Blindfold Games at Baruch College

I was invited as a guest speaker to Baruch College in New York earlier this week.  Baruch houses the Computer Center for Visually Impaired People and offers a High School Enrichment Program to teens; this class is focused on how to enhance the lives of visually impaired high school students in terms of life and possible career options.

students at civic at baruch college

A handful of high school students and teachers attended.  I first talked about what lead me to create the Blindfold Games: it grew out of a S.T.E.M. app club at my daughter’s middle school, and the 4th, 5th and 6th graders and I created the first game, Blindfold Racer.

The high school students installed  Blindfold Racer on their iPhones and iPads and played the game for a half hour.  I knew the game was a hit when the room became very quiet: everyone was concentrating on attaining their best score.

I explained why blind people are better when playing this game than are sighted people, and we talked about how this game was designed.  For example, each sentence narrated by my daughter (the voice behind Blindfold Racer) took about 10 “takes”; I’ve included some of these hilarious bloopers in prior blogs;  the bloopers are also featured in the game.

These high school students are learning to program, starting with web page design using HTML and javascript.  When asked if they could have a career in programming, I mentioned the guys who created RS Games: several visually impaired people who developed a great cloud-based game server.  They are currently employed by some of the largest software companies, doing web accessibility testing, quality assurance and project planning.  Other blind people I have met through these games are employed as software engineers, or have their own company where they provide I.T. and networking consulting.

If you would like to have me speak at your event or meeting, feel free to contact me.

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Blindfold Games Holiday Special

We would like to thank the thousands of Blindfold Games fans for their appreciation and help of the past year by offering one free game from the following list:

Bingo, Breakout, Connect, Dominoes, Hearts, Phrase Madness, Snakes and Puzzles, or Shuffleboard

wrapped gift box

To get your game, send an email to holiday@blindfoldgames.org, and you’ll receive your coupon.  Based on the number of emails we get, you might not your coupon right away.  This offer expires on December 20, 2017.

Please specify in your email which  one of the above games you want, and we’ll send you a coupon.  The coupon must be used the same day we send it, and that will activate the game.  Make sure you download the game prior to asking for the coupon, to make sure you like the game.

Perkin’s Path To Technologies

Diane Brauner recently posted the following to the Perkin’s blog for Teachers of the Visually Impaired.

elearning-logo_1

Blindfold Games are auditory-based games specifically created for students and adults who are visually impaired or blind. Many of these games are accessible, auditory versions of popular mainstream board games, TV games and apps. There are currently 70+ Blindfold games and growing!

Did you know that a number of these games were designed to specifically to be used by TVIs for educational purposes? Several games were created specifically to address tech skills needed by students who are visually impaired in order to learn and practice specific tech skills required to be successful in the digital classroom and to be successful in taking online assessments. Marty, the developer of Blindfold games, creates games that are requested by blind users and requested by Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVIs).

Blindfold Games used for Educational Purposes

Below are Paths to Technology posts about using Blindfold Games for educational purposes. Some of these games are very basic games that can be used to introduce young children to technology while other games are created to teach specific tech skills and educational goals.

Blindfold Bop Game: Teach VoiceOver Gestures (now called Blindfold Bop Gesture Game)

Blindfold Tic Tac Toe: Digital Math Grid Game

Blindfold Sea Battle: Accessible Battleship Game that Reinforces Grid Concepts

Digital Transitions #2: Math Grid Activities (explains need for students to learn how to navigate digital grids & activities include several Blindfold games)

Blindfold Bowling: iOS Spatial Concepts App (also great for O&M!)

Blindfold Sound Search (sound matching game)

Blindfold Barnyard: an iOS App (cardinal directions – also great for O&M)

Blindfold Hopper (introduction to sonification – sounds and pitches have meaning!)

Blindfold Games: Braille Spin & Solve (teaches/supports learning braille contractions)

 Blindfold Word Games: Word Ladder, Word Flick, Hangman and Unscramble

Blindfold Games start off as free games with additional levels, coins, etc. that can be purchased within the app for a nominal fee. As a TVI, I thoroughly appreciate that I am able to try the game myself and/or with a student before making a purchase. Previewing the game provides insights as to whether the game is appropriate for my student and/or whether the game can be used to teach a specific educational skill.

