by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
Running off at the mouth
There have been several TV shows and movies about aliens trying to fit into human society whilst keeping the secret that they are an intergalactic species. Shows such as 3rd Rock from the Sun, Mork and Mindy and My Favorite Martian all have alien characters that are attempting to infiltrate society in order to study and understand humans. The characters are often quite naïve to the customs, resulting in some hilarious situations due to their misunderstanding of the situation. Speaking Simulator is similar, but rather than an alien, the main character is an android with no sense of what it is like to be human. Thrust into some typical human interactions, our android character must converse with other humans. The only problem for our android is that he doesn’t know how to speak, and it is up to you to control his mouth in order for him to convey his thoughts in an eloquent way.
Life as a human
Our hero’s first task is to drum up a conversation during a date with a work colleague. The dialogue is somewhat corny but fits in well with the comedic style. Our android friend speaks in a monotonous style and with robotic dialogue that would make Siri shake her head. But if you can perform the required movements without errors, your date will not take any notice of this, but will be somewhat flattered by your responses, as if you’re the most romantic guy in the world. This is, of course, unless you make too many errors or delays with the tongue and mouth movements. Once you begin making a few mistakes, our android starts displaying some telling features. Smoke emanates from his ears, eyeballs pop out, and ears spring from the side of his head. These would make a normal person become quite suspicious, but it takes a lot for our conversation partners to be totally convinced.
This accentuates the comedic nature of the game. Apart from those aspects of failure, the dialogue features some humorous lines, with some of the other characters spouting dialogue that often makes you wonder if they are just as clueless as our hero. In one scenario, our hero is running for union leader and reminiscent of Homer Simpson when he runs for union president in order to keep the Power Plant’s dental plan, the mob lap up our android’s words. Despite the awkward-sounding conversations, our humanoid does a reasonable job of getting his message through to those listening. Other conversations involve sitting a job interview, social interactions at a bar and giving a speech at a wedding of someone you barely know. These scenarios could have come straight out of one of the TV shows mentioned earlier and have some equally comedic touches.
At the end of each scenario, you are given a score based on how well your conversation went – basically losing points for each error. Passing the scenario will unlock the next human interaction, and if you do well enough, you’ll score yourself a token that can be used to upgrade your abilities and facial features – such as the ability to smile and frown. Some of the later missions do require you to have these upgrades in order to attempt them.
Speaking Simulator has two options for controlling our hero’s mouth and tongue. The first involves the PC keyboard and mouse combo. The mouse controls the lips, jaw and (as mentioned, in later missions) the eyebrows and smile, whilst the keyboard controls the tongue. The controls work in a style not dissimilar to the game QWOP where you controlled the movements of an athlete’s legs. The second option is a controller, with the left stick controlling the tongue, the right stick controlling the lips and various buttons controlling the other facial aspects. I had played Speaking Simulator during PAX AUS and figured I’d begin with the keyboard and mouse combo. They work well in the early levels, but once the added facial features are required, there seems to be a little too much to do for the mouse. The controller worked much smoother given that the smiling and eyebrows expressions were allocated to different buttons, and I found that the tongue movement was a tad more accurate. Gamers will be able to determine their own preference though.
Watch your mouth
Speaking Simulator has a cartoonish Sims-like visual appearance. Our main character and that of the supporting cast are fairly plain characters, and the settings are somewhat bland. But this allows the focus to remain on the movements of mouth and tongue. The screen is primarily broken up into two main sections, with the focus of one being the facial features, whilst the second area has a side view of the tongue section, with four points inside the mouth that produce the various sounds when touched by the tongue. It is a simple design, but one that works remarkably well. Our character is fully voiced, although how well you perform determines how fluently he speaks – a bit like how Guitar Hero sounds better when you don’t make any errors.
Spoken like a true gentleman
When I spoke with the developers of the game at PAX AUS a couple of years back and they mentioned that they had completed plenty of research into linguistics and how there are so many facets in the movement of the tongue and mouth in order to make the various sounds. In development, they found that making it into an actual simulator would make it far too difficult to play. Thankfully, they’ve got the balance right in Speaking Simulator, giving gamers a challenge whilst also making it a fun spectacle. Speaking Simulator is also one of those games that is just as fun to watch someone else play than it is yourself, as you watch our robotic friend fall apart at each stumble. Learning to talk is tougher than I remember it.
Hilarious dialogue, simple controls
Rather short – would love to see more scenarios