Audiogame Jam 2 – In Support Of RNIB

Audiogame Jam 2 – In Support Of RNIB

During my hiatus from blogging, I seemed to have missed the Audiogame Jam, A game jam held last year with a focus, obviously, on audio games with an aim to raise money for RNIB. It took place between  August 26th and September 5th 2016, inspiring 16 developers to submit their creations.

The event was organised by James Kyle @JameKyle  (who’s website can be found here). Himself being visually impaired, due to macular degeneration from his early teens, has a passion for gaming and wanted to use this passion to draw attention to an issue close to his heart, game accessibility. He wanted to do this while also benefiting RNIB, a charity that helps people like us, the visually impaired, here in the UK,. To that end, a Game Jam seamed just the ticket.

Now, a year later, following on the success of the inaugural Audiogame Jam , James has announced Audiogame Jam 2. Again with the same aims as the original, hoping to entice the talent of the game development community to think outside of the box and see what they can come up with.

I was curious to find out more about the person behind Audiogame Jam, his thoughts on the current state of game accessibility and what he hopes to achieve with Audiogame Jam. Below, you can read some questions I posed to James . Thankfully, James  was kind enough to agree to answer them.

How long have you been involved in the gaming industry?

I’ve been doing small game projects and freelance animation since I completed the Masters in Professional Practice in Games Development at the University of Abertay in 2012.

What inspired you to create Audiogame Jam?

I started Audiogame Jam as I wanted to raise money for RNIB and raise awareness of the work they do and the barriers to videogames faced by people with sight loss. RNIB are a charity that have helped me a great deal in the past with various issues regarding my sight and I wanted to organise something to help the organisation that took advantage of my love of videogames and game development.

There were other factors too. My own sight loss to macular degeneration and my experience of playing videogames played a part. The lack of information from UK sight loss charities on gaming options for blind people or blind gaming communities was another.

Did you learn anything from the Audiogame Jam submissions, as to the current state of developers understanding toward game accessibility?

The main thing I took away from the first Audiogame Jam was the enthusiasm so many people had for the project. It was a great motivator to push me to make it as successful as possible. I hadn’t realised that so many people with interested in videogame accessibility and that it was an issue being taken far more seriously by many developers and publishers. Of the game submissions most were playable to those with sight loss. Some had accessibility issues that would prevent a blind person from being able to play, such as requiring mouse use to click on an icon to start a game. This is leading me this year to better communicate that the games should be playable without sight and provide better guidance on how to achieve this.

What do you hope to see in Audiogame Jam 2 submissions?

I’d like to see more game submissions than last year. I’d also like to see games that are designed for the mobile devices popular with blind people, such as Android and iOS smartphones. Games for voice devices like Amazon’s Echo would also be good to see as I think these have a big place in how blind people access information in the future.

What do you think the biggest barriers are, that prevent game developers, from producing games that have a broader spectrum of accessibility?

I think there are several reasons game developers don’t consider accessibility when making games. The idea that accessibility options are expensive is a problem. Yes, adding accessibility options and features can be expensive and time-consuming if done near the end of the project. This is rarely the case if it is something planned for at the start of the project however, and encouraging developers to do this makes a big difference. There may also be a view that the number of users who would benefit from accessibility features may not be worth the time and cost. While it may be true that the number of users who would identify themselves as disabled and would argue the case for these features they are far from the only people who would benefit from their inclusion. The industry needs more people with accessibility or inclusion needs working to make games, especially in major studios and publishers producing mainstream games. People with accessibility needs making games are in a great position to make the case that they should be able to play the games they are working so hard to create.

Will you be submitting any creations to Audiogame Jam 2?

No, I won’t be submitting any games.

Do you have anything more to add?

Audiogame Jam couldn’t have come together as it has without the help and support of so many people within RNIB, in the games industry, those with an interest in videogame accessibility and all those who worked to submit games. I can’t thank them enough.

On that note, I’d like to thank  James for answering my questions,, I could have asked so many more, maybe we’ll do a follow up post after Audiogame Jam 2 were I can once again satisfy my curiosity.

I for one look forward to Audiogame Jam 2 and the gems that it will spawn. If you’re interested in finding out more, or better yet submitting your creations once the Audiogame Jam 2 starts on October 6th 2017, feel free to click on any of the previous links in this post or just click here to go to it’s Game Jolt page.

If you want to support Audiogame Jam’s efforts, you can do so by heading on over to their Just Giving page and make a donation, the proceeds of which will go to RNIB.

As always, if you have any question or anything to add, please feel free to leave a comment below. Please feel free to follow on Twitter and Facebook. I’d also appreciate you sharing this post to help get the word out about Audiogame Jam 2.

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Blowing Away The Cobwebs!

Blowing Away The Cobwebs!

It’s been months since my last post, a clue to how long it’s been would be my last post’s title,  Why December IS My Favorite Time Of The Year! As you can see, I referenced December. At the time of writing it is now September and no, I’m not referring to the December that fast approaches, I’m talking about the last one, so yeah, quite a few cobwebs and a rather thick layer of dust has built up since my last addition to my blog.

Unfortunately, blogging is only a part time gig for me, my full time occupation is procrastinator, which doesn’t bode well for the regularity of content on my blog. In all seriousness though,  if you’ve read a few of my older posts, you may recollect my telling you   that I suffer from depression. That being said, some times I find it hard to motivate myself to do things, writing blog posts being one of those things.

