Brainchild Institute Visit

On Wednesday, I met with Dr. Leah Light of the South Florida Brainchild Institute. Dr. Light and her staff focus on improving brain functions and quality of life for children and adults with deficits ranging from early childhood developmental delays to decreased mental functioning associated with the aging process.

I originally heard about Dr. Light from the Head of The Cushman School (where this game was originally designed), and I told Dr. Light about the game. She was fascinated by the game and its potential to help her patients, and wanted to meet with me.

After trying to set up a meeting for three months, we finally met on Wednesday. She explained why blind people score higher in Blindfold Racer than sighted people (blind people’s auditory cortex is more developed than sighted people), and how critical the auditory system is to reading comprehension. She also explained the linkage between visual input and auditory input, and how some children have learning problems when the two systems don’t connect properly.

There are many computer-based programs to help children improve their auditory attention pathways, but most kids get bored with them after a little while. Dr. Light thought combining some of the program’s concepts with the fun aspects of Blindfold Racer would make the therapy more fun. The more fun a kid has, the longer he plays. The longer he plays, the more the brain begins to re-wire itself.

For example, some children, such as those with mild autism, respond to visual stimulation and almost ignore auditory signals. They need to integrate both signals and relate the visual and auditory signals to each other; in other words help them balance left & right brain activities.

Dr. Light suggested we develop a variant of this game where you can actually see the road and the animals on the road. The child would play the game, probably by looking at the screen, and ignoring the auditory cues. Then the screen gets slightly darker, the child plays again, and but starts listening as well as looking. Then the screen gets even darker, and the child get barely see the road and the animals, and starts to rely on listening. Finally the screen is completely dark, and the child must complete the level using only their ears.

We will start prototyping this game in about a month. We will let the parent or therapist configure how quickly the screen gets darker and what the rules are to move from level to level.

Once that’s done, Dr. Light and I will look at other games that help build auditory processing. I’ve noticed that what blind children & adults find interesting in games have the same underlying principals as auditory therapies used with sighted children.

Apple’s Inconsistencies

The latest version – with Challenge mode, redesigned Settings and more levels – has been available for about 3 weeks, and some gamers found a few glitches in some of the levels. We fixed those problems and resubmitted to Apple. As usual, they rejected it.

Last time they rejected it since we didn’t have a parental gate prior to letting people visit our TWITTER feed, or use SAFARI to visit AppleVis or our blog. We fixed that, and they accepted version 2.1.

A week after we submitted it, on Tuesday, Apple rejected the latest version since they said it didn’t have a parental gate, and the app description says uses Apple’s Game Center, but didn’t currently have any active Game Center scoreboards. Game Center lets you post your score so other people can see how well you did.

We immediately replied saying we do have a parental gate, and it is used when you attempt to use TWITTER or SAFARI from within the game. And to make Apple happy, we changed the game’s profile to not mention Game Center (that’s coming in a future version).

Apple writes back, on Wednesday, that the SETTINGS option to SEND EMAIL TO DEVELOPER must be controlled via a parental gate. We replied by saying that Apple accepted version 2.1 without a parental gate for this feature; why can’t they just accept this version the same way. The only changes in this version was to fix the few problems mentioned above.

Apple writes back, on Thursday, that it doesn’t matter – fix it. No where is it listed in the Apple rules that email must be controlled via a parental gate, but that’s just how Apple is.

Challenge mode feedback

Although the testers loved challenge mode, other gamers who played challenge mode in the new version found some flaws. In challenge mode, you keep playing until you hit the fence or animal, or crash your car into something.

There’s a new level with a train: you hear a train traveling left to right, and you must figure out exactly when to cross the train tracks. Even if you made it past the trains, you still lost the challenge if you didn’t finish fast enough. Some gamers complained, so now you lose 50 points (out of a maximum of 100) from your score in those levels if you don’t finish quickly. Others gamers found some bugs in challenge mode that made the challenge too easy, and we’ve fixed those too.

To answer the request from many gamers to have more engine sounds, the version we’re submitting to Apple today will allow you to set the speed sound to an engine. As you speed up your car, the engine goes faster. When you turn your car to the left, you hear the engine louder in your left ear, and vice-versa.

