatives stressed that programming Alexa and Ghost to accept voice commands isn't really the hard part; it's getting them to accept voice commands in naturalistic language. No two players have exactly the same style of speech, and a player's lexicon evolves as he or she plays the game more. In other words, Alexa and Ghost need to be able to understand "What should I do next?" just as easily as "Tell me my daily endgame mission objectives."
Another challenge is specificity versus generality. It's easy enough to tell Ghost to equip a very particular type of assault rifle in a proper slot, but it's much more difficult to parse "equip my best assault rifle," or even "equip my best Void assault rifle." Like learning language and lexicons, Amazon accomplished this feat by programming Alexa to understand Destiny 2's statistics, and by using machine learning to improve Alexa's recognition and understanding over time. The better Alexa understands you, the more helpful Ghost can be.
Of course, at the moment, Alexa's Destiny 2 integration is mostly a curiosity, even if it's a potentially useful one. The big question is whether voice recognition will be able to do things in video games that players can't easily do themselves – and if so, how soon a game will implement that kind of technology.