But I’m here now ! All be it slightly obscured by a cloud of inactivity dust, blown free, upon my return, relinquishing it’s  tight grasp it once had on my blog. It may settle once again in the future, though while we have this imperfect moment of clarity, what should I do with my blog. How about a quick catch up on what I’ve been up to? Yeah, let’s start there.

Diagnosis

After hacking our way through a proverbial forest of red tape, this year, we finally got a diagnosis of Autism for our son. This has enabled us to gain the funding required to ensure he gets the help he needs at school.

He now has a one on one support teacher, that, thankfully, he’s formed a really strong bond with. This has enabled him to spend, a little, more time focusing on the task at hand. With a lot less time battling the things that  you and I, may,  take in our stride. This has been a huge weight off my wife and I’s shoulders and I’m sure, if we were to ask him, my son’s as well.

In Sickness and in health

I’m not sure if I mentioned it in the past, so just in case, I’ll reiterate it now.  We,my wife and I, got married last year, after 12 (or was it 13) years of being engaged (shit, she’s gonna kill me for not knowing that). Since then my wife thought she’d put some of our vows to the test. I could go into some depth on this one but I’ll save you from the gritty detail, in part because it’s not my business to share with the world, it’s my wife’s. Suffice to say, my wife has, and still is, suffering from several health issues that have hit her hard this year (they haven’t stopped her from working like  a demon for our family however, that’s how she rolls)

They have been severe enough to see her hospitalized on several occasions. Even now, she is still attending hospital appointments on a regular basis, in order to undergo outpatient procedures and to take diagnostic tests, all while working 50 hour weeks, I don’t know how she does it, she’s my hero.

On The Hunt

In addition to everything else that’s been going on this year, I’ve been mustering a lot of effort into finding a part time / full time job. In part to try and boost my self esteem and also to help take some of the financial pressure off my wife, that she’s been under (without any complaint) for some time now.

This is another area I could go into some depth talking about, as it’s been very stressful and emotional, though it would come across like a sob story, so I won’t. Needless to say, I’m still technically unemployed, although, the kind people that surround me say, ‘being a parent is a full time job’. So, I guess I’ve found my position for the foreseeable future, and, that position is Daddy.

Hit the reset button

It came to a point that we, as a family, just had to hit the reset button. We needed a break, so we booked a lovely holiday cottage in Scotland, with a touch of luxury and an emphasis on relaxation.This took up one of the weeks since my last post, though I wish it had taken up several more of them.

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WhiteCaneGamer, Gamer, Really?

I have to be honest here, I haven’t been gaming much recently. I’ve found it hard to motivate myself to do anything, including gaming. All my energy has been going into masquerading as a father and a husband, by the time that act is over, I have no energy left for gaming or much else for that matter.

Recently, I’ve been uncovering parts of my former self. Finding time to read a tweet here, watching a YouTube video there and most recent logging into steam to enjoy a few minutes / hours on a game or two.

That’s why I thought now was the right time to let my fingers dance across my keyboard, in an effort to breathe a little life back into my blog. I’ll give my fingers a little moment of rest from dancing, in order to cross them and hope that I can keep it up.

Back To School

Now that the kids have gone back to school, after the summer holidays, I will make a concerted effort to produce more blog posts and be more active on Twitter, you never know, I might even find time to post a YouTube video or make a return to Twitch, who knows. This is not a promise however, as I can’t say which way my mood / motivation will go from day to day.

Ideas?

If you have any ideas for future posts, games I should play, sites I should checkout, I’m open to most suggestions. If you have any, please, feel free to leave a comment below. If you don’t want to do that for whatever reason, you can find me on Twitter or Facebook. I’m more active on Twitter than Facebook but I will read everything you have to say, eventually.

 

Why December IS My Favorite Time Of The Year!

Why December IS My Favorite Time Of The Year!

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you’ve all had a happy festive period. I know I did. Unlike a  lot of bloggers, I’m not going to do a 2016 retrospective, that would have required a lot of planning and forethought on my part and anyone who knows me, well they know that’s not me.

Instead, as a gamer, I thought it fitting that my first blog post of 2017 should be all about the new games that the last month of 2016 left me with. I’m lucky in that December doesn’t only bring me Christmas, it also delivers to me my Birthday. For us gamers however, December has one more surprise up it’s sleeves, the Steam Winter Sale. So you can imagine, I do look forward to December.

Tabletop Treats

I’ll start with the board games that were left under the tree for me when I woke up, all bleary eyed on Christmas Day.

Seven Wonders Duel

This game was recommended to me some time ago on twitter. Then after reading reviews of the game on sites such as Meeple Like Us, I’d made up my mind, I had to have it. My wife saved me the money and the effort though. I had an inkling that I would find this game sitting here waiting for me, as my wife had let it slip some time ago. It didn’t diminish how excited I was to finally get the first member of my tabletop collection though (outside of the usual fair of Monopoly and such like).

Seven Wonders Duel Board Game

Pokemon Monopoly – Kanto Edition

Speaking of Monopoly. My mum, bless her heart, knows that my wife and I are both into gaming. Knowing this and my wife’s love for Pokemon Go, she thought that Monopoly, Pokemon Edition would look right at home among our other games, adorning our games shelf and she was right.

Pokemon Monopoly Board Game

Monopoly Game Of Thrones Edition

As Pokemon is more for my wife than me really, my mum also bought us Monopoly Game Of Thrones Edition. Let me tell you, she hit the nail on the head with this one too, thanks mum.

