Creating Frogger with Blind Gamers

Over the past few months, I’ve been collaborating with about 10 blind gamers to build a hopping game, slightly similar to the old video game called Frogger. Initially, I was going to build an audio version of Flappy Bird, but we needed to resolve some other audio game issues first before taking on that challenge.

My initial thoughts for Hopper was that you would hop the frog from lily pad to lily pad until you reach the other side of the river. Unlike most audio games, Hopper was going to not be first-person centric. Instead of actually being the frog, you would be listening to what the frog was doing.

Most video games are not first-person centric. In Angry Birds, for example, you launch a bird, and watch where it goes. This is considered the third-person game, since you are an observer of the entire game field. If Angry Birds was a first-person game, you would see things from the perspective of the bird that is flying into the building.

I wanted to make Hopper a third person audio game, and you would play by listening to the game field. The lily pad you are on would make one sound, and the target lily pad – the lily pad you must hop to – would make another sound. To play the game, you press the hop button when you hear the two lily pads – actually the lily pad sound – line up. For example, if the lily pad on which you are sitting is a guitar scale, and the target lily pad is a piano scale, you should press the hop button when the two musical instruments line up. One lily pad moves from left to right, the other from right to left, and they travel at different speeds. The two lily pads might line up in the center of your head, or slight to the right, or slightly to the left. If you press the hop button when they are not lined up, you splash into the river.

The first version compared piano notes, animals sounds, and piano scales – representing lily pads – moving towards each other, and most of the gamers said it was annoying. The second version compared 3 note scales from several musical instruments, and the gamers said they liked the guitar and the piano, but not the other instruments, and it was boring. The third version used music loops (it was about 5 seconds long, and we picked loops that were used in Blindfold Racer), and the gamers said that was much better.

With the music chosen, the next step was to test the gamers ability to line up two sounds at a position other than the center of their head. Most of the gamers could do it with two music loops – the lily pad you are on, and the lily pad you must jump to. When I added a third lily pad – the one you would have to jump to next – it was too confusing.

Staying with just two lily pads, the next test was to control your lily pad by manipulating the phone. We gave them several choices. One option was to tilt the phone left and right to change direction; and the more you tilt, the faster your lily pad moved. The second option was to move you arm (or your body) to the left or right to move the lily pad; the further you moved, the faster your lily pad moved.

Most of the gamers rejected the tilting – they liked moving their arm or rotating their body on a swivel chair instead. However, several of the gamers said that the movements were counter intuitive. When they moved their body to the left, that moved the lily pad further to the left. The gamers were used to first person games. In other words, they thought that if the lily pad sound is to the left, and they move to the left, they should get closer to the sound. What actually happened was that when they moved to the left, the lily pad moved further left (away from them). To get the lily pad to get closer to them, they had to move to the right. They said that just didn’t make sense.

That resulted in two options for the game: make a tutorial for the game, to teach gamers how to succeed at a third-person game, or just build it as a first person game. I asked the gamers which they preferred, and all but one said to switch to first person.

We’re now making those changes, and getting ready for the next set of tests.

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