Creating an Innovative Game Experience for the Amazon Echo


Hello! Tom Quitoni, Bonnie Bogovich, Michael Lee, and Bob Jones from Schell Games here. We recently received approval from Amazon for the studio's first audio-only Alexa Skill called the Baker Street Experience. This skill is an interactive audio adventure set in the universe of Sherlock Holmes. The idea originally came about a year ago during the studio’s yearly “Jam Week” event, (you can read all about “Jam Week” in previous Schell Games blog entries). The vision of the project was a perfect fit for the Amazon Echo hardware and Alexa voice recognition system, but posed a unique set of obstacles and opportunities for lateral thinking.

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We had a core team of four people, with 2 - 3 additional team members cycling on and off during the project’s two weeks of development. We originally set out to create a 5 - 10 minute experience that mimicked the old “pick-your-path” books we remembered as children, while emulating the fully produced audio plays from the golden age of radio. This would require a tightly designed game loop with extensive audio focus necessitating creation of a full script, voice acting, narration, player facing prompts, and foley work.

As mentioned earlier, this was the studio’s first audio-only experience, so we ran into new and unique issues and questions as we began development:

In what universe should the story be set?

How could we create the “feeling” of exploration using only audio design?

Could we create a compelling experience with some amount of replayability while still adhering to the technical limitations of the platform?

How could the “skill” be monetized, or at least, be seen as a net-benefit to the studio proper?

Originally, we wanted to create a noir-style detective story, but ultimately decided that the creation of original characters, storylines and settings was not feasible with the given time constraint. As such, we decided to utilize the public domain characters from the Sherlock Holmes series of books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As an added benefit, using these established works allowed us to service one the studio’s corporate values, specifically the fostering of educational experiences via the introduction to and encouraged exploration of classic literature.

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The inclusion of several “environments” helped create a feeling of progression and exploration within the experience. These include Holmes’ titular study on Baker Street, a busy coffee house, a derelict back alley and Scotland Yard. We were concerned that the somewhat robotic “Alexa-speak” would break the immersion of the experience.

As such, we are proud to say that at the time of its release, the Baker Street Experience was the only interactive audio adventure “skill” to utilize full voice over, including player action prompts and “Quit/Cancel” audio. We were also the first audio adventure to include the new “Home Card” art feature.

This system provides optional visual accompaniment (scene art, help text, credits and company information) to enhance the experience when played along with a mobile device.

Here are some audio samples from the Baker Street Experience.

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While these ‘firsts’ are great and provide lots of new development experience, ultimately, an experiment of this type is meant to illustrate the potential benefit to Schell Games. Because Alexa Skills are currently free, we would have to explore alternative avenues for these types of synergistic gains. First, a project of this type serves as a litmus test for creating gaming experiences for the blind. Second, games of this type rely heavily on script writing and quality voice over work, and the Baker Street Experience helped expand our pool of talent within the studio.

Third, now that we have background crafting these types of experiences, we hope to create additional adventures based on the studio’s own intellectual properties, and use these “skills” as gateways to other Schell Games services and products. For example, we could create a multiple-ending prequel chapter for our upcoming VR title I Expect You To Die that helps flesh out the characters, motivations and lore of the game universe.

The Baker Street Experience’s development cycle was a fun exercise in what can be accomplished within the realm of the purely auditory. We hope to parlay the knowledge gained to enhance releases of our more traditional products and introduce more people to the varied nature of the Schell Games brand. We hope you’ll try our little experiment and provide feedback for future releases! All you’ll need is:

1) Any Alexa-enabled device (Echo, Dot, etc.)

2) An account

Once everything is configured, simply say, “Alexa, Enable Baker Street Experience” and you’ll be ready to don the iconic hat and magnifying glass of the world’s most renowned detective!


Interested in how an Alexa Skill could improve your products or services? Contact us.