Visually Impaired Game [Currently Untitled]: The Rundown / by Dan Andre

This will be the first post on my new site since transitioning from my old Wordpress to this new Squarespace site. So I thought I'd do a rundown of my current projects to give some more perspective on their design, as well as give updates on these projects and their current progress.

I'm going to be starting with what is effectively my primary project at the moment, which is a project that currently has no name. My goal with this project is to design a game that can be played by those with visual impairments including and up to full blindness. To hear the story behind the inspiration of this game, head on over to the game's project page, as I'm not going to cover it here again.

What I'm going to discuss here are some of the interesting design challenge that come with this project, because there are a lot of them.

When you think about designing a game, it's very easy to take so many different visual elements of a traditional game for granted, I mean, they are literally called Video Games after all. There is a lot of information in a game that is relayed to the player visually, whether it be visual hints that teach the player how to play the game or something as simple as a HUD on screen that relays practical information like health or inventory or something as such.

And this just deals with stuff on screen, what about physical limitations? When mapping controls, you can't just assign controls to any old button on the keyboard, especially if the player doesn't own a Braile keyboard. So WASD is out, as are any other similar feeling buttons, and the mouse becomes all but useless for the most part as well.

So needless to say, you can't design this kind of game the same way you would a game for sighted people. A lot of the tropes that designers fall back on today are immediately thrown out the window, because beyond the considerations mentioned previously, it's possible that you could have someone playing your game who has never even played a game before because they've been blind their whole lives.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about a lot of these types of things, and it has really tested my instincts as a designer, causing me to reimagine a lot of the different kinds of feedback you can give a player to help them understand your world.

It has also given me a new appreciation for sound design in a game, something I definitely feel is something that is possibly overlooked by some game designers as a very useful tool.

It has also really helped me improve my skills in programming. When I graduated college, I'd say while my programming skills were passible, I really lacked any confidence. I still talk to the programmers who helped me with The Rat Boy a lot and to this day, I'll still bring my code to Laurence, who was the lead programmer on that project, for advice. (I'm sure a lot of people ask him for programming advice though, he is a beast at programming) 

But ever since embarking on this project, my programming skills have really become signficantly more advanced, since this project has really caused me to have to use some really advanced techniques to make it do what I think it needs to do. Among other things, I;ve learned how to procedurally generate levels using a spreadsheet (with help from Laurence of course). Because of this, in a great twist of irony, I can't see the levels that I'm designing when I'm designing them.

As it stands now, the project is nearing the end of pre production and getting ready for full production. I've been trying to get all of the sounds I need to make all of the core materials in the game make the sounds they are supposed to make when the player interacts with them. The challenge here is the Pennsylvania winter, which doesn't end until about a week before summer starts these days. As I write this, it is April 9th, and there is snow on the ground outside. The inclimate cold and wind make it difficult to get outside and record the sounds I still need.

Once the summer starts though, I'll be able to get out and record everything I need to bring this world to life.

My goal for the design of this project, is instead of having one long game with a big, drawn out narrative as is often seen in big 3D games these days, is instead breaking the game down into short scenarios for the player to play, making it easier on the player, and comparmentalizing the gameplay in a way that the player gets to experience the core gameplay as simply as possible, without distractions.

As of now, most of the core code is where I'd like it to be. It's just a matter of waiting for the weather to break before I can really get to recording, then designing.

I'll continue to post updates on this project here as I make progress