Monopoly Game Of Thrones Board Game

Winter Is Coming

Holding onto the money I received for my Birthday in anticipation of the Steam Winter Sale, I was rewarded for my patience when it began on the 22nd of December.  Below is a list of the games I picked up during the sale.

MiniMetro

I hate them, yes, I hate the person who introduced me to this game. It has soaked up so much of my time and as a serial procrastinator I don’t have that much time to spare. Anyway, it’s A beautifully simplistic game available on PC as well as mobile.

Being a PC gamer at heart though, I chose to wait for the winter sale to see if I could pick it up at a nice discount which would bring it closer to it’s mobile OS based equivalent.  OK, hate might be a bit strong, love might be a better word to describe how I feel, about the person who pointed me in the direction of MiniMetro.

Banished

If I was to describe this game, I’d say it was a cross between a mid evil RTS game and a city builder. I bought it based purely on how it looked and  I can’t wait to find the time to get stuck into this one.

Golf With Your Friends

I have very little to do with my buying this game. When I mentioned how excited I was about MiniMetro being available for a discount during the Steam Winter Sale, a really good friend of mine @crystalfoxgirl also picked it up. So I thought I’d reciprocate the gesture and grab a  game she recommended to me. That game being Golf With Your Friends.

Brings the joy of Crazy Golf to your desktop, allowing you to share the experience with your friends around the world. We’re yet to play it together but I look forward to it.

Overcooked

I know what you’re thinking, “Did I buy this because it reminded me of my wife’s cooking  NO, how could you think such a thing…” (I’ll pay for that little dig at her cooking skills, just you wait). No I picked it up because it looked like an awesome local co-op game that my wife and I, as well as our extended family would have loads of fun playing together. This is probably one that would have made more sense buying for the PS4 but we’ll wait and see.

City Skylines

This is a game I’ve been looking at for a  while. I was reminded about it recently  though by a tweet from another member of the blind gaming community @BGMisadventures. So when it was included in the steam Winter Sale with a pretty steep discount, I just had to grab it.

The Gift Of Giving

I don’t hoard all the games to myself, oh no, I share my love for gaming with as many people who will listen, but as Croc (not his real name), my brother in law and my wife are right here with me , so I tend to give them gaming gifts when the occasion calls for it.

The Culling

Croc is a console convert. When I first found him, he was hooked up to an XBOX, it seemed to be feeding on his Call Of Duty rage while supplying him a steady stream of frags to keep him hooked.  It seamed a dangerous cycle, turning him into some kind of monster!

It took me some time but I finally weaned him off of consoles and onto the PC. He took up RTS games in a big way with games like Rome Total War and Stronghold Kingdoms. That being said he still likes hiss FPS games , a hang over from his console days. So Anime and I thought we’d treat him to The Culling.

Stardew Valley

My wife @crescent_2005 , (commonly referred to by me as Anime), has expensive tastes, this floods over onto her gaming habits too, so despite the heavy Steam Winter Sale discounts, I still found a lot of the games on her steam wish list a little pricey (not that she’s not worth it). Star dew Valley stood out though as one of the big hits of 2016 at a great price, after seeing her reaction to the trailer I just had to pick it up for her. Merry Christmas Anime. Maybe next year the other games on your wish list will be cheep enough for me to buy them for you.

You’re Still doing it wrong!

I know, I know. I said some time ago that I would start buying games based on their accessibility rating, however the number of games being released always out paces the communities ability to review or rate them all, based on their accessibility. Plus, I’m impulsive, sometimes I just have to have it, whatever it is.

Anyway, that’s me all spent up, so impulses or not these will be the last games I get for a  little while at least. Once I’ve had time with them, you can expect either written reviews, YouTube game play videos and reviews or both, so look forward to that. If I find them impossible or difficult to play you’ll hear about it and then they’ll either get retired to the shelf or to my ever growing steam library.

What did you find under the Christmas Tree?

Now you’ve read the list of games I’ve added to my collection over the Christmas period,  I’d love to hear what you found under your tree. Did your family pick you up a game you’ve had your eye on for ages, or did you treat yourself to a rare gem, let me know.

Feel free to leave a comment, contact me on twitter or hit me up on Facebook. As always, if you liked the post or think someone you know might like it, please share it using your social media of choice.

(Note On Affiliate Links – Any links on this page to amazon.co.uk are affiliate links – Any purchases made during your visit to amazon.co.uk  reached through this site will support this blog in the way of  a referral bonus from Amazon. Thank you for your support)

FreeCodeCamp for Me, #HourOfCOde For The Kids!

FreeCodeCamp for Me, #HourOfCOde For The Kids!

Where have you been?

Good question, let me answer that. since #GetOnlineWeek , my blog has fallen silent. I think it’s about time I explained why. Instead of just consuming the web, I wanted to learn how to create it too. You might say I took that step when I started this blog, however I can’t take credit for the look or functionality of this little corner of the internet, we have WordPress to thank for that. No, I want to dive deep into the code and do it from scratch.

This has been a fantasy of mine for some time now. In all honesty, it isn’t my first attempt either. I have taken several miss steps towards this goal in the past but this time, I’m determined. With a lot of help  and motivation from a very good friend of mine @kazziegriff , I have the best chance ever at success.

 

So Why Now?

