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.

Heading Towards Hope!

Heading Towards Hope!

Hello you lot.

I wanted to explain my absence from the blog to you all, in fact, I’ve been trying to do this for a while. I’ve written several blog posts that I just haven’t hit the publish button on, and if I’m honest, I probably never will.

As someone that suffers from depression, I tend to focus on the negatives, maybe more than I should. This gives me a slanted outlook on life, which isn’t necessarily healthy or productive. This, as you might imagine makes it’s way into my writing, at times. Hence why I avoid hitting the publish button, as too much negativity is good for no one, in my opinion.

I tried to work through my depression by writing, talking with trusted friends and having projects to focus on to distract me from myself. If I’m honest it wasn’t really successful. I still had that negative outlook, Wanting desperately to resolve my depression, assuming it can be resolved, I had to change my approach.

So after visiting my GP and asking them for help and advice, in addition to the usual prescriptions that GP’s hand out for such issues, (Prescriptions that I have been on for many years,and on their own, don’t seam to be working) they have now also referred me for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, (CBT).

This therapy will supposedly help me face life, with a more positive outlook. As I have not yet started it, I can not vouch for it’s successfulness. I am willing to give it a try however, as I seriously want to focus on the lighter side of life and give the darkness a break for a while.

Before starting the therapy, I had to visit a mental health assessor. He verified my thoughts of myself, as he told me, ‘after only speaking to you for 15 minutes, I can see you have a negative slant on life’. Probably not the thing a depressed person wants to hear about themselves but he was right. He also said something to me after answering a host of questions. He said ‘you have a light in your life that you hold on to’, meaning my wife and children. Hopefully, this CBT will help me shine light on the rest of my life.

He also touched on the fact that I may be suffering from anxiety that has thus far gone without being diagnosed or recognised. He thinks, and I agree with him that this is due to my visual impairment.

I’m now just waiting for my first appointment to come through as there is a waiting list. I will keep you all up to date. I promise though. Once all this mess is sorted out I will refocus on the reason for me starting this blog in the first place, GAMING! If this all goes well, I may finally be heading toward Hope and away from Despair.

If you suffer from depression, or used to suffer from it and managed to overcome it, I’d love to hear your story. Please, leave a comment below or contact me on FaceBook or Twitter. If you still suffer from depression, don’t suffer alone. If you feel you can, please, contact your GP or medical professional and make the first steps towards getting the help and support you need.

Seeing With Dolphins!

Seeing With Dolphins!

Hi guys, I know it’s been a while, but I’m back now!

I thought it only right to write a blog post seeing as my blog was just kindly featured on the Dolphin Blog. Dolphin Software, Supernova to be precise, played a huge part in my life back at school and college and now they’re once again stepping up to the plate and helping Blind and Partially Sighted bloggers, if I was wearing a hat, it would definitely be going off to them right now.

I haven’t spoken about my eye condition on my blog yet, in any great detail at least. I suffer from Retinitis pigmentosa, for most sufferers, this results in what can best be described as tunnel vision, they lose most if not all of their peripheral vision and to them it is like they are looking through a tube, only being able to see what is directly in front of their field of view.

For me however it has manifested itself in a slightly different way, the cells are degenerating all over my retina, not just on the periphery, so I have lost clarity of vision throughout. This means I struggle to distinguish variations in colour, I can’t read anything but the largest of font sizes. I am also unable to recognize people in all but the closest of distances and traveling on my own can be a challenge as I am unable to see obstacles.

This is why Supernova was a life line to me in school. It couldn’t help me walk around without bumping into things, nor could it help me recognise friends and loved ones. What it could do however was help me access my school work, browse the internet and communicate online, all things I would not have been able to do otherwise.

Supernova is a screen magnification and screen reader designed to help Blind and Partially Sighted people access their computer. Without this software I would never had been able to make my way through school and receive anything like the grades I did.

