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?

 

Blindfold Madness

Actually the game is called Phrase Madness, and it was created by Ken Downey a few years ago.  Ken is one of the Blindfold Games testers, and he’s given me some great feedback and advice on building accessible games.

phrase madness icon

Ken created a bunch of games on Windows and he thought Phrase Madness would be a fun game for the iPhone.  It’s a cross between concentration and wheel of fortune.  The objective is to match the beginning of a common expression with the end of the expression.  For example, you would match “It’s a beautiful day in the” with the ending “neighborhood”.

After you play for a while, simply matching phrases can get boring, and that’s where the madness kicks in.  With over 300 phrases, there are new and interesting combinations that pop-up when you accidentally, or intentionally, match the beginning of one phrase with the end of another phrase.  For example, take the phrases, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” and, “Goodness gracious great balls of fire”.  These two phrases might get mixed up while you’re trying to match them, and you might hear “It’s a beautiful day in the fire!”.

The first step in getting the game to work on the iPhone was for me to re-write the code from the Basic language that Ken used on Windows, to Objective C, which I use for most of my iPhone apps.  Then I had to adjust the game to feel right on an iPhone.

Under Windows, you play Phrase Madness by typing a letter on the keyboard for the first phrase, and then another letter for the second phrase, so you can match up to 26 phrases.  Most people, I thought, don’t use keyboards with their iPhone, so you scroll through a list of phrase beginnings. Each item in the list was identified by a letter from A to Z.   You pick the beginning, then scroll through a list of phrase endings.

When I started testing the game, the first complaint was that many people couldn’t hear the difference between some of the letters; the letter  “C”, “D” and “E” all sound similar.  I changed the game so each item was identified by a number, and for the most part, people liked the game.

Then I started hearing from the people who played Phrase Madness under Windows.  They said the game sucked: it was slow, awkward, and far worse than the Windows version.  It just took too long to scroll through the list to get to the phrase number they wanted.

I’ll leave the solution for another day.

 

 

 

 

 

Blindfold Basketball: Coaching Games

One of the games included with Blindfold Basketball is a coaching game.  The coach tells you where to go on the basketball court, and what kind of shot to make.  For example, the coach would say move to row 3, column 4, and make a hook shot.

picture of a basketball coach

If you follow the coaches instructions and make the shot, you get 2 points.  You move from level to level when you complete 5 shots.

But, as I mentioned in a prior basketball blog, we eliminated grid positioning, and changed the game to use relative clock positioning .

The problem is that the coach needs to tell you where to go, but could no longer give you the grid position using the row and the column.  The testers and i brainstormed for a while, and came up with the idea of 9 zones in the basketball court.  For example, if you are on the left side of the court, on the same line as the basket, you are in the front left court.

Each time you move, the game tells you where are you relative to the basket, and optionally, which zone you are in.  Playing the coach games is much easier, and it preserves the feeling of being on a real court.

To make it even more fun, we added another set of coach games where coach only gives you the zone, but not the shot.  Hopefully, by the time you are up to the second set of coach games, you know what kind of shot to make, based on how far the basket is.  You wouldn’t use a dunk shot if you are at the far end of the court.

We also added a LUCKY setting.  Normally, if you select the wrong shot, you won’t make the basket.  In sports games, sometimes you just get lucky.   The LUCKY setting in Blindfold Basketball lets you make the wrong shot, and sometimes, you’ll be lucky enough for the shot to land in the basket.

Next blog: How we put opposing players on the basketball court.

 

 

 

Blindfold Pool: Where are the balls?

My prior post talked about how to aim and shoot in Blindfold Pool, but I didn’t think about how someone would find the balls to shoot at.

circle with intersecting lines

My first attempt was to let you drag your finger around on the screen, and if your finger touched a ball, it tells you which ball it is, such as ball 2, green solid.  If that’s the ball you want, you double tap, and then aim and shoot at one of the pockets.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?

What I didn’t realize was that without seeing the screen, you would have no idea which ball had a clear path to the target pocket.  First I tried solving this through geometry – determining the angles for the ball, and seeing if that path would intersect other balls.  It was about 70% effective.

Then I tried emulating your shot.  The game would remember where all the balls were on the table, take the shot, and look at the results.  If the ball made it into the pocket and didn’t hit any other balls on the way, it would tell you the ball had a clear path.  If it hit another ball, it would tell you there was no clear path.  Then the game would put all the balls back where they were, and let you take your shot.

The problem with that approach was it took several seconds to complete the emulation, and balls didn’t stop moving completely for another 5 to 10 seconds.  That made the game too awkward.

My third attempt was to draw lines on the screen from the ball to the pocket, and then look at the screen to see if the line intersected another ball.  That’s fairly easy to do with the graphics on the iPhone.  You can draw a line on the screen and then have the iPhone software tell you what other shapes on the screen are touching the line.

That kind of worked, but even if the center of your ball doesn’t touch the edge of another ball, the left or right sides of your ball might touch another ball.  In the end, I had to draw about 6 lines, such as the center of the ball to pocket left edge, or the ball left edge to pocket right edge.