Shortly after posting my last post, I was struck by a fit of frustration due to my lack of progress. To try and remedy this,  I turned to the internet for advice. Thankfully, the internet didn’t let me down, introducing me to FreeCodeCamp. This site takes the learning approach a little differently to other programming tutorial sites I’ve tried. As well as teaching you the skills, it also provides you with the ability to put these skills to use by contributing to non profit organisations, once your training is complete.

Due to a sequence of events, I have found myself with a lot of free time on my hands lately. Other than shepherding my children to and from school and keeping the bed warm while my wife is hard at work, my body and mind were idle, not a great place to be when you suffer from depression. So after several conversations / counseling sessions with @kazziegriff  we hit on retraining as a solution, with the long term goal to move me out of the rut I’d found myself in and back into the big wide world.

 

So Where To Next

@kazziegriff  consulted some of her web development colleagues on my behalf, asking them what would be desired by a web development firm, looking to hire a junior web developer. It turns out qualifications aren’t that important, much more important is demonstrating you have the knowledge they’re after. A great way to demonstrate this knowledge is with a portfolio.

Great I thought, I’ve had no clients, not even unpaid, how am I to build a portfolio of work (Always looking on the down side as usual). However, FreeCodeCamp came to the rescue. Not only does it differ from the other coding tutorial sites out there with it’s hands off, community focused teaching approach. The opportunity it grants it’s graduates to work on real world projects for non profit organisations would provide me the ideal opportunity to build my portfolio. Also throughout the course, you are prompted to complete challenges which involve producing different, custom, examples of functional websites, again perfect for my portfolio.

 

What’s taken you so long?

At the time of drafting this post, I am 24 days into my journey with FreeCodeCamp. I know this as my progress is tracked on my profile, providing a level of motivation to keep you coming back day after day, not wanting to break your streak, I fear however, now that I am approaching the intermediate level of challenges, my streak will break. Not because I’m not coming back day after day but because the challenges will just take me that much longer to complete.

(UPDATE: My prediction was correct. Since writing the last paragraph, my streak has come to an end, taking longer than expected to complete the next challenge to maintain it. This did introduce a little negative energy into my learning process, as I imagined it would. However, I remain determined to complete my goal and the lists of challenges set in front of me by FreeCodeCamp.)

Keeping It In The Family.

FreeCodeCamp is perfect for me and what I’m trying to achieve, however my family isn’t getting much from it in exchange for their father and husband spending hours hunched over his computer night after night. It so happens, my writing of this blog post coincides perfectly with the #HourOfCode initiative from code.org and Computer Science Week. This provides me with the perfect opportunity to introduce my wife and children to programming. Code.org have provided everyone with a fun and easy to absorb introduction to this ever more important field.

code-org_logo-svg

The gamer in me couldn’t help but notice Minecraft’s participation in this initiative., in the form of a Minecraft themed project, where the user has to manipulate on screen objects using blocks of code.  This is perfect as my son, my wife, even my little 3 year old girl love Minecraft, so I couldn’t have chosen a better themed project if I’d tried, (well maybe Pokemon but MInecraft will do just fine!)

My children are aged 3 and 6, my 3 year old daughter may be too young for this project. However I’m hoping that my son may catch the coding bug. After my son has completed this Minecraft project, passer a few of the others available on code.org, I’ll need a way  to keep the coding flame alight.

The internet once again provided the answer, in the form of a programming language called Scratch, exactly what I was looking for. It uses a similar interface to the hour of code, a simple drag and drop affair. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Code.org is using an implementation of Scratch for it’s Minecraft project, the similarities are so strong.

I look forward to seeing what my son can create with the tools that Scratch puts at his disposal, should he choose to continue. I hope wholeheartedly that he does. I don’t mind holding my hands up to the accusation that I will try to encourage it as I feel that a basic understanding of programming would be a very beneficial tool to have under his belt moving forward.

 

Moving Forward

In the coming months, I hope that my FreeCoeCamp experience will lead to me possibly obtaining paid employment in the web development sphere. Not only that, I hope to start sharing my passion for programming with my family, with the help of code.org, so that when I rush into the living room excited about a problem I’ve just solved, they don’t all collectively roll their eyes as I start talking about Functions Variables and for loops.

Either way, I’m sure this won’t be the last you’ll hear about my programming journey on my blog. If you’ve had experience with either of these websites, please share them with me, I want to hear of your experiences. Are you a web developer, more importantly, are you a visually impaired developer . I’d really be interested in hearing your story. Do you have any other programming resources you think I and others may find useful, share them with me please, I need all the help I can get.

As always feel free to leave comments below or contact me on Facebook or Twitter.  Also if you’d consider sharing this post too on your social media I would really appreciate it. Thanks for reading and I’ll catch() you next time.

The Journey That Ended In Me Being #OnlineToday

The Journey That Ended In Me Being #OnlineToday

Recently, @jaympaul on twitter brought to my attention #GetOnlineWeek, which  is a long running campaign managed by the Tinder Foundation. The campaign runs between the 17th and the 23rd of October, it’s aim to help people discover the benefits of being online.  This year the campaign is celebrating it’s 10 year anniversary, giving me the  ideal opportunity to talk about how technology has helped me get and stay online.

It has also given me the chance to shine a spotlight on the RNIB‘s #OnlineToday initiative, where they help people with sensory loss access their devices and get online.

My aim is to bring out a series of blog posts on how me and my family use the internet throughout October. Although as my plans tend to go awry, like the best laid  plans of mice and men, I wanted to at least release this post looking at an overview of my journey to getting online, a brief mention of some of the devices I use to get online and what I do while connected.

