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Using Voice Chat in Games

Headsets Becoming Essential Game Hardware

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As much as we love our trusty keyboards most online gamers, at some point, grow weary of typing frantic messages into chat windows to communicate. Various shortcut keys and other devices have been employed to facilitate this process over the years, but nothing compares to real-time voice communication. Add technology that allows you to control the game itself with voice commands, and you're looking at something that's already changing the way we frag.

Pros
It's not hard to see the advantages of being able to talk to each other in the game. The main thing is - no more dying while typing out your favorite insult or organizing your teammates. In many cases it changes the flow of the game significantly and gives those who use it a definite edge. Combined with voice recognition features for controlling games, it can turn a very complicated series of keyboard commands into a few short words.

I've also found out recently that the speech-to-text features of some voice recognition software can made it work with games, meaning that you can use the standard chat window in the game without typing.

Cons
Of course, there are those that prefer not to hear a bunch of chat on top of their game. While there are typically plenty of options to adjust these things, including the ability to mute bothersome talkers and limit the users on your channel, I'm sure I'm not the only one that has been in a game where someone has demonstrated an annoying ineptitude with the "talk" button, or insisted on keeping the mic really close to their mouth and talking really loud.

It should also be noted that the exchanges of racial and sexual slurs so common in the chat window are getting to be standard procedure on the voice channel as well. Most voice channels are moderated only by the people using them.

Bandwidth consumption and hardware performance remain a concern for some gamers. For the most part, voice communication software does a very good job of minimizing the load, and doesn't slow things down as much as you might expect. Voice recognition programs for controlling games can be another matter, however, and many gamers consider it either too demanding on hardware or too unreliable to be useful.

Other Considerations
Depending on your game of choice or the platform you game on, you may already be enjoying the conveniences of voice communication. The Xbox Live Starter Kit, for example, comes complete with a headset and even a voicemasking feature. A growing number of first-person shooters, including the latest versions of Counter-Strike and Battlefield 2, have integrated voice communication which works quite well, although you can only talk to your own team. The only additional hardware you may need is a microphone.

If your favorite PC game doesn't have built-in voice, or you want to use a single voice system for a variety of games, there are several affordable software options available. There are also programs that will change the sound of your voice and convert your speech to text.

Roger Wilco
Now in partnership with GameSpy, this program was among the first to provide free, real-time voice chat for gamers. Its options are limited, but one nice thing about it is that it doesn't use separate client and server programs, making it a very simple solution if all you want to do is set up a voice channel with a few friends.

TeamSpeak
Free voice communication software designed specifically for online games. TeamSpeak has a full compliment of options, produces very good sound, and has become a favorite way for large groups of players to communicate in multiplayer shooters and MMORPGs.

Ventrilo
Another free voice chat program with great features, including the ability to set up a number of channels if you need to talk separately to different groups of players. Like TeamSpeak, separate client and server programs are used.

Xfire
This free, all-purpose online game utility started out as server browser, but they've added a number of good communications functions to it. You can now use it to instant message friends playing a different game and set up voice chat channels. It's easy to set up and it's free.

MorphVOX
You may look like an ogre in the game, but do you sound like one over the microphone? Perhaps you'd like your voice to match the gender of your avatar? MorphVOX is a small program that will let you alter the sound of your voice before it reaches other players on your channel.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking
NaturallySpeaking is a leading voice recognition package for PCs running Windows. It can be programmed to work with many different applications, and I'm assured that its speech-to-text functions can be used with some games as well.

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