Dolphin Software wasn’t the only aid I had in school however, I also had one on one support in most of my classes except for P.E. (I think you guys in the states call it Gym?). Anyway, that one on one support was so useful, helping me access content that the teacher would write on the blackboard, describing classroom experiments in the science classes and adapting classroom resources on the fly that had not been pre-submitted by the teachers.

The one on one support was more than that though, it made me feel like I wasn’t going through school alone. Don’t get me wrong, I had friends in school, but I don’t think any of them really understood my eye condition, they just saw me for who I was, for the most part, I think. Having the support teachers there who I could go to when I needed to talk to someone who understood was so useful, especially as I went to a mainstream school.

I’d like to thank Dolphin once again for prompting me to pick up the proverbial pen again and take to my blog, it’s been a long time coming and I really enjoyed recalling old memories. School is a huge part of most peoples lives and Dolphin played a massive part in my schooling, so thank you Dolphin.

If you had low vision in school I’d be interested to hear what accessibility aids you used, be it magnifiers or software, one on one tuition or classroom support. Let me know in the comments or contact me on Twitter or Facebook I’d love to hear your story. I’d especially like to know how you carried on after you left school and possibly entered the world of work. Did you continue using the same adaptations or did you change things up, let me know.

Alison, Who’s Alison?

Alison, Who’s Alison?

Like most insecure men, I’m compensating for something. Unlike most men however, I’m compensating for a lack of eye sight, this can’t be fixed by driving a fancy car or living in a nice house. I’ve got to be a bit more proactive with my compensation. Alison can help with this.

So, who’s Alison? First of all Alison is a website, not a who. Offering free education to everyone. Free you ask, yes free, the website itself is supported by advertisements on the site with an additional income stream taking the form of certificates you can purchase upon successful completion of your chosen course.

Sounds good so far, yeah, I thought so too. That’s why I was really grateful to @kazziegriff for letting me know about this site. I’ve heard of resources such as lynda.com before but I have been unable to afford the subscription to it.

Just like lynda.com, Alison offers courses in a variety of subjects from accounting to woodworking and everything inbetween. If your interested in blogging but haven’t managed to figure it all out yet, there are courses on WordPress. Or if you’re anything like me, you might have an interest in programming and web development.Don’t worry Alison has got you covered, there are several courses, covering a variety of disciplines in these subjects, that will satisfy your thirst for knowledge.

If you have a lot of free time, trying to get back into work, or trying to gain access to work for the first time. Alison is a great resource for padding out your CV with skills that potential employers might be looking for. Not only that however, it’s padding out your mind with knowledge that will improve your effectiveness in subjects you have an interest in, or maybe even introduce you to subjects you might never have paid any attention to before.

Most of this knowledge is already freely available on the internet, so why do I need Alison? That’s a good question. Let me address that for you.

The first benefit of Alison over free form learning would be having structured courses. Not everyone likes hunting around the web for bits of information here and some more information there. Some people like learning in a linear fashion. Alison has all the relevant information in one place allowing you to focus on the important part, absorbing the knowledge, not looking for it.

Having the knowledge is one thing, but proving you have it is another. You might be able to link to examples of your work in your CV, this might suffice in a lot of subjects but it doesn’t translate to all, That’s were Alison comes in handy.

Once you have completed your chosen course, a record will be kept in your Alison profile, along with all the other courses you have completed. Here you have the option to buy either a PDF certificate, or a printed certificate as proof of your achievements. If you have accounts on LinkedIn, Facebook, a blog, or accounts on other social networks like Twitter, you can link to your public Alison profile, where your friends and potential employers can see what courses you have completed.

This is my favorite aspect of the site. As I am currently looking for work IRL. Every way I can improve my chances I will grasp hold of, wrestle it to the ground and wring every last little benefit I can from it. So I will scour Alison for relevant courses, maybe in Admin, Business and perhaps programming (to satisfy my own personal interests) Once I have completed these courses I will link to them on my CV.

