Blindfold Spin & Solve: Letters

This is the second blog about Blindfold Spin and Solve – a game inspired by Wheel of Fortune.

The two most common actions in this game are spinning the wheel, and picking a letter.  I received so many complaints about the complexity of picking a letter from an alphabet at the bottom of the screen, I changed the game to let you type the letter, using the keypad.  This also works using an attached bluetooth braille or qwerty keyboard.

letter_freq

If you think you know the answer, you just type it in – something that couldn’t be done with the alphabet at the bottom of the screen.

The next step was to build a computer competitor against whom you could play.  The first step was using the generic algorithm all my games have to combine the computer’s skill with luck, and determine if the computer will pick the a correct letter or a wrong letter.  Remember, like all Blindfold Games, you can set the skill and name of the computer competitor.

If the computer must pick a correct consonant, it picks based on letter frequency.  Letter T is the commonly used letter for English words, the entire list, in order, is: T, N,  S, R, H, D, L, C, M,  F, Y, W, G, P, B, V, K, X, Q, J, Z.  So if the computer will be a correct letter, and it knows the letters T and N are not in the puzzle, but the letter S is in the puzzle, it will pick letter S.

If there are very few letters left, and the computer thinks you are about to solve the puzzle, and the computer’s skill is good, sometimes the computer will guess the correct answer.

If the computer must pick the wrong letter, it uses the above frequency table to pick a letter that’s not in the puzzle.  Every so often, the computer will also buy a vowel.  Many experts have analyzed this game, and concluded the best way to increase your earnings is to never buy a vowel, but instead have your opponent buy the vowels.  Spin and Spell was originally designed like that, but people commented that it wasn’t realistic.  Now the computer opponent will buy a vowel from time to time.

There are over a dozen more rules that affect the computer’s play, but they are too detailed to describe here.

As a final step, I collected all of the suggestions for being a great player at these types of games, and included a strategy guide.  The first version was approved by Apple, and released, and that’s when the complaints starting rolling in.

 

 

 

Blindfold Racer Championship 2016

Equal Access, Equal Fun – Equal Play for Everyone

In our mission to give gamers everywhere equal access to an intense, high energy, adrenaline rush: Project Starfish and BlindfoldGames.org have joined forces to level the playing ground.

Registration and Practice Time:                September 1 to 29, 2016

  1. Register here:                                        http://blindfoldracer.org
  2. Join our Facebook Group:                  Blindfold Racer Championship 2016
  3. Or, follow us on Twitter                     @BlindfoldRacer

Once you register, you’ll receive an email with game download instructions and detailed contest rules. When you join our Facebook Group or follow us on Twitter, you’ll earn $1 in credit towards the purchase of other Blindfold Games.

And for each friend you invite to the Championship, both you and your friend earn another $1 credit of Blindfold Games credit.

  • Official Game Time:                                September 30 to October 16, 2016
  • Email us:                                                     racer2016@pstarfish.org
  • Call us:                                                        781-262-0520

Contest is open to visually impaired and sighted people of all ages, from the United States and other countries.

Hands on your Phone, Eyes off the Road!

Blindfold Spin & Solve: Wheels of Fortune

Next to monopoly, Wheel of Fortune was the most requested game that people have asked for.  I kept avoiding it since I didn’t know how to find all of the phrases used in the game.  From my initial research,  over the past few decades, there are thousands of phrases in the TV Game.

wheel of fortune wheel

I stumbled across someone who collected common phrases that are used in dozens of TV Games similar to Wheel of Fortune, and he gave me his list of 8,000 phrases, divided into about two dozen categories.

When I’m building a game that is similar to a copyrighted game, I have to take special precautions.  First, I must to come up with a unique game name, and modify the rules sufficiently to not infringe on the copyright.  I usually look at other clones of the game that have been available for many years on Windows computers, and follow their rules.  There are some legal precedents here that I’m adhering to.

The first step in building Spin And Solve was to create a spinning wheel with all of the options such as “$450”, “$900”, “Lose a Turn” or “Bankrupt”.   While I had some spinning wheel sounds from the Roulette game, I wanted a more realistic sound, so I found some good wheel spins on a Sound Effects website.  I usually buy sounds from either SoundDogs.com, SoundSnap.com or use free sounds from FreeSound.com.

Like all of my games, having just one sound effect leads to a very boring game.  Pretty soon, you begin to recognize the identical sound for the wheel spin, and in real life, each time you spin the wheel, the sound is slightly different.  I usually create about 10 variants of each sound, and randomly pick a different variant each time.  With the spinning wheel sound, I created about a dozen variants.

To spin the wheel, you swipe down with 2 fingers.  I’ve used this gesture in other games, and it feels correct.

In the first version that was tested, the screen is presented with all of the words of the phrase.  You move from letter to letter by flicking left and right, and word to word by flicking up and down.  To pick a letter after you spin the wheel, you use the alphabet that’s at the bottom of the screen.  To buy a vowel, you also use the vowel alphabet that is at the bottom of the screen.

Everyone liked the general game layout, but it was too slow to play, and it had no ability to let  you guess the phrase.  More on that next time.

 

 

 

 

 

Blindfold Games on Cool Blind Tech

I was recently interviewed by James Oates of Cool Blind Tech along with  Kevin Andrews of RS Games.  We talked for about half-hour about how we both got into building games for the blindness community, and about our partnership to bring RS Games to the iPhone and iPad.

Here’s the podcast link for Jame’s interview with us:

Here’s the podcast link where James demonstrates the Blindfold RS Games app:

Thanks for all of the testers who helped us make this product great, and to the people at RS Games who trusted us enough to collaborate on this project.

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.