Back in the day, perhaps about the mid-nineties, if you said you wer playing an adventure game, as long as the word text wasn’t in front of it, you were usually talking about just one thing. You were talking about the then popular style of game now generally referred to as Point and Click. There are bunches and bunches of these games, and not all old either. A few developers, perhaps most noteably Telltale, still make games like this, and some of them obtain a uge amount of popularity. But what is the point, you ask? Why does all this matter to the blind gaming community? Well, I’ve thought about this or a while, and I genuinely believe that pretty much every single point and click style game could be made accessible. Best yet, I think they could all use the same basic interface. So I’ve decided to blog about it here as something to mull over, and perhaps, just perhaps, something we might want to pursue.
Here’s the dream. One program that you launch in conjunction with whatever point and click game you want to play. The program detects what game it is, and loads up the necessary files it’s going to need. This program, you see, would act as a sort of overlay to the games themselves. It would probably have to be constantly updated, or alternatively a site could be created where woe would download the necessary addon packs for the games they wanted to play, but I really think it could work.
When the game and the overlay program are loaded, the overlay begins constantly monitoring the state of the game, presenting you with lists of options based on the context of what is going on. At first, this would be the basic new game, load game and so on, but wen you actually start the game, this overlay would then keep track of the room you’re in. This is where it gets fun.
What I see in my head are a couple of combo boxes, and maybe a few buttons. The overlay would use standard windows controls so as to easily be read by a screenreader. When you started your game, there would be multiple lists on screen. One would be the list of known objects in the room, another would be the list of known exits from the room, and a third would be your inventory, though perhaps to save on clutter, there could just be a button that pulls that particular list up. All of these lists would have to be allowed to change overtime, as quite often, both objects and exits are hidden until you perform certain actions, and you’re always gaining and losing inventory items. The inventory list in particular would likely have to allow for small submenus so items could be examined or combined and so on. Come to think of it, room objects should work the same way.
But here’s the thing. For the most part, (the rest I’ll get to shortly), that’s basically it. As I said, these point and click style games all worked basically the same way. You enter a room, pick up any objects in that room or solve any puzzles there, and you move on with the story while you do it. Of course, there is hidden depth here, which I’ll get to along with the reasons there would have to be just a little more with each game.
First, despite the simplistic interface, one must consider how this would have to work. The configuration files, or packs, or whatever you want to call them, would likely have to be created by the sighted, so we can’t really do this alone. Essentially, though, what you’re looking at is this. The sighted person would first reveal everything in a given room tat they could, then record their individual mouse positions right down to the pixel. Then, a name or short description, (small furry creature tensed to pounce), would have to be added. This is what the player would see as they browsed through the object list. There would be a variable that would tell the overlay if the object was hidden at any given time, so it wouldn’t appear in the list initially, but every time an object was interacted with, the game could recheck the room for interactable objects, (usually indicated by a change in the mouse pointer itself), and cross reference that with the positions marked by the configure to determine what object had been revealed. Inventory item lists may have to be storeed locally to work properly, but maybe not. That’s one point I’m not clear on.
So things start to seem a little more complicated, but here is where we come to another problem. It’s one that I feel could be resolved with a little work, but it is something that should be addressed. Some point and click games like to break format for short periods of time. The Walking Dead from Telltale has several examples of this with its action sequences, and a funny little game called the Book of Unwritten Tales has this as well with things like potion mixing. So there’s good news and bad news about this. The good news is the very fact that these things are very segmented. They’re a brief break from the format, which is then returned to. This would make them easily detectable. The bad news is there’s no universal way these parts of the games work, so they would have to be coded for accessibility individually. Still, I think this could be done for each game as a sort of subroutine of the overlay. Additional functions the overlay executes when one of these events occurs. This would potentially save on the developer having to recode anything at all, (unless they were the ones who helped with this of course), and what coding anyone else would have to do would be relatively minimal. Just enough that the part of the game in question could be got through.
Now of course I know that’s not everything. Surely there would be other little nuances to consider, such as how exactly combining of objects is handled, what is remembered within the program and what isn’t, and so on. And maybe, just maybe, all this is incredibly stupid. I’ve done a little programming, and I think I know enough about it to at least understand what would need to be done, even if I also don’t know enough to actually pull it off myself. But hey, I could be wrong. Still, as I said, this is something to mull over. A nice little dream that, if ever achieved, wouldn’t just make one or two games accessible to us, but potentially hundreds. Pretty cool, huh?