I sent out that version to the testers, and while it let them discover which balls to shoot, they said it took way to long to find which of the 15 pool balls had a clear shot.  Next blog – how we solved that.

 

 

 

Blindfold Games at the NFB

We spent two days in Orlando – about a 4 hour drive from home in Miami – at the National Federation of the Blind annual convention.

tween boys at the nfb show

I met dozens of fans, and found that while many people have heard of Blindfold Games, most have never tried one.  I’d like to thank the several of the testers who recorded testimonials about their favorite games; your comments encouraged many people to stop and talk with us.

Several tweens and teens came by and were absolutely gushing with excitement and praise. I met one family with two tween visually impaired boys, and while I wish I recorded the entire conversation to share with you, I did record the following:

 

A few tween girls came by as well, equally excited to meet us, and like always, I asked them, and each and every person for more game ideas, and what else can we do better.

I spoke with a few exhibitors who expressed interest in sponsoring some of the games.  If you enjoy the Blindfold Games, and you want some of the games to ad-sponsored and free, please fill out this anonymous survey.

Click here for the survey.

 

 

 

Blindfold Computer Opponents

The hardest task when creating a game is to come up with an algorithm for a computer opponent.  Unless I am designing a game where you play against other humans, the only way a game will be considered enjoyable is if the computer opponent is smart.  Finding an algorithm to make the computer appear smart can be quite challenging.  Despite what you think if you’ve ever played one of the games, Blindfold Games computer opponents never cheat.

picture of robot head

For card games like Blindfold Hearts, Blindfold Spades and Blindfold Rummy, I found computer science research papers that outlined the optimal strategy for a player.  For example, the method used in Blindfold Rummy is even more complex than the game rules themselves.  First the computer determines the number of complete groups (like 3 of a kind), and the number of complete runs (like Jack, Queen, King of Spades), then it determines the number of partial groups and runs, and computes the resultant deadwood for each hand combination (in Rummy, you try to minimize your deadwood).  It keeps track of cards that are discarded, so it knows what may still be in the deck, or in the human player’s hand.  Based on that information, it makes a pretty good decision about what to do.

The computer also determines the worst possible move – one that will generate the most amount of deadwood, and finally, it generates a random move.  When it’s the computer’s turn, it will pick either the best move, the worst move or the random move.

To prevent the computer from always winning, I created 4 categories of players and assigned each a skill level, a Poor Player is rated as 10, Average is 20, Good is 30 and Very Good is 40.  Then I generate a luck number to indicate how lucky the player’s next move is.  For each move, the luck number is randomly picked, and is between 1 and 40.

For each move, I add those two numbers together. Hence the Poor Player’s combined luck plus skill number can be between 11 and 50, and the Very Good Player’s combined number will be between 41 and 80.  If the combined number is greater than 45, the best move is picked.  If the combined skill plus luck number is less than 30, the worst move is picked.  If the combined number is between 30 and 45, the random move is picked.

Roughly speaking, the Poor Player will make a bad move about 90% of the time, and a good Player will make the optimal move about 90% of the time.

The next new feature I may add to the games is a ghost player.  A ghost player has the same win-loss ratio that you do, so, in essence, you are playing against yourself.  I’ll probably do that in Blindfold Bowling first, and then move it to some of the other games.

 

 

Blindfold Games: Upcoming Conferences

In addition to creating games, I continue to test different ways to spread the news about the Blindfold Games.  Word of mouth is effective, and I participate in podcasts or interviews whenever there’s an opportunity, but I know I’m still on reaching a minority of visually impaired iPhone and iPad owners.

person with megaphone talking to crowd

There are several conferences going on this summer, so I’m trying something different in each of them.  At the ACB conference, I’m running an advertisement in the show newsletter every day, with a different offer each day.  At the NFB conference in Orlando – a reasonable short drive from my home – I have a table in the exhibitor’s room, and will have game info in both large print and braille, and I’ll be demonstrating the games.  In another show in the Massachusetts area, I put a brochure offering a free game everyone’s show bag.

Based on the results, there are other conferences, both in the US and in Europe, that may be worth attending.  The main consideration is the return-on-investment; between the cost of brochures, airfare, hotel and exhibitor fees, or the cost of advertising,  it’s critical that the conference generates enough new game downloads and in-app upgrades to break even.

I’ve run a handful of contests and give-aways with a few websites that provide services or products to the blindness community, but none had a significant impact.

One of my long term goals with Blindfold Games is to create a viable marketing and distribution channel to reach the visually impaired community.  Once this channel is well established, many other developers of games or related technologies will be less reluctant to address this market.  Right now, most developers shy away from this market because it is so hard to reach the consumer, and over the past decade, many developers have dropped out because of the marketing difficulties.

If you have ideas on how to spread the word, please write to me.  And if you’re going to the NFB show, stop by table “A” 19 and say hello.