The Dead Are Speaking is a voice-controlled, non-linear audio drama for Google Home smart speakers. In the game, the player takes a role of a newspaper journalist in Helsinki of the 30s, asked to investigate a notorious Tattarisuo body part mystery. The story is inspired by a real life events, but also by juicy rumors around the event.
The game, an interactive audio experiment, was funded by Yle Beta and implemented by a group of three students from Aalto University during a course of six months.
The content is in English, because smart speakers do not yet support Finnish. The story takes, depending on player’s choices, about 70 to 90 minutes to complete.
For the best experience, use Google Home smart speaker. The speaker's language must be set as English. The game can also be tested using Android smartphone, as long as Google Assistant is activated, language is English and phone's region is set to US or UK.
For more information and how to play the game, refer to The Dead Are Speaking on Google Assistant.
All elements of the story are either based on factual events or rumours around the events. In reality the events and the media spectacle took place in a course of one year, but in our version everything is condensed into four days.
The story is loosely based on the memoirs of crime journalist Armas "Kuha" Kauhanen from Helsingin Sanomat. The interviewed people, professor Lassila, docent Hammarström and medical superintendent Fabritius are historical characters. Their lines are based on their lines in news articles and other textual sources, written at the time. We have attempted to present the innocent suspect Johan Emil Saarenheimo based on as accurate facts as possible.
The clues from public are shortened from real, police received letters.
The perpetrator Vilho "Noita" Kallio had a group of six persons. One of them was not convicted. We have condensed this group to Kallio and clairvoyant Iida Widen. We have used contemporary rumors, which suggest someone from the very top of society may be involved. These rumors have no factual basis as far as we know.
Other game characters have no historical references. According to Armas Kauhanen, police did suggest him to hide in the coffin to expose the grave robbers. It is unclear if this was just police's dark humour, or a real plan. In any case it gave us good material for the story.
Along with Saarenheimo, the media and rumours did accuse at least anatomy students, Romani people, freemasons, folk healers, a serial killer, necrophiles, Lapua Movement, communists, Jewish people, a secret society run by gentlemen with bowler hats, Rosicrucians and a meat factory on Kirstinkatu. As usual with disgusting crimes now and then, the responsibility was pointed elsewhere, such as political opponents.
Interview With The Team
How did you come up with the idea?
The team was already familiar with the infamous Tattarisuo case and it seemed as a nice mix of fact and fiction for an interactive story. We found contemporary written material from the case, also legends and rumours, which we found interesting to use as the basis for the script.
Who is the game intended for?
Everyone interested in macabre local history and thrilling stories. Also the game is for all early adopters of smart speakers. Because of the adult themes, game is not suitable for children.
What is the game's goal?
We wanted to bring forward the vivid history of Helsinki and Finland through a media spectacle from 1930s.
Also the project is testing the new frontiers of storytelling in the developing smart speaker media. We hope the game acts as inspiration for future audio games and interactive audio dramas.
Who is behind the game?
We are three master level students from Aalto University. Mirka Oinonen is studying Game Design and Production and is the main writer of The Dead Are Speaking script. Otso Ollikainen is majoring in Computer Science, so the programming was his job. Also he composed the music. Sound designer was Rauli Valo who is studying Sound in New Media.
In the small team the roles were not strict, so everyone did a bit of everything. Along with the core group, 17 voice actors participated in the recordings at Aalto Studios in Otaniemi.
What was the process? Any surprises?
Google's voice control system is not very suitable for games like this. It is designed more for simple searches and chat bots. We have had to improvise and come up with creative solutions along the development path.
We were positively surprised how many excited and talented English speaking voice actors were interested in acting in the project.
What other smart speaker games have been made in the world?
BBC has made a small sci-fi experiment called Inspection Chamber and Amazon Alexa smart speaker has some mainly children's games. A vast majority of smart speaker games are simple quizzes and most use speech synthesis instead of voice actors.