Blindfold Hopper helps a parent with a blind 7 year old…

Here’s an email I received this morning about Blindfold Hopper:

This is great. I’ve been looking for simple games like this to help me teach my 7 yr old, who is totally blind and cognitively impaired the concept of imaginative play. Thank you so much!!!

I’m glad our Blindfold games are making your child’s life brighter.

Converting a video game into a Blindfold Game

When I was searching the web the other day, I noticed that there were many websites where programmers offer to sell you their programming code for a game for $25 to $100.  Programmers do this as an alternative way to make money.  Instead of trying to make the game app successful on the App Store, they sell it to other companies, and let those companies sell the app.

iPhone with video game

This is popular for many “Flappy Bird” style games.  When Flappy Bird became a hit, hundreds of programmers realized how easy it is to create.  Many programmers re-created the program, put their version on the App Store, and hoped to make thousands of dollars per day from ads, just like the originally Flappy Bird programmer did.  But, just like for most apps, there was too much competition, and very few people downloaded their app game.

I looked at the types of game that I could purchase programming code for: clones of Flappy Bird, Candy Crush, Angry Bird and hundreds of others.  Most of the games were inappropriate to convert into an audio game, but I did find a few card games.

Many of the people that sold programming code also offered their services on a website called Freelancer.com.  Their idea was to both sell you their game’s programming code and then the programmer would any changes you want.  I posted a query for the game Crazy Eights, and received two dozen offers, ranging from $10 to $2000.

I narrowed the offers down to four Chinese programmers, with offers in the $100 range, and contacted each of them.  I asked them to convert their visually oriented app into an app that puts the name of the card on the screen instead of its picture.   For example, instead of showing you the pictures of 5 cards in your hand like this:

hand hold playing cards

I wanted the programmers to simply show on the screen the words: 10 diamonds, 6 clubs, 9 hearts, 8 spades, Q hearts.  If they could make that transition, I could easily convert their code into an audio game.

More tomorrow…

Blindfold Games – Voices and iOS 9

When Apple released iOS 9, I received hundreds of emails from people complaining that the games sounded weird and no longer worked reliably.

person talking

I played with iOS 9 in the earlier releases – developers get to use the early releases of each version of iOS as Apple improves it until its ready for full release, but my experience with the early releases was disappointing, so I didn’t dive into any of the inconsistencies I found.  I concluded most of them were bugs that Apple created, and that they would fix them.

In all but one case, I was correct.  Apple changed the way the phone speaks the text, and Apple introduced some new voices.  That broke some of the games, so the voices sounded either too slow, or off pitch, or of the wrong gender.

Over the past few years, I have many requests from gamers to have more flexibility in voices.  Many video games let the player change the “skin” of the game, such as modifying the screen colors, background pictures or selecting different icons.  The equivalent to that in an audio game would be modifying voices and background sounds.

All Blindfold games let you change the background sounds.  For the casino games, you have a choice of casino sounds or piano bar music.  We made add the ability to import your own music in a future version.

To address the iOS 9 voice issues, we’ve testing out a voice customization option.  All of the games operate where your actions are in one voice  (usually a female), and the actions of the other players, or a dealer is in a different voice (usually a male).

You will be able to pick from about 6 different voices for your actions – some male and some female –  (such as “You selected a 6 of spades”), or for your opponent’s actions (such as “Mariel has 250 points and wins the game”).  You will be able to change the pitch of the voice, and the speed of the voice. Here’s an example of the same voice, at the same speed, in 3 different pitches:

We will be testing it out first with some of the card games, and then move this feature to all the games.  If you have suggestions for other ways we can skin the audio aspects of the games, please contact me.

Blindfold Hopper – Jumping from lily pad to lily pad

If you read my earlier post about Blindfold Hopper, you might remember we were trying to build a game similar to the video game Frogger.  We tested several variants amongst the gamers, and they prefer a first-person game instead of a third person game.  In a first person game, you are the center of the action.  As you move, the world moves around you.  In a third person game, like most video games such as Angry Birds, PacMac, or Flappy Bird, you watch the action through the window of your phone, and you are an observer.

cartoon frog

Now that we picked first person as the game perspective, we set the game up where you are a frog, and you are sitting on your lily pad.  You hear the sound of a river rushing by in the background, and your lily pad makes a sound.  You can move your lily pad back and forth on the river by swinging your arm left and right.  The sound of your lily pad is a short music loop, and the sound of another lily pad that you must jump to is a different musical loop, similar to these:

The other lily pad is moving; either from left to right, or right to left.   When your lily pad music loop is aligned with the other lily pad’s music loop, you tap the screen to jump to that lily pad.  If you miss the other lily pad, or the other lily pad moves off of the screen, you lose and you splash into the water.