I feel, as a blind person, I have to make that much more of an effort than a regular guy on the street looking for work. Sure there’s legislation in the UK that require larger employers to fulfill diversity requirements. I don’t just want to be a tick in a box however, I want to burst out of that box and show the world what I can do.

If you found this blog post interesting or useful, please leave a like at the bottom, a comment, or consider sharing it on your twitter and Facebook pages using the links provided.

AudioGames.Net

AudioGames.Net

Yep, I’m back again, this time with a site I was introduced to by @ianhamilton_ on twitter. audiogames.net. Before I go into the site however, let me give a little demonstration at just how ignorant and behind the times I can be.

This isn’t the first time I have come across audio games, oh no, in fact, I thought I was the person who had thought up the genre, all on my own, while sitting on the sofa watching discovery channel and eating a pizza, needless to say I wasn’t.

Anyway, along with the story. I was sat making great progress on the king of Pizzas, the Pepperoni, when into my brain comes a thought.

WhiteCaneGamer, my inner demon shouted,

I sat there in stunned silence, with a slice of pizza hanging out of my mouth, lifting my head slightly in acknowledgment of my demon. Anticipating the barrage of insults that were about to come my way.

“Great, now I’ve got your attention”

Barked my demon,

“I just wanted to tell you something, YOU SUCK at drawing, painting and anything to do with art.”

I rolled my eyes, as I normally do, when my inner demons decide it’s time to hammer on my confidence, criticize me or generally make me feel stupid or worthless.

“yes I know, I suck at art, what’s your point”

I muttered in reply, making sure not to attract the attention of my wife sitting next to me enjoying the TV.

“do you remember mentioning some time ago you wanted to make a game? , you want to make a game don’t you,”

“yes” I answered,

“well”, my demon proceeded, “you’re going to find it hard to make a video game if you suck at drawing and graphics”

This is where my inner genius rose up, taking a swing at my over confident and somewhat annoying demon. It sometimes does that, trying it’s best to defend me.

“Well then”, my genius bellowed, “we just wont have any graphics, we’ll make a completely audio based game, after all, the minds eye can draw better than any artist”.

Grinning stupidly at how clever I was, the pizza having fallen back into the pizza box at this point, I grasp the opportunity to boast to my wife and show her just how smart I was.

My lovely wife, at this point, as usual, teamed up with my smart ass demon, she explained to me that if I can think of it, the chances are someone else out there has already thought of it and I should check to see if there are any games out there, like the one I was describing.

I instantly hopped onto my computer and questioned the font of all knowledge, google, audio games, I typed, Google being Google, scoured the internet and spat out thousands of results faster than I could blink.

“So it turns out you’re not so clever after all”, my demon chuckled.

“It doesn’t matter!” I proclaimed,

I was just happy that such games existed and I had found a completely new genre of games for me to enjoy.

Me being me however, I went back to my Pizza and discovery channel and forgot all about it, until, I made my last blog post and received a reminder in the form a tweet.

Thanks to that tweet it has reinvigorated my interest in the genre. All being said and done, there isn’t a genre that could be any more accessible to the visually impaired, it is even more accessible than text based games. Not only are they accessible, everyone who plays the game, are on a level playing field. This almost perfectly matches my mandate for starting this blog. So in that sense, audio games are the gaming holy grail for blind and visually impaired gamer’s.

Over the coming weeks, I will be scouring this website and it’s accompanying forum to find games that catch my eye, so that I may take a closer look at them and possibly review them here on the blog.

In the mean time, if you’re interested in accessible gaming and feel the urge to try something a little different, I strongly suggest you take a look at this site, who knows, you might find your new favorite game.

Or, if you are already deep into the Audio Game scene and have some suggestions on games that I should take a look at, or a listen to, then please leave a comment below and let me know.

Game Accessibility

Game Accessibility

I’m a blind gamer except I’ve got nothing to play. I’ve got a steam library full of games I want to play, the only problem is I can’t see to play the vast majority of them. So I’ve come to the conclusion I’m doing it all wrong,. That being said I’ve decided to change my game buying strategy.

