Audiogames: What You Hear is What You Play

An audio game is simply a game that conveys information primarily via sound. They can also use synthetic text-to-speech or recorded human speech to convey various pieces of information including menus and various status information such as health and ammunition. All actions are conveyed to the user via unique sound cues. In games that require more advanced information, such as where items are in relation to you, various techniques are used. The most popular is panning sounds in different positions of the stereo field. For example, playing a growling sound in your right ear would tell you that an enemy Leopard was off to the right of you. Audio games can also use more advanced sound positioning, such as binaural audio to convey things that are behind you. However, binaural sound is not widely used in most titles available today.

Nearly all audio games include no visual elements. This is because most are created by people who are themselves blind or low vision. Having said that, there is no reason an audio game cannot include graphics, just like there is no reason anyone patient and dedicated enough couldn’t learn how to play a purely auditory game. In fact, sighted people might actually have a new and interesting experience relying on their ears. The only people that cannot truly play audio games or find them extremely difficult are those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

It is my hope the mainstream community will one day decide to produce their titles with accessibility for all in mind. Most games need spoken menus and more accurate sound cues. I know many mainstream games have decent sounds, but they are not intended to help someone play the game purely by listening to them.

I think the biggest challenge is educating mainstream companies about audio games and how they work, as well as providing guidelines on how they can make their titles more accessible. The other major barrier is convincing studios and developers to do this in the first place. Most people believe it’s too expensive or isn’t worth it because the target audience is so small. If we can get past these barriers, we may one day be able to buy games just like everyone else and enjoy them without having to resort to convoluted workarounds like using Optical Character Recognition to read information or memorizing menus and/or menu positions.

Christopher Wright, curator of the exhibition

 

Exhibited games

The Great Toy Robbery
(L-Works, 2004)
www.l-works.net

The Great Toy Robbery is a simple arcade game. Your objective is to run around Santa’s workshop and grab as many toys as you can in two minutes. Along the way, you’ll also have to avoid security elves who aren’t too happy you’re stealing their toys. After two minutes, Santa will decide that it’s time to take care of you once and for all. If you ask me, the evil Santa in the game makes me think of Krampus.

You run around the grid using the up, down, left, and right arrow keys. These move you in the respective cardinal directions on the 100 by 100 game board. You will hear sounds that represent toys, elves, and Krampus himself which will pan from left to right as you move around. If a sound is lower pitched, it means the object is behind or south of you.

 

Crazy Party
(Pragma, 2016)
www.pragmapragma.free.fr
Crazy Party is a compilation of several games. The battle mode is very simmilar to Pokemon and involves using cards from 17 different types to battle your enemies. Available types include water, fire, Earth, rock, flying, etc. The battle mode is turn-based, meaning you can take as long as you need to review the situation and determine what to do next.

The game also contains a mini game mode. In this mode, you wander around several worlds playing little mini games. These games are very short and usually take no more than a minute minimum and three maximum. Each game has a specific objective, and you will be given instructions before you begin.

There is also a board mode, which appears to be similar to Mario Party. In this mode, you roll dice and move along a board. Depending on where you land, you can either gain items, lose them, or play a randomly selected mini game from the mini game mode.

 

The games by Jim Kitchen (Jim Kitchen)
www.agarchive.net/pages/devs/kitchensinc.html
Jim Kitchen was renowned for creating a truly amazing number of small yet entertaining titles, ranging from action to board and card games. He was also single handedly responsible for the vast majority of adult audiogames. Tragically, Jim passed away on August 2, 2015, leaving behind a legacy of one of the most well-known pioneers in audiogames, a great sense of humor, and hundreds of entertained players of his creations.

These games are really good for demonstrating how text-to-speech can be used. Most of Jims games are very easy to learn and don’t force you to act quickly. The games by Jim Kitchen consist of many popular classic games such as Monopoly, Life, Simon, etc. There are also other action games and a few designed for adults and/or people who can handle mature content. These games use text-to-speech and sound effects to convey all information. You input commands using intuitive menus and keyboard shortcuts.