 

My Journey To The Internet.

As you may or may not be aware, I am a legally blind 29 year old, from the UK, suffering from Retinitis Pigmentosa. This can have some limiting effects on certain aspects of my life.  Thankfully however, having embraced technology from an early age, I have been able to stay up to date with the benefits it can provide to someone like me.

When I first got online, nearly two decades ago, there was only one option available to everyone, that was to get your hands on a PC, be it Windows or Mac. Personally I went down the Windows rout. Nagging my mum year after year, in  a forlorn hope that she may crack and buy me a computer, one summer, shortly before starting high school, a delivery lorry pulled up at the front of our house unexpectedly. Out came box after box, each one containing a piece to the puzzle that would keep me entertained for years to come.

Unpacking each box, me and my brother made an event of connecting each grey box together. We strung cables from the monitor to the base unit, then went in the mouse and keyboard, finally the printer and speakers. Thankfully all the cables were colour coordinated or it may have taken us a lot longer to figure things out, neither one of us having done it before, let alone used one.  in hope that when we turned the power on it would all work.

After a huge amount of hugs and kisses in thanks to my mum and promises made that it would only be used for school work, I switched on that Packard Bell PC, marking the first steps on my journey to the internet.

How things have changed, with the ubiquity of smart phones, tablets, smart TV’s and the plethora of other connected devices, there is a bewildering number of ways you can get online today.

After years of waiting for it to make it’s journey across the Atlantic and become readily available in the UK. Our family recently took delivery of the newest member to our connected household, the Amazon Echo. Yet another way our family is making use of the technology and internet combination, making our lives easier and more full filled.

Not only the number of devices we use to get online have increased , but the means in which those devices talk to each other, the internet, has also increased in availability and speed, while reducing in price for the most part.

When I first got online, broadband was still in it’s infancy and the majority of people were still accessing the world wide web via a dial up connection. Now, mobile internet access and broadband internet access have reached a parity in a lot of areas of the country, making dial up pretty much a non entity, thank goodness.

 

 

My download speed has increased from 56 kbps back in the Packard Bell era of my computing history, to (up to!) an astonishing 150 mbps today, although as the graphic above shows, 108.81 mbps is the best I could achieve here . In addition to this speed increase, the cost of that access has fallen.

I touched on mobile internet a little earlier. This has possibly been one of the biggest changes in technology in recent years. It’s untethered people from their desktops and enabled people to stay connected no matter where they are.

Mobile phones had only just become a thing as I started to lose my sight as a child, I along with the rest of the world had no idea how fast and how far mobile technology would come. But I do know that technology, the internet in particular has played a huge part in my life. I can only see the impact of it growing as I embrace its potential.

 

But you’re blind, you can’t see to use mainstream technology.

Ah, that’s where you’re wrong. There may still be devices that haven’t picked up the accessibility baton and hammered their devices into shape with it. However, you’ll be surprised just how many mainstream devices have accessibility features baked into them from the get go.

While the hardware manufacturers and infrastructure companies innovated, accessibility advocates and engineers didn’t sit on their hands, oh no, they were hard at work too.  macOSWindowsiOS and not forgetting Android, the four operating systems that most major consumer devices are based, all have accessibility features installed by default.

There are also devices like the Amazon Echo, that do away with the screen all together. Once the device is configured, which requires the use of a smart phone, either iOS or Android based, the device is accessed entirely via verbal commands. This enables you to access streaming music services like Amazon Prime Music and Spotify. manage your calendar and a myriad of other functions that are constantly being expanded via the Amazon Skills API. This device levels the accessibility playing field massively, perhaps due to a lucky accident, but the end result is still the same.

An Image and Link to the Amazon Echo

My 6 year old son did over estimate the echo’s capabilities a little however,  with his first voice command being “Alexa, make me a snack”. If the 10 inch cylindrical form of the Amazon echo had a face, it would have had a look of bewilderment painted on it, as it thought about how it would complete this task. Little did we know, the Echo is capable of ordering take away meals, via ‘Just Eat‘, so his request isn’t as far fetched as it may have first sounded to me and his mum, as we rolled around laughing.

 

This thing can also make phone calls.

I’d be lost without my PC and I love the new technology that comes onto the market like the echo, however, this past 5 years or so I’ve come to rely a lot on my smart phone. After years of struggling with a magnifying glass to try and read text messages and navigate through phone menus, when I reach 16 years old it came to the point where I just couldn’t manage it any more and my use of mobile devices just stopped.

Then came the smart phone revolution, triggered in part by the original iPhone. As usual, I was a little slow on the uptake. I jumped on board with the Samsung Galaxy S3, when I realised just how accessible the devices have become. Since then things have just got better and better. Now, I’m using the Samsung Galaxy S6  and I wouldn’t be without it.

Accessing email, twitter and streaming content in the same way a sighted person would, my mobile experience is a world away from what it used to be. And on the occasion I need to make a phone call, it handles that pretty well too.

 

Some mainstream technology is difficult to access.

That doesn’t mean I had to give up and spend the rest of my life offline. There are hundreds, if not thousands of products out there,  specifically designed to make accessing technology easier. These either adapt mainstream technology to make it accessible or give you an alternative device with similar features to off the shelf products, in an accessible form-factor.

These products include third party screen magnification and screen reader software, an example of this is Dolphin’s Supernova, a product I am familiar with and used to use during my time at college. Since then, they have continued to advance it’s capabilities and it now boasts a complete suite of accessibility features that is drawing my attention.

