Blindfold Racer Championship

Get ready for the world’s first championship for everyone (you don’t need to be a gamer) who wants to have their share of fun.

Blindfold Racer Championship banner

Welcome to Blindfold Racer Championship, where 50 states and over 12,000 people play the game, win lovely prizes, have lots of fun with each other, race faster, higher and stronger.

There will be lots of categories to compete in – not just the highest score. And if you’ve never played Blindfold Racer before, it’s a game where you drive with your ears, not your eyes, and you don’t need to be a gamer to earn high scores.

Winners in each category will get recognized on blogs, podcasts, Facebook, twitter, newspapers, television and more. The Championship countdown starts on September 30 to Finals on October 14th.

We will announce details later this week, but here’s how you can get involved earlier: If you’ve played Blindfold Racer before, and you live in a major city, please contact me. We especially need to find people from Boston, New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Blindfold Racer Championship is being sponsored by Blindfold Games and Project Starfish.  Registration is coming soon.  Tell your friends!

Blindfold Games: Why they seem so real

One of the challenges of building a game that you play against a computer opponent is to make it feel like you are playing against real people. I’ve talked about this in prior blogs, and Blindfold Pool, Blindfold Bowling and Blindfold Spin and Solve accomplish this by varying the skill of your computer opponent.

man speaking into iPhone

Another method is to give the appearance that the opponent is thinking about his move, and sometimes talk about his move. For example, in pool, after you take your shot and it becomes the computer’s turn, your opponent pauses he thinks about his move. Sometimes you hear him chalking his pool cue, or walk around the table to consider different shots, or make comments to himself, such as “Hmm, that looks like a good shot” or “I think I can do it”.

To avoid repeating the same phrases over and over again, we build a set of sentence fragments that can be mixed together to produce a unique sentence.   Consider, the sentence “That looks like a good shot” might be broken into 3 fragments: “that” and “looks like” and “a good shot”. Then we come up with five or six similar phrases to each fragment. For example, you could substitute the phrase “a safe shot” or “do-able” or “an easy shot” or “not so hard” or “a winner” for “a good shot”. So if there are 5 alternatives for each of the 3 fragments, that results in 5 times 5 times 5 combinations or a total of 125 possible sentences. Most games have at least 1000 combinations to keep the opponent sounding unique.

A second method is to make the competitor’s voice sound different. In Bingo, the best part of the game is when you make a bingo, and you can yell out BINGO. Blindfold Bingo lets you record yourself yelling BINGO, and then share that with everyone else.

When you play Bingo, and your opponent wins, she announces her BINGO in someone’s voice. The game does this by randomly selecting one of hundreds of BINGO recordings that other people shared.

As the Blindfold Games community grows, we’ll be adding more and more features to the games so people can share their voice recordings to make everyone’s game experience even more realistic.

Blindfold Games and RS Games

About 4 months ago, one of the great testers from down under – Australia – suggested that I contact other developers of Windows-based accessible games, and work with them so their games can be played on the iPhone and iPad.

rs games icon

I contacted several: some were excited, some were rude and dismissive.  I struck up a good conversation with the engineers at RS Games, and we talked for several weeks about customer expectations and experience, how our business models differed, and how we would approach the project.  Once we reached a verbal agreement, they sent me the programming code for their web client, and I proceeded to re-write it, so it would work on iOS.

For those of you who don’t know about RS Games, they’ve created about 19 multi-player games, including Monopoly, Uno, Yahtzee and Farkle.  Their games run on a game server, so people all over the world connect to the RS game server using the RS game client on Windows or the Mac, and play with each other.  They have been building games for over 5 years, so their games are quite popular and impressive.

Our joint project would let people participate in these online multiplayer games directly from their iPhone or iPad.

Most of the technical conversion was straight forward; the challenge was coming with how the game should behave if you didn’t have a keyboard.  RS Games are designed for rapid audio play with a keyboard.  On both Windows and the Mac, you use the keyboard to control the game, including the arrow keys and the function keys.  Without a keyboard, the game just wasn’t playable.

