The Power of Voice - An Interview with Vivox's Monty Sharma at AGDC '07

Updated Wed, Dec 16, 2009 by Cody Bye

by Cody "Micajah" Bye

When you're a part of a large raiding guild like many of our Ten Ton Hammer readers, you can thoroughly understand the underlying meaning behind the title of this article, "The Power of Voice." In WoW, EVE Online, and even Everquest before them all, voice communication has become almost a necessity as guilds must have near perfect communication in order to defeat the largest raid encounter - or in EVE Online, the biggest fleets. Players must have full communication with their raid or fleet leaders in order to perform the complicated maneuvers required to take out those large scale encounters. Thus voice-over technologies arose with solutions presenting themselves in the form of Ventrilo, DiamondWare, PlayXPERT, and even Skype.

Cody takes a moment to listen to what sort of 3D effects Vivox has integrated into their Second Life client.

However, there's been another VoIP (voice-over IP) solution that has been making a big splash in the MMOG scene lately, a company by the name of Vivox. By integrating their technology into some of the world's biggest games, a list that includes EVE Online and Second Life, they've positioned themselves as one of the clear front runners in the VoIP wars. According to their official site, the Vivox technology platform "delivers superior quality voice chat, video, Instant Messaging (IM) and presence – all of which greatly improve gameplay and social interaction. Today, Vivox is bringing voice to over one million subscribers in more than 180 countries." At the Austin Game Developers Conference, we were fortunate enough to have a chat with Vivox's Monty Sharma, who was pleased to fill us in on what had been happening since we last talked to them at the Online Game Developers Conference and where the company was headed in the future.

When we had talked with Monty last, he was currently in the midst of integrating the Vivox platform into the Second Life virtual world and we actually had a chance to experience a demo of the technology that was used in the current Second Life platform. As I slipped the headset over my ears, an out of conference developer was sitting on the other end, and I maneuvered my avatar around his as I listened to him talk. As I drew closer to him, my volume automatically increased. By stepping away from him, or to the side, the voice area changed with his location. It was pretty impressive and much more immersive than any VoIP technology that I had experienced before.

A shot of the Vivox booth and Katie Postma's back.

"In Second Life it's all about the 3D spatialization," Monty said. "You can hear the voices as they get closer or farther away from you."

"We do over 300 million minutes a month in Second Life," Monty added. "The sheer scale of what we're doing there is unbelievable."

While the Second Life 3D spatialization effect was pretty neat, it wasn't anything compared to what we experienced next. By adjusting a few controls in our Vivox client, Monty allowed us to emulate a pair of voices - one that was described as an "Orc Voice" and another as a "Female Voice." When Monty switched the setting to the Orc voice, I was blown away by the deeply disturbing quality to my voice. If you've ever watched Stargate SG-1, it's similar to how a Goa'uld changes a persons voice on the show. Instead of the average-voiced Cody Bye, I was now Micajah the Orc Warrior and had a voice to match. I chuckled, which sounded like a grunt to my ears.

"It's all about emulating the 'size' of the character or what you'd like that character to sound like," Monty said. "You heard the 3D effect, you could tell where he was when you were moving. Aside from that, it's all about the sort of scale we're working on in Second Life. We can have over 2,000 people in the same channel, and we can break them up so you can actually distinguish them."

"If you listen to Stu behind us," Monty added, pointing to his gigantic co-worker, "you can tell that his voice is deeper and louder. This is because he's a larger man and has a bigger chest where the sound resonates. Talk for a couple seconds and you'll really hear the effect."

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