A screen shot of the supernova website.
A screen shot of the supernova website.

Software adaptations aren’t limited to desktop and laptop devices however, companies like Synaptic Software provide a software package designed for android devices that simplifies the user interface and makes it easier to access for people with visual impairments. You can also buy devices with this software pre-installed.

As far as my smart phone goes, I am happy, for the most part, with the built in accessibility features provided by the Android operating system. Features I expand upon via the use of third party apps like ‘Tap Tap See.

If software adaptations don’t go far enough, there are several peripherals you can buy to increase the accessibility of your device. These range widely from high contrast keyboards to braille displays that can help you access your smart phone or PC, a lot of which can be found on the RNIB Online Shop.

As my vision is so reduced, combined with the fact I am a touch typist, high contrast keyboards are of little use to me, a braille display is a product I would consider adding to my arsenal in the future however.

 

But I’m not like you, I’m new to technology .

That’s OK, no one expects you to turn on a device and instantly know how to access it and get the most from it. That’s why there are governmental projects and charitable organisations out there to help you get started. An example of this would be the RNIB’s Online Today Initiative , put in place to help those with sight loss access and get the most from their technology.

Take a look at the video below produced by RNIB, where Andrew gives a brief look at what he does while online and the advantages being online offers. He also gives an overview on how the RNIB‘s Online Today team can help you if you suffer from sensory loss.

 

 

I know it’s often easy for someone like me who has surrounded themselves with technology and the internet, to underestimate how difficult it can be to take that first step. However people like Andrew, along with the other staff members and volunteers at RNIB have the training and experience to guide you through the process, so that you can take those first steps together.

 

Technology opened the door to other interests.

The pure love of technology is what got me lusting after a connected life style all those years ago. Although I knew nothing about it, something about computers and technology attracted my introverted personality.

Technology doesn’t have to be the reason you get online though, technology can just be a tool enabling you to stay connected with friends and family, or maybe even make new friends. Endless amounts of information is just a question away when your connected to the internet too. Hours of entertainment can be had, either through online video streaming services, games or audio books.

Speaking of audio books, the RNIB has recently made their “Talking Books” service free of charge, so you can now access thousands of audio books  online, either on your PC or mobile using the Overdrive app. This is another service I make good use of.

If instant information or entertainment isn’t what you’re after and you want a bit of retail therapy, don’t worry, the internet has you well covered on that front. Providing you access to more products than you could ever hope to find on the high street, you’ll run out of money long before you run out of shiny new things to buy online.

Having long forgotten the promises I made to my mum, that my computer would only be used for school work. Chat rooms were the initial draw that got me draping a telephone cable across the living room floor to my pc and waiting for my computer to dial up all those years ago.

Once I grew up (depending on who you ask, some would argue that still hasn’t happened.) and gained access to a little bit of money, online shopping  soon became the major draw for me. Having instant access to all the latest reviews and price comparisons on all the latest technology, it’s a veritable wonderland for someone like me. If only the supply of money could keep up with my growing wish list.

An image of the twitter logo

 

Shopping aside, another huge benefit of being online for me, that I have started making use of within the last year or so is Twitter, having known about it and Facebook for years, as has everyone I imagine, I was a little slow on the up take though, the shy introvert inside preventing me from taking advantage of these platforms obvious benefits. that has enabled me to stay connected with friends and family. It has also enabled me to make lots of new friends with similar interest to me. Being on Twitter also exposes me to information that I wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise and let’s me get involved in conversations relevant to me.

As my blog’s name alludes to, you won’t be surprised that gaming has also historically taken up a huge proportion of my time online. As my eye sight has deteriorated, the type of games I play has started to change, you’ll be surprised how many of these games are becoming accessible to the blind though, with audio and text based games taking the forefront.

But regardless of your interests, no matter how niche you think it may be, I can almost guarantee it, within seconds of being online, you’ll find other people just like you and a host of information or entertainment based around it.

 

So what are you waiting for?

The fact you’re here reading this blog post shows you’re already online and have doubtlessly fallen in love with the benefits of it, but If you find yourself using excuses as to why you don’t get online more or embrace technology, take a few minutes to think of all the benefits you’re missing out on.

More to the point, if you have family members who are visually impaired that don’t currently get online, take some time to talk to them about their interests and how getting online may benefit them. There’s very few reasons why you can’t get #OnlineToday.

As always, please share this post using the social media links provided and feel free to leave a comment. Share with me how you use technology and the internet. I want to hear your stories on how you might use them both  to further your hobbies and interests or how you use them to simplify your day to day life. You can also contact me on Facebook and Twitter. And if you are on those social networks, please feel free to join the conversation by adding #onlinetoday or #GetOnlineWeek to your posts.

 

Accessing Table Top Games!

Accessing Table Top Games!

My last post touched on a few aspects of Video Game accessibility for the visually impaired. I love video games, so much in fact I have forgotten how much fun can be had after you peal the cellophane off, then lift the lid of a new board game for the first time, all the corners of the box still crisp and sharp. Or perhaps dusting off the old battered boxes from the top of the wardrobe and settling in for yet another Monopoly marathon, fighting for your favorite piece and dealing out the well worn bank notes. With these fond memories in mind, this time I’m putting down the pixels and picking up the dice and turning my attention towards table top gaming.