We came up with sensible iPhone gestures, based on the pattern that I’ve set out with the Blindfold Games.  For example, instead of using the arrow keys to cycle through a list of options (such as which game you want to play), you swipe up and down.

Once that was done, I mentioned the game to several testers, and they strongly felt that the game needed to use the keyboard as well.  Since many visually impaired people use an braille display, the game needed to work the same way on the iPhone with a braille display as it works on Windows and the Mac, with a braille display.

Most of that was easy; we had to make a few changes, since the F1 to F9 keys have other meanings when connected to an iPhone or iPad, so we changed those to pressing the CONTROL key while tapping a key from 1 to 9.

The games were released about two weeks ago, and we’re getting great feedback.

 

Blindfold Bird Songs

One of the testers asked if I could create a level of Blindfold Color Crush that had common household sounds and another level of bird songs.  Blindfold Color Crush is a matching game where you have to get three identical items adjacent to each other, by swapping them with other items.  It’s a variant of Candy Crush or Bejeweled.

image of bird singing

The household sounds were easy to find, but the bird songs were harder.  I licensed some audio sound effects that included over 80 bird songs, and picked the best for a new level of Color Crush.

When I described the new version to the testers, they thought I should create a bird song training game.  I learned that several schools for the blind offer classes in recognizing bird songs, and they thought the game would be both educational and enjoyable.

The first version of the game was easy – it listed the names of the birds in one column, and the bird songs in another column.  You first pick bird, and then flick through the songs until you find a match.  The first level starts out with 3 birds and 3 songs, and each new level adds another 2 birds and 2 songs.  Pretty soon, you are playing a naming game with over 50 birds.

Once game was bug-free (pardon the pun), someone suggested adding a memory game to Blindfold Bird Songs.  The matching game starts off with 6 squares in a 2 row by 3 column grid, with each bird song appearing twice in the grid.  The goal is to remember where you heard each bird, and find the corresponding match.  After many levels, the grid has about 50 squares, and you must find the match each of the 25 bird songs.

Scoring this game was little difficult – I needed a scoring system that would reward good answers, but penalize wrong ones.  I didn’t want people to play just randomly.  When you find a match, you earn 2 points, but lose 1 point for each wrong answer.

The final piece was to give a reward for finishing each level.  My first reward was to give a different humorous saying for completing a level, such as the quote by Steven Wright “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time”.  Several people pointed out that the humor quotes have nothing to do with the game, so I changed the reward to bird facts like “Penguins can jump as high as 6 feet in the air”.

The game has been quite a hit, and now people are asking for variations on this game.

 

 

 

Blindfold Game Fanfares

I’m always looking for ways to involve the blindness and low vision community in the creation of games, and up until now, other than providing ideas for new games, or testing the games, I didn’t have much.

person playing a trumpet

One of testers asked if he could record himself on a trumpet playing a winning sound, and have it used in the games  He did several, and instead of replacing the current winning sound with his, I decided to improve the game architecture to let the game player pick the sound.

The current winning and losing sounds are:
winning sound:
losing sound:

I created a new screen where the game player can pick their favorite winning and losing sounds, and they can change it at any time.

As people create new winning and losing sounds, I just upload their contributed sounds to the cloud, and the games automatically pick up the new sounds.  We’ve added several great sounds, and I get more contributions every month month.

Here are some of the best contributions:

winning sound:
winning sound:
winning sound:

losing sound:

If you want to contribute, just email me at marty@blindfoldgames.org.

 

 

Blindfold Madness: Braille Keyboards

When I talked about Phrase Madness last time, I mentioned that people thought the iPhone game was much worse than the Windows version – it took too long to find the matching phrase you want by scrolling up and down in the list.

braille display and keyboard

About the same time, I was working on a project with another developer where we definitely needed to use a keyboard attached to an iPhone.  I didn’t know at that time that many visually impaired people use a braille display/keyboard with their iPhone or iPad.

