Frequency Found: An Accessibility Review of Frequency Missing for IOS

Frequency Missing is a game for IOS made with both the blind and the sighted in mind. As I understand it, it does possess graphics, but is also fully accessible to those who cannot see. Its take on the point and click adventure style is a different one than what I previously suggested, but in my opinion is just as valid. Let’s discuss.

A long time ago, I wrote a blog about how a point and click adventure could be made fully accessible to the blind. I discussed turning the clickable objects and people into menu selections that would then basically trigger macros. Frequency Missing uses a different idea. In that game, you hold your finger down on the touch screen, and move it around until you hear the ambient noise created for all objects in the game. You orient on it, moving your finger toward it, and when you’re centered, you hear a click of acknowledgement. If you then raise your finger, you interact with that object.

While I’m still perfectly OK with my original idea, I have to admit this one has a lot of merit as well. Unlike my idea of a menu structure, this allows you to know where items actually are on screen, and thus get a sort of picture of the room you’re in. The gaps left by noninteractable items are filled by voiced descriptions you hear when the character first enters that room. It’s a clever and effective way to immerse a blind player, and it works very well. This became most clear during a tense moment when I quickly had to get to a certain room in a building, and suddenly realized I knew its layout well enough to actually be quick about it. It’s a kind of intensity that would’ve been lessened by menu navigation, and it really made me grow to appreciate the way the game did things.

Its conversations are handled in much the same way, though they are easier than finding things around a room. Just hold your finger on the screen, and move up and down between conversation options. It’s intuitive, and it works. Best of all, the click you get when you’re on an option changes in pitch depending on how high or low in the menu that option is. Very well done.

And speaking of well done, the game itself is well done. Accessibility aside, the story is interesting if not necessarily mindblowing, and the voice acting actually isn’t terrible. Again, I wasn’t blown away by the performances, but I have heard far, far, far worse in games before. I was overall very pleased.

Best of all, though, this game is free! How can one argue with that? A well-done, decently-written, decently-acted fully accessible interactive story that is free! Frequency Missing is a must-try for any blind IOS owner, and for anyone interested in different types of accessible interfaces for games. Check it out, and enjoy the mystery! As always, thanks for reading, and continue to be awesome!

Telltale Games: Making Great Stories Frustrating

Greetings again my most humble and awesome readers. Today I want to talk about the video game developer known as Telltale games. They are known for their episodic story-based titles, which are usually attached to a license of some kind. Back to the Future, Batman, The Walking Dead, and so on. These games are played in the point and click style, and for that reason are not particularly accessible. But you see, myself and some folks like me really love story in games, which is something I’ve covered in blogs before. We love story so much that we will slog through these games regardless. Yeah, I know, we’re crazy. Let’s discuss that.

There are plenty of problems playing Telltale’s games. The most obvious is finding everything we’re supposed to click on and look at and interact with. This is very, very difficult. You can walk freely most times, but you can also move a cursor to click on things as well. So how do we get past this hurtle? Patience. Lots and lots of patience. I often play these games by frantically moving the cursor around with the right thumbstick and mashing the X button on PS4, or A button on Xbox. If I am successful, the character then autowalks to that location and interacts. This is interestingly the feature that makes me believe Telltale games could easily be made blind accessible. Regardless, we are helped slightly by the fact that, in the more recent games, you can only click on most things once. This at least means we don’t have to worry about repeatedly finding the same things over and over, though it’s still a tedious process.

Another problem, though, and some may consider this a more important problem, is dialog. Telltale’s games are heavily influenced by your dialog choices. While we can press buttons to make those choices, we have no actual idea which choice we’re making in advance. This is intensely frustrating, because as the story progresses, we just like anybody else, develop ideas of how we’d like to play the characters, but we cannot really execute those ideas. We must simply live with the choices we are not aware we’re making. Yeah, that’s a thing.

Third, we’ve got quicktime events! Certain moments in the story might require you to press the correct button at the right time to perform some important action. How do we get past these, you might ask? We guess! That’s right, we use trial and error to figure out every button, all the timing, and so on. Eventually, we can usually get through these that way, but it’s definitely not ideal. Dying over and over while just trying to pass a single portion of a game isn’t particularly fun either.

The point I’ve been trying to make with all this is that, as unfun as this can be, I’ve done it anyway. I have accepted that I won’t know which dialog choices I’m making, and that quicktime events are going to take forever. I understand that I’ll need lots of patience to find all the things in each room that I’ll need. Yet, I’ve done it anyway.I played both seasons of Telltale’s Batman like this, occasionally asking for sighted help with certain very specific parts of the game. I also played Tales from the Borderlands, which is a fun and hilarious game, like this as well. I did it because I still enjoy the stories these games tell, and I guess I don’t mind enjoying the story for the story, no matter how much longer that takes me than it would anyone else.

The other point, though, is that these games could easily be made accessible. I won’t go into detail on that here, as I’ve already written a blog which discusses the accessibility of point and click games, but it could be done. Unfortunatley, Telltale themselves have shown a lack of interest in accessibility, not just for the blind but for other types of disability as well. This is unfortunate, as they are capable of producing such great content, but for now it is what it is. It is my hope that one day, their minds change, and we all can enjoy the tales they tell equally. As always, thanks for reading, and continue to be awesome!

Adventuring Blind: How I believe Point and Click Adventure Games Could All Become Accessible

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?