Blindfold Games User Survey Results

There were hundreds of responses to the recent Blindfold Games survey. Most people have downloaded 26 or more games and have purchased around 5 games. More than one-third of the survey takers have purchased at least 10 games.

  • What type of game would you like to have more of?
    • Answer: Most popular categories were board games, sports games and TV game shows
  • Pick 5 games that you would like to see next?
    • Answer: Game of Life Board Game, Restaurant Game, Mario Brothers, Puppy Care, Name that Song, Golf, Football, 100,000 Dollar Pyramid, and piloting an airplane
    • Answer: The least requested games were Snooker, Mastermind peg game, Dabble Word game and Risk board game
    • Answer: Request for games already built: Snakes and Ladders (called Blindfold Snakes and Ladders), baseball (called Blindfold Home Run Derby), Family Feud (called Blindfold Feud), Trivia games (Blindfold Jeopardy Match), Blackjack (called Blindfold Blackjack), Candy Crush (called Blindfold Color Crush), Concentration (called Blindfold Sound Search) Basketball (called Blindfold Basketball)

Additional Questions & Answers

Marty shared these tidbits:

  • Most of the games do not require earphones.  Only those that use spatial location, like Blindfold Racer or Blindfold Hopper need earphones.
  • Many people asked for multiplayer games. Blindfold Games launched several a while ago and they were not popular. That’s why we teamed up with RS Games – they make great multiplayer games.
  • I can build more braille and learning games, but I need a distribution partner to sell those games to schools and TVIs (Teachers of Visually Impaired). I have not found a distribution partner yet.
  • Thanks to everyone for your ideas!

How can YOU support Blindfold Games?

  • Are you using a Blindfold Game with your students? Consider purchasing the in-app additional features!
    • Download additional Blindfold Game apps
    • Spread the word about these educational apps
    • It is rare to find individual developers who provide apps for free. The apps designed specifically for educational purposes are being used; however, few educators are purchasing these apps. Purchasing these apps will support the development of future educational apps!
      • Note: Blindfold apps are fun for all students – not just students who are visually impaired! Spread the word to mainstream educators and families!
    • Marty is looking for ways to partner with educators to spread the word!
    • Have an educational game idea? Share it with Marty.
    • Have a lesson plan/activity on how to use a Blindfold game for educational purposes?  Share it with Paths to Technology!

Blindfold Cryptogram Facelift

Blindfold Cryptogram was the third game in the series, after Blindfold Racer and Blindfold Sudoku.  Recently, people were requesting a code-breaking game, so I suggested they take a look at Cryptogram.  They did, and they said it was awful.

cryptogram

Suffice it to say that the Blindfold Games nowadays are far better than the earlier ones, so it was time to redesign Cryptogram to be more fun and more playable.

A cryptogram is a quote by a famous person, where there the quote is encrypted by simple letter substitution. For example, the letter “A” can be represented by the letter “C”, the letter “B” by the letter “X”, and so on. The phrase “Hello there” could be encrypted as “Asttq uasps”, where “a” means “h”, “s” means “e”, “t” means “l”, “q” means “o”, “u” means “t”, and “p” means “r”.

To solve a cryptogram, you first find the most common letters in the encrypted quote. For example, the letter “e” occurs often in words. In the above example, it occurred 3 times. In the encryption, the letter “s” occurs three times, so if you were trying to solve that cryptogram, there’s a pretty good change the letter “s” translates as the letter “e”.

Using the frequency of letters, and trying to solve the short words before the long words, you can eventually figure out the entire cryptogram.

To play the game, you flick left and right to move through the letters.  If you haven’t discovered the decrypted letter, the letter is spoken in a man’s voice.  Once you’ve decrypted that letter, it is spoken in a woman’s voice.

You can vary the complexity of the game from VERY EASY to NORMAL.  In the easiest level, about three-quarters of the letters are already solved for you, and you just have to decrypt the remainder of the puzzle.

