Cars and Engines

I just received this email about how to improve the game from Jessica…

“I’m a technology teacher for the visually impaired, and I recently heard the AppleVis podcast that talks about the Blindfold Racer game. I thought it was incredibly awesome on so many different levels!! I enjoyed hearing about the therapy uses that you discussed. But because I’m also legally blind since birth, and have sometimes dreamed of driving, I thought it was a totally, totally, incredibly liberating idea!!”

“I have never tried the game before, and I don’t own an apple device yet, but we use such devices where I teach. I’ve been teaching clients to use Voice-overs for just a few months now. (I’ll definitely tell my clients about your game!) You said in the podcast that you’re still interested in receiving ideas for making it even “funner”, so here’s one I thought of.”

“What if you let players select different types / makes of cars and have the game use their authentic corresponding engine sounds, recorded from inside where the passenger would normally be hearing it. that would be SOOOOO COOOOLLLL!!! My dad was always pretty handy, and so I have a bit of a soft spot in my heart for any of the classics from the 50s or 60s.”

I’ve heard this suggestion several times from different blind gamers. My initial response was that part of the magic of the game relates the fence music – the music you hear in your left and right ears to indicate how close you are to the fence – and that if we replace that with engine noise, the game won’t be as much fun.

In the version we are testing, we allow the gamer to use an engine sound to indicate speed – slow engine sound, medium engine sound and fast engine sound. We’ll investigate how to combine several ideas together and see what we can come up with. If you have an idea on how we can solve this, please write to me.

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Suggestions from gamers

While I am awaiting feedback from some groups who want to use Blindfold Racer for therapy purposes (more on that in another blog), I asked my growing community on AppleVis to give me comments on how challenge mode should work.

As a game, Blindfold Racer gets more complex as the levels progress, but once you’ve solved a level, it’s probably not that interesting to solve it again. We’ve been thinking about a challenge mode where between the pressure of finishing quickly, competing with others to achieve a high score, and ending the challenge when you make a mistake – these combined attributes should give challenge mode the same addictive qualities as Flappy Birds.

Sarah was the first to respond, and said that challenge mode should not allow the game to be saved (too easy), to maintain separate leaderboards for easy vs. hard mode, not have randomness in the logic puzzles (or if there is, have score penalty instead of losing the game). We’ll also create some new levels that uses locale information – time of day, day of week, weather, season, etc. – as a way to make things a little more difficult.

From Ken: Add harder modes (extreme challenge / insane challenge), give the car the ability to go backwards and stop, more randomness in the levels (so when you solve a puzzle, its not the same solution each time), and use Apple’s Game Center for leaderboards. He wants navigational aids as we make the tracks more complex, and add power-ups, moving platforms, wormholes and drawbridges.

From Kate: more types of tracks, ramps, oil slicks, rain (we did that already, but I don’t think she played that level yet), trains and more bridges.

From Khalfan: use engine sounds of different types of cars instead of music – with the engine sound reflecting the car speed, and others have suggested letting them use their iTunes library for music.

From Caleb: create a user guide and podcasts or YouTube audios where we describe how to play the game, and what each level is like.

We received dozens of suggestions, and hope to implement most of them.

Thanks!

A few blind gamers complain…

In the few short months that Blindfold Racer has been out, I’ve learned a lot about the requirements to make an app both accessible and enjoyable. And its all been by making mistakes. And being cajoled, convinced or embarrassed by blind gamers to make it better.

First I learned about how much better Apple’s voice-assist mode is than our attempt to do something similar. We changed the most recent version to use voice-assist mode in the settings screen, and in the version to be released soon, we used it in all screens except when actually driving the car.

Next was the website fiasco. We needed a website to explain the app and the story behind the app, so we selected the hosting website wix.com. Using wix, we were able to put together a nice website in under four hours, and it was also mobile friendly.

Then I get an angry email from one of the gamers complaining that our website is not accessible. We search around for an alternative to wix, but can’t find anything outstanding (squarespace and others were not good enough). We tested several with a JAWS reader (a JAWS reader speaks the text on a PC or MAC screen), and didn’t find anything we liked. Exchanging email several times with that gamer, we decided to have two websites – one that’s very pretty for sighted users, and one that is fully accessible for visual impaired users. Our website – BlindfoldRacer.com – tells a visually impaired user to switch to BlindfoldRacer.org.

Then there was the honking horn fiasco. I naively assumed that everyone knows how to honk a horn in a car. You just push in the center of a steering wheel. What I didn’t think about was that children learn this by watching their parents. If someone is blind from birth, they never watched their parents do that. I probably received 50 emails from blind gamers asking how to honk the horn (you press and hold in the middle of the screen for about five seconds).

I decided that if blind gamers have a hard time with horn honking, there should be an equivalently hard level for sighted gamers. Some of the suggestions I’ve received relate to using a cane, or figuring out what floor an elevator is on (by counting the beeps). We’ll include that in a future version.

