“Hello, Sir. My name is Tutorial Bot. How can I be of assistance?”
This is a familiar welcome to many in Ready At Dawn’s Echo VR, a virtual reality game where robots rule the zero-gravity universe. For many veteran Echo bots, it’s fun to convince new players that you’re an artificial intelligence put in the game to welcome them. While several players do this for fun, the most convincing performance comes from Tutorial Bot, a true professional who started honing his craft from a young age.
“I’ve always been able to do accents and voices, etc.,” states Mark Soanes, aka Tutorial Bot. “I used to do impressions of my teachers for the entertainment of my classmates.”
He was so distracting that his teachers made him a deal. If he would allow them to teach without interruption, they’d allow him some time at the end of class to make little shows for his peers.
It was the beginning of a career and these days 31-year-old Soanes does acting and voice over work professionally under a pseudonym.
While he discovered a lifetime passion for entertainment when he was young, his interest in virtual reality was presumed to be a phase.
“I bought an Oculus Rift because it looked like a neat little toy for my computer,” says Soanes. “I expected it to be one of the many passing gimmicks I’ve acquired. However, it ended up taking over every second of my spare time – notably Echo Arena.”
There are four games featured in VR League Season 3: Echo Arena, Echo Combat, Downpour Interactive’s Onward, and Ubisoft’s Space Junkies. Both the Echo games are from the development studio Ready at Dawn.
Echo Arena is the only game that has been featured in every season since the VRL began in July 2017. The game is likened to playing soccer or ultimate Frisbee in space as teams of three fly through a zero-gravity arena and try to put a disc through the other team’s goal.
“I watched people like Blu [John Mullen] cast for LAN events and was highly impressed with how they managed to showcase Echo Arena as a sport, provide detailed analysis of the plays, and hype it up,” states Soanes.
Although he played competitively for a while, his professional background in acting and voice over work combined with his enthusiasm for Echo Arena led to a natural transition out of competitive play and into full-time casting.
“Echo Arena is my passion and casting was a side effect of that,” he says, adding that he has cast some Echo Combat and expects to do more, possibly expanding into other games as well.
In a world where some fear that artificial intelligence might one day take over, it’s kind of ironic that a human can successfully mimic artificial intelligence. And it’s entertaining when we can blur those lines in a friendly, fun sort of way in the immersive environments of virtual reality. The next time you’re in Echo VR, be sure to keep an eye out for Tutorial Bot and other friendly “AI” who will welcome you to the game!
Sonya Haskins is better known among the gaming community by the username "hasko7." She lives with her husband and five children in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains in Northeast Tennessee.