The Blindfold Cryptogram comes with about popular quotes by people such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Maya Angelou and Nelson Mandala., and there are more quote packs that you can purchase in categories such as humor, success and happiness.

To download the game, click here:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/blindfold-cryptogram/id921384794?mt=8

 

Blindfold Racer: Video of Teen’s Night

A few years ago, I was in Boston at one of the schools that is committed to providing education and services that build productive, meaningful lives for children and adults. We wanted to hear what visually impaired teens thought about Blindfold Racer.

picture of kids from lighthouse for the blind playing blindfold racer

I’ve attached a short video of some teens playing the game. They were totally engrossed in the game for over an hour.

You can watch it here.  If you are visually impaired, there’s not much dialog until about 30 seconds into the 60 second video.

or here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-Bs7_xT7qA

Nancy Muldrew was one of the volunteers at the event, and she is a member of the Association of Massachusetts Educators of Students with Visual Impairments (AMESVI). She was so impressed with Blindfold Racer thatshe sent an email to all of the other members. Her comment was “Here is a tidbit for those interested in a fun audio game app – Those who have tried it tend to get hooked.”

If you’ve never played Blindfold Racer – whether you are visually impaired or not – it’s worth experiencing.  It’s may be the first time you drive with your ears instead of your eyes.

Programming a Blindfold Game

I’ve been working on a new game – Blindfold Piano Tiles.  This game will, amongst other things, teach you single octave melodies, such as Mary had a little lamb.

To play the game, you lay the phone in landscape mode on a table, and press one of eight keys.  There are 4 keys on the bottom, numbered 1 to 4, and 4 keys on the top, numbered 5 to 8.  The game tells you which keys to press, such as 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 3, 3 and then you press each key in sequence.

iPhone piano keys

So here’s the problem.  When you press a key, it should sound the musical note while your finger is pressed and stop sounding when your finger lifts from the screen.  And if the game was saying something when you start playing, it must stop whatever it was saying or sounding, and respond to the key you are pressing.  Without that, the game feels unresponsive.

Here’s one way to program this:  when you press a key, anything that was being spoken stops.  If the game starts saying “Press each of these keys: 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 3, 3”, as soon as you press the first key, all speaking stops.

When you press the first key, “3”, it stops speaking and starts sounding the musical note that corresponds to key “3”.  However, when you press the second key, “2”, it also stops speaking and starts sounding the musical note that corresponds to the key “2”.  Which means you don’t hear the first musical note.  And if you move through the keys quickly, you won’t hear any of the musical notes, except for the last one.

Another way to program this is to only stop speaking before the first musical note is keyed, and not have the second key affect the sounds of the first key.  That works, but then you encounter the next problem: remember, when you press the key, the musical note starts.  When you lift your finger, the musical note stops.

If you press and lift your finger too quickly, you don’t hear the entire musical note.  For example, if you quickly tap the “3” key, the note is only played for that length of the tap.  A quick tap might be as short as one-tenth of a second, and that’s not long enough to hear the musical note; you actually need about one-third of a second.

So, to program around that problem, you could make each musical note last at least one-third of a second.  But now, if you quickly tap 3 keys, your tapping will be ahead of the notes, so that the first musical note is still playing even though you’ve typed 3 keys.  And if you tapped the wrong key, it’s not clear which of the three keys was wrong.

So, to program around that problem, the game needs to prevent the user from typing faster than one key every one-third of a second.

To solve that, the game now says “Don’t type so fast”, and honks at you.  Of course, you won’t want to listen to the entire sentence of “Don’t type so fast” over and over again, so that the second time you type too fast, you just want to move on, and try again.  Which means the solution to only stop speaking before the first musical note is no longer valid – that sentence can occur whenever you press keys too quickly.

You wouldn’t think that something so simple – sounding a musical note when a key is pressed – would be so hard to program.  These are just some of the complexities of building a game, and why we test the games with so many different visually impaired people before publishing it to the App Store.

