Hi Steve and list,

Here're some answers from me...


Question 1:
What is the best combination for accessibility within a visual environment. 
E.g, Java (graphics) and self-voicing? Flash (graphics) 
and self-voicing? Java (graphics) and a client TTS based program? etc...

Answer:
The choice of technology depends very much on the type of game that you are 
going to develop. You need to know the type of graphics 
that the game is going to use (3D or 2D) and also the platform on which the 
game is played (PC, iPhone/iPad or (handheld) console, 
online in browser on website/ Facebook, etc.). There's a wide range of game 
technology out there so you first need to be more 
specific. But I can tell you this already: Java and Flash are currently the 
most popular apps for 2D online/offline graphics, 
including a 2D sound engine. Unity, Director, Virtools and Quest3D are the most 
popular (in that order) for online/offline 3D 
graphics, including a 3D sound engine. Of these, only Director contains 
standard TTS functionality.
But there are many options if you choose to develop for another platform, many 
including coding (for example C#) instead of 
scripting (ActionScript) solutions.


Question 2:
Would 1 approach be more difficult than another? E.g, screenreader over 
self-voicing?

Answer:
Again, this depends heavily on your game design and the type of experience that 
you want to accomplish. The benefit of screenreader 
functionality is that you don't have to produce sound file assets for the text 
in your game. If your game contains a lot of text 
this saves a lot of money and time. It also saves a lot on the size of your 
game (100 text files is much smaller than 100 mp3 
files). The downside is that you can't control the sound of the voice on the 
players computer, with many people having different 
voices. You also need to somhow get TTS working in your game as not that many 
game development tools support TTS. Your game will 
(partially) sound like any other application and that a lot of expression thus 
immersion of the gamer may probably be lost, compared 
to a recording of a voice actor. This is one of the benefits of a self-voicing 
game - you can make it sound great, original, 
expressive and exciting. You can make it sound like a game and not Word. But of 
course you need to have the resources (voice 
over/actor (=not the same), recording capabilities, time) to do that. Also, it 
will make your game a lot bigger. And many 
development tools can simply handle multiple sound files.


Question 3:
Are there any examples of such a graphical game which offer a good gaming 
experience to both the blind and sighted, which 
incorporate audio accessibility?

Answer:
Aside from the obvious ones such as Terraformers and The Blind Eye, that others 
have already mentioned, there are several games in 
our AudioGames.net database that feature visuals and from which can be learned. 
Such as:

http://www.audiogames.net/sudosan/
http://www.audiogames.net/thecurbgame/
http://audiogames.net/db.php?action=view&id=mueckenjagd
http://audiogames.net/db.php?action=view&id=SoundVoyager
http://audiogames.net/db.php?action=view&id=km2000
http://audiogames.net/db.php?action=view&id=tag

Many of the above are accessible but have (light and big) design issues in one 
way or the other. Sudosan, which I developed, is an 
accessible version of the popular Sudoku puzzle. It is very boring because 
solving a 9x9 sudoku takes a lot longer by listening to 
each row and column compared to having a visual overview of the puzzle. A 
better solution would have been the option of a 4x4 or 6x6 
sudoku.

The Curb Game was intended as a (first) simple online blind-accessible video 
game, as there were none at that time. What we learned 
was that adding visuals double the production time (also see final note below).

The game KM2000 is an excellent example on how why one should NOT base your 
accessible game design on a visual perspective. KM2000 
is a racing game in which it was decided to use a top-down perspective and 
making it possible for a player to rotate his car 360 
degrees, thus resulting in many accessibility issues and in a game that is 
almost unplayable. Would the designers have chosen for a 
3rd person (like Outrun) or even 1st person perspective, than the game would 
have been a whole lot different and better. Lesson 
learned: base your game design and game perspective on accessibility first 
(only then on sound), and not on visuals (which has a 
different possibility space with different properties/dimensions than sound).

Mueckenjagd offers a similar problem. In this fly-swatting type game, the 
player control a crosshair in a 2D plane (x,y). The 
crosshair cannot leave this plane and this will bump the edges. When you see 
this in action, the mechanic is very clear. But the 
mechanic is very unclear in just sound alone (when there is no visual plane), 
and it is only enhanced by the minimalistic sound 
design for the bump notification (a beep, of course :( ). It would maybe have 
been better if the designers choose to use a 360 
rotating on 1 or possibly 2 axis.

I've added Sound Voyager as a game with a "good gaming experience to both the 
blind and sighted". Both the visual and auditory 
assets are designed as abstract and it works quite well. When you look at many 
music-driven games, many of the visuals are abstract 
shapes (cubes, squares, lines, triangles, etc) with simple animations enriched 
by nice lighting and special visuals effects. Sound 
Voyager sticks to simple circles and points though, and still remains a fun 
game to experience in both sound and visuals.

Final note: Please know that if you want to dig deeper in making 
blind-accessible video games, that adding imagery includes adding a 
lot of work and expertise. That if you intend to target sighted gamers, that 
you must your visuals should be up-to-date to current 
standards. This doesn't neccesarily mean 3D, though, it may very well be 2D. It 
does mean well-excecuted visual artwork, proper 
animation, a reasonable framerate, etc etc. Don't make the same mistake that 
the non-tripple-A-title-video game industry 
unfortunately still makes  with sound today: don't add the visuals sometime 
later but plan it together with the whole of your game.

Best regards,

Richard

http://audiogames.net
http://creativeheroes.nl 


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