Station Voice and Station Launcher, not just for patching and chatting.
Nathan Pearce of SOE's Skunkworks division announced at SOE's Fan Faire that major advancements are in store for both of these new Station applications. The Station Launcher has been in open beta for over a year (download the Station Launcher) and has made global patching of all SOE games a snap. But that is just the first part of the story. SOE is positioning the Station Launcher as a global communication hub for all of your SOE games and beyond.
Nathan Pearce of SOE showing off the new Station Launcher and Station Voice at SOE Fan Faire 2008.
The newest iteration of the Station Launcher includes a global friends list. The Station Launcher scrapes all of your friends lists from any SOE game you have ever played under your account and populates your Station Launcher with the ability to find those long lost friends. So phase one is to find long lost buddies.
Step two is to find old and new friends alike and communicate. Once you have your friends list populated, Station Launcher will show you which of your friends are online, which SOE game they are currently playing and you can send them a tell from the Station Launcher prior to logging into the game. You can send the tell from any of your personas and to any of their characters and the Station server will deliver it to them. Now we have our friends, let's add guilds.
Step three is guild communication. This is where Station Voice plays a major role. Station Voice is currently available for Everquest II and Star Wars Galaxies players but will roll out for the others shortly. Station Voice is the fruit of the labor between SOE and Vivox which provides both ingame voice options as well as out of game. Yes out of game you can use the Station Voice to listen into six channels and then you can reply to whichever channel needs your input. Here is the kicker, you can log into one of the Station Voice channels via your cell phone. The SOE and Vivox crew demonstrated this feature live and onstage during John Smedley's community address.
There are more aspects to each of these systems, but a couple of additional notes of interest:
You can use Station Voice for any game, it works independently of the games so you can set up a channel for you and your friends or guild and use it free.
SOE is very sensitive to protecting against spammers and gold farmers so they are trying to err on the side of caution.
The biggest question I have is whether or not the Station Voice will be compatible with the PS3 voice when games like The Agency and DC Universe Online launch. This may be yet another reason to keep the PC crowd away from the console gang.
Proximity speech was discussed as the holy grail of true speech interaction. Proximity speech would provide volume and locational direction to the voices. For example, if someone was flying over you, the voice would sound as if they were above you and depending on the distance they would be louder or more quiet.
One of the big knocks against using voice chat is the loss of roleplay elements, but there may be some hope. Future plans include the option for voice fonts which is exactly as it sounds - make your voice sound different at the click of a button. The possibilities with this idea seem endless. One question from the crowd that drew attention of SOE and Vivox was the idea of a drunken voice font when your dwarf swigs a bit too much ale.
With the level of tactical fighting and speed of game play these days, I believe voice interaction is essential. I also believe it creates yet another community bond, so I am an avid fan of voice chat when I can control the boundaries (Halo players need not apply).
As with the roll out of any new technology, SOE has its work cut our for it, but so far it looks pretty good. If you are an SOE player, definitely download the Station Launcher and then look for the friends list and upcoming Station Voice changes. My bias is showing through in that I believe selective voice applications will be advantagous to games, do you agree? Step into the forums and voice your opinion.
-Jay "Medeor" Johnson