A picture of the monopoly board game

Help Finding The Right Game

I thought I was all set, having gathered together a healthy (or perhaps unhealthy) selection of my favorite drinks and snacks to sustain me during my gaming marathon. I’d Persuaded members of my immediate family, that a night of board gaming will be nothing like the last time I threw my toys out of the pram when losing at Monopoly. Then, heading over to Amazon, the realisation hit me, I know absolutely nothing about table top gaming.

What I needed was a resource equivalent to game-accessibility.com. I had to have an informed opinion, like they provide for video games only this time focused toward table top gaming. A place that would tell me not only what the game play was like but also how accessible it was for a visually impaired person.

Then I remembered, some time ago, while perusing Twitter for fun and interesting people to follow, I came across  @meeplelikeus. The editor over at meeplelikeus  is @DrMichaelHeron. A lecturer in the School of Computing and Digital Media at Robert Gordon University. Other contributors at the site include Pauline Belford  and Hayley Reid . In their own words they are  “a group of gaming academics, developers, hobbyists and enthusiasts”.

At meeplelikeus they carry out in depth “tare downs'” and reviews of table top games. Offering well informed and in depth commentary on their current levels of accessibility and providing possible improvements that can be made.

They also provide written reviews of the vast majority of table top games they do accessibility Tare Downs of, from a game play perspective. Providing you with all the information you need to make an informed purchase. That sounds like just what I needed.

I Didn’t Think Of That

Approaching game accessibility from a visually impaired persons point of view, I some times forget all the other limiting factors, that may effect other people from accessing video games and table top gaming alike.

Thankfully meeplelikeus and game-accessibility.com didn’t forget. They cover a wide range of factors that may limit access to the games that they review. Including but not limited to how accessible the games are for visually impaired people.

 

But, The Table Top Game I Want To Play Isn’t Accessible

Don’t write that game off just yet! That’s what I love about board games over video games. If a video game isn’t accessible you’re almost entirely reliant on the developer to resolve that issue. When it comes to board games it’s different, we have the option to change a lot of the constraining elements.

Rules Are Made To Be Broken

The easiest and least expensive thing you can do to solve accessibility issues with board games is implement house rules. This may include for example playing as a team of two instead of individually. A visually impaired person could team up with a sighted person to read the game cards and then make strategy decisions together. You should of course  attempt to keep the rules as close to the original rule set as possible, as to experience the game as the author intended.

Accessibility Up Their Sleeves

If the accessibility issue can’t be resolved with a simple rule change, then there are ways around it, but it may involve you spending a penny or two. I was recently introduced to @64ozGames on twitter by @sedjtroll  a game designer. On their website, they provide accessibility kits for a wide variety of games.

This site is run by Richard and Emily Gibs. They are both teachers and dedicated to making games accessible to the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Their Game Accessibility Kits include, but are not limited to, brailled sleeves, to get around the problem of text printed on game cards, such as those in Cards Against Humanity.

 

The Fun Factor

After finding all these excellent resources, offering expert and well informed opinions, my 3 year old daughter decided it was her turn to have her say. “Pig Goes Pop! Please!” she shouted, as I reeled off a list of games I would like to play. She was insistent, after every suggestion I made, “Pig Goes Pop! Please!”

Pester Power having seemingly increased in it’s potency since I used to whaled it as a child, I had no choice but to surrender. Although not being the most accessible game for a blind person. With it’s use of a small coloured die indicating the colour of the burger the player feeds to the pig. The barely tactile numbers on the base of the burgers, indicating the number of times you press down the piggies head. Not to mention the fact the game play only consists of feeding burgers to a pig. I just didn’t have the inner strength to resist the pestering, cuddles and kisses of a three year old, as she pleaded with her father (me) to give her what she wanted.

 

Pig Goes Pop Game

With the accessibility limitations in mind, my daughter and I came to an agreement. In exchange for my help in pressing down the piggies head, as she wasn’t quite strong enough to do it herself, she would help me identify the colours on the die after my role. My son and daughter then took turns in reading out the numbers on the base of the burgers after each of our turns. All the limitations overcome, we settled in for a game of Pig Goes Pop.

That’s what you need to remember when it comes to gaming, the most important thing when choosing a game to play is the fun factor. The game you are playing should be fun and inclusive for all the people playing it. And when you see the smile on a three year old’s face when a very full piggy bursts out of it’s jacket and throws it’s arms up in the air. And almost burst with laughter yourself as her infectious giggle spread around all the people playing, you can’t help but remember that fact.

 

Your thoughts?

Like always, if you have any comments, please feel free to leave them below r get in touch with me on Twitter or Facebook. Do you have any resources as far as accessible gaming goes that you haven’t seen me mention? What games do you like to play? Let me know I want to hear it all. Also if you like the post, please consider sharing  using the social media links below. Thank you.

Playing It By Ear!

Playing It By Ear!

Being a legally blind PC gamer, I have a choice of Text Based Games, Audio Games or the more typical, mainstream video games. I mention this choice as my mind has been drifting back towards gaming of late. Having taken a bit of a break from it recently. The tweet below caught my eye and it’s corresponding article got me thinking.

Ignoring text based games and audio games for a moment, mainstream video gaming, for blind and partially sighted people, is more often than not a game of trial and error. Going over the same level over and over again, remembering where the enemies, power ups and pit falls are all located. @BGMisadventures mentioned something similar to this in her #MyBlindStory article (which can be found here), on Blind New World. She also mentions that we have to rely heavily on others. But I feel, with the current programming knowledge and tools at developers disposal, this situation could be vastly improved.