Blindfold Games on Podcasts

I would like to thank all of the podcasters and radio hosts who interviewed me over the past few weeks and motivated the community to contact Apple.  Please support them by becoming a regular listener.

podcast logo

Tap each of the podcast names to get more info.

The Blind Side Podcast – Jonathan Mosen

INSIGHT ON disAbility – Michael E. Gerlach

Life After Blindness – Tim Schwartz

Blind Bargains Podcast – J.J. Meddaugh

Blind and Beyond Radio Show – Michael and Lynn Goldner

Typical Confusion Podcast – Jim Holliday

Blindfold Slide Puzzle

About two years, I created Blindfold Tile Puzzle, based on the game 2048.

2048 is played on a 4 by 4 grid, where you combine identical numbers to produce their sum.  Hence, in the above puzzle, with line three reading: 2, 2, 4, 32, you can combine 2 plus 2 to generate a 4, resulting in 4, 4, 32, open-space.  Then you can combine 4 plus 4 to generate an 8, resulting in 8, 32, open-space, open-space.  You win the game when you combine 1024 plus 1024, yielding 2048.   I’ve heard the game called “Candy Crush” for math geeks.

Once Blindfold Tile Puzzle was published, fans starting asking for the sliding tile puzzle known as 15, also called the Boss Puzzle, Game of Fifteen, and Mystic Square.   It’s played on a 4 by 4 grid of numbered square tiles, from 1 to 15, in random order with one tile missing.   The 16th space is empty.  The object of the puzzle is to place the tiles in order by making sliding moves that use the empty space.

slidepuzzle

Originally, I thought this game was too boring, but getting several requests each month changed my mind.  I built the game, and started testing it recently.  Here’s the Wikipedia history:

  • It was invented by Noyes Chapman, a postmaster in Canastota, New York, who is said to have shown friends, as early as 1874.
  • Copies of the improved Fifteen Puzzle made their way to Syracuse, New York, by way of Noyes’ son, Frank, and from there, via sundry connections, to Watch Hill, Rhode Island, and finally to Hartford, Connecticut, where students in the American School for the Deaf started manufacturing the puzzle and, by December 1879, selling them both locally and in Boston, Massachusetts.
  • The game became a craze in the U.S. in February 1880, Canada in March, Europe in April, but that craze had pretty much dissipated by July. Apparently the puzzle was not introduced to Japan until 1889.

Some facts for math geeks:

  • In 1879, two mathematicians proved that half of the grid layouts for the game are unsolvable for the 15 puzzle.  Larger puzzles, such as 5 by 5, do not have this limitation.
  • For the 15 puzzle, the optimal solution takes from 0 to 80 moves.
  • For the 9 puzzle based on a 3 by 3 grid, the puzzle can be solved in less than 31 moves.
  • For the 24 puzzle based on a 5 by 5 grid, the number of possible positions is 7.65 times 10 to the 24th power, which is absurdly large.  In 2011, it was computed that the puzzle could be solved in as little as 152 moves, and as many as 208 moves.

You can download Blindfold Sliding Puzzle here:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/blindfold-slide-puzzle/id1276044630?ls=1&mt=8

Blindfold Games, Advocacy and Apple

I’ve been asked for a timeline of what happened with the Blindfold Games, so here’s a summary.

timeline

In late October, I submitted updates for 3 apps: Blindfold Craps, Blindfold Horserace and Blindfold Hopper, to accommodate changes in iOS 11.

A few days later, they were rejected for violating a new section of the Apple App Store Review Guidelines, section 4.3 which reads:

4.3 Spam – Don’t create multiple Bundle IDs of the same app. If your app has different versions for specific locations, sports teams, universities, etc., consider submitting a single app and provide the variations using in-app purchase. Also avoid piling on to a category that is already saturated; the App Store has enough fart, burp, flashlight, and Kama Sutra apps already. Spamming the store may lead to your removal from the Developer Program.

They reason for reject specifically is:

“We noticed that your app appears to be created from a template. Your app provides the same feature set as many of the other apps you’ve submitted to the App Store; it simply varies in content or language.”