 

Manamon
(VGStorm, 2016)
ww.vgstorm.com

Manamon is essentially an audio version of Pokemon. All the names have been renamed to avoid copyright issues, but it is Pokemon for all intents and purposes. You assume the role of a Manamon tamer and walk around capturing creatures called Manamon and battling other Manamon tamers. You also have the opportunity to participate in battles with seven stadium leaders. There is also a story to go along with the game play and there are lots of interesting locations to explore. I have no way of comparing it to Pokemon, as I have no knowledge of that game. Still, I think it’s really cool that someone took the time and effort to create a Pokemon game for the blind, especially when the original company that owns the franchise has no interest in making the official version(s) accessible.

 

Entombed
(Driftwood Games, 2008)
www.blind-games.com

Entombed is an excellent demonstration of an audio RPG. The game is completely turn-based, so people can spend as much time as they need to learn the menu structure and to decide about their next move. Entombed was the first audio RPG for the blind. In the game, you are thrown into a deep dungeon for committing a crime and must make your way out. There are twenty five levels full of all sorts of monsters which you will have to battle. Along the way, you have the opportunity to accept quests which usually involve killing a specific monster or group of monsters in exchange for a reward. There are sixteen or so classes, ranging from fighters who fight with all sorts of melee weapons, to magi who cast spells, to necromancers who raise corpses to assist in battles. You also have a wide selection of races, so you can play anything from a really strong, slow, and dumb ogre, to a frail but powerful fairy with all sorts of magic.

 

QuentinC’s Playroom
(QuentinC)

www.qcsalon.net/en/

QuentinC’s Playroom  is a great multiplayer game platform that everyone can play. Unlike all the other games on this list, the Playroom prints information to the screen, so anyone can play as long as they can read. The QuentinC Playroom is a collection of online traditional board and card games. There are over 30 games, ranging from Monopoly, to Hearts, to Blackjack. Players create an account and can connect to the server where they can create or join games created by others. Players can chat back and forth and there is a friends system which allows you to see if your friends are online, send them private messages, or invite them to a game you have waiting. The best thing about this platform is that everything is displayed visually on the screen. So whether you’re using a screen reader or not, everyone can play and have fun together. This is perfect if you wish to play games with your family and your other family members are very casual gamers. None of the games require you to act in a certain amount of time which is great if you’re still learning how they work or want to take a break.

 

Perilous Hearts
(Blastbaly Studios, 2011)
www.blastbay.com/

Perilous Hearts probably belongs in the more advanced category, but it’s a really cool jungle adventure game with a lot going on, probably one of the best audio games we have. It is a side scrolling game, meaning you move left and right. However, it is also possible to move up and down in the air. You are placed in a jungle environment and can climb trees, vines, and walk on branches. There is also a waterfall and some quicksand that you must avoid. There are animals like boars, chimpanzees, and little monkeys that wander around. The objective of the game is to rescue your girlfriend who has gone missing.

The game incorporates some very smart mechanics and the artificial intelligence in this game is also extremely advanced. Instead of enemies blindly following you as is the case in most games, the creatures will go about their own business and ignore you. They can also get angry with you or other creatures near them which can be quite amusing to listen to. Sadly, this game has been abandoned for almost eight years and may never be finished.

 

A Hero’s Call
(Out of Sight Games, 2017)
www.outofsightgames.com

A Hero’s Call is another really great RPG game, where you go around fighting monsters, solving quests, and completing a storyline. The game is a little bit more advanced because the navigation system and mechanics are quite complex.
A Hero’s Call is the premier title from Out of Sight Games. It’s a game originally designed for blind gamers – but inclusion is important to us, and we’re taking steps to make the game as accessible to sighted players as we can, as well. The game is a fantasy RPG with a strong focus on story and exploration – elements that blind gamers rarely get to enjoy to the same extent as sighted gamers. Read on to learn more about us, our game, and how you can help make it a reality.