We also added more choices for the fanfare sound at the end of each level, and we now let you pick the sound when you drive over an animal. There’s a wah-wah-wah sound as the default, along with a squish sound, a smash sound and a buzz sound. You can hear them here:

Teenage boys seem to prefer the squish and smash sounds, most people like the wah-wah-wah sound, and people with hearing disabilities like the buzz sound.

New version available!

Thanks to the testing of about 15 gamers, the new version of Blindfold is now available in the iTunes App Store.

Here are some of the features:

  • Re-organized app to start with main menu of practice and challenge modes.
  • No longer requires shutting voice over off.
  • Settings screen easier to use, includes user guide.
  • Fence sound can also be your iTunes music.
  • Speed sound can also be car engine.
  • Some new levels; new controls for driving backwards and stopping car.
  • Challenge mode.
  • All reported bugs fixed.
  • Remote logging so we can find problems that you encounter.
  • Changed drum beat during tutorial to a heart monitor beep.
  • Tutorial now tells you if the screen is facing the ceiling instead of your body.
  • iOS 8 compatibility.
  • Three finger gestures now control the game as an alternative to the buttons.

If you have any suggestions on further improvements, please let us know.

The Carroll Center for the Blind

Earlier this week, I met with Brian Charlson, Directory of Technology at Carroll Center in Newton, MA.

Carrol Center Logo

He was hosting several guests at his house, so I had a chance to sit down with them: Judy Dixon (Consumer Relations Office for the Library of Congress for Blind & Physically Disabled), Kim Charlson (Director of Perkins Library and President of the American Council for the Blind), and Doug Wakefield (United States Access Board).

To prepare for my meeting, all of them spent the prior evening playing the game. If I remember, correctly, Judy made it to level 21. They really enjoyed playing it and thanked me & the team of students who helped build it.

We first talked about suggestions they had for the game. Most of their suggestions are in the version that’s being reviewed by Apple; we’ll incorporate other suggestions in the next version. They wanted more options in the setting screen: selecting the type of fanfare at the end of each level (people who have hearing disabilities say the fanfare sounds weird), and changing the sounds for driving past a prize and missing it (bad) or avoiding an animal (good).

They had ideas for more Blindfold games, such as Blindfold Pilot, Blindfold Submarine, Blindfold Sailor, as well as creating games that exist in the iTunes App Store, but are not accessible. We’re looking into all of those.

I will be working with all of these great people as we move forward with setting up a not-for-profit to start producing more games, as well as getting the word out about Blindfold Racer. There are about 600,000 visually impaired people in the U.S.

Rejected Again: Apple’s Parental Gate

Although almost every one of the Blindfold Racer players is older than 13, when we originally submitted the game, we set it to be featured in a child-appropriate category. We were rejected once when we did that because we did not have a COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) compliance page on the website; we added the compliance page, and the app was accepted.

Our newest version was just rejected, because now Apple checks to see that if you allow any in-app purchases, or let the app access an external website, then you must perform a parental gateway check. They didn’t require this in the prior versions of Blindfold Racer.

A parental gateway is a screen that asks a question that only a parent could answer. Apple’s examples include questions such as “what is five times five”, and “drag the triangle into the square”. It needs to be a question that’s more complex than children in the app’s age group can answer.

Our first response to Apple was to remove it from being featured in the child-appropriate category. Apple said that’s nice, but since this upgrade will be given automatically to anyone who had previously downloaded the app, there may be children who get the upgrade, and it still needs to include a parental gateway.

Our second response to Apple was to say that the version we submitted for approval one week ago no longer includes any in-app purchase (we originally thought to include an in-app purchase, but haven’t done so yet). It also only lets you get to either SAFARI (to visit AppleVis or this blog) or TWITTER (to follow us). Both of those apps could be accessed by a child without our app, and an be restricted by a parent, so a parental gateway should not be required.

I patiently await their answer. Answers can take from an hour to several days.

Update several hours later: Apple wouldn’t budge. We added a parental gate, tested it in voice-over mode, and resubmitted the game.