Most recently, I’ve heard from the testers of the newest version that putting buttons in the four corners was a good idea, but just too hard to use on a small device like an iPhone. When playing the game, the blind gamers occasionally hit a button. We’re changing the game to let the gamer disable the buttons while they drive the car; the app will respond to three finger gestures instead of buttons.

Blindfold Racer: Suggestions from AppleVis

In the first week that Blindfold Racer was mentioned on AppleVis, we had about 500 downloads and about 30 people gave us feedback.

All of them wanted us to support voice-over in the SETTINGS screen, found a bug in the level where you have to feed a troll popcorn or soda, and had assorted suggestions on making the app better.

There was a large discussion between using music tracks (for the fence sound), or to hear engine noise. Gamers that wanted a more realistic game wanted engine noise, where the speed of the car is reflected by the pitch of the engine noise. We’ll try that, but I think it will make the game less fun. Although named Blindfold Racer, it’s really more a driving and puzzle solving game, than a racing game.

The gamers (mostly visually impaired) were annoyed at the “slow pace” of the first few levels. After each event – hitting a fence, avoiding an animal, etc. – the game pauses and tells you what happened. We had to do that for sighted people – they just didn’t learn as fast. In the next update, we’ll let gamers who have played audio games before bypass the “slower pace”, and get the to fun parts of the game faster.

Thanks to those gamers that have given me feedback. Little things – like detecting Bluetooth headphones, or suggestions to change faster/slower from “thumb tapping” to swipes – is what will make this game great. We are working on a new version that will include all of those ideas, and much more, and hope to release the new version in August.

Another interview

Thanks to John Shea and Jennifer Dallaire of the Talking Information Center for their interview last week.

The Talking Information Center is a non-profit reading service that broadcasts newspapers, magazines, books, and special consumer information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to visually impaired and print impaired listeners.

They found Blindfold Racer from a suggestion from Amy Ruell of VIBUG (Visually Impaired and Blind User Group, serving blind and visually impaired computer users primarily in Massachusetts).

John and Jennifer interview me for about 20 minutes, and they both seemed to really like the app. Jennifer was asked to research the app, so she downloaded it onto her phone, and started playing it. She expected to play it for a few minutes, and then write up a summary. Twenty minutes later, she was still playing.

Here’s the interview podcast. The section on Blindfold Racer starts about 7 minutes in:

Podcast

Blindfold Racer: Lighthouse Miami Again

Since Lighthouse for the Blind in Miami helped test the first few versions of the app, I wanted to show the teens how we implemented many of their suggestions. A few months ago, I contacted Emily again, and she scheduled a time with the teens that come in for the summer session.

Oseas was going to coordinate the session, and the day before Emily contacted him, he happened to have listened to my interview on the AppleVis podcast. He was quite surprised to find out that I was visiting his office, and really went out of his way to make my visit successful.

He invited several teen gamers, ranging from 13 to 18, and some of the had played the game before. None of the teens from the original group were there, I had to go through the entire story about why we built the app. One girl (who heads to college next year) randomly stumbled onto the game while looking for other accessible apps, and loved the app. She thought there were very few game apps that are truly accessible. Since starting this project, I’ve learned there are only two or three others.

The teens had many suggestions – many of which are in the version that is about to starting beta testing. Over the past few months, about 15 visually impaired gamers have signed up to test the new version.

There were several issues that continually come up with the gamers: engine sounds vs. music, and what age range is the game is designed for. Many gamers complained that since it’s a driving game, they should be able to hear a car engine sound. Some want an engine sound (for the left and right fence) instead of the music, some want it in addition to the music. They thought the first few levels would be more realistic if they can hear the car’s engine. All of them want the option of using their iTunes playlist as an alternative to the music that we provide.

Another problem is that since the first few 10 levels are fairly easy, they thought the entire game would be great for kids, but not for teens or adults. Older teens stop playing before they get to some of the audio puzzles, and assume that every level would be just driving to avoid animals or gathering prizes.

We’ll look at ways to solve both these issues in the upcoming version.

At this same meeting, I was introduced to Virginia Jacko, the CEO of Miami Lighthouse for the Blind. She was very gracious to me and I hope to be able to work with her in the future to make the game more popular.

Bloopers and Outtakes

The voice actress on Blindfold Racer is my daughter, and she’s received lots of complements from people who have played the game.

As we were finishing up the testing of the latest version, I noticed the last few recording sessions were really funny. She has a good sense of humor, when she would say something wrong or didn’t like the phrasing, her comments can be quite dry and cynical.

Here are some recent outtakes. Make sure you listen to the last 30 seconds of July #3.

July #1:

July #2:

July #3:

April #1:

These were so popular, we’ve even added a option in the game’s HELP screen to listen to the outtakes, and as we build out more levels, we will add more.