Although peoples levels of sight obviously vary widely, Terry demonstrates perfectly in his popular YouTube video, how he copes with a mainstream game, using stereo sound and in game audio indicators to navigate the game. This is a great demonstration of the current state of affairs for blind gamers.

I want to be clear, I’m not belittling blind gamers achievements for playing mainstream games in this way. On the contrary, I congratulate them, It shows an outstanding level of determination and love for the game they’re playing. It’s just my dream, as a legally blind gamer myself, to have a more immersive gaming experience, similar to that of my sighted peers and I doubt I am alone in this.

Don’t get me wrong, there are video games out there that are, for the most part, completely accessible for blind and partially sighted players, especially on the iOS and Android platforms, such as Dice World, a very popular game in the blind community.  These games can hardly be considered action packed however. On the graphics heavy end of the game spectrum there are games, that, once your vision drops below a given level, playing that game just becomes untenable.

Does that have to be the case? Would it be possible to introduce a game mechanic, like the one that is central to Deep Echo. In this game, you can make your way through each game level, locating objects of danger and exit points all through sound. Although once again, the game play is not graphically stimulating for the fully sighted player and can hardly be considered a mainstream game, that’s not the point. What I want to focus on here is the way in which players navigate the game levels.

Mainstream games could integrate such a mechanic where, upon selecting an accessibility option, the player can navigate the game world using an echo location aid. This way, rather than trusting to luck and an awesome memory. Blind players can play reactionary game play, like our sighted counterparts. Once again, or maybe for the first time, having that on the edge of your seat game play, where you’re lost in the moment, not knowing what’s going to come next and loving it.

As demonstrated by Terry in the video linked to earlier in the post, visually impaired gamers, even more so than sighted players, are used to using audio queues that the game developers introduce into the game. Using audio to  provide even more accurate navigational information is just the natural evolution in my mind.

Adding to the echo location, developers could also provide visually impaired gamers with tactile feedback, using today’s console controllers. Or maybe, through a wearable peripheral that has yet to be invented. These additions would increase the immersion into the game for visually impaired gamers as well as increasing game accessibility.

These feedback adaptations may require the game play to be paired down in some cases, in order to avoid overwhelming a blind player. For example, slowing down the speed at which an enemy attacks you, or maybe a reduction in the number of attackers, so that you are able to identify the direction at which you are being attacked.

In my layman’s opinion, I would think this could be relatively easy to implement in single player games. I would have imagined the challenge would present itself when playing along side sighted players in team based, co-operative game play, in terms of balancing the play between sighted and visually impaired players. But I’m sure this challenge could be overcome, given enough thought.

The question is, would blind and partially sighted people be willing to accept that they, we, would possibly be playing an altered version of the game compared to a fully sighted player,  in exchange for a more immersive and accessible gaming experience, or do they prefer the current trial and error state of affairs.

Speaking from my own experience, I currently have to make sacrifices in game play compared to my sighted friends and family, in order to experience a given game. I would often run games on my PC in windowed mode, at a reduced screen resolution, so that in game objects would appear larger or so that I could use screen magnification software when required. This is less than ideal and for the most part doesn’t work at all, leaving me frustrated and either asking for help or abandoning the experience. I would much rather have a version of a game that I can access using a modified game mechanic.

Another accessibility modification that could, quite easily in my opinion, be made to video games would be audio description. This is a feature that has been available on DVD’s Blu-Ray and even TV programs for some time. Why not bring this to the world of Video Games. There are often cinematic cut scenes in video games, the introduction of audio description to these would be great for the visually impaired.

Game accessibility has taken several steps forward recently, especially with the advent of text to speech and zoom functionality on the PS4, XBOX One and the Wii U but there is still a long way to go. It’s great that the console manufacturers have picked up the baton of accessibility but it’s now the turn of the game developers to take hold of that baton and run with it.

It’s one thing to make things larger on screen, or make on screen menus accessible but we deserve more. Blind and partially sighted people deserve to be drawn into the games action. Fully immersed in everything the game has to offer. Not left squinting at the screen as we try to identify friend from foe. Nor do we deserve to be repeatedly presented with the game over music and splash screen as we unceremoniously  fall to our deaths, while we try determinedly, but unsuccessfully,  to negotiate a cliff side obstacle course.

When you look at the World Health Organisation Statistics, approximately 285 million people are visually impaired world wide. That is a statistic and a segment of the market that should not be ignored or undervalued by mainstream game developers, those developers that have the resources at their disposal to make a game changing impact in the lives of literally millions of blind and partially sighted people.

These are just a few of my thoughts on how mainstream games could be changed to make them more accessible for the visually impaired. They are obviously just my opinions, what are your thoughts on the matter? What games do you currently play and how would you like to see them changed to improve your gaming experience? Do you think they are fine as they are and we should just make the best of it?

If you’re a visually impaired gamer I’d love to hear your story. What are your experiences of trying to play mainstream video games, or have you switched to more accessible games such as text based or audio games. What adaptations have you made to your gaming environment to make it more accessible, do you use adapted peripherals, large screens etc, I want to hear it all.

I’m equally interested in hearing the thoughts of game developers large or small. What are the challenges you face when developing a game and trying to ensure you cater for the wide verity of accessibility needs that are out there today. Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me via Twitter or Facebook. . I would also appreciate it if you could share this post using the social media buttons below so that I can gather peoples opinions.