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June 2020

Bot Colony

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: North Side
Developer: North Side
Release Date: Canceled

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


PC Preview - 'Bot Colony'

by Brian Dumlao on Oct. 8, 2014 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Bot Colony is an episodic sci-fi adventure game in which one plays as a robot cognition specialist investigating the disappearance of prototype robot sensors, and tracking down a spy across a South Pacific island.

In the past, there have been several attempts at using voice as a primary means of control in games. Titles like Seaman and Hey You, Pikachu! have been successful because they had a strict limit on the number of things the game recognizes and the number of things you can do. Others like Lifeline aimed for something more but did poorly because of slow gameplay, high action situations, and a clunky interface. All of the previously mentioned games were on consoles, and one has to wonder why no one tried something similar on the PC, where a number of productivity programs handle voice rather decently. Enter Bot Colony, a game by North Side that is available now on Steam Early Access.

Before you can start the game, you have to go through a voice training exercise using Microsoft's speech recognition software. Using a headset or stand-alone mic, you read phrases displayed on-screen so the system can get an idea of how you speak and map its commands to your voice. Cleverly hidden in the dialogue are a set of instructions that give you an idea of what the robots are listening for as well as some background on the robots. The training exercise takes at least five minutes to complete, and while the game lets you play immediately once the exercise is done, you are encouraged to repeat the exercises so the game can get better at recognizing your voice.

Through a rather long intro movie, you discover that the Nakagawa Robot Company has been wildly successful in the creation and sale of robots for all purposes. From ground warfare to space construction to elderly and child care, these robots are everywhere. There's even an island in the South Pacific that is mostly populated with robots, thus earning the nickname Bot Colony. There is a rival Korean company (KHT) that plans to use the robots for something catastrophic and threatens to steal the technology for future robots. Since you're one of the foremost experts in robotics, the Nakagawa Robot Company has hired you to see if you can stop this from occurring.

In its Early Access state, Bot Colony has two scenarios available. The first is more of a training exercise to prove to the company that you know how to handle the robots with your voice. You're asked to go to a scene of a robbery and remotely control the robot to put things back in their proper places. You can tap into the cameras that are strategically placed in each area of the house to view the robot's progress. To successfully complete the mission, you have to match the room to a series of photos that were taken before the break-in.

When you take control of the robot via a conveniently placed tablet, you go through a lengthy tutorial where you learn how to command the robot with your voice. It's here where the voice recognition is nearly flawless, as your words are translated into on-screen text. After every phrase you say, you have to hit the Enter key, so the robot knows you're done talking. You can also use your keyboard to edit any part of your speech before sending the command to the robot. Alternatively, you can abandon voice control altogether in favor of typing out your commands.

Once the tutorial is over, you're free to command the robot. It often needs exact names for objects, so you'll constantly ask the robot to identify objects in the room so you know how to properly phrase things. You also have to command the robot at every step instead of just giving general instructions. For example, if you want to put a toilet paper roll on top of a toilet, you have to tell the robot to pick up the roll and then tell it to put it on top of the tank. Failing to specify that means the robot will place it on the closed toilet lid. 

Saying a word in the singular tense sometimes brings up the plural version of the word, and failing to correct it results in the robot questioning your commands and waiting for an answer before it proceeds. On top of that, the game asks you to be mindful of your protagonist, since police bots patrol the area, and getting caught means you fail the scenario.

The second scenario is the beginning of the adventure proper, where you finally arrive in Bot Colony. The game asks for specific words to do simple things, but that's difficult and a little nerve-wracking when there's a timer in place. Conversations are slow, and you're not able to escape the conversation once you're engaged.

Although it's still in an alpha state, Bot Colony is currently in the same spot that Lifeline was all those years ago. It has ambition and a fairly decent voice recognition system that needs to be more reliable. The slow nature of the adventure thus far dampens any enthusiasm for the game. There isn't a firm release date for the title yet, but here's hoping that the issues are fixed soon, and future episodes will be a better fit for a voice-based adventure game.

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