A braille display/keyboard serves two purposes.  It has a set of 6 metal pins that represent each letter of the alphabet, and the display is 20 to 40 letters long, so a blind person can read the screen using braille instead of listening to words using voice over.  It also has 6 or more buttons so they can type instead of using voice dictation, or typing with voice over.  I’ll write another blog on how you can put your phone into voice over mode so you can understand how all that works.

Anyway, I had to improve all of the Blindfold Games to start using a keyboard.  Both a standard bluetooth keyboard and a braille bluetooth keyboard work the same way.  You just tell the phone that you are using a keyboard, and instead of typing with the pop-up screen keyboard, you type the same way you would use a keyboard on a PC or Mac.

It took a few days to develop a generic way of using a keyboard with the Blindfold Games, but once it was done, I changed Phrase Madness to go back to letters instead of numbers.  Now, with an attached keyboard, you just type the letter of the position where the phrase is location.  If you aren’t using a keyboard, and you swipe up or down to get to the position you want, the game speaks the letter name, such as fox for the letter F.

We released the game after another few rounds of testing, and so far, it seems to be a hit.

 

 

 

Blindfold Simon: How to make it fun?

About a year ago, I started getting a lot of requests for a game similar to My Simon.  My Simon is a game where a pattern of both lights and sounds are given, and you press one of four buttons for each sound in the pattern.

simon

For example, My Simon gives you a three note pattern: A, B D, and you repeat the pattern by pressing the button for note A, then note B, then note D.  Then My Simon will add to the pattern, making the four note pattern: A, B, D, C, and you press the button for note A, then B, then D, then C, and so on.

My Simon is basically a memory game, with the pattern getting longer and longer each turn.  Creating the game was simple; the challenge is to figure out how to create a game that doesn’t get boring.

Blindfold Simon starts by telling you the gestures to perform, and then rewards you by playing fun sounds.  For example, the game will say “up, up, down”, and you must swipe up twice, and down once.

Variety is critical in keeping a game interesting; in Blindfold Simon, you can select from  musical instrument sounds, animal sounds, animal names, or short musical phrases.  That makes the game fun for both kids and adults, and offers some variety.

The next step is to make each level slightly harder than the prior level.  As you move from level to level, you need to use more gestures.  The game starts out with two gestures: swipe up and swipe down.  By level 8, there are six gestures: swiping in the four directions, and tapping once or twice.

To raise the complexity up another notch, there are 3 modes of game.  In the very simplest traditional mode, each new game, and each level in the game, uses the same pattern.  In the standard traditional mode, each new game starts with a different pattern, and each level extends that pattern by one gesture.  In the harder mode, each new game starts with a different pattern, and each level uses a different pattern.

Wacky mode in Blindfold Simon raise the complexity even higher.  Instead of telling you what gestures to perform, you must listen the the sounds, and determine the gestures.  If swipe up is a cow moo-ing, and swipe down is a dog barking, when you hear bark, bark, moo, you must swipe down twice and up once.

Scoring the game also makes the game challenging, since the longer the pattern is, the more points you get.  For example, if you complete a 3 gesture pattern, you get 3 points.  If you complete a 4 gesture pattern, you get 4 points.  By the time the time you’ve completed a  6 gesture pattern, you’ve earned 3 + 4 + 5 + 6, or 18 points.

 

 

 

Blindfold Basketball: Opposing Team

Shooting at baskets is fun, and coach will usually give you a good workout, but basketball without your opponent trying to block the game isn’t that realistic.

picture of defensive basketball stance

I wanted a way to tell you where the opponents are located without requiring headphones or earbuds.  Many people have told me that they prefer not to use headphones while playing the games.  I only require headphones when a precise orientation is needed, such as Blindfold Racer, Blindfold Breakout or Blindfold Hopper.

I explored a new method of giving information: pointing the phone to detect something.  When you point the phone left, right or straight ahead, and it makes a sound if there is an opponent in that direction.   If he is one step away, you hear 3 sneaker squeaks.  If the he is two steps away, you hear one sneaker squeak.

In Blindfold Basketball, when an opponent is only one step away, he’ll block your shot.