During testing we found there’s no need to give sound to your lily pad – it’s sound is always in the center of your head, as you are sitting on that lily pad.  The trick to successful jumping is to move your arm left or right until the other lily pad’s sound is in the center of your head, and then tap the screen.

Each lily pad moves faster than the prior one, so the challenge is to get better and better at centering on the target lily pad and jumping quickly.  If you stand still for a second or two, an alligator sneaks up on you, and eats you.

We launched this first version to determine how popular a game like this would be, before we starting enhancing it.  People seemed to really like it, because they asked us to enhance it with more levels, more power-ups, more prizes, and more danger.

Blindfold Solitaire now with 7 more Free Cell games

Apple just released our latest Blindfold Solitaire, with 7 new Free Cell Solitaire Games.

The prior version already had 2 Klondike games (standard Solitaire), 3 Spider Solitaire Games, 3 Free Cell Games, 6 Golf Solitaire Games and 3 Addition Solitaire Games.

It also speeds up game play with faster response to flicking and swiping.

Blindfold Poker or Video Poker?

Of all the games that we’ve created in the Blindfold Game series last year, the one I didn’t expect to be so popular was Blindfold Blackjack.

We built the game at the suggestion of one of the visually impaired people I met at Perkins School for the Blind.  She had just been to Las Vegas for a convention and she loved playing Blackjack.   Her colleague read the cards for her, and she played for hours.  When we met back in Boston a few weeks later, she asked if I could build a Blackjack game.

After the game was mentioned on a few websites that feature audio games for the blind, I started receiving suggestions for creating more casino games.  There was already a pretty good slot machine game, and I was thinking about doing a better version, when one of the gamers suggested a building a poker game.

hand showing 4 aces

The challenge in creating a good poker game is that you need people to play against, or you need the computer to be a savvy  poker player.  I considered the first option, but at that point, I didn’t know if enough people would get the app in order to play.  If there aren’t enough people who have already downloaded the game, then, when you start a new game, there won’t be anyone to play with you.

The second option was a technical challenge.  Building a computer emulation of a good poker player is a very complex task; there are dozens of research papers on the best way to bet and play a hand.  Since I’m not a poker player, I figured it would require months of study and analysis to create a good computer player.

I determined a video poker game would give some of the aspects of poker, but eliminate much of the complexity.  In video poker, you get 5 cards, and you reject up to 5 cards in the hopes that the replacement cards would improve your hand.  The game took several weeks before it was ready for testing, and employed the same gestures that worked in Blindfold Blackjack.

Like Blindfold Blackjack, we made the app appropriate for both sighted and visually impaired gamers.  The screen looks like a video poker machine, and you tap the screen to insert a coin.  Five cards are displayed and spoken, and you review the cards by swiping left and right.  If you find a card you want to reject, you tap that card.  When you are ready to get your replacement cards, you swipe down on the screen.  Side note – we’ve since found out that the sighted people rarely play our apps, so the images and graphics are irrelevant.

Almost every gamer who played Blindfold Blackjack also played Blindfold Video Poker.  That’s when the floodgates opened.  I started getting requests for roulette, craps, Texas Hold’em, and dozens of other casino games.

We learned from this game the extent of customization that gamers demanded.  Changing the speaker’s voice speed, gender and pitch was a common request, along with an ability to reduce sound effects and spoken instructions as the gamer becomes more proficient in using the game.

Gamers also wanted to have a choice of the sound made when they win: coins falling into a metal tray, or speaking the dollar amount of their winnings; a choice of sounds that indicate that they won, and those sounds had to be related to how was won; a choice of what denomination chip to use for betting ($1 or $5), and the money must be spoken in the local currency (dollars, pounds, euros, rupees, etc.); an ability to turn on or off the announcement of how many chips they still had; a choice of the sound when rejected cards are replaced: a spinning video poker reel, or a card flap, and so on.

Just like with Blindfold Blackjack, Blindfold Video poker gives the gamer a few chips each day to play, so they don’t have to make any in-app purchases.  If they like the game, they can purchase more chips.  Unlike most Las Vegas style gambling apps, we created an in-app purchase for unlimited chips, and found that the majority of gamers selected that option.

We still may do a real poker game, but not until we have many more gamers enjoying our Blindfold Gamers.

