Most video games are not accessible, and making them so would be extremely difficult because of the amount of information that is visually represented at any given moment. Audio games provide a level playing field for people with vision loss as they only produce sound as output. In this guide, I will explain what an audio game is and provide examples of several from both the Windows and iOS platforms. I will also describe resources that will allow you to find and play many more audio games than those I mention. In the past several years, the audio game market has exploded with new titles and they have become far more advanced than they have been in previous years. It is an excellent time to immerse yourself in the world of audio games.
What is an Audio Game?
An audio game is an electronic game where audio provides all of the feedback to the user. Text is spoken and the playing environment is based on sound alone. Even though this seems rather limiting, a great deal of information can be given to the player using nothing but sound. In many games, the position of sounds in the stereo field alerts the player to where objects are in the playing area. For example, in a Space Invaders style game, the spaceships would be represented by constant sounds that are distributed throughout the playing area. A louder sound would mean that a spaceship is closer to landing and the position of the ships in the stereo field would designate their position. Therefore, if a ship were to the left of you, it would be in the far left of your stereo field. As you move your player left, the sound would become closer and closer to the center of the stereo field as you come nearer to the ship on the left. Once you had centered the sound of the ship in your stereo field, you could eliminate it. Audio puzzle games and board games will usually have tiles representing the playing area that you can move through, listening to each tile's information as you select it. Other game information, such as points, is usually displayed by pressing a hotkey and listening to the spoken information. In most video games, such information would be constantly displayed on the screen. If you wanted to check how many spaceships had landed from our example above, you may press the "M" key to have this information read to you.
Audio Games for the Windows Operating System
A massive number of audio games are available for the Windows operating system. Many audio game developers are individuals who program games in their spare time, so many games that you will find will be free to play and those that are commercial are rather inexpensive.
Q9 Action Game
A great game for audio game beginners is the Q9 Action Game by Blastbay Studios. In this game, you play the role of a small alien who has crashed his spaceship on earth and is attempting to find it so that he may return home. This game is an excellent game for beginners as the game controls and playing environment are simple and easy to learn. The sounds are also described, which makes it much easier to begin playing if you have never played an audio game before. You use your Left Arrow and Right Arrow keys to move left and right and the Up Arrow to jump. Game information is obtained by pressing various keys such as H to hear your current health and L to listen to the number of remaining lives you have. You can press the spacebar to use your weapon and the numbers 1 through 4 to select which weapon you would like to use. Obstacles and enemies move towards you from right to left making constant sounds. Because you only have two directions in which to move, you will not become lost or confused. Even if you prefer games that have less violence, the Q9 Action Game is a great place to start learning the major aspects of an audio game. The Q9 Action Game has a demo allowing you to play two of the 12 game levels; the full version of the game costs $29.95.
An example of a more complex game that can be played by both sighted and visually impaired players is Castaways by Jeremy Kaldobsky (also known as Aprone). In this game, you control a colony of survivors from a shipwreck who are attempting to rebuild their civilization and defend themselves from the angered native population. You must assign your colonists jobs, gather resources, and construct buildings while keeping yourself alive. The playing area in this game consists of a tiled board with each tile representing different terrain. For example, there are forested areas where you can hunt and areas of cleared ground for buildings. You use hotkeys to learn about your colony and assign jobs to your colonists; game events are spoken by either your screen reader or a speech synthesizer. Visual tiles and game menus allow sighted players game play via sight as well. The game also includes a multi-player component so you can trade your resources with other players over the Internet. The game is free of charge.
Audio Games for the iOS platform
Audio games are available for the iOS operating system as well.
An example of an audio game for the iOS platform is Papa Sangre by Somethin' Else. In this game, you navigate through the underworld to rescue your true love. The environment is presented entirely in audio; sounds pan from left to right based on where they are in relation to your character; objects behind you are somewhat muffled. To walk about, you tap on the left of the screen to raise and lower your left foot and tap the right side of the screen to raise and lower your right foot. Therefore, to move, you must alternate by tapping left then right as if you were walking or running. To turn your character, you swipe across the top of the screen. Swiping left turns your character left and swiping right turns your character right. This game can be found in the Apple App Store, and it retails for $4.99.
Stem Stumper by Ananse Productions is a puzzle game in which you must guide a vine through its growth, finding the best path to the finish. The game has visuals, but everything is also represented in audio. You must overcome obstacles and obtain all of the fertilizer items to complete each level. To interact with the game, you move your finger about the touch screen. The background music changes depending on which type of obstacle or item you are close to and the music will change to a fuller melody when you have placed your finger directly on the given obstacle or item. The item will also be announced by the Apple VoiceOver screen reader. As you clear obstacles, you will open a path for your vine. For example, in a given level there will be a wall with an acorn obstacle in the middle. The fertilizer will be located on the other side of the wall. First you would double tap on the acorn to remove it. Now there would be a path directly to the fertilizer so that you could double tap on the fertilizer to obtain it. Fertilizer provides you with "FlowerPower" which is calculated as a number of points that decrease as you take actions such as removing acorns. The game is rather unique as it relies on spatial reasoning: you have to find the exact position of each obstacle and visualize the best path for your vine to win the game. This game gives you an efficient method for interacting with and understanding your environment. You can quickly learn where each item is in relation to the others. Such a game on Windows would require you to move cell-by-cell using your cursor which would not provide nearly the amount of feedback as the touchscreen. Games such as Stem Stumper demonstrate the innovation in games that is possible using the touchscreen. Stem Stumper is available from the Apple App Store for free with the option of an in-app purchase of $1.99 to remove advertising.
The Bottom Line
This article offers a mere glimpse into the world of audio games. There are hundreds more audio games available in every genre imaginable. The number of titles available can be daunting, but a variety of resources can help you find audio games of interest to you. One of these resources is the Audio Games website. This website has resources concerning audio games, including a database of over 300 games with descriptions and links to where they can be found. It is possible to narrow the database by developer, genre, and license. The site also contains a forum where users discuss accessible games. This forum is often the first place where news of upcoming and newly released games will appear. The forum is well regulated and members are welcoming to individuals who are new to audio games. Because of the database and the forum, this is the best place to begin if you are new to the concept of audio games.
Another resource for accessible iOS games is the AppleVis website, where a section of the apps database is dedicated to accessible games. Games are described in detail with information on their accessibility. The AppleVis forum also has a section dedicated to iOS gaming where accessible iOS games can be discussed. A final resource for audio games in general is the Audyssey Gamer mailing list. Accessible games are discussed in detail on this list and the mailing list is often one of the first to receive news of upcoming projects and new releases. With these resources, you should be able to find the type of games that interest you on the platform of your choice.
Product: Q9 Action Game
Manufacturer: Blastbay Studios