That method worked out well, but people wanted this information also as they moved.  Each time you take a step in any direction as well, you’ll hear the sneaker squeaks if there are players to your immediate right, left or straight ahead.  The game also tells you who is in that position; I use names of well-known basketball players.

Now that you know where the opponents are, it was time to build several games based on them trying to block you.  In the easiest game in this series, 10 opponents are positioned on the court, and none of them move.  In the next game, 10 opponents are positioned on the court, but they change to other positions as you move from level to level.

I created a harder level where opponents randomly move slowly on the court.  Each time you move, several of the opponents will move one step; sometimes towards you, sometimes away from you.

The hardest level uses smart opponents.  In the first version I built, all of the opponents would move one step towards you; their goal was to always be one step away from you.  When you play that, it’s like the opponents are building a defensive wall around your position, so your shot will always be blocked.  That made the game impossible to win.

I tried moving only the nearest two players closer to you each time, but it was also too difficult.  Within 5 turns, two players had you blocked in.  I tried moving only the nearest player, and that was almost playable.  However, once your opponent got close, he would follow your every move, and within 8 steps, you were completely blocked.

What finally made the game fair is to have one one opponent get close, but never more than two steps away.  They won’t intentionally block you, but if you dribble one step closer to them, you shot is blocked.

 

 

 

 

 

Blindfold Games at AERBVI

We just finished attending the AERBVI conference in Jacksonville, FL.  The Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) provides resources to the professionals who serve those who are blind and visually impaired.

Blindfold Games logo

The idea of attending this conference was to educate TVIs – teachers of people with visual impairments – about the Blindfold Games.  Most teachers work with several visually impaired clients, and many are looking for more tools to help their clients.

I assumed the teachers didn’t know about Blindfold Games, so I ran a contest to spread the word.  I brought about 500 stickers about 2 inches in diameter, with the Blindfold Games logo, and the words “Blindfold Games”, as shown in the above picture.  Each sticker had a number from 1 to 999, and the contest was to spot someone with the same number, and then both people would win an iTunes gift card.  After the first day, about half of the TVIs were wearing our stickers, and many were glad to learn about the games.  Most TVIs told me they had a few clients who would enjoy the games.

By the middle of the second day, not one teacher had found the someone else with an identical number, so we decided to make the contest a simple random drawing.  I received permission to award the gift card at one of the well attended sessions, and I announced about 8 winning numbers.  Five of the people happened to be at that session, and each received a $50 gift card.

The awards were announced at a session discussing employment for visually impaired people.  It just so happened that, within the last month, I conducted a survey of people who play the Blindfold Games.  The anonymous demographic information I collected will be used as new research data by the university professors at that session.

I would also like to thank the several people from Perkins School for the Blind eLearning division and Perkins Products for helping Blindfold Games at the show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blindfold Pool: Which Balls to Shoot?

Now that I could tell you which balls have a clear path to the pocket, I needed a better way to tell you which balls to shoot, and which pockets to aim for.

dog lining up pool shot

The first method I came up with was to let you drag your finger around on the screen.  If you happened to touch a ball, it would tell you how many clear shots, such as “Ball 2, green, has a clear shot at 3 pockets”.  You double tap to select the ball, then you move your finger around on the screen, at the game says if you are lined up at one of the pockets.  Once you are, you double tap again, and then swipe.  The faster you swipe, the more powerful your shot is.

If your shot is too powerful, the ball bounces off of the pocket, and doesn’t go in.  If it’s too weak, the ball only goes part way towards the pocket.

The testers liked the direction the game was going, but they wanted ball and pocket selection to be easier.

First I added a pop-up menu for selecting the pocket.  After you find the ball you want, you swipe up with 2 fingers, and it gives you a list of the pockets that the ball has a clear shot to.  You pick one of the pockets, and then swipe.  Everyone liked that method.

Then I added a pop-up menu to give you a list of every ball that has a clear shot, and the pockets it has a clear shot to.  You swipe down with 2 fingers, pick a ball and pocket, and then swipe.  Everyone liked that method as well.

Now that there were several ways to select your ball and pocket, I had to build a computer players.  After all, if you can’t compete with someone playing pool, how can you win the game?