Notes for February, 2018: accessible gaming

Ian opened the meeting. Tonight’s topic is accessible gaming. Our schedule of topics has slid, so let’s open things up for suggestions from the group. Topics raised included transit aps, Google Glass or low-vision and sight-enhancement aids, GPS solutions, the basics of assistive tech for new-comers to sight-loss, entertainment streaming, and lifestyle aps.

Jason introduced himself, as well as his fellow presenter Mike Feir, who joined us via Skype. Mike asserted that games offer an easy way to learn technology; “We learn best when we don’t realize we’re learning.” He’s interested in what visually impaired people can do to live richer, better lives.

Jason said that www.appleviz.com is a great place to look for accessible games to play on your phone. You’ll also find reviews and instructions. It’s a website run by volunteers, and it’s a place for visually impaired people to find important resources related to the iPhone.

Jason began with the simplest accessible games. You can still get braille or tactile versions of chess, monopoly and playing cards. 64 Ounce Games is a company that combines braille embossing, laser art and 3d printing to make packages to add on to existing games, to make them accessible. You have to buy the original game first, then 64 Ounce Games will sell you a package with braille cards or overlays to make them usable by blind people. You need some sighted help to put it all together. Prices are U.S. and range around $10 to $30. A member asked about an accessible chess game. A member said that www.blindmicemart.com has them, or Maxi Aids or the Braille Superstore in the U.S.

Jason continued on to talk about PC games. Accessible computer games are quite new. Until very recently, there was nothing truly rich and engaging. Now, you’re starting to see game developers giving it some energy. This is partly an awareness issue, partly a computing power issue, and partly a new recognition of the great things you can do with audio. www.audiogames.net is a site that specializes in games for blind people that are computer or phone-based. Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of Android games. This site has reviews, forums and information. Jason introduced a game called A Heroes Call. The founders are gamers and programmers who used to be sighted, and began a campaign on Kickstarter to develop games for the blind. They’ve gotten a lot of attention in sighted gaming circles as well, because their Kickstarter campaign was so successful. The game uses voice actors, symphonic music, and is extremely professional. It’s widely available. It’s currently exclusively audio at the moment, but the creators are planning to add graphics. Although it’s only audio, sighted people are playing it because it’s so rich. It’s $20 to buy, which Jason calls a bargain considering the quality. The game is only available on Windows right now.

Jason ran a demonstration of Heroes Call. He said that if you’re not using a screen-reader, it has its own built-in audio. Using a combination of its own audio and the screen-reader, the game invites you to answer questions establishing your character, as most role-playing games will do. The game initially gives you tutorial information. You really want to have headphones, because the audio feedback is directional. Jason and Mike concluded that this is the current pinnacle of audio games. It’s hard to make a living making these games, and they’re not exactly coming out all the time, or being updated.

Mike pointed out Code7 as another PC game that’s quite good. Mike said that he does a segment on Kelly and Company on AMI every Thursday from 4:15 to 4:30, on audio entertainment, including gaming.

A member asked about games that don’t require keyboard input. Jason answered that the Amazon Echo has some games available that work based on speech. Yes Sire and Captain Stalwart are two, and there’re lots of trivia games. The best way to find them is to go into your Amazon Echo ap, double tap on skills, and sort by category for games. Being an audio product, all the Echo games are accessible. An Echo dot is about $60, and the ap comes with it. The Google Home has a few games but not many.

A member asked for blogs or podcasts with content about blind-friendly games. There are YouTube channels devoted to this topic. Some examples are:

Liam Erven’s Youtube channel

Playing Killer Instinct as a blind person on XBox

Jason then began to talk about XBox. It’s a game console that attaches to a computer or TV, for the purpose of playing games. Now, game consoles allow you to do other things too, like watch movies, or communicate with other gamers. Recently, Microsoft has become extremely active around accessibility. They have put Narrator, their text-to-speech solution, on the XBox. To activate Narrator on a game controller, hold down the top middle button (also called the Guide or Xbox button) until the controller vibrates, then press the menu button which is the right hand button below the guide button. You can also plug a keyboard into the USB port on the Xbox, then press Windows+Enter to activate Narrator.

Narrator allows you to navigate through the system, but it doesn’t mean the games themselves will be accessible. This next step has to be up to the game developers. Currently, there are some mainstream games that have enough audio cues in them already, that they’re playable by blind people. In these games, your character and your opponent are on opposite sides of the screen, and opposite sides of stereo headphones. Blind players have been able to win in gaming tournaments against sighted competitors. Blind gamers have become much more vocal. They’ve begun attending gaming conventions and encouraging game developers to make their games accessible. You’re starting to see developers adding audio cues as an extra layer you can enable if you want to.

With the XBox, in Windows, there’s an XBox ap that allows you to stream to your monitor. You might want to do this because it allows you to use optical character recognition features in your text-to-speech software to read menus that aren’t readily accessible. Both Jaws and NVDA have optical character recognition functions that allow you to pull information off your monitor.

Narrator allows you to change the voice or the speed. Jason did a demonstration of interacting with the XBox using Narrator. When you start dealing with mainstream games, you realize how big they are. Killer Instinct  is 47 gig. If you want more space, you can plug USB drives into its ports. It’s USB3 so it shouldn’t slow things down much. When playing, you can choose to have the music track turned down in order to hear the voice and audio cues more clearly. It’s not completely simple to get it going, but it’s totally doable. It’s not all about direct violence. There’s another game called Madden NFL18. It’s a football game that already had a lot of verbal commentary. Someone got motivated to add accessibility cues to it. If you do a search for Madden NFL18 accessibility, you’ll find a Readit post talking about how to play the game as a blind person.

Playing in the Dark is a Europe-based multi-player racing game that’s free. Heroes Call developers and XBox people are talking, so there may be some movement toward each other.

Another dimension of accessible games are smaller-scale games for your phone. A company called Blindfold Games has about 80 phone-based games that are less complex. They include word games, music games, puzzles, and pinball etc. Another popular one is called Diceworld. It’s an ap with about 6 dice-based games. There are accessible versions of chess, sudoku, and word games. Many are free, and most are $5 or less.

Looking around on audiogames.net would be the way to find accessible PC games. RS Games is usable on PC or phone, it’s free, and has some conventional games like Monopoly. These can be multi-player, so that you can play with others on-line.