Make Animated Characters Talk With Microsoft Agent Scripting Helper (Windows)
Clippy The Paper Clip is as much a part of us as Microsoft Office. For the uninitiated, ‘Clippy’ is the animated paper clip which pops-up when we need some help from Windows. These animated characters make the computer a bit friendlier.
The brains behind Clippy or for that matter Genie or Bosgrove is called the Microsoft Agent. It is a technology which allows an enhanced form of interactivity with interactive personalities in the form of animated characters. These characters can move freely within the computer display, speak aloud (and by displaying text onscreen), and even listen for spoken voice commands.
Office 2007 saw the end of these animated characters because of user dissatisfaction but user interface agents are being increasingly being used in software and presentations to enhance interactivity. This is where the free Microsoft Agent Scripting Helper (MASH) comes in.
In simple words, MASH is a freeware application which allows you to set up animated 3-D characters and make them talk, move and gesture.
Using these animated characters, you can add more pizzazz to your desktop by having it pop-up and perform actions, make your presentations more interactive and also take it your webpages to make them eye-catching. You just have to record and playback what you want the characters to do.
MASH allows you to be creative with the animated “˜agents’ without you having to go under the hood with any programming. MASH turns the backend code into several scripting languages for use in websites, PowerPoint Presentations, email stationery and also as standalone executable files (*.exe).
With the help of the Microsoft Speech Recognition Engine, voice activated menu commands can be used to launch programs, documents and websites.
Imagine an animated character giving an interactive tour of a website or just reading out a file, and you will get the idea behind the program.
The Nitty Gritty of the Program
The program comes with many configuration panels which help to set up the animated characters. The configuration panels can be detailed as follows :
- Select the character and set-up the basic animation which you want it to perform. The program supplies only two characters; more can be downloaded from the developer site.
2. Advanced Speak: Modify speech ability by adjusting the pitch, speed, volume, characteristic, and context of the TTS (Text-to-Speech) Engine.
3. Map Text: Here you can set up the character to speak one thing and display something else in the speech balloon.
4. Speak Wave: Here you can set up the character to playback the sound from a wav file or a Linguistically Enhanced Wav File from your computer.
5. Date/Time: Set it up so that the character speaks out the current date and time with any desired alternative text.
6. Character Size: Allows the character’s size to change before or during its action.
7. Sing: Let the character sing with a complex combination of musical keys.
8. TTS Voice: Select among the languages available and the specific voice to use.
9. Balloon Font and Style: Set the look of the speech balloon.
10. Desktop: Allows you to use the character to display images and play sounds during a presentation.
11. PowerPoint: Associate a Microsoft PowerPoint XP/2000 Presentation with your MASH Script (*.msh) or Executable (*.exe).
12. Bookmarks: Manage bookmarks which allow the character to play a sequence of actions in order.
13. Commands: Configure the right click menu for the chosen character. The menu items can also be voice activated.
15. Script: The script viewer with additional controls.
The available options give an idea of the level of customization possible with MASH. Though the program is user friendly, the list of configuration options are too numerous to explain here in detail. The detailed help does that job in detail. The beginner can go for the basic configurations while a power user can use the detailed aspects of the program.
The 5.97MB freeware is easy to use and easy to put together even without an iota of programming knowledge. It is supported by Windows XP and the older versions. The key requirement is that the Microsoft Speech Recognition Engine be installed for the program to function correctly.
As an application, it has been around for some time. Have you used it to enhance your computing? Give us a comment about your experiences.