I’ve decided to approach gaming from the accessibility front. Normally, I’ve noticed games I would probably want to play, either by watching them on twitch.tv or on a YouTube video somewhere. Then, I rush out all excited to buy it, install it on my computer fizzing with excitement, only to find it is completely inaccessible to me and I am unable to play it.

Although I wish I could shop for games in this way, I have come to the realization that I just can’t. I need to shop smarter. If the game is accessible to me, the chances are I’ll get more from it. I’ll be more competitive and have less excuses when I suck.

That’s what led me to this website, game-accessibility.com They are a fantastic resource, reviewing games, not only from an enjoyment stand point, but an accessibility point of view.

Each game they review receives a score out of 10 for both accessibility and the enjoyment factor. Lets face it, if the game is 100 percent accessible and there is no enjoyment to be had, we’re not going to want to play it are we.

In addition to this rating the site also provides you with detailed information on exactly how the game is accessible, for example, does the game make previsions for colour blind gamer’s. You can also search by these criteria, in addition to the device you wish to play the game on. This helps you pin point the exact accessibility features you need from a game so you can direct your search. Lets face it, we want to focus our time where it counts, on the fun stuff! This site makes that possible.

You’ll be pleased to know however, the site doesn’t stop there. Us, as gamer’s, want as many games to be accessible. To that end, The Game Accessibility Project also has a section on their site focused towards developers. passing on advice and valuable information so that, going forward, more and more games will have accessibility features baked into them, from their inception. Hopefully, one day, we might be able to shop the fun way once again, with our hearts, not our heads. But until then, I’m glad that game-accessibility.com exists and is making our gaming lives easier.

Please, if you liked this post, feel free to leave a comment or share it using the links provided below on your social media site of choice.

Sweating The Small Stuff!

Sweating The Small Stuff!

Hi everyone, gather round I need to have a word.

I’ve sat down in front of my computer, several times this weak, with the intentions of writing blog posts. Maybe letting you guys know what I’m getting up to, perhaps some gaming news, who knows. The reason no one knows, yep, no body knows because I didn’t write any blog posts this weak. Every time I’ve sat down I’ve been fixated on my website banner image.

The current image has nothing to do with gaming and even less to do with me. I’ve tried to sit down with Photoshop to remedy that, drawing can’t be that hard right? It turns out it is very hard, at least when your blessed with the minuscule amount of artistic talent I’m brandishing. Lets just say my talents don’t stretch to drawing, I’d have had more luck if I’d handed my 3 year old a pack of crayons and commissioned her to draw it for me.

I may be forced to use the same banner I use for pretty much everything online. That was created for me by a member of my twitch stream audience, back when I used to live stream. He admitted to not being an artist but still wanted to do something for me to help me on my way. I’m thankful for him doing that for me because without that I’d have nothing and I’d probably still be rocking the default twitter egg and whatever the default Twitch and Facebook avatars are.

I don’t know what it is about me, I get fixated on one thing and just can’t move forward without that issue being resolved, no matter how small it is to me it seams huge. Like a mountain forming in front of my very eyes, blocking my progress. Maybe it’s OCD, maybe it’s me being a failing perfectionist, I don’t know.

The One thing I know is that this is only my second post and I’m already floundering. I wish I could say I’m surprised and I expected myself to be flying along with this blog, but I’m not surprised. I’ve tried so many things in the past, only to come across obstacles in my path. Failing to over come them, I usually just turn back and give up.

This time however I wanted to try and scale that mountain, that’s what spawned this blog post. I know my blog looks like crap and I know this post has nothing to do with gaming. However, if I didn’t write something I’m scared I may never write anything and this venture would be yet another one that I fail at,slipping by the way side, never to see the light of day. I don’t want that to happen, so please, have a little patience with me and I promise, I will attempt to get my shit together. I don’t know how long it will take but I will try my best.

See you on the next one!

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