I write back:

“There is no commonality between this app and the other apps. Each game is different.  Read the user guide.  The menu format is the same because blind people need a common interface but the functionality is far different.  It would be nice if you evaluated things prior to jumping to conclusions.”

A few days later, Apple responds:

“Thank you for providing this information. We ask that you consolidate your existing apps, as well as any new apps that you submit, as your app provides the same feature set as other apps you’ve submitted to the App Store, only varying slightly in content or language.”

I write back:

“Each app does not provide features of other apps. Each game is unique unto itself.   For example, of the three you just rejected, one is a game where you walk your fingers on the screen to race horses. The second is the casino game craps. The third is a game similar to the video game frogger.  Did you read the user’s guide before giving me the generic response above?”

Two days later, Apple responds:

“Thank you for your response.  An Apple Representative will call you on the number provided within the next 3 to 5 business days from today to discuss your app.”

About 10 days later, I talked with Adam, a reviewer in Apple’s App Group, and Apple’s decision is that unless I merge the 80 Blindfold Games into a handful of apps, they will no longer allow new games to be released or allow updates to be made.  I mentioned that there may be many in the blindness community who will be disappointed.  The following day, I blogged and tweeted about it.

Over the course of the next three days, thousands of people contacted Apple, several podcasters invited me to speak about the issue, and a few advocacy organizations for the blind reached out to their contacts at Apple.

I received an email from a woman who works with Apple Developer relations who has an interest in accessibility.  We talked for a while, and she recommended I submit a formal appeal, which I did.  I also sent to her a dozens of comments that the game fans sent to Apple or posted publicly.

On Friday night, three days after the original call, I heard from Adam again.  He mentioned how he and his team had a chance to explore many of the Blindfold Games over the past few days, and now realizes the intended audience is different from a sighted audience, and the needs of the blindness community must be considered.  We talked about how to improve the situation going forward, and came to a good understanding.

I told him that there are about 50 blind and low vision people worldwide that test each of the games for about two months prior to releasing the game.

I agreed that for new games, we’ll try something new.  If there’s a sensible way to combine it with other new games that does not affect its play or discoverability, I would talk to these testers, and proceed based on their recommendations.

What I’ve learned from this experience is that people in this community – or any community – when working together, can successfully advocate for change.  I also have more respect for Apple – very competent people made an initial assumption without full understanding.  They realized more research was required, and they invested their time to do that research.    And that led to doing what’s best for everyone.

 

 

 

Blindfold Barnyard Wackiness

Some of you may have played Blindfold Barnyard.  It’s an easy game, where you drag your finger around on the screen until you find an animal, such as a goat, and then drag it to the fence where you’ve dragged other goats.  When you have collected enough goats at the fence, you swipe your finger to move the animals into a barn.

upside down barnyard

The challenge is to remember which animals are tied at each fence: north, south, east and west.  If you drag an animal to the wrong fence, all the animals scurry away.  The more animals you collect on a fence, the more points you earn.

Last year, I added a game where there’s a pond in the middle of the barnyard.  When dragging an animal to the fence, you have to avoid the pond, or the animal will drown.  The game fans liked it, and wanted more complexity.

A month ago, I created the variant “Rotating Fences” that’s even harder.  Before the Rotating Fences variant, you simply swipe one finger up to drag the goat to a north fence, swipe right to the east fence, and so on.

In this harder variant, compass directions are rotated 90 degrees clockwise.  What was east, is now north.  What was south, is now east. To drag your goat to the east fence, you swipe your finger down.  Keeping that in your head makes the game quite challenging.  You can set the game to rotate CLOCKWISE, COUNTER-CLOCKWISE or SWAP.

If you want to really go crazy, set the rotation to CHANGE.  Each time you move animals from the fence to the barn, all compass directions are rotated.  For example, if the game starts with North being up, after you move goats to the barn, North is now to the left.  When you move the next set of animals into the barn, North is now down.  After the third set of animals, North is to the left, and after the fourth set of animals, North is back to the top.

You can get Blindfold Barnyard at: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/blindfold-barnyard/id1069200628?mt=8