Blindfold Solitaire #2: Why fast gestures are important

Now that we determined some of the gestures to use in Blindfold Solitaire, we started creating the first variant of Solitaire called Klondike (also known as Patience Solitaire).

Almost all Solitaire games use 3 regions where cards are placed: the tableau, where you build cards from a high card to a low card, such as putting a Jack of Hearts onto a Queen of Spades, the foundation, where you build cards up from the Ace to the King, the discard pile, where you place the cards after you draw more cards from the deck.

finger pointing at iphone screen

When building an audio game that is only controlled through gestures like swiping and tapping, it’s important that the primary tasks of the game can be done quickly.

In our first attempt at Solitaire, consider how  you move a card from the discard pile to the foundation.

Let’s say you just flipped over 3 cards, and an Ace of Hearts is showing on the discard pile.  To move that Ace from the discard pile to the foundation, first tap at the top of the screen to tell the game that you want to get the top card from the discard pile, then tap the screen twice, to indicate that you want to move that card.  The app starts beeping, so you know that a move is in progress.  Then tap in the upper half of the screen, but not quite at the very top of the screen, to instruct the app that you want to move something to the foundation.  Then flick left and right until you find a foundation pile that’s empty.  Next, tap the screen twice again, and the app moves the Ace of Hearts from the discard pile to the empty foundation pile.  It took about 6 gestures of flicking and tapping to move the card.   That’s a lot of effort to just move one card.

Since moving a card to the foundation is one of the most important actions in Solitaire, we created a new gesture.  When you tap the screen three times, the game immediately moves the card from the discard pile to the foundation.  That reduced six gestures down to one gesture.  Similarly, if you are flipping through the tableau, and you find a card that can be moved to the foundation, just tap the screen three times, and the card is moved for you.

Finding short-cuts to make the game easier is part of the testing process that each of the Blindfold games goes through.  I’m working with about 30 visually impaired gamers, and it’s their rigorous testing and suggestions that have made each game fun to play.

Here’s a list of ideas that the gamers came up with that we’ve incorporated into Blindfold Solitaire:

  • As you flick left and right, up and down, the app makes a zip-pop-beep sound if a card can be played.
  • To cancel a move, either shake the phone, or swipe down with 3 fingers.
  • When you a quickly flicking from card to card, the app stops speaking until you stop flicking.  That way, if you traverse 7 cards, you don’t have to wait for the app to finishing speaking each card before you hear the 7th card that you want.
  • To get quick summary of your progress in the game, shake the phone.
  • To flip between the foundation, tableau and discard pile, swipe left with 2 fingers.  Or just tap near top edge of the screen for the discard pile, upper half of the screen for the foundation, or bottom half of the screen for the tableau.
  • When moving a bunch of cards, it tells you how many cards you are moving, and the top card that is moved.  Once you complete the move, you hear a chime sound.
  • To move all eligible cards from the tableau to the foundation, press and hold 2 fingers for a second.
  • To undo a move, swipe left with 3 fingers.
  • To hear a help on all of the gestures, press 3 fingers for a few seconds.
  • To get better at solving a game, you can replay the game with the same cards over again.

In the next article on Blindfold Solitaire, I’ll talk about how we set up the main menu, and why that’s so critical.

How to help Blindfold Games

spread-the-word-1200x800

People often ask me how they can help with the Blindfold Games series.

You can help in two ways.  If you are visually impaired, send me your ideas for an audio game, and we can collaborate on building that game.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to figure out how to make an audio equivalent of a game that I am used to playing visually.  But, by talking regularly with several blind gamers, we’ve been able to find fun solutions that made many of the Blindfold Games more realistic and exciting.

More importantly, spread the word about these games to other people in the blindness community.  There are dozens of forums on Facebook, twitter and elsewhere that talk about accessibility and technology.  If you like one of Blindfold games, mention it on the forums that you visit.  And do it frequently.  The more times you mention something, the more likely that other members will try it out.

Most of the people who find our games are members of AppleVis.  But there are thousands of people across the country who don’t know about AppleVis or any of the iPhone games that are very accessible, or are audio games like ours.

In every medium or large city, there are several local organizations that provide services and community  to visually impaired people, and it’s hard for me to reach them all.  If you are a member of one of these groups, tell your colleagues about the games you like.  And contact me about any efforts you are making to spread the word.

If you play a blind-friendly sport, such as Beep Baseball, contact me and we can talk about building a game that matches your sport.

Thanks for your efforts and continuing support.